Exclusive: Dennis Skinner on his EU(W) vote

As the mainstream media (MSM) pushes a false portrayal of last night’s vote on the government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – formerly called the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ – as being about a divided Labour Party, the aspect of the vote that most Labour supporters have struggled with has been Dennis Skinner’s decision to ‘go through the lobby’ in favour of a bill that contains a damaging ‘Henry VIII’ clause granting government unilateral power to make and withdraw laws.

Veteran Labour MP Dennnis Skinner

The veteran Labour MP, famous for his eviscerating quips at the Queen’s Speech, is an icon to the left – and his decision to vote for the bill clearly rocked many.

Skinner spoke today to the SKWAWKBOX about his decision and his perspective:

Hi Dennis, thanks for making time to talk. There’s been dismay among many left-wingers about your vote last night. What’s your take on it?

Look, nobody should be surprised – I’ve done the same things for over 40 years! I’ve stayed the same for over 40 years. Being against the EU has been in every one of the General Election addresses I’ve sent out to my constituents in Bolsover for the last twelve elections – I’ve been around a long time now and I think I’m the only one who’s voted against every treaty – Common Market, Maastricht, every single one.

Before the vote on the second reading of the bill I voted for the Labour amendment. If that’d got carried there’d have been no vote on the bill, but when that was defeated what was I supposed to do, run away?

What else could I do? The lobbies belong to everyone, whatever party you’re in – and you vote on principle. I’ve never done any different. I voted for the amendment because I can argue that it respects the will of people. When that was defeated, the only way I could show I respect the will of the people was to support the bill.

Some Labour MPs last night abstained instead of supporting the bill. What do you make of that?

Spellar, Austin, some of that Black Country lot think they’ll satisfy their people by wafting in the wind, I’ve never done that, what’s the use in it? There’s too much of that about. Caroline [Flint, MP for Don Valley] had obviously had a big vote in Donny to leave, so she did what she thought would suit her constituents. In my area it was over 70%. But abstaining means nothing, people try to say it does but it doesn’t really.

What’s worrying a lot of people is the ‘Henry VIII’ aspects of the bill because of the powers it will give the government to bypass democracy. What do you want to tell people about that?

I’m not voting for any power-grab. In the end, after the defeat of the amendment, the bill was the only game in town. People in my constituency had to know that I was keeping my promise to them. If the amendment had carried, me and Ronnie [Campbell, MP for Blyth Valley, who also voted for the bill] would have been exceptionally pleased. But it wasn’t carried – so the people who abstained on that need to answer for their decision.

With all the treaties, Maastricht and the others, I don’t decide who’s in the lobby – some rag tag and bobtail of Tories plus a few unionists.

When it were just me and Denzil Davies [former MP for Llanelli] – do you remember him? – he was an anti-marketeer. I went through the lobby early like I usually do so I don’t have to mix. It was the third reading of one of these treaties, I couldn’t see another MP when I went through, so I checked Hansard [the official parliamentary record] later and sure enough the only other was Denzil but he’d gone through at a different time.

It was the same last night except the other was Ronnie, not Denzil – I couldn’t have told you who others were until later, as we were through in first twenty.

What’s at the heart of your opposition to the EU?

It’s about workers being exploited. All that nonsense Mike Ashley does of dragging people about for a pittance is enabled by the EU.

It’s not about where people come from. I worked with Poles down the pit, Lithuanians too. Displaced people. But they got the same wages as me, – and they were all members of the NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] – and that’s how it should be, not disadvantaging working people by undercutting wages and conditions.

There was no argument at Shirebrook when I started work there at the end of World War II and the ‘displaced persons’ were getting work. Nobody cared tuppence where they came from – nobody went down that pit unless they were members of the union, not until Thatcher.

In fact the son of one of those Lithuanians ended up as president of Whitwell NUM. When they were going to close the pit after the 84/85 strike he climbed up the head stock. I climbed up and they thought I was going to talk him down – but I just took him some food. His name was Terry Butkeraitis – he set up Clause IV and used to work on behalf of unions doing political work so they couldn’t be sequestrated.

So, last night’s over and done but the process isn’t finished yet, in the Commons and the Lords – before anything becomes law. I guess it’s a safe bet which way you’ll go if it comes to it?

Voting as I did enabled me, having not been able to see amendment carried, to show I had not reneged on my philosophy, to continue my opposition after 47 years – and I’ve had loads of people thanking me, from Bolsover and elsewhere.

