First and foremost, we must be clear on what precisely we have been asked to vote on this week. A number of emails have suggested that I ‘voted for no deal’ because I voted with the Government. This could not be further from the truth. This week a group of MPs who are concerned at the prospect of leaving without a deal have used unconventional procedures to give backbenchers control of the order paper, i.e. what happens each day in the House of Commons, in order to bring in a Bill that delays our departure from the EU. I must emphasise this point: the votes in question were purely to delay Article 50 and our exit from the EU, they would not permanently ‘stop’ a no deal Brexit. Indeed, if the Bill passes and we reached February 1st next year without a Withdrawal Agreement being passed we would once again be facing a ‘no deal Brexit’.
The votes this week were not in favour of a particular solution that would actually end the crippling uncertainty and continuous division that has beset our nation of late. Indeed, that division and uncertainty now continues anew and if this Bill passes we will be saying to the people of the UK who desperately want Parliament to ‘get on with it’, that instead, we are just going to maintain interminable delay.
Only two options permanently ‘stop’ a no deal Brexit: cancelling Brexit by revoking Article 50, immediately or after a second referendum vote to Remain; or by voting through a deal that enables us to leave in a negotiated and orderly manner, i.e. with a deal. In my view only the latter option offers even the hope of bringing our broken politics back together and enabling us to move forward with a semblance of national unity. The former would overturn a democratic referendum which both main parties promised to respect in their manifestos for the 2017 general election. I stood on such a manifesto and do not intend to break my word, and nor do I regard breaking my word as ‘putting party before country’ as some have said. Rather, it would be undermining even further the breach of trust felt by millions of voters.
This is not to say that I would be happy with a ‘no deal’ outcome, far from it. I remain committed to the UK securing a deal with the EU, and have frequently spoken in the House on the risks of a sudden rupture where we would find ourselves trading on substantially inferior terms, not just with the EU, but with many other nations with whom the EU has a trade deal. That said, it is an inescapable fact of any negotiation that in extremis parties must be able to reject terms and walk away from the negotiating table. Thus, my conclusion on this week’s Bill was that it would not make a deal more likely. Rather, it would undermine our negotiating position and reduce the chances of getting a deal through at the European Council next month. I campaigned to Remain in the referendum but I promised to respect the result and ever since have focused on how we could find a sensible way to depart. I have not changed that position and voted three times for the Withdrawal Agreement, which would have truly avoided a no deal outcome and by now we would have been at least 6 months into negotiations on a long-term deal, our current political crisis avoided.
I will continue to support efforts to seek a negotiated settlement with the EU. I believe this is the best way to resolve our crisis, not kicking the can down the road yet again.