Decision time for the Brexit bill: what you can do to help EU nationals and give Parliament a meaningful say

The Brexit bill is fast approaching its crunch point in Parliament. On Monday, MPs will vote on the two amendments to it that the House of Lords passed recently.

One amendment requires the Government to take action to secure the rights of EU nationals living here in the UK; the other requires the Government to obtain the approval of Parliament for any Brexit deal it wants to sign, as well as requiring Parliament’s permission should it want to walk away from the talks.

The bill will now pass; both Houses have voted for it. The question that remains is whether both, one or neither of these amendments ends up being written into law.

So, what can we, as citizens, do to help the passage of these two amendments?

First: you can lobby your MP. I know you may well have done this already, but please do it again, and quickly – MPs will debate and vote on these amendments on Monday, 13th March. Write again even if you have written to your MP a dozen times already. Write again even if your MP has already told you that they are a total, 100% Leaver. Actually, time so short – please email them.

Use the parliamentary website. Go HERE, input your postcode, the name of your MP or constituency, and the system will find the MP’s contact details for you. Click on their email address and away you go. Or, even better, call them; most MPs publish their telephone number – speak to them or leave a message.

And what you should say is simple. Tell them you are one of their constituents – that’s important – and that you want them to vote in favour of the two Lords amendments to the Brexit bill, or the “European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill” to give it its proper name.

Why? Because the UK Government should do the decent thing and guarantee the rights of EU nationals already here. It is inconceivable that we would deport them, so let’s just do the right thing. It is just as inconceivable that the rest of the EU would deport millions of Brits. Let’s stop playing silly games, and give these people the reassurance they are desperate for, and which frankly they deserve.

On the other amendment, you could ask what’s so wrong about giving Parliament the final say on any Brexit deal? Didn’t the Leave campaign fight the referendum arguing for a return of power to the British Parliament? So, let’s do that. Giving Parliament a say in 18 months’ time, or thereabouts, is especially important when nobody can know what the deal will look like then. We will need to negotiate with 27 other national governments, each with things they want included. And with upcoming elections in the Netherlands, Germany and France, we don’t even know with whom we will be negotiating. Our representatives in Parliament must decide on the deal when the full shape of it is known, which it is not right now.

Those are the arguments we would suggest, but feel free to make your own. The more personal the communication, the better. And be sure to ask for a reply.

Second: you can lobby one or more of a key group of 86 members of the Lords. We know that the bill has just left the Lords, but if MPs reject either or both amendments on Monday then they go back to the Lords. At this point, peers have to decide whether or not to back down. The constitutional job of the Lords is sometimes to make the Commons pause and think again, so many peers may decide at that point that they have done that and they should now let the elected House have its way. Our job is to encourage them to stand firm and send the amendments back yet again to the Commons.

We list below the 86 peers we’d like you to contact – as many as you like, but even just one would be great. We have linked each of their names to their profile page on the parliamentary website. On that page you will find their email address, click on it and send your message. Just click on any of the names below and email them.

Why these 86 Lords? We went through the voting lists for the two amendments, and we picked out those who voted in favour of both of them. We calculated that these are the most committed peers; the ones most likely to be on our side. We then excluded all those who voted to kill the bill at its last stage in the Lords; we calculated that this hard core of 95 peers are already determined enough to stand their ground. Then we went through and excluded all those who do not give a personal email address on the parliamentary website.

We are left with 86 peers who are supportive, but not so committed that they were willing to vote to stop the bill outright. They are also peers whom we can email directly. We think that these are the peers whom we need to encourage to stand firm against any rejection of the amendments by the Commons. So, if you choose to contact one or more of them, please do thank them – remember, these are peers who decided to vote for both these amendments, despite the Government trying to bully them. And encourage them to stand by the amendments if they are rejected by MPs.

As always, for both MPs and peers, be polite. Make your email as short as possible; they will be getting a lot of emails and if yours is too long they may well skip over it. And we’d encourage you not to try to argue against the whole bill or refight the referendum; focus on these two amendments and why you think they should pass. And, again, for the peers, say thanks for what they have done already.

Okay, here’s that long list of peers; just click on any name.

