3 September 2019
EU Exit Negotiations
There has understandably been a great deal of interest about the vote that will take place in Parliament tonight, under which control of Commons businesses will be taken away from the Government to push through legislation relating to the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
As you know, I have long held concerns about the possibility and implications of our leaving the EU without a deal, and have, where I have considered it necessary and right, been prepared to go against the Party line in your interests. Yesterday evening, following his statement in Downing Street, I requested a meeting with the Prime Minister. This took place a short time ago and I asked for his assurance on 3 points:-
1 - that he remained completely committed to leaving the EU with a deal;
2 - that the Government was working seriously on viable alternatives or changes to the backstop provisions, and that further details of these would be published in due course;
3 - that there will be equivalence of treatment for Conservative MPs on the votes tonight as with any votes on whatever Withdrawal Agreement he brings back ie any Tory MP voting against any new deal will face the same consequences as those voting against the Government tonight.
I also had the opportunity to speak with David Frost, the Prime Minister's Europe Adviser and Chief Negotiator for Exiting the European Union.
As I have said before, I have always tried to be consistent and clear in my stance on Brexit. I have, and will, continue to uphold the commitment I gave to the people of East Renfrewshire during the election campaign to seek to honour the result of the U.K. wide referendum, and the manifesto on which I was elected, to leave the EU with a negotiated deal that minimises economic impact and sets us up for a very close future economic, trading and security relationship.
The question for me in approaching the vote was whether or not this move would make it more or less likely that a deal could be done. Having sought and obtained a personal assurance from the Prime Minister on each of the three points above, I agreed to honour the commitment I gave him at the start of the summer – that as long as he continued to seek a deal, I would give him the space and support to do so until the European Council Meeting on 17-18 October.
I know that for many people, rightly worried about what No Deal means for them, this will come as a disappointment. But I genuinely do not believe this legislation is the silver bullet to stopping No Deal it has been painted as. My view is that backing the Government tonight offers the best way to maximise whatever chance we have of landing a deal with the EU.
It is not the case that the legislation stops No Deal. In fact, it explicitly preserves it as a possible outcome. And if anything just pushes its date back (if an extension is granted by the EU27). And it is also certainly not the “last chance” to stop No Deal. Anyone who thinks that passing this legislation takes no deal off the table either hasn't read it, or is misleading you. Those who think they are removing the possibility of no deal for good could be in for a nasty surprise in a few weeks’ time.
I wanted to ensure I met with the Prime Minister face to face, so I could put many of the concerns raised with me on a daily basis to him directly. But I believe that far from providing certainty and control, the moves being taken in Parliament this week potentially set off a chain of consequences which could spiral out of hand very quickly and take the country into a very bad place. That includes the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn in No.10 propped up by Nicola Sturgeon. No Scottish Conservative and Unionist MP should facilitate that.
My opposition to a No Deal outcome does not mean does not mean I will support anything and everything put forward in Parliament. Not all suggestions will in my view work (how many times have we heard a particular vote is the ‘last chance to stop no deal’ when it does nothing of the sort), whilst others the timing may not be right and may be at the point they are proposed unhelpful to these final weeks of trying to secure a deal. Whilst I believe my colleagues, all of whom are friends with whom I have worked so closely these past 2 years, will vote against the Government tonight with the best of intentions, I do believe their judgement that it was ‘now or never’ is incorrect.
Cool heads are desperately needed and those treading the difficult and often unpopular path of seeking compromise should avoid being goaded into a response which only plays into the hands of those on the extremes ends of the Brexit arguments.
Passing this legislation also provides a way for those who would prefer not to take responsibility for the difficult weeks of final negotiation ahead to place blame on others for any failure to land a deal.
I am concerned about the implications of a No Deal Brexit both on the economy, and in giving the SNP additional ammo in its attempts to weaponise Brexit in pursuit of their sole agenda of breaking up the United Kingdom. I do not support a No Deal Brexit because the short-term disruption and economic impact are, in my view, too big a risk to take and will hurt those in East Renfrewshire with small businesses and on low incomes. I also believe it places the Union at risk due to the implications for Northern Ireland. However it is true that to a certain extent those issues can be managed and mitigated.
