On Brexit, MPs Give Away Sovereignty, Vote to Allow Theresa May to Do Whatever She Wants


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What a disgrace the majority of MPs have shown themselves to be, as they have voted, by 494 votes to 122, to pass the government’s derisory little bill allowing Theresa May to “notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”

Although numerous amendments were tabled — seven by Labour, others by other parties — all failed to be passed. On Tuesday, an amendment by Labour’s Chris Leslie, stating that “the government should not be allowed to agree a Brexit deal until it has been passed by both Houses of Parliament,” was defeated by 326 votes to 293 — a majority of 33 — including seven Tory rebels: as well as serial Brexit rebel Ken Clarke, the rebels were Heidi Allen, Bob Neill, Claire Perry, Antoinette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Andrew Tyrie.

And last night, before the final vote, there was another blow — this one not to the hard-won sovereignty of Parliament, given away by MPs as though it was nothing, but to the three million EU nationals who live and work in the UK, when the amendment by Labour’s Harriet Harman, in her capacity as the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, guaranteeing EU nationals the right to stay in the UK, was defeated by 332 votes to 290 — a majority of 42. On this amendment, there were three Tory rebels — Ken Clarke, Tania Mathias and Andrew Tyrie.

On this amendment, the Guardian tried to claim that “[t]he fact that MPs have voted this down does not mean the MPs want EU nationals to have to leave the EU after Brexit. It means they accept Theresa May’s argument that Britain should not give any commitments until it can reach a deal with other EU countries ensure that Britons living on the continent are also guaranteed the right to say where they are.”

However, I simply don’t accept this argument, as I’m imagining the insecurity felt by EU nationals living and working here, many who have been here for decades, and I find it unacceptable that, for any reason, they can be reduced to being bargaining chips.

So let’s just recap on how we got here, shall we? Theresa May, the accidental Prime Minister, first refused to accept that the UK cannot leave the EU without Parliament being consulted, spending months fighting in the courts to prevent what Brexit was supposedly about — restoring sovereignty to the UK, because, in the UK, sovereignty resides with Parliament and very specifically not with just the Prime Minister.

Then when, after three months, the Supreme Court confirmed the High Court’s November ruling that Parliament must be consulted, May and her chief Brexiteer, David Davis, put together that derisory two-paragraph bill for MPs to endorse, which they expected them to pass without much discussion, instantly relinquishing the sovereignty that the Supreme Court had just confirmed resided with them.

Adding insult to injury, the government refused to issue a white paper until after the vote, and MPs dutifully humiliated themselves by voting by 498 votes to 114 to give Theresa May the power to trigger the UK’s exit from the European Union without having seen any detailed plans whatsoever. 47 Labour MPs voted against the bill, even though, absurdly, Jeremy Corbyn had insisted that all his MPs vote with the government, and they were joined by just one Tory (Ken Clarke), 50 SNP MPs, seven Liberal Democrats, and nine other MPs including Green MP Caroline Lucas.

However, as I explained at the time, in an article entitled, On Brexit, What a Pathetic, Leaderless Country We Have Become, 75% of MPs supported staying in the EU at the time of the referendum, including 185 Tory MPs and 218 Labour MPs, and to represent the 16.1m of us who voted to stay in the EU (48.1% of those who voted), at least 294 MPs should have voted against this bill, not just 114 of them — and last night’s vote on the third reading, at which that number was bumped up to 122, does little to suggest to the 16.1m of us who voted to Remain that Parliament has any notion of doing anything to represent us.

To make matters worse, when the white paper — ‘The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union’ — arrived, it was, as the Guardian explained in an editorial, “full of platitudes and empty rhetoric,” and served only to confirm that the government “is engaging in a troubling form of politics, where ministers can pursue their interest without compromise.” The Guardian’s editors added, “The executive has revealed nothing but contempt for institutional parliamentary forms. The white paper offers no scrutiny, no mechanisms to hold ministers to account, no ways of influencing the Brexit process.”

