I am a passionate pro-European, who worked hard for the Remain campaign last summer and still believe our prosperity, security, culture and values are strengthened by close relations with the rest of Europe, including through membership of the EU.
70% of the voters of Hammersmith voted to Remain. I have always thought my first loyalty is to my constituents and thousands have lobbied me to vote against the trigger. I also represent – though they could not vote in the Referendum or General Election – the 15% of Hammersmith residents who are citizens of other EU states, and who are being shamefully held as ransom by Theresa May’s Government.
The Referendum result was close – we should not ignore the 48% who voted Remain any more than the 52% who voted to Leave. Just as Governments – and MPs – represent everyone not just those who voted them in, so we should now be trying to find a way forward that (almost) everyone can live with.
But none of these is the reason I chose to vote against triggering Article 50.
Yes, the Referendum was a deeply flawed process with a narrow victory for one side, whose promises – most infamously the £350 million a week for the NHS – were abandoned as soon as the result came in. But no election is perfect, and issues of misrepresentation, turnout and size of mandate are often prayed in aid by the losing side.
The Supreme Court was right to give the decision on starting the exit process to Parliament rather than let Theresa May – unelected as PM – use medieval prerogative powers to make herself the sole arbiter. But Parliament must have primary regard to the result of the Referendum, the purpose of which was to express the view of the British people on our membership of the EU.
What convinced me to vote against the trigger was the decision by Theresa May in her speech two weeks ago, repeated and expanded on since, that this would be not only the first but the final chance to influence not just whether but on what terms the UK left the EU.
I raised this issue with Theresa May at PMQs last week and her answer made it clear that she was not interested in consulting either Parliament or the British people on the final Brexit deal.
We are being asked to accept whatever deal Mrs May negotiates, with no alternative – except no deal at all. We cannot say, sorry that is a terrible deal, go back and try again. Or, as a final step, if she really is incapable of safeguarding our future, putting the decision on whether to go through with Brexit back to the electorate.
This is not about re-running the Referendum of last June, it is about giving Parliament or the people a say in the future of the country. It is the least we deserve. Anything else is not just arrogant it is fundamentally undemocratic.
Forces on the right of politics, in the Conservative Party as well as UKIP and the far right, have long dreamed of rolling back the welfare state, employment rights and even the NHS. They also have a barely disguised distaste for the inclusive, tolerant and diverse society that places like Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, indeed most of London, represent. A hard Brexit, which is now the only Brexit on offer, is also about following this agenda.
These are not easy decisions, and the arguments do not all run one way. When we debate the amendments to the Government’s plans next week, I will support those that give a real choice at the end of the process, and I will make my decision on future votes in the light of any concessions the Government makes.
Sadly, as I write, Mrs May looks like she has surrendered to Farage just as she shamefully did to Trump on the refugee ban.
Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith