Many of you have written to me about Brexit. I hope this update will give some clarity on my position and my view of what is happening right now.
My position on Brexit
First of all, let me reiterate my position: I strongly believe that the best possible relationship for the UK to have with the EU is full membership. As the reality of Brexit comes into focus, it is clearer than ever that it threatens our jobs, prosperity, peace and relationships with our neighbours. If we cannot have full membership, we should be working towards the closest possible equivalent.
In practice, this means challenging the Tories who are trying to drag the UK towards the no-deal cliff edge, while fighting for more certainty than that set out in Theresa May’s so-called ‘deal.’ You can read my thoughts on the deal here.
Recent votes in Parliament
Last night we voted on eight separate amendments to Theresa May’s deal. While we only won one, sends a powerful signal: there is no majority in Parliament for a no-deal Brexit. I was pleased that I had the responsibility for announcing the result of this vote.
Unfortunately, this motion was not legally binding, though it does send a clear message to the government. Meanwhile, the Tories managed to push through a motion asking Theresa May to reopen the closed negotiations with the EU. I am sceptical of her chances, to say the least!
We should be prepared to compromise to see if there is a position where Parliament can find consensus. Indeed, until the Prime Minister listens to people from all sides of the EU argument, including the people who voted to remain in the EU, she will not be able to bring the country back together. I put this to the Prime Minister in a question last week, although her response showed she was far from ready to compromise.
I will continue to fight for the closest possible relationship with the EU.
A second referendum
Many of you have contacted me about a second referendum. Labour’s position, expressed by Sir Keir Starmer and passed in vote at the party conference last year, is that a second referendum has to be an option, with remain on the ballot paper.
If there is a further referendum I will of course campaign hard for remain, as I did last time alongside many constituents.
I still have concerns about another referendum. I am worried that it could be as divisive and misleading as last time. If the leave campaign were to win again, it could push us rapidly towards the hardest, no-deal Brexit.
The Immigration Bill
Over recent months I have been working hard on the large amount of legislation which must pass if we are to leave the EU in less than two months. This includes working in bill committees for bills on fisheries, agriculture and health.
I have been working to challenge the Immigration Bill, which was debated in the Commons this week. This legislation is very significant for people from EU countries as it aims to end free movement of labour.
I spoke in the debate on this Bill and voted against it, because it fails to value the huge benefits that migrants bring to this country. It does not give any comfort to desperate people fleeing war and persecution. And it gives little reassurance to the millions of citizens of other EU countries who have made their lives here. You can watch my speech here.
Art in Parliament – #FingerprintOfUnity
I wanted to share one other piece of news which gave me hope in these difficult times.
I invited Bristol artist Elaine Robinson (pictured above) to spend a week in Parliament, coinciding with week of the Withdrawal Agreement vote. Sitting at a table in one of the corridors near the Commons chamber, Elaine invited anyone who came past to leave their fingerprint on a large piece of paper. They will eventually be encased in resin.
This simple idea caught the imagination of MPs, peers, researchers, journalists and Parliamentary staff. Elaine wanted to demonstrate we have a lot which unites us, even in times of stark disagreement. Some very well-known politicians left their mark on her artwork, side by side with their political opponents. The work has been such a huge success that Parliament invited Elaine back for a second week. Read about it in the Guardian here.
As this project demonstrates, I believe we are all different, yet all have so much in common. It is only by finding common ground that we will get beyond Brexit and come together as a country.
Thanks again for contacting me about Brexit, and for caring so much about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.