Brexit is still the main business at Westminster as our date of departure gets closer. Three weeks ago Parliament gave the Prime Minister a mandate to renegotiate her deal by replacing or removing the Irish backstop which is the main, although not only, issue which led to MPs rejecting the deal by a record majority. We voted again last week but not on anything substantial and we have the potential for more votes next week. It is not clear at this stage whether the Prime Minister will have secured any changes to the deal or whether these will just be more votes to try to take leaving without a trade deal off the table – so weakening our bargaining position.
I still hope that the Prime Minister can get a deal that Parliament will approve. The key question for me is whether any changes she secures change the legally binding nature of the backstop so that in the event no deal on the future partnership with the EU can be agreed by the end of 2020, we can exit the backstop, after reasonable notice, at a date of our choosing. Without this, based on the current text of the agreement, I can’t see how any future deal would not involve a Customs Union and closely following most single market rules.
Regrettably negotiations with the EU tend to go right to the last minute, so there is still hope for a deal that can command support in Parliament but time is now very tight to complete all the legislation needed before the 29th of March.
Finally, I can assure my constituents I’m not leaving the Conservative Party on who’s manifesto I was elected a little over a year and a half ago. I regret that 3 of my colleagues have chosen to do so. Political parties are broad churches, and to govern is to take difficult decisions where needed. Since Theresa May became Prime Minister we have made great progress as a country with record levels of employment and wages rising faster than inflation with the introduction of the living wage. Public borrowing is now at its lowest level since 2001, we’ve announced the end of austerity and set out a £20 billion increase in NHS spending, while raising funding for other key services like schools and the police. I’m proud of our track record, and our focus should be on delivering Brexit and then getting on with delivering on the remaining domestic issues I know my constituents care about.