I am sorry to lead on Brexit once again, but I regret 5 days after the initial departure date from the EU, and 9 days until the current legal departure date, the country is in crisis, and we cannot escape it. My view is that we urgently need to move towards a compromise in the national interest. As February recess was, Parliament’s Easter recess is now cancelled and I will be working hard towards achieving this compromise.
Monday night was the most frustrating day in the House of Commons on Brexit so far, which is really saying something. Four motions were brought forward from the eight that were considered last week. Again, I voted for anything which I thought had a viable chance of breaking the deadlock and progressing Brexit. This included ones where I think there remain significant potential downsides. But we desperately need to make progress.
The motions were:
(c) Ken Clarke MP – for a Customs Union. A Customs Union is simply an agreement to apply a common external tariff between members, but would considerably help UK manufacturing, especially aerospace and automotive where there are large cross-border supply chains. It also goes some way to keeping the Northern Irish border open. I voted AYE, but this lost by 3 votes.
(d) Nick Boles MP – ‘Common Market 2.0’. This was the one I had higher hopes for. It’s far from perfect but it would have meant we left the EU, left economic and monetary integration, were out of the common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy, and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. But we would maintain market access to the EU (including for services), have no tariffs or customs checks, and have a mechanism (the old European Free Trade Area that we were originally part of) to reconcile changes between ourselves and the EU. The Northern Irish border issue would be sorted and our contributions to the EU would be vastly decreased. This sort of arrangement has historically been the objective of many in the Eurosceptic movement. However, the issue is it requires a high degree of labour mobility. I recognise this is an issue – even though leading Leave campaigners now insist immigration was not a major part of the Leave vote – but fundamentally these arrangements exist, and we could say with a high degree of certainty we could adopt them. I voted AYE, but this lost by 21 votes.
(e) Peter Kyle MP – Confirmatory Vote. Agree a deal subject to the public having a confirmatory vote on it. Personally, this still not my preferred option but it is clearly one way to break the impasse. I voted AYE, but it lost by 12 votes.
(g) Joanna Cherry MP – revoke Article 50 to prevent no deal. I ABSTAINED on this because, although I recognise the argument that this is potentially the only way to prevent no deal, I think it risks being presented as an outright rejection of the referendum result. It lost by 101 votes.
The thing that outrages me is how many MPs voted against everything, or all but their preferred option.
- The majority of Tory MPs voted against all options, even though they also don’t support their own PM’s deal. Nick Boles MP resigned as a Tory MP on the floor of the Commons after the vote saying: ‘this failure is down to my Party’s unwillingness to compromise’.
- The SNP, Lib-Dems and TIG voted AGAINST the Customs Union and Common Market 2.0. So the three most pro-EU groups made a no deal Brexit more likely.
- A group of 30 or so of my colleagues who favour a People’s Vote also refused to support any other compromise option. This is frustrating. Of course each group has preferred options, but, at some point, we have got to compromise to make progress.
A word on ‘no deal’. It is not a quick way out of this. Aside from a significant negative impact on the economy, no deal leaves everything unresolved. One MP last night described it as: ‘not a destination, but a failure to reach a destination.’ We would still need to enter negotiations on all the same issues, but these would be thematic and bilateral, and the net result would likely be less favourable than agreeing an overall deal.
Where is this going? Either a no deal Brexit on 12 April or, more likely, an indeterminate delay with no clear outcome. The cabinet met yesterday for 5 hours in an attempt to propose a solution, with further talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn following. As I say on Sky News here, now is the time for genuine cross party compromise, the Prime Minister must be flexible.
Having got to the point where all the claims that were made have simply not materialised – about how easy the deal would be, how the German car industry would ensure we got a good deal, how the EU would crack and not negotiate as a united team and so on – I am completely disillusioned by the lack of leadership from the Government and the lack of willingness to compromise by so many MPs in Parliament. I know a General Election may not automatically solve this, but something needs to give.
I also thought this article, from Paul Johnson for the Times, was a fair assessment.
My mailbag and social media comments continue to be very divided on this issue, and in some cases, abusive. Like the vast majority of my colleagues, I am a public servant doing my level best to help make progress and represent my constituents on a complex and imperative issue. Everyone is entitled to their deeply held opinions on it but I continue to implore all sides to disagree well.