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I doubt I’m alone in having received an email from my MP last night explaining their vote to trigger Article 50. As my MP is Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary, his views – and indeed his speech – have been widely reported. I wanted to share my reply as a kind of protest against the failure of the Labour Party to do its current job and effectively challenge and hold the government to account. Voting for this makes that hard to envisage. One Labour MP reportedly told Channel 4’s Gary Gibbon that they “need a bath after that”: they appear to be their own shower. 

Dear Keir, 
Thank you for this email. I saw your speech in the Commons earlier today and was impressed as usual by your clarity, honesty and integrity. 

On the point at issue, however, I disagree. A majority of your constituents – myself included – voted clearly to Remain and I had hoped that you would follow suit, particularly since the government has a majority and there is no need to contradict the democratically agreed policy of the party – parliamentary colleagues such as John Mann and Gisela Stuart will likely ensure the electoral cowardice of the government achieves what pass for its aims. 

I’ve just seen another clip of your speech again. You are a democrat and have the backing of party policy, your constituents and most importantly your conscience to lead you into the ‘No’ lobby tomorrow evening.
Respectfully yours,
Jaime Ashworth 

On Tue, 31 Jan 2017 at 19:58, Keir Starmer <keir@camdenlabour.org.uk> wrote:

Keir Starmer 

Dear Jaime,

As you know, the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is before the House of Commons this week. Since many of you have strong
views on the issue, I wanted to write to you to set out my approach to this Bill. I apologise for the lengthy email – but none of this is straightforward!

Having campaigned across the country – with many members
from Holborn & St Pancras CLP – for a ‘Remain’ vote, I was
saddened and frustrated by the outcome of the referendum. For me and for many Labour MPs the Article 50 vote now presents an agonising choice and I have thought long and hard about the right course of action.

Although I am fiercely pro-EU, I am also a democrat. The Labour Party voted in favour of the Referendum Act, which paved the
way for the referendum, and everyone who campaigned knew the outcome would be decisive. Some have argued that the referendum was merely
advisory. Legally that is true, but the arguments are not just legal –
they are deeply political and, politically, the notion that the
referendum was merely a consultation exercise to inform Parliament holds no water. Equally the argument the leave vote was only 37% of those eligible to vote loses its strength against the argument that less than 37% voted to remain. Neither side can claim that those who did not vote would have voted either to leave or to remain. We simply do not know.
There is a wider point. Since I was appointed to my current role, I have travelled all over the UK – including to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. I have met groups and individuals, held public events, talked to businesses large and small and discussed Brexit with different political parties and

From this, the evidence is clear: As a society we are more divided now than at any time in my life. The divide is deep and, in some instances, it is bitter. Labour must play its part in healing that divide: it cannot do so if it refuses to accept the outcome of
the referendum.

That is why I have repeatedly said that although I wish the outcome of the referendum had been different, I accept and respect
the result. 

It follows that it would be wrong simply to frustrate the process and to block the Prime Minister from starting the Article 50 negotiations. I will not therefore be voting against the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill this week.

The ballot paper on 23 June last year did not, however, give the Prime Minister power to act as she sees fit or to change our domestic laws or policy. That is why I have tabled a number of Labour amendments that would significantly improve the Bill and ensure Parliament can hold the Prime Minister to account
throughout negotiations. I will be taking these amendments through for Labour in the House of Commons next week.

First, these amendments would ensure MPs have a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal – that means the House of Commons has the first say on any proposed deal before it is considered by the European Council and Parliament. This would strengthen the
House of Commons’ ability to influence the negotiating process
and mean that MPs could send the Government back to the negotiating table if they are unhappy with the proposed final deal.

Second, the Government should report back to Parliament
regularly during the negotiations so that progress can be known and
checked. Labour has also tabled amendments that establish a number of broad principles the Government must seek to negotiate, including protecting workers’ rights and securing full tariff and impediment free access to the Single Market. We will also try to ensure that the legal status of EU citizens already living in the UK is guaranteed before negotiations begin – a point that is long overdue.

It is also important to recognise that the triggering of Article 50 is merely the start of the process for leaving the EU, it is not the end.

Any changes the Prime Minister seeks to make to domestic law would need separate legislation to be passed through Parliament,
whether through the Great Repeal Bill or more widely. Labour will
argue throughout for a Brexit deal that puts jobs and the economy
first and protects vital workers’ rights and environmental
protections. We also totally reject the Prime Minister’s threat to rip
up the economic and social fabric of the country and turn Britain into a tax haven economy if she fails in her negotiations.

As Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU I have been very clear that Labour will hold the Government to
account every step of the way. 

I know that many members have urged me to reflect the
75% Remain vote in Holborn and St Pancras by voting against Article 50 and resigning my post in the Shadow Cabinet.

I see the argument, but that would prevent me pressing Labour’s amendments, it would prevent me questioning the Government relentlessly from the front bench over the coming years and
it would prevent me fighting as hard as I can for a Brexit on the
right terms. 

It would be to walk off the pitch just when we need effective challenge to government. I believe that would be the wrong
thing to do.

I know that not everyone will agree with my approach,
but I hope that my explanation helps.

All best,


Keir Starmer

Labour Member of Parliament for Holborn and St.



Holborn and St Pancras Labour Party, 110 Gloucester
Avenue, NW1 8HX