Sunday 12 February 2017

Brexitwatch - Labour Brexit spokesperson Sir Keir Starmer tries to justify his party's behaviour + my response

With Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured) ordering his MPs to support Brexit, Theresa May's government emerged unscathed from what should have been a testing ordeal in the House of Commons where most MPs realise leaving the EU will be a disaster. Labour did not manage to get a single amendment passed to the bill triggering Article 50.

Below is Sir Keir Starmer's justification of their approach, and my response.

(For previous letters from Sir Keir and my responses see my posts of Jan 23 and 27 and Feb 2.)

Dear Sir Keir,
Thank you for your emails. As you know I reject the idea that a non-binding referendum is binding, and I will not go over again the reasons I have already given you for considering the 'will of the people' argument utterly bogus.
In my view, your and Labour's support for the triggering of Article 50 was a betrayal of the country and of Labour voters, all of whom will suffer as a result.
As for the things you say Labour has achieved:
1. The White Paper, which Labour did not even bother to examine before trooping through the lobbies with the Tories and UKIP to trigger A50. The document is an insult to Parliament and the British people. It offers no price tags for the foolish policies it advocates, and on the crucial issues of the Single Market and the customs union, it just rehashes the same old wishful thinking and empty slogans.
2. Reporting process. Unless Labour very quickly discovers some backbone, this will be about as useful as the White Paper, with Theresa May getting away with the same old platitudes.
3. A final vote. Every single amendment was voted down. You claim there will be a meaningful vote in Parliament on any terms Theresa May manages to negotiate, but the government says the position is unchanged and MPs will be faced with accepting the PM's deal, however bad it may be, or leaving with no deal at all, which is likely to be even worse. Labour FAILED to win the right to send Mrs May back to the negotiating table.
If Labour had stood by its principles and its supporters (most of whom oppose Brexit), there would have been every chance of passing a number of amendments. Mrs May has a tiny majority in Parliament, and many in her own party are unhappy about the extreme Brexit she is pursuing. But most potential Tory rebels saw little point in putting their own necks on the line when the Opposition did not have the guts to oppose her.
This whole process has been a catastrophic failure for Labour, and if continuing in your position is going to mean continuing to support Brexit, I would urge you to resign now and start opposing something you must know will do terrible damage to your country, your constituents and all Labour voters.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington
On 10 February 2017 at 15:45 STARMER, Keir wrote:

Thank you for your email.

Having campaigned passionately across the country for the UK to remain in the EU, the outcome of the referendum result last June came as a bitter disappointment to me. Along with many others in the 48% who voted to remain, I cherish not just the practical benefits of EU membership but also the fact of being an EU citizens.

But we lost the referendum and, as democrats, we have to accept the result. I acknowledge that some people disagree and believe that the result should be ignored. But having worked as a human rights lawyer in countries where citizens are either denied a vote or their votes are ignored, I cannot accept that argument.

Although the referendum was, technically, advisory, it was politically binding. None of us who campaigned day in and day out ever suggested that the exercise was simply advisory. I told people that they should vote, that it mattered and that there were consequences, and I’m not prepared to re-write history. That is why the Labour Party has repeatedly said that it accepts and respects the outcome of the referendum. It follows that the Prime Minister must be empowered to start the negotiations for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Over the last three months Labour has been working to put in place proper scrutiny of the Brexit process. Although each step has been incremental, the Government has moved its from position from October – when they had no plan, were insisting there would be no running commentary and would not commit to a vote on the final Article 50 deal – to:

i)                    Publishing a 76 page White Paper on which Parliament can hold them to account. This was one of Labour’s planned amendments for Committee Stage, but this was withdrawn after the Government’s concession.

ii)                  A commitment to match reporting back procedures that are in place in the European Parliament during the Article 50 process.

iii)                A vote in Parliament on the proposed draft Article 50 deal before it is considered by the EU Parliament or Council, as well as a second vote on the final EU-UK deal that will shape our future relationship with the EU.

Taken together these show progress has been made.

What matters now is that we ensure that the Article 50 process results in the best deal possible for the UK and the rest of the EU and that we ensure that the UK has a strong and ongoing relationship with the EU in the future. Labour has consistently said that jobs and the economy must come first and we have been fighting for tariff-free and barrier-free access to the single market and for a deal that works for the services sector as well as goods. I have been travelling all over the UK talking to many communities and businesses about precisely what they need to get out of the Article 50 deal and will continue to do so.

But I want more than that. What many of us value about our relationship with the EU is the collaborative and co-operative approach in ensures in vital areas such as science, technology, medicine, arts, culture and, of course, policing and counter-terrorism. There is no reason why a new relationship with the EU cannot be forged on these principles and that is what I, and the Labour Party, will be fighting for. A values-led approach to our ongoing relationship with the EU, not the abandonment of any relation with the EU.

I am happy to talk this through with you further if that would be helpful.



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