Let’s be frank. Boris Johnson’s large majority means he will now be able to railroad his hard Brexit plans through parliament. Yet opposition MPs still have a vital role to play - in holding the Conservative government to account, and exposing the many problems the prime minister’s Brexit bill will create – and the likely problems from the second stage of Brexit talks this year.
So Liberal Democrats have tabled a variety of amendments to Johnson’s withdrawal agreement bill, which gets debated in parliament next week. Our amendments seek to mitigate some of the worst excesses of the prime minister’s damaging hard Brexit plans – starting by removing an injustice for which the Conservatives have no mandate for: removing rights of refugee children,
Liberal Democrats have long fought the Conservatives to protect the right of children – when, for example, we ended detention of children in immigration centres during the coalition. Now the fight is to amend the Brexit bill to prevent Boris Johnson stripping out guaranteed rights for child refugees to be reunited with family members in the UK.
Let’s be clear – this removal of rights of rights of some of the most vulnerable people on our planet has nothing to do with Brexit. It was not in the original bill published before the election, and it wasn’t mentioned in the election. But it is heartless beyond belief.
So we are calling on all MPs across the political spectrum – including newly elected Conservative MPs - to support our amendment. To vote against it, is to vote to deny support for the most needy children in our society.
And we won’t let Johnson get away with Brexit without scrutiny either. The Liberal Democrats will hold the Tories to account for the lies told during the referendum campaign and in the months and years since. The prime minister made countless promises that he knows he won’t be able to keep. Given this level of deception, there must be a public inquiry into how the whole Brexit process has been handled, and we want to amend the bill to set one up. We must learn from the many grave mistakes and deceptions, to ensure such a manipulation of our democracy does not happen again.
We’ve already seen the government fail to deliver promised trade deals, cover up the negative impacts of Brexit, and refuse to give the people the final say through a People’s Vote on the deal. That simply isn’t good enough for our United Kingdom. The Conservative government must be honest with the British public about the effect Brexit will have on our economy, our security, our rights and our planet.
So we’ve also tabled an amendment calling for regular public reports on the progress of the second stage of Brexit negotiations and the effect any agreement will have on our economy, our national security, our human, social and economic rights, and climate change and the environment. If what Boris Johnson is negotiating will be so good for Britain, he should have nothing to hide. The British public must be told the full consequences of Boris Johnson’s next Brexit deal and then this should be put back to the people.
Finally, we’ve also demanded that Johnson removes his dangerous cliff edge deadline for securing this second Brexit deal. We must at all costs prevent the UK crashing out with no deal at the end of this year – as even most Brexit-supporting MPs recognise this would put our security and livelihoods at risk.
Ensuring there must be an extension if a trade deal and security arrangements are not agreed, is crucial to protecting the safety and welfare of British citizens. It must be the priority of any government to protect all those within the realm: it would be a dereliction of duty with catastrophic consequences if Boris Johnson was to try and drag us out of the European Union without sufficient protections and measures in place guaranteeing our security, food and medicine.
The Liberal Democrats are proud pro-Europeans, and internationalists – and always will be. We will always be committed to promoting as close a relationship with the EU as possible. So we will challenge the most damaging aspects of Johnson’s withdrawal agreement. As an internationalist party, we remain committed to working with all our neighbours whether it’s on climate action, peace and security or economic prosperity. Our new amendments are all part of that fight.
Ed Davey is the acting co-leader of the Liberal Democrats.