Our failure to leave the European Union by the end of March now sees us given another extension until the end of October to get an agreement through Parliament. If we can achieve this earlier, we avoid the humiliating feature of European Parliamentary elections in May. As I have written before, I just cannot see Parliament delivering a majority for the Withdrawal Agreement which the UK and EU have agreed. It has failed to pass three times now. Some may say that the spectacle of electing MEPs in May could just jolt those on the anti-EU side of my party to hold their noses and vote for the deal. Similar optimistic noises were made last time and it still failed to attract enough support to get it over the line.
This then leads to talk that softening the Withdrawal Agreement, perhaps to bind the UK to the EU’s Customs Union, would perhaps get a majority. This may be so but I would struggle to support it in these circumstances. If leaving the EU means that we cannot put our own trade deals together with the rest of the world, one of the key sells of leaving, then it does not seem an attractive proposition. Indeed, we would not even have a seat at the table to determine those trade deals (as we do as a current EU member). Whilst there is no evidence of what people meant when voting to leave, I believe that the majority were not intending us to keep one of the key pillars of the EU.
So if we cannot get the current deal over the line, and if I struggle with the concept of watering it down to deliver a softer Brexit, what is the answer? It is important that there is an answer. Too many MPs are voting against everything and failing to advance a credible alternative. This is what caused me to look towards a ‘confirmatory’ public vote to get us a solution. The choice would be (a) the Withdrawal Agreement (not watered down) or (b) Revoke Article 50. I would campaign for the former. It is not without risk, for someone such as me who has committed to delivering Brexit, but we have to face the reality that a failure to consider this option may mean not delivering Brexit at all if it is left to Parliament. I strongly believe that it will get the public majority which then sees us immediately leave the EU on those terms. Those who voted to leave would revalidate it. Many, like me, who did not vote to leave but always said we would respect the democratic result, would also back it. Those who want an end to the debate would also be attracted.
I have always said that taking this decision back to the people would be a failure of Parliament. It is just that. However, it is where we are and we have to face reality and find a solution. So determined am I to do so, I attended a rally this week for the ‘Peoples Vote’ campaign. So far, this organisation has been a front for those who want to overturn Brexit. They now realise that they need to attract those who want to use the vote as a means to deliver Brexit. I was the first Brexit-backing MP to speak at such a rally but, despite my views, I was given a positive reception even after I had told the hall that I would campaign with everything I could to ensure that Brexit wins in the vote. My reception was partly down to the fact that I had been told that speaking at the event would cost me my position in Government. Given that the option of a confirmatory vote was given to MPs in Parliament without a Government whip to vote one way or the other, I had told those upstairs that it would be a bizarre move to get sacked for explaining how and why I had used my free vote. Despite pressure on me not to speak at the rally, I refused because I have not done anything wrong. I had expected to get fired but, later that day, many members of the Government failed to vote for their own Government in a vote on the EU. Having consistently voted with the Government it would be bizarre to then be singled out for coming up with an idea to deliver Brexit when the Prime Minister is taking a few from the leader of the Opposition. That said, in this current Parliament, nothing should come as a surprise!