Robin Walker was in the Chamber yesterday in his capacity as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, where he officially responded on behalf of the Government, and closed the Opposition Day debate on the Government’s plan for Brexit.
The Opposition motion read:
‘That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; notes the resolution on parliamentary scrutiny of the UK leaving the EU agreed by the House on 12 October 2016; recognises that it is Parliament’s responsibility to properly scrutinise the Government while respecting the decision of the British people to leave the European Union; confirms that there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations to depart from the European Union after Article 50 has been triggered; and calls on the Prime Minister to commit to publishing the Government’s plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked.’
To which the Government tabled the following amendment:
‘Consistently with the principles agreed without division by this House on 12 October; recognises that this House should respect the wishes of the United Kingdom as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March 2017.’
The government’s amendment carried with cross party support and the motion was passed with the amendment in place by 448 votes to 75 – a margin of 373. There were 22 Labour rebels, and despite the Liberal Democrats’ campaign against Brexit in the recent Richmond by-election, only half of the Liberal Democrat MPs voted and only one spoke in the debate.
This followed another vote over the government’s amendment to the motion, which added the proviso that its timetable for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, getting formal talks with the EU under way, should be respected. MPs have voted to back the government’s plan to start formal talks on Brexit by the end of March next year. MPs have therefore voted decisively.
Responding for the Government, Robin said:
“Members have shown that they share our concern that we prepare properly and focus on the details. Following the referendum, we are moving on from 40 years of EU membership. Carrying out this process properly and effectively is a complex challenge with a wide range of potential outcomes. That is why we are taking our time to inform and develop our negotiating strategy.”
“My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out before the House four aims: first, listening to all sides in the debate so that we can build a national consensus around our position and get the best deal for the UK; secondly, putting the national interest first and listening carefully to all the devolved Administrations; thirdly, taking steps to minimise uncertainty wherever possible, which is why we are bringing forward a great repeal Bill to bring existing EU law into domestic law on the day we leave, and empowering Parliament to make the changes necessary to ensure our law operates effectively at the domestic level; and, finally, putting the sovereignty and supremacy of this Parliament beyond doubt by the time we end this process and have left the European Union.”
“My right hon. Friend has also been clear about our broad strategic aims for the negotiations: securing the best available access for our businesses so that they can trade and operate within the single market, while taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money. I hear calls from both sides of the House—and indeed both sides of the referendum debate—for the rights of EU citizens in the UK to be guaranteed, and it is certainly the Government’s intention to do so, alongside securing the rights of UK citizens living in the EU.”
Reflecting on yesterday’s debate, Robin said:
“The Government amendment is entirely proper and I commend it to the House. I welcome the fact that Her Majesty’s Opposition appear to accept the amendment, although I note that their Back Benchers seem to disagree. Like many on both sides of the House, I fought the referendum campaign as a remainer, but I always believed that it was right to trust the people with this decision and that their view had to be respected. I saw this fundamentally as a question of consent, and although I personally argued that my constituency might have an easier path to travel if we stayed in and fought our corner, I also said from the start that if the consent of the British people was withheld, we would all need to work harder than ever before to ensure we made a success of leaving the EU.”
“That is where we now stand. After the arguments and the division of the referendum, now is the time for people to come together and work together to ensure that the UK succeeds. By supporting the Government amendment, colleagues from across the House can show they have heard the will of the people and that we will work together to make a success of it. We can move forward with the process of making this work not just for 48% or 52%, but for 100% of the people we represent.”
Notes to Editors:
To read the debate in full:
To read more of Robin’s Ministerial comments in the Chamber:
To read more about the work of the Department for Exiting the EU:
To read Robin’s previous press releases on the EU referendum: