Events on Brexit are moving fast now and trying to report what is happening and its consequences is a little difficult. The sands keep shifting, so this note comes with a health warning that things could be very different in a few days’ time, depending on what happens this week.
Action in the first part of the month concentrated on trying to stop No Deal Brexit happening. I’ve mentioned before what a disaster this would be for our city and country. Economy contracting by up to 9%, the shock of being outside current trading arrangements and food and medicine shortages to name a few short-term impacts.
Parliament successfully seized control of the agenda and passed the ‘Benn Act’ which required the Government either to have agreed a deal with the EU by 19th October or to send a letter to the EU requesting an extension to sort the UKs position out, but under circumstances where ‘no deal’ would not be an acceptable outcome.
As will now be known Johnson did produce a ‘deal’ of sorts, substantially worse in its effect on the UK than the rejected Theresa May deal, and effectively cutting Northern Ireland loose from an integral customs relationship with Great Britain in order to ‘resolve’ the backstop issue.
Johnson attempted to gain a straight ‘up and down’ agreement to the ‘deal ‘ by Parliament in advance of anyone having seen any proposed legislation, so that he could say to the EU that Parliament had agreed a deal, and hence could avoid the need for an extension.
This was stopped in its tracks by an amendment to the motion he proposed which stated that no agreement should be regarded as having been reached until all stages of the European Withdrawal Act had been passed. The amendment was carried, and the amended motion agreed without a vote.
This week Johnson came back by publishing the EU withdrawal Bill containing the implementation into UK law of the agreement he had reached with the EU. He then set a breakneck timetable to get the bill discussed and agreed, all still in pursuit of an agreement that removes the need to extend beyond the end of October.
The idea was that the bill was to be discussed on October 22nd and agreed through all of its common’s stages by Thursday 25th and then passed on to the Lords.
This procedure would have been a straightforward abuse of the parliamentary process in that it allowed members only about eighteen hours to read the bill, digest its contents and produce amendments before second reading and committee stage of the Bill.
The Bill upon reading, contains a number of provisions not really made clear in the initial announcements about stripping away of workers’ rights and environmental protections, more draconian customs provisions than anticipated for Northern Ireland, and clauses that allow for a delayed ‘no deal’ Brexit to be accomplished if a trade deal with the EU is not agreed by early 2020. It needed more than 18 hours to unpick all of this.
Labour opposed the second reading of the bill, but the Government had the numbers to secure this and so it passed. However, the procedural motion to agree the impossible timetable as outlined above for committee and other stages of the Bill was defeated by a coalition of opposition parties, led by Labour.
The plan was that having secured a more reasonable timetable to discuss the bill and having got an extension from the EU to make this possible, Labour would have attempted to amend the Bill in committee. We would have attempted to secure the UKs position in a customs union with the EU and the offer of a vote so that the public could decide between Johnson’s Deal vs Remaining in the EU.
However, after the programme motion vote, Johnson has gone off in a huff (literally …he stormed out of the chamber halfway through various points of order prior to an emergency business statement) and it transpires that the Government has pulled the Bill and is making threatening noises about preparing for a ‘no deal exit on October 31st again.
Where this leaves us is, that technically the Bill is suspended until such time as the EU pronounces on an extension to Article 50. Even though Johnson (childishly) withheld his signature from the letter that he was required to send to the EU requesting an extension, the request has been properly made.
I imagine the EU will agree an extension, although it is possible it will come with strings attached, and it may not be just for the three months requested. At that point (and after October 31st) the discussion on the withdrawal agreement should continue despite Johnson’s childish insistence that no business will come forward until he gets an election.
It may be by then that more momentum builds for what is now the only realistic option to get out of the impasse, which is a confirmatory referendum between Johnson’s Brexit package and Remain.
We’re still a long way from that position at the moment and there are probably quite a few twists in the road to come. Although we have had our backs to the wall in recent days, there is still some hope for a better outcome.
Since the roll out of Universal Credit in Southampton there has been barely a week that’s gone by without one of my constituents contacting me distressed because they are struggling due to the way UC is administered.