Lord Aberdare, Lord Allen of Kensington, Baroness Altmann, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Anderson of Swansea, Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, Lord Beecham, Baroness Benjamin, Lord Best, Lord Bhatia, Baroness Billingham, Baroness Blackstone, Lord Bradley, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, Lord Cashman, Lord Clark of Windermere, Lord Collins of Highbury, Viscount Colville of Culross, Lord Condon, Baroness Corston, Baroness Coussins, Lord Davies of Oldham, Baroness Donaghy, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff. Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, Lord Freyberg, Lord Goddard of Stockport, Baroness Golding, Lord Goldsmith, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, Lord Grabiner, Lord Grantchester, Baroness Greengross, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, Lord Grocott, Lord Hain, Viscount Hanworth, Lord Harrison, Lord Haworth, Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill, Baroness Henig, Lord Hollick, Baroness Hollis of Heigham, Baroness Howells of St Davids, Lord Hughes of Woodside, Lord Jay of Ewelme, Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, Lord Kinnock, Lord Knight of Weymouth, Lord Levene of Portsoken, Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke, Lord Lipsey, Baroness Lister of Burtersett, Baroness McDonagh, Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, Baroness Massey of Darwen, Baroness Meacher, Lord Monks, Lord Morris of Aberavon, Lord Morris of Handsworth, Baroness Morris of Yardley, Baroness Neuberger, Lord Ouseley, Lord Patel of Bradford, Lord Pendry, Baroness Pitkeathley, Baroness Prosser, Baroness Quin, Lord Rooker, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Earl of Sandwich, Baroness Sherlock, Baroness Smith of Newnham, Lord Soley, Lord Steel of Aikwood, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, Lord Touhig, Lord Triesman, Lord West of Spithead, Lord Whitty, Lord Williams of Elvel, Lord Wood of Anfield, Baroness Young of Hornsey, and Baroness Young of Old Scone.

Let us know how it goes!

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Time again to lobby Lords as they flex muscles over Brexit bill

Last week saw the biggest debate on a parliamentary bill in the House of Lords on record. 184 peers spoke – the most ever – spread over two days: only the 28th time that has happened since the end of the War almost three-quarters of a century ago.

This week, the Government’s Brexit bill returns to the Lords and that means we have another big opportunity to lobby them. This post sets out what’s happening & what you can do.

We are thankfully starting to see the Lords flex their muscles. Take Lord Heseltine. He has an article in today’s Mail on Sunday explaining why he will vote to amend the ‘European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill’ (to use its formal name). He wants it written into the law that the Government has to return to Parliament to get the OK for any deal, or indeed for permission to walk away without a deal. After all, this is meant to be all about parliamentary sovereignty, right?

Peers like Lib Dem Lords leader Dick Newby and Labour Lords leader Angela Smith are also both confident that the Lords will amend the bill to include protections for people living in the UK who are nationals of other EU Member States.

These amendments are very welcome. I am going to be contacting peers to urge them to support these proposals, and I hope you will too.

On Monday and Wednesday this week (27th February and 1st March), the bill returns for its committee stage & then it will go through its final stages on Tuesday week, the 7th of March. After that, if the Lords has amended the bill, it goes back to the Commons for them to vote on any Lords amendments. And there are reportedly “up to 20 rebel Conservative MPs” who would back the Lords change.

What I want to suggest is that we email the independent ‘Crossbench’ peers. These are members of the House of Lords who are not aligned to any party. There is a list of them on the Lords website.

Click on a name from that list for more information about a particular peer; some will include an email address. As it’s an alphabetical list, I’d suggest you pick one, two or more in a random fashion, rather than just starting at the top. If everyone just starts at the top of the list then Lords Aberdare and Adebowale may get rather more emails than Baronesses Wolf of Dulwich and Young of Hornsey.

I am not going to give a template email text because politicians can see them a mile off and they have much less impact than something that comes personally from the individual writing to them.

I’d suggest you write from the heart, especially if you are an EU national living in the UK and you fear what might happen to you – tell them about that, write in simple, plain language about you personally and your circumstances. Don’t make your email too long as they will be getting loads; make it an easy decision for them to read it. Also, make your message & your stance really clear in the email subject line; that way, even if they don’t read it or even open it, they will get a flavour of what you have to say. And, of course, be polite.

