I want to take the opportunity to explain to my constituents the reasoning behind my votes in the House of Commons last night on the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
In 2017, I was elected on a manifesto commitment to respect the outcome of the referendum, prioritise jobs and living standards, and rule out a no-deal exit.
Following last week’s EU Council meeting, the Government presented a revised deal and political declaration outlining the terms on which we would exit the EU. To ratify the deal, Parliament would need to agree to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
I believe Parliament should have had the chance to debate the Bill, which is why I voted for it at Second Reading.
However, the Bill should also be given the scrutiny it deserves, with MPs afforded the opportunity to amend it, which is why I voted against the Government’s attempt to fast track it through Parliament with minimal analysis. Three days is an extraordinarily short amount of time to debate a Bill of this importance. By comparison, the Maastricht Treaty – a less politically significant piece of legislation – was debated for twenty-nine days.
The Prime Minster committed himself to Britain leaving the EU on the arbitrary date of 31st October. I did not. The choices MPs make over the coming weeks and months will define our relationship with our European neighbours for years to come, they must not be rushed for the purposes of political expediency. We need to get this right.
I intend to use the Committee Stage of the Bill to improve it. There will be amendments that I will want to consider, including on workers’ rights, environmental standards, consumer protections and further measures to prevent a no-deal exit.
As I hope you know, I have taken exceptional and unprecedented steps to ensure our region is best placed to deal with whatever Brexit might bring. Through my work as MP and as Mayor, South Yorkshire is now in a much stronger position to face our post-Brexit future and thrive.
At a time of political and constitutional crisis, the Government should now bring forward an appropriate timetable for the Bill and allow MPs the chance to examine the detail and debate the implications of one of the most important pieces of legislation Parliament has ever considered.
I know that some who believe our interests are better served by remaining a member of the EU will be disappointed by my decision. It was not taken lightly, and as with every important vote, I looked very closely at the detail, took advice and weighed up the respective merits very carefully before deciding.
As we prepare for the future – and for life beyond the Brexit debate – our priority must be to build a collaborative, sustainable and inclusive economy where everyone shares the benefits. Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, that is what I will be working towards.