Brexit Considerations

They say that time is the great healer. In the normal course of events, that may be true. But the past few years have not been normal.

The 2016 referendum was a seismically divisive event and, for many, the turbulence of the division around the issue of leaving the EU has only grown.

My postbag is split into three fairly equal parts. One: I must support the Prime Minister, back her plan and not let us plunge from the cliff or face another election and more uncertainty. Two: The Prime Minster is a traitor and must go; I must reject her plan, which is no proper form of Brexit, with the EU holding the levers of UK power for the foreseeable future. Three: I must accept that the referendum result was a fix, ill-informed, fed by lies, people's views have changed and so we now need a second referendum - another crack at it.

I very much appreciate that there's something to be said for each of these very different perspectives, and that's exactly why the nation is so divided. People have become increasingly fortified in their positions, seizing upon any material evidence supporting them, while throwing rocks at the others.

And there's no sign of this entrenchment diminishing. Time is not healing us. As we reach the final stages of agreement with the EU, the blow-by-blow diet of Brexit news fuels the flames of hysteria and ideology.

As you'll have realised, it's impossible for Members of Parliament to satisfy the appeals of all sides. Many people write to say that they will withhold their future votes, or will actively campaign for opponents, should their MP not acquiesce to their view. Many say that their MP has some kind of constitutional duty to represent their opinion. This though, thankfully, isn't how a parliamentary democracy works.

In November 1774, Edmund Burke set out, with some eloquence, to the electors of Bristol how a representative system operates. And it's his model that we've followed since. As he said, "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

So what is my own judgement? These are politically precarious times, and now is not the time for ideology to override pragmatism, compromise and common sense: each qualities of British politics which have historically set us somewhat apart from the politics of the continent, and which, ironically, led those shouting loudest against the deal to wish to depart from the EU in the first place.

The consequences of the alternatives - further instability, ongoing and enhanced uncertainty and a possible Marxist government - are all too great a risk, and would put those aspects of the proposed deal which are not entirely as we would like to have chosen firmly in the shade.

In a negotiated settlement - where different sides have competing agendas and contrary aims - ground will be conceded in order to reach agreement. So some aspects of any agreement will be less than optimal, and some will be more favourable.

Therefore of course, the proposed Brexit deal - the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration which will form the basis of the future negotiated partnership - is not entirely perfect for the UK.

I look forward, for example, to more clarity over removing the EU's backstop (our 'backstop to the backstop') to resolve the Northern Ireland border. Equally, we must ensure that there isn't either an unlimited time period in which the UK is bound to the EU before a future partnership is enshrined, or an incentive on either side to seek such an unlimited period.

But I believe we must be pragmatic in how we implement the result of the referendum. This is a time for neither idealism nor intrepid imprudence with the future of our country.

Serving on the European Scrutiny Select Committee, I am deeply concerned about the consequences of leaving the EU with no deal. This would be extraordinarily difficult for UK businesses and for the whole country. It would send a tremulous shock through the City and its consequences would be far reaching and long lasting.

The clock ticks on until Article 50 is enacted and, on the 29th March next year, we leave the European Union. The deal as proposed by the Prime Minister is the only one on the table and it secures much that we want. 

Voltaire rightly realised that "the best is the enemy of the good". This deal means we will control our own borders and end free movement. It means visa-free travel in both directions for holidays and shorter term work. It means we will no longer send colossal sums of money to the EU from which we are allowed some in return. We will be able to decide ourselves how we wish to spend more on our priorities.

It means we will, at last, be able to strike free trade deals around the world, which will be good news for consumers, for jobs and for business.

It means, contrary to a torrent of misleading claims, that we will take back control of our laws, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.  And it means we will continue to work as closely as ever with other European countries to keep people safe from crime, terrorism and other threats.

It means the integrity of the UK remains as it should be. Most obviously, it means no tempestuous bumps ahead. And that itself means certainty for us all, for business, for the economy and therefore for jobs and the security of people's livelihoods. 

As ever, this situation is extremely fluid with every day bringing new twists and turns, but should the Withdrawal Agreement be defeated in the Commons, despite anything you may have read, no one knows what would happen next. Perhaps the PM can bring more concessions back from Brussels and perhaps Parliament can then have another go. But perhaps it'll mean a change of leader, a restart of negotiations, a consequent no deal exit from the EU and a General Election. Perhaps again, such chaos will demand another, second referendum, where the man and woman on the Somerset omnibus must stand in judgement on the 585 page Withdrawal Agreement and subsequent Political Declaration on our future relationship with the EU: more division, misunderstandings, emotive slogans, utter confusion, with the British people being led down ill-considered paths by those with the loudest, most disturbing voices.

So, while we dance on the head of a pin about the possible likelihood of the backstop to the backstop, or the desirability of any prospective ECJ jurisdiction over aspects of cross-border trade with the EU, and while one or two of the usual suspects posture, puff and present themselves as possible future leaders, the wolves circle.

Nothing has changed since Bismarck pointed out that "politics is the art of the possible, the attainable - the art of the next best". 

In common with others, I have concerns about the proposed deal. But, I have to say, my concern is not at all in step with the delirious rage of some. This is no sell-out. It is not May crumbling before the EU. It is broadly what was asked for: an escape from most aspects of the EU and its movement of people, laws, single market, and customs union, while ensuring we continue to work and trade with our European neighbours as smoothly as possible.

For me, the original vote was about political accountability - no more MEPs, no council of ministers, no European Council, no decisions over which we have no control. For the most part, these principles have been maintained.

As I say, from my postbag, I'll guess that around two-thirds of my constituency will disagree with me, and a third or so will agree. Yes, many in the country will accept nothing less than the total removal of any EU influence whatsoever in any form over our country. And others want us to remain in the EU at all costs and will never give up the fight for another referendum. But I hope many others want a pragmatic outcome. They are concerned about uncertainty, understand the difficulties of the position, just want to get it done and will not tolerate endless fighting.

There is little, in my view, to be gained by holding fast to one side or the other on the basis of ideology. We need to look to those who are hoping for a sensible, practical and successful outcome, and seek something which is, as far as possible, workable for us all.

As an MP, it is my responsibility to distrust ideological targets and aim for that which lends itself most readily to securing stability and cohesion by protecting jobs, investment and the economy on which we all depend. Then we can again focus properly on our domestic agenda while time begins its healing process.

With best wishes