My article for the Edinburgh Evening News on Brexit and the threat of a second independence referendum. You can read the full article on the Evening News website here.
The last two weeks in parliament have been dominated by the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, the legislation that will empower the government to trigger Article 50, kick-starting the divorce negotiations with the European Union. That it took a Supreme Court ruling to even get this critical issue to parliament is an affront to our democracy and makes a mockery of the Government’s claims to be “taking back control”.
The Bill is only 137 words long and is speeding through parliament at an unprecedented pace. The Government have deliberately curtailed debate, and although we have been sitting into the early hours of the morning, we have barely touched upon many important issues that need to be discussed.
I voted against the Bill last week as I don’t think we should be accepting what is currently on offer from the Government. The Bill gives the Prime Minister permission to begin Brexit negotiations, but it does not license her to fundamentally alter our immigration laws, tax laws, employment laws, or to shred our economic and social rights and entitlements. I accept that Brexit means we are leaving the EU, but I do not accept that Brexit means leaving the EU on the reckless terms this Government is proposing.
Agreeing to this Bill as it stands would have serious consequences for my constituents in Edinburgh South, and for people across Edinburgh and Scotland. Take our largest employers in the higher education sector and financial services. We need guarantees that they will be able to maintain their world-class status and continue to provide the highly-skilled jobs that make Edinburgh the successful city that it is. At present, we have no such guarantees.
Labour MPs have placed hundreds of amendments to ensure the Government cannot ram through Brexit on any terms, but instead provides the assurances, checks and balances that are so badly needed. Our amendments include: protecting workers’ rights and securing full tariff and impediment free access to the Single Market; guaranteeing the legal rights for EU nationals living in the UK; ensuring the Government must seek to retain all existing EU measures to prevent tax avoidance and evasion; and my own amendments to guarantee the devolved governments and parliaments are regularly consulted throughout the course of negotiations.
All of these amendments would significantly improve the process and ensure the negotiations are conducted in a transparent and accountable way. Unfortunately, the Government has so far rejected all of them. We have extracted a promise that MPs will get a meaningful vote on any deal that is proposed, before it goes to the European Parliament for ratification. However, even there, the devil is in the detail. The vote cannot be a choice between a bad deal and no deal, which is what the Government appears to be offering.
It is important to remember that triggering Article 50 is merely the start of the process. Whatever deal is agreed, in the end, it all comes down to two simple points: how do we protect the jobs and livelihoods of people in Edinburgh and across the country? Will Brexit leave us better or worse off, both now and in the future?
It would help if everyone was pulling in the same direction. Sadly, the SNP are exploiting Brexit to pursue their own narrow independence agenda. Scottish Labour will continue to oppose independence, just as we oppose a hard Tory Brexit. We don’t want to compound one divisive and uncertain situation with one that is infinitely worse. Instead, we will fight for what the majority of Scots want – a strong Scottish Parliament within the UK, and close ties with Europe. No one in this country – as the Tory Chancellor himself has admitted – voted to be poorer.
As an aside, I was furious that the Green Party did a smoke-filled room deal with the SNP last week to push through a budget that slashes local services in Edinburgh by over £27 million this year. A shoddy deal that will have significant ramifications for Edinburgh.