As you will be aware, over the past few weeks Brexit has continued to dominate proceedings in Westminster.
Since taking office, the Prime Minister made it very clear that he was prepared to let the UK leave the EU without a deal in place on 31 October 2019. Despite his assurances that he would seek a new deal, many MPs from across Parliament have raised their concerns that the Government continue to seem set on leaving without any such deal in place.
As you will know, the Government announced plans to suspend Parliament for five weeks before returning with a Queen’s speech for a new Parliamentary session. Although proroguing Parliament is usual for the start of a new Parliamentary session, the length of time the Prime Minister has suspended Parliament for is simply unacceptable. In fact, since the 1980s, prorogation has barely lasted more than a week.
It seems clear that, despite what the Prime Minister has said, this prorogation is an attempt to run down the clock on the amount of time MPs will have to scrutinise and challenge the Government, and simply allow us to leave the EU without a deal by default.
MPs from all parties have condemned this move to suspend Parliament as undemocratic, and so on Wednesday 4 September, MPs took control of the business of Parliament to debate an emergency Bill that would mandate the Prime Minister to seek a further Brexit extension until 31 January 2020 if he has not secured a new deal by 19 October 2019.
I of course voted for this Bill, as I believe that it is simply not in the interests of the UK, and particularly the North East, to leave the EU without a deal. As well as opposition parties supporting this Bill, a number of Conservative MPs who opposed a no-deal Brexit also voted in favour of the legislation, meaning that the Bill passed. It has since received Royal Assent and is now law, and it is incumbent upon the Prime Minister to now seek an extension from the EU.
The Prime Minister then sought to force a General Election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, where he would need the approval of two thirds of MPs to call an election. Under this Act however, should the Prime Minister have been successful, he would have been free to set the date of the election. This means that polling day could have been set for after 31 October 2019, and we would again leave the EU without a deal by default.
Thankfully, all opposition parties could see that this was a blatant attempt by the Government to once again control the date of polling day, and so either abstained or voted against this. This meant that although the Government did get 298 votes for a General Election, the motion did not reach the 434 votes needed to trigger an election.
The Prime Minister subsequently sought a General Election for a second time on Monday 9 September before Parliament was prorogued, and again failed to get two thirds of Parliament to agree. This time, even fewer MPs voted in favour of an election, with the Government getting the support of only 293 Members, with 357 either abstaining or voting against the motion. Labour has long called for a General Election, but we will not support one at the expense of a no-deal Brexit. It is imperative that we do not crash out of the EU before the public have had the chance to have their say.
Although Parliament has now been suspended, which means that all oversight and scrutiny of the Government has been terminated for the next five weeks, on Wednesday 11 September the Scottish Appeal Court unanimously ruled that the decision to prorogue Parliament was unlawful. I was part of this legal action, and the Court ruled that the advice the Prime Minister gave to the Queen and the subsequent prorogation was unlawful. The Government has decided to appeal this decision rather than simply recalling Parliament, and this will be heard in the Supreme Court next week.
On Wednesday 11 September, I joined a number of MPs from all parties outside Parliament to show our anger at the Government’s decision, and to highlight the need for Parliamentary scrutiny at such a vital time for our country.
Please rest assured that my colleagues and I will continue to monitor the Government’s actions closely over this period, and once Parliament returns on 14 October we will be doing all we can to hold the Government to account and ensure that we either have a deal in place with the EU, a General Election, or a confirmatory referendum.
Of course, you may know that I have announced that I will be standing down at the next General Election, and I would like to say again what a true privilege it has been to be the Member of Parliament for the City of Durham. In the time I have left however, I will continue to do all I can to represent the interests of the constituency, and oppose a no-deal Brexit.