‘York Press’ column – Next steps on Brexit and new York Institute of Technology
April 12, 2019
I know that many of you will be wondering what on earth is going on with Brexit. Despite all the divisions, most people I meet around the constituency are united in their frustration with the deadlock in Parliament and quite reasonably ask why we can’t just get on with it. The problem is that everyone seems to have a different definition of ‘get on with it’. Does it mean to leave now without a deal, does it mean to get Theresa May’s deal over the line, does it mean come to some cross-party consensus that can command support in Parliament or does it even mean cancelling Brexit altogether?
I have not shirked in my responsibility to try and find a solution. The only option that I would categorically rule out is not delivering Brexit at all. Those advocating a second referendum have found many ingenious ways of marketing their proposal so that it doesn’t sound like what it actually is, the overturning of the referendum result, which all politicians promised to respect.
Whilst I have serious concerns about the prospect of no deal, I recognise the need to keep it on the table to concentrate minds to come up with a solution, and have therefore twice voted against asking the EU for an extension. After opposing the Prime Minister’s initial deal, I have now voted for it twice as I was reassured by the additional legal safeguards agreed with Europe that reduce the risk of us being trapped in the backstop. I have also voted for a potential compromise option, which would see the UK remain in the Single Market through its historic membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
The problem is that the middle ground of the Brexit debate is not a popular place. Given unsuccessful attempts to pass the deal on Conservative votes, Theresa May has had little option but to speak with the Labour leadership. Both parties are boxed in, with Tories unable to support a full-on Customs Union (with good reason as it would outsource our trade policy to the EU) but Labour are unable to support anything less than a full-on Customs Union (for fear that it will be watered down in the future).
The result of this deadlock is Wednesday night’s extension of exit day to the 31st of October, with the option to leave as soon as agreement is reached in Parliament. I expect that the next step for the Prime Minister will be to recognise that given the divisions within both main parties, the solution to this will be for individual MPs to whittle down the options through a series of votes. This will involve all MPs examining their consciences and asking what is the compromise that they can accept, which is also likely to be acceptable to a majority in the Commons.
For me, that compromise will be something along the lines of the ‘Common Market 2.0’ proposal, for the moment remaining in the Single Market with customs alignment. There are many convincing arguments against this option, including continuing to apply certain EU regulations. However, given the need to resolve the situation, the most important thing is to actually leave, and then focus on the next stage of the exit process, the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU. Having departed the EU, we would then have the freedom to chart a more independent course over time, as the electorate thinks best.
On a different note, Brexit should not distract us from the very welcome news that York College has been chosen by the government to be one of the first wave of 12 new Institutes of Technology, backed with £9 million of new funding. These institutes will offer university-level qualifications, in close cooperation with local employers, to develop a world-class technical education system that supports young people to move into skilled jobs, ultimately increasing wages and productivity.
I have raised improving technical education at Prime Minister’s Questions and with other Ministers, and am glad that York will be able to lead the way on this, with the new Institute focusing on engineering, digital and agricultural technology to meet the needs of our region.