Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Time for parliament to take back control

The nightmare of a no-deal Brexit is becoming a reality. It’s vital that pro-Europeans of all parties join forces to stop ministers driving Britain over the cliff, argues Chris Leslie MP

In Florence, Theresa May outlined her view for how Britain should transition away from European Union membership. Taken at her word, the prime minister now wants a two-year period within which we still have market access on current terms, remain within the existing EU legal and regulatory structure, continue to cooperate on security and counter-terrorism and honour our outstanding financial commitments – a parting on amicable terms.

Of course, we should know that nothing can match our existing membership of the single market – it is the most far-reaching comprehensive free trade agreement available between any countries anywhere else in the world. But seeking to retain these benefits during a few years of transition, though not perfect, is a start.

However, May’s worthwhile objectives are not worth the paper they are written on unless we can enshrine them in law. There is nothing to stop backbench Tories from forcing a capitulation – and no guarantee that a more extreme successor (whoever they might be) will honour May’s pledges on transition.

For Britain, this is not good enough – and it should not be good enough for parliament. The amendment which I have drafted alongside Ken Clarke therefore attempts to put the prime minister’s words into the legislation to make sure the government honours them. If she means it, this should not be a big ask, and what is more, we believe strongly that most members in the House of Commons agree with us that a transition period is vital if we are to avert catastrophe. We do still live in a parliamentary democracy, so if such a transition does not appear in the withdrawal agreement, MPs of all parties should demand that the House of Commons be consulted afresh on when and how we leave.

There is a broader worry here about how ministers are attempting to bypass parliament at every stage of the withdrawal process. In its current form, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill bypasses the House of Commons and vests sweeping power in the hands of the prime minister of the day. That would be unacceptable on any issue, but when the consequences are as profound as this, it is unforgivable.

There is a majority in the House of Commons for a common sense, pro-single market approach which saves jobs and averts legal chaos – the only question is whether MPs can set aside rigid party-political practices and make that majority’s voice heard. Now, more than any other moment in recent history, should be the time for parliament to assert itself in the national interest. Indeed, dozens of backbench MPs are now tabling and adding their names to amendments, many of them excellent. Some require Parliament to ratify a new, permanent, treaty before the 1972 European Communities Act can be repealed. Others, including from former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve, seek to retain the charter of fundamental rights, enable legal challenges on grounds of breaching general principles of EU law and give MPs oversight of these ministerial regulation-making powers.

I am deeply concerned that withdrawing from the EU may yet be an unmitigated disaster, but sadly there will be MPs who fail to realise and face up to this. That is why I would prefer to give the final say on whether to proceed with any deal the government reaches to the British public. At present, though, there are too few MPs who share that view. So if we are to leave, parliament should at the very least be putting in place the protections necessary to avoid that catastrophe, get a reasonable deal and salvage what we can of our single market alliances. The clock is ticking.


Chris Leslie is MP for Nottingham East and a member of the International Trade Select Committee. He tweets at @ChrisLeslieMP



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Chris Leslie MP

is MP for Nottingham East


  • Absolutely correct. My thoughts on Brexit not too dissimilar to Nick Cohen in the Observer ( 15/10) that what UK are witnessing is more than just a Brexit battle but more a hegemonic / ideological battle where the Farage Right both UKIP/ Johnson, Gove, Rees Mogg are brutally attacking anyone out to mitigate what Ken Clarke calls the catastrophe.

    What is forgotten here is that many regional voters who were misled and misinformed about leaving EU are still being kept in the dark by politicians, Mail, Sun, Express and compliant BBC. The unions, employers, industries, academia, financial services, professions all effected by Brexit are far too quiet, too reserved, too neutral failing to speak more bluntly what is in store for their employees and public once the barriers go up, the tariffs are imposed , the customs holds up start, the companies relocate back to Europe.

    Corbyn needs to lead the charge against Brexit and make up for the lack lustre campaign in the Referendum when regional voters were subject to massive Right Wing Boris and Farage led nonsense. It’s jobs, jobs, jobs, lost revenues, lost public services we face now. The Derby workers or Unions representing Rolls Royce and Toyota employees lobbying their MPs comes late from that Labour voting Brexit town ..did they not realise that manufacturing would relocate to the 500 million consumer based EU market rather than face tariffs, border holds and disrupted supply lines. This country is about to face massive economic meltdown and nearly half the population are still getting the UKIP originated falsehoods

  • Of course there are many Labour MPs who would prefer a coalition with many Conservatives and/or Liberals in order to assert the maintenance of those acquired benefits for who have quite well out of the EU (and not the economy as a whole of course).

    Despite assertions to the contrary people were no more misled by politicians in the EU debate over Brexit than they are in every single election we ever have. All elections are exactly the same – Establishment cover ups and fear – generation about transforming the status quo that threatens vested interests.The practices of the EU referendum debate were the same as that of General elections.

    Thank goodness though many in Labour voting Leave had recognised that a large collection of Labour MPs were not on their side, but were pursuing other interest who have temporarily done quite well out of an economy which is a purchase and not a supplier of the things we need.

  • Chris wants “to give the final say … to the British public”.

    That means, I think, that he wants there to be an enabling clause in legislation that requires a referendum on the terms of the ‘final’ agreement between the EU27 and the UK government.

    The referendum question cannot again be “Do you support Leave or Remain” since people may well want to leave or remain on terms differing from those offered.

    Hence, you’d think the question has to be “Do you accept or reject the terms of the agreement?” However this would split the pro-EU vote and unite in rejection both Hard Brexiteers and committed remainers.

    OK, what if the question were “Do you want to accept the terms or renegotiate?” This then excludes both extreme Brexiteers and committed remainers from wanting to vote.

    So… I’m out of ideas.

    Please tell us Chris what question would you put in a second referendum?

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