Many of you will have heard of the absurd 6 week wait for benefits, which is in reality often longer, that has driven people to food banks. However, this is just the beginning of the nightmare.
I have had people contact me who haven’t received any money for months once their benefits have started. These people are in work and universal credit is replacing what was tax credits and the delay has been due to them getting paid early before the weekend or over a bank holiday such as Christmas. This leads to the system marking them as being paid twice in a monthly period and they have gone without money for up to 2 months.
Some people have found their rent has been changed by pence or pounds and they have had to put in a whole new claim waiting again for up to 8 weeks for any money.
There are those who have been moved over to Universal Credit to find that benefits have been slashed significantly and the already tight budget they were working from has been cut further. Most of these people are in work but are not earning enough or receiving enough hours to get by without Universal Credit.
Whenever I have raised these issues with the ministers responsible I’ve been told that the system is working as it should. In which case the system is not fit for purpose and it has turned a safety net into a trap.
I’m pleased that Labour have promised to scrap Universal Credit if they win at the next election. It’s such a huge driver of poverty particular within working families that I, and I’m sure many of my constituents will be happy to see the back of it.
I wanted to update you on my activities as your MP concerning Brexit, and I think, after a tumultuous week in Parliament now is the best time to do so. It may be that many people are bemused or uncertain about recent events, so I will try to explain how I see them and set out what I have done in response to them.
As you will know the UK was given an extension to what was the previous EU exit day after Theresa May’s completely unsatisfactory ‘deal’ was rejected three times by Parliament. The extension, to October 31st was intended to enable the UK to come up with agreed proposals for a ‘deal’ on which the UK would exit the EU. In my view such a deal should always have involved access to the customs union and the single market, all of which was missing from the Theresa May proposals.
Since then the Government has simply wasted the time available. Much of this was taken up with the Conservative party electing a new leader, who has shown since he has become prime minister a complete unwillingness to develop any alternative proposals for the UK, and has instead been quite clearly running the clock down to a departure from the EU on 31st October without any deal on trade, customs or movement in place: in short a jump over the cliff. We know from internal government documents, among other things, that such a move would be catastrophic for the country in terms of a likely sharp economic contraction, severe shorter-term problems with food, medicines and other vital supplies for the country, and the likely loss of vital trade agreements across the world.
The Prime Minister has compounded strong suspicions that he is hell bent on dropping the UK off that cliff by recently proroguing parliament for five weeks under the pretext of a new Queen’s speech so that there will be no parliamentary scrutiny or votes as the clock runs down. I do not think anybody, whether they voted leave or remain in the referendum, consented by that vote to such a catastrophic and reckless course of action.
That is why, with many colleagues in all parties, I took part in action this last week to use the small window of time available to parliament to seize control of the parliamentary agenda and propose legislation which would prevent the UK crashing out of the Eu with no deal on October 31st. We succeeded in this, and legislation followed which has now passed all its stages in Parliament. It requires the Prime Minister either to put a new deal to the House and to the European Council of Ministers on the 15th October or if not to ask the EU for a further extension so that a satisfactory deal can be agreed.
At the moment, it doesn’t look like the Government, or the Prime Minister is willing to do either of these things and we are therefore at something of an impasse. One solution that has been advanced is to hold a snap General election, to decide on the issue. The problem with this currently is that if a date for an election is agreed before the end of 31st October, it is within the power of the Prime Minister, once the dissolution of parliament has been agreed, to change the date and take the UK out of the EU with no deal whilst the election is under way.
My view is that we need a general election both to get round the impasse and offer the country an alternative agenda on a whole range of other issues that will be important to us whether we leave the EU with no deal , reach a good deal , or stay in the EU., but we also need the guarantee that an extension will have been agreed before we have it, so that whoever wins the election can engage in meaningful discussion with the EU subsequently, and is not just faced with a ‘fait accompli’ no deal exit bestowed upon us by the departing prime minister.
