My Thoughts on Brexit

3rd September 2019

It is clear that Mrs May’s ‘softly-softly’ approach in response to the democratic mandate to leave the EU indicated by 17.4 million of us could not secure the support of the House.  It is also clear there is no overall support for any of the other options presented earlier this year in a series of indicative votes. 

Throughout this process, I and many of my colleagues have attempted to avoid a no-deal exit.  Whilst in the first place I voted to remain, the will of the country, however narrowly, was to leave.  There was no indication inherent in that simple ‘yes or no’ question as to how we should achieve that end, but it is clear that each of those voting for Brexit had a different form of departure in mind and, like those in Parliament, there was no consensus nationally as to the best way.  For my part, as you know, I voted in favour of the former Prime Minister’s negotiated deal three times in preference to a no-deal exit.  I also voted for Mr Gove and for Mr Hunt in the leadership campaign as theirs seemed the most balanced approaches to Brexit. 

However, I have noted Mr Johnson’s pragmatism in the last five weeks and with some of the liberal measures he has proposed domestically - £14bn for primary and secondary schools over the next three years, £1.8bn for NHS capital projects (a 30% increase in the capital budget this year, in addition to the spending increase announced last year worth an additional £20bn by 2023) and 20,000 additional police officers, to name a few, with the respective Barnett consequentials benefitting Scotland.   

He has also made very clear that he expects the hard-Brexit rebels to support a negotiated deal should he achieve a concession on the Northern Irish backstop in the next two months, whether or not they are content with the remainder of the deal.  I hope that they will support it when the time comes, as their reluctance to do so thus far (as well as Mr Corbyn instructing his MPs to vote against a controlled departure) has largely resulted in the current impasse. 

When Mr Johnson returns to this House with the final deal he has promised after the EU summit on 17th October, whether it is the same deal or an improved one, I will again vote for it in preference to leaving without a deal.  I do remain convinced, however, that it is necessary to keep the possibility of a no-deal exit on the table as part of the ongoing negotiations.  This has been my position in all past votes when a minority of members attempted to rule it out and it remains so.  I do not wish it to happen, but I believe that ruling it out would substantially weaken our ongoing negotiating position. 

I was surprised and disappointed when the proposed prorogation was announced, even though in practical terms it is a reduction of only a few days’ debate – there have, after all, been something like 420 hours of debate on this topic over the last three years.  In one sense, prorogation is no great surprise - it is long overdue and something every new leader does as soon as they become PM in order to introduce their legislative agenda.  I can also understand the Prime Minister’s frustration at the current situation.  It has been this Government’s duty ever since the referendum to carry out the result and his hands are being tied by a minority of members who seem vehemently opposed to the referendum result.  The House has been presented with every option and could not agree on any of them, so there seems little alternative for the PM but to press ahead with the negotiated deal and attempt a final alteration of the backstop.  I will support him in this approach.           

29th July 2019

By way of an update, whilst I did not vote to leave, as a democrat I felt obliged to accept the result and I supported the negotiated deal three times in preference to a no-deal exit.  That remains my priority.  If Members of Parliament are presented by our new Prime Minister with a vote on 'approving' no-deal, which I suspect is unlikely, I have to say I would find that difficult to support.  I am giving much thought to how I would vote in that circumstance.  

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 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.

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 negotiated deal is the best compromise between honouring the referendum result and the challenges presented by 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.

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.

10th November 2019

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 helpful.  We have already had a people’s vote and it has led us to where we are, and I have been consistent in explaining why I do not feel another would be any help at all: unless a further vote results in an emphatic remain vote, statistically highly unlikely, it would simply either confirm the current result or provide a modest return in favour of remaining, which would be challenged by brexiteers just as keenly as remainers have challenged the current result.  It would likely become the ‘best of three’, or five, or twelve – no great help at all.

I am similarly yet to be convinced by the argument that Members of Parliament should vote down the Brexit settlement, painstakingly negotiated over the last two years, so that we can go back to the drawing board and achieve a ‘fantasy Brexit’.  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.  I will always be keen to work towards a deal, and I am currently giving a great deal of thought to how I would react if, under Mr Johnson, Parliament is presented with no-deal as an option to be voted on.

We are not where I would have liked us to be, but I do believe Mrs May worked incredibly hard to put together the best deal achievable in unprecedented circumstances.  Whilst I did have reservations over some elements, a negotiated deal is infinitely better than no deal, which is the default legal position.  I have given it a great deal of thought over many months and, whilst I would prefer to remain, I will continue to support leaving with a deal.