Reflecting on this week's Brexit votes

This week the House of Commons clarified its view on Brexit.  MPs ruled out delaying Brexit, rejected leaving the EU without a deal, and required the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ to be replaced with “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border.

Crucially, the motion which MPs - including me - supported on the backstop also said that we would “support leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change”.

So for the first time the Commons indicated what it wanted rather than what it opposed.  It made clear its preference for a deal, and specifically its support for the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister, provided the backstop issue is addressed.

I voted against amendments which sought to delay Brexit, for reasons which I set out in an article in the Sunday Telegraph.  I reiterated my strong concerns about ‘no-deal’, because of the costs and disruption to trade which could damage our economy.  These are not risks we should seek to take.

But I also pointed out that there are only two ways to avoid leaving without a deal: either Brexit has to be stopped, which I believe would be wrong in the light of the referendum decision, or a deal has to be struck.

“Taking no-deal off the table”, as some MPs proposed, was therefore no more than a misleading slogan.  It could only have delayed the fundamental decision which has to be taken, prolonging uncertainty.

Tellingly, MPs who support a second referendum declined to bring this proposal to a vote, revealing that there is currently insufficient parliamentary support for it.

The Prime Minister said her aim was to bring a revised deal back to the Commons by Wednesday 13 February, or else there would be further opportunity for votes.  So there are only two weeks to try and resolve this issue with the EU.

As the Prime Minister said, negotiating a legally binding change to the backstop “will not be easy”, as it would involve reopening the Withdrawal Agreement, which the EU does not want.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March.  Our EU partners will have to decide whether they want to accept the risks of ‘no-deal’ or not.  It remains in their interests, as well as ours, to do a deal.

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