Last Tuesday (29 January) Parliament held the latest in its series of Brexit votes. As you will have seen by now, the results confirmed a number of things that many of us have suspected for some time - and that I have noted in reply to those constituents who have contacted me about Brexit.
The Commons rejected motions calling for a second referendum or an extension of the Article 50 process to December. Like the majority of MPs I opposed these suggestions. The proposed extension would have created a number of problems. If the UK is still a member on 3 July it will need to send MEPs to Brussels, provide a Commissioner, contribute to spending decisions and budget contributions. Consequently, any extension that the EU would grant would either be short or long - 3 months or several years. I do not believe we should be extending Article 50 unless there is clear and agreed reason for extending it - otherwise the decision simply extends uncertainty and postpones the point of decision without purpose.
I do not believe a second referendum will settle the European question - the first certainly failed to so do. A second vote would inevitably lead to calls for a third as the losing side is unlikely to accept the result. Equally, another referendum on Europe would result in SNP demands for another highly destabilising independence referendum in Scotland. Furthermore, there is now no time for a second EU referendum unless we agree to stay in the EU for a longer period. Parliamentary process and Electoral Commission law mean that around a year would be required to pass the legislation, approve the question, prepare for the poll and have the campaign. This could only be sped up if Parliament legislated to bypass this process. This would set a very dangerous precedent for any future referendum and risk fundamentally undermining fair elections in this country. A proper referendum could only be held if there was a very substantial extension to Article 50.
Two votes passed the House. The first called for No Deal to be rejected. I opposed this - whilst No Deal would certainly create short term difficulties for the country, removing it as an option at this stage unquestionably weakens our negotiating position with the EU, and I regret the fact that the Commons has taken this step. A further vote was held on whether the Brexit deal would be acceptable if the so-called Irish backstop was changed. I supported this amendment as I share the concerns that many have about the backstop. This vote shows that the Commons would pass the Commons if the EU softened its stance on the issue and so, potentially, presents a way forward.
The Government is now going back to Brussels for further negotiations to see if some leeway can be found to get an arrangement over the line. Following these discussions there will be further votes on the Government’s position on 14 February. I remain convinced that the referendum result must be respected, that the best means of exit for the UK is by a negotiated settlement and that this issue should be resolved as quickly possible. I look forward to updating you as events unfold.