I am deeply upset that having voted yesterday for the third time to deliver Britain’s exit from the European Union, that decision has again been blocked.
I believe that the Withdrawal Agreement which was put to the House delivers Brexit and would do so whilst maintaining a close economic and security relationship with the EU. I also believe that the Withdrawal Agreement would provide the basis for a sustainable long term relationship with our closest neighbours and largest trading partner.
I am saddened that Parliament has not been able to deliver on the Withdrawal for which a majority voted in the Referendum. This is despite the fact that Political Parties pledging to honour the result secured overwhelming support in the 2017 General Election.
I wanted to update you on the votes of the last week and where we currently stand.
Current Position Post Friday’s Vote:
If the Commons had supported the Withdrawal Agreement which has been painstakingly negotiated over two years on either of the two previous occasions we would have left the European Union at 11pm on the evening of Friday 29th March.
I voted for it on both occasions. However the Commons did not, preventing our departure.
The passage of yesterday’s vote would have meant the EU would be legally bound to provide us with an extension to 22nd May in order that we could complete the necessary legislation and leave on that date.
I voted for it. The Commons, again, voted down this opportunity.
As a result the House of Commons has put our departure arrangements into the hands of the EU.
We have until 12th April to show them that there is an agreed alternative proposal for a deal acceptable to the EU. If this deal is close to the Withdrawal Agreement already negotiated and has a stable majority to support it in the House of Commons it is (just) possible we can leave with a negotiated exit on 22nd May. If not and if the Commons insists on leaving with a negotiated deal we will be presented with the European Union’s terms for the UK to remain within the EU for an extended period while our exit is renegotiated.
There is no guarantee that these terms will offered or that they will be acceptable to the United Kingdom.
In voting the way it did yesterday the Commons rejected the Withdrawal Agreement that would form the basis for any negotiated exit: whether on the current terms or for a much “softer” form of Brexit. While Parliament rejected the Agreement by a majority of 58, the Agreement received more votes than any other EU proposal voted on by Parliament.
The EU and every remaining member state has to be convinced that the UK can produce a Parliamentary majority for a new deal. A decision by the EU to grant the UK an extension has to be unanimous. If any one of the 27 remaining states votes against the UK will leave without a deal on 12th April. As the statement from the European Commission has made clear this possibility cannot be discounted. It is therefore possible that in rejecting the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement yesterday the Commons in practice voted for a “No Deal” exit.
The Background to the Current Position:
The UK is a representative democracy. In 2016 Parliament took a highly unusual step by agreeing (by a very large majority) that the British people should determine the fundamental question of whether we should or should not remain a member of the European Union. There was no question in debates at the time of this vote being “advisory”. To the contrary in a leaflet sent to every household the Government stated that it would implement the decision. This decision overlay our representative system of Government.
I wrote immediately after the Referendum, on 16th June, 2016.
“The Referendum produced a result and led to the resignation of the Prime Minister. It did not however produce an alternative strategy or alternative Government for us to hold to account on a manifesto. At present there is not a consistent view on what “Brexit” means. On the one hand this could be “Norway” with unrestricted free movement of people, ongoing UK contributions to the EU, UK withdrawal from EU decision making but implementation of EU decisions allowing full access to the Single Market. At the other end it could mean complete withdrawal outside the EU common tariff and reliance on WTO principles to allow us to access that market. This would open up opportunities but will undoubtedly reduce the attractiveness of the UK as a focus of foreign inward investment on which we have been very dependent to support our balance of trade and tax revenues. Although (of course) this may in part be a negotiating strategy Chancellor Merkel and the European Commission have made it clear that they regard these as the choices facing the UK.”
Over two years of hard negotiations I believe the Government produced a different answer, one that was initially rejected by the EU but which we successfully secured, a hybrid solution that secures our sovereignty but at the same time provides us with many of the security and economic benefits of a strong independent relationship with the EU.
It is a compromise but it is a compromise that I believe works.
As I have written before I believe it represents a sensible and pragmatic route to leaving the EU.
The Withdrawal Agreement returns sovereignty to the UK: the UK will leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ; Parliament will resume full control of immigration policy, law and regulations in the UK; the UK will take back full control of our fishing waters and agricultural policy and much else besides.
The Agreement also protects the rights of UK citizens resident in the EU; ensures the Ireland/Northern Ireland border remains open; provides an implementation period to help UK businesses and farmers adjust and guarantees no customs, quotas or tariffs will be imposed on our trade with Europe.
That is why I believe it is the right solution and why I have consistently supported it at every stage.
However for it to succeed it needs the support of Parliament.
To date this has been impossible to secure.
A small number of MPs oppose the Agreement as they are not prepared to accept a compromise agreement and would actively prefer to leave on WTO terms. Some oppose it as they wish to engineer a second referendum or the Revocation of Article 50. Some prefer to support a form of “softer” Brexit. It is perfectly clear however that some of the “soft Brexit” options being proposed would be wholly undeliverable or would carry all the burden of EU membership without the influence of full membership.
It was apparent that the Parliament elected in 2015 did not have a sufficient majority to deliver a smooth and orderly route to Brexit.
The 2017 General Election was intended to deliver such a majority. However no political party emerged with an overall majority.
While the House of Commons has recently (comfortably) reaffirmed its confidence in the Government it has not been prepared to support it on the most fundamental issue before Parliament today.
Sir Oliver Letwin’s Parliamentary Process:
The Commons supported an unprecedented (in modern political history) move by backbenchers and the Opposition, facilitated by the Speaker, to take control of the Commons to have a series of “Indicative” Votes on alternative approaches.
On Wednesday 27th March these indicative votes were held: a total of 16 different motions were put forward. The Speaker selected eight of these motions to be put forward to MPs. These were: No Deal, Common Market 2.0, EEA/EFTA without a customs union, customs union, a plan around a Customs Union and dynamic alignment put forward by the Labour Party, revoke Article 50 to prevent No Deal, second referendum and No Deal with “contingent preferential arrangements”.
The object of the exercise was for MPs to vote for their PREFERRED option.
I felt none of the proposals came close to having the same advantages of the Withdrawal Agreement which is negotiated and ready to be signed. In opposing each of them I supported the Withdrawal Agreement which I expected (correctly) to see returned to the Commons. I was not alone: the Withdrawal Agreement receiving more support than any of the other options.
This process is set to be repeated again in the coming week. I warned before the indicative vote process that there was no certainty that it would reveal any position that has more support than the Withdrawal Agreement.
This has proved the case. The next step may or may not prove more successful. I am however very conscious that were a consensus to be formed around a particular alternative proposition this will need more than a vote of the House of Commons on a particular day in April: it will need a consistent Parliamentary majority ready to stand behind it through the arduous process of legislation, a Government to negotiate the revised agreement with the EU and, we must not forget, an EU willing to engage and agree the new proposal.