Ian Murray MP Working Hard for Edinburgh South
This update was sent to constituents on 01/11/19:
Welcome to my latest EU Update. This update will cover votes on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), the extension of Article 50 and the Snap General Election.
This will be my last EU Update before Parliament dissolves next week. If you wish to read my previous 37 EU Updates, as well as information on the Brexit meetings I have organised and rallies I have attended, please see my website: www.ianmurraymp.com/European-Union.
The good news is that we haven’t left the EU yet and that has been as a result of all Opposition parties coming together to refuse to allow lethargy toward Brexit to push something through that will harm the country. The UK was due to have left the EU on 29 March, 12 April, and 31 October. The extension to 31 January is now firmly in place.
Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB)
In my most recent EU update, I discussed the publication of the Government’s WAB and analysed its contents. There are also a number of House of Commons Library publications providing a guide to The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill 2019-20 which have been broken down into different topics.
The Government’s Brexit deal is a bad deal. It is bad for my constituents and the country and is even worse than Theresa May’s deal, which Parliament previously rejected on numerous occasions. It explicitly rules out the Customs union and the Single market, which I had championed as the founding Director of Scottish Labour for the Single Market. I thought that if the UK was to leave, we should do so on the least worst option. It became apparent that was not going to be possible due to the Government’s red lines. That’s when I decided, along with colleagues from all parties, that a People’s vote would be the only credible way forward as a compromise position.
The independent NIESR published an analysis of the Government’s Brexit deal on 30 October. The analysis found that the UK economy would be 3.5% smaller in the long run with the Government’s Brexit deal – £70 billion worse off by 2029. This “deal” will harm jobs, rights and living standards and if we are asking people to be worse off I have long believed this deal must be put back to the people in a confirmatory referendum with the option to remain. Interestingly, the Government refused to produce an economic impact assessment on the PMs agreement. I specifically asked the Leader of the House why the government were taking this unprecedented step on such an important piece of legislation and he called economic impacts as being “for the birds”. You can watch my question here.
On Tuesday 22 October, MPs voted on the Second Reading of the WAB. I voted against the Bill, but it passed 329 votes to 299. It is important to remember that this was only Second Reading. This is the first stage of the legislative process. Many MPs voted for the WAB to clear Second Reading so it could progress to the next stage. That stage takes the Bill into Committee when it can be amended. It is this process that would have allowed a confirmatory vote to be attached or, indeed, other aspects such as a Custom Union etc.
Any piece of legislation is required to have a timetable. That is set by Government and must be passed by Parliament in the form of a “Programme Motion”. MPs voted to reject the Government’s programme motion, as the timetable for MPs to scrutinise and amend the Bill was just 3 days. To put this into context, it took 25 days for the Lisbon treaty to be passed and 11 months for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to get through. The Scotland Act 2016 was given 9 full days. The Prime Minister’s own Director of Legislative Affairs said that a Bill of such significance and complexity “should have at least 4 weeks”.
The Prime Minister attempted to railroad his Brexit deal through parliament to keep his absurd pledge for the UK to leave the EU by 31st October “do or die”. There was no thought, care or attention to the impact his deal would have on my constituents or the UK. His only thoughts were on saving face with the Brexiteers in his party.
I voted against the programme motion, and the Government was defeated by 322 votes to 308. This meant that the Bill could not progress any further without a new programme motion being agreed to. Once again, Parliament has done its job by preventing the Government acting without proper scrutiny.
After another defeat for the Prime Minister (one of many for his record), he made a statement in the House of Commons announcing that he would ‘pause’ the WAB legislation until the EU had made its decision on whether to offer the UK an extension.
The PM knew that a longer timetable would mean detailed dissection of the WAB by MPs at committee stage with numerous amendments and votes. If approved by the Commons, the same process would have then taken place in the Lords. It was likely that when passed, the Bill would have looked significantly different to the hard Brexit he originally introduced. Avoiding accountability and scrutiny seems to be Boris Johnson’s main goal, as the same week he refused to appear before the Liaison Committee in Parliament for the 3rd time. The Committee questions the Prime Minister and holds him to account on behalf of the public on his Government’s public policy.
The frustration here is that the Bill did get a vote to progress. It could have progressed further as there was an offer to compromise on the programme motion by changing the timetable to 12 days of parliamentary time instead of 3. The PM, much to everyone’s surprise, refused.
Article 50 extension and a General Election
31 October has been and gone, and we are still in the EU. The Prime Minister begrudgingly accepted a new Brexit deadline after the European Union granted an extension of Article 50 to 31 January 2020.
Instead of resuming the process of passing the WAB, the Government opted to press for an early general election. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) a motion for an early general election needs to be passed by 2/3 of MPs.
On Monday 28 October the Government attempted to pass this motion, which I voted against. I was on Sky News to explain my reasons for not supporting a snap general election, which you can watch here.
The motion failed because it did not secure the necessary 434 MPs in favour (being 2/3rds of the total). This was the Government’s third attempt to pass the motion since the votes on 4th and 9th September.
The Government then announced it would introduce a one line Bill on Tuesday 29 October to allow for an early general election on 12 December. Unlike an early general election motion under the FTPA, a Bill amending the law does not need the 2/3 super-majority to pass. It only requires a simple majority.
The PM is using a General Election to hide from his broken promise that we will have left the EU by 31 October, and his failure to negotiate a deal that could garner enough support. That is why the decision from the SNP and Lib Dems to announce that they would support a snap election on 9 December left me shocked and furious. I wrote about this in my Evening News article.
A few days before the announcement of a General Election Bill, the Westminster leader of the SNP was on TV expressing his concern over a winter election on 12 December as he thought it would be “too dark, too wet, too cold, and too dangerous”. I’m still yet to understand how holding an election three days earlier would make it any less dark, wet, cold or dangerous.
Further, the claims from the Lib Dems that a People’s Vote was dead were plain wrong. All the hard work in parliament that had been happening cross party – including the Lib Dems as an integral part of the campaign – to get to a final say referendum through the “Kyle/Wilson” compromise was thrown under the Brexit bus.
We were so close to getting a People’s Vote, but the Lib Dems and SNP put the general election wheels in motion and the Bill passed all its stages in the Commons unamended. I tabled 5 amendments to the Bill which included giving 16-17-year-olds and European nationals the right to vote, changing the date, a commitment to a People’s Vote and finally protection for MPs’ staff who may lose their jobs just before Christmas. Unfortunately, none of these were successful.
I have regularly said that it is in the national interest to get Brexit resolved first. We need a clear indication on the way forward, from the people, through a confirmatory vote which offers measurable propositions. The PMs deal vs. the option to remain. This snap general election will be a proxy referendum on Brexit, and at the end of it all we may not even see a resolution. If the Prime Minister wants to go to the country to ask them their views on the issue of Brexit, then he should do that with a referendum on his own deal rather than a Brexit General Election.
I have been consistent in my position that the public should have the final say on Brexit with the option to remain and reform. The UK Labour Party is committed to a public vote on any deal that parliament passes with the option to remain. In any such referendum, myself and the Scottish Labour Party would campaign to remain in the EU. No negotiated deal will be better than what we currently enjoy as members of the EU.
This is the position I have always held, and I will continue to fight for on behalf of all my constituents whether you voted for me or not, voted remain or leave. I will be campaigning to ensure we get a People’s Vote so you can decide our future relationship with the European Union. I know many that receive these updates supported leave and have a different view, and I absolutely respect that view. I’ve always stood up for my principles. That means sometimes we disagree but it’s important that we keep debating, discussing and deliberating.
And maybe by the 1 February 2020 we will not have left yet.