The other way to resolve the impasse is to put the issue of what we do next back to a second referendum: do we accept a no deal Brexit, or do we decide now that we know what is entailed, that we will stay in the EU and push for the reforms we want from within. One disadvantage of an election is that it may result in a composition of parliament that doesn’t allow for the issues to be resolved and a referendum may then need to be held to allow the people to establish a clear direction for all of us: and even if we have a new government that does not want the UK to leave without a deal, with all that has happened over the recent period it would be appropriate to obtain the advice of the people on whether any deal is preferable to the deal we already have, of being continuing members of the EU. My view is that a referendum would be wise in pretty much all the circumstances we might find ourselves in: and to be clear if there is a referendum, and there is an option within it to remain in the EU , I would campaign and vote for that option.
I recently wrote to the Chief Exec of Asda to ask him to reconsider the current Asda policy of threatening staff with dismissal if they do not accept a new contract being imposed on them.
This new contract would see a flexibility clause being introduced which GMB Union and workers are particularly worried about as it may mean staff are made to work any place, any time without any say at very little notice.
It is unlikely to mean ‘flexibility’ in favour of the staff if for instance they need to care for children or elderly relatives. This is likely to disproportionately affect women as these caring responsibilities more often fall to them and they may have already worked their shifts around this.
Other issues are that bank holiday premium pay is being removed and extra holiday days for long service are being taken away.
Using fear of dismissal to force staff into signing new contracts is no way to negotiate new terms. Particularly not when 93% of respondents to a consultative ballot did not agree with the contract changes.
I am calling on ASDA to return to the negotiating table and rethink their threats of dismissal.
I started this week in Parliament by welcoming the change of target from 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 to net zero carbon emissions by 2050
This step in the right direction is very much for all of those climate activists who did everything they could to say enough is enough we need to act. From those who went on strike from school to those who protested on the streets of London, you helped put the pressure on government to make this move.
I also paid tribute in my speech to Ed Miliband who took the 2008 Climate Change Act through parliament as the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Ed added a clause to that act so that targets could be changed more easily in the face of new scientific evidence which is what the Government have now done.
This is however only a first step. Currently government policies are not sufficient to meet carbon budgets designed for the earlier target of 80% carbon reduction. I invited the Minister to sit down with us to come up with a raft of policies that would get our current carbon budgets back on track.
I also urged the Minister to urgently proceed not only with plans for low carbon energies but for negative carbon policies such as radical afforestation which will be needed to reach our net zero target.
We now have the targets but together we need to work to make sure that we have the policies that will enable us to meet those targets and deal with the very real climate emergency we have on our hands.
I’m supporting USDAW’s Time for Better Pay campaign and I’d like to hear from you about your experiences working in retail in Southampton.
When USDAW surveyed their members working in shops across the country they found that 92% of workers had seen no improvement in their financial situation in the last 5 years and 76% of workers have had to take out an unsecured loan to pay the bills.
Many are on zero hour, or low hour contracts and don’t know how much work they are getting from one week to the next. Constituents have told me of being promised full time hours only for them to be cut back after busy times.
Shop workers keep the retail industry going and deserve better than this. I’m supporting USDAW’s calls for £10 minimum wage, 16 hour contracts for everyone who wants one, contracts based on an individuals hours of work and an end to zero hour contracts.
Do you or any of your family work in retail? Let me know if you’ve faced an of the above issues. You can email me on email@example.com
We are now in the absolute endgame of the great Brexit debate, but still without any clarity as to where we are actually going. That we should be in such a position three years after the referendum, and literally on the day we are supposed to be leaving the EU two years after article 50 was triggered is a dreadful indictment on the shambles of a negotiation that has been led by Theresa May.
We have at the moment a half formed ‘deal’ that few support, which would propel us out of the EU with barely any idea of the type of institutions we would be working through in the future, other than to deny us decent customs or trade arrangements with the EU itself. We are facing the real prospect now of exiting the EU on a ‘no deal’ basis.
It is difficult to see that Theresa Mays ‘deal’ having been rejected twice, will get over the line even if bought back again, and yet she, and the government stubbornly refuse to countenance any plan, other than to plead for a short extension to article 50 ‘to tidy matters up’ on the assumption that this deal will go through. If it does not, as we have now heard from the EU an extension of only a couple of weeks, to April 12th to come up with something substantive which would enable further negotiations to take place and a longer extension to be agreed. If Theresa May does nothing new and just runs the clock down to the new date of April 12th we still face a real prospect of being ejected from the EU with no deal, with the dire consequences for the UKs trade and economy that it would represent.
