Last Saturday, the Conservative Government asked us to vote on the deal that Boris Johnson had agreed with the European Union. In my view, and in the view of all the opposition MPs, and in the view of several of the more reasonable Conservative MPs, this is a worse deal than Theresa May’s – and that had already been voted down three times by Parliament.
Rather than simply voting down the deal, Parliament has voted instead to consider the detail of the Withdrawal Bill and take the opportunity to amend it. This is only sensible. You wouldn’t sign a mortgage without reading the fine print.
On Monday the Government commenced the debate with what is called a “Second Reading”. This is a vote on whether Parliament wants to consider the detail of the Bill further or kick it out now. Opposition parties are meant to oppose things that they believe are fundamentally wrong and this Withdrawal Bill is fundamentally wrong. It creates a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and it specifically rules out protection for working rights and the environment.
It makes no provision for what will happen in a year’s time if we haven’t negotiated a trade agreement with Europe. It could just put off for one more year the prospect of the UK facing the cliff-edge of a no deal Brexit. The one thing this Bill absolutely won’t do is “Get Brexit Done”.
However, the Government won the Second Reading vote which means that MPs will now consider the Withdrawal Bill in detail. The vote on Monday which the Government did NOT win was to curtail debate on the detail of the Bill to just three days. This is a large and very complex Bill and it has been cobbled together by the Government in a hurry. There are bound to be mistakes in it. There is no way that three days would have been enough time for this bill to be considered properly. The Wild Animals in Circus Act, affecting just 19 animals, was given 11 days of Parliamentary time!
To amend a Bill, MPs need to read it carefully, understand the implications, work out what amendment they want to make, check the wording of the amendment with the clerks to make sure that it will actually have the intended effect, gain the support of enough other MPs to get the amendment heard, and then publish the amendment in time for all the other MPs to read it and consider whether to support it. It may be possible to do one such amendment in the course of three days, but there are several amendments that would need to be made to this Bill even just to make it as palatable as Theresa May’s deal.
Will any changes Parliament makes undermine the deal agreed with Brussels?
Most of our proposed changes would be to the way Withdrawal takes place in this country, and so wouldn’t need further agreement with Europe. We want to see legal commitments to environmental protection and working rights which the Government cannot just sell down the river next year in pursuit of a one-sided deal with the United States.
We want to make sure our food remains safe and our farm animals enjoy higher standards of welfare than they would if we followed the American model. We do not want British farmers undercut by chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef.
We want legal protections for our NHS to stop it being carved up and sold off to US private health companies.
And, finally, once the details have been hammered out and everyone knows what is truly on offer, we want it put back to the British people in a confirmatory vote, so that everyone can decide whether this is actually what we want.
People in Britain have differing views about Brexit. I believe that after 3 years of arguing we need some certainty about the future of our country. The best way to achieve that is to put together a deal which is agreed by Parliament and then put that deal back to the voters. If we don’t do that, people will continue to argue about Brexit for years to come.
I will not vote to make the people of Ipswich poorer. That’s why I will continue to do what I can to help achieve a deal which does not bankrupt our country, and to give the British people, including those too young to vote last time, a chance to vote on whether to accept it.