Next Steps on Brexit

One of the main reasons that I voted for the proposed Withdrawal Agreement when it came before Parliament was to ensure that a deal was in place for March 29th. 

I have been entirely consistent with regards to our relationship with the European Union since I was first elected as MP for Cheadle in 2015. I was elected on a manifesto pledging to hold a referendum and when the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted for such a referendum to take place, politicians from across the political spectrum and on both sides of the campaign promised to both respect and implement the result.      

Therefore, despite both personally voting to remain and being conscious of the fact that 57% of people in Cheadle did so too, I kept my promise to the people of Cheadle to abide by the verdict of the British people by voting with a clear majority of my colleagues from across the House to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

In doing so, MPs began a two year negotiation process during which the EU and the UK have negotiated the proposed Withdrawal Agreement. If a Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified by both the EU and the UK prior to the end of the two year process, the default position, clearly outlined in the Lisbon Treaty, is that the UK would leave without a deal. 

I have never believed that leaving the EU without a deal in March is a position which the people and the businesses of Cheadle, or the country as a whole, want. There is a clear majority of voters who want the UK and the EU to have the forward looking partnership whether they supported remain or leave. 

Some MPs who voted against the Withdrawal Agreement have made clear that they do not wish to stop the UK leaving the EU, they simply disagree with the Prime Minister's vision of our future relationship. Although it has been suggested that a minority of those who voted against the proposed Withdrawal Agreement would have done so regardless of the content of the Agreement. 

I would like to be absolutely clear that whatever we think about what the future relationship between the EU and the UK should be, regardless of whether we think the UK should stay in the Single Market or the Customs Union, the UK can only negotiate a future relationship once the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified. 

As such, passing the Withdrawal Agreement is the only way of ensuring that the UK does not leave the EU without a deal. An extension to Article 50 as proposed by some of last week's amendments would do nothing to change this. The choices facing MPs would be identical at the end of an extension period to those that they face now. 

Furthermore, extending Article 50 isn't something that the UK can do alone, even if Parliament was to vote in favour and force the Government to act. The UK Government would need the unanimous agreement of all 27 other EU member states and they have been clear that they would want a specific reason for the request. If it was just to allow time for 'further debate', as some MPs have indicated, the request would almost certainly be refused. 

Crucially, an extension for longer than 3 months would be extremely difficult legally and politically regardless of the reason. The new European Parliament would sit in early July and yet the UK would have no MEPs. Furthermore, it is questionable whether the EU would be willing to reopen time-consuming negotiations for such a prolonged period of time given that it has already spent 18 months on them. 

Many of those who voted to leave may well suspect that an extension was really just another way of trying to prevent the UK leaving the EU by buying time for another referendum. Indeed, it is worth bearing in mind that the anticipated amendment calling for a second referendum was not tabled last week, with many citing a lack of belief that the House of Commons would currently support such an amendment as the explanation. 

I warmly welcome the fact that there is now a parliamentary majority conditionally in support of the Withdrawal Agreement and indeed, I appreciate some of the concerns raised by my parliamentary colleagues regarding the so-called Northern Ireland Backstop. The Prime Minister is therefore attempting to renegotiate aspects of the Backstop and I support her in doing so.