MPs must stop the dither and delay and back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal today

MPs must stop the dither and delay and back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal today

There have been many big days for us at BrexitCentral in the more than three years we have been chronicling the highs and lows of our journey out of the European Union. And they don’t get much bigger than the first Saturday sitting of the House of Commons since 1982, when MPs are going to be tasked with voting on the new Brexit deal that Boris Johnson agreed in Brussels on Thursday.

After Theresa May’s deal was voted down three times by the House of Commons, all the key players on the EU side, including those from the European Commission and national leaders from the EU27, were adamant that her deal could not be reopened and that the Irish backstop was non-negotiable. Yet during less than three months in office, Boris Johnson has forced them to U-turn as the deal was indeed re-opened and the backstop replaced.

Shanker Singham of the Alternative Arrangements Commission explains in his piece for BrexitCentral today how considerable, palpable and significant changes have been achieved as compared with the May draft, while writing for us yesterday, Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, described it as “a genuinely exciting and hugely positive deal that true eurosceptics can – and should – enthusiastically support”.

We are inclined to agree with Jacob, and we find ourselves in good company. Home Secretary Priti Patel, a Vote Leave stalwart who voted three times against the May deal because it “put Brussels in the driving seat and gave them too much control”, is endorsing the Johnson deal which achieves “what almost every commentator in the land and on the continent said was impossible”. Likewise Suella Braverman, who quit as a Brexit minister over the May deal and also voted it down consistently, urges her colleagues to back the deal not only to deliver Brexit but also because it “goes to the heart of our integrity as parliamentarians. To reject this deal is to reject democracy. To reject this deal will be a vote to again rob the British people of what they are legitimately owed”. Simon Richards, Chief Executive of the Freedom Association and Founder of the Better Off Out campaign which set the Brexit ball rolling in Parliament as long ago as 2006 wrote yesterday that this is “our best chance of taking back control of our country from the EU”.

Former UKIP MEP and BrexitCentral regular Patrick O’Flynn has given it his seal of approval. Lord Trimble, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in bringing peace to Northern Ireland where he went on to serve as First Minister yesterday declared the deal as “a great step forward” and “fully in accordance with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement”. And on the BrexitCentral website today we run further pieces in support of the deal from West of Scotland Conservative MSP Jamie Greene, Fawzi Ibrahim of Trade Unionists Against the EU and Kate Andrews of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

And while any of us who were involved in the Vote Leave campaign would struggle to describe Nigel Farage and Arron Banks’ Leave.EU as “good company”, their endorsement of the deal yesterday was arguably among the most powerful interventions as they pointed out:

“The enemies of Brexit are hoping and praying that Boris’s deal doesn’t pass. With Speaker Bercow in their pocket, they’ll refuse an election and continue plotting to keep us in the EU. We can end the Losers’ Vote campaign in a single day – pass the deal and crush their plots!”

If you’re trying to outdo the self-styled bad boys of Brexit in a “Who can be the most anti-EU?” competition, you must be in a pretty extraordinary place.

Of course, the deal isn’t perfect. But we struggle to see how any further delay to this process is going to result in a better deal being secured. The longer the delay, the weaker the mandate of the 2016 referendum – that’s exactly why the forces of Remain keep pushing for extensions to the Article 50 negotiating period. So long as we still have a Remainer-dominated Parliament, things aren’t going to get any rosier for the Brexit cause, while a general election following a further delay to the delivery of the referendum mandate (if the forces of Remain will even allow it) would be something of a gamble in volatile electoral circumstances.

And this deal by no means represents the end of the process. If it passes, we will need to ensure that the transition period concludes at the end of next year as we look to the kind of relationship the UK and EU should enjoy in the future. Gone is the underlying aim of a customs union with high regulatory alignment, as envisaged in the deal cooked up by Theresa May’s team. Instead, as Simon Boyd suggests in his piece for BrexitCentral today, we should be looking at “a mutually beneficial Free Trade Agreement (Canada+++) with the EU that will allow us to decide over our Standards and Regulations in the interests of the British people”. And if anyone can deliver that, it is surely Boris Johnson and his team who in these last three months have demonstrated their capacity for successful deal-making.

So we believe the deal is worthy of support and that MPs should vote for it today.

However, there remains – unbelievably – the prospect that MPs might not actually be able to vote on the Johnson deal at today’s historic sitting after all, thanks to the antics of Sir Oliver Letwin. The amendment he has tabled to the Government’s motion – all but certain to be selected by the Speaker – seeks to remove most of the text of the motion to formally endorse the deal and instead merely state that “this House has considered the matter but withholds approval unless and until implementing legislation is passed”.

In other words, Letwin wants to stop the Government from being able to put the deal to the House of Commons today by turning its motion into a neutral motion, thereby forcing ministers to seek an extension to the Article 50 period under the terms of the Benn Act (because MPs would not have endorsed a deal by the statutory deadline of today). It would therefore only be next week that the Government could put before MPs the deal and associated legislation (which Letwin professes to support). Last night Letwin claimed:

“My aim is to ensure that Boris’s deal succeeds, but that we have an insurance policy which prevents the UK from crashing out on 31st October by mistake if something goes wrong during the passage of the implementing legislation.”

All of which means that if the MPs who passed the Benn Act with a majority of 28 last month now vote for the Letwin amendment today, then everyone tuning into the TV news tonight to see whether the deal was passed may well find that MPs didn’t actually make a decision. It would be farcical and the public would rightly judge that the political class were evading their responsibilities yet again – which is why we would equally urge MPs of all parties to vote down this all-too-clever Letwin amendment and instead be part of a collective effort to stop the dither and delay and finally deliver on the referendum result.