That is why last week, I supported and actively participated in moves to get Parliament to have a say in what alternatives might be. I voted for Parliament, effectively to take over the process where the choice of which way to go next is taken out of Theresa Mays hands: Parliament can instruct the government on the course of action to take.
I supported this move also on the strict understanding that ‘no Deal ‘should not be an outcome on the table – as Parliament has already voted and agreed upon.
We’re halfway through this process right now: Parliament has now been given the opportunity to vote on a variety of possible outcomes: some contingent on other moves being made. My exact votes for the eight propositions in front of Parliament are recorded here, but broadly speaking I voted against the idea that a settlement looking like or actually being no deal should now pass, that if an inadequate deal is to pass, then the people of Great Britain should have the opportunity to ratify it or reject it through a confirmation vote:, that basic elements of a reasonable deal should include a customs union and close working with the EU single Market, and that , in an emergency situation where the UK looked to be within days of finally crashing out with no deal then the option of revoking article 50 and stopping the process should be considered.
These different propositions received different levels of support and at the time of writing are set to be discussed further next week.
I continue to oppose the catastrophe of the UK leaving the EU with no deal, and unless a far better deal can be agreed by parliament, continue to support the idea that there should be a further national public vote, in the light of all that we now know, on whether we want to leave with a bad deal or remain in the EU, where, all other considerations of sovereignty and similar matters apart, we have the best economic deal at the moment. As I have said before, if that vote pitches Theresa Mays disastrous non-deal as the means of leaving the EU against staying in the EU and reforming it from within, then I would support and vote for the latter.
Some time has passed since I last updated you about Brexit.
Events are moving fast on Brexit but I wanted to try and give you an update on where I stand.
According to the Brexit timetable, the UK will be leaving the EU on the 29th March this year, regardless of whether there is a ‘deal’ in place.
If we leave the EU with ‘no deal’ the government’s own figures show that the UK economy would be severely affected, falling 9% over fifteen years.
The ‘deal’ Theresa May offered to Parliament at the beginning of January failed to secure arrangements for keeping the UK close to the customs union or the single market, it failed to provide a satisfactory solution to a new trading relationship, and it failed on the Northern Ireland border.
During the envisaged transition period negotiations on these matters will continue whilst we take whatever rules are imposed on us by the EU in the meantime. Given that we will have already left the EU by this point our negotiating position will be so weak as to be non-existent.
This deal is so poor that I cannot seriously believe that many people, if they had known the outcome, would have voted for it as part of the referendum process. This is why I joined many of my parliamentary colleagues from all parties in rejecting it by a margin of 230 votes – a government defeat larger than any ever seen in the history of this British Parliament.
Regardless of this historic rejection, Theresa May continues to cling to the disastrous ‘red lines’ which made her deal so untenable. She is stubbornly sticking to her failed deal and running down the clock making a no deal Brexit more likely by the day. No Deal Brexit cannot be allowed to happen. It would be disastrous for the people of Southampton and the UK who are already struggling under this Conservative Government.
I have been working with many colleagues also across all parties, to stop this outcome and to press for the negotiation of an alternative deal that really does work in our national interest, but this would require an extension to the time limit for leaving the EU which I am working hard in Parliament to get secured.
After the motion of no confidence in the Government was defeated, ruling out a General Election and a clean slate for negotiations, we are stuck with deadlock and a Prime Minister who is running down the clock to a catastrophic unplanned exit. Theresa May is unable or unwilling to renegotiate putting the UK’s economy and security at risk.
I don’t think that anyone, whether they voted leave or remain supports that kind of outcome.
If neither Parliament nor the government can break the deadlock, then I think there will be no alternative but to put the final decision as to what we do back to the people in the form of a second referendum.
A second referendum will itself need an extension to Article 50, and if the choice at that point is to leave the EU with no deal or stay in and try to reform it from within I will certainly be supporting the option to stay.