Ian Murray EU
Ian Murray EU

Welcome to my first EU update since the General Election last December. The election was of course a disaster for my Party but more so for the chances of preventing a bad Brexit, but I am humbled to have been re-elected as Member of Parliament in Edinburgh South and will do my utmost to represent you and your views in Parliament.

On Brexit the result of the election means we are now leaving the European Union on the Prime Minister’s deal next week. If you have been following my EU updates you will know how personally devastating this is for me. I am a European to my finger tips and I firmly believe that it is in this country’s social, economic and cultural interest to be a member of the European Union.

In the first couple of weeks of the new Parliament the Government has been pushing through its EU (Withdrawal) Bill which ensures we will leave the EU on 31st January. The Bill was largely the same as the last time they tried (and failed) to pass it in October last year except three crucial changes.

Three Clauses have been removed from the October Bill:

  • Clause 30, which gave Parliament a role over whether to extend transition and avoid a WTO exit which opens up the chances of no deal.
  • Clause 31, which gave Parliament a role, albeit a weak one, in overseeing the future relationship negotiations.
  • Clause 34 and Schedule 4, which provided some limited protections over employment rights and protections.

I believe that all three of these clauses should have been strengthened rather than removed. By taking out these clauses, the Government has shown once again that they are willing to weaken rights and protections, side-line Parliament from negotiations and risk a no deal/WTO exit.

Five clauses have also been added to the October Bill:

  • Clause 30, which provides a degree of Parliamentary oversight over cases at the dispute committee.
  • Clause 33, which prohibits Ministers from extending the transition period, risking a WTO no deal Brexit.
  • Clause 35, which makes it harder for Ministers to use the UK-EU Joint Committee by unilaterally banning the use of the written procedure.
  • Clause 36, which repeals some further requirements on the Government, including reporting back on their negotiations to form a customs arrangement.
  • Clause 37, which removes an obligation on the Government to negotiate an agreement with the EU to protect child refugees.

Again, these clauses make the Bill worse, especially 33 and 37.

This Bill does not provide for either a close economic partnership, protections of workplace rights and environmental standards, or a confirmatory referendum. It will also lead to trade barriers between Northern Ireland and GB and set the UK on a course to deregulation and divergence. This departure from the European Union will ultimately leave us poorer and less safe.

The Second Reading of the Bill was heard on 8th January and the amendments were as follows:

Amendment 10: would have curtailed the sweeping Henry VIII powers in the Bill which mean ministers can potentially amend Acts of Parliament without parliamentary scrutiny.

I voted for the amendment.

The amendment was defeated 262-340

Amendment 4: which would have protected the right for unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their family after Brexit.

I voted for the amendment.

The amendment was defeated 252-348

New Clause 6: which would have ensured that MPs had a guaranteed vote with an amendable motion on the EU-UK Future Relationship and negotiating objectives.

I voted for the amendment.

The amendment is defeated 251-347

New Clause 55: which related to Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market calling for unfettered access to the Great Britain market.

I voted for the amendment.

The amendment is defeated 262-337

New Clause 2: which would have required the Government to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with the EU protecting workers’ rights.

I voted for the amendment.

The amendment was defeated 255-344

The Government’s new 80 seat majority means that these votes were a formality. However, when the amendment 4 was debated by the House of Lords they voted to put the amendment back into the Bill. This amendment would have simply allowed unaccompanied children in Europe to be reunited with their family members in the UK after Brexit. The existing legislation is named after Lord Dubs who was a child refugee during the second world war, fleeing Nazi brutality in Czechoslovakia. The Lords vote Initiated a process known as ping-pong, where Parliament and the Lords pass the Bill back and forwards. You can read more about the Dubs amendment here.

Ultimately, the Government prevailed as it is custom for the Lords not to block the democratically elected House of Commons indefinitely and the Bill has now been given Royal Assent and is an Act of Parliament.

We are leaving the European Union on the 31st January at which point we will enter a period of 11 months known as the “transition period” where effectively our relationship with the EU will remain the same. Don’t forget that the transition was supposed to be for businesses and the public to adjust to the new future relationship. We don’t have that yet and the chances of having anything concrete in place by 31 December 2020 (or indeed June when an extension would have to be sought) is very slim. At that point if no trade deal has been agreed we could drop out of the EU without any replacement treaty.  No-deal is back on the table and the impact could shatter the UK economy. The Government could of course simply ask for an extension to the transition period, but Prime Minister Johnson has categorically ruled this out and prefers to go for a damaging no deal. Given the likelihood of a trade deal being completed in just 11 months is so low, this is a very worrying prospect.

The Government has an 80 seat majority, it is pursuing a hard damaging Brexit through choice and must be held responsible. I made this point in the first PMQs of the new session, which you can watch here.

The only substance we have on the Government’s negotiating position is that they want to diverge from current EU standards. This not only makes the trade deal much more complicated but has the potential to undermine workers’ rights, environmental protections and food standards. I will oppose the Government in its pursuit of this damaging hard Brexit.

The task for Opposition is to ensure we scrutinise what is happening with the future relationship and to set a high bar for what we would expect to see from the negotiations. That means a deal that is flexible enough to deal with the demands of both the public and business. It needs to protect and enhance our rights and put the environment and national security at its heart. When we get to the 31 December 2020, we will know the consequences of the negotiations and it is at that point a decision will have to be made about where our future relationship goes.

Finally, what is clear now is that the Prime Minister can no longer hide behind Parliament with regards to the consequences of Brexit. All the promises he has given will now be his sole responsibility. We need to hold him to account for the inevitable broken promises as the chickens (maybe chlorinated) come home to roost and sit outside Number 10 Downing Street.

Although Parliament’s role will be limited in the coming months I will continue to update you when I can on the Brexit process.

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