Firstly I’d like to thank you for your patience as the Brexit situation is evolving. I continue to receive hundreds of emails from constituents, so I hope you will forgive the slightly generic nature of this update. I will endeavour to answer the various questions put to me and give my views on likely developments over the next few weeks. As usual, I will try and keep my website updated with the latest news.
As you will be aware, the Prime Minister suffered a significant defeat in the House of Commons on 15th January when the deal she had negotiated with the EU was rejected by MPs by a margin of 432 to 202 I was one of the 118 majority of Conservative MPs who voted against it. If you have not already seen my video, please see here for a comprehensive explanation of why I voted as I did.
The vote you will recall, was already postponed from 11th December to enable further discussions with European leaders as the Prime Minister knew it would not have had the support of the House in December. When she returned to Parliament on 9th January with a statement and “deal” that lacked any significant change, the rejection of the deal therefore was not unexpected.
For me the biggest concern is not over the ‘Back Stop’ but rather the Political Declaration which crucially is not legally binding. I remain concerned that any aspirations for the future trade deal, as outlined in the Political Declaration could literally be ripped up, should Theresa May be replaced by a Conservative leader desiring a hard, no deal Brexit. This is entirely feasible and so for me, far too risky.
On Tuesday 29th January the Prime Minister will return to the House once again and will make a statement updating MPs on any proposed changes to her deal. Essentially, on Tuesday there will be a vote on the Prime Minister’s ‘Plan B’.
As I write this update now, I am hearing no reassurances whatsoever that any change will be made regarding the Political Declaration. Once again, all focus appears to be on the backstop. If we wish to honour the Good Friday Agreement and guarantee no hard border in Ireland, a backstop will always be an essential part of any Withdrawal Agreement. I understand and respect this. Indeed any attempts to remove it or condition it in the Withdrawal Agreement, would be in breach of International Law.
The possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit is technically still an option, should Parliament not coalesce around the preferred “deal”. This means we would leave the EU on the 29th of March with no deal in place. A no deal would be a threat to our economy, security, and union whilst extending the current state of political uncertainty and in my view, the worst possible outcome for our country. It is important that people recognise that there will be NO transition period in the absence of a deal. Descriptions of a cliff edge, therefore, are dramatic but accurate. Further information about what a ‘NO Deal’ would mean can be found here.
A no deal also means there would be no free trade agreements with EU countries and so trade would, at least for the immediate future, be conducted under WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules. You can read further information about trading under WTO rules here.
The necessity of avoiding a no deal Brexit is a shared one - twenty Ministers have threatened to resign if ‘No Deal’ Brexit becomes the default position – I am not alone!
This leaves us in our current situation– there is as yet a lack of parliamentary support for a single option, so it is difficult to move forward with any of the options laid on the table. Part of the problem is that so far backbenchers have not been allowed to express their opinion, nor vote on the different options.
My communications with constituents in South Cambridgeshire – through emails, letters, tweets, surgery appointments and public meetings demonstrate a clear majority for a better deal. In the context of an impasse in parliament and no apparent majority for the current deal either in Westminster or within the constituency, a second referendum is increasingly being proposed as a way to break the deadlock. If this week yields no progress a second referendum would have my support.
The week ahead is clearly an important one.
Not only will we hear on Tuesday if the Prime Minister has achieved any change at all, we will also have the opportunity to vote on amendments put forward by MPs. It is important to remember that we will not know which amendments we will be able to debate and vote on until late morning, when the Speaker has selected them.
As it stands now, you can see the amendments table so far here
As I write this, I have added my name to three amendments:
b) This seeks to give Parliament a day to debate all options and secure consensus through a legislatively binding Bill.
g) Similar to b) except that it gives Parliament more time than just one day.
i) Will take no deal off the table – if successful, it will categorically show that Parliament does not accept no deal.
You will see that all these amendments are cross party and have significant Conservative backing. We need to get on with thrashing out a solution without the threat of no deal hanging over our heads. These amendments would enable MPs to do just that and so have my support. Implicit in these amendments is also the power for MPs to ask the Prime Minister to extend Article 50 which will be vital to secure a safe, economically sound way forward.
Further details about the amendments and possible next steps can be found here.
However, any amendments which seek to remove or tamper with the backstop will not have my support, for the reasons I state above.
If the situation drastically changes on Tuesday, I will try and update my website as soon as possible. Equally, once the votes on Tuesday have won or failed, I will update my website with next steps.
At this difficult and worrying time, please be reassured that I am doing everything in my power to put the security and financial well-being of my constituents and country first.