Over the past couple of days in Parliament, we have been voting on amendments to the EU (European Union) Withdrawal Bill.
As many people may be aware, I campaigned and voted to remain in the European Union. Despite this, I recognise that a majority of people voted to leave, and ultimately I respect the outcome of the referendum.
Respecting the result of the referendum however, does not mean giving Theresa May and the Conservative Government a blank cheque to force through a hard Brexit. It has been almost two years since the referendum took place, and the Government is still arguing about which negotiating position to take when it comes to important issues such as Customs, and Northern Ireland.
This chaotic instability is already damaging the economy, and putting people’s jobs at risk. The manufacturing industry has repeatedly warned that a failure to secure the right customs arrangement with the European Union could cause significant damage to the sector, and the economy more widely. Indeed the outgoing president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned this week that without a Customs Union, ‘there are sectors of manufacturing society in the UK which risk becoming extinct.’
It appears as though the Government is continuing to ignore these warnings, with its dogged insistence that we must leave the Customs Union, regardless of the cost.
Manufacturing makes up an integral part of the fabric of our region, and I will always vote in the best interests of my constituents. That is why I voted for amendments to force the Government to negotiate a continued customs union with the EU, although unfortunately they did not pass.
One of the most significant drivers for people voting to leave the European Union was the desire for the country to take back control. Sadly, this has not been the case, and the fact that Parliament was given just two days to debate 15 amendments to the Bill is yet another example of how democracy is being side-lined in this extremely important process.
I firmly believe that as elected representatives, Members of Parliament must have a truly meaningful vote on the deal negotiated with the EU. That is why I voted to retain an amendment made in the House of Lords that strengthens the terms of this meaningful vote.
This would have made clear that, should the Government's proposed withdrawal deal be defeated, it is for Parliament to say what happens next, not the Prime Minister. Theresa May faced the prospect of a humiliating defeat on this amendment, and has now promised all things to all people with a proposal to discuss the details at a later stage.
I do not accept that leaving the European Union means accepting whatever deal the Government comes back with, regardless of the real human cost that a bad deal, or ‘no-deal’ scenario could have. I therefore await details of the concession made by the Prime Minister, and will hold the Government to account to ensure it lives up to the promises made in Parliament.
I would like to thank every constituent who has written to me on this extremely important matter, I will be replying individually in due course. I welcome contributions to this debate from everyone in Washington & Sunderland West, the process of leaving the European Union is a matter of national interest, and one that I take extremely seriously.