Labour is letting Tories ride roughshod over our values
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For politicians opposed to Brexit, the Article 50 debate has been a bruising time. But there is still plenty worth fighting for
It's been a bruising time for those of us trying to defend our communities against the dangers of an extreme Brexit. After just three days of debate – and with every single opposition amendment defeated – the Government railroaded their Article 50 Bill through the House of Commons.
It's worth remembering that the Government never wanted Parliament to even have this week's vote in the first place. They fought in the courts against MPs having a say before we triggered – and their contempt for democracy has continued to shine through as we debated the details. On Tuesday the Government confirmed what we already knew – that Parliament will have a vote on the proposed deal with the EU at the end of the Article 50 process, but that it will simply be a choice between whatever the deal is that's been negotiated and crashing out into World Trade Organisation rules on trade – thus seriously damaging our economy.
Government ministers might call this democracy, and the Labour Party may call it a concession but, in fact, it's an ultimatum. Though the Leave campaign talked about 'taking back control' it seems that they have abandoned the slogan. Sensible proposals like a meaningful Parliamentary vote and a ratification referendum on the terms of the deal were steamrolled by a Tory Party desperate to get the process over with as soon as possible.
The Tories extreme version of Brexit doesn't just mean a lack of democratic oversight – it also brings with it a distinct threat to our social and environmental protections. With the Great Repeal Bill on its way I'm profoundly concerned that the Conservatives could use Brexit as an opportunity to slash key European laws.
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From environmental rules which control air pollution, to rights at work and guarantees for consumers – everything will be under the spotlight of a Government which has a slash and burn approach to regulation.
In a report I'll be releasing next week I will be focussing on the many ways in which our environmental and climate change policies are threatened by an extreme Brexit – not least because there's a very real risk that Theresa May's Government will willingly abandon these protections in a desperate attempts to get bilateral trade deals by any means necessary.
Of all of the proposed amendments debated this week, one of the most important would have given EU nationals a guarantee of their right to stay here. I simply cannot imagine how any MP can have voted against such a proposal, but 332 did – and it was rejected. The Government's refusal to offer that guarantee now, when they have the ability to do so, is cruel and, frankly, I think it is immoral as well. What we are talking about are people's lives – not some commodity to be traded.
When it came to the final vote on Wednesday night the 'no' lobby was disappointingly quiet. Though 52 Labour MPs, including the former Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis, joined myself and others in opposing the Government's dangerous plans, the vast bulk of their party joined the Tories in waving through the triggering of Article 50.
It's baffling that a party which claims to care about working people colluded with the Tories in such a way, despite not a single one of their amendments passing. Many of us warned Labour weeks ago that they were writing the Tories a blank cheque by guaranteeing them support on triggering Article 50 at this early stage – for the country's sake it's a real shame they ploughed ahead with their plan regardless.
We know what the Tory plan for Brexit is. They want us out of the single market, out of the customs union and an end to freedom of movement. They've made clear their threat to turn Britain into a tax haven floating in the Atlantic – and their record shows that they simply can't be trusted to protect our environment, NHS or rights at work.
That's why the fight against an extreme Brexit must not stop here. In the coming weeks I will be scrutinising the Government's negotiations and holding them to account at every stage. As the co-leader of a party which stands for environmental, social and economic justice I will oppose all moves which threaten to turn this country into a tax haven or endanger our hard won rights. I will also continue to argue for EU nationals living here to be given a guarantee about their status.
This period of negotiation with the EU will define Britain's future for a generation to come, and it simply cannot be left to the Government to dictate proceedings. I hope that readers of The New European are up for the battles too – we must not let Tories ride roughshod over the values that we hold dear.
Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion and co-leader of the Green Party
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