Chuka Umunna MP: Ministers’ ‘disgraceful’ approach to parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit puts our future at risk
In his op-ed for PoliticsHome, Chuka Umunna explains why he has joined the numerous MPs to have tabled a cross party amendment to “give MPs the power to stand up to the Government” during Brexit negotiations.
We need to talk about what the Queen’s Speech means for Brexit. When our country is crying out for direction on a host of domestic policies, this Government promises only drift on economic, social, health and education policy. Only Brexit remains. With the inconclusive result of the General Election, Members of Parliament have the power to influence the process of Brexit and to have a meaningful say on the contents of any deal, if we grab the opportunity the new arithmetic in the Commons presents us. Parliament will no longer be a passive bystander; it can now be an active player in the implementation of the biggest decision our country has made in generation. That is why numerous MPs, including me, have tabled a cross party amendment to the Queen’s Speech this week to highlight a number of shortcomings.
The attitude the Government has taken to Parliament has been a disgrace. Backbench MPs should be players in this negotiation; instead, Ministers have sought to reduce them to the role of spectators with a poor view of the pitch. The Government has refused to offer a meaningful vote on the final deal they reach with the European Union, so MPs may not have a real say if they bring back an agreement that puts our economy at risk. Devolved administrations have been treated largely with contempt. They continue to threaten a destructive no-deal exit, despite the fact that there is manifestly no majority for it in Parliament. The Queen’s Speech pledged eight Brexit bills, covering everything from immigration policy to nuclear industry regulation. Yet the level of detail in the speech was stunningly vague, leaving MPs and voters none the wiser in judging what the Government really wants to do.
In their manifesto, the Tories promised Parliament and the public that through their Repeal Bill, which aims to convert EU law into British law, they will “not only guarantee but enhance workers’ rights and protections.” This is of course a welcome commitment. But the process of the Repeal Bill means that it could be subverted, as Henry VIII powers would give Ministers the ability to unilaterally water down the protections for workers enshrined in EU law, from anti-discrimination rules to maternity leave and restrictions on unsafe working hours. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.
We likewise are clear on other failings in the Government’s approach. Their foot-dragging on the rights of EU citizens has both dangled the Sword of Damocles over three million peoples’ right to stay, and squandered goodwill towards us on the Continent. And their failure even to fight for continued membership of the Single Market and Customs Union will put jobs and living standards at risk in our country.
So our amendment seeks to give MPs the power to stand up to the Government, allowing us to stand up for our constituents and the national interest. That is why we express regret that the Queen’s Speech does not guarantee a Parliamentary vote on any final outcome to negotiations, does not rule out withdrawal from the EU without a deal, and fails to set out clear measures to respect the competencies of the devolved administrations.
It is a great irony that this Government’s approach to parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit is so dismissive and high-handed, when the European Commission is publishing documents left right and centre for Members of the European Parliament to scrutinise. It is also certain that the European Parliament will have a veto on the final Brexit deal – not an option open to the Mother of Parliaments in London. I would appeal to all MPs, not just in the Labour Party but in the smaller parties and even the pro-European wing of the Tory Party, to support this amendment if it is called and voted on later this week. It will send a very clear message that Parliament will not be sidelined as the future of our nation for decades to come is decided.
Chuka Umunna is Labour MP for Streatham and Chair of Vote Leave Watch