MPs who say they want to delay Brexit are really trying to stop it
Less than two years ago, four out of every five MPs voted to trigger Article 50, and so set in train the timetabled process by which we would leave the EU. We knew perfectly well that, in the event that no agreement about our exit was reached with the EU at the end of this period - 29 March this year - we would still leave, but without a deal.
Now many of these same MPs are in disreputable denial about their actions. With faux outrage they demand that the Prime Minister "takes no deal off the table". But they put it on the table, and there are now only two ways to take it off. One is to agree a deal, yet most of these same MPs have refused to vote for one. The other is not to leave at all. It is becoming increasingly clear that, whatever they have said to their electorates, this is what many politicians - most of them Labour - really want.
The amendment which Yvette Cooper and others have tabled, to be voted on in the House of Commons on Tuesday, is designed to avoid no deal by delaying Brexit, possibly by up to a year, although its backers may settle for three months. I have the greatest respect for many of my colleagues who sympathise with this amendment. I know they have grave concerns - which I share - about the impact of a no-deal Brexit. I certainly have not joined those who, incredibly, now say we should actively wish for no deal. This would be like deliberately driving at speed into a tree in the hope of escaping uninjured to claim a new car.
Many have become deaf to economic warnings because they believe these are another manifestation of "Project Fear". Some of the predictions may indeed have been overblown. But ignoring the risks altogether would be equally foolish. The impact on our automobile and agricultural industries could be particularly severe, while any disruption to trade at all would be highly problematic for the reputation of the UK and the Government.
I understand why patriotic Brits are drawn to no deal. But it would mean suddenly imposing tariff and non-tariff barriers on half of our trade. It would mean no transition period for businesses to enable them to prepare.
It would mean no reciprocal agreement to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and of UK citizens living in the EU. It would mean no security partnership with the EU.
MPs are right to try and avoid this outcome. But if they also wish to keep to their promise to deliver Brexit, the only way to do so is to agree a sensible deal. Some want a Norway-style softer Brexit. But many others appear to have changed their mind, and now want a second referendum so as to stop Brexit altogether. They should say so openly. Passing clever legislation so as to delay the date of leaving won't rule out no deal: it will postpone the problem.
Delaying our departure will prolong uncertainty. It will break the promise we made. It will provoke an angry response from many voters. And it will lessen the pressure on the EU to make concessions.
Brussels needs to know that if they move to address concerns about the backstop the deal will go through. But the deal will never be perfect.
I led the "Conservatives In" campaign, but I immediately accepted the result of the referendum, believing that it should be honoured.
If I can compromise, voting for a withdrawal deal I would not have chosen, so can Brexiteers, who currently risk losing Brexit altogether.
And so can MPs who voted for the referendum, who claimed they would respect the result, who voted to trigger Article 50, and stood on manifestos that promised we would leave.