European Union

29th March 2019

The country remains divided – as reflected in the House of Commons. The indicative votes earlier this week showed there is no Parliamentary majority for any of the options presented.
I voted against holding Indicative Votes because I did not believe it would offer a viable route, and so it proved. This has happened previously - the House of Commons held Indicative Votes on House of Lords reform in 2003, providing at that time exactly the same outcome - zero clarity.
I voted against all options, save for a potential two-year standstill extension, in the event of no Withdrawal Agreement, (which largely mirrored the previously proposed Malthouse Compromise, similar to the implementation period under the Withdrawal Agreement).
Despite the Cabinet and several junior Ministers abstaining, none of these options secured support from a majority of MPs. The House rejected leaving with No Deal, revoking Article 50, and a second referendum. The outcome of these votes reconfirmed my view that the only way to honour the 2016 referendum result and deliver an orderly Brexit is through the Withdrawal Agreement.
In the meantime, we still are no clearer as to how Brexit should progress. If Parliament were to back the Brexit deal before 12th April, we would leave the EU on 22nd May, having decoupled the Political Declaration for the vote in the House of Commons today. But as it has not, we gamble the future of Brexit and the future of our country by handing maximum leverage to the EU in future negotiations.
For my part, I have spent this week discussing with colleagues the fact that we urgently need to find consensus and deliver on the referendum result.
But this afternoon the House of Commons again rejected the Withdrawal Agreement, by 286 votes to 344. I am dismayed that Parliament has once more chosen muddle over moving forward. A vote for the Withdrawal Agreement would have provided legal certainty of leaving the EU with frictionless trade for the transition period. This is now not certain, not least because the House of Commons again this week voted decisively against No Deal.
So on Monday we will review again the options presented in a further round of Indicative Votes, to see if there is any way forward. But the vote today has raised the prospect of a much softer Brexit and significant further delay on terms likely to be dictated by EU. So the ardent Brexiteers and the Labour Party have effectively voted to give control back to Brussels!
The European Council have announced they will meet on 11th April. It now seems likely that we will have to seek a lengthy extension to the Article 50 process, since the arithmetic, and evidence of votes in the Commons and Lords, suggest Parliament is likely to prevent leaving with No Deal on 12thApril. But in these times I accept nothing can be ruled out.
Those of us in Westminster who have been striking out for consensus are just as frustrated as the public that on the day that should have signalled our Exit from the EU, we still have no clear path forward.
The Prime Minister announced on Wednesday she will be making way for a new leader to take on the next round of negotiations, should the Withdrawal Agreement pass. I was present in the 1922 Committee for her remarks, which were characteristically reflective of her sense of duty to this country. She acknowledged her mistakes, but she has also shown admirable fortitude in the face of an unenviable position.
We shall have to see what next week brings.


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