Since the Prime Minister first brought her deal, negotiated with the EU, to Parliament I have supported it. I recognise there are strongly held concerns about the deal, but there are also a number of positives. I say that as someone who has studied both the Withdrawal Agreement, the Political Declaration and various suggestions that have come forward since.
There has always been a balance to be struck between delivering on the result of the referendum, while protecting jobs, rights and security. The deal does this. It ends payments to the EU, removes us from the CAP and CFP, ends the jurisdiction of the ECJ, allows us to strike our own trade deals around the world and ends freedom of movement. Crucially, it also gives certainty, allows for an orderly exit and an implementation period during which businesses can prepare.
The process of indicative votes recently, has allowed MPs from across the House to put forward their own preferred options for leaving the EU. These ranged from remaining in the single market and customs union to revoking Article 50 and holding a second referendum. The Government's deal was not included. To be clear, I voted ‘no’ to every option in the second round of indicative votes as I had in the first because they were inferior to the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister and many, did not deliver on the outcome of the referendum.
MPs rejected every option tabled at both rounds of indicative votes. In short, Parliament has spent a great deal of time talking since the result of the referendum was announced over 1000 days ago. Sadly, too much of this talking has been in relation to what it opposes rather than what it is in favour of. There are also a cohort of colleagues in the House of Commons determined to frustrate the process rather than playing a constructive role. This I fear is to the detriment of Parliament.
There is a well-trodden phrase that ‘we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good’. Rejecting the deal because it is not perfect could jeopardise delivering on the result of the referendum. I believe it is important to respect the result of the referendum and deliver Brexit. Importantly, there are several domestic priorities and challenges that deserve more parliamentary time and focus.
I deeply regret that the Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected. If Parliament has not reached an agreement by 12th April the legal default is that we will leave with no deal. Although like everything the Letwin-Cooper Bill may cause this to change. A no deal will not be seen as an orderly exit and could lead to even more uncertainty than at current.
It would be a matter of personal regret if we were to extend beyond 22nd May, forcing us to take part in European elections. This would be the ultimate sign of Parliament’s failure to deliver on the result of the referendum. Neither would it be good for the EU, those we have consistently stated we would like to have a good relationship with post departure. The clock is ticking and minds in Parliament must focus on reaching a consensus. This will inevitably require people to compromise.
The EU has been clear that the Withdrawal Agreement is not going to change. Voices calling for a renegotiation with the EU or a fresh deal must recognise this fact.
The British people have had a people’s vote. They voted to leave the EU. Parliament has also voted to reject a second referendum as part of the indicative votes process and when amendments have been laid.
I believe that another vote would be divisive for British society and we need to focus on coming together. Staying in the bloc could also undermine the trust of voters in our political system. I believe that the value of democracy lies not just in the number of times citizens vote but also in respecting the outcomes. We cannot begin to pick and choose the democratic mandates we implement.
The Prime Minister has been clear that she will seek a longer extension from the EU to avoid us leaving with no deal on 12th April, as is the current legal default. There is no guarantee that the EU 27 will agree to an extension, what conditions they would attach or indeed how long it would be. At the time of writing we are listening to proposals of ‘flextensions’. The Prime Minister has stated that she does not want an extension that would lead to us having to field candidates in European Elections. This will be discussed with the EU leaders during the upcoming meeting of the EU Council.
There has been a move in Parliament to remove the option of no deal. As I have already stated, the Prime Minister has been clear that she is going to ask the EU for an extension beyond 12th April. Parliament’s actions may have actually inadvertently increased the likelihood of no deal occurring, if by accident rather than by design.
In the coming days, the Prime Minister will be meeting with people from across the House of Commons, as she has been doing throughout this process. Accepting the decision of the referendum would enable us to move on to addressing other national priorities such as policing, education and housing. Further uncertainty is not something anyone I talk to wants, be it constituents or businesses.
I strongly believe that leaving with a Withdrawal Agreement is the best way of ensuring an orderly exit from the EU. The deal delivers on the referendum result, respecting democracy but also allows close cooperation with our European neighbours. I will continue to support leaving the EU with a deal.