On Tuesday 12th March I voted in support of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the UK Government and EU. I supported the deal as it offers a pragmatic way to honour the result of the referendum and move us to the next phase of negotiations.
On Wednesday 13th March I voted for the amended motion which rejects the idea of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. I have been clear that I do want the UK to leave the EU but it can be only be done in a managed way. Tech companies, farmers and other businessmen and women in West Berkshire have told me how they would be seriously affected by a no deal exit and I could not support keeping it as an option for 29th March.
On Thursday 14th March, I supported the Government motion for a short delay to seek a technical extension to Article 50. The purpose of this extension would be to pass the necessary legislation for the UK’s departure including a meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement. If the Withdrawal Agreement does not pass, the motion on Thursday also allowed for the Government to seek a longer extension of Article 50. There was an amendment which I supported, but did not pass, which allowed for indicative votes to take place – these would be votes in Parliament to find which option for Brexit could command a majority in the House of Commons in the event of the Government’s deal continuing to fail to get a majority in Parliament. Whilst this was defeated, I am pleased the Government have committed to this approach should the meaningful vote be defeated again and we go into a longer extension.
I also voted against the amendment on holding a second referendum. This was comprehensively defeated by the House of Commons, losing by 249 votes. Whilst a lot of MPs abstained, even if they had voted for the amendment it would still have lost. The vast majority of MPs understand the risk of holding further votes. It would take many months to hold a repeat referendum and would require an Act of Parliament with many arguments about what the question should be, and other matters. In that time there would be further divisions in our country at a time when we should be coming together. I predict that at the end of the day the result would be more or less the same with around half the population deeply resentful about the decision to hold a second referendum.
I continue to believe the best thing for our country is for the UK to leave the EU with a deal. That has consistently been my position. Both leaving without a deal or prolonged limbo and delay can only serve to hold back investment, harm our economy and put jobs at risk. On balance I see a short extension as more desirable than no deal.
The only way for those who voted leave to get the Brexit they want and for those like me, who voted remain but accept the democratic result of the largest democratic vote ever in this country is for us all to unite around a deal. As the leading Brexit campaigner Daniel Hannan MEP said, that if a 52/48% referendum result is a mandate for anything, it’s a mandate for compromise. Leavers and reaminers in Parliament need to compromise for the good of the country.
What happens next? The first likely option is for a further vote on the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister, which I will support. If that fails again, I will continue to work with colleagues to see if a consensus can be built around the other options which take us out of the EU with a deal.