Newcastle North MP, Catherine McKinnell, yesterday sought to amend the Government’s Article 50 legislation to require Ministers to properly consult the English regions, including the North East, throughout the Brexit negotiation process.
‘We are getting ever closer to the Prime Minister’s self-imposed 31st March deadline for invoking Article 50, but a question that I put to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on 17th January remains unanswered.
To remind the House – and the Secretary of State, who is in his place – I asked him what discussions he had held with key stakeholders in the North East about the effects of leaving the Single Market, given that 58% of our region’s exports go to the EU. I received an entirely unsatisfactory response to that question, and I remain concerned that the Government have ruled out membership of the Single Market before negotiations have even begun and without properly consulting those parts of the country likely to be most affected by this move.
Even more worrying is the fact that, despite the publication of the Government’s White Paper last week, we are still no closer to knowing what role representatives from all the regions of England, including the North East, will play in informing the Government’s negotiating strategy and objectives. Instead, we have been provided with this entirely meaningless statement:
“In seeking such a future, we will look to secure the specific interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as those of all parts of England.”
…the Government’s “we know best” approach to the Brexit negotiations just will not wash with the British public. Furthermore, the word ‘region’ appears just four times in the White Paper, and three of those references are in the footnotes. The Government claim that around 150 stakeholder engagement events have taken place to help to inform the Government’s understanding of the key issues ahead of the negotiations, but I would be interested to know when, where and with whom those meetings were held.
We know that the Secretary of State made a vague commitment in the House to:
‘get all the Mayors of the North to come and have a meeting in York’
but of course that cannot happen until after the mayoral elections have been held in May. I appreciate the sentiment behind the offer, but it is wholly inadequate. What will happen to those regions, including the North East, that will not have an elected mayor after May and will therefore be excluded from that meeting? Surely, if the English regions are to have a truly meaningful input to this process, those discussions must start before May, given that the UK’s negotiations with the EU will already have commenced, and given the incredibly tight two-year timescale for achieving a deal that does not damage jobs and our economy.
We are repeatedly told that Brexit was about taking back control. We now know that that means an unelected Prime Minister who has sought every means possible to avoid scrutiny of her approach – ploughing ahead with a hard Brexit, regardless of the consequences for different parts of the country. I am not convinced that people voted for that. I am not convinced that this Whitehall-knows-best approach will get the best deal for everybody up and down the country. The only way for the Government to secure the best possible deal for all the regions – the North East in particular – which have so much to lose from a bad deal, is to engage properly with those on the ground about what we need.’
Catherine also supported a number of other – unsuccessful – amendments to the Bill this week, including by signing those on Parliamentary oversight of the Brexit negotiations and approval of the final deal; on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and British nationals resident in the EU; on withdrawal from the Single Market and the Customs Union; on NHS funding; on equality and women’s rights; on employment rights; and on environmental protections.
The Newcastle North MP subsequently voted against the Government’s Bill at Third Reading yesterday, having also voted against the legislation at Second Reading on 1st February.
Commenting afterwards, Catherine said:
‘I accept and respect the outcome of last June’s referendum. But the way in which the Government chooses to conduct these negotiations – and agree the terms of our departure from the EU – will have a very significant impact on the country for many years to come.
Ministers have completely failed to provide the reassurances I believe are required on their strategy and approach towards Britain’s exit from the European Union, and that is why I could not vote to give the Prime Minister a blank cheque on this issue.’