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A huge amount for MPs to debate as the government bumbles on with Brexit

Pretty much everything I've been doing this week has been Brexit related. Following the Supreme Court's ruling that parliament must have a vote on whether we trigger Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the European Union, MPs haven't been concerned with very much else. 

But as it happens, I was away from Westminster for most of this week, visiting Jersey and Guernsey as part of a small group of MPs investigating the implications of Brexit for the Channel Islands. So I missed the statement on the Supreme Court ruling, and the arguments at Prime Minister's questions the next day.

We were however back in London just in time for the Withdrawal from the EU bill to be presented to parliament on Thursday. And as this is such a momentous decision for our country, I want to take this chance to explain a bit about the process from now on. I'll make sure to keep constituents updated as matters develop in the next few days.

Things are moving very fast. Next week, MPs will debate the bill for two days (and carry on till midnight on Tuesday, as it is likely nearly everyone will want to speak). The following week, there will be three more days of debate, when we have the chance to propose detailed amendments to the bill, before it heads off to the House of Lords.

We don't know how long the Lords will have to debate it before it comes back to the Commons for final votes. But we do know that the prime minister has said it's all got to be done by 31 March - though, to our surprise, the bill doesn't actually say that. In fact, it says hardly anything, being just a few lines long. So you might think we won't have much to debate.

But that would be wrong. Unusually, MPs have been allowed to start proposing amendments already. Normally we can't do this until after the first debate. But from 5pm on Thursday, an orderly queue began to form at the clerks' table in the chamber, as MPs raced to get their amendments down. As exiting the EU has far reaching implications, I expect a lot more amendments in the next few days. We'll be questioning everything from workers' rights to trade treaties with EU and other countries to sharing police and security intelligence to what happens to EU nationals in the UK - and much more. There will be a huge amount we want to debate.

So, with just a few weeks in hand, it's not surprising that a row has already broken out about the way the government is timetabling the parliamentary process. The prime minister's very tight 31 March deadline risks poor quality legislation that we haven't thought through. Of course, she didn't need to waste weeks in the Supreme Court arguing a case everyone knew she would lose. MPs certainly won't forgive or forget that, and I joined colleagues in the chamber on Thursday to complain about the way the process is being run.

As most people know, I campaigned to remain in the EU, and the majority of those voting in Trafford wanted us to do so too. If we leave, we'll have to do everything possible to get the best deal we can. The amendments are one way we can try to do that, and if they're not good enough, we can vote the bill down. But while I won't vote for a bad deal for my constituents, at this stage, I'm waiting to see whether and how the bill could be improved. Next week, we will start to hear from Ministers in detail about how the government intends to protect UK interests, and in due course a white paper with more information will be published too. I'll update constituents as information becomes available, and votes start happening in the next few days. In the meantime, please feel free to get in touch with your views.

 

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