Like the majority of those living in Greenwich and Woolwich, I voted ‘Remain’ on 23 June 2016. Moreover, I campaigned tirelessly across the constituency to persuade others to do the same. I am still frustrated and saddened by the outcome of the referendum and I still believe that continued membership of the EU would be in our national interest.
However, I accept the close but clear UK referendum result.
In 2015, Parliament passed The European Union Referendum Act by a staggering 544-53 votes. The referendum authorised by that vote was the largest exercise of direct democracy in our country’s history. The British public were told that the result would be honoured and the vast majority expect it to be so. As your MP, I campaigned vigorously for a ‘Remain’ vote locally precisely because I knew that the result, whichever way it went, would be implemented.
It was for that reason that I did not vote against the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. As a democrat, I could not reconcile my belief that the result had to be honoured, with a vote in Parliament to frustrate the start of the negotiation process.
However, I do not accept the extreme and damaging hard Brexit that the Government are pursuing. They alone decided to walk away from the single market — a decision that puts local jobs and prosperity at risk.
For the past ten months, I have been fighting:
- for the maintenance of barrier-free access to the single market;
- to retain all the rights – workers’, environmental and human – we currently enjoy as members of the EU; and
- for a close and collaborative future partnership with the EU 27.
In October 2016, I accepted the role of Shadow Brexit Minister so that I could robustly hold the Government to account on Brexit and press for a future partnership with the EU that is based on our values and priorities. In that capacity, I led for the Opposition on amendments to the Article 50 Bill to increase Parliament’s grip on the Brexit process and to secure the residency rights of EU nationals who have made their homes in our country. The Government used its Commons majority to vote down the amendments but I continue to press these demands and hold Leave supporting Cabinet Ministers to account for the promises they made during the referendum campaign.
Let me be absolutely clear, if the deal that the Government negotiates does not deliver for the people of this country, I will vote against it.
In the months and years ahead we face the battle of our times over the form that Brexit will take and against a vision of Britain devised by the hard right of the Conservative party. That is where the focus and energy of all internationalists and pro-Europeans must now be. That is where my focus has been, and where it will remain.