I think people are now much more familiar with the trade-offs involved in Brexit. I will come back to that point later.
This thing is called a transition period or an implementation period, but a transition to what? The bottom line is that all we have on our destination is 26 pages of something called a political agreement. It is not binding, there is no detail and there are no guarantees or timescales. For anything that is comparable, such as a big infrastructure project, we would have a national policy statement, with perhaps 1,000 pages of detail for the House to consider. Here, we have just 26 pages.
A proposed deal on leaving the European Union is perhaps the ultimate national policy statement, yet we have virtually nothing. It is the political equivalent of being asked to jump out of a plane without knowing if your parachute is attached. It is like agreeing to move out of your house without knowing where you are going to live next, or not having agreed the sale price, but signing the contract anyway. None of us would do this in our own lives, yet the withdrawal agreement and political declaration ask us to do it on behalf of our country.
Overwhelmingly, my community does not support the deal. I will not, therefore, be able to back it. There are practical problems and there are problems of sovereignty, but there are democratic problems too, because this Brexit deal is not the Brexit that leave campaigners campaigned for or that leave voters voted for. It does not deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum. Leavers in my community reject it—I have had hundreds of emails and letters about that. Remainers reject it: they are left thinking, “What’s the point if leavers are not happy with the outcome of the referendum that they won? What is the point of leaving, simply to have all the same EU rules anyway?”
Forcing the Prime Minister’s deal through when it is universally unpopular will do nothing to heal the divisions in our country. In fact, it will be worse: it will kick the can down the road, which is exactly what the public expect politicians to do. It is a short-term political fix at the very time when we desperately need a long-term plan. People deserve better. That is why they are so frustrated.
Brexit has turned into a pantomime, it feels like groundhog day, and there is gridlock in Parliament. We have been talking about Brexit for years, and we all need to recognise that Ministers, Front Benchers and MPs will of course vote the way they think is right. I hope the Government do consider a free vote for Government Members, because we all represent very different communities with very different views. However, free vote or no free vote, I believe it is clear that there will be no majority in this House for any Brexit route forward—not for the Prime Minister’s deal; not for Labour’s ever-opaque deal, whatever it may be; not for no deal. There is no majority for anything, yet we have to bring this to a resolution. We cannot keep going round in circles forever. We have to solve Brexit so that we can get on to solving some of the issues that lie behind Brexit. Parliament now needs to take the steps that will allow us to get back on to a domestic agenda, which is what the public want.
Some Opposition Members might say, “Let’s have a general election,” but that would solve nothing, because Brexit is not about party politics. That is why the House has had so many challenges in grappling with Brexit-related legislation. This place is gridlocked. Giving a party political choice to people on a question that is not about party politics will not work. Labour is putting its own narrow party political interests ahead of the country’s vital need to resolve the path forward on Brexit.
I know that the route forward that is left might be unpalatable to many, including Labour and Conservative Front Benchers, but it may be the only viable route out of Parliament’s gridlock, and that is to do what we always end up doing in a democracy: ask the people. A referendum can be held in 22 weeks. We could hold one on