I wanted to update you on my activities as your MP concerning Brexit, and I think, after a tumultuous week in Parliament now is the best time to do so. It may be that many people are bemused or uncertain about recent events, so I will try to explain how I see them and set out what I have done in response to them.
As you will know the UK was given an extension to what was the previous EU exit day after Theresa May’s completely unsatisfactory ‘deal’ was rejected three times by Parliament. The extension, to October 31st was intended to enable the UK to come up with agreed proposals for a ‘deal’ on which the UK would exit the EU. In my view such a deal should always have involved access to the customs union and the single market, all of which was missing from the Theresa May proposals.
Since then the Government has simply wasted the time available. Much of this was taken up with the Conservative party electing a new leader, who has shown since he has become prime minister a complete unwillingness to develop any alternative proposals for the UK, and has instead been quite clearly running the clock down to a departure from the EU on 31st October without any deal on trade, customs or movement in place: in short a jump over the cliff. We know from internal government documents, among other things, that such a move would be catastrophic for the country in terms of a likely sharp economic contraction, severe shorter-term problems with food, medicines and other vital supplies for the country, and the likely loss of vital trade agreements across the world.
The Prime Minister has compounded strong suspicions that he is hell bent on dropping the UK off that cliff by recently proroguing parliament for five weeks under the pretext of a new Queen’s speech so that there will be no parliamentary scrutiny or votes as the clock runs down. I do not think anybody, whether they voted leave or remain in the referendum, consented by that vote to such a catastrophic and reckless course of action.
That is why, with many colleagues in all parties, I took part in action this last week to use the small window of time available to parliament to seize control of the parliamentary agenda and propose legislation which would prevent the UK crashing out of the Eu with no deal on October 31st. We succeeded in this, and legislation followed which has now passed all its stages in Parliament. It requires the Prime Minister either to put a new deal to the House and to the European Council of Ministers on the 15th October or if not to ask the EU for a further extension so that a satisfactory deal can be agreed.
At the moment, it doesn’t look like the Government, or the Prime Minister is willing to do either of these things and we are therefore at something of an impasse. One solution that has been advanced is to hold a snap General election, to decide on the issue. The problem with this currently is that if a date for an election is agreed before the end of 31st October, it is within the power of the Prime Minister, once the dissolution of parliament has been agreed, to change the date and take the UK out of the EU with no deal whilst the election is under way.
My view is that we need a general election both to get round the impasse and offer the country an alternative agenda on a whole range of other issues that will be important to us whether we leave the EU with no deal , reach a good deal , or stay in the EU., but we also need the guarantee that an extension will have been agreed before we have it, so that whoever wins the election can engage in meaningful discussion with the EU subsequently, and is not just faced with a ‘fait accompli’ no deal exit bestowed upon us by the departing prime minister.
The other way to resolve the impasse is to put the issue of what we do next back to a second referendum: do we accept a no deal Brexit, or do we decide now that we know what is entailed, that we will stay in the EU and push for the reforms we want from within. One disadvantage of an election is that it may result in a composition of parliament that doesn’t allow for the issues to be resolved and a referendum may then need to be held to allow the people to establish a clear direction for all of us: and even if we have a new government that does not want the UK to leave without a deal, with all that has happened over the recent period it would be appropriate to obtain the advice of the people on whether any deal is preferable to the deal we already have, of being continuing members of the EU. My view is that a referendum would be wise in pretty much all the circumstances we might find ourselves in: and to be clear if there is a referendum, and there is an option within it to remain in the EU , I would campaign and vote for that option.