The Prime Minister is off to Brussels to see if she can secure some changes to the so-called backstop in the hope that more people will feel able vote for her deal. As things stand it has no chance of passing in the House of Commons and therefore it is right to go the extra mile to secure agreement.
What, I hear you ask, happens if it does not pass? I am not able to answer that as my crystal ball clouds over every time I consult it.
What MPs have to focus on is what people in the country want. As with so many issues where people differ, public opinion on Brexit is like a bell-shaped graph. At both ends you find a relatively small number of diehards. On one end are those who are irreconcilably grieving at the result of the referendum and will do anything they can to undo it. And the other end is where we find those for whom the cleanest of breaks with the EU is a theocracy and an ideology on which, as with the other end of the scale, compromise is impossible.
The largest part of public opinion is found in the middle. Here you find an understanding for what many of us want to achieve. We move from being a country inside the EU with some opt outs to one being outside the EU with some opt ins. For many of them this deal is fine. If it fails, they would see the virtue of an EEA/EFTA arrangement. I share that analysis.
What there is no majority for in this House is a no-deal Brexit. Because of an amendment passed last week, there now exists a Parliamentary mechanism for preventing that taking place.
For some in the House of Commons the word “compromise” is a pejorative term. A sign of weakness. A word which is too quickly followed by other words like “betrayal”.
For me compromise is almost always a virtue. I compromised as a soldier serving on operations. I compromised as a businessman in every negotiation I did. I compromised when negotiating for this country as a Minister in finding ways forward in EU institutions. I compromise almost daily in my dealings in Parliament to find a way to get as much of what I believe on to the statute book rather than holding belligerently to a position for which there is little agreement and getting nothing. And in perhaps the best analogy to this issue, I compromised when I got divorced – but that was from just one person, not 27.
As the lead Brexit campaigner Dan Hannan wrote recently, if a 52/48% referendum result is a mandate for anything it’s a mandate for compromise.
That said, like most in this House, I am a democrat and concede that my side lost. Like about 85% of this House I was re-elected last year on a manifesto that pledged to respect the result of the referendum.
A word to those of my colleagues who want a second referendum. If you are calling for it because you see it as the best way of reversing the result of the first, say so. Be honest with the public. Don’t dress it up as some higher purpose. In passing I would say you should be careful what you wish for. The further you get away from London the more you detect an anger and a belligerence towards this campaign. The Institute for Government has said it would take five months to hold a second referendum. In that period all bets are off. Anything could take hold. We could see a force of nationalism or extremism unleashed in this country that would be hard to contain. The Electoral Commission is the independent body that oversees such votes and it is likely to be typically scathing at the wording of the sometimes multiple choice questions being proposed by some in the second vote campaign.
Around 3% of my electorate has written to me on this issue (since the referendum in 2016 I have received about 2,500 letters and emails on Brexit) and many of them have polarised views. But if I was to summarise for the other 97%, there are two persistent threads: the first is for this House to settle this matter now, most frequently expressed as “Get on with it”; the second is an admiration for the tenacity and determination of the Prime Minister. The next few days will see whether she has been successful.