This has been one of the most significant weeks in the House of Commons since I became your MP. I write shortly after the vote on Tuesday night, so by the time you read this, events may have overtaken my comments. But I wanted to make clear my views.
I voted to support the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement, but had put my name to an amendment to time-limit the Northern Ireland backstop arrangement, not selected by the Speaker. My hope was that this could secure a majority for the Prime Minister to get the EU to accept, so that a deal could be done which delivers on the referendum result and maintains frictionless trade while we negotiate a Free Trade Agreement for the future.
I did not take my decision to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement lightly, but because I genuinely believed it to be the best option available to us in the short and medium term.
It has been apparent for some time in Westminster that there is regrettably little appetite for compromise, on all sides. So it proved in the vote on Tuesday evening, when the government lost the vote by 432 to 202.
I was disappointed but not surprised by the outcome. I am concerned though that without the Withdrawal Agreement there is a real risk of not delivering the referendum result and ending up with No Brexit or another General Election in an attempt to break the deadlock – neither of which easily resolves this issue, nor the divisions it has revealed.
Those who voted against this deal have no deliverable plan to unite the House or the country on this issue, since it is clear there is no majority in Parliament for No Deal either.
As expected, the Leader of the Opposition has called a No Confidence motion in the Government, to be voted on Wednesday, after the print deadline for this article. So you will know the outcome, while at the time of writing I do not.
I expect the Government to have won, but whatever the result, Labour’s ambiguous position on Brexit will surely now have to end. They will have to confront the glaring absence of a Brexit policy and make clear once and for all whether they back Leaving or Remaining (if via a second referendum).
These are unsettling times. The country divided over the referendum in 2016 and has remained so since. This week’s result does little to remedy this, but I remain hopeful that the vote will focus MPs on seeking a consensus to get behind a deliverable deal with the EU.