The Europe debate has taken an extremely disturbing turn in the last few days, and the first thing to say is that there is an urgent need to try and ensure the rhetoric is dialled down. Politics has been conducted in a particularly highly charged atmosphere since the beginning of the referendum campaign, and whilst it would be wrong to link any specific event to this, it is surely no coincidence that hate crimes have risen sharply since the spring. Inflammatory language, whether used by politicians, the press or on social media, has consequences and we all have a responsibility to conduct ourselves calmly.
The High Court judgement recently, represented in some quarters as an attempt to ‘reverse Brexit by undemocratic means’ is, of course, no such thing. As the judgment itself makes clear, the case was not about ‘the merits or demerits of leaving the EU…which is a political matter….but whether the Government is entitled to give notice of the decision to leave the EU under Article 50 by exercise of the Crown’s prerogative powers and without reference to Parliament’.
Whether or not this position is right (I believe it to be so) or whether it is reversed on appeal, it is absolutely right that we all robustly defend the independence of our judges. They are not, and should not be, immune from criticism, but headlines screaming that judges asserting the role of Parliament are ‘enemies of the people’ are both disgraceful and dangerous.
On the substance of Brexit itself, I was amongst the many millions bitterly disappointed by the result, and the last few months have only served to confirm the risks for our country; to say nothing of the extent to which lies put forward by some parts of the ‘Leave’ campaign have been exposed. It is now clear that the ‘Leavers’ have no plan for the country, and that we face the possibility of an extremely damaging ‘hard Brexit’ --which was by no means what most ‘leave’ voters thought they were endorsing.
It would be wholly irresponsible of Parliament not to do its best to mitigate the negative consequences of Brexit, and not to fight for the best outcome for London and the rest of the UK. We need to have a clear idea of what the Government’s preferred options for the UK’s relationship with the rest of the EU are before Article 50 is triggered and the nation is locked into the inflexible 2 year exit period. The ‘leave’ campaign promised that quitting the EU would make us richer, safer and happier. It’s now up to them to demonstrate how they will make it so.
There is a world of difference between ‘thwarting the expressed will of the people’, which would clearly be wrong, and seeking a constructive way of implementing the referendum decision that takes into account the long-term interests of all the British people – both ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’.
I appreciate that the result of the referendum has raised uncertainty over the future rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU, particularly following comments made by Government Ministers which have suggested that this matter will form part of the EU-UK negotiations. This issue has been raised on a number of occasions with the Government in the House of Commons. On 6 July the Opposition put forward a motion calling on the Government to commit with urgency to giving EU nationals currently living in the UK the right to remain. I supported this motion and I am pleased that it passed overwhelmingly. The Government must now accept the decision of the House of Commons, end the uncertainty and confirm the legal status of EU nationals without delay.