I have always wanted to deliver on the result of the referendum, and that has not changed. Some 70% of my constituents voted to leave and residents often tell me that they want Brexit sorted as soon as possible.
I agree wholeheartedly with that position and while I have previously expressed my concerns about the Government’s imperfect deal, I decided to change my position and support it last week. That was because it was clear to me then, as has been revealed this week, that the deal was the only way to deliver Brexit without a lengthy delay.
I do appreciate that some may be disappointed by my decision, but we must be realistic about the current political context – we now know that Brexit will not be delivered on 29th March 2019, and the majority of my colleagues are pushing for a far softer customs union Brexit, or simply no Brexit at all.
My calculated vote took account of that reality and the fact that the political scenery has changed dramatically, meaning that a ‘no deal’ Brexit is now incredibly unlikely. The House voted last week to reject no deal by a majority of 43, and colleagues also decided to seek an extension of the Article 50 process, with a majority of 210. In those votes, I maintained my support for no deal, rejected any extension to Article 50, and voted against the amendment to bring forward a second referendum.
Granted, the vote on no deal was not binding, which means that it remains the legal default if a deal cannot be secured by exit day, and it is also true that there will not be any further votes on this version of the Government’s deal. But, by voting to seek a postponement of the Article 50 process, the House has agreed to push exit day back and the Prime Minister has now written to the EU to open negotiations on that extension.
Concerningly, the length of this exit day delay is yet to be determined, and is a clearly point for the upcoming discussions, but President Tusk has already said that it should be for as long as possible. There are also reports that the EU want to use the delay for a second referendum and opposition colleagues are pushing for that same outcome – I will, of course, do all I can to prevent this from happening. But, even if this extension period ends without overturning the referendum result, no deal will be just as unlikely at that point, since the Prime Minister is not prepared to walk away without a deal, as she had the opportunity to do this week, and this House of Commons, myself excluded, will not allow any Prime Minister to do so.
In terms of where we go now, I am still pushing for further changes to the Government’s imperfect deal, although we have no leverage to secure anything from the EU – after all, we have sabotaged our ability to walk away by rejecting no deal. Moreover, as I have set out, I believe it is unlikely that we will ever get a no deal Brexit, although I am certainly happy to be wrong on that point.
The most plausible outcome is that there will be an indeterminate delay for further negotiations with the EU, and, possibly, an additional vote on an amended version of the Government’s deal. But, when that deal does change, it would not be surprising if we get a much softer Brexit, and if we fail to pass the deal altogether we are more likely to get no Brexit at all. I understand that this is frustrating for those who voted to leave, and I share that frustration, but that does not change the reality of the situation we are in.
And make no mistake, I am angry at the way in which the Government has handled negotiations and the votes on the deal. But that doesn’t change the fact that no deal is no longer a realistic prospect and that the only way to deliver Brexit without a significant delay was for me to back the deal.
This is why, when I was faced with the choice of this imperfect Brexit or no Brexit at all, I chose the former, and would do so again. Undoubtedly, backing the deal offers the clearest route to Brexit, and events this week have vindicated that view. Moreover, as Jacob Rees-Mogg said recently: “No deal is better than a bad deal, but a deal is better than remaining.”
So, that is where we are now – by failing to pass this deal, Brexit itself is now at risk. However, this is a fast-moving situation and it is probable that the political scenery will have moved again by the time this release hits the press.