Amendments can be made this week, or potentially when it comes back to the Lords yet again on 7th March, so keep going. Peers like Lord Teverson have said they have had “an avalanche” letters and emails about the bill, so it is getting through.

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

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How to lobby the Lords on the Brexit bill

You know how to lobby on something going through the House of Commons, right? You write to your MP. But how do you do that for the House of Lords? After all, you have a named MP who represents you and your local area in the Commons, but peers don’t have constituencies – and there are over 800 of them!

And lobbying the Lords matters because MPs (well, 494 of them) have just given the green light to the “European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill”. That’s the law that gives the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50, kick-starting Britain’s exit from the EU. Having passed the Commons, the bill must now pass through the Lords.

So, how do you lobby the Lords?

Well, we have two ideas about how you can do it. But first, let us emphasise how important it is to lobby members of the House of Lords. No party has a majority there. The largest party – the Conservatives – has fewer than one in three of the seats. Around one in four seats (200 or so) are held by Crossbench or non-affiliated peers, meaning they don’t belong to any party group. In essence, the bill can’t easily be whipped through unamended like it was in the Commons.

The first way to lobby a peer is by using the excellent WriteToThem.com website. This is the site where you just need to input your postcode and you can easily email your MP and all the other people you help elect.

But there is also part of the site that facilitates writing to members of the House of Lords. Here’s the link: https://www.writetothem.com/lords. We suggest scrolling down and clicking on the button, “Get a Random Lord”. That takes you to a page where you can write your message to a randomly-selected peer.

And what’s good about the Lords is that whilst you can only write to your sole local MP, if you are especially enthusiastic you can send messages to several randomly-selected peers. Just keep clicking on the button, although it does limit you to sending messages to up to six peers per day.

Oh, and by the way, why not consider donating to mySociety, the people behind WriteToThem.com? The option to donate is on each page of the site. They provide a great service, free to use.

The other idea we have is to use the list of peers who have already put down their names to speak. The Government Whips’ Office in the House of Lords maintains a list of peers who want to speak in any debate. If you go to http://www.lordswhips.org.uk/speakers-lists/20022017 and scroll down to the debate on Monday 20 February you should see the list (currently standing at 166 peers) of those who want to speak in the debate on the Brexit bill. Why not send a message to some of them? You can find the contact details of individual peers at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/lords/

Some peers do not provide their direct email address on that system, preferably to use contactholmember@parliament.uk. You can use that to email those peers, but only to a maximum of six per day. Emailing a peer who has shared their personal email address is probably a better bet as it shows they are open to receiving messages from the public.

One other thing though – if everyone starts with the names at the top of that list of 166 peers then the ones further down the list won’t hear from anyone. Pick someone at random from the list and contact them.

We are not going to give a model or template letter or email text because politicians can see them a mile off and they have much less impact than something that comes personally from the individual writing to them.

Our advice would first & foremost to be polite and not to write something too long; they will be getting a lot of correspondence on this, and simplicity and brevity are your friend. If you want them to vote down the bill, tell them. If you want them to vote in favour of amendments that will keep us in the Single Market, that will maintain free movement, that will protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK or UK nationals living in the EU post-Brexit, or amendments that commit the Government to honour the £350m per week extra for the NHS pledge made by the Leave campaign during the referendum campaign, tell them.

If you have any personal experience that’s relevant to your point – maybe you are an EU national worried about your right to stay in Britain, or a young person studying a foreign language at university who fears that their right to live and work in the EU country of your choice is going to be snatched away – put it in there. Highlighting the real world consequences on people’s lives of what’s happening will always have an impact.

We have been pushing for UK nationals to be given the freedom to opt in to some kind of citizenship or associate citizenship of the European Union, should Brexit go ahead. If you support that, and want the Government to be open to it, tell them about it and ask for their support. Ask them to raise it as an issue on the floor of the House of Lords, to ask ministers about it.

If you think about it, it’s easy to write your own unique letter to a peer. It’s not quite as easy as copying & pasting what someone else has written, but – believe me – it is worth the effort.

Feel free to share your messages in the comments section if you would like, and indeed the replies you get. Let’s see if we can have more luck with the Lords than we did with the Commons.

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

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