Tuesday 14 February 2017

Brexitwatch: Letter to a Lord

With the Labour 'opposition' supporting the Tories and UKIP and nodding Article 50 through in the House of Commons, the action now switches to the House of Lords, who could reject the bill authorising Theresa May to trigger A50, or pass significant amendments. (MPs in the Commons rejected every proposed amendment.)

The pro-EU Liberal Democrats are committed to amending the bill, but will Labour cave in once again?  This is the letter I have written to Labour's leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon.

Dear Baroness Smith,
I trust we will not see the miserable weak-kneed capitulation of Labour members in the Commons repeated in the Lords. I have had considerable correspondence with my MP, who happens to be Sir Keir Starmer, and he is well aware of my dissatisfaction at Labour's performance and that I reject the arguments he has offered in its defence.
In particular, I reject the whole bogus 'will of the people' argument - increasingly the only one made in favour of Brexit. Even the Leave side have virtually given up pretending that leaving the EU will benefit the UK in any tangible way - hardly surprising as there is no evidence of any kind that it will, and reams of evidence that it will do serious damage.
Sir Keir claims that the referendum result is binding. It is not. If Parliament had wanted the result to be binding they would have made it so. They chose not to. So anyone who votes to trigger Article 50 is making a choice, and they will share in the responsibility for the consequences.
It is the duty of members of Parliament to act in the national interest. That requires the blocking of Brexit, which, as Labour rightly said during the referendum campaign (though the quality and enthusiasm of its saying might well be questioned), will seriously damage the British people. This is the time to put country before party, whatever Jeremy Corbyn may say.
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 please do not repeat Jeremy Corbyn's foolish mistake of unconditionally promising to support the triggering of A50. You should make it clear that without effective amendments, you will not support the bill.
Sir Keir told me of three concessions he believed Labour had won:
1. A White Paper
2. Regular reports to Parliament on the negotiations
3. A vote for Parliament on the final terms.
I explained to him that the 'concessions' are meaningless.
The White Paper is so vague and uncosted that it constitutes an insult to Parliament.
Unless Labour suddenly discovers 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 a '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 Tory 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.
Labour's betrayal of the country and its own voters has done it dreadful damage. You now have perhaps the last chance to repair some of this. 
Gina Miller risked her life to give Parliament a say on Brexit. MPs have shamefully let her down. Don't do the same in the Lords.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,

John Withington

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