The past few days have brought some dubious press coverage on the way Labour MEPs voted on the Brexit resolution in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday 3rd October.
This along with some of the comments we have seen on social media are confused at best and completely false at worst. We want to set the record straight and explain to our constituents how we voted and why.
The European Parliament resolution on the state of play of negotiations with the UK focused on citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the financial settlement – the three topics that the UK and the EU had agreed to address in Stage 1 of negotiations.
The vote was on a non-binding resolution which was used as a way of showing approval or disapproval on a matter that MEPs cannot vote on – the process so far of the negotiations themselves.
The resolution emphasises the need for reciprocal rights for citizens (UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK) and raises concerns regarding the “regrettable administrative practices” against EU citizens living in the UK (referring to the letters sent out by the Home Office asking EU nationals to leave the country).
It also sets out that it is the UK government’s responsibility to find “an effective and workable solution” that will prevent the ‘hardening’ of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and ensures full compliance with the Good Friday Agreement.
The EU Parliament mentions in its resolution that it took note of Theresa May’s Florence speech which suggested the UK would pay €10bn-a-year to Brussels in the two years after Brexit, but that further concrete proposals on financial settlement are still awaited.
We voted in favour of all of the above, which should not have come as a surprise to anyone:
– we have been actively campaigning for citizens’ rights, calling on the UK government numerous times to make a guarantee as soon as possible which hasn’t been made yet;
– we are adamant that the border issues between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland should be resolved as a priority and they haven’t been yet;
– we understand that the ‘divorce bill’ needs to be agreed upon before negotiations progress to the next stage and a concrete offer has not been made yet.
It is our job to represent the interests of the North East to the best of our ability and therefore scrutinise the progress of Brexit negotiations. To blindly vote for anything the UK government wants is not democratic.
It is because we want to get on to Stage 2 and start discussing trade that we are so annoyed with the UK government for not having concluded Stage 1 when they have had ample time so to do. The EU have made it entirely clear since the negotiations began months ago that there would be no moving on to Stage 2 until the first was complete.
So, considering the above, what prompted publications such as the Daily Express to call Labour MEPs “Brexit betrayers”?
The final part of the resolution focused on whether negotiations have made enough progress. It sets out that unless a major breakthrough is made in line with all of the above during the fifth round of negotiations, talks should not progress to the next stage just yet.
We hope this clarifies the confusion caused by some right-wing publications and reassures our constituents that when we vote we always try and do so in a way that is in the best interests of the North East. It is because we want to see our region flourish that we voted the way we did to send a clear message to the UK government that their chaotic approach to the Brexit negotiations must stop. Instead, sort out Stage 1 immediately and get onto the next one as soon as possible. But the EU is right - Stage 1 can’t be skipped.