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.
Indeed, if the rest of Parliament had voted in the same way I have since the Withdrawal Agreement was first put to the House of Commons we would have left the EU by now. This would have lifted the uncertainty and lead to an orderly exit. Sadly, this has not proved to be the case.
As a result of the Withdrawal Agreement being rejected by Parliament, the Prime Minister agreed to a six-month extension to Article 50 with EU leaders at a recent EU Council meeting. This means that 31st October is the new deadline for the UK to leave the EU. However, the UK can leave sooner than this if a Withdrawal Agreement is passed by Parliament. This is something I hope comes to fruition.
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 EU leaders have spoken with one voice on this matter and could not have made themselves clearer. The EU has also explicitly said that there will be no extension beyond 31st October. Essentially, Parliament has got six months to make a decision, not simply to continue talking and arguing within the four walls of the Chamber to the detriment of the UK.
I have consistently voted against taking ‘no deal’ off the table as I believe it weakens our negotiating position. I have also voted against extending Article 50 as I fear Parliament would simply kick the can down the road.
I regret that the UK is having to field candidates in EU elections. This is the ultimate sign of Parliament’s failure to deliver on the result of the referendum. Neither is it 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 on all sides of the Brexit divide to compromise.
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.
In the coming days, weeks and months, the Prime Minister and her team will be meeting with people from across the House of Commons, business and other sectors, as they have 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.
Throughout the Brexit process I have been conscious of our prominence as a global trading nation. We have built relationships around the globe over hundreds of years. I support the Withdrawal Agreement because it preserves those longstanding relationships, such as those with the EU, but also allows us to seek new markets and relationships with countries where our exports lag behind competitors. Trade is central to jobs locally and across the UK, protecting and growing such jobs remains foremost in my mind. An orderly exit from the EU is the best way to ensure this is the case.
I support the Withdrawal Agreement because it respects the result of the referendum, ensures we truly leave the EU and allows for continued cooperation in trade and security with global partners. The Political Declaration sets the framework for a future relationship that meets the needs of our economy and utilises our strengths and talents. I hope colleagues having had a chance to reflect, return with a clear sense of perspective and a willingness to join me in voting for the Prime Minister’s deal.