I was at that meeting, which I thought was a good expression of joint interests from all parties to the Prime Minister. I hope that we saw within that meeting the start of what could become a consensus, moving forward after what might be a defeat next week. Having said that, I do not discount a second referendum, as the Prime Minister did not. I am simply saying that I think it would be a very poor second best and a sign that this place had failed, but I do not dismiss the possibility.
As for the Prime Minister’s deal, on balance I find it to be a fair one and practical in the overall circumstances of the hand that we had to play; it has my support. To criticise the deal as not being as good as what we have with the EU now is a facile argument, if only because the EU was never, ever going to allow us to leave on the same or better terms than apply to the remaining 27 countries, no matter how many German cars we bought. The deal was always going to have to represent a compromise of views within the Conservative party, within Parliament and certainly with the EU. The deal reached does not represent my optimum position, but no one was ever going to get everything they wanted.
That is not to say that I do not share some of the criticisms of the deal, including many that can be found in the Brexit Committee’s report on the deal. For instance, despite assurances from two Secretaries of State, the financial settlement has not been included in the withdrawal agreement as being wholly or even partially conditional on securing a binding future relationship. To my mind, this has been a failure of negotiation that will undoubtedly reduce our leverage in future relationship negotiations due to start in March 2019 if we have a deal. Furthermore, the lack of detail in the future relationship political declaration means that there will still be another cliff edge as we reach July 2020, when we will need to decide either to head towards the backstop or to extend the implementation period, and there will still be a level of uncertainty for business as to the final form of the deal, although much less so than if we crash out with no deal.
So, on balance, we should take the deal on offer. The mess and upset that would be caused by a hard Brexit is unacceptable. Yes, the legalities can be brought to the fore on things like the backstop, but the legal cart should not be leading the commercial horse.