- The legislation which the government has referred to as the Great Repeal Bill, actually called European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, has been going through the committee stage. This is a stage of a bill’s passage through Parliament where MPs can propose and debate amendments to the bill. As this is such a momentous bill, it was debated in what is called a ‘Committee of the Whole House’. We had eight days of debate and votes during November and December, finishing late at night on Wednesday 20 December 2017.
- While the government has described this as transferring all EU law and regulations into UK law to make the transition from EU membership to non-membership smooth, in fact it is not that straightforward.
- MPs from all parties have been working to try to improve this bill and the current plans.
- Labour MPs forced the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to make available the so-called ‘sectoral analyses’, otherwise known as ‘impact assessments’, for assessing the effect of leaving the EU on different industries. These were initially placed in a ‘reading room’ which MPs could only access under strict conditions and could not talk about what they had read.
- Just before Christmas, the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union decided to publish these reports, minus the consultation feedback from the different sectors.
- The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State concluded the first stage of the negotiation with the EU before Christmas.
- Many organisations are now making it clearer how they believe leaving the EU, or leaving the Single Market or Customs Union, will affect them. This includes businesses employing many of you – such as the arts, or manufacturers who export or import parts from the EU.
What is the EU Withdrawal Bill?
This is the bill which has been described as ‘The Great Repeal Bill’. It is described on Parliament’s website as ‘a Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and make other provision in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU.’ You can read more about the stages of the bill and all the hundreds of amendments here.
The government said that this bill would transpose all EU law into UK law immediately after Brexit day. This is simply not the case, which is why we had to put down so many amendments.
Lots of you contacted me during the EU Withdrawal Bill committee stage, mostly to ask me to vote for Amendment 7, the amendment laid by Dominic Grieve MP, former Attorney-General.
What happens next?
The bill has more stages to get through in Parliament. It will go to the House of Lords, where our colleagues will be putting down and hopefully voting on more amendments. It will return to the House of Commons after that for further scrutiny.
What are the key results in this stage of the Bill?
The most successful highlight was Amendment 7 to Clause 9, the Dominic Grieve amendment. Why does it matter? Two reasons for me – one, it gives Parliament a final vote over the Brexit deal, and two, it is the amendment which most of you contacted me about, by some margin. My part in this was not just voting, it was also my work as an opposition whip. As Parliament is so divided on Brexit, the role of whips is crucial, in that we had to make sure we had everyone there who could possibly be there, and persuade as many as possible of those MPs who campaigned for Brexit to vote with us or abstain. Unlike government whips, we use reason and persuasion rather than intimidation to achieve the result you wanted.
The major defeats, however, are significant. I’m pleased we had 12 Tories voting with us on a meaningful vote, but do note that they also had the option of supporting a Labour amendment on the same subject, one which would have been stronger, and said they would only vote for the one laid down by Dominic Grieve. Tory and DUP MPs did not join us for votes in favour of transposing all the environmental and workers’ rights, and animal welfare principles into UK law.
Further detail of Brexit process
I’ve met, talked, debated and discussed different elements of Brexit with many of you and I am grateful to you all for being willing to do this, in often uncertain times.
There has been a great deal of misinformation along the way. My position is clear: I believe, along with most of you, that the best relationship for the UK to have with the EU is full membership of the EU and I campaigned hard for that during the referendum.
I took the only legislative opportunity there has been so far to vote against the UK leaving the EU, by voting against Article 50 of the Treaty of the EU being triggered, in March 2017.
If, reluctantly, we leave the EU, I believe that the best second-best option for the UK is for us to remain members of the Single Market and a Customs Union.
I will now have the opportunity to vote against any inadequate deal, thanks to the work done by Labour MPs and others to vote through Amendment 7 to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
I’m also participating in many of the various bills which will go through Parliament during the next fifteen months as a result of the Tory Brexit process. For example, the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, an Agriculture Bill and a Fishing Bill – the latter two will start their process in 2018; the former has already started in 2017 and will have final stages early in 2018.
Brexit ‘sectoral analyses’ or ‘impact assessments’
For eighteen months now, the government’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has claimed that there were ‘about 57 or so’ individual documents analysing by individual sector what the effect of leaving the EU is on different parts of our economy. However, he repeatedly said that these documents must be kept secret. I joined Labour MP Seema Malhotra in calling on the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU to publish these documents. Initially he refused outright. Then late in 2017 he appeared in front of the select committee scrutinising him and admitted that there were in fact no impact assessments. Then he made the documents (which he now referred to as ‘sectoral analyses’) available first only to the MPs on the select committee, and then to all MPs, but only through a complicated process and requiring MPs to agree to keep the content secret.
I went to the so-called ‘reading room’ to read these documents and was horrified to find that they did not include any proper analysis of what the impact of different relationships between the UK and the EU would be on key parts of the economy – putting at risk millions of jobs in our city, region and country. Despite the secrecy requirement, there was very little in the documents which was not derived from public documents such as government reports. In order to put pressure on the government to improve these documents and make them public, I gave an interview to the local press which prompted a story in the Daily Mirror and quotes in other national press articles. I also wrote a column for the national i-newspaper.
Eventually, following a close vote, the select committee decided to publish the reports, minus the feedback from representatives of the individual sectors.
What you can do
- You can read the ‘sectoral analysis’ reports and decided for yourself if you think they’re adequate for informing government, Parliament and the public about our future relationship with the EU. Let me know what you think about any which you have specialist knowledge about or which affect you or your business.
- You can come to my next public meeting on the EU (see below).
- You can get involved in campaigning in your trade union, or trade association, or sector organisation. Make sure that these organisations know what you think and ask them what they’re doing to lobby government to represent your views and experiences.
My next public meeting on the UK’s relationship with the EU
This will be held at Redland Park United Reform Church on Saturday 27 January at 2pm. I’ll be joined by Nigel Costley from TUC South West, with other speakers to be confirmed. Booking is essential so we can keep track of numbers!
So far, I’ve held several of these public meetings for you to discuss with me the process, ask questions about what is happening and give me your views. Many of you have taken these opportunities and I am grateful to you for doing so.
Do come along to the next one and hear more from me on where we are and give your views. This is hugely helpful for informing how I represent you in Parliament.
Other EU related legislation
- The Nuclear Safeguards Bill will go through Lords and final Commons stages. This bill is to replace the EU nuclear safeguarding organisation Euratom. As whip for the Labour Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) team I am whipping this bill and we will continue to put pressure on the government over the considerable shortcomings.
- The Agriculture Bill and Fisheries Bill, both from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), will both go through all parliamentary stages during the next 12 months. As whip for Labour Defra team I will be supporting the Labour front and backbenches on this bill.
- An Immigration Bill will be introduced at some stage this year. As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees I have already met with the Immigration Minister about this and there will be significant work to do on this bill.
- There will also be a bill on the final settlement deal, and the government may also put forward other bills and regulatory changes.