The Prime Minister assured me today that he wishes to leave with a deal and that the reports that negotiations are a “sham” are not true. I also had a long discussion with David Frost. Both of these conversations were frank and gave me the comfort I needed.
I also think it is incumbent on all Conservative and Unionist MPs to ensure that they will not do anything which would usher in a Corbyn-led Government propped up by Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish Nationalist MPs. You have seen the clear remarks of the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, that he would be prepared to grant a second referendum in order to get the keys to Downing Street. It is my duty to stop that happening.
In addition, a Corbyn Government, however temporary, would be economically ruinous in the short term but also cause medium-long term structural changes to our country which would be very difficult for us to recover from. He will sell out the Union. On top of that, as the MP for the majority of Scotland’s Jewish population, I could not possibly let a man who has let anti-semitism flourish anywhere near power.
In the event there is an early election as appears likely, East Renfrewshire will once again be a straight fight between Sturgeon’s SNP candidate and the Scottish Conservatives. It is vital that those of us who value Scotland’s place in its most important Union – the United Kingdom - continue with the momentum Ruth Davidson built over the 2016 and 2017 elections and do not let the SNP sneak through the middle. A vote cast for any other Party in the heat of anger over Brexit (whether for the Liberal Democrats at one end of the argument, or the Brexit Party at the other) will simply hand the seat back to the SNP and give Corbyn the keys to Number 10 in exchange for a second independence referendum. But that’s an argument for during any campaign.
The Prime Minister told me before the summer that he wanted to get a deal, and I told him I would give him space to do so until the EU Council on 17-18 October. We met this evening and those commitments were repeated.
I will be true to my word, and the Prime Minister should be given every opportunity and support to deliver on his.
2nd September 2019
Suspension of Parliament
A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the Prime Minister’s announcement to suspend Parliament for five weeks ahead of a new Queen’s Speech in mid-October. I share their concern and surprise at the announcement, and only became aware of the plan when it broke in the media.
In short, I do not agree with this step. If anything, Parliament should be sitting more right now not less. Whilst it is the case that we absolutely need a new Queen's Speech in order to set out a new positive domestic agenda, that the gap between Queen’s Speeches is the longest in over 300 years, and that a suspension for a few weeks before one is completely normal, I consider that this has been handled in a deliberately antagonistic and confrontational manner. There is no reason why this has to be done now, it could have been done with significantly less controversy in November. This move has, as we have seen from the scenes of protests across the United Kingdom, only increased division and tension at a time when our country is desperately needs to be brought back together.
A number of constituents have asked me what I will do to ‘stop’ or ‘block’ this suspension. It is my understanding that nothing can be done by MPs in Parliament, as the Order in Council has been issued by the Queen approving it (to be clear, in practice under our constitution this is not a matter on which she had any discretion).
However, I do think some of the reaction has been overblown, and we need to retain some perspective. Parliament sits under this proposal during the first week of September and part of the second week as normal. Parliament was always scheduled to break for Conference Recess between the 12th of September and the 7th of October, and will return instead on the 14th. The number of sitting days has effectively been reduced from 22 to a minimum of 15.
The reality is that nothing substantive is going to happen in terms of the Brexit negotiations prior to the the EU Council Meeting on the 17th and 18th of October. It will be then that it will be clear if there is a new deal or not. What is crucial is that Parliament will be sitting in the normal manner from that point up until our scheduled date of exit on the 31st of October. During this period MPs will be able to scrutinise any new deal, the Government’s No Deal planning, or take whatever other steps they may be so minded.
It is therefore clear that this is not an attempt by the Prime Minister to, as some have suggested, shut down Parliament to force through a No Deal Brexit. Indeed quite the contrary, Parliament will be present and active in the run up to the 31st October and able to express its view. You will remember that MPs acted to pass legislation in the Commons in a single day in the Spring when a previous Article 50 deadline approached. Had any proposed suspension lasted over the 31st October than that would have been an altogether different matter, and a clear abuse of power.