Of course you’re right, it’s still early days – there are many hours of debate still to come and one or two more votes. But you can rest assured that Skinner will vote as I’ve always done – I’ve no intention of doing different. But if we can get good amendments that won’t disrespect the wishes of the people, I’ll be right behind them and it’s up to the abstainers to do the right thing too!

The eight MPs who abstained on Labour’s ‘reasonable amendment’ are as follows. Some also abstained on the bill itself and these are marked with an asterisk:

Ian Austin*
Kevin Barron*
Frank Field
Caroline Flint*
Kate Hoey
Kelvin Hopkins
Chris Leslie
Graham Stringer

Edit: the SKWAWKBOX has now published exclusive comments from a senior Labour source revealing the Tories real ‘game’ in the EU(W) Bill – and Skinner’s stance looks the wiser in light of the information. See here.

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  1. When Caroline Flint set up her daughter to whine on twitter that her poor sainted mum got stick, and Dennis Didn’t, I responded:
    “You Mum did it to spite Jeremy Corbyn. Skinners’ reasons are obscure, but not so self-serving, you can be sure.”
    (Weirdly, she didn’t reply).
    Now knowing Dennis Skinner’s reasons, I can stand by what I said. I don’t agree with him, but there’s nothing there that’s disloyal to Labour or to Jeremy Corbyn. Once the amendment was lost, it was a no-win situation, anyway.

  2. Sorry, Dennis, I HAD a lot of respect for you but that has all gone now you’re no better than a Tory with rubbish like this!

    >>It’s about workers being exploited.

    So you’re OK with Tory’s changing ANY laws they don’t like to exploit anyone just because you don’t like the EU? Sorry, that’s not principles that are being a babbling baby, if you think for 1 second the Tories won’t exploit every law they can.

    With this bill, they will! And at the expense of the people, you say you represent! It’s a sad day and a very sad end to your legacy in Parliament this action you have taken. I am bitterly upset at any Labour MP that voted for this bill but especially you sir!

  3. Not buying it Dennis, forty years ago when it was the EEC, I was of a similar opinion to you but you are saying even though the EU has changed over time, in forty years you haven’t changed your view of it?

    1. That shows us that he will always vote for what he sees as being in the interests of the working class. I have met him a few times and the word traitor has never and never will never be accurate.

  4. Exactly. It’s all about the trade unions and supporting the will of the people. I wish people could get off their remoaner hobby horse, get with reality, and focus on the main issue, which is: “Who’s coughing up for it this time? Us or the rich?” The eye-rolling left-wing defeatists who think the EU will save us from Tory excess should take another look at the election result. The Corbyn surge happened because he didn’t just laze about “abstaining”.

    1. I’m sure that giving the Tories carte blanche to make law without Parliament having any say in the matter is certain to ensure that the rich pay, and not us. That definitely corresponds with the experience we’ve had of the Tories for the past seven years. I don’t know what else could possibly save us from the excesses of the Tories if not that.

      1. Like he says, the process isn’t over. The Lords have it now, then the Commons again – and Tories will be demanding amendments when their support or rebellion come into play.

      2. The House of Commons does what it’s told so the fuss about Henry VIII clauses is a bit overdone.

  5. The Enabling Act (German: Ermächtigungsgesetz) was a 1933 Weimar Constitution amendment that gave the German Cabinet – in effect, Chancellor Adolf Hitler – the power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag…

    Gosh. Doesn’t anybody in Westminster have access to a history book? Or are they all living hand to mouth these days?

    1. What are you suggesting that Mr Skinner is supposed to have done? Sorry but I am thick and old so could you please clarify your position. Best wishes.

  6. Why can’t people see that BRITAIN has far better RIGHTS than the EU Empire? THEY didn’t even adopt OUR legislation, from the ’70s onwards. The ‘dangerous powers’ actually lie with the undemocratic Big Bosses Club, run by Bankers and Big Business, who have the ‘obsolescence of the public sector and trade unions’ at the HEART of Maastricht (Thatcher and Reagan’s baby …) and Lisbon Treaties. Yes – that is the EU! Check out their Maternity Rights as just one example. Theirs is 26 weeks at full pay. OURS is 52 weeks at full pay. Laws are passed by APPOINTED and not ELECTED Ministers. That’s known as the ‘Democratic Deficit’ enshrined in the 1992 ‘Social Europe Package’. I could go on. But, I am thoroughly ASHAMED that people do not know that 6 Left Leave Campaigns were censored by Murdoch’s gutter newspapers and TV stations, showing only UKIP. Added to the fact that they are accepting only one side of the argument. One question: WHY do you think the REMAIN Campaign was funded by Blairite Organisations, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley – over 200 Central Banks from the USA?

