Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

My position on triggering Article 50


I wanted to set out why I will be voting for the triggering of Article 50 to begin the process of the UK leaving the EU.  As I write these words I can hardly believe that it has come to this and the magnitude of the implications of the UK leaving the EU.

I have always been a strong supporter of our membership of the EU.  We have, for decades, come to take for granted the many benefits of our membership, from the macro-economic to family holiday travel, from protection of the environment to rights at work and so much more.

There are many reasons that we have come to where we are, many having their origins many years ago.  But we would not be in this situation if we had won the general election in 2015.  It's always a disaster to lose an election (look at the NHS whenever there's a Tory Government) but this election saw the Tories elected with a manifesto commitment for an IN/OUT referendum.

I campaigned for Remain not only in our own constituency but also around the country.  As I met people who were Labour supporters but thought we were for OUT, I even went on the IN campaign bus with the Tory Prime Minister to show that Labour was for IN.

But, by the narrowest of margins, we lost.  Camberwell and Peckham voted overwhelmingly for IN.  As did the majority of Labour voters across the country.  But two thirds of Labour MPs now represent constituencies that voted for OUT and the message from those Labour colleagues is we must acknowledge the strong feelings of their constituents.

Now the Government is bringing the Article 50 Bill to the House of Commons tomorrow and there is no "right" answer, only a series of bad ones.  When you are in opposition it is invariably the case that the Government shapes the context, and in this we can only be reactive to an agenda we didn't set.  That's why we need to be in government again.

Though we lost the referendum, how the Government go about the business of leaving still matters hugely.  If we abandon our economic ties with the EU by leaving the single market/customs union at the very time Trump is retreating into protectionism, we will lose our markets for our exports.  The jobs that will be lost and the people who will suffer most will, as always be the least well off.  As tax revenues fall the Tories will have the excuse they want to cut public services. If we continue a fight which is lost (Article 50) we will not be able to fight on the important issues which are still at stake.

The Labour front bench will table amendments to protect jobs and rights at work.  As chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights I've tabled an amendment to protect the residence rights of EU citizens (of which there are many in our constituency). And with the support of the Women's PLP I'm tabling an amendment The Fawcett society have drafted to protect the rights of women.

I know that my Southwark colleagues, Neil Coyle and Helen Hayes, will be voting against triggering Article 50 and that many of you who have already written to me passionately believe that I should do the same.  I understand your views - our principles are shared.  So I hope that no-one will leave our Party as a result of the front bench position to support Article 50 and my decision to support it.

This is not where I would have wanted us to be.  It is the price of losing.  Now, we need to fight for the least worst Brexit and then, crucially, let’s make sure we do everything we can to win next time.


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