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.
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 West 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:
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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