Posted: 20 March, 2019 at 5:07 pm

Brexit Update 20th March 2019

The public rightly expected an orderly Brexit on 29 March – after all, the Government has had two years to sort out arrangements. They’ve failed. Instead we now have national humiliation and crisis.

Britain should be leaving the EU in 9 days’ time, clear and confident about our future relationships with Europe on everything from trade to immigration to security. None of this has yet been negotiated, and the Government’s withdrawal deal largely creates a transition period to buy more time. It does not do enough to protect jobs and barrier-free trade or guard against a race to the bottom on workplace, environmental and consumer standards – which, of course, is precisely the purpose and prize in leaving for Tory Brexit advocates.

Theresa May has now lost control and the Government is in chaos. The Brexit deal has been defeated twice by record margins in Parliament, last week by 149 votes; while cabinet ministers voted against the Prime Minister when she proposed a delay to Brexit, including the Brexit Secretary who spoke to commend the plan minutes before voting against it himself!

In any previous period of Parliament’s history, when a Government can’t get its main business through the Commons or can’t get its cabinet to vote together, the Prime Minister would resign and call a General Election to give the country to chance to elect new Parliament and fresh Government.

This should happen now, and may yet become the only way of breaking this Brexit impasse. But the Conservatives continue to cling to power.

Having ‘run down the clock’ to try to force MPs to back her deal, the Prime Minister has run out of time and has to go to Brussels tomorrow to plead with EU leaders for a delay to the Brexit date. No one wanted delay but this has become inevitable because the Government has failed to get a deal agreed and legislate for the Brexit arrangements. Worst of all, whilst the UK can ask for extra time, it’s the EU that decides whether to grant a delay and what conditions to impose.

In last week’s votes:

  • I voted to reject the Government’s Brexit deal, because it falls well short of what Britain needs to safeguard jobs, rights and standards
  • I voted to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU on 29 March with no deal in place, a stance strongly supported by trade unions and business
  • I voted to support the Prime Minister in asking the EU for a time-limited delay, because this had become unavoidable.

The priority for Labour now is to persuade the Government that there is the basis for a better Brexit deal which could be agreed with the EU and command cross-party support, if the Prime Minister is willing to shift the terms of the Brexit agreement, for instance to include a permanent customs union as Labour has argued for months. This would also better respect the result of the Referendum and reflect the concerns of many in the 48% who voted Remain.

In the midst of such uncertainty and chaos, it’s only sensible to keep all options open to break the deadlock which is why Labour have also signalled we’d be willing to support a second referendum if needed, although at present there is certainly no majority in Parliament for this and it’s not a popular idea with the public.

The Prime Minister tries to blame Labour for Parliament’s rejection of her deal. But we lost the 2017 election and we’re in Opposition, facing 69 more Tory MPs in the House of Commons than Labour MPs. The Government controls legislation and the main business in our British Parliament, not the Opposition. So the failure to secure and agree a good Brexit lies with the Conservative government – 75 of her own Tory MPs voted to defeat the Prime Minister last week. They are too divided and dysfunctional to lead Brexit and too distracted to deal with all the other problems the country faces with the NHS, housing, schools and living standards. Britain deserves better than this, and people deserve the chance to change or confirm the team in charge not just the plan for Brexit in a General Election.

With best wishes

John