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.
The ‘deal’ however falls very far short of what could constitute a reasonable outcome for that future relationship: it fails to conclude any sort of arrangement whereby the UK remains in or close to the customs union or the single market, and it fails to provide a satisfactory solution to the problem of trade and the Northern Ireland border. It is such a sketchy agreement that most areas of concern about future arrangements on trade, border issues, security, movement and many other issues remain to be negotiated AFTER the UK has left the EU. A ‘transitional period’ is envisaged while those negotiations take place during which the UK, even though it will have left the EU, will take whatever rules are imposed upon it by the EU without any say in the processes, and will be required to ‘negotiate’ on the basis of no position at all in relation to the EU.
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. For that reason I cannot support it and will vote against it when Parliament has the opportunity to consider it on 11th December.
There is, of course a danger that, if the deal is voted down, and nothing else happens, the UK will leave the EU on 29th of March next year with no agreement at all, which would be an even more serious catastrophe for the Country than the difficulties presented by the governments deal. Indeed, Government figures suggest that a ‘no deal’ outcome would make the country far poorer than the deal as proposed at the moment – up to 9.5% smaller in fifteen years than now. That is why I will also be supporting motions that ensure that the Country does not exit the EU with no deal at all being agreed. It is however, as previous procedures agreed by Parliament establish, up to the Government to come to Parliament to tell it what they propose to do within 21 days of a ‘deal’ motion being defeated, and it is at this point that I will be watching carefully the sequence of events that might follow.
The first event in that sequence will probably be that the Government faces a ‘no confidence’ motion from us following its failure to win a majority in parliament for such a central piece of legislation. If that motion passes, and is confirmed with a second motion twelve days later, the Government will fall and there will be a General election. If the confidence motion does not succeed, we will be in the extraordinary position of a Government not able to govern, yet still in government. There is undoubtedly a large majority in Parliament against the idea that the UK should exit the EU with no deal, and a motion to that effect should have been passed at that point, in which case it is incumbent upon the Government to come forward with serious new proposals for negotiations on the UKs exit which should start with an extension to Article 50 to allow them to happen and would have to be based on fundamentally different premises than those of the (now) failed Theresa May ‘deal’.
I think it is unlikely that the Government will do this, at which point we will be faced with a failed ‘deal’ and no new deal to replace it – in other words a complete standoff between Government and Parliament.
If that is indeed the outcome of the rejection of the Government’s deal, then it will be vital that the public gets to adjudicate between Parliament and the Government. A ‘second referendum’ at that point looks to me to be the only way of resolving such a crisis. If there is no movement by the government following the defeat of their proposals, than I will certainly support a motion through Parliament that such a referendum should be held with a binary choice: support the May ‘deal’ or cancel the article 50 trigger letter informing the EU that we are leaving. The timetable of Article 50 would certainly have to be extended by the EU to allow this referendum to happen.
The logic of this position is of course that, faced with a choice of an unsupportable terrible deal to quit the EU that would be the only exit deal on the table, and pulling back from leaving the EU and in future negotiating the changes we want from within it, I would certainly back and campaign for the choice of staying in the EU.
November the 25th was White Ribbon day and over the next 2 weeks I will be wearing my white ribbon to raise awareness of the fact that two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
White Ribbon know that violence against women is much much more than a ‘women’s issue’ and they work with men in particular to help them challenge some of the behaviour among their peers that can escalate and lead to harassment, abuse, and violence towards women.
You can find out more about White Ribbon and sign up to be an ambassador here: https://www.whiteribbon.org.uk/what-we-do/
This month and over August I have been working on supporting our council with their Clean Air Zone consultation and other ways to clean the cities air up. I have also been working in Parliament when it has been sitting on formulating renewables targets which I have been asked about by members. Read on to find out more:
You may also have heard and/or seen the Itchen MP Royston Smith denying the facts surrounding dirty air in Southampton and spreading general untruths about the council’s proposals for a Clean Air Zone.
Those of you who have known me for a long time or even for a little bit will know that jumping up and down, shouting and going red in the face like Royston is not really my style. With this in mind I have been doing hopefully somewhat useful work trying to address some of the issues that individuals and organisations have come to me with.
First of all, I am not reassured that DEFRA in their policies surrounding clean air have sufficiently recognised the specific and sometimes unique characteristics of the cities who have been mandated to take action. For instance, we are the only one of the initial cities mandated to have a Clean Air Zone that has a port which presents specific challenges. In the next couple of weeks, I will be having a conversation with relevant minister and telling them that they need to do more to support the council with these unique challenges and hopefully help the policy to work effectively when implemented.
