On the morning after the UK had voted to leave the EU, I was asked if I would be prepared to vote in Parliament to oppose Brexit. I campaigned hard for a Remain vote and have always believed Britain is better off in the EU than out. However my immediate response to the question was that, as a democrat, I had to respect the will of the electorate.
The majority of my constituents voted to remain in the EU, but not by a large margin. Those who work in sectors that benefit from being in the single market, such as the broadcast companies based locally, or who benefit from EU funding such as Academic research; know directly the value of the UK’s links with the EU and voted strongly for Remain. But I also know many local people who voted for Brexit, particularly those who are “just about managing”, and are seeing their terms and conditions at work gradually being undermined and vacant posts being filled by agency workers, on less pay and poorer terms. They believe that the freedom of movement the EU brings means worsening living standards and opportunities for them and their families.
I accept and respect the outcome of the referendum. But we have a duty to fight for the best possible outcome for the UK. We have to oppose the forces seeking a hard Brexit – as that would have a profoundly negative impact on our economy and on jobs. The UK is an island nation, and cannot cut its economy off from the rest of the world and certainly not from Europe, by far our biggest trading partner. Indeed India saw Britain as their main link to the European market, hence Modi supported Remain.
I learned on a recent visit to Brussels with a group of MPs just how complex the process of leaving the EU will be. There are many thousands of separate pieces of legislation in the areas of the Environment, Trade, Immigration, Consumer Standards, Employment Law, Counter-terrorism, Aviation, data-sharing, Security, Agriculture, Fisheries.
But before that, and depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court, the Government will have to introduce a Bill to Parliament to trigger Article 50. There must be accountability on this incredibly important issue and Parliament should be able to properly scrutinise the Government’s plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is triggered. There are big issues that affect everyone in every part of our country, and I believe the Government must be able to provide clear answers to questions on these issues. This includes the rights of the many EU nationals living here, contributing to our communities and our economy. As part of that scrutiny, we have to explore how much we can still be part of the Single Market as so many British jobs depend on it.
The Government has a mandate to leave the EU, but it has no mandate on the terms by which we leave and they currently have no idea where they are going on Brexit.
Our withdrawal from the EU is the most important issue facing our country for generations. It is crucial that we secure the right outcome for all of us, and I hope the Government will respect the role of parliament and provide for proper scrutiny and challenge.