In September Parliament will be voting on the EU Withdrawal Bill also known as the Great Repeal Bill.
This is the first piece of legislation relating to the Brexit process to go before Parliament.
We know what is in it – it has already had its first token Parliamentary reading. And we know the direction of the Tories’ thinking – a White Paper published last March made that clear.
The second reading in September will be a chance for the Tories to lay out details that are missing from the bill – and I’m waiting for the debate to see whether that will be the case. But as it stands, it crosses many of my own red lines – as set out in a letter to constituents during the General Election campaign.
Unless changes are made – and neither the Bill nor the White Paper indicate that will be the case – I will be unable to vote for the EU Withdrawal Bill, and will be compelled to vote against at Second Reading.
In my letter to constituents I made clear the three safeguards I consider essential in any Brexit process:
1. Allowing EU Citizens already here to stay in the UK;
2. Protecting Workers Rights;
3. Securing Full Access to the Single Market.
These three safeguards have not changed, and nor has my position. I am working within Parliament to try and secure them. I am also deeply concerned about the environmental impact of Brexit.
The Bill as it stands does not protect these safeguards. So I have set out my main 5 red lines, which, if met, would allow the safeguards to remain in play in the negotiations. This doesn’t guarantee the safeguards, but it will mean they aren’t overridden before the negotiations even begin in earnest. These red lines in relation to the bill are set out below:
1. The Bill does not guarantee any workers’, equality, environmental or similar rights which were not in UK law prior to our adoption of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (which is the document containing these fundamental rights) – and it does not contain any provision for us to keep pace with EU rights in these areas after Brexit. These are rights for which we in the Labour Party have long fought. We cannot allow any possibility of their withdrawal through the back door.
2. No right is worth more than the paper it is written on unless there are clear mechanisms to enforce it. My concerns are heightened by the lack of these in the Bill. Currently we have the European Court of Justice and other European institutions to which citizens can go for redress. There are no equivalent UK institutions and no details in the Bill of what they will be. As it stands we have no idea how regulations will be policed after Brexit.
But the White Paper gives hints which are extremely worrying. Currently firms must obtain the EU Commission’s opinion on environmental regulations when carrying out offshore oil and gas activities. The White paper proposes to allow delegated powers to ‘replace the reference to the Commission with a UK body [unspecified and undetailed] or remove this requirement completely.’ (White Paper, page 20) This could mean much lower standards for offshore oil and gas, without effective enforcement.
3. The Bill as it stands opens the way for different environmental, health and safety standards in the UK. This would prevent the free movement of goods and membership of the Customs Union or the Single Market since we need to have the same standards to ensure that goods can move seamlessly between countries. The EU has the highest standards in the world in these areas. I’m committed to keeping these for the British people.
4. There is a clear danger that ‘sunset clauses’ or other limitations or requirements could be inserted by the Government. If implemented, EU laws [and rights and standards] would be transferred into British law at first – but with a time limit. What happens when that time limit runs out? Would Parliament have a say or are we back to executive powers with Theresa May being the only voice that counts?
5. Finally, I’m worried about the whole way the Government is proceeding here. There is too much talk about so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers. These are far-reaching powers which would give government not Parliament the right to make changes and decisions on the details of new regulations and institutions. Once given a carte blanche with the passing of the EU Withdrawal Bill, the government would have powers to change these very standards and rights which Brexit will put into question, without reference to Parliament. So much for the Parliamentary sovereignty people who voted for Brexit wanted in June 2016!
The EU Withdrawal Bill is meant to bring certainty around our post-Brexit legislative framework. But as it appears at the moment, it just highlights the long list of things – across a whole range of areas – which demonstrate the scale of uncertainty involved in the UK’s proposed departure from the EU. The Bill lays bare the huge range of decisions that are required and the massive uncertainties that the Government will have to confront in less than 2 years.
Far from bringing certainty, it just exposes the vast scale of uncertainty which we now face.
The Government must bring forward a clear plan of how to deal with the establishment of UK new institutions, standards and regulations to ensure that the UK doesn’t go off a cliff edge.
The Bill as it stands is asking us to make a big leap into the unknown, trusting the Government to set up the forward framework with little oversight.
Unless these 5 red lines for the Bill which I have laid out can be addressed clearly and comprehensively by the Government in September’s debate, I will be voting against the EU Withdrawal Bill at second reading.