William Butler Yeats wrote poetry about not being able to write poetry. Today, I am debating not having a debate yesterday, but I will take my three minutes where I find them.
The country is tired of politicians wasting time bickering. People want us to get on with delivering a practical Brexit that protects our interests and honours the vote. The House has made clear its deep concerns about the proposed withdrawal agreement, most of all the Northern Irish backstop. Having taken that on board, rightly but late in the day, the Prime Minister was correct to pause the parliamentary process and go back to Brussels. If opponents of the deal had been arguing in good faith, surely they should welcome that effort, wish her every success and reserve judgment until we see what changes can be negotiated in Brussels.
Opponents of the deal need to be honest with us and the voters about the options if the deal is rejected. As I see it, they would be no deal, Norway forever or a second referendum. Supporters of the first course of action should recognise that the House does not support no deal. I understand that some of the direst predictions could be averted through careful management and negotiated bilateral agreements with the EU, but none the less, I share the view that that represents an unacceptable risk to our economy and to British employers. I still believe in experts, although some seem not to.
The only realistic alternatives to the Prime Minister’s deal at this stage are a softer Brexit or no Brexit. As for the so-called Norway option, it is a bad fit for a country such as ours. For starters, what began as “Norway for now” has become “Norway forever” as the EEA nations have made it clear that we will not be welcome to use their arrangements as a stepping stone to the bespoke deal we need. In fact, because it will still need to include the backstop, the Norway plan is in many senses much worse than the withdrawal agreement, not least because it involves continuing payments into the EU budget and abandoning any attempt to control freedom of movement.
Finally, a word to those pushing for a second referendum: in the previous Parliament, the House voted overwhelmingly to pass the decision on our EU membership to the British people. The Government made explicit promises to honour the result. Conservative and Labour manifestos said the same. The push for a so-called people’s vote stands in a long and dishonourable traditional of electorates who disappoint Brussels being told to vote again. I strongly believe that a second vote would deliver the same result as the first at the price of further dividing our country and our society.