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Statement on My Position on the vote on Article 50 (the EU Withdrawal Bill)

January 31, 2017 4:50 PM

Due to the decision by the High Court on 3rd November 2016, then endorsed by the Supreme Court on 24th January 2017, that in our Parliamentary democracy Parliament must be consulted over the constitutional change of leaving the EU, the Government has brought forward a Bill to trigger the Article 50 process which is being voted on this week.

There will be a series of votes on amendments, raising important issues and an overall vote on the Bill (the second reading) tomorrow, Wednesday 1st February. That is the vote, widely covered in the media, to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to commence the negotiations of what the relationship will be between the UK and the EU and EU countries.

The negotiations between the UK Government and the EU are hugely important and should be conducted in a positive way to ensure the best possible outcome for all in terms of trade, which is critical to British companies and also political and diplomatic cooperation with our nearest neighbours and allies who we must continue to work with.

The outcome of these negotiations is crucial to the British economy and thousands of British businesses and to the kind of role we will play in the world and it is right, therefore, that the British people are consulted on the final deal. So I support there being a referendum on the terms of exit so that the British people are the ones who decide what our relationship with these nations will be. Liberal Democrat party policy, made by conference in Autumn last year (F.27 10) is as follows: "Commits to giving the British people the final say through a referendum on whether the terms of the deal agreed for the withdrawal of Britain from the EU should be accepted". I support that policy and position.

As I have made clear, including to constituents, I do think that these negotiations should be allowed to commence and that I would not block them doing so, so I will not be voting against Article 50. I don't feel it would be right to vote against Article 50 and block the negotiations as they have to (and will) begin soon. I don't think leaving the EU is in our national interest but I accept the result of the referendum. That does not mean actively supporting withdrawal and that is why I can't vote for Article 50 either, so I will abstain from the vote on the Bill as a whole.

I have made clear, consistently, (since last year, before any position had been announced by the Liberal Democrat leadership) that this was my position on triggering Article 50 and would be when it came to a vote on it.

I have reiterated my stance publicly when asked by people and in the media, so this position is not new nor should it come as any surprise how I now intend to vote (especially as it is well known, once I have given a commitment on something, I stick to it).

I have made this position clear, in writing, to the many constituents who have raised the issue with me (from both sides of the referendum debate) and with others, including my own local party.

I also made this position absolutely clear when I was asked by our party's Whip about the position we should take on this vote. The announcement that the MPs would vote against Article 50 was made in the clear knowledge that I had said I could not support that stance. My position was publicly explained following the Opposition Day motion on the 8th December https://gregmulholland.org/en/article/2016/1194536/opposition-day-debate-on-the-government-s-plan-for-brexit

When the High Court (quite rightly) ruled that the Government had to consult Parliament over the decision to trigger Article 50, I made clear that this was constitutionally vital and correct, but also that whilst Parliament must indeed be consulted, it would also be wrong for Parliament to block the negotiations starting and in so doing, thwart the result of the referendum.

So I have stuck to precisely the position I had made clear to all, all along and it is one based on strongly held principles and what I believe to be the right thing to do.

It is also important to point out that contrary to the impression being given by some on social media and elsewhere, there is no Liberal Democrat party policy on what MPs should or should not do with regard to the vote on Article 50.

The party policy (F.27 8) is this: "Calls for a parliamentary vote on the terms of the negotiation before Article 50 is triggered and for continuing parliamentary scrutiny of negotiations on EU withdrawal". I agree with that position and will stick to it going forward.

My own view is that seeking or being seen to try to block the negotiations starting (and therefore seeking to defy the result of the referendum) gives less opportunity to then actually influence those negotiations and to campaign for important things like access to the single market and for cooperation on things such as on international crime, on climate change, on preventing terrorism. Campaigning to retain such cooperation is clearly something we should and must do.

So what is crucial, once this stage is out of the way and the negotiations actually start (as they will) is that all MPs scrutinise the progress of the negotiations and continue to push the Government to ensure British businesses have access to the biggest market in the world.

In the passage of the Bill today and tomorrow, I will support sensible amendments to the Bill to ensure that the Government does keep Parliament and the British people informed, that our NHS is protected and that British businesses do continue to be allowed to trade with European nations without damaging and costly tariffs and barriers that would harm them and the British economy.

I also believe that we should seek to agree that British people living on the continent should be allowed to stay and that EU workers who moved here because we were part of the EU should also be permitted to stay and contribute to our economy and public services.

Following the passage of the Bill, I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues will hold the Government to account during the negotiations, will call for British businesses to continue to access to the single market and will be a strong voice for Britain to be an outward looking nation, continuing to cooperate with our nearest neighbours and allies across the Irish Sea, the English Channel and North Sea as doing so is vital for a strong and successful future for our nation and a stable, cooperative continent.

Greg Mulholland MP

MP for Leeds North West