Article 50 was triggered on March 29 2017 and the government has shown no signs that it will be able to negotiate an exit deal with the EU that protects jobs, our economy and people’s rights. The lack of progress that has been made so far raises the very real prospect of the UK leaving the EU with no deal. In my view, no deal would be the worst possible outcome for our country and the government should rule this possibility out.
Parliament should be at the heart of the Brexit process and have a real say over the final outcome of the government’s negotiations. MPs must be able to vote on the final deal before it is concluded; that the House of Commons has a debate and vote before the European Parliament does; and that the vote covers the terms of our withdrawal from the EU as well as our future relationship.
The government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill fails to protect and reassert the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty by handing sweeping powers to government Ministers, allowing them to bypass Parliament on key decisions without any meaningful or guaranteed Parliamentary scrutiny. I have supported a number of amendments that reflect the need for Parliament to have the final say over any deal.
I deeply regret that the government specifically rejected proposals to incorporate the Charter of Fundamental Rights and now risks weakening human rights protections.
The government has also made assurances that the whole body of existing EU environmental law will continue to have effect in UK law and announced plans for a new environmental watchdog. However, the government has yet to provide the detail on which to judge if any new watchdog has the independence, powers and funding to properly enforce environmental law after Brexit.
In addition, I supported the principle of New Clause 25 which was designed to prevent modification of retained EU law except by primary legislation or by subordinate legislation made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. This would give enhanced constitutional protection to EU-derived environmental protections. I voted for this amendment in the House of Commons on November 15. However, it was rejected by the government and defeated.
I also supported New Clause 67 which was tabled by the Official Opposition and which sought to ensure that the EU’s environmental principles continue to be recognised and applied after exit day. This includes the precautionary principle – which is vital to food standards – and the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which ensures that large industries pay for their environmental impact. Unfortunately, this was also defeated.
The government must take additional steps to secure the future of our environment and the natural world. This includes the legal protection offered to animals. Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union protects the legal status of animals as sentient beings. However, despite indicating that the EU (Withdrawal) Bill would incorporate Article 13, the Bill as currently drafted, will not ensure its preservation in UK law. That is why I supported New Clause 30 which sought to retain the rights and obligations contained in Article 13. I also supported Amendment 350, which was been tabled by the Official Opposition and which would ensure the UK government is held to the animal welfare standards enshrined in Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Unfortunately, when New Clause 30 was pressed to a vote on November 15, it was rejected by the government and defeated. The Minister argued that animals are already recognised as sentient beings under domestic law and that this will continue to be the case.
As the Bill progresses through Parliament, I can assure you that I intend to support amendments that aim to ensure there is no weakening of EU-derived rights. I will also be supporting any amendments which seek to keep the UK in both the Single Market and the Customs Union.