In view of Saturday’s events, and in answer to the avalanche of emails which have followed, can I set out again not only where I think we are in the Brexit process, but also my wider thoughts on the UK and the EU, as these are what influence my votes. You will not all like them, and it is not my job to try to make you. More later.
I went to Parliament on Saturday expecting to vote for the deal negotiated by the UK Government and the EU, and I set out in my previous update why I am going to vote for it.
In the event Parliament did not get that vote due to an amendment by Oliver Letwin, which, while intended to safeguard against a ‘no deal’ outcome, also prevented a vote on the day to approve or reject the deal.
I did not support the amendment, and, in view of my previous part in the Benn Act, rebelling on which lost me the Conservative whip, many of those writing have expressed surprise. Let me explain why.
I oppose leaving the EU without a deal. At the time of passing the Benn Act, on 9 September, the main risk of this appeared to be the UK Government’s attitude to the negotiations with the EU. Boris Johnson's determination to leave the EU on 31st October, ‘come what may’, and comments from inside Government which suggested the negotiations were ‘a sham’, gave me good reason to be sceptical of HMG, so I seconded the Benn Bill, to safeguard against leaving with no deal if the talks foundered.
We were told we had scuppered the negotiations, and that the EU would only negotiate seriously with ‘no deal’ as a risk. We disagreed. We were right, and they were wrong.
The talks increased in pace, and a deal was reached at the time of the European Council last week. I think the Act worked, because the government’s greatest fear was to be forced into an extension. As the EU also wanted a deal, the added pressure did its job.
I therefore believed Parliament had achieved what it required from the Government. Contrary to widespread opinion, the PM actually does want a deal, and has got one. 28 states have now agreed, for a second time, the terms of the UK leaving the EU, and the outline of a way forward. This, remember, is the same EU we were told wanted us not to leave, and to trap us.
So the deal comes to the UK Parliament for decision.
Oliver Letwin realised that, under the terms of the Benn Act, if Parliament approved the deal, the safeguard to prevent leaving without a deal dropped away. But the deal, and the Act to ratify it, are separate. If, then, the legislation to put an agreed deal into UK law was somehow blocked, we would find ourselves at 31st October without a deal, and be leaving without one. His amendment on Saturday is designed to prevent this, through continuing the availability of the extension until the legislation is passed.
Why, as I want to avoid no deal, would I oppose this?
Because the target and the pressure should not now be the Government, but Parliament. Parliament’s greatest fear is not an extension, but a ‘no deal’. Government plainly wants a deal, and to leave. Just as much as I want to avoid no deal, I must be clear yet again, as I have said on this site many times, that I want a deal, and to leave. But a number in Parliament do not. They want to revoke, or another Referendum. They don’t really want a general election to clear the air, because some, particularly the Labour Opposition, fear they will lose, about which they are right.
I think therefore the fear that motivated Oliver Letwin was misplaced. He thinks some ardent ‘no deal, WTO’ leavers will sabotage the agreed deal, having voted for it, to allow the UK to fall out without a deal on 31st October. But a ‘stop no deal’ Parliament would surely not allow this? If it knew that to fail to pass the Agreement into law meant no deal, it will make sure it passes. That means, at last, some Labour MPs have to take some responsibility to do something, not just say what they don’t like.
If however those who want to frustrate Brexit know that to fail to pass the legislation means another extension, more delay and of course the chance to achieve either the unicorn of a new deal which everyone will find acceptable, or a referendum, there is every reason for them to do so.
So we go on, seemingly for ever, stuck where we are.
I do not want that, so I voted against that possibility. On this occasion, I do think, as an Independent MP, with nothing to gain in electoral terms from the Whip being restored, that Boris Johnson is right.
I therefore agree also that the Agreement should come before Parliament next week, and we should seek to turn it into law. I will vote accordingly.
Finally, and thank you for your patience in reading this far, let me deal again with why I am not arguing for another Referendum, as hundreds of thousands so sincerely urged on the march this weekend, or to revoke and just forget about Brexit altogether, when I campaigned so passionately to remain in the EU. This is another part of the article that some will not like or agree with.
I take the Referendum result seriously. I was an MP who voted for the Referendum Act. I agreed with David Cameron that it would settle the issue, and that the Remain side would win. The Referendum had no threshold majority, nor allowed for a confirmatory follow up, because we wanted to be sure that it looked fair, that a simple majority would settle the matter for a generation.
In hindsight, these were errors of judgement, and, in part, my standing down at the next election acknowledges this.
But I accept what I set in train, that others rely upon, not least those who voted to Leave.
I do not think another Referendum would help. The Questions can hardly be designed to cover everyone’s aims; those who voted in a ‘one time only’ Referendum will feel seriously cheated; any win for the Remain view would inevitably result in demand for a further vote, and the EU is entitled to get on with its work without living forever with a UK which cannot make up its mind whether it is in the EU or out. The issue will dominate, to our detriment, UK domestic politics for the foreseeable future. I do not think millions have changed their minds, polls suggest most people feel the same as they did, but the bitterness unleashed would be even more damaging than what we now have.
I supported our membership of the EU. I think economically and politically it was the best place for the future of the UK, and I fought against the slow but steady transformation of the Conservative Party into an anti-EU, not anti-European, party.
I have not changed my mind. I am not a Brexiteer. If we had the Referendum again, I would not change my vote.
But none of these arguments persuaded the public in 2016. They voted to Leave.
The damage had been done over many years. Through some mistakes of the EU itself, and a remorseless, relentless media campaign against it, a good many people in the UK will never be reconciled to the EU. Frankly I think the UK is split as near 50/50 as makes little difference.
I do not think this is a good recipe for the future of the UK. I believe ever more strongly that only a new relationship with the EU, with us outside, but working closely, will be in our best interests. No longer will some feel in the UK, whether true or not, that they are trapped by the EU, subject to ‘unelected bureaucrats’ or somehow not independent. No longer will the EU have to contend with a UK half in and half out, not knowing whether further reform will be stopped by the UK’s intransigence, nor if ideas for reform put forward by the UK are in fact a cunning plot to further the EU’s break up.
I think I will leave Parliament part of a growing brand of European realists, who are not allowing themselves to be trapped in the past, one way or another, but will be working for a future no longer dominated by Leavers or Remainers. Some of you reading this may be outraged, but I implore you to think very carefully what is best for the UK, and put behind you some of what you feel now. Who knows what opportunities this may bring, or how the EU might develop, and what new partnership might emerge with a younger generation? But the surest way to kill off such an opportunity is to try to restore a relationship which for various reasons, we lost, and some never had.
I’m sorry this has been so long. I will not persuade some of you, but that is not my role. It is to explain why I am voting as I am, still representing you and conscious of my responsibilities notwithstanding I am not to be asking for your vote in the future.
Whether you like it or not, I hope you feel it is sincere, and thank you for staying with it!