Friday 17 February 2017

Brexitwatch: Letter to a Lady

On February 14, I posted a letter I had sent to Labour's leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Smith, hoping to persuade her to fight for meaningful amendments to the government's bill authorising Theresa May to trigger Article 50.

I have now also written to a Conservative peer, Baroness Wheatcroft, who has spoken eloquently about the need to limit the damage from Brexit. This is my letter:

Dear Baroness Wheatcroft,
I trust we will not see the miserable weak-kneed capitulation we witnessed in the Commons on this measure being repeated in the Lords. Most members of Parliament know Brexti will seriously damage our country, and MP after MP said so. Then most of those same MPs trooped through the lobby to give Theresa May a blank cheque, failing to pass a single amendment to her back-of-an-envelope bill which promises the most extreme form of Brexit.
MPs do not seem to realise what a devastating blow they have delivered to Parliamentary democracy. Gina Miller risked her life to give them a say in the most important decision this country has had to take in decades, because they did not have the courage to demand it for themselves. And then they were too cowardly to grab the lifeline Ms Miller had thrown them.
Even among the Leave campaigners, no one seems any longer to argue that there will be any tangible benefits from Brexit, and the only argument advanced is that it is the 'will of the people'.
I hope you agree with me that this is completely bogus. The referendum was advisory only. If Parliament had wanted to make it binding, it could have done, but it chose not to. Nor is there any moral obligation to obey a result that was won by what the Leave campaign now admits was lies and deception, and yet which was still decided by only a tiny majority among a gerrymandered electorate.
So those members of Parliament who support Brexit are doing so out of choice and they will share in the responsibility for its consequences.
It is the duty of members of Parliament to act in the national interest. That requires the blocking of Brexit, The best option, therefore, is rejection of the A50 trigger.
If that cannot be achieved, it is vital that the Lords pass MEANINGFUL amendments, and if those amendments cannot be passed, then the Lords should reject the bill. 
MPs talked about three concessions they said they had won from the government:
1. A White Paper
2. Regular reports to Parliament on the negotiations
3. A vote for Parliament on the final terms.
In my view, these 'concessions' are meaningless.
The White Paper is so vague and uncosted that it constitutes an insult to Parliament.
Unless MPs suddenly discover some backbone, the regular reports will just be the Brexiters' usual mixture of empty slogans and wishful thinking.
As for the final vote, the government is saying it will still be 'take whatever terms Theresa May has agreed however bad they are' or leave without any agreement which will be even worse.
So at the very least, the Lords need to pass the following amendments:
1. The government must keep us full members of the Single Market. Theresa May and every other Conservative MP was elected on this promise, and throughout the referendum campaign, Leave campaigners were falling over themselves to say they did not wish to leave it.
2. When Theresa May has completed her negotiations, she must come to Parliament for approval of the proposed settlement. If it is rejected by Parliament, the UK will remain a member of the EU.
3. To be valid, any final agreement must win the approval of the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. Until this is given, the UK remains a member of the EU.
Even if you accept the 'will of the people' argument, the only thing the 'people' voted for was to leave the EU. Theresa May has NO MANDATE for taking us out of the Single Market, the customs union, ending freedom of movement etc etc. Indeed after a narrowly decided vote, her decision to go for the most extreme form of Brexit and completely ignore the 16 million or more people who voted to remain in the EU is a gross betrayal of the British people.
And it is not just membership of the EU that is at stake, though that is serious enough. Elements among the Brexiters plainly wish to destroy democracy in our country, trying to shout down anyone who disagrees with them as an 'enemy of the people'. For the moment, they can be beaten, but if Parliament keeps on caving in to their bullying, a time will come when they cannot be.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

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