Brexit - This week's votes

As we come to the end of another week of Brexit debate, I wanted to explain what has happened, how I voted and why.  I apologise in advance for the length of this article.

If you want a one paragraph summary: I backed the Brexit deal on Tuesday, I didn’t back no-deal on Wednesday because it’d be chaos and betray leave voters.  On Thursday I agreed with the Government that we’ll need to extend Article 50 and that indicative votes on our future options are a good idea, so I voted for their motion to deliver one and an amendment to deliver the other.  When it comes back next week, I’ll vote for the Prime Minister’s deal again.

I have been a consistent supporter of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, which gets us out of the EU in an orderly manner and gives businesses the time they need to adjust to a new trading regime. That is why – before it was postponed – I planned to vote for the deal in December.  It is also why I voted for the deal earlier this year and again this week.

The deal failed because the Labour Party put partisan advantage above the national interest and rejected it.  However, we must be clear that our own party played a role in these defeats.  The hard-right ‘ERG’ group within the party has opposed this Brexit deal from the start and continues to vote against Brexit being delivered.  This fits a wider pattern – which includes trying to vote out the Prime Minister late last year – which puts purity ahead of pragmatism.  I cannot help but think they’d rather be remembered as rebels who lost the fight for a ‘pure’ Brexit than as opposed to being remembered as people who compromised to deliver Brexit.

When she lost the vote on her deal the Prime Minister promised that if she lost again, she would seek Parliament’s view on leaving the EU without a deal, and that if Parliament did not approve of leaving without a deal she would seek our view on extending Article 50.  These were the votes on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

On Wednesday I voted against no-deal with the EU.  I have always been clear that I see no-deal as a route to economic crisis, social upheaval and it is the most sure-fire way to build support for re-joining the EU – inevitably on worse terms than we now enjoy.  I have spoken at substantial length about the impact no-deal will have, what I have said less about is how a no-deal Brexit would be a betrayal of what my leave supporting constituents voted for.  I laid this out in a brief speech on Tuesday.

Vote Leave promised (and this promise remains on their website) that “[t]aking back control is a careful change, not a sudden stop – we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process”.  No-deal would be the most sudden stop imaginable, and therefore is in no way compatible with these promises.  Likewise, we were promised that leaving the EU would ‘take back control’.  To leave without a deal and have to go cap in hand to the European Commission every time we needed to strike a ‘mini-deal’ (which is what no-deal advocate admit we must do) would be a huge loss of control and I am not willing to countenance it when a perfectly good deal (though not a perfect deal) is on the table.

I know some are concerned that by voting against no-deal we are taking it off the table.  This is untrue for several reasons.  Firstly, it remains the legal position that without something changing, the UK will leave the EU without a deal.  Secondly, the negotiations with the EU over the Withdrawal Agreement have come to a close, we no longer need this leverage as there are no negotiations to leverage.  Finally, had I opposed the motion on Wednesday I wouldn’t simply have kept no-deal on the table, but could have been seen as supporting a vote endorsing no-deal as the most preferable option. 

On Thursday the Minister for the Cabinet Office, David Liddington, accepted the need for MPs to be given the chance to vote on what kind of future relationship we’d like with the EU – what we call indicative votes.  It is incredible that nearly 1,000 days since the referendum MPs haven’t been asked what form they would like Brexit to take.  My view is that had this happened sooner, we’d have had far fewer calls for a second referendum.

Finally, last thing on Thursday we had the big vote – on extending Article 50.  This was a free vote, and I voted with the Prime Minister and more than 100 other Conservatives to extend Article 50.

Nobody wanted to vote this way.  Nobody wants to have to ask the EU for an extension and nobody wants to spend the next months continuing this argument unnecessarily.  However, it unfortunately is necessary.  Parliament had ruled out no deal and rejected the deal.  Therefore, there is only one solution – extension and hope to build a consensus.  I supported this extension because it is the undeniable logic of the previous two days of voting.  I voted for extension with a heavy heart, but knowing it was the only potential route out of this mess.

We will now have another chance to vote on the Prime Minister’s deal next week, which I will vote for again.  Even if this passes we will require an extension to Article 50 simply to legislate for leaving.  If this deal fails again, with no appetite for no-deal in Parliament, it is likely that a longer extension will be necessary.

This has been a difficult process, for MPs and the country.  Nearly 1,000 days on we still have no agreement about how to leave the EU.  Blame can be apportioned to a variety of people however acrimony will get us no closer to agreement.  What we need now is a willingness to compromise.  I respect those who oppose this deal, but I do not share their optimism.

I fear that the longer we continue to make the best the enemy of the good, the most likely we make it that Brexit doesn’t happen at all.  I hope that my Conservative colleagues opposed to the deal see the folly of their opposition and support the deal next week.  Rest assured I will continue to vote to deliver a pragmatic Brexit deal that will see us out of the EU.