On Friday I attended St Mary’s Primary School in Horsham where I was deeply impressed by not only the questions but the topics covered –including Financial Inclusion, Gatwick and Autism. As always when visiting schools I emphasised that parliament was about debate and persuasion and that where differences persisted it was important that these are aired in a mature way: this is especially important when the people elect a parliament with no single party enjoying an overall majority.
I fear that this week Parliament did not live up to that ideal.
As I have written previously I think the UK’s proposed EU deal works. It honours the referendum. The UK will leave the EU: we will leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ, Parliament will regain its role as the sole originator of laws in the UK and “free movement” will end. We will leave the Common Fisheries Policy and resume control of our own fishing waters.
However we will continue to be able to benefit from extremely close economic links and access to the EU single market of 500m people.
It is a compromise that reflects the reality of the Referendum result. I think overtime the proposal, which delivers Brexit while retaining economic benefits, will be seen as the best opportunity to enable both sides in this fractured debate a way forward.
The main point of contention is the “Back-stop” which is designed to prevent a “hard border” in Northern Ireland. In practice were we ever to enter the Back-stop (and both sides are committed to use their best endeavours to avoid it) our status would run totally contrary to the market integrity and “four freedoms” that the EU advocate as essential to their Union: we would have many of the benefits of EU membership while not paying in to the EU budget; not being bound by EU regulations; not being bound by “free movement” or the common fisheries policy and collecting the EU “external tariff” for the benefit of our own citizens. I do not believe that the back-stop would ever prove a sustainable permanent solution for either party to this Agreement.
Notwithstanding what are, to me, the advantages of this compromise and the desire of the country to see this resolved, some MPs made clear their wish to vote against it to secure a purer Brexit, other MPs resolved to vote against it to prevent Brexit altogether. They cannot both be right. Many MPs who I trust ultimately want a fair negotiated deal whether for principled or party-political reasons were not prepared to support this proposal at this time.
Having heard the House, the Government has delayed the vote to try to secure improvements to the proposal. If the Prime Minister manages to secure further concessions clearly these would be very welcome.
Ultimately the Commons, having (by large majorities) provided a Referendum to determine our future in the EU and voted to trigger Article 50 must act maturely on the most important issue facing the country in generations. The country requires no less.