Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:31 pm on 1st February 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee 1:31 pm, 1st February 2017

My hon. Friend is right. I, too, will vote for article 50, although I argued against leaving the EU last year. I am worried about the backdrop to all of this, because, across western democracies, democratic values are being undermined. We have seen: attacks on judges as the “enemies of the people”, even though they should be defending the rule of law; attacks on the Human Rights Act and on the protection for minorities against the tyranny of the majority; the steady undermining of democratically elected representatives; the assault on the free press; and the attack on truth itself. The challenge that we face over the next few years in many European countries is how we defend those democratic values. It will be much harder for me to defend that faith in democracy in my constituency if we ignore the results of the ballot box last summer.

Pontefract is the home of the very first secret ballot. We still have the first ballot box, and we see it as a symbol of peaceful democracy—of asking people to be part of that democratic process. That democratic process does not end with the article 50 vote, and that is my concern with the Government’s approach. They are trying to concentrate power in the hands of the Executive, when, in fact, they should be involving all of Parliament and the public in the debate about what kind of country we want to be and about where our future lies. There will be issues on which we will disagree. For example, I feel strongly that we should stay inside the customs union, because that will help our manufacturing in the future. On the rights of EU citizens who already live here, I feel that we should not be leaving them in the lurch while we start the negotiations when we could put them on a sure-footing straight away.

There will be issues about how we balance so many different things, such as how we get our security right, and we will need to debate them here in this House. At the moment, the process that the Government have set out does not give us the secure opportunity to have votes and proper debates and to be sure that we will not be left at the end of this process with what the Prime Minister has described as her way to change the British economic model if we do not get what we like. To the Opposition, that sounds far more like a tax-haven Britain that would undermine people’s rights and the kind of British values that we want to stand up for.

I urge Members from all parts of the House not just to look at the array of amendments and not just to decide how we respect the referendum result last summer and the different and strongly held views of our constituents, but to look at how all of us, from all parts of the House, vote for the kinds of amendments that will ensure that parliamentary sovereignty is strengthened and that Parliament has a say. I urge Government Members to vote for some of those amendments to ensure that we have a real vote on the final outcome and that we can make real choices.

So much of this has been about how we defend democracy by voting for article 50. It should not be about that; it should be about how we strengthen democracy over the next two years. If this was about parliamentary sovereignty for all of us, let us have the strength and the confidence to use it.