I am proud to represent one of the most politically-engaged constituencies in the country. Thousands of constituents have contacted me over the past few months about the UK’s exit from the European Union and the Prime Minister’s draft Withdrawal Agreement.
This blog is my attempt to update you on the fast-moving events of the last few days.
Since the referendum in 2016 I have never stopped listening to my constituents. People have contacted me via email, on the doorstep, at events, or through letters. I have also had phone conversations with many constituents from across the political spectrum.
From this communication, I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of people in Bristol West share my view that the UK should remain in the European Union or, failing that, have the closest possible relationship with it. The government’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement did not maintain that close relationship, and was a bad deal for the UK.
Together with an unprecedented number of MPs, I voted against this agreement on Tuesday. The Prime Minister must now come back to Parliament with an alternative plan.
When the government initially triggered Article 50, I thought it was unprepared for the huge changes to come, which is why I was among several MPs in February 2017 to vote against this move. However, the government’s inability to negotiate a deal has exceeded my expectations. The Government have wasted the last two years fighting amongst themselves. They have refused to reach out to trade unions, opposition MPs, EU nationals, small businesses, or anyone outside of the Conservative party and its supporters. As a result, the Withdrawal Agreement fell woefully short of what was promised in the referendum campaign and I could not support it.
I am proud of several Labour achievements during this chaotic time. We have won several major victories thanks to the work of Labour Whips, of which I am one, the Labour Brexit team led by Keir Starmer, and some significant Labour backbenchers. Parliament’s ability to vote against the Prime Minister’s agreement this week was only possible thanks to Labour. We also forced the government to release their Brexit impact statements and legal advice and we have pushed them firmly on ruling out leaving the EU with no deal.
To those of you who wanted me to vote for the agreement or who want us to leave without an agreement, be sure that I have listened to your viewpoint. I will continue to listen to all of my constituents. We need to begin to come back together as a country and the only way that will happen is if we really listen and talk to each other. You may disagree with me but you know where I stand and you know how to contact me.
Following the historic win on Tuesday, Labour called a vote of no confidence in the Government. When the Prime Minister is repeatedly defeated in Parliament and unable to pass her signature (and in many ways only) policy it was right that Parliament is given the opportunity to decide if it still had confidence in the ability of the Conservative party to govern our country.
This brings us to the events of yesterday, when the government won the confidence vote so it looks like there will not be another general election. We now need to look at every other option and be willing to listen. We should be prepared to compromise to see if there is a position where Parliament can find consensus. A further public vote, with ‘remain’ as an option, is one possible position. This may be the only way to break the Parliamentary deadlock.
Labour’s position is that a second referendum has to be an option, with remain on the ballot paper. This was expressed by Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit Secretary, at the party conference last year. 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. The inequalities and divisions which led to the first referendum result have not gone away and the lies and cheating in the first referendum have gone largely unchallenged by the government. Were the leave campaign to win again, it could push us towards a no-deal Brexit.
Whatever the outcome – an election, another referendum, a deal or something else happens – it looks almost inevitable that we will need more time. The European Union negotiators have suggested they are open to extending Article 50 in certain circumstances. As a whip, I can see a huge amount of legislation which must be passed if we are to leave the EU, and it will be extremely difficult to do this in a couple of months.
As your MP, I will keep fighting to protect the things that people in Bristol care about, including protections for immigrants, refugees, workers, and the environment. I will also do everything I can to avoid a no deal Brexit which I believe would be disastrous.
Meanwhile, I strongly urge people from the other 27 EU countries who live or work in the UK, and British people living and working in the EU 27, to take legal advice. The UK government and other EU governments have made announcements but none of this is law until the Immigration Bill has gone through Parliament and become law (an Act of Parliament). I’ve pushed the government on this and will continue to do so.
I will keep working hard on your behalf throughout this process to represent the views of my constituents. I am privileged to represent a constituency so engaged in the political process, which largely shares my view that the best relationship to have with the EU is the closest possible one.