We have not been short of ‘crunch’ dates over the last two years, with each deadline seeming more critical than the last. But next week’s votes, potentially on successive days amount to the Brexit watershed moment.
It is an historic opportunity to deliver on the June 2016 Referendum and leave the EU on March 29th, which is what the majority of British people voted for.
MPs will have the critical opportunity to support the Prime Minister’s deal when it comes before the House on Tuesday. This deal, whilst certainly not perfect, would once again give Parliament control over immigration, our laws and our money whilst protecting businesses and jobs. However, if it fails to win parliamentary backing, there will be a second vote on Wednesday on whether the UK should leave without a deal.
Parliament has already given a clear indication that it will block no deal when it voted in favour of an amendment tabled by Midlands MPs Dame Caroline Spelman and Jack Dromey, which was narrowly passed by 318 votes in the Commons to 310. The amendment was approved despite Government opposition. It is unlikely that the Government will take a position on this no deal vote so MPs will be free to decide what is in the best interests of the nation. I have to say, in this situation I would be very likely to vote against no deal as the consequences for many businesses are very to predict and are potentially catastrophic for many of them. We have not yet published our no deal tariff schedule but the rumours are that 80%-90% of tariffs will be scrapped, including for example, those on wheat. This would mean that UK markets would be open to foreign competition from around the world on a tariff-free basis whilst our exporters would face an £80/tonne tariff on sales to the EU. Free trade by all means, but this must also be fair. How can Parliament require UK businesses comply with tough regulations (workplace, welfare and environmental, food standards) then ask them to compete with overseas businesses that do not?
In this situation, Thursday could afford a second opportunity of the week to support the Prime Minister’s deal. Failing this, Parliament would have then to decide how long any extension to Article 50 would be. This is not totally within our gift and would require the agreement of all 27 EU nations. The agreement on the delay would depend on the reasons for it. It could be a short delay of 60 days to allow Parliament to try and build a new consensus on a deal or a longer delay to facilitate a general election or second referendum. In my view, these options are simply too divisive to even contemplate.
Over the last few weeks and since the vote on January 30th, which gave the Prime Minister parliamentary support to go back to the EU to seek a way to agree some changes to the wording to the Irish backstop or Protocol, which would guarantee that we do not remain in it indefinitely, Mrs May has been working around the clock to find a way forward. I have supported her at every step of the way and have made some constructive suggestions as to how it can be achieved. When these negotiations are over, you can be sure there will have been no road that Mrs May or the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, has not gone down and no mountain they will not have climbed to find a solution which has majority support.
So this takes us to back to where I started. It's this deal or, I sincerely believe, potentially no Brexit at all. There will be no winners because, you can be sure, the arguments and divisions will continue for generations to come. This is not what I want and I doubt it is what you want either.
Let April 2019 be our new beginning and I urge you all to give the Prime Minister your full support next week and in the months ahead.