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Clive Lewis needs to show he’s truly opposed to the Brexit course set by the Conservatives, writes Louis Mian

February 12, 2018 4:06 PM
By Louis Mian
Originally published by Norwich Liberal Democrats

When Clive Lewis resigned from the Shadow Cabinet, in February 2017, in order to vote against the triggering of Article 50, he explained that he couldn't "in all good conscience vote for something I believe will ultimately harm the city" and that "when I became the MP for Norwich South, I promised my constituents I would be Norwich's voice in Westminster, not Westminster's voice in Norwich."

Figures, that were reported - at the time - by the EDP, have shown that around 60% of Lewis' constituents voted remain in the EU referendum. Since then Lewis has advocated positions that suggest he is in favour of staying in the Single Market and Customs Union, and having a referendum on the final deal, beliefs that seem to be concordant with those of his constituents. In parliament, however, Lewis has consistently failed to stand up for these beliefs.

A Guardian article, co-written by Lewis, entitled 'Let Britain vote on the final Brexit deal', concluded, "we believe that they should be given the choice of which direction their country takes, once our alternatives can be clearly seen. Anything less will see our country hopelessly divided long into the future - something that surely no government would want." In September last year, Lewis signed an open letter - along with more than 30 other Labour MPs - arguing that "Labour should commit to staying in the Single Market and Customs Union - ruling out no options for how to achieve this" and that "for the sake of jobs, public services, peace in Ireland and the rights of everyone who calls the UK home, we must offer a clear alternative to the Tories' destructive Brexit."

Clearly then, Clive Lewis has sought to present himself as pro-EU and against a hard and destructive Brexit, but he has failed to show support for these aims in key votes in parliament. He failed to vote on Chuka Umunna's amendment to the Queen's Speech that signalled regret of the government's Brexit option and sought "proposals to remain within the Customs Union and Single Market." On 12th December 2017, Lewis did not vote in favour of Amendment 124 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which would protect our membership of the Single Market. Similarly, earlier this year, on the 17th January, Lewis again failed to back a further amendment to the Withdrawal Bill, which would seek a guarantee "that the United Kingdom will remain a permanent member of the EU Single Market and Customs Union." On these three high profile votes on the Single Market and the nature of our future relationship with the EU, Lewis decided not to follow many of his Labour colleagues, such as David Lammy, Stella Creasy and Daniel Zeichner, in standing up against Mrs May's Brexit plan.

Similarly, with regard to holding a referendum on the final settlement with the EU, Lewis hasn't voted in line with the beliefs he set out in the Guardian article and in multiple hustings in the lead up to the June election. He failed to vote on the Liberal Democrat amendment to the Article 50 Bill that would mean "the Prime Minister must prepare and publish a report on the process for ratifying the United Kingdom's new relationship with the European Union through a public referendum."

As a school student, and therefore a member of the generations that will have to deal with the harmful effects both Clive Lewis and I believe Brexit will cause (and has already caused), it becomes increasingly frustrating when MPs, such as Lewis, consistently seem to put party above principle. What has changed since Lewis left the Shadow Cabinet at the beginning of last year, in the Labour leadership's Brexit stance, that has prompted him to rejoin the Opposition frontbench? Why if on principle he left the frontbench to support his constituency's position on Brexit, has he rejoined it despite that Corbyn's position on the Single Market and a referendum on the final deal hasn't changed? Can Lewis still defend that he has lived up to his pledge to be "Norwich's voice in Westminster", at least with regard to Brexit?