Since my last column, I was pulled out of the ballot twice in successive Prime Minister’s Questions. I had hoped that I could write about my separate calls to empower long-leaseholders and freeholders, so they can break free from unscrupulous service management fees and, this week, for more school funding. I hope to return to these themes another time but I suspect readers will be more preoccupied by what on earth Parliament is doing to enact the promises made following the referendum result to leave the EU and in the Conservative and Labour 2017 General Election manifestos.
Last week, the Prime Minister’s deal with the EU was rejected by MPs for the second time, albeit on a reduced margin. In the aftermath, the Prime Minister promised MPs two days of debate, followed by votes. These took place this week.
The first was a vote on whether the UK should ever leave the EU without a deal in place. Conservative MPs were offered a free vote (meaning no pressure from our whips to vote a particular way). The Government prepared the motion. The details of the motion were, effectively, to say that the House desires a departure by the end of March with a deal but, if such a deal could not be passed, the default option remained for the UK to leave without a deal. As an MP who has voted for the deal, but wishes to ensure that we ultimately leave as promised in the referendum, this somewhat circular scenario was fine for me. It was clearly too nuanced for other MPs.
An amendment was tabled which made it absolutely clear that the UK would never leave the EU on ‘no deal’ terms, come what may. This was passed with a majority of just 4 votes and amended the Government’s original motion. The Government then found itself having to ask its own MPs to reject its own amended motion, which would have completely taken ‘no deal’ off the table. Doing so was not supported by the Government due to it being a poor way to negotiate and contrary to the position in legislation which dictates that we leave in this way if a deal cannot be passed.
Confused? Try being in the midst of the scrum, where the motion is not even written out before the division bell immediately rings. I voted to keep ‘no deal’ on the table. I have spoken before about the deep concern I hold over leaving without a deal but it remains our biggest card to either get concessions or to cause ‘Remainer’ MPs to make a choice between agreeing the Prime Minister’s deal or leaving with ‘no deal’. I was in the minority however. By 43 votes, MPs voted to take ‘no deal’ off the table. Four cabinet members failed to vote with the Government and are still in post as I write this column.
This means that Parliament has failed to back the Prime Minister’s deal and has failed to accept leaving without a deal. As I write this at 8am on Thursday morning, this means that we have to leave the EU on 29 March under some other agreed basis. This clearly cannot work, not least because the EU are only currently willing to accept agreeing on the terms struck with the Prime Minister. As a result, later today, we will have the second key vote; whether to extend the date when the UK leaves the EU.
I suspect that MPs will trigger a delay to the UK leaving the EU. This would have to be agreed with the EU. I will not vote for anything which would extend our departure but I believe I will be in the minority. As I said during an interview with BBC Radio 5Live, deadlines lead to ‘crunch time’ which leads to delivery. A majority of MPs have done nothing but vote against anything happening. Giving MPs more time will just lead to more chaos and indecision and be hugely damaging to the faith many have in democracy and to those who need economic certainty. I have voted, firstly, to leave on agreed terms. I have reluctantly voted to keep to our original default option of leaving on no deal terms. Unless something dramatic happens to the wording of the motion after this column is filed, I will vote to keep our departure date as 29 March without any further extension. Regardless of your views on my stance, these actions were the basis of the manifesto which got me re-elected in 2017 (and got Labour MPs elected) and has been in law since 480 MPs voted to ask the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 and commence this process. I am truly sorry that Parliament cannot follow through on its promises.