Since my update last week, the final version of the Withdrawal Agreement has been approved by the European Council, and a longer version of the political declaration has been published – now up to 26 pages of non-binding aspirations for our future partnership with the EU. The Government have also confirmed that Parliament will vote on this deal on Tuesday December 11th.
I have received hundreds of emails on this subject. Most are urging me to vote against the deal to deliver a proper Brexit. Some want me to vote for the deal as the best way forward, and others want me to vote against it as part of stopping Brexit completely. I’m sorry that the sheer volume of emails makes it very difficult to respond to all the individual questions raised.
Having now had the opportunity to review all the documents published on the deal, and to attend various briefings, I have concluded regrettably that I cannot support this deal and so intend to vote against it on December 11th if presented to Parliament in this form. I say regrettably because I have always believed that a decent deal that delivered a real Brexit but maintained a close relationship with the EU was in everyone’s interests and could be achieved. But sadly this deal does not do that.
Despite all the assurances over the last 2 years that “nothing would be agreed until everything is agreed” if this deal is ratified we will have signed up to unconditionally paying nearly £40 billion pounds while still having little idea what future relationship the EU will grant us. We will also have legally bound ourselves into a backstop deal that puts us into a customs area with the EU, ties us to most of their single market regulations with no say, and effectively separates economically Northern Ireland off from the mainland. Unlike membership of the EU we will have no right to decide to leave, instead needing the EU to agree that whatever deal they offer us meets some vaguely written requirements around avoiding a hard border (which itself is not defined).
Given that every EU national parliament, and some regional ones, has to ratify the future partnership once it’s been negotiated effectively the EU, and all 27 member states have a veto of whether we can leave that backstop. This is not a negotiating position from which we are likely to get any sort of deal that would deliver on the referendum and put us in charge of our own destiny. In fact it’s hard to see how we would end up with anything other than remaining in the EU internal market and customs union, taking their rules without any say. We’re assured we’ll never need the backstop, but President Macron showed with his comments on trapping us in it, until we give him what he wants on fishing access just how weak out negotiating position would be. That is not taking back control, and it is very far from what we promised in our manifesto last June. We will inevitably end up with years more argument and uncertainty about the future relationship, exacerbating divisions.
It looks very unlikely that this deal will clear the House of Commons on the 11th of December. If the deal is defeated, then there is no certainty over what happens next. Unless Parliament acts to the contrary, it is set in primary legislation that we leave on 29 March 2019 and the Government should now be focusing on taking all measures possible to get the UK as ready as we can be for that outcome. However, the next summit of European leaders is scheduled for 2 days after the Commons vote so that presents a final opportunity to fix this deal – removing the backstop or at least creating an end date to it might get this deal through Parliament. Given that there is now the potential for a transition period through to the end of 2022, 6 and a half years after the referendum and 4 years from now, that would surely be enough time to reach a deal and bring it into force.
There are other options that could deliver a transition period or enable tariff free trade to continue in the event of no deal. These would be in the best interests of the UK and the EU. If this deal can’t be rescued, it would be far better for both sides to pursue these than waste more time on a deal that isn’t going to pass.
Some constituents have asked for my views on a second referendum. I remain strongly of the view that this would be hugely divisive and damaging to trust in our democratic processes. We asked people to make the decision in 2016, and that decision should be respected. There’s now no time for a referendum before the exit day of 29 March and there is no clarity on what the referendum choice would be – deal or no deal, deal or remain, no deal or remain.
On the question of a general election, there are only 2 ways this could happen. Either two thirds of MPs vote for one, or the Government loses a standalone vote of confidence and no new Government can win such a vote within 14 days. Given the amount of parliamentary time needed to either ratify and give effect to a deal or to put in place all the actions needed to get us ready for no deal I cannot see how effectively giving the country an 8 week period with no Parliament or functioning Government would be responsible or helpful.
I will continue to follow developments closely and provide further updates when appropriate.