We voted to leave the EU, but without an agreed plan on “how.” Our elected Parliament continues to struggle to find a consensus on that question; the major parties remain deeply divided. There has been a lot of noise since my last statement, but the fundamentals have changed very little. My position remains exactly the same. I set it out again, so that you are clear about the position of your elected representative.
I represent a constituency that voted narrowly to remain. That was my personal position too. I now believe strongly that we must respect the referendum result and leave. My strong preference would be to leave on the 29th of March, as this process has dragged on too long, and it is extremely damaging in the division and uncertainty it is creating.
However, I want to leave in an orderly way that minimises disruption to people’s lives and any possible risks to jobs and security. That is why I have always supported the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement. We need to be very clear that it is the only deal on the table. The rest is noise, and it is clear that the appetite of the EU to renegotiate further in a substantial way is nil.
I am not claiming that the deal is perfect – but it is good enough. It delivers on the issues that seemed to matter most to Leave Voters, not least ending Freedom of Movement; giving us freedom from the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies; and ending our payments to the EU once our current obligations are settled. We will clearly leave, but with a transition period that gives our employers time to adjust to the new relationship with our biggest trading partner. That makes sense to me, and I am not surprised that it is supported by most of the groups that represent employers. It is time to give them some certainty and to move on to negotiating the detail of how our future economic and security relationship with the EU will work.
So my single priority this week is to Vote for the Withdrawal Agreement. The fact that the PM appears to have secured legally binding assurances from the EU that we will not be locked into the so-called backstop, makes the case for the deal even stronger.
Some argue that we would be better off leaving with no deal. I do not believe that is what we voted for as a country, nor is it Government policy. I do not believe that there is a majority for this course in Parliament, and therefore doubt that any Government could deliver it. Even if there was, I consider it to be an extremely irresponsible and risky course of action, as I am clear that it will cost jobs and undermine our security, as well as create large scale disruption that I am not convinced we are prepared for. I am under no illusions that there remains widespread opposition to the Deal. However, the alternatives are unappealing.
Alternatively, some argue for a “softer” Brexit, perhaps closer to the relationship that Norway has with the EU. I am not convinced that is a better outcome for us than the agreement which the PM has negotiated. We would still have freedom of movement; we would continue paying large sums of money; and we would have to accept rules set by others.
There are also those who argue that we delay. That only makes sense to temporarily avoid no deal. However, I am not clear that any delay will strengthen our negotiating hand, and the only way to be sure of avoiding ‘no deal’ is to agree a deal. In the real world, rather than Fantasy Brexit, which too many people seem to be playing, I believe that a Brexit deal looks a lot like what the PM has agreed – with a lot to play for in negotiating the next stage.
Finally, of course, there are those who believe we should call the whole thing off and “go back to the people” for a second referendum. I think that would be damaging for our democracy and would risk deepening division, without resolving anything. Likewise, I cannot see how a General Election would change anything in terms of the Brexit fundamentals. Indeed, it risks bringing in an administration that would be deeply damaging to the prospects of our country.
So I am left with only one choice, which is to support the Withdrawal Agreement, now improved with greater reassurances to colleagues worried about our ability to leave the so-called “backstop” arrangements, designed to ensure that when we leave, we do not create a so-called “hard border” in Ireland.
If the Deal is voted down again, I will of course keep you updated on what MPs will have to decide on next and how I will vote. There are too many uncertainties to be clear on that today.
I am always interested in the views of constituents as this important constitutional drama unfolds. Please do not hesitate to contact me with thoughtful opinion. If you are one of those who can only communicate abuse, do not expect a reply.