Accordingly, whilst I do not think a suspension is the best or most constructive proposal at this time, it does appear to me to have raised an awful lot of smoke but without much fire. The important thing remains that the Government puts every effort into securing a revised deal with the EU that can obtain a majority in Parliament. That is the only guaranteed way to avoid a no deal exit.
Regarding No Deal more generally, I remain of the view that such an exit is not the right destination for our country. There are, though, two distinct groups of MPs opposed to No Deal. One believes we should deliver the result of the referendum but has concerns about leaving without an agreement, and wants to see us leave in an orderly fashion with a negotiated deal, even if it takes a bit longer to achieve that end. The other sees it as a proxy for a second referendum, or simply ignoring and overturning the 2016 referendum through revocation.
I am firmly in the first group, and will continue to work to find a compromise to avoid the twin extreme outcomes of no deal and revocation. You can find a more detailed statement setting out my position on No Deal further down this page.
August 17th 2019
Opposition to a ‘No Deal’ Brexit
A number of constituents have contacted me with their concerns about, or stating their opposition to, the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a deal. I have responded to all such correspondence individually, but thought it might be helpful if I set out here my own position on this important matter as your representative in Parliament.
I have always tried to be consistent and clear in my stance on Brexit. I have, and will, continue to uphold the commitment I gave to the people of East Renfrewshire during the election campaign to seek to honour the result of the U.K. wide referendum, and the manifesto on which I was elected, to leave the EU with a negotiated deal that minimises economic impact and sets us up for a very close future economic, trading and security relationship.
That is why I supported the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the former Prime Minister and her Government, which was I believe a good deal. It secured an orderly exit by protecting the economy through a sensible transition period, fully enshrining the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. and U.K. citizens in the EU, and providing an insurance policy to preserve an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
It was hugely disappointing that deal was not backed in Parliament, and it’s rejection is the cause of much of the current uncertainty and increased risk of No Deal.
However, my views on No Deal have not changed from when I resigned my Government role to vote against leaving without a deal in all circumstances earlier this year. I strongly believe that no deal Brexit should not be the outcome here, and will consider with an open mind sensible mechanisms to avoid this. That does not mean I will support anything and everything put forward in Parliament. Not all will in my view work (how many times have we heard a particular vote is the ‘last chance to stop no deal’ when it does nothing of the sort), whilst others the timing may not be right and may be at the point they are proposed unhelpful to these final weeks of trying to secure a deal.
It must though be said that ‘No Deal’ has to be replaced with something else, which is why I have voted for a sensible negotiated exit, and for extensions to Article 50. I also voted against the possibility of Parliament being suspended in late October to force through a no deal Brexit on October 31st without Parliament’s approval. The Prime Minister’s decision to suspend Parliament ahead of a new Queen’s Speech, whilst confrontational and controversial, does not I believe change the reality of the situation. Much of that period covers what was intended to be the 3 week conference recess, and crucially it will end by October 14th. This means Parliament will sit as normal for a week or so in September, and crucially for the period between the EU Council meeting on the 17th and 18th of October and the proposed date of leaving on the 31st. The number of sitting days has effectively been reduced from 22 to a minimum of 15.
The Prime Minister says he wishes to leave with a deal and he has my full support in seeking to secure revisions to the Withdrawal Agreement which can obtain a majority in Parliament. Notwithstanding the additional week of suspension at the start of October, I believe there is sufficient time for MPs to approve any new deal reached with the EU, or for MPs to minded to seek to take other steps to avoid no deal.
If a majority of MPs vote to leave with No Deal at the end of October, or indeed if the EU reject a request for a further extension to article 50, then that is the basis on which our departure will take place. That is why we must continue to plan for it, and take all mitigating action we can, but as I say I will not walk through the lobbies to actively vote to remove the United Kingdom from the EU on a No Deal basis.
There are, though, two distinct groups of MPs opposed to No Deal. One believes we should deliver the result of the referendum but has concerns about leaving without an agreement, and wants to see us leave in an orderly fashion with a negotiated deal, even if it takes a bit longer to achieve that end. The other sees it as a proxy for a second referendum, or simply ignoring and overturning the 2016 referendum through revocation.
I am firmly in the first group, and will continue to work to find a compromise to avoid the twin extreme outcomes of no deal and revocation.
