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The Triggering of Article 50

Last night I voted against the government amendment which authorised the timetable for submitting Article 50. I broke the Labour whip for the first time. For those normal people who don’t know what the ‘whip’ is, it means I voted against the instructions of my own party. For me this is something I feel quite emotional about and thought very very carefully before doing.

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The issue is about Article 50.

The Commons debated a Labour motion to force government to publish a Brexit plan. The government accepted our motion but added an amendment which effectively gave parliamentary backing to the timetable of submitting Article 50 by the end of March. I voted against the amendment.

Firstly let me say something to people who feel what I did was ‘undemocratic’ or ‘disrespecting the mandate’ or ‘trying to scupper Brexit’. Yesterday’s vote was categorically not about whether Britain should Leave or Remain in the EU, it was about *when* we start negotiations.

The referendum did not say when we should start negotiating to leave but I have a pretty straightforward view of when we should: we should do it when we are ready and right now we are categorically not ready.

The EU has 600 specialist trade negotiators, as of July this year Britain had none. Zero. Nothing.

By March we could have a good number but they will be new in post and woefully unprepared for the negotiations which will be of unparalleled complexity, facing the most experienced and well resourced trade negotiating team on earth.

We are in this situation not because of the will of the British people, we’re here because of the will of a minority of powerful Tories. They forced a sickeningly weak David Cameron into promising a referendum, and they make Theresa May name a date in order to survive Tory conference back in September. Not one date to do with the referendum or Brexit has been chosen with the best interests of the country as the number one priority.

People who worry about the role of MPs like me in this process should consider something that weighs very heavy on my mind: Britain voted to leave the EU, but it didn’t vote or give any mandate, or any indication at all, for what comes next. That has been left entirely to this generation of politicians and that is why I am so vocal.

The stakes are high. We are a city with two universities, 7 million visitors each year, the head offices of AMEX, EDF, and an economy which is outward looking and connected to Europe. I will never, ever, cast my vote in parliament in a way that will damage what is special about our city.

That is why I am seeking assurances that communities like ours will have a high probability of prospering when our country finds its new place in the world. And I want that assurance before I vote to enable this move, not after. That is the way I can respect the will of everyone, not just one or other faction in this debate because everyone wants what is best for our country once we leave the EU. There are no second chances, we are going down a one-way street, so I simply say lets put all our effort into eliminating as much uncertainty, and lets be as fully prepared, as we possibly can before we take those vital first steps.

Right now our country is like a trapeze artist, hurtling upwards. Just before her partner lets go and flings her into the darkness he says, ‘I can’t see anyone over there but don’t worry I’m sure it will be fine’, then lets go sending her off into the unknown with arms outstretched hoping someone will be waiting to catch her.

With Britain it’s not one person but 70 million, plus the most remarkable economy in the world. All I want is to know is that there’ll be something as good as we have now waiting to catch us on the other side before being flung into the darkness. Am I really asking too much? Yours, Peter

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