We have now had the vote on the Government’s Brexit deal, and that deal was convincingly voted down by the House.
Prior to the vote, I said that I could not back this deal, solely because of my concerns about the backstop. The Government’s own legal advice makes clear that this backstop could endure indefinitely, and this would keep us locked into a customs union with the EU, where we would still be rule takers from the ECJ and unable to strike our own trade deals around the world. In short, and despite the assurances offered by the EU this week, there is no absolute guarantee in this deal that we will not be trapped in a never-ending backstop limbo; able to see the benefits of Brexit but never able to reach them. From the correspondence I have received, I know that this outcome would be unacceptable to many of my constituents and would mean that the last two years of pain and division would have been for nought.
If we are to get any deal, which I do want, the EU have been adamant that it must include a backstop mechanism, to protect the Northern Ireland/Ireland border should negotiations break down. Before the Withdrawal Agreement was published, I was prepared to accept that argument, and having had the chance to read that document in full, I do believe that this is, for the most part, a good deal – it gives us back control of our borders, laws, and money, whilst also releasing the UK from the Common Fisheries Policy and Common Agricultural Policy. However, the good parts of this deal simply do not outweigh the bad, given the threat of indefinite limbo posed by the backstop.
I relayed that message to the Government on several occasions, and in the interests of finding a way forward, I called for changes to the Withdrawal Agreement to guarantee that the backstop will not be needed. In the vote yesterday, I also backed an amendment that aimed to make Parliamentary approval contingent on the Government securing a unilateral right for the UK to leave the backstop. Unfortunately, that amendment was not successful, and an indefinite backstop remains a possibility.
I do, of course, appreciate that my vote moves us closer towards leaving without a deal, and that in my view would leave us worse off, but I believe that, ironically, the result of last night’s vote will give our leadership a stronger hand when going back to Brussels. They must know that we are serious and will go to a WTO Brexit if we have to. We must get the right deal for the country and this deal is not that. Besides, I am sure that the British public, and many of my constituents, would far prefer a no deal outcome to any deal that left us vulnerable to an indefinite backstop.
More importantly, our decision, and this is contrary to suggestions seen this week, does not mean that there will be ‘No Brexit’. We will still be leaving on 29th March, with or without a deal, as this date of exit is already established in statute.
In terms of next steps, I will be voting to support the Government in the vote of no confidence today – we need to resume negotiations quickly, rather than waste time trying to form a new government, or by having a general election.
And in those negotiations, we must address the issue of the backstop – over 90% of those constituents who have contacted me about this matter have expressed opposition to this deal, many of them because of the backstop. Moreover, as someone close to this issue, I know that, despite the intransigence that we have been seeing from the EU, renegotiation on the backstop is possible and is the only way to get this deal through the House.
Throughout this process, I have always sought to represent the views of my constituents, as I best understand them from the correspondence I have received and the conversations I have been having. As ever, I do not believe that we should have a second referendum, nor extend or revoke Article 50. A second referendum would bring even more uncertainty and division and would be seen as a betrayal of the result of the first. Extending Article 50 merely prolongs the agony and will achieve very little.
The British people voted to leave, and we must deliver on that instruction.