I hope this helps to explain my position on no deal clearly. Please keep following this dedicated Brexit page where I will continue to post updates ahead of key votes.
You can also stay up to date by following my Facebook page, or signing up to my newsletter.
April 4th 2019
Why didn't I support the Cooper-Letwin Bill last night when I oppose leaving the EU without a deal? Because despite having sympathy with its aims it's a terrible piece of legislation that doesn't do what people are claiming.
There are few people in the UK who oppose the Brexit process more than the QC Joylon Maugham. I don't share all his views but on this he's right - this bill is "hopeless", "a sideshow" and a "dangerous distraction".
Rather than me bore you with a long post about all the issues with the bill which meant it shouldn't have been allowed to be pushed through in a day last night, please do read his article.
I am seriously worried that a number of MP’s judgement will now be clouded by the mistaken belief they have taken no deal off the table. They have not, it can still happen, it is not fully in our control. Legally requiring the Prime Minister to seek an extension of article 50 doesn't legally bind the EU27 to giving us one.
That was why I didn’t support the bill, because people’s minds need to be focused on the potential for this to happen. Now many have a false sense of security that they have an insurance policy to protect against it when they don’t. That could cause serious problems for us in the days and weeks ahead. In fact, this bill increases the changes of no deal if it makes MPs think they don't actively have to choose an alternative course of action to avoid it.
Symbolic gestures are all very well, but we're too late in the day for those. MPs can vote until they are blue in the face that they don't want no deal, but unless a deal is agreed, or we revoke article 50, it could happen.
April 1st 2019
Thank you to everyone who has written in with their views on this evening’s indicative votes.
I have said from the outset that I would respect the result of the referendum but that I would oppose ‘No Deal’. Therefore, I have consistently voted for the Withdrawal Agreement as the best way to stop ‘No Deal’ either on 12 April or any later date and ensure we leave on an orderly basis. I could not take the risk which comes with voting the agreement down, and we now are left with further uncertainty.
We need to keep cool heads and work on the basis of pragmatic compromise. I supported exploring the idea of indicative votes in Parliament however it must at long last step up and show itself capable of charting a way forward.
I will therefore once again be voting for the two ‘Soft Brexit’ options this evening: Common Market 2.0 and a Customs Union. Neither are perfect, but both are entirely consistent with the Withdrawal Agreement and would only require a change to the Political Declaration.
In relation to the two other options:
Confirmatory Public Vote
I still have serious concerns about the way in which another referendum could be held, which have not been addressed.
What is the exact referendum question – would ‘No Deal’ be on the ballot paper? If it is, that is a huge risk. If it is not, the referendum may have a low turnout with questions about its legitimacy.
If the Withdrawal Agreement is approved in the referendum what instruction does this give about the future framework, which is yet to be negotiated? We are told one reason for a referendum is people didn’t know what Brexit would look like, but people complain about the Prime Minister’s deal not setting a clear picture of the future relationship. So how would a referendum on the Deal take us anywhere further forward? It would not in any way deal with the ‘future direction’ concerns, as the debate will continue between a Norway, Canada, or different Brexit.
Another referendum would not resolve those questions at all and could lead to the same impasse we see now. We don’t know what our ultimate relationship with the EU is going to be because we can’t negotiate it until we leave. If various Brexit visions are put forward during the second referendum, is there an argument for a third one, this time to confirm whatever future relationship is finally negotiated?
Under what rules would the referendum be conducted? Many argue for another referendum given the issues with digital campaigning and donations in the 2016 referendum. The head of the Electoral Commission has said no new referendum should take place until the laws around the use of social media and campaign funding have been significantly tightened – this cannot be rushed in case similar mistakes are made again. Another referendum would simply be open to all the same sorts of issues because it would be taking place under the same structure. You will have seen the recent news reports regarding Vote Leave. Won’t the same questions of legitimacy be made again, whatever the result?
And it would not resolve the current tension between direct and representative democracy which is currently putting our political system under such strain.
If this is a serious proposed way forward, then would the right thing to do be to establish what sort of substantial deal Parliament would agree to, and then consider whether we want to straight approve it or put it to the people.
