The House·Audio

Midweek podcast: May Day in the U.K.

On the midweek podcast, Chris Hall talks to the former Canadian High Commissioner to the U.K., Jim Wright, about what's next for Brexit. Then, Liberal MP John McKay discusses his private member's bill that would stop Canada from importing goods produced by modern slavery.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May shown here leaving Downing Street on Wednesday. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a confidence vote today after Tuesday's crushing defeat of her Brexit deal, but the path forward for the United Kingdom is still looking foggy. 

"There isn't, frankly, a voice out there for the way forward — not in Parliament, not in the individual political parties, not in the country," said Jim Wright, Canada's former high commissioner to the United Kingdom.

"Britain is a country that is deeply divided right now, and the clock is ticking towards that deadline of March 29."

Wright, a retired career diplomat with postings in Moscow and Washington, alongside two postings in London, spoke with Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House the day after the resounding defeat of May's Brexit plan.

He called the defeat "unprecedented, brutal, and historic."

But now, having narrowly won the confidence vote put forth by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Wright sees a path forward for May — although he remains sceptical the European Union can be won over by any new revisions.

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"She can try and sit down with the opposition parties, but she's only got a few days to do so before she has to report back to Parliament and offer up her Plan B," Wright said. 

"At this late stage, I'm not sure what revisions to the plan can be made that would find acceptance within the European Union family."

Workers from Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement, remove a bonded child laborer after a raid at a factory in New Delhi, India. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)

Reacting to the result of the confidence vote today, May told MPs she would "continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union."

She also vowed to begin meetings with leaders of all parties beginning Wednesday evening, despite Corbyn refusing to meet until a no-deal Brexit is off the table. 

"I am disappointed that the leader of the Labour party has chosen so far to not take part, but our door remains open," May said late Wednesday evening from 10 Downing Street, adding that she had already held "constructive" talks with the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party.

"I am disappointed that the leader of the Labour party has chosen, so far, to not take part, but our door remains open," May said.

As for Canada's reaction to the ongoing Brexit developments, Wright said the best approach is to take a page from the Brits and keep calm and carry on.

"I think our government has been very wise to engage in quiet discussions about how we move forward in a new environment where Britain may not be a member of the European Union," he told Hall.

"I think the Canadian government and officials are doing exactly what they should be doing — hope for the best and plan for the worst."

Taking a stand against modern slavery

Just before the House rose for the Christmas break, Liberal MP John McKay introduced a private member's bill that seeks to help end the practice of modern slavery.

Bill C-423 would prohibit Canadian companies from importing goods manufactured by forced labour or child labour.

"It's not the slavery we traditionally think of," McKay told Hall in an interview airing this week on The House midweek podcast.

"It's a more modernized version of slavery which is largely hidden from public sight."

McKay said there is an estimated 40 million people involved in forced labour worldwide, but the areas most affected are in Africa, India and South Asia. 

He said he was moved to put forward the bill after asking himself some hard questions about the supply chains of items he owned. 

"I think that most Canadians would like to know, to be able to make a choice, whether any garment they're wearing or seafood they're consuming or jewelry they're wearing had, at any point in its creation, a forced labour or modern slavery component," he said.

"That's what this bill attempts to do. To give Canadians that choice."

If passed, the bill would require companies of a certain size to file an annual disclosure statement after examining their supply chains. 

"They would have to satisfy the minister of public safety that none of the products they're selling have a component of slavery," said McKay. 

McKay knows that the clock is ticking down on the 42nd session of Parliament in this election year and that, because of the order of precedence, his private member's bill is not likely to make it past its first reading.

But he remains hopeful his Liberal government could take over the bill.

"I'm anticipating a lot of sympathy to this initiative," he told Hall. "I've got a lot of encouragement from colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and I would hope that this would be an initiative that the government would pick up sooner rather than later."