I promised to write periodically on the issue of Brexit. This is my third briefing on the subject since the June referendum. I am regularly contacted on the subject by people who are content with the outcome of the Referendum and those who still challenge it. I have already said that like the Government I respect the outcome of the vote.
The position I take was succinctly put in debate on the subject in the House of Commons by my colleague Dominic Grieve, MP for Beaconsfield. His constituency voted narrowly to remain in the EU and he said that since the result he has felt that his task was to help to achieve Brexit in a manner that is satisfactory and will lead to the best possible outcome for everyone in the country. I completely agree.
Some suggest that Parliament has had no say in discussion. This is far from the truth. So far, Parliament has spent over 110 hours debating Brexit and its effect on various aspects of the country. To put that into context, the amount of time given to debate the main reading of a Bill would be some 6 ½ hours. The House of Commons has spent over 53 hours and the House of Lords over 57 hours in debate. The subjects have ranged from the EU and workers' rights through aviation and transport to EU nationals. This total excludes the time we have all spent in discussions with Ministers lobbying for a particular outcome.
In a debate in the House in early December MPs across Parties agreed the following motion:
That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; notes the resolution on parliamentary scrutiny of the UK leaving the EU agreed by the House on 12 October 2016; recognises that it is Parliament's responsibility to properly scrutinise the Government while respecting the decision of the British people to leave the European Union; confirms that there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations to depart from the European Union after Article 50 has been triggered; and calls on the Prime Minister to commit to publishing the Government's plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked, consistently with the principles agreed without division by this House on 12 October; recognises that this House should respect the wishes of the United Kingdom as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March 2017.
The media sought to make much divisive comment on this but in essence it was straight forward. The motion does no more than (i) state the result of the referendum, (ii) restates the agreed position on parliamentary scrutiny of the Government (iii) accepts that there is a need for confidentiality over our negotiating position, (iv) agrees to publish a plan, and, (v) confirms that Article 50 will be invoked by 31 March 2017, as the Prime Minister has always said.
All but one Conservative MP supported this motion. Overall there was very good Parliamentary support for this which was approved by 451 to 89 votes. However, the vote split the Labour Party where 23 members failed to vote for it. And, of the Liberal-Democrats, only 6 were around to vote.
As Conservatives, we agreed to uphold the outcome of the referendum whatever that was. It was a referendum held on a country basis not on a constituency basis. It would be a real kick in the teeth for democracy to go back on that decision now.
Supreme Court Case
At the same time as this vote was being held, the Supreme Court was deciding whether Parliament needed to approve the triggering of Article 50 or whether the Government could. It is worth remembering that the court case arose because of two High Court judgements which contradicted each other – one in the High Court in Northern Ireland and the other in England. The arguments were narrowly based on legal points as to whether the UK government has the power to serve notice of its intention to quit the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty or whether it must seek Parliament's authorisation. From a political point of view, it is difficult to see what impact the case will have. The Government is ready to introduce a one-line Bill if required and personally I doubt whether the House of Lords will frustrate an overwhelming Commons vote in favour.
The real business now is deciding what a 'Brexit that will bring the best possible outcome for everyone' will look like. There are many diverse issues and aspects involved and often those who contact me have a particular concern relating to their own circumstances. This is both understandable and helpful as specific insights can be shared and I can feed these into public debate and private meetings as appropriate. To my mind this is a key part that MPs can play in the process – ensuring that the many diverse concerns are heard by those involved in the negotiations. There are those who become antagonistic if their view is not agreed with but it is impossible to agree with everyone!
I have been pleased to engage in discussion with constituents and learn about some of the details that affect particular situations. I recently met with a group of people who support the campaigning group 38 Degrees to discuss the whole Brexit issue. Their members come from both sides of the argument and have had discussions amongst themselves on a range of individual issues. I welcome their input and indeed would be happy to meet with other small groups to hear different inputs if people would like to arrange such meetings.
We can use terms such as 'hard Brexit' or a 'soft Brexit' and in the end I doubt that it will be either. For now our discussions both within Parliament and with others are important in teasing out the key issues and the implications of different scenarios.
I continue to welcome constructive discussion on the subject.