Article 50 Debate: My Speech – 31 Jan 2017
This afternoon I spoke in the debate on the Government’s Article 50 bill, explaining why I will be voting against triggering Article 50 this week.
You can read the text of my speech below, or watch it back on Parliament TV here.
Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker
I believe that the votes I cast on this Bill will be the most important votes I cast as a Member of Parliament.
I am a passionate European. I represent the centre of a European capital city constituency, Cardiff Central.
I campaigned strongly to remain in the EU last year.
I voted to remain.
My constituents and my city overwhelmingly voted to remain too.
I have lived in Cardiff for nearly thirty years. The very first person I met when I unloaded my transit van of belongings in 1989, was a French national. He had come to Cardiff from Limoge, lived next door to me and has become a lifelong friend as well as a successful businessman in my city, employing many people.
And now thirty years on, I live next door to a German national, a University academic who has made his home in my constituency, married a Welsh woman and has a young family. He is an expert in his field and is teaching the next generation of experts at one of the three universities in my constituency.
And everyday in Cardiff Central I meet, speak and listen to neighbours and friends from across Europe and from across the globe. Business owners, students, doctors, healthcare workers, researchers, teachers, mothers, fathers, children.
But during the referendum campaign and since, I have had many, many conversations with constituents who are worried.
They are worried and they are frightened.
Some have been the victims of racism and hate crimes, like my friend Suzanne who came to Cardiff from Germany and has young daughter Lilleth, who is in primary school, who have been spat at, told to “go home” and had bricks and stones thrown at them in the street.
This is the climate that they and we are living in. And I do not believe that it is a coincidence of timing. It is a direct consequence of the referendum campaign. And the events of the past week in the United States make me more fearful of the rapidly developing climate of intolerance in our country.
And so I’m imploring the ministers on the font bench opposite to please reassure immediately EU nationals across Britain that they will have their legal status confirmed.
When I look back at the past twelve months leading up the publication of this Bill – one thing stands out for me, and that is the reckless actions of the former member for Witney.
Where is he?
He’s gone and he’s disappeared.
A man who put himself and his party before the national interest.
Who gambled our country’s safety, future prosperity and longstanding European and wider international relationships to save his party and his premiership from imploding.
He went to Brussels and miserably failed to negotiate a suitable reform package. He denied sixteen and seventeen year olds the right to have a vote in their future.
And then he abandoned ship, leaving an almighty mess behind him.
I accept the referendum result is to leave.
But I do not agree with it.
And I certainly do not have to be silent in representing my constituents’ views.
Just like I accept that at the last general election, the benches opposite won a majority, but I do not have to agree with every policy the government seeks to implement.
And neither will I be silent about that.
I also accept that the parliamentary numbers are such that Article 50 will be triggered and Britain will leave the EU. But I believe and I will continue to believe that leaving the EU is a terrible mistake and I cannot reconcile my overwhelming belief that to endorse the step that will make exit inevitable, is wrong.
I cannot endorse it, particularly when there have been no guarantees before triggering Article 50 about protecting single market access, employment, environmental and consumer rights, security and judicial safeguards and the residency rights of many of my constituents. And no guarantees for the people of Wales, never mind a seat at the negotiating table.
I will not stay silent on the basis that to speak is to be anti-democratic, whilst the current Prime Minister leads us towards a brutal exit with all the damage that will cause to the people and community that I represent.
Whilst serving as Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, it reinforced even more strongly to me, what Wales will lose from exiting the EU without the guarantees that are needed.
We are net beneficiaries of EU funding to the tune of £245 million annually, where in the last ten years EU funded projects have helped support nearly 73,000 people into work and 234,000 people to gain qualifications.
Those projects have helped to create nearly 12,000 businesses and 37,000 new jobs.
68% of our exports go to EU countries and parts of our farming and food production sector relies almost exclusively on the EU market.
The single market is the lifeline to our manufacturing industry in steel, automotive and aerospace as well as to our farming and food production sector.
So the Prime Minister’s decision that we are leaving the single market is something I can’t accept.
The referendum result last year felt like a body blow. The Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech felt like the life support machine being switched off and triggering Article 50 will for me feel like the funeral. It is a matter of principle and conscience to me and I must represent the majority of my constituents and share their view. I will not vote for this Bill.