European Union Withdrawal Update February 28th 2019

Over the past few weeks I have received a large volume of correspondence from constituents expressing various views on Brexit and how they wish for me, as their local MP, to represent them in the House of Commons. Due to the high volume of correspondence and numerous questions, I have set out one comprehensive view of the matters which tend to get raised.

This view is a further update to those which I sent to constituents in December and mid-February. This update has an opening section entitled ‘Key Votes in March’. This provides information and views following the announcement on 26 February that Parliament will, during March, hold a further series of votes on the Prime Ministers deal, leaving without a deal or extending the UK’s date of departure from the EU.

To those who mentioned it, my responses on this subject are always written by me and my views are my own. This is the most important issue of our time. You may not agree with my position but I hope you will not doubt my sincerity or my genuine desire to do what I feel is best for the country and constituency (with both democracy and the economy in mind).

Key Votes in Mid March

The Prime Minister has announced three voting options for MPs. These are as follows:

  1. By 12 March: MPs will have the second ‘meaningful vote’ on the Withdrawal Agreement (the Prime Minister’s deal). The Prime Minister has until this date to secure amendments from the EU to the backstop to make the deal more palatable to MPs previously opposed. If passed, and the vote below may cause many who first opposed it to reconsider, then the UK will leave the EU on the 29 March 2019 as scheduled.
  2. By 13 March: If MPs reject the EU Withdrawal Agreement vote under 1 (above), MPs will vote to either leave the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal (so leave on ‘No Deal’ terms) or reject ‘No Deal’. Although it does not appear to me to rule No Deal out in the future, if Parliament votes to take No Deal off the table at this point then it is difficult to see how No Deal could be used at the end of 3 (below).  
  3. On 14 March: If MPs reject the Prime Minister’s deal (1 above) and also rejects leaving on No Deal terms on 29 March 2019 (2 above), MPs will be given the choice to vote for a ‘short extension’ to Article 50 – presumably to allow for other alternatives. The Prime Minister mentioned the extension could not go beyond the date of June, on the basis that EU Parliamentary elections take place at that point and would be at odds with leaving the EU if we re-elect MEPs.

I regret that the direction of travel in Parliament is heading towards a delay and a second referendum. This may cause MPs, from all political parties, who hold leave supporting seats and are committed to seeing the UK leave the EU, to get behind the Prime Minister’s deal in order to ensure that the UK leaves the EU, even if they do not entirely agree with the deal. If the Prime Minister’s deal does not pass then it is increasingly likely that a majority of MPs will vote to take No Deal off the table and to delay the Article 50 date.

As I hope you would expect with votes of this importance, I will be assessing these options but my initial views are as follows and these are consistent with what I have said and written previously:

  1. I support the Prime Minister’s deal and will vote for it again – it is not perfect but it sees us leaving the EU, on agreed terms and on time. Business and the public need certainty.
  2. The choice between the potential economic damage of No Deal and the potential democratic damage of No Brexit are incredibly difficult for me to weigh up. This is the decision which requires the most focus for me. It is an invidious choice.
  3. I cannot see the rationale for any further delay to Article 50. All negotiations need our best cards to be played and a cut-off time when they will be played. Any delay will just kick the can down the road and lead to further uncertainty. I will of course look at the scenario but delay goes against my instincts as a former negotiator. The Prime Minister reiterated that she does not support an extension.

Much of the drive for votes to take No Deal off the table and extend Article 50 came from an amendment laid down by the Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, and Conservative MPs, Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles. With the Government having to concede to the thrust of this motion, Conservative MPs were asked to vote in the same division lobby as the opposition parties. This motion was passed by 502 votes to 20. For the first time, I did not vote with the Government and abstained along with 100 other MPs. I do not agree with changing the process so it would have been odd of me to support doing so. This should not be taken as an indication of how I will cast my votes on 13th and 14th March but as a statement that I do not believe we should be changing the rules with a month to go before we were due to leave.

I am very disappointed that certain Ministers have been causing difficulties. If they cannot accept the Prime Minister’s mandate then they should argue their cause from the back-benches, not as Ministers via the Daily Mail. It is this push which seems to have caused the Prime Minister to give additional options to MPs. Sending a sign that No Deal is likely to come off the table is not the best tactic when we are seeking to negotiate concessions to the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. More loyalty and backing to the leader would, in my view, be good for my party and for the UK’s negotiation success.

Prime Minister’s Deal

In January, I voted for the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement.

It does not deliver a complete break with the EU and it means following the common rulebook on goods and accepting some influence from the European Court of Justice when it comes to governing this agreement and a future trade deal. The deal will see us continuing to work with our EU partners. It does mean that we end Free Movement, end future payments to the EU, leave the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy and become free to make our own laws and world trade deals outside this arrangement. There are some grey areas, and parts I do not like, but it is a compromise agreement and relies on political solutions via the Political Declaration to solve issues in Northern Ireland and other aspects. 

To those who say ‘Leave Means Leave’, the literature used by the official Vote Leave campaign in the referendum promised a trade deal, ties with the EU and free trade. There was no talk of No Deal. To those who say ‘We must not leave the EU’, this agreement has been struck with the EU and means we can continue to trade and work with good relations.

It may not please either side and it may be a compromise. However, whilst there are polar-opposites in our country on the EU debate, I believe the majority understand that big issues need some form of compromise, that we need to solve this issue and we need to deliver a mix of democracy and economic stability. This is what this agreement delivers. I have voted for something which you may not find perfect. However, I have voted for something to happen rather than merely vote solutions down. Other MPs can speak for themselves but they will be responsible if we deny democracy and do not deliver the referendum or cause economic damage by seeing us leave with no deal at all.  

Replacing the Northern Irish Backstop

Despite voting for the PM’s deal, I additionally voted for the amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement in order to try and break the impasse. Parliament passed this motion and this now sees the PM go back to the EU and state with confidence that Parliament would agree a deal provided the Northern Ireland backstop issue is removed by the EU (meaning the UK would not stay indefinitely in a Customs Union) or time limited. This idea attracted much support from those on our benches who had previously voted against the PM’s deal. I hope that the EU, as we move towards the 29 March 2019, will realise the damage which leaving the EU without a deal would cause, to both the UK and EU, and give a further concession which would allow the PM’s deal to be agreed by Parliament – meaning we leave the EU but with an orderly exit.

Taking No Deal off the table

I have not voted to take No Deal off the table. Whilst I have concerns about the economic impact if we end up without a deal, it is not the time to take away the best negotiation card we have with the EU. If we remove this, why would the EU bother giving further ground on the EU deal, and backstop, which we seek to negotiate?

Extending Article 50

I will not vote for anything which means substantially delaying exit of our EU membership. We are due to be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. I have already voted for this date when I voted for the PM’s deal. I would only countenance an extension in the event that it allowed us to leave on better terms to the UK (e.g. we have the chance to remove the Backstop) and was merely a short delay to finalise details. Postponing the date for no specific reason is merely kicking the can down the road due to an inability to compromise and make a decision.

Second Referendum

I will not support a second referendum. We have already had a People’s Vote. We always promised to deliver for the majority of that vote. I voted to Remain but what kind of democrat would I be if I decided to reject the ballot box because I did not like the result? This is the same ballot box which I argue gives me a mandate as your MP. Holding a second referendum will cause more delay, more uncertainty, will cause people to lose faith in democracy and those who seek election under it and will just lead to a request for a third referendum. It is time to accept the decision, compromise and deliver so we can move on to other matters which cause concern.

I hope that this background sufficiently addresses the issues raised and explains my rationale for voting the way I have as well as the options available in March.