Labour supported and tabled several amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, focussed on improving the process significantly and ensuring that there be accountability at every stage. These amendments were trying to:
- allow for a meaningful vote in the House of Commons on the final Brexit deal
- establish a number of broad principles the government must seek to negotiate, including protecting workers’ rights and securing full tariff and impediment free access to the Single Market
- ensure the Government must seek to retain all existing EU tax avoidance and evasion measures post-Brexit (i.e. an anti-tax haven amendment)
- require the government to report to the House of Commons at regular intervals on the progress of Brexit negotiations
- guarantee legal rights for EU nationals living in the UK before Brexit negotiations begin
- require the government to consult frequently with the devolved governments in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland by putting the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) on a statutory footing
- require the government to publish any Impact Assessment which has been carried out on the potential impact of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union.
- ensure that any new EU agreement must be accompanied by an Equality Impact Assessment
- protect workers’ rights post-Brexit
The government accepted no amendments, and the Bill passed in the House of Commons on Wednesday 8 February. Most Labour MPs voted for the Bill, but that does not give the government a blank cheque. The government has made some concessions because of the solid campaign led by Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit Keir Starmer; most notably the government did publish a White Paper, and they did agree that Parliament will have a vote before any “final” deal.
I voted for that unamended Bill. For me to vote against triggering Article 50 would understandably be seen by many voters (former Remainers as well as former Leavers) as showing contempt for democracy. As far as one can tell, many of those who voted Brexit did so because they have lost confidence in our democracy. Six out of the seven wards in this constituency voted Brexit. Every single ward in the other two Wolverhampton constituencies voted Brexit. It is easy to support democracy when the democratic decision is one with which one agrees. The true test is supporting the decision when it is one with which one does not agree.
Assaults on Emergency Services Staff
I have been working with Halifax’s Labour MP Holly Lynch on a campaign to make it a specific offence to assault an emergency service worker in the course of their employment; and in particular to try to clamp down on the rising epidemic of assailants spitting at such workers, particularly the police.
On Tuesday 7 February Holly introduced a “Ten Minute Rule Bill”, which I have seconded. The Bill would make offences such as malicious wounding, grievous or actual bodily harm and common assault “aggravated” when perpetrated against a constable, firefighter, doctor, paramedic, or nurse in the execution of his or her duty, or against someone assisting such persons; and make provision to require those suspected of certain assaults which may pose a health risk, including spitting to undergo blood tests.
On Tuesday evening 7 February I had a brief meeting with the Police Minister Brandon Lewis MP to impress on him the need for action. He assured me that the government is looking closely at these issues, but said his initial reaction is that fresh legislation may not be needed. On Wednesday evening 8 February I had a brief meeting with the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who invited me to write to her about the Bill.
Access to justice
In late January the government slipped out the results of its review into Employment Tribunal fees. The review said the introduction of fees had dramatically changed how workplace disputes were resolved, with a fall in claims had been much greater than originally estimated, and a significant increase in the number of people turning to the conciliation service ACAS. The only bright spot is that the government said that it would expand a scheme under which fees are waived for the lowest paid.
I shall continue to press the government not to raise the “Small Claims limit” for personal injury cases, especially for injuries at work; and not to close so many courts thereby denying geographical access to justice.