Two weeks ago I supported the Withdrawal Agreement. One of the main reasons I did so was the fact that if Parliament cannot agree a course of action, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union without a deal on 29th March.
Since that vote, Parliament is no further forward to finding a solution. The two main parties are hugely split. A Liberal Democrat has resigned the whip, even the SNP have had arguments about whether or not backing a second EU referendum is the right strategy. Indeed, the People’s Vote campaign asked their MP supporters not to put forward an amendment to secure a referendum this week as they knew they did not have anywhere near enough support to win.
All the while, the days pass and we drift ever closer to exit date.
I have always tried to be clear about the sort of future relationship I want for our country with the EU: close alignment on customs and regulation, and if we can retain our membership of the single market all the better. But we can’t get on to discussing that future until we lock down a Withdrawal Agreement.
I have also been up front in my position that I do not believe in delivering Brexit at any social or economic cost, and so will not support our exit without a deal. That has caused some difficulties for me internally within the party, especially as such a new MP, but I consider the risks to the economy, our international credibility and our Union to be too great not to speak out on this.
For that reason, I am not going to spend time and energy on proposals that don’t work or are not going to get majority support in the Commons. That was why I did not support the Cooper or Spelman amendments earlier this week. Extending article 50 does not stop no deal, it just delays it. Non binding motions do not stop no deal, they just say you are against it without providing a mechanism of actually doing so.
The only realistic way to stop no deal is by Parliament agreeing a deal, and MPs confirmed this week their desire to do just that, if some changes can be made to the existing draft.
I remain of the view that the Northern Ireland backstop is a fundamental necessity and a solemn commitment to the people both sides of the Irish Border. For that reason, I don’t think removing the backstop is realistic or indeed attractive. However, Parliament made its concerns clear in the vote on the deal 2 weeks ago by an overwhelming margin, and I therefore accept that some changes to the backstop are going to be needed.
I suspect however that for some MPs, no change will be good enough and they will reject whatever revised deal the Prime Minister returns with in 7-10 days time. In that case the Prime Minister has promised that by 14th of February, MPs will vote on an amendable motion which will in my view be the final opportunity to stop us crashing out with no deal. I will take whatever action I consider necessary and likely to succeed at that point.
It is my job an an MP to exercise my judgement and take difficult, and sometimes unpopular decisions. Some people don’t care how we leave, they just want us out. Others want us to erase the 2016 referendum from history and pretend the whole thing never happened. But most people want it sorted and for politicians to get on with it.
I believe this nation must avoid crashing out of the EU without a deal on the 29th March, and it is my responsibility to explore options that do this. But the best one is, as it has always been, agreeing a negotiated exit with the EU. I will do what I can to help the Prime Minister succeed in that objective, but at all times with the interests of the people of East Renfrewshire, and our great country, at the front of my mind.