As I said last week, a confirmatory referendum is not an outcome, it is a process.
I abstained on a very convoluted process motion which sought to squeeze Parliament into a vote between No Deal vs No Brexit. This would then be followed by a 3-month “Inquiry” to determine whether there was any model of future relationship outside the EU which is likely to have majority support in the United Kingdom. If that Inquiry concluded there was, there would be a further referendum on Remain vs that model.
Whilst I am very clear about how I would vote in a straight shoot-out between No Deal and No Brexit, I want to avoid that choice and use this process to seek to find common ground and a way through which can carry a real cross-party majority, all the while respecting the result of the referendum. There is too much volume coming from the extreme ends of the argument - no deal and revoke. Pretending the referendum result simply didn’t happen is something that cannot be taken lightly.
In my view, neither No Deal nor Revoke have a mandate from the British people and lack democratic legitimacy. Remain lost the referendum, but the public was promised a deal.
I, like a majority of MPs, have voted to express a view that the UK should not leave the EU on No Deal basis, so I could not oppose the motion. Yet there is no agreed way forward, and because this motion does not attempt to find a substantive answer to that question, so I could not support it.
I am under no illusions about how people across the constituency voted in the EU referendum. Along with the majority but important to note, not all, constituents I voted to remain. However, one over whelming thing I take from speaking to countless people across East Renfrewshire is that they just want to “get on with it“ and are fed up with the entire process. I share their frustration and hope that parliament can agree an outcome so that both at Holyrood and Westminster, Government can get on with dealing with the day to day issues affecting us in East Renfrewshire the most.
I remain committed to supporting the Prime Ministers Deal if it comes back to Parliament, but first and foremost I am committed to the people of East Renfrewshire in stopping a no deal, delivering a sensible pragmatic Brexit and getting on with championing the area on the national stage.
Wednesday 27th March 2019
On Monday, I voted in favour of holding an indicative votes process, and reaffirmed that in an earlier vote this afternoon.
The Speaker has now confirmed the selection of motions for these votes. These will be a free vote for Conservative MPs (i.e. we are not ‘whipped’ to vote in a certain way) and I intend to vote as follows:
B (no deal) - against
D (common market 2.0) - for
H (EFTA and EEA) - for
J (customs union) - for
K (Labour’s alternative plan) - against
L (revocation to avoid no deal) - abstain
M (confirmatory public vote) - against
O (contingent preferential arrangements) – against
If you would like a more detailed list of what each of the 8 motions do, the BBC has a good summary:
My view is that today’s votes are about starting the process of finding a potential route and compromise around which the House can coalesce regarding what sort of future relationship we may want with the European Union. These are ultimately matters for the Political Declaration element of the Prime Minister’s deal, not the Withdrawal Agreement. It is the Withdrawal Agreement (which deals with issues like citizen’s rights and the Irish border) which must be passed this week in order for article 50 to be extended to 22 May.
That said, it is clear many MPs are uncomfortable voting to approve the Withdrawal Agreement (even though the agree with its terms) because of the uncertainty around the substance of the future relationship.
Today MPs should, in my view, vote for as many outcomes as they can live with. There may then be a whittling down of options on Monday.
For this reason, I will be voting in favour of options which are effectively variants on the Prime Minister’s current deal (which I continue to support), which would provide for a range of options for the future relationship under the current text.
I will be voting against suggestions which are unworkable, or which have been refused already by the EU.
I also think MPs should be focusing on outcomes, not process. I will therefore not be supporting motions which go to matters of process, rather than substance and outcomes.
The Prime Minister has already stated this week that Parliamentary approval will be required to leaving the EU without a deal, and the House has already confirmed it does not support leaving without a deal. So whilst I have sympathy with the spirit of Motion L (and as you will know previously I voted against a no deal Brexit in all circumstances) I do not think it is necessary.
