Chequers deal, Brexit white paper, Brexit deal before Parliament, and the Brexit deadlock

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Despite the lurid headlines about “political meltdown”, this will come to be seen as a calm few weeks in British politics compared to what is coming. A momentous political struggle is taking place. Any deal put forward by the government will almost certainly be voted down and any alternative will cause further divisions.

Many Brexit supporting Conservative MPs will accept nothing less than a full “no deal” Brexit which would mean Britain trading on the same terms with the European Union (EU) as it does with the rest of the world. At least 50 to 80 Conservative MPs are committed to this and will vote accordingly. I admire their enthusiasm but it is not shared by anything close to a majority of MPs in Parliament.

Opposition MPs are motivated only by getting a General Election. They will vote down any deal no matter what it says.

With a working majority of just 13, it requires just 7 Conservative MPs to vote down any deal even if the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) were fully on board. Over 100 have just voted against their own leader. The maths are clear, any deal will fail. EU supporting MPs, who are present in all parties, are well aware of these figures and believe that they can use the forthcoming chaos to prevent Brexit from happening.

The Remain Campaign is playing with three strategies - the most talked about is another Referendum. This would condemn Britain to years of bitterness and division. These second Referendum supporters imagine that Leave voters have “changed their minds” though most have probably never had a conversation with a Brexit supporter. 

Those of us who voted for Brexit know differently. For the last three years we have all been dismissed as xenophobic, racist, elderly, Daily Mail readers. Far from changing their minds Leave voters are raging. A second referendum will be seen, quite rightly, as a betrayal of the previous vote by an out of touch establishment and media who despise Brexit supporters. It would be far angrier and emotional than any referendum or election we have ever had. Far from uniting the country, it will divide us for years and the result will make no difference anyway.

If Remainers won, Leavers would treat the result with the same contempt that has been shown by Remainers ever since 2016. There would be campaigns for a further referendums every few years on the basis that people might “change their minds again”. Every General Election for decades to come could become defined by which candidates would or would not support further referendums. Britain will be seen to have done what every EU nation does when a referendum returns a result which the EU doesn't like. Hold it again until the public give the “correct” answer.

If Leave wins again, then Remainers will once again reject the result. We would simply be back to where we are now. A Conservative Cabinet, some of whom seem half-hearted about supporting their own policy, and pro-EU back-bench Conservative MPs willing to use any trick in Parliamentary procedure to prevent Brexit from happening will continue to delay before demanding yet another referendum.

Some EU campaigners have grasped that forcing the public to vote again might not give them the answer they want and are pushing an even more outrageous strategy. Get the MPs to simply abandon Article 50 and ignore the result. If this piece of lunacy goes ahead then what faith there is in democratic politics could be destroyed. We will have shown many millions of people that voting counts for nothing if their views are unacceptable to the establishment. If this course of action is followed my advice would be to buy shares in a company that makes yellow vests and prepare for years of civil strife.

A final group including many opposition MPs are pinning their hopes on an early general election to avoid Brexit. The polls suggest that the Conservatives would have the largest number of seats with Labour getting enough to govern in coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP’s price for partnership would be another Scottish independence referendum and no Brexit. If Scotland voted for independence, we could expect many more years of identical arguments to those currently taking place with the EU, over money, residence and trade deals - this time it would be between parts of Britain. Labour Ministers would know that at the end of the independence process, with the departure of SNP MPs from Westminster, they would probably lose their majority. Hardly an incentive to sort things out. Alternatively, if the SNP lost a referendum they would little reason to keep in power the party which they hate in Scotland. More chaos and division for us all.

There are two ways forward that need not involve years of political rancour of a type that will make last week seem like the AGM of the Parochial Church Council.

First, when the Prime Minister comes back with an amended deal in January, she is able to persuade her own side, and a few Labour MPs, that on the basis of compromise and bringing the country back together, they should support it. For Labour EU supporters and Conservative Brexiteers the deal would be an imperfect compromise but one which the country could perhaps live with. As a nation we would have to accept that the deal would not be what any of us wanted, but could be something that most of us could live with. For this reason I would be inclined to support it as an imperfect compromise solution. Unfortunately nobody seems in the mood for compromise.

