Accept this deal, or Brexit may never happen
The PM’s plan isn’t perfect, but if it’s voted down our divided Parliament could stall the process of leaving
In just under four months’ time, the UK will leave the European Union. For those of us who believe Britain’s best future lies outside a supranational organisation dead set on ever-closer union, this is a goal we have spent years working towards.
I campaigned for a referendum. I voted to hold the referendum. I campaigned to leave. I voted to leave. We won. We are now within touching distance of breaking free from the European Union. Do I think everything in the Prime Minister’s deal is perfect? No. Do I expect it to be perfect? No. Does it do what we need it to? Yes.
We will be out of the EU, ending the risk of Britain being dragged into an ever-more federal Europe. We will be free to decide for ourselves who comes to the UK. Free to decide who fishes in our waters. Free to decide how to support our farmers. Free to open new markets around the world to the best that Britain produces.
The exact path of our exit is not yet fully certain. That is to be expected. Unwinding 40 years of growing European influence in our laws, our politics and our country was always going to take time. An implementation period is a sensible step to make this process as smooth as possible.
The backstop isn’t ideal. We don’t want to end up there – and we certainly don’t want to stay there. Neither do the EU. And I don’t believe we will.
There are those in the trade policy space who say that the UK would not be able to attract international partners to new trade agreements during any backstop because they would not know when any such agreement could be implemented, but the same would apply, of course, to the EU. Who would want to have a free-trade agreement with the EU if they didn’t know what their future relationship would be with the UK – the world’s fifth-biggest market, right on their doorstep?
There is also a suspicion in some EU quarters (hard for many Eurosceptics like me to understand) that the backstop is a way, if the UK doesn’t get what it wants from our future relationship, to retain single market access without making any financial contribution and outside free movement. What, they say, would we tell Norway or Switzerland who already have to pay for such access?
Despite all this, I know some people think this is a risk. I understand that. But I worry that we are focusing on the wrong risk. There’s a much graver risk that we need to see clearly.
Before the referendum there was never a majority in Parliament for leaving the EU. It took the referendum to change that. Yes, Parliament voted to trigger Article 50 and repeal the European Communities Act. But I worry what a Parliament that lacks a natural Leave majority might do if this Brexit deal is voted down.
We have a deal that has been reached, painstakingly negotiated, and ready to go if only MPs vote for it. It may not be what every Leave supporter imagines as their perfect Brexit. But what happens if MPs don’t vote for it? What happens if those who back Brexit don’t come together to back this Brexit?
The truth is that Parliament is sovereign and Parliament will decide the way forward. When I look across the House I see John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn mobilising for a second referendum, and I see the SNP, whose sole aim is to break apart our country. MPs can ask the Speaker for emergency debates to have their say. The Lords will have the chance to amend the Trade, Fisheries and Immigration Bills.
We need to leave. There are laws we need to pass for any sort of ordered Brexit. These would be at risk of amendment by the opponents of Brexit – either to require the government to seek an extension of Article 50, or to deliver the most chaotic possible exit in an attempt to force a change of course. Wherever you look, their direction of travel is clear and not in our favour.
As Leave supporters, the choice we face isn’t between the deal the Prime Minister has reached or a deal we might like to reach. The choice is between this deal and the very real risk of no Brexit. If Parliamentary tactics are used to steal Brexit from the British people, faith will be lost in the very fabric of our democratic process with potentially unknowable consequences.
I will never forget the morning of June 24 2016. Years of hard work paving the way for a referendum. Months of hard campaigning. The result came in and Britain voted out. We are so close to delivering that result. On March 30 2019, I want to wake up in a country that has left the European Union. I don’t want to be left wondering how we managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.