Moreover, Theresa May’s introduction to the white paper was an deeply insulting effort to co-opt the 16.1m of us who voted Remain into her disgraceful isolationist Little England project. In amongst the frothy, nonsensical optimism of her view of the UK, as “[o]ne of the world’s largest and strongest economies,” with “the best intelligence services” and “the bravest armed forces,” she had the nerve to state, “And another thing that’s important. The essential ingredient of our success. The strength and support of 65 million people willing us to make it happen. Because after all the division and discord, the country is coming together.”

That, of course, is patently untrue, and like numerous other people, I am enraged that Theresa May should seek so cynically to co-opt me and the rest of the 16.1 million people who voted to stay in the EU into her nationalist fantasy world, and dismayed that, last night, Parliament voted to hand her the power to trigger Article 50 without promising that EU nationals can stay in the UK, and without giving any meaningful power to MPs to challenge her on any basis whatsoever.

This is my opinion despite the optimism shown by Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, who claimed that Theresa May “will not be able to resist pressure to go back to the negotiating table if parliament rejects her Brexit deal with the EU,” as the Guardian described it.

The Guardian added that Starmer “dismissed the government’s claims that MPs would only be offered a vote on the deal on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, meaning they could either accept the terms struck by May or proceed to Brexit without a deal at all.” He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “The idea the prime minister would seriously say in 2019: ‘Well, rather than go back and see if I can improve and satisfy parliament I will simply crash out’ that would be a reckless act.”

Nevertheless, Chris Leslie, the former shadow chancellor, said the government “was still not offering a meaningful choice for MPs on its Brexit deal.”

“The government’s so-called concession falls short of giving parliament a meaningful vote,” he said, adding, “Ministers have failed to produce a new amendment, so their commitment will not be binding. The minister refused to give parliament the option to reject the deal and tell the government to go back to negotiate a better one. And on the nightmare scenario – that we could leave the EU with no deal at all, and face damaging barriers to trade with Europe – it seems parliament could have no say whatsoever.”

I’m with Chris Leslie, and I cannot but conclude that Parliament has desperately let down the 48.1% of voters in the EU referendum who do not want to leave the EU, and who regard the decision to do so as what it was — an advisory outcome that Parliament should be able to refuse to implement if, as has happened, an array of experts demonstrate that doing so will be an act of economic suicide unprecedented in our lifetimes.

As we wait to see if the Lords will do anything meaningful with the bill — with the Guardian noting that Labour and Liberal Democrat peers “will press for concessions on key issues including the status of European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom” — below is the full list of the 122 MPs who voted against the Article 50 bill at its third reading, including Clive Lewis, the shadow business secretary and the fourth shadow cabinet member to resign rather than vote in favour of the bill.

These ought to be difficult times for the other MPs in constituencies that voted to Remain, and I hope those constituents will mobilise to prevent the disaster of a “hard Brexit” — and, hopefully, still to prevent Brexit from happening at all. As the Guardian notes in an editorial today:

It is tempting to say that MPs have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. That is because in many respects they have. Faced with a bill that sets in motion the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, which is as profoundly mistaken a decision as any that the UK parliament has taken in the postwar era, MPs have essentially said that last year’s referendum is sovereign and that they are powerless to put their foot on the brake or choose a different route.

Too many on both sides of the Commons nonsensically deployed their experience and expertise to vote for a bill they admitted to not supporting. Too many MPs genuflected to a referendum decision that sets Britain against its neighbours and its own place in the world and puts the UK economy at hazard.

The 122 MPs who voted against triggering Article 50 at the bill’s third reading

Labour – 52

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East)
Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow)
Graham Allen (Nottingham North)
Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan (Tooting)
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree)
Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West)
Lyn Brown (West Ham)
Chris Bryant (Rhondda)
Karen Buck (Westminster North)
Dawn Butler (Brent Central)
Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth)
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
Ann Coffey (Stockport)
Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark)
Mary Creagh (Wakefield)
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow)
Geraint Davies (Swansea West)
Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West)
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth)
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge)
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood)
Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford)
Mike Gapes (Ilford South)
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston)
Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South)
Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood)
Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch)
Dr. Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton)
Peter Kyle (Hove)
David Lammy (Tottenham)
Clive Lewis (Norwich South)
Rachael Maskell (York Central)
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East)
Alison McGovern (Wirral South)
Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North)
Madeleine Moon (Bridgend)
Ian Murray (Edinburgh South)
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central)
Stephen Pound (Ealing North)
Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall)
Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn)
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith)
Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington)
Owen Smith (Pontypridd)
Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central)
Stephen Timms (East Ham)
Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)
Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge)