I have regular meetings with the director of ABP and these naturally have turned to the Clean Air Zone in recent months. Amongst other things I have been linking him up with people that can offer low carbon transport for both goods and people around the port. The result of this is that he is talking about mandating that all port transport vehicles run from low carbon fuel sources.
Related is a meeting I had with Ford who were concerned that the trucks they used at the port would be affected by clean air zone. They were very pleased about and considering taking up some alternative sources of fuel that they could use to pre-empt any charges.
I met representatives from DP World whose main argument against Clean Air Zone is that it will hurt haulage firms and they will take their business elsewhere. I have been working with them to suggest alternatives to the dirtiest diesel engines such as bio- fuel and I’ve been trying to reach a compromise so that if a charge is included in the zone the impact on businesses is mitigated.
I’m hoping these sorts of meetings take the sting out of some of the organisations who have been railing against the council and the much needed Clean Air Zone. We simply do not have a choice in delaying cleaning up the air in Southampton. The evidence of health problems associated with dirty air is alarming and the more we learn the more worried I get.
There are many more pieces of work that I have been undertaking on the Clean Air Zone please do come up to me for a chat if you’d like to know more.
Members of Staff at Southampton University are currently on strike due to a dispute over pensions. I want to express my support and solidarity with all those out on strike.
I know that staff have not taken the decision to strike lightly, nor do they want to disrupt the education of their students, but they have been left with no other choice.
Up to this point Universities UK have refused to negotiate the terms of the changes to the USS pension scheme. As it stands some members of staff expect to see their pension pot reduced by 40%. Many staff made a decision to go into an academic career believing they would be able to retire with a secure pension. They believed that because it’s what they were told. Now they face the threat of insecurity in their later years.
I hope that this action encourages Universities UK to take the UCU’s counter proposals seriously.
I am holding an adjournment debate this afternoon regarding shore to ship power and how the Government can support its introduction in ports across the UK, including Southampton.
Southampton is home to one of the UK’s largest ports and the main home in the UK for cruise ships. Although there are many positive aspects to this fact, it is no secret that these ships contribute to our city’s poor air quality.
Shore to ship power is a simple and relatively low cost alternative to big ships running their diesel engines for the whole time they are in port. Studies that have been done in the US showed that ships using shore power in one location saved 99% of their nitrous oxide emissions and between 60 and 70% of particulate emissions.
To the credit of Southampton port, they are investigating whether they can install facilities in one cruise liner berth, but as far as I know they are alone in this pursuit.
In my debate today I will ask the Government to provide assistance to provide the infrastructure needed for shore to ship and it should give notice of an intention to mandate the use of these plugs by a specified date.
Southampton should not be put in the position, if it proceeds with shore power, of ‘going it alone’. It will be far more powerful both for making the case to ports and for ensuring that ships are properly equipped to use shore power if everyone knows that the UK is on course to oblige such supply.
The Supreme Court decided that the Government could not proceed to invoke Article 50 and thereby set the wheels in motion for a UK exit from the EU within a strict timetable of two years without a parliamentary vote on Article 50. The implication of this is that Parliament should debate this and decide on when and how Article 50 should be triggered.
The response of the Government was to produce a four line bill with no information about how negotiations might proceed and on what lines any negotiations might go along whilst claiming that anyone who did not support the Bill was going against the result of the referendum. What information we did have before the vote on the Second Reading of the Bill was that the Government intend for us to have a very hard ‘Brexit’ – that is to abandon any association with the European Single Market, and to seek very little participation in any of the EU’s institutions in the future.
This is not a reasonable basis either for an informed debate in Parliament about the implications of triggering Article 50 now, or for a decision about the future direction of the UK once the two year process of withdrawal is complete. The referendum vote did not give any guidance about this: we simply decided by a narrow majority that Britain would leave the EU. There is a world of difference between a negotiation that seeks a good deal for British industry, maintains association with the EU on matters of British national interest, and gets the best terms for the UK in the future, and pushing a button on an exit that dumps the UK out of all its associations with nothing to take their place. I do not think most people who voted in the referendum thought that the latter outcome was what they were voting for.
I do not think that rushing into triggering Article 50 without clarity on what we will be doing is in our country’s best interest, and I was not prepared to stand by and allow us to go down what I regard as a potentially very dangerous path for the UK.
The first stage of the Bill is, however, complete and there will now be an opportunity to try and win amendments to the bill so that the Government is better guided in what it does in negotiations. I hope that some changes may be made, although it will not alter what I regard as a precipitate and ill-judged triggering of exit procedures. If no changes are forthcoming as the Bill makes its way through the stages of Parliamentary procedure, I will certainly be voting against it at Third Reading.