      1. They (uk gov ministers) can be voted out by citizens at elections. Big difference.

    1. Yes but you don’t make effective changes to the system as you describe by being outside the club , with zero power.
      This epitomises my other comment on the other thread re this issue , here we have good labour folks both leavers and remainers at each others throats over this bastard device that the Tories have set in motion , don’t play their game of divide and conquer. Let them tear their party apart over this not us

  7. I get what he’s saying and if Brexit has to happen, a bill like this is necessary, but not this bill. It needs to be defeated and Government told to go back to the drawing board and come back with something that respects the people which this bill does not. It displays contempt for the people if this country whatever their views on Brexit.

  8. Skinner’s objections to the EU don’t make much sense. The EU is no more culpable for wage compression than the workers are – it is the fault of the employer, and only pursuing the employer can change that.

    Free movement of labour is demonised, but the truth is, big companies have the means to import workers regardless. Free movement means the migrant workers are more likely to be “legal”, which makes them less prone to exploitation.

    His reputation is all well and good, but Skinner’s dead wrong on the EU.

  9. Skinner chose to back a flawed Bill, which according to the Labour amendment he also backed “provides no mechanism for ensuring that the UK does not lag behind the EU in workplace protections”.

    If the bill reached the Third Reading vote unamended (don’t forget, the Article 50 bill ended up that way) then it appears he will pass into law a Bill which he agrees fails to ensure UK workers do not miss out on advancements in their rights due to Brexit.

  10. On a lighter note someone should tell them the withdrawal method doesnt work and produces a lot of bastard offspring. Unintended consequencences tend to be troublesome!
    Lots can already be anticipated from this lash-up.

  11. Well explained Dennis. I was initially a little surprised by your vote but knew there must be sound reasoning behind it.

    I’m sceptical of our being subject to the EU without democratic process and that’s why I voted Leave. If DiEM25 make headway then I’ll maybe change my mind.

    As it stands, it seems we rely on MPs to make sure the Repeal Bill is put together properly so that it facilitates Brexit but does not give Theresa May a Carte Blanche to avoid scrutiny and degrade rights.

  12. Think Dennis has màde a mistake here, this bill is so dangerous that everyone should have opposed it. I also think he’s wrong on the whole EU issue too.

    Other than that the guy is a hero but it’s still ok to criticise her hero every now and then


  14. So expectedly a principled, consistent stance from Skinner. But also a blinkered one. Does he really think the way Mike Ashley treats his workers will improve post-Brexit? Yes the EU tenets support deregulation and the free movement of capital. But they have also supported the development of social and legal rights we would not otherwise have had under Tory and New Labour governments in the UK. And the EU has also provided for the free movement of labour, something which will likely be curtailed post-Brexit, while the free movement of capital will continue, increasing the power of capital vis a vis labour even more. Skinner’s view on the EU is coloured by a left-romantic view of UK autarky that is rooted in the 1970s, before financial deregulation and globalisation happened, making such isolationism redundant. Like Miss Havisham he’s stopped the clocks to pretend that time hasn’t moved on since the 1970s. But stopping the clocks doesn’t stop the passage of time and the change that comes with it.

  15. I have not read the amendment but Labour had taken the decision that this Bill would be damaging to future workers rights without an amendment being added / included. The Tories denied Labour that amendment and that action made the Bill impossible for Labour to vote for. That is the point. What is presented by this Bill is Brexit ‘at any cost’ which was not on any referendum people were offered. We have all agreed we leave but not at any price. That is what Dennis should have gone back to Bolsover and told those voters and indeed he should have been telling them from day one. If leaving the EU means selling working people down the river then, he should have said, he would he would have to vote against what they voted for and take the consequence of that. If leaving means hurting working people then he should be prepared to lose his seat fighting against. Thats the real issue here. He would not have lost because people know he is genuine but now questions will be asked. Its a pity.

  16. Goodbye & Good Luck Dennis Skinner, the man who has kept Socialism alive when it needed intensive care. The future is bleak; the future is Sir Keir Starmer.

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