Why I’ve reluctantly concluded that MPs need to vote for Theresa May’s deal

Why I’ve reluctantly concluded that MPs need to vote for Theresa May’s deal

As I mulled over writing what you are about to read while walking past the pro-Brexit demonstrators outside Parliament yesterday, I don’t mind admitting that my eyes welled up and I was overcome with emotion.

I thought about the strength of feeling among those demonstrators – and indeed amongst the tens of thousands of loyal BrexitCentral readers – about the need to deliver on the historic referendum result of 2016 where our fellow countrymen voted in unprecedented numbers for that proposition which defied the will of the political establishment; and I thought about how some of them may feel let down.

That’s because I have, with the heaviest of hearts, come to the conclusion that Parliament should pass the deal which Theresa May is putting to the House of Commons again later today. Please hear me out as I explain why.

There can be few who have been more invested in the whole process of getting Brexit delivered than me, having been chronicling the process on a daily basis since September 2016, firing up my laptop before the crack of dawn most days and then staying up later than is healthy to read the first editions of the following day’s papers in order to provide the comprehensive service that I know is appreciated by so many. And from the start, BrexitCentral has been unapologetically in favour of promoting the delivery of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU with an optimistic attitude about our future as an independent nation.

As the details of the likely shape of the Brexit deal emerged with the Chequers proposals last summer, we published numerous articles critical of the approach being taken by the Government. And ever since the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration emerged last November, barely a day has gone by when BrexitCentral has not carried pieces exposing the shortcomings and failings of the deal for a whole variety of reasons.

I understand the strength of hostility to the deal. I share the feeling. It is a bad deal. I vividly remember welcoming Theresa May’s statement at Lancaster House that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”. So after she presented the country with a bad deal, I concluded that leaving the EU on WTO terms with numerous mini-deals on the side – because that’s what ‘No Deal’ would actually entail – was the optimal outcome. Judging from my daily inbox, I know that huge numbers of BrexitCentral readers agree.

And, of course, leaving without a deal is the default position in law, as I have said in many an interview on TV and radio over the last few months.

However, as someone who has nerdily followed politics and Parliament for the best part of three decades, I thought there were also a number of other things that were taken to be default positions and incontrovertible rules of our parliamentary system. Such as neutral motions in the House of Commons not being able to be subject to amendment. Or the Government being in charge of the parliamentary timetable. Or ministers being expected to resign if they are not willing to vote with the Government. Or the Speaker of the House of Commons observing and protecting long-standing rules of procedure. Yet I’m afraid the events of recent days and weeks have seen all these norms – and more – discarded and abandoned.

The default position might be to leave on WTO terms if the deal is not agreed, but the House of Commons has shown itself to be fervently against allowing a no-deal scenario: in Wednesday’s indicative votes, only 160 MPs were willing to say they would back No Deal while no fewer than 400 voted against it – a majority of 240. And twice now Speaker John Bercow has allowed MPs on a mission to scupper the Brexit for which I yearn to vote to seize control of the House of Commons’ agenda. And that’s just the beginning of their antics.

I have concluded that those same MPs would therefore have it within their power to use every trick in the book – and most probably tricks that aren’t even codified in books – to prevent a no-deal Brexit over the coming fortnight if the deal is not passed. In extremis they might be able to contrive to act in a way that resulted in the revocation of Article 50. At the very least, they would likely cause the imposition of a long extension to Article 50, during which their parliamentary shenanigans would continue and by the end of which the mandate of our 2016 referendum would doubtless be called into question.

We are into serious uncharted territory with precedents being ripped up here, there and everywhere. So failing to back the bad deal on the table gravely risks the prospect of any form of Brexit being delivered at all.

There is one particular saving grace of backing the deal and formally leaving the EU, as former Cabinet minister Lord Lilley sets out in today’s Sun newspaper:

“Once outside the EU, there will be a ratchet preventing our return – because that would involve accepting the euro, Schengen, free movement and an annual contribution without Mrs Thatcher’s rebate. Moreover, the very humiliation of our Vassal status – being subject to EU laws, tariffs and trading policies without any say – will amplify pressures to extricate ourselves from this status.”

He concludes that “in this fallen world we often have to make choices between two evils” and that “this appalling Withdrawal Agreement is the lesser evil”. I believe he is correct.

I’m not giving the deal an enthusiastic endorsement. Far from it. I am merely saying that MPs should, with the greatest of reluctance, vote for it on the basis that the realistic alternatives are even more unpalatable.

I know some people – including passionate campaigners who have written for and supported BrexitCentral – will be disappointed by my conclusion. I hope that we can disagree respectfully; and they should know that they will continue to have access to the BrexitCentral platform to put their case as I have always sought to make this website a place for the range of opinions from within the Brexit-backing family to be heard (and today, for example, Alasdair Dow makes the case for rejecting the deal on the basis of the Irish backstop here and Greig Baker also appeals to MPs to oppose it here).

This has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to write. I have agonised over the issue these last few days, ever since the Government lost control of the parliamentary agenda. I dare say some will believe me to be deserting the cause of a clean break Brexit. But I’m afraid the simple truth is that political reality and parliamentary arithmetic dictate that such an option is not now available to us.