The ‘Brexit’ election has resulted in humiliation for the Prime Minister. The majority she claimed was essential to get a good deal for leaving the EU has collapsed, losing her all authority and credibility just as the complex Brexit negotiations start. As a result, Brexit threatens to bog down parliament and government for many months to come.
The Queens Speech, setting out the legislative agenda for the coming Parliament, promised eight separate Bills relating to Brexit:
- Repeal Bill (now renamed the EU (Withdrawal) Bill) – to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and convert EU law into UK law
- Customs Bill – to ensure a standalone customs regime post Brexit, enabling the UK to accommodate future trade agreements and control the import and export of goods
- Trade Bill – to implement the legal framework required for new free trade deals with countries around the world, and protect domestic businesses from unfair trading practices
- Immigration Bill – to enable the end of free movement of EU nationals into the UK,
- Fisheries Bill – to enable the UK to control access to its waters and set UK fishing quotas
- Agriculture Bill – to implement an effective system to support UK farmers and protect the natural environment
- Nuclear Safeguards Bill – to implement a UK nuclear safeguards regime, which ensures the UK continues to meet its international obligations for nuclear safeguards, to support international nuclear non-proliferation and protect UK electricity supplied by nuclear power
- International Sanctions Bill – to ensure that as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK continues to play a central role in negotiating global sanctions to counter threats of terrorism, conflict and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as enabling the UK’s continued compliance with international law post Brexit.
We know very little detail about most of these Bills as yet, but the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was published earlier this week, and MPs will have our first two days of debate on the bill when we return to parliament in September. The Government are portraying this Bill as a mere formality for transferring EU law into UK law, but as it stands, it will give Ministers sweeping new powers to alter, scrap or later repeal EU laws without proper parliamentary scrutiny. In normal circumstances, only Parliament can change the law, but the bill proposes giving ministers special powers to make changes to thousands of laws without parliamentary vote.
Labour made a manifesto pledge that if we were elected into Government, we would negotiate a deal to put jobs and investment first, and ensure that essential rights and protections – human rights, workers’ rights, environmental and consumer protections, and financial regulations – would be retained, if not strengthened, post Brexit. We did not win the election however, and with the real prospect of a chaotic and costly Tory Brexit, I will oppose any course of action that I feel will be bad for my constituents, and that damages our economy and destroys jobs. This is why I signed and voted for an amendment to the Queen’s Speech last month, calling for us to keep open the possibility of remaining in the customs union and single market once we leave the EU.
And it is why Labour is clear that unless there are significant changes to the EU (Withdrawal) bill, we will vote against it, given our serious concerns about the excessive use of delegate powers and the potential watering down of key rights and protections such as workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections. We are also concerned that the Bill, as it stands, would prevent any future role for the European Court of Justice – a position that is making it far harder for the UK to get a Brexit deal in the national interest, as shown by the Government’s position over the UK’s future membership of Euratom, Europol and the European Medicines Agency. A number of constituents have raised concerns about the UK withdrawing from membership of these important agencies, and I have written to Minsters seeking assurances. This week, I have also written to the Environment Secretary asking what action he is taking to ensure food security and standards and environment laws are protected when we leave the EU. I have to say that I do not hold much hope that I will receive the assurances I am seeking. Over a year after the referendum and nearly four months following the triggering of Article 50, we still have no clarity as to what this badly divided Government is fighting for.