BREXIT UPDATE - 02.04.19

Brexit Update - 02.04.19

Over the last two months I have held two public meetings on Brexit which were attended by over 300 people and I have received thousands of emails and letters from local residents, all of which have been very helpful in forming my views.

It is clear that we are in a constitutional crisis and the political implications are serious. Things are unpredictable and I know that many people are worried and frustrated by recent events. The fact that we did not leave the EU on the 29th March as promised is particularly disappointing for me and millions of voters. I therefore voted against the extension of Article 50, but it was nevertheless passed by a majority of MPs. 

Last Friday, the Prime Minister brought back the Withdrawal Agreement for a third vote, although this time it did not include the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship. Once again I voted against it as I did on the previous two occasions for the following reasons:

1) The Withdrawal Agreement is not Brexit. It could trap the UK into a Customs Union indefinitely as confirmed by the Attorney General’s legal advice. The UK would also have to follow many Single Market rules indefinitely and the European Court of Justice would continue to have the last word on legal matters, with the UK still subject to EU treaties and rules with no say over them at all. We would also have to pay £39bn for no guarantee of a Free Trade Agreement in return. A customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain would be created by the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, otherwise known as the Backstop.
2) Nothing has changed to the Withdrawal Agreement since November: I resigned my Ministerial job because of the unacceptable terms of the deal. Nothing has changed to the deal since then.
3) The DUP did not support the deal: Our partners in government, to whom we owe our majority and ability to govern, were rightly concerned that the terms of the Backstop would ultimately lead to a break up of the UK.

For a third time, the deal failed to command a majority in Parliament. 

In addition to the third vote, a group of backbenchers - with the help of the Speaker - passed a motion to take control of the Order Paper and the Parliamentary timetable, enabling them to set the agenda of motions and votes in the House of Commons. This is unprecedented and highly damaging to our constitutional order. When the motion for this was tabled, I voted against, but it was nonetheless passed. As a result, we carried out a series of ‘indicative votes’ on Thursday and Monday. These were non-binding votes on alternative Brexit options. The way I voted was as follows:

1) AGAINST a Customs Union
2) AGAINST a Second Referendum / People's Vote
3) AGAINST a ‘Norway option’ (Membership of the Single Market which would include the free movement of people)
4) AGAINST an Extension to Article 50
5) FOR ‘No-Deal’
6) FOR the ‘Malthouse Compromise’ (a managed ‘No Deal’)

None of these options commanded a majority of in the House of Commons, although it is worth noting that the only thing that has commanded a majority so far was the Brady Amendment which accepted the deal on the condition that the Government replaced the Northern Ireland Backstop with alternative arrangements. These arrangements could include a trade agreement as set out in the Malthouse Compromise. 

What will happen next?
It is impossible to predict the outcome with any certainty. However, it looks possible that there might be a fourth vote on the deal later this week. As it is highly likely that nothing will have changed to the deal, I am still minded to vote against it. The solution to this impasse is for the Prime Minister to lead the government and country to a managed no-deal Brexit on the 12th April. No-deal preparations are highly advanced on the UK side and are finalised on the EU’s part. Doing this also enables us to deliver Brexit now and honour the result of the EU Referendum.

However, whether this happens is very much the choice of the Prime Minister and not something which I have no control. If Theresa May does not choose to do that, then she can seek a longer extension to Article 50 (duration and terms unknown). Whilst she will seek a vote from the Commons for it (and I will always vote against any extension), there is a possibility that it may command a majority. All of these options depend on the EU agreeing to them. There is an emergency EU Summit on the 10th April when their position will become clear.

As someone who made promises to the public during the referendum in 2016 about what Brexit meant, i.e. leaving the Customs Union and Single Market and ECJ jurisdiction, the free movement of poeple and EU rules, I am unable to support a deal that does not even come close to these promises. I was also re-elected in 2017 on identical manifesto pledges, including that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. Therefore, it is very difficult to see how I can break those promises and vote for the deal if it remains unchanged.

I am also mindful of the DUP's position which is important to the stability of government. I am aware of the other possibilities - but a long extension and a refusal to lead us out on a no-deal basis will be out of my hands and ultimately the choice of the Prime Minister. I have indeed met with the Prime Minister and made my views on the deal very clear.