The alternative would be for the Government to enthusiastically prepare for a World Trade Organization (WTO) rules Brexit. Ministers should stop calling it a “hard Brexit” it would be better called a “People’s Brexit”  We could start by withdrawing the offer of £39billion to the EU and spending it on whatever it takes to be ready to leave - with the rest going to the NHS schools and the police. Some Conservative Cabinet Ministers seem to be suggesting that we could not cope with this form of Brexit - if so, I wonder what they have been doing for the past two years since pushing through Article 50. They must have known about the deadline, if they have not prepared for this potential outcome they should be sacked. Opposition MPs would be strongly opposed to the idea of a hard Brexit but they would be attracted to the idea of billions for the NHS. We could even offer to use money left over from the preparations for a public sector pay rise and challenge Labour MPs to oppose it.

Sadly there is little evidence of a willingness by leave supporting MPs to compromise in any way on the form of Brexit they will support, or by remain supporting MPs to accept that they lost and that the British public voted to leave the EU, or by many Government Ministers to start sounding enthusiastic about a policy which they pledged to support, or by opposition MPs to think about what might be best for the country rather than what might be best for their political prospects.

By March we will be looking back on this as a quiet week in politics. In 10 years we might remember 2018 as the last year of rationality, sanity and reason in British political life.

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Tuesday 20 November 2018

The Brexit Deal before Parliament

I have been contacted by hundreds of people over the last 48 hours. The vast majority are angry and disappointed and want me to vote against the Brexit deal which was published this week.

I am unlikely to do this and will now explain why. 

Those who want the deal voted down have very different motives. 

One group believe that it will not lead to a clear enough separation from the EU. They want this deal voted down in order to allow a “no-deal” Brexit to take place at the end of March.

An equal number of people, who support EU membership, would like this deal voted down in order to prevent Brexit from taking place.

The anti EU group will point out that we have already passed legislation to enact Article 50 which is legally irrevocable and that whatever happens we will legally leave the EU at the end of March.

The pro-EU group believe that nothing is inevitable and that if a majority of MPs from all parties get together they could force the government to extend Article 50 or hold another referendum.

The anti-EU group believe that even if they could command a majority for a specific course action, that it could not be done by the end of March.

Both of these groups can number people with an excellent grasp of legal and constitutional issues who can put forward convincing arguments that voting down the deal will lead to the outcome they want ie a so-called “hard” Brexit or no Brexit at all. 

Obviously they cannot both be right. If in the next week or so we see pro EU and anti EU MPs uniting to vote down this deal we can be certain that some of them, and their supporters across the country, are going to be bitterly disappointed with the outcome.

Trying to predict what will happen if the deal falls is impossible. Clearly there are an almost equal number of government supporting MPs (Conservative) and anti-government MPs (Labour the SNP and LibDems) Not all will vote along party lines and not all will do what people might broadly expect them to do. There is therefore absolutely no way of predicting whether voting down this deal will lead to a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all

The alternative is for everyone to support this far from perfect deal.

This deal will see us legally out of the EU by the end of March but effectively still within the Customs Union for at least 2 years. I would be the first to acknowledge that it is not the clear Brexit that was being sought by the Government and I do not want to see Britain locked permanently into a Customs Union with the EU and no way out. I will be seeking reassurances on this point. I believe that the Government should continue to plan for a WTO Brexit in 2 years in case we do not get a free trade deal with the EU. The kindest thing I can say about the deal is that it is a compromise solution which is going to require further work over the 2 year transition period and beyond.

It will turn Brexit into a slow process rather than a quick and exciting event.

To those who would like a clearer Brexit I have great sympathy. I voted for a referendum in 2011 against my own party whip. I actively campaigned for Brexit virtually on a daily basis, speaking at meetings and running street stalls across Wales and the West Country throughout the campaign. I am therefore disappointed that we are being asked to swallow this compromise. At the same time, I would far rather take this half loaf Brexit than risk losing it completely. 

To those who support the EU membership I would like to respectfully point out that the public voted to leave and they expect Brexit to be delivered. There is a growing feeling of anger amongst leave voters who feel that they are being ignored and talked down to. Any attempt to simply ignore the result or try to re run the referendum will lead to unimaginable anger amongst many millions of people.

This deal offers a way to take Britain out whilst maintaining a close trading relationship with the EU. I truly believe that if I were a supporter of the EU I would rather support this deal than risk the outcome of voting it down.

We are clearly in the middle of a very unstable political situation. As an ardent Brexiteer I believe we should, for the sake of the country, now accept this compromise. For the same reason I will not back any leadership campaign against Theresa May. In my view the very last thing we need in the middle of all this is a challenge to the Prime Minister.

I would urge ardent EU supporters to take the same view and speak up for this as it will at least deliver the certainty which so many have called for.

If this deal collapses and nothing else is agreed then I will give my fullest support to delivering a Brexit at the end of March without a deal.

