Exiting the European Union

As a remain voter, I was of course taken aback by the outcome of the referendum.  However, I felt then that it was right to respect that outcome, however narrow the margin, and I still do. 

I know some feel strongly that another referendum, or a ‘people’s vote’, is the answer and I entirely understand this view, but I am yet to be convinced that this would be in the national interest.  We have already had a people’s vote and it has led us to where we are.  Another vote, assuming it indicated a modestly different outcome, would create total uncertainty as to the direction we are taking and, as the country is almost equally divided, would presumably be followed by another vote, and another, and so on.  If a further vote indicated the same outcome, it would have achieved nothing but at a considerable cost financially and diplomatically – we would still be in the same situation, and such a circular journey would reflect badly on our long-established democracy.

I am similarly yet to be convinced by the argument that Members of Parliament should vote down the Prime Minister’s settlement, painstakingly negotiated over the last two years, so that we can go back to the drawing board and achieve a ‘fantasy Brexit’ in the few weeks remaining before we leave.  I do not believe that doing so would have any likelihood of achieving a better deal and may in fact land us with a worse one.  Moreover, any new deal would not only have to be voted on by this Parliament but also by the twenty-seven other Member States, who are hardly likely to agree to any better deal than the one we have currently agreed in principle.

Various groups, including the Confederation of British Industry, the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce, the National Farmers' Union Scotland and the Scottish Whisky Association have made clear that they have reservations on the final deal but are minded to support it.  I too am minded to support it. 

We are not where I would have liked us to be, but I do believe the Prime Minister has worked incredibly hard to put together the best deal achievable in these unprecedented circumstances.  Whilst I do have reservations, this deal is infinitely better than no deal, which is the default position currently.  I have given it a great deal of thought over many months and, whilst I would prefer to remain, I will support this deal - particularly with the improved assurances in regard to the backstop.  I hope you can understand my rationale for doing so.

Update, 14th March 2019

I have been against a no-deal exit from the start but I voted not to rule it out last night because I felt that to arbitrarily rule out of one our options would bind the PM’s hands whilst pursuing a Brexit deal.  It is important to bear in mind the difference between not ruling out no-deal and supporting it - I am still opposed to a no-deal exit, but I do not think it would have been wise to further limit our scope for discussion, negotiation, etc.  The votes last night were indicative only and were heavily amended, making them even harder to support without strings attached.  The risk of a no-deal remains but my sincerest wish now is that we should leave with the deal.

I have consistently voted for the PM’s deal, based on having listened to businesses and business associations who advise that they could function effectively leaving the EU under a deal.  I am aware my constituency voted to remain in the referendum, as did I.  However, as a democrat I respect the referendum outcome – it was a national outcome, not a local one, and however much we might individually disagree I will continue to support the PM as she endeavours to secure a fair deal for leaving the EU and honour the referendum outcome.

Update, 28th March 2019

As you will have seen, these have been quite full days of late! Aside from the main business and the indicative votes today, there were the usual debates in Westminster Hall, where I spoke this morning, and the Adjournment debate this evening on Post Offices - I was speaking at 10:20am and on my feet again at 10:30pm. I was at PMQs, a very lively session, and was successful in the ballot for Scottish Questions, although sadly Mr Speaker cut that short due to time constraints. I was hoping to ask about support for the fishing fleet in Scotland.

I was also fortunate to secure a private meeting with the Minister for Immigration to discuss my concerns about the immigration white paper and the £30,000 threshold proposed by the Migration Advisory Committee. As you will have seen from my earlier posts on this, I do feel the threshold is too high and some flexibility is required to ensure businesses have the support they need and that we have an open, flexible immigration policy in the future.

On Brexit, you will recall from earlier posts that I am broadly supportive of the PM's withdrawal deal. Whilst I did vote to remain, I feel I must respect the outcome of the referendum - it is an established principle that there is no benefit in a holding a national yes/no vote if we are then to cherry-pick the outcome by region, constituency or council area. The result of a national referendum must, I believe, be respected nationally as a single outcome or there is no point in holding it in the first place.

At the moment I am still working to avoid a no-deal exit which I feel would be an enormous challenge for industry. As such, in the indicative votes last night I voted against a no-deal exit, against a continuation of the customs union (as this would fail to honour the referendum and has in any case been ruled out by the EU in the past) and in favour of George Eustice's amendment to join the European Free Trade Area as an alternative to the customs union. Unfortunately, all options were vetoed and even those with the highest support would currently fail to command a majority in Parliament. It is an incredibly frustrating time for all of us.

In recent weeks I have received around a thousand emails on the current situation, from constituents (my responses as always are on the 'Policy Responses' section of my website) and from businesses, industry groups, think tanks and so on. I have considered all that guidance, the advice and the suggestions (or in some cases ‘instructions’ would be closer!) on how I should vote on each bit of business. However, I remain convinced that the PM's deal is the best compromise between honouring the referendum result and the danger of leaving with no deal.

I realise not all of you will feel able to agree with that position but, given the individual emails I have received in recent weeks indicate every option from a hard Brexit to no Brexit at all is best for the country, clearly some sort of compromise is the solution. I do believe the PM's deal is the best compromise and I will continue to support it.

If you have not already, please do send me an email if you have any specific thoughts on this.