Events relating to Brexit and Article 50 have been moving at a very fast pace in recent weeks. I expect no let-up in the foreseeable future.
People in Bristol and across Britain hold very strong opinions about Brexit. It is an issue that has divided opinion like few other issues have in recent decades, and it will continue to do so in the months ahead.
I voted to remain in the European Union as most people in Bristol South did. However, the majority of the British people voted to leave and I believe that result must be respected.
The job of MPs now is to help heal the country, ensure we come together and define a positive relationship between the UK, the EU and the rest of the world in the future.
One of my roles at Westminster is as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit, Sir Keir Starmer MP. I have been working along with the rest of the Labour Brexit team to make the case for what sort of Britain we want to see. I do not believe we can leave this to the government whose approach to date has been vague and muddled. Their vision for Britain is not my vision.
Because of pressure from Labour, Ministers have now been forced not only to bring forward a plan, but to agree to publish a White Paper setting out their Brexit strategy.
Following the publication of the government’s Article 50 Bill (the European Union [Notification of Withdrawal] Bill), Labour has tabled a number of targeted amendments, which seek to improve the process, and would ensure Parliament is able to hold the government to account throughout the Brexit negotiations. I have included more detail about what these amendments seek to achieve towards the end of this communication.
I accept the referendum result and will not frustrate the Article 50 process, but I cannot overstate the fact that the Article 50 Bill signals the beginning of the Brexit process, not the end, and to pledge that, along with my Labour colleagues, I will hold the government to account all the way. This is no blank cheque.
Brexit’s impact on Bristol South
Whilst Brexit negotiations will attract national headlines over the coming months, what matters most to me as local MP is the impact this will have on the people of South Bristol. And of course its effect on the day-to-day lives of residents in our communities is as yet unknown.
I think it is vital we understand that however strongly we feel on one side or other of the referendum argument, we are leaving the EU, and now Brexit has to provide opportunities for the benefit of everyone in Bristol South.
For example, if restrictions on free movement lie ahead, leading to fewer foreign workers, it will be even more important to fight to ensure there are good quality training opportunities – in construction, IT, engineering and the NHS, for example – for people living in communities across south Bristol to access these jobs.
As I stated earlier, the situation relating to Brexit is a fast-moving one, and so I shall continue to not only monitor and respond to the issue as it develops in Parliament in the weeks and months ahead, but also keep a firm focus on the implications this will have for the people I represent in south Bristol.
I hope this is helpful in setting out my position.
Note: Labour’s amendments
• Labour’s targeted amendments seek to improve the process, to ensure Parliament is able to hold the government to account throughout the Brexit negotiations.
• Labour is also tabling an anti tax-haven amendment to ensure the Prime Minister doesn’t use Brexit to weaken Britain’s laws concerning tax avoidance and evasion.
• Labour will also support two amendments drafted by Melanie Onn MP which would protect workers’ rights and ensure there is no drop in employment protection after the UK leaves the EU.
Labour’s amendments, which are designed to improve the Bill, not frustrate it, will:
i) Allow a meaningful vote in Parliament on the final Brexit deal. Labour’s amendment would ensure that the House of Commons has the first say on any proposed deal and that the consent of Parliament would be required before the deal is referred to the European Council and Parliament.
ii) Establish a number of key principles the Government must seek to negotiate during the process, including protecting workers’ rights, securing full tariff and impediment free access to the Single Market.
iii) Ensure there is robust and regular Parliamentary scrutiny by requiring the Secretary of State to report to the House at least every two months on the progress being made on negotiations throughout the Brexit process
iv) Guarantee legal rights for EU nationals living in the UK. Labour has repeatedly called for the Government to take this step, and this amendment would ensure EU citizens’ rights are not part of the Brexit negotiations.
v) Require the Government to consult regularly with the governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland throughout Brexit negotiations. Labour’s amendment would put the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) on a statutory footing and require the UK Government to consult the JMC at least every two months.
vi) Require the Government to publish impact assessments conducted since the referendum of any new proposed trading relationship with the EU. This amendment seeks to ensure there is much greater clarity on the likely impact of the Government’s decision to exit the Single Market and seek new relationship with the Customs Union
vii) Ensure the Government must seek to retain all existing EU tax avoidance and evasion measures post-Brexit
Karin Smyth MP
Labour Member of Parliament for Bristol South
27 January 2017