Thursday 21 February 2019

Brexitwatch: a Labour pro-Brexit MP writes

Earlier this month I wrote to 14 Labour MPs who decided to support Theresa May and oppose Yvette Cooper's amendment designed to rule out a no-deal Brexit - you can find a sample of my letter in my post of 1 February.

I have had a reply from Laura Smith, the MP for Crewe and Nantwich, which I attach below my reply to her reply:

Dear Ms Smith,
So are you satisfied now Honda is moving out, along with the EMA, EBA, Flybmi, Sony, Unilever, 'Brexit will be wonderful' Dyson and dozens of others? Or do you want to see Brexit destroy more jobs and investment? Just how much damage would it require for you to decide Brexit should be stopped, or do the British people have to put up with any amount of damage so you can say you 'respected' the 'referendum result'?
You should not confuse 'respect' with 'obey'. I respected President Obama, but I did not feel bound to obey him. MPs should indeed have respected the referendum result. Immediately after it happened, you should have conducted an exhaustive inquiry into how you were going to respond to the electorate's advice. To parliament's everlasting shame, you failed to do that, which is one of the reasons we are now in this dreadful mess. Once, of course, evidence emerged of the cheating and law-breaking by the Leave side, MPs should have put on hold the Brexit process until this has been thoroughly investigated. Again, shamefully, MPs failed the country.
As I explained in my previous email, the referendum result cannot be 'implemented' or 'honoured' because the Brexit the Leave side promised cannot be delivered.
I note you are worried that the EU might refuse an extension to Article 50, so a better approach would be for the UK to revoke Article 50. Then pro-Brexit MPs like yourself could all get together in a grand committee to finally agree what exactly it is that you want. Then once you have decided, that could be put to parliament and if necessary the people, before the government approached the EU (which, of course, is what should have happened in the first place).
Labour is at present on a self-destruction course. 'I'm sorry you lost your job and that we've no money for your public services, but it was the will of the people' is not going to save you. There is no 'Brexit for jobs'.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington
Dear Mr Withington 

This email is sent in response to your correspondence to me on the votes that took place on the 29th January 2019. Please be assured that as the mother of two young children I always do what I feel is best for the future of Crewe and Nantwich and the country as a whole. I take no decision lightly and I spend a great amount of time considering all the different options. 

I supported the spirit of the ‘Cooper’ amendment in seeking to avoid a no deal. That is why I voted for a separate amendment, which was passed, declaring that the House of Commons does not support leaving the EU without a deal. I also voted for the Labour front-bench amendment, which also rejected a ‘no deal’ Brexit. A cursory glance at my voting record in that single evening clearly rebuffs any suggestion that I am aligned to the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg on this issue. 

However, I did conclude that the ‘Cooper’ amendment would not have prevented a ‘no deal’ Brexit. 
It would have suspended the standing orders of the House of Commons to give priority to a Private Members Bill, which in turn sought to create a rather contrived and awkward series of parliamentary procedures. 
Had the amendment passed, we would have had just one day to debate and pass that Bill which would not legislate to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Instead, it would have set a new deadline by which a deal had to be achieved. 

If the government then failed to secure a deal, this would have triggered another debate on a motion, which would compel the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the Article 50 process. 
The Article 50 process cannot be unilaterally extended, and the EU has indicated that it would only consider such an extension under certain circumstances. 

In a best-case scenario, we would have been no further forward. Three years after the vote to leave, we’d have been asking voters to elect MEPs whilst telling them that we respect the referendum result. 
In a worst-case scenario, we might still have come face-to-face with the cliff edge of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, either due to losing a vote in the House of Commons or due to the EU refusing to agree an extension without any clear way forward or change in circumstance. 

I believe that, had the ‘Cooper’ amendment passed, the pressure on both parties and their respective leaders not to compromise would have grown immeasurably. 
The ERG would have continued to reject any deal put forward, blaming the intransigence of the EU and advocating for a ‘managed no deal’ Brexit. On the other hand, those that wish to overturn the referendum result would have applied maximum pressure on Labour to also reject any deal. 
This brinkmanship could have led to several outcomes, but I feel that it is bad for British politics and would have been bad for the Labour Party. 

The only real way of avoiding a ‘no deal’ Brexit is to get a Parliamentary majority for a deal and I felt that this amendment would have actually made that less likely. 
At the same time, I knew that many saw it as just another attempt to frustrate or block Brexit and I don’t think that we should be blasé about the dangers posed to our society by failing to respect the referendum. I voted to remain and reform the EU during the 2016 referendum, however Crewe & Nantwich voted to Leave by a majority of more than 60% and I was elected a year later, having promised to respect the referendum result. I promised to do everything that I could to secure a Brexit that works for ordinary people and gives businesses the guarantees to move forward. 

The vast majority of people that I have spoken to since my election haven’t changed their minds at all. Some have even hardened their respective positions. For every Leave voter who regrets their decision, I have also met a Remain voter who just wants the government to get on with it. 

To reassure you, I haven’t shied away from the tough conversations. Many people have told me recently that they want to exit without a deal. I’ve explained to those people exactly why I couldn’t support that. 

We can’t allow this divisive debate to polarise any further. We need a serious effort to bring people together and this can’t be done without the Labour Party. I believe that our Brexit policy is the answer to breaking this deadlock. The only reason it hasn’t been taken into negotiations is because of the Prime Minister’s red lines. 
By calling for the backstop to be replaced with unspecified “alternative arrangements” (but not a customs union), the Conservative Party has set the Prime Minister an impossible task. The EU has already made clear that without a customs union, the backstop isn’t up for discussion. 

When this latest charade is done, the Prime Minister will have run out of road. Parliament has already rejected her deal with a backstop and it rejected a ‘no deal’ Brexit last week. 
She will then have to decide whether to join Labour in delivering a common-sense deal to protect jobs and living standards, or to allow for a general election so that the people can make that decision for themselves. 

I think it is right to leave all options on the table in these turbulent and unpredictable times. In fact, one of the amendments that I voted for would have required the government to secure time for Parliament to consider and vote on options to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit, including the option to legislate to hold a public vote. 
I have spent this last week meeting with colleagues to work together to ensure that this toxic debate can move forward.   

I understand that ultimately you wish to remain in the EU and will probably never understand why any MP would be working towards any Brexit. I am working hard to get a deal, avoid no deal and if that cannot be achieved all options should be on the table. 
Kind regards 
Laura Smith MP

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