As you will be aware, on Monday, Parliament passed the legislation giving the Prime Minister the power to start the EU exit process. The EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill returned to the House of Commons following scrutiny in the House of Lords where my Labour colleagues had pushed through amendments to secure the rights of EU nationals in the UK and for Parliament to have a vote on the final deal.
These amendments then returned to the House of Commons on Monday, and I voted to support them. So I was dismayed that the Commons voted by 335 to 287 to reject the rights of EU nationals, and by 331 to 286 to reject giving parliament a greater say on the final deal. Contrary to some reports, these amendments if passed would not have prevented or even delayed the Brexit process, but would have brought peace to mind to over 3 million EU nationals living and working in the UK, and would have ensured that Parliament could insist the government carries on negotiating for the very best deal for our constituents. Whilst Ministers have assured the House of Commons that Parliament will be offered a vote, this will be on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, making a mockery of one of the driving principles of Brexit, that of restoring Parliamentary sovereignty.
The un-amended Bill is now set to receive Royal Assent (become law) and the Prime Minister has indicated that Article 50 will be triggered by the end of the month – without any real assessment of the cost to the UK economy. Once Article 50 is triggered, the UK will have just two years to negotiate bilateral deals with the 53 countries with which the EU has Free Trade Agreements, which will cease to apply to Britain on the day of Brexit. The first priority for the Government therefore must be to ensure that the UK avoids a chaotic exit, leading to a ‘cliff edge’ situation in which the rules that govern UK trade are unclear, and trade is severely impeded or even stopped whilst negotiations continue.
As you may know, the Government have committed to transpose EU law into UK law on the day we leave the EU in a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ which is expected to be included in the Queen’s Speech in May. There are concerns that the Tory Government could try to use the Great Repeal Bill to weaken employment rights, equalities and environmental and consumer protections but, as I have stated repeatedly, I can assure you that my Labour colleagues and I will be supporting demands on the Government to ensure that the protections provided under EU regulations are retained or even strengthened as EU laws are rewritten into domestic policy.