Conservatives – 1

Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

Scottish National Party – 52

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire)
Richard Arkless (Dumfries and Galloway)
Hannah Bardell (Livingston)
Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South)
Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber)
Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North)
Philip Boswell (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill)
Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith)
Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)
Dr. Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow)
Douglas Chapman (Dunfermline and West Fife)
Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West)
Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde)
Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East)
Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk)
Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire)
Stuart Blair Donaldson (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)
Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West)
Stephen Gethins (North East Fife)
Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran)
Patrick Grady (Glasgow North)
Peter Grant (Glenrothes)
Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts)
Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey)
Stewart Hosie (Dundee East)
George Kerevan (East Lothian)
Calum Kerr (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk)
Chris Law (Dundee West)
John McNally (Falkirk)
Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South)
Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South)
Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East)
Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath)
Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar)
Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East)
Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West)
Dr. Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)
Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North)
John Nicolson (East Dunbartonshire)
Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute)
Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West)
Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central)
Mike Weir (Angus)
Dr. Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan)
Dr. Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire)
Corri Wilson (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock)
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire)
Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East)
Angus Robertson (Moray)
Alex Salmond (Gordon)
Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire)
Steven Paterson (Stirling)

Liberal Democrat – 7

Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)
Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam)
Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
Sarah Olney (Richmond Park)
Mark Williams (Ceredigion)
John Pugh (Southport)
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

Green Party – 1

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion)

SDLP – 3

Margaret Ritchie (South Down)
Mark Durkan (Foyle)
Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South)

Plaid Cymru – 3

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr)
Hywel Williams (Arfon)
Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd)

Independent – 3

Michelle Thomson (Edinburgh West)
Lady Hermon (North Down)
Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East)

The tellers for the noes were: Marion Fellows (SNP – Motherwell and Wishaw) and Owen Thompson (SNP – Midlothian)

What happens next?

As the Guardian explained recently, Parliament is in recess between 9 February and 20 February, but after that the House of Lords “is expected to begin its scrutiny process with a two-day debate on the day parliament returns from recess. Further amendments could be agreed during the committee stage of the Lords, between 27 February and 1 March. Any amendments agreed by the Lords will need to be approved by the Commons, and the bill will pass back to MPs. This back and forth will continue until both houses agree, and the earliest this could effectively happen is 7 March. May’s self-imposed deadline for triggering article 50, agreed by parliament, is the end of March.”

If you’re a supporter of Britain staying the EU, and your constituency voted to Remain, but your MP supported the passage of the Article 50 bill, I’d say now is a good time to send them a strongly worded email suggesting that they should not take for granted your support or that of other constituents in the future – for Tory MPs, the fate of Zac Goldsmith ought to be instructive. And if your constituency voted Leave, but your MP was a Remain supporter, then I think you should encourage them to fight for what is right, and not to just think about how to save their seat.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, in which I express my profound disappointment with the majority of Britain’s MPs, who, yesterday, voted to allow Theresa May to trigger Article 50, beginning the UK’s two-year process of leaving the EU. Only 122 MPs voted against the government – and just one Tory – even though three-quarters of MPs support staying in the EU. This is capitulation on a grand scale, to which the feeble mantra that “the will of the people” must be obeyed is shameful. The referendum was only advisory, and the damage leaving the EU will cause to the UK economy is such an unwarranted act of economic suicide that the only mature response would be to continue to resist it. Shamefully, MPs also voted by a majority to deny themselves the right to properly review the final deal, and also refused to demand residency rights for the 3m EU nationals living and working here, making them officially into nothing more than bargaining chips. This whole episode has been an absolute disgrace, and I will not forgive any of those MPs who voted to support Theresa May’s horrendous “hard Brexit” plans.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    The bill is now with the House of Lords, and this is the sort of treatment critics can expect from the bully boys of the Brexit camp: a government source said yesterday, “If the Lords don’t want to face an overwhelming public call to be abolished they must get on and protect democracy and pass this bill.” That quote is mentioned in this article, which also sees Jeremy Corbyn attempting to defend himself: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/09/brexit-labour-jeremy-corbyn-changes-concessions

