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. (link to https://www.paulmasterton.org.uk/news/brexit-update)
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 (link to my other Brexit statement) and nothing in recent weeks has changed my view.
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.