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Why I Voted Against Triggering Article 50

08/12/2016 12:10
Stuart Freedman via Getty Images

The Government has conceded ground in committing to publishing their plan for leaving the EU before invoking Article 50. But what does this mean?

Does this mean that the Government are just going to publish a document saying "we will seek the best possible Brexit, and aim for the best possible access to the Single Market" and then say "there you go: there's our plan". Because we have heard that before and that is not good enough.

Will there be a White Paper? Will it answer specific points on the Government's priorities? Will it set out the Government's position on Single Market membership? On free movement? On co-operation with our allies on security? On workers' rights? Consumer protections? Environmental protections? Will there be a list of so-called Red Lines?

We don't know.

So I cannot vote for a motion that commits this House to invoking Article 50 in March next year. Given the way that this is all unravelling who knows where we will be in March?

And who decided this timetable - the Prime Minister - behind closed doors and with no input from Parliament. The Prime Minister set the date - and absolutely nothing that has happened since has made me think that she or the Three Brexiteers know what they're doing.

So I cannot vote for a motion that supports the government's Brexit timetable.

We have heard time and time again from the Brexit Secretary, that "there will be no running commentary" on the Government's Brexit plans. But in reality we have had a running commentary of sorts - just not one that has been willingly provided by the Government.

We've had a running commentary of sorts provided the photographers positioned outside Number 10 Downing Street and by leaked memos. But when all is said and done, what have we learnt?

That the Cabinet is split over 'cash for access' to the single market.

After a Leave campaign based on the simple claim that if we left the EU we would repatriate money from Brussels and spend it on our health service, the Brexit Secretary and the Chancellor are now proposing that we pay into the EU's coffers even after we've left.

So are we to assume that this is the Government's plan - to leave the EU, but continue to pay money to the EU? To leave the EU but still implement all EU directives while not having a voice in the room when the rules are decided?

If so - this sounds less like having your cake and eating it and much more like paying for a cake that we don't get to choose.

A lack of clarity won't help us to get a good deal. In fact, it will do the exact opposite. And that is the most important point of today's debate. The absence of any detail about the Government's plans has created a vacuum that has been filled by speculation, and the hard Brexiteers. But words have consequences.

Proposals to force companies to draw up registers of EU workers. Threats to crack down on European students. Plans to replace European doctors and nurses working in our NHS. Refusing to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who reside in the UK. Why are we offending and alienating our European neighbours when we have to negotiate with them next year?

Every time we reduce what little good will is left in Europe we make a good Brexit deal even less likely. We have precious little good will left in Europe, and this doesn't exactly ingratiate ourselves to our European neighbours ahead of negotiations beginning. In these negotiations it is our European neighbours who will be in the stronger negotiating position.

So why do we still pretend that what we eventually end up with is going to be determined and decided by whatever it is that our Government demands?

The unity, interests and stability of the EU will be upheld and protected. Single market membership without free movement of labour is not on the table. The EU cannot set a precedent that member state who leaves the union gets a better deal outside. EU leaders and their chief negotiator Michael Barnier have been entirely clear that the UK will pay a price for leaving.

They are not bluffing so what happens in Whitehall is not the only important thing in the coming years. The referendum did not settle or answer any questions about where we go from here - it merely created uncertainty and threw up more questions. You don't bring the country back together by ignoring 48% of the country.

You don't begin to heal the divisions thrown up by this referendum and its aftermath by drowning out the voices 16 million people, plus all the Brits who are resident in Europe and all the EU citizens who live in the UK.

Let us return to the text of the original motion - calling on the Government to publish its plan before Article 50 - so that we can have bring some accountability and scrutiny into this process.

The Government have sought to turn this into a debate about Article 50, and I will not be voting to write the Government a blank cheque to do whatever it pleases next year.

This speech first appeared here.

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