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s the Guardian’s editorial from yesterday, which I mentioned in my article – but it’s worth reading in its entirety: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/08/the-guardian-view-on-parliament-and-brexit-mps-fail-their-first-test

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s an article in the Independent about the EU nationals abandoned by MPs – ‘”Utterly deplorable”: EU citizens react to MPs rejecting guarantee for them to stay in UK after Brexit”: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/brexit-eu-citizens-right-to-stay-guarantee-mps-vote-bill-reject-response-a7572131.html

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. I was out for a few hours, but I’m interested in people’s thoughts regarding the significance of MPs’ capitulation. Is it only for symbolic reasons that I think pro-Remain MPs should have voted against the government, because the Tories have a majority? Or do you agree with me that, after Brexit deals a savage, self-inflicted blow to our economy it will be remembered who stood up to be counted, and who didn’t?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrote:

    I think that you are correct in wanting to honor those who voted against leaving but like here in the US we are all spending so much precious time fighting forces of greed and hate when we have so little time due to the precarious state of our planet. It looks too like no matter how many times this bare fact is said, most truly smart people don’t connect that their own lives are at stake along obviously with those they love. It may be less than 10 years that the consequences of sea levels rising, the methane released or the unknown variables of the damage done to this planet take their cumulative toll. All of these political battles would be wise if we had time to win anything from them. It is the fate of the Earth we should be concerned with. And we are not.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Deborah, for that sense of perspective. Unfortunately, without an overhaul of our political systems, we can’t even begin to address our refusal to acknowledge the extraordinary environmental destruction we cause.
    Another side effect of Brexit will undoubtedly be to weaken our statutory environmental concerns, while in the US there is now a president as much in bed with the fossil fuel industry as Dick Cheney was.
    Obama did little, as is the case with all our leaders here going back what is now 45 years to when Earth Day was first declared and environmental action began in a major way, including with the creation of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
    But those times now look like ancient history, largely swept away by the horrendous impact of the greed-based society that Thatcher and Reagan facilitated the creation of in the 80s, and whose remorseless consumption of the earth’s resources has not stopped since.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrote:

    Agreed with the historical perspective. I just don’t think we have the time to do both–take back the political process and then save the planet. The political process here in the US is so fully corrupted that trying to fix it is impossible. There is nothing there to fix; it is unusable as a system to organize for the benefit of all. But on a much less global scale, communities of purpose that understand the crisis point of the Earth’s existence can at least go out with a sense of connection to this planet in which all life is based. Symbolically speaking, I’d rather go out hugging a tree than carrying a protest sign, which by the way now seems to have been appropriated for a book that will be published soon in a very glossy (and unenvironmentally way) to supposedly be giving its profits to a large number of “worthy” organizations. Everything has become a circle jerk of commerce. It’s absurd and goes nowhere. I’m going to hug a tree. I know no one will try to make money off of that.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Deborah, as you say, “Everything has become a circle jerk of commerce.” Everything is commodified, everyone who has an idea about anything, it seems, is only respected if that idea involves creating something else to buy that people don’t really need. The world is awash with cleverly designed, cleverly marketed stuff that, unfortunately, is for the most part cr*p we don’t need. I wish there was burgeoning anti-consumer movement against it all, but it seems primarily to be down to individuals. What I’d really like to see is mobilisation for low-cost living, so people can get off the consumer treadmill and live cheaply a have more time to not shop, but that would involve very cheap housing, and there seems to be an actual conspiracy of government and banks to try to prevent that happening.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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