House of Lords ensures parliamentary scrutiny for any EU withdrawal deal

Labour Party

Last night the House of Lords voted to give Parliament a potentially decisive voice over the final shape of Brexit. The vote offered some protection against Britain crashing out of the EU without any deal.

Yesterday’s amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill avoids a “no deal” scenario and also means David Davis and Theresa May would be expected to return to Brussels and re-open negotiations if  Parliament rejected a deal. Though some commentators are sceptical as to whether the UK will even reach this point, the Lords vote ensures Parliament has a proper role in the Brexit negotiations.

Shadow Brexit secretary Kier Starmer said it is right Parliament is given the opportunity to properly scrutinise the deal and that at no point should Theresa May “be given a blank cheque to crash the UK out of the EU without a deal.”

Meanwhile those opposed to the amendment said it undermines the Government’s authority and ability to negotiate with Brussels. I believe it’s a sensible and rational amendment which restricts Government from taking decisions which will affect the country for generations to come. It is right and just that Parliament can participate in the Brexit negotiations in a meaningful way.

It ensures that our future relationship is determined by Parliament and not by the Government.

Peers backed the amendment to the Withdrawal Bill by 335 to 244.


Parliament debates Brexit

Labour Party

House of Lords
A packed House of Lords began its first session scrutinising the EU Withdrawal Bill yesterday. Kicking off the deliberation was an impassioned speech given by Lord Adonis who tabled an amendment to enshrine in law a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

Lord Adonis explained just how important the two-day debate is: “There are more speakers in this debate than the entire membership of the Lords for the first five centuries of existence and more than in any other debate in our 800-year history. It’s symbolic,” he said.

He insisted that: “As the first say on Brexit was given to the people. So, the final say on Brexit should rest with the people, once they see the terms proposed by the Government.”

He completed his speech by quoting both Edmund Burke, who said: “People will not look forward to posterity who do not look back to their ancestors.”

And then Lord Carrington who spoke it the Lords 50 years ago when Britain made its second application to join the European Union: “We are a part of Europe our civilisation, our heritage our manners are all European.

“The vision of a united Europe of France, Italy, Germany and Britain united in common purpose and effort must surely be something to stir the imagination of the phlegmatic and placid. What splendid opportunities for the future and what a lost opportunity for us and for Europe if we are deprived of our opportunity to make contributions. Let us not throw it all away”.

He wasn’t a lone voice. The Liberal Democrat Peer and the party’s leader in the Lords, Lord Newby, supported Lord Adonis. He said: “The Bill and the Government still also refuses to countenance the idea that, having fired the starting gun for the Brexit process, the people should decide whether the Government has produced a deal which they find acceptable.

“My Lords, opponents of a referendum on any Brexit deal have argued that such a vote would frustrate the will of the people.”

“Yet, as of today, polls show that the people wish to have such a referendum, and that they are likely to vote to remain in the EU.

Meanwhile, the Leader of the Lords Baroness Evans said she opposed the move because the point of the Withdrawal Bill was: “not about revisiting the arguments of the referendum”.

She also suggested that, where appropriate, handing control to ministers on some Brexit related issues was justified. But Labour leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith, called for the Government to re think the so-called Henry VIII powers. She said: “I hope Government recognises that it must scale back on the scope of such unprecedented and sweeping delegated powers granted to Ministers, and safeguard Parliamentary Sovereignty.”

Meanwhile Kier Starmer held Brexit minister Steve Baker to account over the Brexit departments leaked document. In an emergency debate Starmer urged the Brexit minister to publish the leaked document in full: He said: “People voted to leave the European Union in part to give Parliament control about its own future. That means giving MPs the information they need to scrutinise the government’s approach to Brexit. Ministers cannot keep side-lining Parliament to hide the deep divisions within their own party.”

Attempting to play down the embarrassing and damaging leak of the document, Baker said the Government can’t publish anything that risks exposing its negotiating position. “It’s a selective interpretation of a preliminary analysis it’s an attempt to undermine our exit from the EU. The Government is undertaking a wide-ranging analysis.

Kier Starmer simply replied: “Not good enough”. Government has been called upon to carry out Brexit impact assessments…Will the Brexit Secretary publish this full analysis now. Not in nine months’ time but now? Will he commit to publishing this analysis in full? Now?”

And the Europhile Tory MP and Father of the House, Kenneth Clarke, clearly irritated by the ridiculous claim it would damage negotiating power told the minister to: “Stop pretending it’s a way of protecting our negotiating power.”


Violence against Women

Labour Party

First it was feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez facing appalling abuse on Twitter. Her dreadful experiences were later followed by a 13 per cent drop in police domestic violence referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service. Although these two matters are separate, both sadly reflect the attitudes to women prevalent in this country.

Violence against women is still rife and all too often the perpetrators do not receive what they deserve and their crimes are viewed almost as second class and not worthy of too much attention.

I am extremely concerned that Caroline Criado-Perez claims the police have lost evidence relating to the death and rape threats made against her on Twitter. Having been on the receiving end of some pretty vile and disgusting online abuse (though admittedly not as bad as Caroline’s), I do at least have some idea of what she’s going through.

In one tweet quoted in the Guardian Caroline said, “I can just about cope with threats. What I can’t cope with after this is the victim-blaming, the patronising, and the police record-keeping.”

Neither should Caroline ignore the “tolls” as some have suggested. There seems to be a culture on the internet that since trolls are anonymous it doesn’t matter what they do. It does matter and must be dealt with.

The debate about online abuse reminds me of the comment made by a (male) police officer when I was a young councillor. When I drew attention to the need to ensure women were safe walking around the large council estate in my ward, I received the response that women shouldn’t go out at night and that at other times they should be careful. Caroline’s experience suggests we haven’t made much progress in the intervening years.

It seems that progress is also very limited when it comes to prosecuting domestic violence attacks. It is quite shocking that the number of attacks referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution service went down by 13 per cent over the last three years, as reported in the Guardian. The fact that the number of cases referred by the police to the CPS went up by 23per cent between 2007 and 2010 shows just how significant the 13 per cent drop actually is.

It is, of course, good news that the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is to meet police chiefs to discuss whether the police are doing enough to bring domestic violence cases to court. However, it will almost certainly be the case that further action will be needed.  

This government and the agencies which should be protecting us are badly failing women. I just hope we are not going back to the bad old days when domestic violence and abuse towards women, including rape, were not taken seriously and not seen as crimes which really mattered. We need to be vigilant and do all that we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.