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Labour Opportunism Over The EU Withdrawal Bill

11/09/2017 15:16 BST | Updated 11/09/2017 15:16 BST
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Labour's new, softer stance on BREXIT, announced with a new found desire to remain within the EU's Single Market and an intention to vote down the EU Withdrawal Bill, is not a policy platform designed to get the best for the UK. Instead, Labour are playing dangerous party political games with BREXIT and have been doing so since before the referendum.

A year is a long time in politics and a lot has happened since the referendum. To begin with, Corbyn decided to back Remain (apparently in "party management mode") but refused to campaign for that outcome with other parties. Either outcome, Leave or Remain, would probably result in significant constitutional change for the UK - neither merited campaigning with members of other parties for the Labour leader. Then followed around twelve months of ambiguity, with Labour committed to leaving the EU (despite numerous Labour MPs and the Labour lead Welsh Government lobbying otherwise). This ambiguity served Labour well. Despite being committed to leaving the EU and the Single Market, Labour's support in the General Election was boosted by voters wanting a "soft" BREXIT. So it's perhaps no surprise that Labour have now done an about turn, championing the "soft" BREXIT cause.

However, what Labour haven't grasped is that the time for political arguments about BREXIT is over. The issue of whether the British electorate wanted to remain within the EU was settled by the referendum. The issue of whether the UK should actually leave the EU was settled by parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Conventional wisdom is that, having triggered Article 50, we have now begun a one-way, two year, legal process of leaving the EU - the clock is ticking. It is important that Parliament see this legal process through and ensure that when we leave, we do so in a manner that offers economic and legal stability for individuals and businesses.

The EU Withdrawal Bill sets out to deliver stability throughout the BREXIT process. EU law at the point of departure will be retained for future Parliaments to amend or dispose of as they see fit. However, much EU law is written and phrased with the whole EU in mind and may therefore bear limited relevance to a newly independent UK. The EU Withdrawal Bill provides ministers with the power to amend retained EU legislation so it continues to function correctly. Labour are keen to characterise this as a "power-grab" - it is nothing of the sort. The ability to amend retained EU legislation is strictly limited. Changes must be made within two years of our departure and cannot alter human rights, create new criminal offences or increase or impose new taxes.

By threatening to vote down the EU Withdrawal Bill, Labour aren't voting for a "hard" BREXIT, a "soft" BREXIT or no BREXIT at all. They are voting for a chaotic BREXIT, pushing the UK over a legal cliff edge, at which a significant amount of EU legislation will cease to apply overnight - to claim otherwise is an outright lie. Now is not the time to try and re-run the referendum. Parliament should be working to make sure that the UK gets the best possible outcome from the BREXIT process. However, Labour have other ideas. They seem determined to play party politics with BREXIT, campaigning for a "soft" BREXIT whilst at the same time cynically attempting to engineer a chaotic withdrawal, presumably to score some cheap, political capital. It's a disappointing attitude from a party which wishes to paint itself as a government in waiting.