More than sixteen weeks ago, when Parliament was originally expected to have its ‘meaningful vote’ on the EU Withdrawal Agreement on 11th December, I published this detailed statement on my website to set out the position I had reached after a significant amount of deliberation and communication from local residents: that I would vote against the agreement (because I could not vote for something both and I and the Government know would make my constituents poorer); and that I would continue to campaign for the matter to be put back to the country via a public vote.
I also spoke in the debate that was held in the Commons ahead of the anticipated vote on 11th December, reiterating the conclusion I had reached and why. However, that vote in Parliament was later postponed by the Prime Minister and held instead on 15th January, and then again on 12th March, when the Government was defeated in historic proportions each time.
Theresa May subsequently waited until last week to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process (although it is not entirely clear what she thinks this delay is for) and, as such, in the week that we had been due to leave the EU, we currently have no idea when Brexit might happen, nor under what circumstances. We are therefore still no clearer as to where our country, the economy – and the hundreds of thousands of British jobs that depend on our trade with the EU, including many thousands in the North East – will be in a matter of weeks’ time.
I know this situation is completely unacceptable and intolerable, and I am acutely aware of the huge and costly uncertainty and anxiety this has caused for businesses and people up and down the country – but I am also very clear that this appalling mess is entirely of the Prime Minister’s, and Government’s, own making.
Triggering the time-limited Article 50 process without any plan, or agreed strategy, for where we should end up (which I therefore voted against at the time) – before wasting months of valuable negotiating time by calling a General Election, that only resulted in a minority Government.
Completely failing after that General Election to listen, reach out or engage with MPs – either by party, geographically or their views on Brexit – in order to build much-needed consensus. And then wasting yet more time by repeatedly postponing, or simply ignoring, ‘meaningful votes’ on the agreement, even though it was clear it would not command Parliament’s support some four months ago.
Instead of more dithering and delay, we urgently need to find a way to put a stop to this crisis – and I believe the only democratic way of moving this process on for the country is one which would require an act of true national leadership on the Prime Minister’s part.
Many of my constituents will know that, for the best part of a year (see here, here and here, for example), I have campaigned for whatever Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated by the Prime Minister to be put back to the British public, given the enormity of its implications for the future of our country over many decades to come.
I have regularly made the case that, if Theresa May is so confident that her agreement does indeed represent the will of the people expressed almost three years ago, she must surely be prepared to go back and ask them to confirm whether it is what they want for their family, community and country. I don’t feel I can support the agreement that has been negotiated on behalf of my constituents unless my constituents are given the opportunity to confirm whether they would support this Brexit outcome.
And I have subsequently, and repeatedly, urged the Prime Minister to put her Withdrawal Agreement (which both she and the EU have repeatedly said is the best and only Brexit deal available) back to the people, in order to get past what has become a never-ending and damaging Parliamentary deadlock.
Since then, two of my Labour colleagues – Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson – have come forward with a compromise proposal that would offer passage through Parliament for the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, but only if it is then put to the British people in a confirmatory, binding, final public vote. And this is a proposal I would support.
It would of course involve significant concessions for many MPs, as well as for me – by allowing an agreement to pass through Parliament which I know would make my constituents and wider region poorer. However, I recognise that we cannot continue going round in ever-decreasing circles. We have run out of road, and I simply cannot see any other democratic way to break this deadlock. The proposal put forward by what has become known as the ‘Kyle-Wilson amendment’ is therefore what we should be using an extension of the Article 50 process for.
However, in signalling my support for this proposal, I must also be clear that – alongside the overwhelming majority of MPs – I remain categorically opposed to the prospect of us leaving the EU without a deal, given the clear and obvious damage this would cause to our country and its international standing – and most particularly to areas like the North East.
Allowing such a scenario to occur would be a dereliction of my clearly set-out duty as a Member of Parliament to act in the interests of the nation as a whole, with a special duty to my constituents. I didn’t come into politics to make my constituents poorer, and I certainly didn’t get elected in order to drive my country – and region’s – economy off a cliff. Should the Prime Minister fail to back the Kyle-Wilson proposal, I am therefore prepared to do what it takes to prevent a no deal Brexit from happening – including by supporting the revocation of Article 50 should this become necessary.