I wanted to try to outline the significance of Brexit-related events of the past week or so, and to explain what will happen next.
What happened in the last week?
As a Labour MP I am a pro-European internationalist and that is why I campaigned to stay in the European Union. But as I have been saying for some time I believe we have to accept the referendum result and that is why last week I voted to allow Theresa May to start negotiations.
It is important to remember that this is all the EU Withdrawal Bill does – last week’s events were simply triggering the start of a process. There is a long way to go before a different relationship with the EU is agreed and any changes to our domestic law, tax legislation or immigration system will also require separate legislation.
The Government has a majority in Parliament but Labour were still able to make real progress with some important concessions, specifically in regard to future Parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament will now have two votes, one on the proposed withdrawal arrangements, and a vote on the future relationship with the European Union from March 2019. The debate around these votes and scrutiny leading up to the final draft agreement, somewhere around October 2018, will continue in both houses of Parliament. The focus of our efforts will be to ensure the Prime Minister secures the best deal in the national interest.
I believe the Government should have made commitments, at this stage, on the status of EU Nationals in the UK and British people in the EU and the future of our place in key EU agencies such as Euratom, a research programme for nuclear research and training. The Government should have been more willing to listen to these points. So there is no disguising that we would have liked further progress. But the Tories have a majority of MPs and they chose not to support us. We will continue to press on these points as the negotiations progress.
What will happen in the next few weeks?
Now that the House of Commons has voted in favour of the EU Withdrawal Bill, the Bill now goes to the House of Lords for its next stages. It is scheduled to have its Second Reading there on Monday 20 February. Labour Lords will continue to press on amendments and to seek further clarity from the government, particularly on the process of scrutiny from March 2017 onwards. If changes are made there then the Bill will return to the Commons. However, if it passes unchanged it is likely to become law very swiftly.
What happens in the longer term?
As I said before, this Bill is only the start of the Brexit process. It will trigger the negotiations that will be necessary in the following two years as we lead up to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Last summer the Prime Minister said there would be no running commentary on the negotiations. It has taken a court case and relentless pressure from Labour and other MPs, including Tories, for the government to recognise that Parliament has to be central to the negotiations and that therefore they must be subject to continuing scrutiny in Parliament.
It is remarkable that the Government has sought to exclude MPs from having a say on behalf of their constituents in the most significant change to our political, social and economic order for 40 years.
I can assure you that, along with my Labour colleagues, I will be scrutinising and challenging the government every step of the way.
I hope this is helpful and plan to use my website to post further updates on this fast-moving issue.
Karin Smyth MP
13 February 2017