A confirmatory referendum might lead to a particular outcome (deal, no deal, no Brexit), but it is not an outcome in itself. It doesn’t tell us anything about what sort of deal the House would be willing to accept as suitable and appropriate for our country, and it doesn’t provide an answer to this conundrum. I think confusing outcomes and process at this time is unhelpful and will simply muddy the water. Despite having met with Peter Kyle (the advocate of this approach) last week to hear him out, I remain concerned about the implications of a referendum. In addition the motion refers to holding a referendum in respect of “any agreement” – as I support the Prime Minister’s deal being passed and implemented I cannot support the motion as drafted.
I hope this is clear, and await the results tonight with interest.
Separately, the Prime Minister has announced she will be stepping down as Prime Minister following the completion of the first phase of negotiations with the European Union. Assuming her deal is passed, this means there will be a leadership contest starting late May. It is safe to say that the Prime Minister has been faced with a monumental challenge in her time in office, and has acted with dignity and a commitment to duty and public service throughout her time in office. I have always found her in private to be warm, thoughtful and encouraging, and I would like to thank her for her support and hard work both as Prime Minister, and the as the leader of the Conservative Party.
Thursday 14th March 2019
Last night I took the difficult decision to vote against the Government and resign my role as a PPS in the Home Office. I have been clear that whilst I believe we must honour the result of the EU Referendum, I cannot support the U.K. leaving without a deal. Last night I honoured that position.
It had been my intention to support the Government motion, which objected to leaving without a deal on 29 March whilst noting that to avoid that a deal needs to be agreed. Unfortunately, a broader amendment passed which replaced the motion completely so that opportunity was not available. If the amended motion had been defeated, there would have been nothing to stop the U.K. leaving without a deal. Given this was the only opportunity to register my stated opposition to a no deal Brexit, I could not in good conscience vote against the amended motion.
I have always believed the best way forward to honour the result of the U.K. wide referendum and the manifesto on which I was elected by the people of East Renfrewshire in 2017 is to leave the EU with a negotiated deal that minimises economic impact and sets us up for a very close future economic, trading and security relationship. This is also the surest way to avoid No Deal, which is why I have supported the Withdrawal Agreement twice.
I remain committed to supporting the Prime Minister in delivering a negotiated settlement with the EU to allow us to implement the result of the referendum in an orderly manner
Monday 11th March 2019
This week in Parliament looks set to be extremely significant, as we now find ourselves just two weeks from our scheduled departure from the EU. There has been much chatter and gnashing of teeth in the media in recent days, but it is time for MPs to focus their minds on the crucial decisions which lay ahead.
As always, until motions and amendments are actually published some uncertainties remain. In recent key votes the meaning and effect of certain amendments has been spun wildly, giving an inaccurate picture of their implications or effectiveness. We are, in my view, well beyond the point of non-binding fuzzy statements that don’t achieve anything other than making you sound and feel good. MPs should be focused on substantive plans that actually work, and putting forward concrete mechanisms setting out the means, not wasting time and energy on empty rhetoric that simply says what ends they want without any suggestion of how to actually get there.
However we do know a little about the general key questions MPs will need to answer over the next 72 hours or so, and there is very little doubt in my mind about what to do on the crucial votes. For those constituents who have engaged with me in correspondence on Brexit, or who have followed my statements and media comments on Brexit, none of the following should come as a surprise and will reaffirm the commitments I have made since my election. However, I know a small number of people still like to project views I don't actually hold onto me, either because it suits their own purposes or just fits neater with their existing political prejudices and assumptions, and having those challenged or being faced with being wrong about what someone in a different political party from them might believe is too difficult for them to comprehend. That can be quite tiresome, but I guess it’s part of the job.
So just to confirm:
On Tuesday I will be voting in favour of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, for all the reasons I've set out previously at length.
If the Agreement is defeated, we will have a vote on Wednesday on whether we should go ahead and leave the EU on the 29th March anyway, but without a deal. I will, of course, be voting against a no deal Brexit. I have always said that would be an unacceptable outcome.
If no deal is rejected, a third vote will be held (either also on Wednesday or on Thursday) asking whether we should seek the agreement of the EU to extend article 50. I will be voting in favour of making a request for a short extension, although for it to serve any purpose it will really need to be accompanied by a substantive alternative plan. It is up to the EU whether to grant an extension and for what period. Any extension should not in my view go beyond June, as that will cause a series of administrative and political difficulties around the upcoming European Parliament elections.
