Following the return of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to the House of Commons on the 12 June, MPs had just two days to debate all 15 amendments secured by peers in the House of Lords on matters of the utmost importance to the future prosperity of the UK. So much for ‘ bringing back control’.
Labour’s focus was on two key amendments that could decisively shape the Brexit process and steer the Government away their current extreme and destructive course. My Labour colleagues and I wanted to ensure that parliament will have a meaningful vote on the exit deal the Prime Minister negotiates. If the deal is not good enough, MPs need to have a say on what has to happen next, but unfortunately that vote was lost.
Second, Labour voted for the UK to enter into a customs union with the EU. This is really important in our constituency, where we have many manufacturing, importing and exporting businesses. If we’re not in a customs union with the EU, businesses will face new tariffs, which will increase the cost of doing business. The impact will be felt right across our economy, especially in the manufacturing sector. We didn’t win this vote either, but there will be other opportunities for parliament to vote on this matter which are coming up in other forthcoming legislation.
There were also votes to require the government to negotiate a bespoke deal that ensures we continue to receive the benefits that come from being in a single market with the European Union. This would mean that we would continue to apply common standards and regulations, which would simplify cross-border trade, and is particularly important for our significant service sector. Labour’s frontbench had tabled an amendment that sought to achieve this, but we lost that vote too. So I then voted in favour of remaining part of an existing structure that enables countries outside the EU to be part of the single market: the European Economic Area. The EEA isn’t perfect, but with time really running against us now, I believe we have to keep the option on the table so that we can build on the framework it offers. The worst of all outcomes is that we leave the EU with nothing whatsoever in place to protect our trade with our European neighbours.
As a result of these votes in the Commons, the Bill was again returned to the Lords who yet again, insisted that Parliament should have a meaningful vote in the final deal. On Wednesday this week, the Commons once again considered the matter with Tory ‘rebel’ Dominic Grieve again proposing the government should give parliament a meaningful say on the EU exit deal the government negotiates. Labour was all set to support this, and with rumours of well over a dozen other Tories who agreed, the vote looked to be on a knife-edge. But then Dominic bottled it, voting with the government – and against his own amendment! He was joined by a number of other Tories who had previously been expected to vote with Labour, though a handful still joined us in our voting lobby. But in the end, Dominic handed victory to the government, who secured a majority of just 12 and so the Bill looks set to become law on the 26 June when Royal Assent is sought.
Now the fight is on to see what other parliamentary devices might allow parliament to have a say – look out for developments in the autumn.
There will also be a number of crucial votes in the coming weeks when the Trade and Customs Bills return to the Commons. This will be our chance to make the case for a customs union with the EU and a strong single market deal. In addition, of course we will continue to make the argument for a fully meaningful vote and press our case at every opportunity. There need to be checks and balances on the Brexit process and a means of avoiding a potential disaster. The Government cannot have a blank cheque over matters so vital to our country’s prosperity.