Flags of EU Member States flying in Parliament Square
Flags of EU Member States flying in Parliament Square

Many of my constituents have contacted me to ask what I am doing to protect our relationship with the EU. This is one of my top priorities as your MP.

Fighting the Government’s destructive and chaotic vision of Brexit takes up a great deal of my time. This means using every possible opportunity to challenge the government on Brexit, starting with my first Prime Minister’s Question to the Prime Minister in July 2016. In addition to frequent parliamentary questions, I have spoken in debates, held meetings with government ministers and had detailed discussions with constituents.

Brexit has the potential to affect many aspects of our lives. Subjects I’ve raised include the potential impact of Brexit on pensions, EU27 citizens in the UK, UK citizens in EU27 countries, the aerospace industry, university, musicians’ ability to tour the EU, trade agreements, parliamentary votes, creative industries and more.

In Bristol I’ve held meetings with a wide range of different groups, including employers, trade unions, campaigners, university staff, the creative sector, the health sector and more.

This work stems from my firm belief: that the best relationship for the UK to have with the EU is full membership of the EU. I still have that commitment. Brexiteers have never stopped campaigning to leave ever since the referendum in the 1970s took us in. I will never stop campaigning for us to stay or go back in.

As a Labour whip, I’ve been involved in mobilising cross-party support for Labour amendments for all EU-related legislation – and there’s a lot. The most important of these is for Parliament to have a meaningful vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. Labour have set out six tests for the Brexit deal and if the government’s deal fails these tests, as I expect it will, we will oppose it.

Two weeks ago, on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, I was asked if I supported the campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’. I replied that I want the closest possible relationship with the EU but that the People’s Vote did not seem like the best strategy.

In Labour, we’re not calling for a People’s Vote but we’re also not ruling it out – with the current speed of political developments that would be foolish!

The political landscape is changing by the day, sometimes by the hour. The Prime Minister is rapidly losing key ministers after her failed attempt to unite her party. The government is also failing to unite the country.

Divisions are getting worse. The country was divided well before the 2016 referendum, but the referendum has only deepened these rifts. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the referendum – and there were clearly plenty of wrongs – we cannot ignore these divisions and they need to be healed. I want the country to be reunited around a common vision for the future but it is hard to see how this will be achieved by leaving the EU.

Despite rapid recent changes in the political landscape, I still have reservations about the people’s vote as a strategy. Another referendum vote on the deal may look like the only way forward and I understand why people support it. However, a vote on the deal currently presents several risks and practical challenges:

  • It risks repeating a result supporting leave – which would make it much more politically difficult for us to go back into the EU, or remain a member, in the future.
  • It risks further widening and exacerbating the current divisions in our country.
  • There is a great deal of complexity surrounding any future deal, and the impact of no deal. In this context here is a risk that many people don’t vote on facts but on impressions, and misinformation manipulated by pro-Brexit campaigns.

In short, those arguing for a second referendum, with the aim of keeping a relationship as close as possible to the EU, need to be sure that they can win it convincingly. To fail to do so would reinforce the result of the first referendum and hand an even bigger mandate to extreme pro-Brexit politicians.

That’s why I prefer a full people’s vote – a general election. Meanwhile, I’m focused on Parliamentary votes, such as Labour’s amendments to the Customs Bill to keep us in a Customs Union. Parliament scrutiny and votes are vital – you elected me to read all the documents, pore over the detail, analyse the implications and come to a conclusion about all legislation. That’s what I am doing, as your elected representative in Parliament.

But as I’ve said, the situation is changing rapidly. As the context changes, so too must the strategies and tactics we use. On this, and on all matters of EU-UK relations, I’m listening to all views, considering all the arguments, and am very grateful for constituents who write to me to share their point of view.

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