It has been a further frustrating fortnight for those of us in Parliament, widely shared across the country, as the House of Commons continues to be unable to agree on what it is for, rather than what it is against.
For my part, I have voted consistently to deliver Brexit through the Withdrawal Agreement, the essential first step to get us out of the EU. I voted against Parliament taking control of the Commons agenda from the Government, since this was a vast departure from constitutional norms and sets a worrying precedent for future minority governments.
I also voted against the Bill to give the House of Commons power to instruct the Prime Minister to ask the European Council for an extension to Article 50 in the absence of an exit deal from the EU, and then abstained on all amendments to this Bill from the House of Lords. But once this Bill had passed and became law it was clear the Prime Minister needed parliamentary support to give her some credibility when she travelled to Brussels this Wednesday to ask for an extension, so I reluctantly supported extension to 30th June.
The EU has now granted the UK an extension of membership until 31st October, though this would end if and when Parliament agrees to the Withdrawal Agreement. I know there is a great deal of frustration in the country at large – which I share – that Brexit has not been delivered on time. But I am clear our present predicament is the ironic consequence of the voting behaviour of those who could have delivered Brexit.
The most ardent supporters of Brexit across the House have failed to recognise the parliamentary arithmetic, and have allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Had they supported the Withdrawal Agreement, we would now be outside of the EU, continue to have frictionless trade with the EU while moving forward in negotiating our future relationship.
It has been tested beyond doubt that a majority of MPs in Parliament (comprised of most Labour, all LibDems and SNP, most Independents and a few Conservatives) will prevent a No Deal Brexit. So those who continue to hold out for leaving with No Deal are not reflecting the reality of the Parliamentary position.
Given the impasse, the Government opened discussions with Labour to see if there are any areas of agreement for them to support the Withdrawal Agreement. Despite voting overwhelmingly in support of Article 50, the Labour Party has since sought at every opportunity to frustrate Brexit, so I do not expect any constructive change in their stance.
This Parliamentary stalemate is the reality of a government in minority rule. As a side issue, this shows why for me moving to a proportional representation system would be a terrible idea for effective governance of this country – as such stalemates would become the norm, and small groups with extreme views may end up determining outcomes.
Parliament is now in recess until 23rd April, which allows all my colleagues to get away from the pressure-cooker mentality of Westminster at the moment, and I hope will encourage some to return more willing to reach agreement.
For me, recess is a welcome opportunity to come home to Shropshire, and to catch up with what else is going on locally, not least since regrettably several planned meetings and events had to be postponed, due to Parliament unexpectedly sitting.
I shall look to provide a further update as and when things develop. In the meantime, I hope you have pleasant Easter.