Last week, Parliament returned from its summer recess and Brexit immediately dominated the agenda as debate started on the Great Repeal Bill.
This Bill is not about whether Britain leaves the EU. It is very clear that Brexit is happening – we are leaving the European Union. That issue was settled by the referendum result and the Article 50 Bill.
Instead, this Bill is about how we leave the EU, what role Parliament has in the process and how we safeguard vital rights and protections as we leave.
The principle behind the Bill are sensible, but the Government has chosen to include so called “Henry VIII clauses” – in 1539, he introduced the Statute of Proclamations which gave him the power to legislate by proclamation so he could make or change laws without bothering with Parliament.
Invoking these Henry VIII clauses today would give unrestricted power to the Cabinet and allow it to sidestep Parliamentary scrutiny altogether as it translates all of the EU law onto the British statute book.
The Great Repeal Bill would also undermine the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, because rather than taking power from the EU and giving it, where possible, to these administrations, all the power is to be concentrated in the hands of the British Cabinet. Labour, though, wants to see wider devolution of power to communities across the UK.
I, along with my Labour colleagues, fully respect the democratic decision to leave the European Union. The party voted to trigger Article 50 and it backs a jobs-first Brexit with full, tariff free access to European single market.
But as democrats, we cannot allow this cynical power grab by Government ministers to continue.
As drafted, the Great Repeal Bill is fatally flawed. It would put huge and unaccountable power into the hands of ministers, it would sideline Parliament on key decisions and put crucial rights and protections at risk.
Far from bringing back control from Europe to our Parliament, it would result in a power-grab by Tory Ministers.
The Prime Minister has no mandate or majority for her Brexit strategy. Her belligerent and inflexible approach has left Britain without allies or good will across Europe and, as a result, the negotiations are in a mess.
The Brexit Secretary David Davis dubbed this chaos “constructive ambiguity”. His blasé attitude might be amusing if these weren’t the most complex and challenging negotiations Britain has faced in decades, the outcome of which will have a real and lasting impact on Darlington and the North-East.
Therefore, scrutiny is imperative – particularly coming off the back of a summer of discontent among senior Tories.
For a while, it appeared as if common sense were breaking out in the Cabinet when the Prime Minister finally accepted the need for transitional arrangements with the EU when we leave in March 2019 so that we don’t plunge off a cliff. But then the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, made it clear that they ruled out continued single market membership and a customs union arrangement with the EU.
This is reckless and short-sighted.
Labour’s proposals for a transitional deal, which Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer outlined this week, stand in stark contrast. Our proposal for a transitional deal favours clarity and certainty over chaos and confusion, and it prioritises jobs and the economy over narrow ideological obsessions designed to satisfy hard-line Tory backbenchers.
Labour would seek a deal on the same terms that we currently have with the EU: we want to retain our place in both the customs union and within the single market, maximising both certainty and stability for businesses and organisations, giving them time to look forward and prepare.
Conversely, the Government’s approach expects businesses to adapt to a new temporary trade relationship with the EU by March 2019, and then to adapt again to another regime once the transitional period ends.
Under Labour’s plans, businesses only have to adapt to one new regime and they have more time to do it.
This is essential for businesses in Swansea East and Wales which need maximum certainty to plan ahead. Companies have only ever operated within our current trading arrangements so to expect them to adapt to two new regimes in quick succession is entirely unrealistic.
They require a gradual adjustment process to ensure a smooth and successful transition to a new trading order. Labour’s plans offer exactly this, providing clarity and breathing space for business, which will be crucial for employment.
So Labour is flexible and open. Our transitional period would be as short as possible but as long as necessary. It is a realistic and necessary bridge to developing our new relationship with the EU: a relationship based on common values which will be a progressive partnership that goes beyond trade and security.
Labour does respect the outcome of the referendum and our determination is to pursue a new relationship with the EU that prioritises jobs and the economy.