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Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:49 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Conservative, Huntingdon 5:49 pm, 27th February 2019

On 29 January, I abstained on the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Graham Brady partly because I did not understand it conceptually, but also because I did not see how it was acceptable for a Government to have their own policy and agreement to an international treaty amended by way of a Back-Bench amendment. In the meantime, on the same date, I was pleased to see the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman pass. Although it was not legally binding, it was important to put on record the unacceptability to the House of a no deal. I suspect that, without a Whip, the majority would have been very much more significant.

By 14 February, when this matter came back for debate, I voted for the Government motion, which essentially supported both the Brady and the Spelman amendments. I was sorry to see it defeated. The point here was not that I had suddenly succumbed to the wonders of the Brady position, but rather that I understood that some level of compromise was needed to give the Prime Minister a stable base on which to negotiate.

Of course many Members, myself included, are very concerned at further attempts to kick the can down the road yet again. The problem is that we have now run out of road and decisions will have to be taken. I am actually pretty open-minded on the terms of the deal for our withdrawal from the EU, although I shall certainly have more defined views on what our future relationship should be. To that extent, I would like to see time set aside for indicative votes to be held to debate our future relationship with the EU. We must now look forward to our future with the EU as a partner rather than just look back at how we get out of it. The key mistake we made on leaving was to start negotiations without an agreed position, which made us very easy prey for the EU negotiators. I will advocate Norway plus, and others may have different proposals, but the inaction cannot happen again as we head towards the next round of negotiations on a future deal.

However, my immediate concern is that we do not leave the EU without a deal and that we provide the breathing space that business so badly needs. To fall off the cliff would be to invite scarcity, lower living standards, lost employment and lower investment in the UK, and I share the concern of many MPs that the people will punish us for that. When I say “us” I mean all of us —not just the governing party, but the Opposition, who will be seen not to have acted in the national interest.

I certainly welcome the Prime Minister’s promise yesterday to allow a vote to extend article 50 in the event that the meaningful vote and then a no-deal resolution are rejected. The Government will need to elaborate on whether they will whip to oppose no deal and also to support any article 50 extension. The Minister seemed just a bit uneasy about answering that key question earlier today. Also, will the House determine the length of the extension, and if the EU makes a counter-proposal on the extension period, will the Government bring that period to the House for debate? The answer is seemingly yes from what the Minister said earlier, but I think that we will need further elaboration.

I am also still very concerned about the ongoing delays in bringing forward the meaningful vote, which I will support, with all its damaging delay implications for business. Let me be clear: I have no interest in delaying Brexit day, but nothing could be worse than leaving without a deal.

I was saddened to see the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition failing to engage immediately after heavily losing the first meaningful vote, which I supported. That was the wrong approach, and I think that the Prime Minister knows that we will sort this matter out only when she engages with all Members of this House who are prepared to take a sensible approach to negotiating with the EU. I was pleased to hear Keir Starmer confirm today that Labour is prepared to talk.

Since the votes on 29 January, I have seen nothing coming from the EU to suggest that it is prepared to reopen the terms of the withdrawal agreement—quite the opposite. That is not to say that we should not continue to engage with the EU. Indeed, it may be the case that we can agree some kind of ancillary document—perhaps a binding one—that provides a roadmap towards ending the need for the backstop.