Former Labour leader Ed Miliband was one of the Labour MPs who voted for triggering Article 50 following the House of Commons debate on Wednesday (1 February 2017). The MP for Doncaster North was one of 498 MPs who backed Theresa May to begin the formal process of leaving the EU despite being a Remain supporter during the June 2016 referendum campaign, and even voting against having a referendum in the first place.
Miliband explained that he voted in favour of the bill so people who voted for Brexit do not feel like are "being ignored once again", but warned PM Theresa May about her relationship with US President Donald Trump post-Brexit.
I want to say at the outset that this is clearly a fateful moment in this country's history, and the excellent speeches on day one of the debate reflected the gravity of the moment. We should all respect the way in which colleagues on both sides of the House are wrestling with their consciences as they decide how to vote on the bill. No one should pretend that this is easy. For me, the actions I will take tonight were determined by the result on 23 June.
In case the House needs reminding, I did not want the referendum. I made a strong case to my colleagues before deciding that my party would not support David Cameron's decision in the last Parliament. I believed that, with the many other problems the country faced, the referendum would become as much about the state of the country as about Britain's place in Europe. Indeed, I believe that that is, in part, what happened.
However, that is water under the bridge. I took part in the referendum campaign and I said that I would accept the result, which I do. That is why I will be voting for the bill's second reading tonight, not least because I feel that the referendum stemmed in part from the sense of disaffection and deep frustration about politics that exists in the country. A heightened reason for saying that the process must begin is that we do not want to give the people who voted for Brexit a sense that they are being ignored once again.
Our responsibilities do not end here tonight or with the passing of this bill. It is deeply problematic that the government are embarking upon this process without any objective economic analysis of its implications, without clarity on key issues such as the customs union and without any sense of what transitional arrangements might look like, on the basis of what I believe is the fanciful proposition that all the future arrangements can be tied up within 18 months.
On day one of the debate, a number of speakers powerfully made the point that, given the paucity of information we have been given before article 50 is to be triggered, it is even more important that there should be proper parliamentary scrutiny, including a meaningful vote in this House, before the end of the process. The prime minister's apparent wish that our choice will be to accept her deal or face a hard Brexit on World Trade Organisation terms is quite wrong. Such a take-it-or-leave-it option would fly in the face of the central proposition that won the referendum — namely, that we want to take back control and restore parliamentary sovereignty. So I hope that members —particularly Conservative members — however they voted in the referendum, will support the amendments that seek to ensure proper parliamentary sovereignty throughout the process. I believe that parliamentary scrutiny will help the government. It will improve any deal, it will strengthen their hand with the European Union and it will make it more likely that the prime minister will end up with a deal that has the support it needs in the country.
This is deeply uncertain, and the truth is that the government have not really levelled with the country about the trade-offs. At the moment, they are saying that they can have everything, and I fear that pretty soon in the negotiations we will discover that that is not the case.
I want to focus not on the economic questions, which were well worn yesterday, but on an equally important issue that has received less attention in this debate but is absolutely crucial: our place in the world and our foreign policy relationships after Brexit. The foundation of our foreign policy for a generation has rested on the combination of a special relationship with the United States and, crucially, our relationship with the European Union.
Enlargement of the EU following the fall of the Berlin wall — as a nation, we advocated for that enlargement; leadership on climate change under the last government and, I freely say, under this government; a commitment to the rule of law and human rights; a belief in the importance of multilateral institutions — all of these have been bound up in our relationship with the European Union, and we should not be under any illusion about the real risk that, following our departure, our influence in the world will be weaker, not stronger.
I negotiated on climate change for the last Labour government, and our strength, our power, our standing on that issue came from our membership of the European Union because we accounted for 10% of global emissions, not just 1%. The House should therefore recognise that the question of what strategic relationships come after Brexit is fundamental to the issue of real sovereignty and our ability to have an effect on the big issues that will affect us.
The question is: what comes next? We all need to address ourselves to that question.
Of course, the terrible irony is that, with the election of President Trump, our European co-operation is so clearly needed more than ever. I believe in the special relationship with the United States, but it must be based on values. The foreign secretary said after President Trump's election, and I slightly scratched my head at this, that "he is a guy who believes firmly in values that I believe in too — freedom and democracy".
I do not agree, and I hope that on reflection, after a few days of the Trump presidency, the Foreign Secretary does not agree, either.
My central point is this: I can go along with the Prime Minister that Brexit means Brexit, but I cannot go along with the idea that Brexit means Trump. I do not believe that that is inevitable, nor do l believe that it is what the British people want. The danger is that the Prime Minister feels it is an inevitable consequence of the decision to leave the EU that we are driven into the arms of President Trump.
So what should be done? This is the fundamental point. The Lancaster House speech was no doubt an improvement in tone on what had gone before, but not one of the prime minister's 12 principles concerned foreign policy, defence or climate co-operation. To put that right in the course of the negotiations I sincerely hope that the Government come up with an architecture for foreign and strategic policy co-operation with the European Union, not just ad hoc arrangements. I want to be clear — this relates to the question asked by the honourable member for Aldershot, Sir Gerald Howarth — that that co-operation would be intergovernmental, but there are many issues, from Russia to refugees, climate and defence, where we will be stronger, not weaker, if we have institutions that continue to mean co-operation between ourselves and the European Union.
We not only need the right institutions, but institutions founded on a strategic orientation that continues to value our role in Europe. We must be willing, even as we leave the EU, to join our European allies, whose values we share, in speaking up for the rule of law and human rights. I ask this of all European countries: where has been the co-ordinated response to the Trump Muslim ban? Why have the Government not been pushing for that response?
As I understand it, the dual citizenship exemption won by the UK will be extended only to New Zealand, Canada and Australia. Of course it is good that we have that exemption, but we should be standing in solidarity with our European allies in calling for the ban to end.
There are other questions for the Government, too. In the wake of President Trump's election, Foreign Ministers sought to agree a joint statement on the continuing need for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian people, but they were blocked by a few countries, including, shamefully, the United Kingdom. It is no wonder that Europe fears that we are throwing in our lot with President Trump and turning our back on it. No good will come of that. These are the tests of who we are as a nation, of our values and of how we intend to apply them in the years ahead. It matters to whether our world is governed by the rules of international order — rules that we helped to design and promote — or, alternatively, by something far, far worse.
Incidentally, surely there must be no more talk, particularly in the current context when human rights seem so at risk, of our leaving the European convention on human rights. I truly hope that the government will be prompted by President Trump's first few days in office to think again about their approach.
I end on this point. History will judge us not just on the decisions we make on this bill tonight, but on the decisions beyond. The government have a heavy responsibility, and we expect them to exercise it on behalf of the whole nation, not just the 52%. For that we will hold them to account in the months and years ahead.