Recent days and weeks have seen Brexit explode in Parliament, as well as in the national consciousness. It has been a fast-moving situation, with new developments each and every day.
On a daily basis I have been receiving correspondence calling for a wide-ranging list of desires on every possible side. These have ranged from accepting the Prime Minister’s deal (which I have voted for twice), a no-deal Brexit, a second referendum, revocation of Article 50, and many more. It is impossible to please everyone and represent everyone’s concerns.
It is not a secret that I voted and campaigned to remain within the European Union. That said, the country voted to leave in the largest democratic vote in our nation’s history. For many, this was either the first time they have voted, or at least the first time they have voted in decades – many felt that it was the first time they had an actual stake in their country’s future.
I firmly believe that the result of the referendum must be respected. As a Member of Parliament in our representative democracy, I not only have a duty to the people and the wishes of Finchley and Golders Green, but I also have a duty to democracy, which is a principle in which I firmly believe.
This is why I have supported the Prime Ministers deal on the two occasions it has been put before the Commons. It is a big step forward toward delivering the referendum result and honours the manifesto pledges on which I stood for re-election in 2017. It provides certainty for jobs and the economy, as well as the rights of European citizens in the UK, and sets an ambitious direction for our future relationship, including the foundations of a positive trade deal that works for both our country and our European neighbours. It is a deal that is good for London too – as it reaches a common ground on services and investment, including financial services so important for the city’s economy.
I have not lost sight of the vote in Finchley and Golders Green, and I have been raising the concerns that have been conveyed to me with Ministers on a regular basis, to ensure that concerns are heard.
The last few weeks have seen a number of important votes and developments, which I will try to go through below:
Meaningful Vote 2 – Tuesday 12th March
The second meaningful vote on the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration took place on the 12th March and was regretfully voted down by a 149-vote margin. Much of the opposition to the deal was based upon concerns regarding the ‘backstop’, and issues with the Irish border.
No deal? – Wednesday 13th March
As pledged if MV2 did not pass, the Prime Minister put forward a motion to ask the House of Commons if it supported leaving without a deal.
This was amended with an amendment tabled by Caroline Spelman to say that the Commons ‘rejected no deal’. This amendment was supported by a margin to 312-308. The main proposition amended to take no-deal off the table, the main motion was approved by 312 votes to 278. While I do not support leaving without a deal, I did think it was necessary to keep it ‘on the table’ as a negotiation tactic.
Much has been made of the fact I did not vote on the 13th March. This was because I was ‘paired’ with a Labour MP who had to be absent from parliament for personal family reasons. This was in accordance with longstanding parliamentary convention. In extenuating circumstances such as this, the convention is that a Government MP is ‘paired’ to maintain parity in voting numbers and to ensure that no one’s vote is discounted.
Extension of Article 50 – Thursday 14th March
With no deal having been taken off the table the previous day, a motion was put before the Commons to extend the Article 50 period.
There were many amendments to this motion, including an amendment asking for a Peoples Vote, which was heavily voted down – as rather oddly, not even the Peoples Vote campaign supported it. There was a further amendment to allow Parliament to take control of the process, which was also defeated.
The main motion was voted in favour of by 412 to 202 votes, requiring the Prime Minister to request an extension to Article 50.
The following week, on Monday 18th March, the Speaker made a statement to say that he would not allow a third Meaningful Vote, unless it had substantial changes. He cited a precedent in Erskine May – the parliamentary rulebook - set in 1604, and not used since the 1920s, that you cannot put the same proposition before Parliament more than once. This is despite having said, as recently as January, that ‘not in the business of invoking precedent, nor am I under any obligation to do so’.
The Prime Minister attended the European Council last week and requested an extension to Article 50 from the European Union. The EU27 offered a deal whereby we have an extension until 22 May if a deal is approved by 12th April (this would be to allow time to get the necessary legislation through Parliament). If a deal has not been approved by Parliament, any further extension would require the United Kingdom to hold elections to the European Parliament in May, almost three years after the UK voted to leave the European Union.
What will happen next, and how this week will unfold remain to be seen. A week in Brexit is a very long time and is highly unpredictable. The coming week may see a third meaningful vote, which I will support once again if it comes before the house. It may see a series of indicative votes to allow parliament to attempt to find a way to move forward – although it is unclear that these would lead to a single option that has consensus.