I have received more than 1000 emails and letters about Brexit over the past few months. Below I have set out why I voted the way I did on this issue.
I understand that many people have concerns about Labour’s decision to vote in favour of Article 50, and I appreciate the strong feelings that this issue evokes. Like many in my constituency, which voted overwhelmingly to remain, I too was in favour of remaining in the European Union and campaigned hard for that outcome, as did the Labour Party as a whole.
However, while the outcome of the referendum was not the one I hoped for, and while I share the disappointment felt by many in Islington and across the UK, the result itself was clear. Nationally, the British public voted to leave the European Union, and I do not believe that it would have been democratic or realistic for Labour to seek to overturn the result of a democratically-held vote.
It is a difficult decision to make for an MP when the country votes one way and your constituency votes another. I made my decision on the basis of what I believe is best for our country, and therefore best for Islington. It would do untold damage to our democracy to hold a referendum and then refuse to accept the result. And it would have been wrong for the Labour Party to adopt a position other than one that recognises that we have been given our instructions. The Labour Party contains people in both camps. In that way we represent the country, and should seek to heal the divide.
While I am disappointed that the Article 50 Bill passed without amendment, the government’s concession on giving Parliament a meaningful vote on a final deal to leave the EU is a welcome one, and follows months of concerted pressure from Labour. We have consistently said that Parliament must have a meaningful vote on any final Brexit deal, giving MPs the opportunity to vote on the final deal before it is agreed, and – crucially – that the Commons has a debate and vote before the European Parliament does.
Voting for Article 50 does not mean we are giving Theresa May a blank cheque, and indeed, this vote was just the start of the negotiating process. Labour will be using every opportunity to protect jobs, rights and living standards, and to ultimately achieve the best possible deal for Britain, one that reflects a profoundly different vision for our country to that of the Tories.
I have outstanding concerns about the government’s plans for Britain post-Brexit. The Chancellor’s suggestion that they would wilfully “break the economic model” to make Britain a Singapore-style tax haven when we leave the EU is not acceptable. It poses a serious threat to our economy and to jobs and public services. My role is to ensure that the government gets as good a deal as possible for Britain when it enters into negotiations with its counterparts in Brussels. This means looking after our economy and jobs first.
While the result of the referendum was clear, it did not define the terms of exit. It is therefore of great importance that the Opposition holds the government to account on its plans for Brexit every step of the way. This is not a responsibility I take lightly, and I can assure you that I will challenge the government relentlessly on aspects of its plan that run counter to the national interest, and be a vocal champion for a progressive Brexit that protects the UK economy and the rights of the British public.
At this difficult and uncertain time for our country, the Labour Party needs to provide a strong, active, and distinctive voice, campaigning for the needs of our communities and the best interests of the country in a post-Brexit Britain. We also need to assert a positive, unifying vision for that future, and confront the division and extremism that we have seen since the referendum.