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What Sarah Olney said in the Commons on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

February 6, 2017 7:46 AM

Article 50

Sarah Olney, speaking in the House of Commons on 31st January 2017, on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (video available here):

In this country, we have settled, through a process of trial and error, on a system of parliamentary democracy as the most effective form of governance. The importance of Parliament's role was once again asserted by the Supreme Court last week. The responsibility of parliamentarians is clear: to take decisions in the best interests of the country with particular regard for the needs of their constituents. I believe that leaving the European Union will be hugely damaging for this country; the British people, through the referendum, narrowly expressed a different view. It is now up to Parliament to take account of the result of the referendum and decide what is in the best interests of the country.

There is no evidence, and none has been presented, that the best interests of the country will be served by the immediate triggering of article 50 and the pursuit of the hardest Brexit possible. It seems to me an abdication of responsibility to say that the only factor that can be considered in deciding whether to trigger article 50 is the result of the referendum. "The will of the people" cannot be tied down to one single point and be presumed never to change or waver. It should not be assumed that the decision of a narrow majority of people, willing and entitled to express a view on 23 June, should be the only thing to determine the fate of the whole population for now and many decades into the future. This is not the end of the debate; it is only the beginning.

[...] There has been a lot of talk about the European Union Referendum Act 2015. I was not here. I did not vote for it. I am not bound by it. The Conservative party's 2015 manifesto also committed us to staying in the single market.

If, in three or eight years' time, the people are not happy with the outcome of Brexit, who should they hold accountable? If they want the country to take a different course, how should they vote then? Will all ‚Äčtheir MPs step back and tell them that they merely implemented the will of the people and that the outcome of Brexit is not their responsibility? Denying the people the right to hold their representatives accountable would be truly undemocratic.

I asked the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union a question last week about what impact assessments had been done to estimate the loss of jobs and skills to the UK as a consequence of leaving the European Union. I was told that such information could not be released because it would weaken our negotiating hand. That is extremely worrying for two reasons. First, if the information exists-the Minister who responded did not confirm that such assessments have been carried out-it is not available to the public to read and consider. Secondly, our country's future prosperity, including our jobs and skilled workers, now depends so heavily on the outcome of a negotiation.

Far from taking back control, we are apparently dependent on what other countries will, or will not, allow. There is so much that we do not know about the consequences of leaving the European Union, either because the Government refuse to reveal it or because it depends on the outcome of negotiations. We have not been given sight of the Government's White Paper before being asked to consider the Bill. We are effectively being asked to jump out of an airplane without knowing whether we are securely attached to a parachute, and that is not a responsible approach to take to the security and prosperity of our citizens.

If we do make the decision to trigger article 50, our most immediate and pressing goal will be to advance negotiations with our European partners as quickly as possible to provide security and clarity for our citizens, but it is important that we do not just settle for whatever result we can get. We should make a further, active and informed decision that the new deal is a better alternative than remaining in the European Union. The choice should be between those two outcomes. Having held an initial referendum to ask the public to guide our decision making on the issue, we cannot exclude them from the final decision. There needs to be a referendum on the terms so that the people can decide for themselves.

The decisions that we make in this place over the coming days will shape our country for future generations, and we owe it to them to proceed with caution, thoughtfulness and care. My grandparents' generation gifted us a country free from tyranny, and my parents' generation gifted us a country of rising prosperity. When I think of the country that I would like my generation to give to our children, I think of a country that lives without fear, poverty and inequality, but we cannot build that world by turning our back on our neighbours, closing the door to our friends, turning a blind eye to tyranny or walking hand in hand with intolerance.

I will vote against the Bill tomorrow not just because I represent a pro-remain party in a pro-remain constituency, nor because I made this commitment to voters during my recent by-election campaign. Most of all, I will vote against the Bill because triggering article 50 is the wrong step for this country to take at this time.


https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-01-31/debates/C2852E15-21D3-4F03-B8C3-F7E05F2276B0/EuropeanUnion(NotificationOfWithdrawal)Bill [accessed 05 Feb 2017]