Friday 10th March
Letter to the Prime Minister from Keir Starmer QC MP and Baroness (Angela) Smith of Basildon
Dear Prime Minister,
On Monday the House of Commons will consider two simple but important amendments to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
Unfortunately, strong statements by Government ministers that these amendments must be rejected out of hand undermine commitments that had previously been made on these issues.
It is increasingly clear that the focus of your Government is to have a ‘clean’ Bill without amendments, rather than to listen and respond to these legitimate concerns that in no way damage your stated objectives.
These amendments do not delay invoking Article 50 and do not constrict your ability to negotiate, given your previous comments on these issues.
We would urge you to reflect and reconsider on the overwhelming case to act on these two specific issues as this is the final opportunity to put vital guarantees and protections into legislation.
European citizens living in the UK make a huge and valued contribution to our economy and society. As well as working in business, many EU citizens are employed in our public services - including the many thousands who provide care to our sick and elderly. Our cultural life has undoubtedly been enhanced as a result of European citizens deciding to make our country their home, and our university sector benefits enormously from EU students and researchers.
Labour has been making this point for many months and has emphasised that EU nationals should not be used as bargaining chips. This would not only be the right thing to do, but it would also help the negotiations get off to a positive start and improve the chances of similar reassurances being given to British citizens living elsewhere in the EU.
This is echoed by the cross-party Exiting the EU Select Committee and a number of campaigns including by Unison, New Europeans and The 3 Million. The House of Lords has also passed this amendment by a large majority and with cross-party support.
For the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK this amendment offers real reassurance that Brexit will lead to no change in their rights. This is a reassurance they deserve and one that you alone can give.
A ‘meaningful’ vote
Labour has also argued over the course of many months that Parliament must have a meaningful vote on the outcome of negotiations with the EU.
It was a step forward, therefore, when David Jones MP announced during Committee stage of the Bill that the Government will put the final draft agreement to a vote in both Houses:
“… what I am committing to from the Dispatch Box, is that before the final agreement is concluded—the final draft agreement, if you like—it will be put to a vote of this House and a vote of the other place. That, we intend, will be before it is put to the European Parliament.” (David Jones MP, Minister for Exiting the European Union. House of Commons, 7th February 2017)
The timing of these votes will be crucial, as Labour has argued throughout consideration of the Bill. It is important that the Government has now conceded that both Houses of Parliament will consider the final draft agreement before it is voted on by the European Parliament:
“…we intend that the vote will cover not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union. Furthermore, I can confirm that the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement, to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. We expect and intend that this will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement.” (David Jones MP, House of Commons, 7th February 2017)
Our successful Labour-led amendment to the Bill seeks to formalise these promises. It would also ensure that Parliament is able to express its view should the negotiations lead to no deal being reached with the EU. Labour is clear that no deal is the worst possible deal, and would not be in the national interest.
This amendment would ensure there is a truly meaningful vote at the end of the Article 50 process. Given the legal wrangling that led to the need for this Bill, it is clearly in the national interest to avoid the need for further such challenges. Lord Hope, the distinguished former Supreme Court Judge and cross bench peer, has been clear that provision needs to be made for Parliament to have its say, either in this Bill or in a further piece of legislation.
The European Parliament has its right to vote at this stage confirmed by law. The UK Parliament should have the same legal right.
Labour supported both these amendments in the House of Commons, Labour Peers both led and helped pass them in the House of Lords, and Labour will continue to fully support these amendments on Monday.
The House of Lords agreed these amendments with large majorities (102 and 98) and cross-party support. The message from this is clear that the Government should reconsider and put these important guarantees on the face of the Bill.
You will understand, however, our concerns that Government Ministers (including David Davis in the House of Commons yesterday during Exiting the EU Oral Questions) have indicated they will simply ignore these amendments and seek to delete them from the Bill, before any debate or consideration in the House of Commons on the substantive issues raised in the Lords debates.
Surely the issues raised in the Lords and such large majorities from across the House are worthy of greater consideration?
We are making this direct appeal to you and hope that you will give it your urgent personal attention.
Keir Starmer QC MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU
Baroness (Angela) Smith of Basildon, Shadow Leader of the House of Lords