There will be three days of crucial Commons decisions on Brexit in the week ahead. On Tuesday the Prime Minister has promised to bring her ‘deal’ for a further vote of MPs. For the past month Theresa May has been trying to persuade the EU and Irish Government to drop the so-called ‘backstop’ insurance policy that the open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will stay open, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. Unsurprisingly, the Irish Government and the EU are refusing to let go of this crucial principle. And I can’t really blame them. The relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a sensitive one where peace has been won and should not be jeopardised for the sake of the right-wing ERG demands on Theresa May’s backbenches. So with Attorney General Geoffrey Cox also failing to get any key concessions on this, it is highly likely that the Prime Minister will fail again to win support for her approach (although nothing is ever certain!).
If the PM fails on Tuesday, we then move on Wednesday to the second crucial day – where the PM has promised Parliament will get a chance to finally decide on whether we should exit on a ‘no-deal’ basis. Given MPs have already said once before that we don’t want a ‘no -deal’ crash-out scenario, I fully expect the same result. MPs will say ‘no’ to no-deal.
This means that on Thursday, the third big day of votes, we will be confronted with deciding how best to instruct the Prime Minister on a request for an extension to the exit day, currently due on 29th March, but now clearly not a feasible prospect. Personally I want to see an extension to the Article 50 period sufficient to allow a People’s Vote, so that the British public – in the full knowledge now of how disastrous Brexit is looking – can decide finally on whether we exit on terms agreed by Parliament or choose instead to stay in the EU and move on.
As you will know from my previous MP Updates, I am exasperated at the pathetic lack of leadership from both the Tories and Labour frontbench, who have dodged and hedged this issue rather than stand up for the jobs and livelihoods at stake. We still don’t really know what the PM will do, nor do we have a clear picture from the Labour Party – despite the warmer words since the creation of our Independent Group of MPs towards the notion of a People’s Vote.
It is high time that we got on with a decision and so I will be voting on the basis this is the time to decide. If we can extend for the public to make this decision then that should happen. If the EU don’t give a clear extension for this then we should be ready to suspend the Article 50 period so that the UK can hold its own public vote of our own volition in our own way. Having won the right to ‘stop the clock’ at the European Court back in December, I believe this option may well need to be considered shortly.
It matters because our public finances and public services face further cuts if Brexit drags our economy down. The complacency on show from both the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor about our public finances is breath-taking, and on Wednesday in the ‘Spring Statement’ we need an acknowledgement from both frontbenches about the damage Brexit will do to our NHS, schools, environmental and other key public services.