I have received hundreds of email on this issue and many have sent long lists of detailed questions. I am afraid given the numbers I cannot give individual answers. This represents my position and is being sent to everyone who has contacted me whatever their opinion. Whilst many may disagree I think it is clear enough.

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Friday, 13 July 2018

A huge number of people are bitterly disappointed with the proposal for future UK-EU relations agreed by the cabinet at Chequers. I believe this represents a soft Brexit and I am unhappy to say the least.

There is the possibility of a rebellion in Parliament by those who want a far clearer version of Brexit. After much consideration, I have decided that I will be supporting the Prime Minister.

I have written the following article setting out my thoughts in the form of an open letter to Conservative MPs who are seeking to vote down government plans. I will share it with all those who have emailed me, whatever side of the argument they are on.

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To all my friends in the Conservative Parliamentary Party who want to me to vote against the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans.

You will know that I have consistently supported Brexit since entering Parliament in 2005. Back in 2011, long before it became policy, I joined the parliamentary rebellion to support a referendum. 

When we finally got a referendum I immediately declared for Brexit and campaigned for Vote Leave across south Wales and beyond.

On the night of the referendum, after days of hard campaigning, I was at the count in Monmouthshire with the local Vote Leave team. In the early hours I dropped off some of the volunteers. As I drove home I realised with a huge surge of adrenaline that we were going to do it. Thoughts of sleep vanished, I turned the car around and headed up the M4 arriving on Parliament Square for dawn, and was back in Wales for lunchtime to address a celebration rally in the middle of Newport. My commitment to this has been 100 per cent.

Before us is a half-loaf Brexit. It is a disappointment to all who dared to dream but were very much wide awake to celebrate in the early hours of June 24th. But it is still a Brexit and, just about, fulfils our manifesto commitment.

Yes we would have to accept EU standards. But we could also choose, in future, to reject new standards and revert to a different arrangement. It would be less of a clean break and more of a gentle change but we would be taking control. 

Yes we would effectively be inside the Customs Union - but not locked in. The tariff collection model would allow us to strike new trade deals. The added complexity would be off-putting for other nations but the possibility is there.

Yes we would continue to allow EU citizens to come if they have jobs to go to, but we have been assured that blanket freedom of movement will end. More details would be welcome but the days of people claiming multiple benefits for family members not even living in the country must absolutely stop.

Yes we would continue to make payments to the EU but at a much lower level then previously. Again we need to know more but the days of handing over £18bn a year are long gone.

Yes it is a soft Brexit and I don't like it but what is the alternative?

I hear it said that if we withdraw support from the Prime Minister we can force her to come up with a stronger Brexit. 

Where is the majority in the Commons for this?

We know that despite their manifesto promise to support Brexit, and the fact that they are led by one of the biggest Eurosceptics in Parliament, Labour MPs (with a few exceptions) will vote against absolutely any plan the government puts forward. So will the SNP and Liberal Democrats.

There are also a number of Conservative MPs who will vote for the softest possible Brexit and would, given the excuse, eagerly ignore the Conservative manifesto promise and vote to stay in the EU. 

To achieve something in Parliament around 325 MPs need to vote in the same lobby. We may not  like it but let us be realistic - there are simply not 325 votes in Parliament for a hard Brexit.

I hear it said that if even if a stronger Brexit proposal is voted down, it doesn't matter because all we have to do is wait for next March when Article 50 is triggered, and we are legally out of the EU without any deal. Bingo! Hard Brexit achieved by the political equivalent of a football side, ahead in extra time, dragging things out by faking injuries and tying laces.

Maybe - and maybe not. If by January we appear to be heading for the no-deal clean Brexit that many of us would like, then we may well see 326 MPs voting together - for an extension to Article 50. An extension that the EU would eagerly grant, and could turn out to be indefinite  Neither the heaven of Brexit nor the hell of the EU, but instead an everlasting purgatory. 

Worse. A failure to leave by the end of March would surely be followed by a confidence vote and another general election with the possible consequence of a Eurosceptic Marxist Prime Minister leading a pro-EU Parliamentary Labour party. It is unlikely to be a happy outcome for Britain.

To avoid this and achieve any form of Brexit, virtually every single Conservative MP is going to have to walk together through the lobby. There is no room for rebellions from either pro or anti-Brexit Conservatives.

So to my dear colleagues who I have campaigned with over many years for Brexit and on other matters. I say with absolute respect, now is the time for us to swallow pride and back the Prime Minister. Let us not risk snatching a glorious defeat, from the jaws of what is still, a far greater victory than anything we could have hoped for in 2011 when we rebelled against our party to support a referendum.