See my response to Theresa May's Article 50 statement in full, here:
Today is for me and my colleagues an extremely sad day. It marks the point at which the UK seeks to distance itself from its nearest neighbours, at a time when in every area of public policy, logic suggests we should be working more closely together rather than less.
But ML, sadness is a passive emotion, and it is not the only thing we feel. We feel a sense of anger that the Government is pursuing a brutal Brexit, which will rip us out of the single market and of many other European networks from which we benefit so much. We believe that the country will be poorer, less secure and less influential as a result.
And we feel that at every point, whether it be the calling of the referendum, or the choices made on how to put its result into effect, the principal motivation in the minds of Ministers has been what was best for the short term interests of the Conservative Party, not the long term interests of the country.
We do not believe that the Government has the faintest clue how it is going to achieve the goals it has set out in the White Paper of last month or the Prime Minister’s statement today. And we have no confidence in its willingness to give Parliament a proper say, either as the negotiations proceed, or at their conclusion. We therefore believe that at the end of the process, only the people should have the final say on whether any deal negotiated by the Government – or no deal- is preferable to ongoing EU membership. And we will strain every sinew to ensure this outcome.
In today’s statement, the Prime Minister makes a number of rather extraordinary claims.
She says that she is going to build on existing workers’ rights rather than diminish them. Can NL the Leader give one example of how this is to be achieved? And can she take this opportunity to repudiate the proposal from a number of leading Brexiteers in recent days that the working time directive be either watered down or repealed altogether.
She says that the world needs the liberal democratic values of Europe more than ever. Far be it from me to claim any knowledge of liberal democratic values, but can the Leader explain how leaving the EU can do anything other than reduce Europe’s ability to project those values on the international stage?
She says that she will strengthen the Union of the nations which comprise the United Kingdom. Given that, to date, the effect of the Brexit vote is to threaten the Union at every point, could she say what form she expects the strengthening to take?
She says that membership of the single market will be jettisoned because it would be incompatible with the expressed will of the British People. Given that this proposition was not on the ballot paper, that it is the opposite of the pledge given in the Conservative Party manifesto, that many leading Brexit supporters left open or supported the continuation of single market membership and that all subsequent polling shows overwhelming support for our continued membership of the single market, on what basis does she make that assertion?
She says that Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade. Doesn’t she think that the EU will find that a bit rich coming from this country at the point when we’re leaving the single market and customs union?
She says she wants to be a committed partner of the EU. But when we are walking away from the EU because of the belief that membership of it is damaging to the country’s interests, what can commitment mean, other than a shrunken, grudging relationship?
And will the NL accept that when the PM says that when she sits round the negotiating table she will represent every person in the UK, she is mistaken? She has chosen to promote an extreme version of Brexit and one which is completely at odds with her own views of a year ago.
She has therefore chosen not to speak for the many millions who voted to remain in the EU and the single market and she certainly does not represent me and my colleagues on these benches.
The Prime Minister claims that Brexit will make us stronger, fairer and better, but it will not. But the Government’s approach will make us poorer, less generous and diminished as a nation.
It is perfectly legitimate for the country to choose to go down such a route – but it did not do so on 23 June and the people should have the final say on whether this is the fate they really want.