Article 50 Vote


Like all MPs, I have had hundreds of letters and emails from constituents in recent weeks about authorising the triggering of Article 50, thereby formally giving notice of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union.

Understandably, the emails I have received from constituents have come from different sides of the argument. Many of those emails are from people who, like me, both campaigned and voted to remain in the EU. Like them, I have not changed my view that Britain’s interests would be far better served by remaining in the EU than leaving. On that basis, many have urged me to vote against the triggering of Article 50 in Parliament. However, I cannot agree that it would be right for me as the MP for Birmingham Northfield to do so.

Last June’s referendum resulted in a decision to leave. That was the majority view here in Birmingham as well as nationally. Indeed, having been at the referendum count and having seen the ballot papers for myself, I have no doubt that the proportion of votes cast for Leave in our constituency was significantly bigger than the proportion cast for leave across Birmingham as a whole and across the country.

As an elected representative of Birmingham Northfield, I believe I have to pay due regard to this in the actions I take in the House of Commons going forward. If Remain had won the referendum, we would have expected Parliament to abide by that result. I do not believe it is right for me to take a different view because I was on the losing side. Some MPs who represent constituencies which voted heavily to remain have genuinely reached a different conclusion about the way they should vote to on Article 50 and I respect the position they are in.

The votes on Article 50 are, of course, significant in themselves, but it is important to remember it is about formally starting the process of implementing the referendum decision to leave the EU. It is not the end of the story. Indeed, it is only the first stage in Parliament’s consideration of the Government’s Bill to trigger Article 50. There will be further votes next week on amendments put forward by Labour and others designed to ensure that Parliament is able to give the Government’s actions the scrutiny they deserve.

Labour has tabled seven amendments to the Bill, which will be debated and voted on next week. These seek to improve the process, and would ensure Parliament is able to hold the Government to account throughout and at the conclusion of the negotiations. Specifically, Labour’s amendments seek to:

  • Allow a meaningful vote in Parliament on the final Brexit deal, ensuring the House of Commons has the first say on any proposed deal as well as the power to ratify or reject any deal at the final stage;
  • Establish key principles for the Government to seek negotiations on, including workers’ rights, full tariff and impediment free access to the Single Market;
  • Ensure robust and regular Parliamentary scrutiny by requiring the Government to report to the House at least every two months on negotiations;
  • Guarantee legal rights for EU nationals living in the UK;
  • Require the Government to consult regularly with devolved bodies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland;
  • Require the Government to publish impact assessments on any new proposed trading relationship with the EU;
  • Ensure the Government must seek to retain all existing EU tax avoidance and evasion measures.

Beyond the triggering of Article 50, there are a great many issues yet to be decided and the judgements MPs will be required on those are just as significant as the question of triggering Article 50.  Why? Because in the referendum, the majority of voters gave a view on what should not happen – that is continued membership of the EU. There was no question on the ballot paper about how the Government should go about negotiating Brexit or about the kind of alternative trading and other relationships which people want the UK to have both with the EU and globally in the future. I made these points in an article I published soon after the High Court first ruled that our sovereign Parliament, not simply the Prime Minister alone, should have the final say on how and when Article 50 is triggered.

In the weeks and months ahead, Labour will be continuing to demand that Ministers are accountable to Parliament as they pursue their negotiations towards Brexit. Labour will be demanding an approach that secures maximum access to the markets on which so many jobs in the UK depend, but also to safeguard employment and other rights here in the UK, which some Conservatives would no doubt see as expendable – and have indeed threatened – in a post-Brexit Britain. This will require close scrutiny in the coming months and any deal which Ministers finally reach will itself be subject to Parliamentary approval.

Nobody yet knows what the Government’s deal will be after the negotiations or whether it will be something that I can support. You can see more about Labour’s positions in a speech given by Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer. You can watch it here: or read the speech here:

I hope the above gives you a sense of the approach that I and Labour generally will be taking in the weeks and months ahead.


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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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