On Monday we finished voting at about half past midnight. On these occasions the old lags deport themselves with a sort of macho chutzpa. “This is what it was like every night when I was new here,” they say. We were voting on the committee stage of the Bill to trigger Article 50. I thought long and hard about supporting a Labour amendment that would have resulted in a vote on any deal at a meaningful time in the process. This resulted in one of those “chats” with the Chief Whip. While our conversation was amicable there was that hint of menace that lurks in any office which has a tarantula on the desk (yes, really there is; his name is Cronus). In the end there was a concession that satisfied me and a number of potential rebels. There will be a vote in Parliament before any deal is signed and before there is a vote in the European Parliament. This seems to me to be the right level of scrutiny without making the position impossible for our negotiating team.
A few days earlier I addressed a gathering of business men and women from across the Thames Valley who were meeting at Vodafone’s HQ. Not to have talked about Brexit would have been like making the best man speech without mentioning the groom. So I did, but I tried to move the subject beyond the interminable politics of Brexit to the realities of it. The Thames Valley is an extraordinary corridor of success that in regional terms makes it one of the most exciting areas for business and innovation anywhere in the world. There is nervousness about what our exit from the EU actually means. But there is also continuing confidence. I was able to relate my experience of visiting the space industry catapult at Harwell a few days previously. Catapults are Government supported hubs for particular sectors where innovation and new ideas are pushed from the drawing board into the realities of our lives. I witnessed extraordinary new businesses which are transforming, or are about to transform, our lives. Solutions to healthcare, protecting our environment, improving food production were just some of the innovations that blew my mind. Many of these businesses are operating with companies and supply chains some of which are in the EU and some of which are not. It fills me with confidence for the future.
At the conclusion of the Bill last Wednesday there was a marathon voting session with about nine divisions. The Bill now goes to the Lords – and then the die will be cast.