The debate over Brexit has destroyed faith in our political system and brought Parliament to an agonising impasse for more than two years. I know from the hundreds of people I spoke with during the election campaign how much they want us to move on from the never-ending bickering, Parliamentary manoeuvring and talk of a second referendum.
Following the general election result, the government now has a renewed mandate from the British people to deliver the referendum result. The Prime Minister’s revised European Union Withdrawal Agreement Bill has passed its Second Reading, meaning Britain will leave the EU in January and we will begin the next stage of negotiations: our future relationship with Europe.
However, I greatly regret that the version of the Bill brought to Parliament on Friday had several crucial protections from the previous iteration removed.
Most concerningly, the clause on workers’ rights has been completely omitted. Defending the rights of working people is at the very heart of what the Labour and trade union movement stands for. Workers in Barnsley now have no clarity on what laws will be in place to protect them in the workplace after 2020.
For the purposes of political expediency, the Prime Minister deliberately increased the threat of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit by legislating against the possibility of an extension to the implementation period.
Furthermore, the government has shamefully rowed back on its commitment to protect unaccompanied children seeking asylum.
As both the MP for Barnsley Central and as Mayor of South Yorkshire, I have taken exceptional and unprecedented steps to ensure we are prepared for whatever Brexit brings. In October, I supported the previous version of the Bill in Parliament and I have consistently maintained that the democratic decision taken in 2016 must be respected.
However, for the reasons I’ve outlined, I could not in all good conscience support the Bill this time. I am fully aware of the strength of feeling in Barnsley and concluded after careful deliberation that abstaining from voting on it was the right choice to make.
The debate over our future relationship with Europe is not going away. For my part, I will continue to work constructively to put the case forward for the need to address the deep inequality in our country, for real investment in our vital public services, and to secure a devolution deal and powers for Yorkshire that takes back control from both Westminster and Brussels.
I remain concerned that our differences over Brexit have been turned into a battering ram against the very foundations of our society and our country. I will never stop fighting for a more decent, more honest politics, one that reaffirms the bonds between us all.
You can read my account of the election campaign in Barnsley here.
I’d like to wish everyone a peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year.