Last week MPs voted to allow the Article 50 Bill a second reading and this week we begin Committee Stage. Over the next two days, around 200 proposed new clauses and amendments will be debated.
The vote for article 50 last week was not a blank cheque. It must be for the House and the country to be consulted and for there to be a meaningful vote on the final deal. This Bill has been tightly written to limit the ability of MPs to amend it, but it is clear that the views of MPs will not be silenced.
To this effect I have tabled an amendment – New Clause 168 – which would require the Government to establish a National Convention of representatives across of levels of government, regions and sectors, to meet and produce a report recommending negotiating priorities, to better reflect the needs of the regions of the UK.
The Convention would include elected mayors, representatives of local government, MEPs, and representatives from the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It would also include a wider set of voices each with an important contribution to make to the debate, including universities and higher education, business organisations, trade unions and trade bodies and other representatives of civil society.
The Referendum in many ways demonstrated the alienation that many people feel from politics as a whole. The result split the country down the middle. Seven out of ten 18-24 year olds voted remain, while two-thirds of the over-65s voted Leave. Cities seemed to vote remain while small towns and rural areas voted to leave.
Yesterday in my constituency I held a round table with people who voted Leave and those who voted Remain. Aged from people in their twenties to people in their eighties, it was a useful and engaging discussion which addressed the choices and dilemmas ahead.
Many still said that they felt neither they nor others they knew really understood what the implications were or what the risks might be. They wanted more information, and they wanted more debate. One person asked me what Article 50 was.
People had a vote in a Referendum but going forward there is no forum for people to understand and engage together. The National Convention I am proposing fills an important gap. It gives the English cities and regions a voice alongside Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a strong national conversation about where we go next. It recognises and harnesses the expertise of our councillors and the vast insights and experience of our MEPs.
Brexit will have differential effects on different communities, sectors, regions and nations. The needs of farmers in Cornwall and Cumbria will be different from software engineers in Manchester but those differences should be shared and should be understood. In evidence to the Brexit Select Committee on which I sit, David Davis also admitted that “we haven’t done enough yet on the regional engagement”.
Many of us were deeply disappointed with the quality of the referendum debate. The setting up of the National Convention will help to inform and shape a mature national debate during the coming months.
This amendment is an opportunity and a test for the government. If they are serious about a Brexit that works for everyone this is an opportunity to take the discussion out of Whitehall and engage the country. It there is one thing that the debate and referendum outcome has taught us, it is that people want to be listened to.