It has been a very busy and complicated week in Parliament as MPs voted on the Lords amendments of the European Union Withdrawal Bill, with several hours of debate and dozens of votes. This is a hugely important matter to the country and I have received many emails and letters from constituents sharing their thoughts and asking my opinion, as Brexit will of course have a big impact on Durham. I wanted to provide an update on what happened in parliament and to explain to constituents how I voted.
Since Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016, I have been working with my Labour colleagues to campaign for the best Brexit package possible. However, I am very concerned by the growing divisions that have been created in our society by Brexit. This week I supported all of the Lords amendments and voted against the Government’s rejection of them, except amendment 51, which I abstained.
Labour believes that in order to protect jobs, the economy, rights and to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland we need to negotiate a strong single market deal, and we do not think that the European Economic Area (EEA) is the best way to achieve this. The EEA does have several attributes, including ensuring a high level of participation in the single market, but it also has very significant drawbacks, for example, it means that the UK has little say over EU rules. This is why I abstained over the vote for this amendment.
I instead voted for Labour’s amendment, 51 a, which set out “to ensure the United Kingdom has full access to the internal market of the European Union, underpinned by shared institutions and regulations, with no new impediments to trade and common rights, standards and protections as a minimum.” This amendment underlines our determination to retain the benefits of the single market and build on commitments in our manifesto.
I share many concerns that not being part of a customs union could lead to a hard border in Northern Ireland. Negotiating a new comprehensive customs union with the EU is the best way to prevent this, and also to ensure there are no tariffs or customs checks with the EU, which will help support British manufacturing industry. I voted for in favour of the Lords amendments 1 and 2, and against the Government’s rejection of this.
I strongly agree believe that Parliament should be able vote on the final Brexit deal proposed by the Government. This is important to ensure that the process of Britain exiting from the European Union is carried out in a democratic way.
That is why, along with my Labour colleagues, I voted in favour of the Lords amendment 19, and I was very disappointed that the Government voted to disagree with the amendment. I understand that the Prime Minister made several concessions to some Conservative MPs just before the vote to convince them to vote this way. These concessions are yet to be made public and I hope that when we find out what they are, they will ensure that Parliament has a final say on the Brexit deal.
Please be assured that with my Labour colleagues, I will continue to challenge the Government on their failure thus far to bring forward a Brexit package that acts in the best interest of the UK, and will do my best to prevent Britain’s departure from the EU from negatively effecting my constituents. Following this week in Parliament, I look forward to further discussions with my Labour colleagues and organisations about how to deliver a Brexit deal that provides the best outcomes for Durham and the North East.