This blog is about my recent work on the European Union.
A reminder: I believe we should remain in the EU
Please be assured that I believe the best thing for the UK would be to remain a full member of the European Union.
From meeting constituents and receiving many thousands of petitions and letters on the European Union, I believe that the vast majority of the people in Bristol West agree with my position. This has also been clear from the recent petition to revoke article 50, which received more signatures in Bristol West than in any other part of the country.
Monday 25th March: we win the right for Parliament to have indicative votes
On 25th March, I worked very hard in my role as Labour whip to build the support for the Oliver Letwin/Hilary Benn proposition for what are now called ‘indicative votes’. This was a way for Parliament to express views and preferences for alternatives to the Prime Minister’s deal. The government has been blocking this for some time, which is curious, as the Prime Minister and EU Exit Secretary of State Stephen Barclay have both complained that Parliament has only said what it doesn’t want (i.e. the deal) not what it does. It was therefore extremely useful that this proposition went through.
Wednesday 27th March: the first round of indicative votes
Having won the right, against government opposition, Parliament held the first round of debate and voting on different propositions for what to do next. These are non-binding and were designed to show whether there are any outcomes that could secure a majority in the House of Commons.
Eight different propositions were selected for votes. I voted for all the options where I did not disagree about the content, even if they were not my first choice. This is important as the country wants us to try to find compromises and because if we do not win the argument to revoke or hold a further public vote, we may have to work on the least-worst second-best options for leaving. The very worst would be leaving with no deal. Obviously, I believe that all options for leaving are second best to remaining. A lot of you contacted me to tell me what you wanted from me and I took all of this into account as well as using my judgement. This mean that I voted for:
- Revoking article 50, stopping Brexit temporarily, if the UK gets within days of leaving the EU without a deal
- Holding a public confirmatory vote on any withdrawal agreement (the so-called Kyle-Wilson proposition)
- UK membership of a customs union if we leave the EU
- Common Market 2.0 – a proposition for us to remain in a relationship based on membership of the Single Market
- Labour’s alternative plan (a customs union and additional protections for workers’ rights and the environment).
I also voted against leaving with no deal and other similar propositions.
You can read more about these options here.
Friday the 29th March: vote on the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement
On 29th March, in another attempt to get part of her deal (made up of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship) through Parliament, the Prime Minister tried to get Parliament to agree to the Withdrawal Agreement. I worked hard as a Labour whip to build support against this. As a Whip I also took my turn that day in acting as a teller (counting the votes) and then had the privilege of announcing the result, as we were successful in defeating the Prime Minister. You may remember that I also voted against and whipped support against the whole deal in two so-called ‘meaningful votes’ in January and March.
It is currently unclear whether the Prime Minister will bring her agreement back for a fourth vote.
Monday 1 April: indicative votes round 2
On Monday we debated and voted on the four most favoured options from the previous week. I voted for every available option: a confirmatory public vote, blocking no deal, a customs union and Single Market membership. You can read more about these different options here. As ‘no deal’ was a real risk at this stage, I wanted to keep all the constructive options in play.
What happens now?
This week parliament passed a bill to force the Prime Minister to ask for an extension to article 50. This bill, spearheaded by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, was passed by just one vote – 313 ayes to 312 noes. As a Labour party whip I was proud to secure that majority with a great deal of hard work behind the scenes, listening to and talking with people about their views, questions and concerns. It shows what a difference that whips can make in shaping parliament and changing the country.
This Bill has now been passed in the Lords, as Labour peers prevented Conservative peers’ efforts to stall it.
This morning, the Prime Minister published a letter to Donald Tusk, the European council president, requesting to delay leaving the EU until 30 June. It will end earlier if the UK ratifies a deal. There are also reports that the EU would be offering the UK a flexible yearlong extension.
In either case, unless we ratify a deal the UK will be taking part in the European Parliamentary elections in May.
On Wednesday the Prime Minister gave a statement from Downing Street reaching out to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to see if there is a way forward that can achieve a majority in Parliament. I am surprised that the Prime Minister is seeking the view of the Labour Leader now when she could have done so when she lost her majority in 2017. Nonetheless, I am glad that the Prime Minister has finally realised that she has to bring the country together and talk to the opposition.
These talks are ongoing, but it is my understanding that Jeremy raised a customs union, single market alignment, including rights and protections. He is also negotiating for a confirmatory vote on the deal. Similarly, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has publicly said any deal must be subject to a public vote. I agree and I will continue to work hard to secure that public vote, with remaining in the EU as one of the options.
We do not know what will come from these talks but it should become clearer over the weekend and early next week. I will continue to bear your thoughts in mind during this process and update you again as soon as I can.
Meanwhile, you can follow what is happening on BBC Parliament or Parliamentlive.tv. You can see which way I voted on the Parliamentary votes app. My blog can give you more information about what I am doing.