It remains my view that the right way forward is to work to implement the UK-wide referendum result and secure a negotiated exit from the EU that minimises the economic risk constitutional change of this magnitude results in, and sets us up for a very close trading and security relationship going forward. Agreeing a deal is also the surest and best way of avoiding No Deal at any point.
But if those who have spent their political lives fighting for the UK to leave the EU continue to act as a block on it taking place in an orderly fashion, and once again vote against the chance to secure it, I don't see why I and other pro-European Tories should be the ones busting a gut to get it over the line. Those of us who faithfully and diligently tried to make Brexit happen smoothly and on time, even though we had major doubts. Who feel desperately sad at the situation our nation is in but believed that Parliament offered the people the decision in a referendum, and so had a duty to deliver the outcome.
I think we've more than done our bit. Many of you will think we’ve done too much already.
So my message to Brexiteer colleagues is simple - take the win and vote for the deal. If you don't, you've only yourselves to blame for how the next few days pan out.
9th January 2019:
On Tuesday, MPs will at last vote on the deal reached between the UK Government and the European Union, made up of two documents: the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the Political Declaration (PD).
The WA is the legally binding document setting out the terms of our exit from the EU, and covers things like the protection of EU citizens’ rights, and the transition period where we remain in the single market and customs union.
The PD is a non-binding document, which sets out the framework of our future relationship with the EU. It is the more important of the two documents, in my view.
I set out my thoughts on both, and my voting intention, below.
The Withdrawal Agreement
I am broadly content with the WA, but am concerned by the ‘Northern Irish backstop’. This is the mechanism to provide an open border with the Republic, and will kick in if we have failed to find another solution by December 2020.
Under the backstop, the U.K. will remain in the EU customs union, and additional single market rules will apply to NI. The rest of the U.K. can continue to apply them too, or it could choose not to, resulting in divergence between GB and NI. This has the potential to build a regulatory border in the Irish Sea (beyond that which already exists), albeit in areas where divergence is incredibly unlikely (such as industrial goods standards, where the Rules have been pretty much the same for 30 years).
I am satisfied that the backstop will not create any new material differences between GB and NI on day 1, but it provides a mechanism for those differences to come into place and deepen.
The Prime Minister has given a commitment not to allow divergence which I welcome, but there is no guarantee as to how long the backstop will operate. We will be in a constant political battle between loosening ties with the EU and with it NI, or keeping our country aligned and failing to “take back control” in a variety of areas.
The thought of a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn in office for any period the backstop is operating is chilling for me as a Unionist, given his longstanding views on Irish reunification.
Given none of us can see into the future, I am deeply concerned that the backstop does not futureproof the Union in the long-term if we find ourselves using it for more than a couple of years.
However, the fact is that without a backstop there is no deal, and if there’s no deal, there’s no transition period.
I have therefore been continuing to lobby Government ministers to seek one change to the backstop – ensuring that regulatory divergence between NI and GB needed the consent of the NI Assembly and Executive.
There will be areas where NI would likely wish to follow new EU rules, for example to protect the single Irish energy market, but with a ‘lock’ that could not be imposed over the heads of the politicians and institutions of Northern Ireland.
I am pleased that a commitment to this was announced by the Government today, although I will press on whether this can be strengthened beyond introducing domestic legislation and be incorporated into the Withdrawal Agreement in some way.
The Political Declaration
Despite being fleshed out in the week before the deal was finalised, the PD is very thin, and provides no clear pathway for what our future relationship will look like. It aims at a looser relationship than I would like, and certainly looser than the Government proposed at Chequers. The PD does not provide for a future relationship based on truly frictionless trade and simply kicks the can down the road on all major issues until the middle of 2020.
This means months of further argument within the U.K. on all these points, before we even start negotiating with the EU, and no clarity or certainty of where we will end. And we will have less leverage. Just as we extrapolated concessions from countries as they joined the EC after us, so too will member states look to secure their priorities as we leave. We must be much better prepared and more strategic in our approach to future negotiation, as that really is the most important part.
