Last week’s Brexit votes
March 18, 2019
Last week in the House of Commons I voted in favour of the government’s withdrawal agreement, on the basis of developments since I voted against it back in January. I also voted against the idea of ruling out ‘no deal’, and against extending the Article 50 period under which we leave the EU on 29th March.
I made each of these decisions after very careful consideration, and therefore want to clearly outline why I took these actions.
In January I took the difficult decision to vote against the withdrawal agreement, principally on the basis of my concerns about the backstop mechanism. In its original form, I thought this provision risked placing our country at a significant disadvantage in negotiations on a future relationship with the EU. I very much want a trade agreement and other sensible cooperation with the EU, but felt we would be going into those talks in a weak position, compelled to agree to almost anything either to avoid going into the backstop or to escape from it.
The Prime Minister has since negotiated legally binding concessions. As the Attorney General has made clear, these changes do not entirely eliminate the risks associated with the backstop, but they do significantly strengthen the British legal position should the EU ever act in bad faith, and try to keep us trapped in it. In such a circumstance the UK could take the EU to an independent arbitration panel in order to be released from the backstop. These changes gave me some reassurance that the risks associated with the backstop had been sufficiently reduced to allow other considerations to come into play when making my decision, and that the balance of risk was now much more favourable than it had been.
MPs such as myself who voted against the original withdrawal agreement, but want to leave with a deal, therefore had to make a political judgment as to whether these changes went far enough to allay concerns, and whether we are likely to improve the deal by holding out even further.
There is no doubt in my mind that the revised withdrawal agreement, despite its faults, is better than the other options available on the table. I therefore judged it sensible to revise my position on the basis of where we are now, and switched to vote for the deal alongside a significant number of Conservative MPs who had also voted against the deal the first time it was presented to the Commons.
Given that our support was not enough for the deal to pass, on Wednesday the Prime Minister offered the Commons the opportunity to vote on the ‘no deal’ option on Wednesday, and to extend the Article 50 period on Thursday, so we don’t leave the EU on 29th March. I voted against ruling out no deal and against an extension.
Leaving with no deal is not something I favour, however I believe that given the Commons voted to reject the deal, it would severely weaken our ongoing negotiating hand were we to take it off the table now. If we are to concentrate minds both in Westminster and in the EU behind securing an agreement the prospect of leaving without a deal must be taken seriously, given it will happen unless the Commons approves a deal, or asks for an extension from the EU under the Article 50 process.
Given the Commons voted decisively to extend the Article 50 process, and to reject no deal, unless the withdrawal agreement is passed very soon, we face several months of uncertainty and delay, and the growing possibility of Brexit being cancelled altogether.
It is possible that the EU will only agree to a short extension until the end of June if it is to pass the necessary legislation needed to implement the withdrawal agreement, if it passes. If we do not pass the Withdrawal Agreement, the extension will need to be much longer in order to allow for fresh negotiations on a ‘softer’ Brexit Customs Union/Single Market option for which there may be a Commons majority.
This is why I think it is most sensible to pass the government’s revised deal, and then focus on the next stage of the exit process, the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU, including the all-important trade talks, during which there is still all to play for to secure the best possible terms for our country.