Update on Parliamentary Divisions on Brexit

Last week there were important Parliamentary Divisions on Brexit and I wanted to update you on how I voted.

I committed prior to the Referendum and prior to the 2017 General Election to honour the result of the Referendum and as such I continued to vote to deliver Brexit.  As I have also consistently stressed I want us to leave in a smooth and orderly fashion and I believe that the best way to do so is via the Withdrawal Agreement which has been negotiated between the UK and European Commission and has been accepted by the 27 ongoing countries of the European Union. 

All my votes have been consistent with us leaving the European Union and doing so quickly via the agreed Withdrawal Agreement which I believe provides the best and surest route to achieving this objective.

For those who have concerns about the “Irish Backstop” I believe the UK already had substantial protections in place and that the practical consequences of the Backstop on the EU (with the UK having many benefits of EU membership whilst being outside of the jurisdiction of the ECJ, not being subject to free movement, having complete control of our fishing waters, not paying in to the EU etc) are such that the EU would never want us to enter the Backstop and if we ever did they would not wish that temporary status to be prolonged. 

In addition the protections we enjoy if we were ever to enter the backstop, and our ability to exit it, have been significantly enhanced by the additional guarantees provided by the EU.  I welcome the high level of commitments made. As explained in an excellent and persuasive joint piece for Policy Exchange (“A Second Look” published 15th March, 2019) by international lawyers Professor Guglielmo Verdirame, Sir Stephen Laws and Richard Ekins, the UK has significant and meaningful protections. 

I further welcome the fact that Lord Bew and Lord Trimble (the former leader of the Official Unionists who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Belfast Agreement) have both also come to the conclusion that the risks of the Backstop have been massively curtailed (see “The Irish Backstop:  Nothing has changed?  It has actually” also published by Policy Exchange, on 18th March, 2019).

I am convinced this is the best way to move Brexit forward.

 

In recent parliamentary votes:

 

A)    The “Meaningful” Vote

I voted to support the Withdrawal Agreement, I have previously and the further protections we have secured enhance the UK’s position.  It was however rejected by the Commons by a large margin.

 

B)     Second Referendum

I voted against holding a second referendum.  This matter has been put to the country, the Government made clear it would implement the decision, not to do so but to go back to ask the question again seems to me anti-democratic.  The motion was overwhelmingly rejected.

 

C)     A motion by the Leader of the Labour Party

This laid out the Opposition’s approach to Brexit which remains, to my mind, inconsistent and unachievable.  It was rejected by the Commons with the support (active or via abstention) of many Labour and independent MPs.  I voted against.

 

D)    Taking “No Deal” Permanently Off the Table

I thought this would be a great error.  “No Deal” remains the default position for which the Government has planned extensively.  I much prefer to leave with a deal but doing so is and should remain an option available to the UK.  Once Parliament has stated that it will only leave with a deal we become dependent on whatever deal the EU are prepared to offer.  Although I think in any event that the prospect of any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement are remote, this resolution diminishes any remaining chance and is the worst way to start the next stage in the negotiation.  I therefore opposed taking “No Deal” permanently off the table (and, as Teller, counted the vote).  Notwithstanding the, to my mind, strong arguments against, the Commons voted to take “No Deal” permanently off the table.

 

E)     Motion for the Commons to “Take Control”

An amendment was debated under which the Commons would itself determine its Order Paper – a process which could lead to the Commons determining UK policy and legislating to enforce it.  This proposal is constitutionally unprecedented in modern times.  Under our system the elected Government, for as long as it maintains the confidence of the Commons, proposes UK policy and the legislature scrutinises the executive and considers the legislation necessary to put its actions into effect.  It is a sign of the difficulties any Government faces in a “hung” parliament on delivering complex and difficult proposals that this amendment was only defeated by two votes (314 to 312).  I voted to defeat the proposal.  Had it been carried it would have made the Government’s ability to deliver on Brexit, in a timely manner via the Withdrawal Agreement, harder.

 

F)     A motion to enable the legislation time to pass if the “Meaningful Vote” carried

Had the “Meaningful Vote” been passed prior to last Thursday we would have had the time necessary to pass the legislation required to leave on 29th March with the Withdrawal Agreement in place.  That is no longer the case.  I am frustrated but not wholly surprised:  major deals often do not get agreed until the last minute and this is especially true of EU negotiations.  I support the Withdrawal Agreement as the best means of leaving the EU and have urged all MPs, on both sides of the House, to support the “Meaningful Vote” to achieve this outcome.  I continue to do so.  It would be completely inconsistent of me if, while advocating the Withdrawal Agreement, I was not prepared to vote to provide the Parliamentary time necessary to put it into law.  I therefore voted in favour of the principle that if the Meaningful Vote is carried before the 29th March the Government should bring forward the legal mechanic necessary to allow this process to be extended to (at the latest) 30th June, 2019 to pass the necessary legislation to achieve our exit via the Withdrawal Agreement.    It was overwhelmingly carried.

 

Where are we now?

I will continue to support the Withdrawal Agreement as the best and surest route to us leaving the EU, as per the result of the Referendum.

Some are rejecting this approach because they wish, through obstruction and delay, to ensure the UK ultimately remains a member of the EU.  I think they are wrong to do so.  The UK voted to leave and that result should be honoured.  I think it must also be considered how the UK’s relationship with other member states has been impacted by the last two years:  the idea that the UK can return to the EU with the influence and authority of the status quo ante is, to my mind, fanciful.

Some I fear may be voting down this Withdrawal Agreement without any clear view of any acceptable or achievable alternative but for narrow political gain.  This cynical approach plays into the corrosive mantra that “politics is broken” and that parliament will not act on the clear instructions of those whom it serves.  This approach is demeaning and dangerous. 

Lastly a large number of MPs are voting against the Withdrawal Agreement because they hope to achieve a particular form of Brexit involving, at least initially, a “no deal” outcome.  This option has been planned for by the Government and the European Union.  It remains the default option in law.  However Parliament has made plain that this is not an acceptable outcome.  I fear colleagues are wrong if they feel that voting down our departure from the European Union, via the Withdrawal Agreement will somehow lead to a better form of Brexit.  To the contrary I feel it is likely to lead to a long delay to our withdrawal and the real threat of no Brexit at all.

I am urging MPs on both sides of the House to pass the Meaningful Vote; to secure our departure quickly and on a smooth, orderly and effective basis.  By doing so we will move on from the EU debate and allow Parliament to focus more on the issues that effect all our daily lives.  It will also, with uncertainty removed, unleash a wave of private investment and enable the Government to release billions into the economy in the form of targeted investment and/or tax cuts.  We have everything to gain by moving on from this debate and, via this gateway agreement, enter into the long term discussions with our friends in the EU on our future, post departure, relationship.  

I sincerely hope that the Commons, even at this late hour, seizes the opportunity it is being offered of a smooth, orderly and timely exit.