I voted to trigger Article 50 to start the process of leaving the EU, but I have voted against the Prime Minister’s deal on the three occasions it has been put before the House of Commons. I did so because it completely fails to offer the country clarity and certainty about our future relationship with our biggest, nearest and most important trading partners, namely the rest of the EU, and as you know, the Prime Minister’s deal has now been rejected by the House of Commons three times. I will vote against it again if Mrs May decides to bring it back to Parliament for a fourth try, which it looks like she will seek to do in the form of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the first week of June. It is strange, to say the least, to try and bring in a Bill to give effect to a deal that has been rejected by the House of Commons.
I do not accept the suggestion that there are only two possible alternatives, namely agreeing the Prime Minister‘s deal or leaving the EU with No Deal. The evidence is very clear that No Deal would be disastrous for jobs and businesses in Leeds and right across the country, and the House of Commons has now voted to reject the idea of leaving without a deal. Throwing aside our current trading and single market agreement with the EU, which is better than anything we have with other countries, without having something else to replace it after we leave makes no sense whatsoever. What’s more, in the referendum the Leave campaign never suggested that we might leave with no agreement at all; ie a No Deal Brexit was never put to the people. I am afraid that a WTO Brexit is actually a No Deal Brexit which would damage our trade and our businesses that import and export.
As you know, following the defeat of her deal, the Prime Minister applied for, and was given, a further extension under Article 50 which will last until 31 October.
There is an alternative of a much closer economic relationship with the EU after we have left, and a deal which resulted in us joining the European Economic Area (EEA) and remaining in a customs union with the EU would solve the problem of the border in Northern Ireland and keep swift and tariff-free trade which is so important to many businesses. The only reason why a different approach has not been proposed is because of the Prime Minister’s red lines which have boxed her in and left her with nothing to offer except her profoundly unsatisfactory deal. The truth is that the Government has refused to be open about the real choices facing our country as it has become painfully clear that the promises that we could have all of our sovereignty and keep all of the economic benefits of EU membership while leaving the EU have proven to be false.
Now is the time for all of us to be honest with each other about the choices and the trade-offs as we make a decision which will have profound consequences for our future. We need to find a way of bringing together a divided country by acknowledging that not everyone will be happy with a final deal and all of us are going to have to compromise. Parliament has a responsibility to try and find a way forward which is what we are seeking to do. However, if Parliament remains deadlocked then, as someone who hadn’t been calling for a second referendum, I now think that going back to the British people to make the final decision is the only way forward.
I say that for three reasons.
The first is that we now know what the real choices are and they are very different from what was promised. In truth, the referendum question did not address the future of our economic relationship with the EU.
The second is that our nation is very divided so we need a deal and a process that can help to bring people together.
And the third reason is that I have been very stuck recently by how the Government has come back to Parliament again and again in an attempt to persuade MPs to change their minds about the deal and that this is said to be democratic. But somehow asking the British people whether they might want to change their minds – or not – in the light of what we now know is somehow undemocratic. I don’t think it is. The argument for a confirmatory referendum is that it would allow the Prime Minister’s deal to leave the European Union to be put before the British people. If voters want to leave on that basis then they are perfectly free to do so – no one is telling anyone to change their minds – and if that deal gained a majority then we would leave with that deal. But if voters, on reflection, want to change their minds then we would remain.
I’m only too aware from many emails and conversations with constituents that this approach is very unpopular with some of you and very popular with others, but it would, at least, be a way out of the current crisis.
This is a critical point in our history and we need certainty and stability. I will continue to press the Prime Minister to put the national interest first.