Update – EU (Withdrawal) Bill

Regardless of whether you voted leave or remain in the Referendum last year, I fully appreciate that for many people, the question of Brexit continues to generate very strong feelings on both sides of the debate. There have been a series of reports in the media this week suggesting that I and other like-minded colleagues wish to frustrate the withdrawal process. That could not be further from the truth, and I feel it is important to set out my position again for absolute clarity.

While I campaigned to remain, and believe it is an error for us to leave, I respect the result of the Referendum and want to see us depart in an orderly fashion, helping to ensure legal continuity and business confidence. That is something I have been absolutely consistent on ever since the Referendum vote last year.

I should stress that the Bill we are currently considering is not concerned with rerunning the Referendum or debating the respective merits of leave or remain. That has already been decided, which is why I voted to trigger Article 50 at both the Second and Third Reading of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act earlier this year, and supported the EU (Withdrawal) Bill at its Second Reading in September, as did the entire Conservative Parliamentary Party.

Instead, this Bill deals with the actual legal and constitutional mechanics of how we will incorporate EU legislation into UK domestic law. It does not question the departure itself, only the technicalities of how and in what form we leave. With respect, any suggestions that tabling amendments to the legislation are an attempt to delay or overturn Brexit are frankly misguided, and show a lack of understanding of why this Bill has been brought forward, as well of how a Parliamentary democracy works. In the case of some of the press, I’m sorry to say that this misleading is quite deliberate. I have set out my thoughts in further detail in an article I wrote for The Guardian yesterday:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/15/brexit-mutineer-democracy-tory-mp-bob-neill

I have tabled and added my name to around 30 amendments to the Bill so far, and as I highlighted in my update on 30 October, these have been drafted in a genuinely constructive manner in the hope of improving legislation rather than wrecking it. They do not impede the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand, nor do they seek to undermine the Department for Exiting the European Union’s broader aims. Indeed, I have had many constructive conversations with ministers throughout recent weeks and months.

They look at a range of issues, from preserving citizens’ legal rights once we leave, to Euratom, the organisation that currently regulates our nuclear activity (not just for power production but medical uses too). The ones that I have personally tabled are especially concerned with protecting the financial and professional services sector, which is crucial to thousands of jobs in Bromley and Chislehurst, and indeed to the UK economy as a whole. In fact, some 36% of the constituency’s working population are employed in this sector, and I am not going to do anything that puts those jobs at risk. It is the UK’s largest source of tax revenue and largest driver of trade surpluses.

I should also make clear that all bar one of the amendments I am supporting have been tabled by Conservative MPs. The exception has been laid by Peter Grant, an SNP MP, and would ensure that no part of the Bill removes the rights currently enjoyed by the people and businesses residing in Gibraltar to trade freely into the UK. I am supporting this as Chairman of the cross-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar, and again, have been working constructively with Ministers to achieve its aims.

Contrary to what some people have suggested, the amendments do not endorse Mr Corbyn or Labour’s alternating position on Brexit, which does nothing to provide the sort of certainty Britain needs. The Prime Minister continues to have my full support in delivering the pragmatic deal and important transitional arrangements which she set out in her Florence speech, and I look forward to working with my ministerial colleagues to ensure we secure a business friendly Brexit that puts the economy and jobs first.

The Bill, and all its related documents, including the amendments that have been tabled, can be found here:

https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/europeanunionwithdrawal.html

I have also included below the links to all of my speeches related to this Bill so far: at its Second Reading in September, as well as this week during its first and second day in Committee.

http://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-09-11/debates/B10868CD-F096-47A2-84EE-A902C8A271BE/EuropeanUnion(Withdrawal)Bill#contribution-C8994ABD-7A8D-4DE6-A7E5-F94CFF2AD476

http://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-11-14/debates/B9A99D17-80B2-43F4-BFD8-620E40A24EE9/EuropeanUnion(Withdrawal)Bill#contribution-1587F1C1-AA58-42C4-98A5-E9A3E4529164

http://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-11-15/debates/7A700C0E-8BA2-4… 

I will endeavour to continue updating my website with my thoughts as this process continues.