Which brings me to fish. We would need a new fisheries agreement with the EU regardless of the sort of Brexit we have. An agreement covering access and quotas is what Norway and Iceland have too. The point is we will be negotiating on an annual basis ourselves as an independent coastal state, with ultimate control of who fishes where, for what, and for how much.
What would be unacceptable, and unprecedented, would be to link that fisheries agreement to the terms of the broader trade deal, or make continued guaranteed access a condition of tariff-free trade in seafood.
The Prime Minister has given strong and comprehensive assurances on this issue, and has received the backing of the industry as a result.
I believe that the deal the Prime Minister has reached is the best deal that could have been achieved, and I do not believe this achievement should be understated.
This deal is a compromise. It is not the deal I wanted, but its acceptance would bring some certainty and allow us to move to the next phase. It achieves many of the things the EU said were not on the table – a bespoke arrangement that maintains industrial tariffs at zero, keeps us closely aligned, but without the jurisdiction of the ECJ. Cherries have been picked, cake has been eaten.
It is a risk to vote it down in the hope that something better materialises. My inbox has been full of constituents asking me to roll the dice to get what outcome they want – “vote it down, take the gamble, push for no deal/second referendum/a myriad of other options”.
But there is a fundamental difference between how an MP should approach this from the individual getting in touch. It isn’t about rolling the dice for you, or for me. It isn’t about whether you or I can afford for the gamble not to come off and end up somewhere worse. An MP has to make that call for every person they represent, where there are wildly different views and personal circumstances. And many people across East Renfrewshire simply can not afford for me to take a gamble with their lives that doesn’t pay off.
If I were to vote against the deal, and no better alternative came to pass, meaning we simply drifted over the cliff edge in March, I would feel personally responsible for the economic impact on your family and community that would result. I will not be complicit in that, and so with no great enthusiasm, I have to support the deal.
A vote against the deal is not a vote to stop Brexit, or else so many Conservative MPs wouldn’t be in such a rush to reject it.
It seems almost certain the deal will fall in the Commons. So what happens next is at the forefront of my mind.
Let’s be clear – I will not support a no deal Brexit.
My preferred outcome remains that of the Better Brexit campaign (www.betterbrexit.org.uk ), and remaining in the EEA as a member of EFTA with a bespoke customs protocol to protect the position in Northern Ireland. It would keep us in the single market, and remove any risk of ‘trading-off’ fisheries. Some say it leaves us a rule-taker. But the reality is that you always have to observe the standards of the market you are exporting to, and our businesses still want to export to the EU. The policy has been well explained in a recent paper: ‘Common Market 2.0’ by the Labour MP Lucy Powell, and Conservative Robert Halfon on behalf of the Norway Plus Group of MPs (of which I am one), setting out why it will safeguard jobs, protect workers’ rights and environmental standards, allow more money to be spent on our public services and can help begin to reunite our deeply divided country. You can read it here .
We will need the WA, despite its flaws (though the risk of us relying on eg the backstop will be significantly less), because we will need some of the transition period. But it is a clearer, cleaner, better suited destination for our nation. It removes the confusion and uncertainty of the current PD, and provides an established framework – out of the political institutions of the EU but retaining the principles at the heart of why we joined: a common market.
So when it comes to voting, I will vote in the manner that seeks, in the first instance, a sensible and orderly exit from the EU, and sets us on a pathway to a future relationship that works for East Renfrewshire and every part of our United Kingdom. I will vote in the manner that I consider to be in the best interests of this great nation. That is the only way I’ll be able to come home from Westminster and look my constituents (and my children) in the eye, knowing I did what I felt was right for their futures.
My election was not primarily the result of a promise to honour the Brexit vote (either locally or nationally), but of a promise to protect the Union. And in my view, the greatest threat to the Union is a chaotic, no deal Brexit. So if the deal does fall, my message to the people of East Renfrewshire is quite simple: no option is off the table when it’s comes to avoiding a no deal Brexit.
And so whilst I may have a preference as to what happens if the deal is voted down by Parliament, I will re-evaluate my position as matters unfold with an open mind. I believe the Prime Minister should call a series of indicative votes on various options, and allow these to take place a free vote.