A General Election looms

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A General Election looms

John Baron MP discusses the increasing likelihood of a General Election.

The No 10 spin machine is currently in overdrive to spook Brexiteers such as myself into supporting the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement. We are being told that Brexit risks being delayed, or even abandoned altogether, if we do not acquiesce to what we all know to be a flawed deal. There have even been suggestions that those MPs not supporting the agreement are somehow unpatriotic.

Yet such pressure is counter-productive. Rather than indulging in speculation and second-guessing as to the cumulative effect of future decisions that may or may not be taken by other MPs, and indeed EU officials, I can only vote on the facts as I see them.

Having campaigned to leave the EU, many of my Parliamentary colleagues and I have done all we can to honour the referendum result. We have opposed both meaningful votes, and many of us have voted against ruling out ‘no deal’ and against extending the Article 50 deadline.

I have also tried myself to improve the Withdrawal Agreement. This has included in January pushing my amendment to allow the UK a unilateral right to exit the backstop. Although this was voted down, a nearly identical amendment tabled by Sir Graham Brady MP was passed a fortnight later, but this too is now being marginalised.

The key problem is that we Brexit-supporting MPs are outnumbered by an overwhelmingly remain-dominated Parliament which voted to trigger Article 50 and yet is now trying to ignore it. Amongst other things, these MPs are trying to formally rule out a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

This is unacceptable and would further undermine trust in our democratic system. Ruling out ‘no deal’ and pushing back our exit date is not keeping faith with the EU referendum result. I intend to honour this in full – having voted against ruling out no deal and against extending Article 50.

MPs now have to make a difficult decision whether to support this flawed deal, or risk the prospect of Brexit being delayed or marginalised further. I respect my colleagues who vote otherwise, but for me I return to the facts in front of me. Trying to anticipate the actions and consequences of other people’s votes can be a fool’s game.

The deal remains flawed. The standout message from the Attorney General’s updated advice is that the legal risk of being indefinitely caught in the backstop remains. Without substantial changes to the backstop, I will vote against the deal if it returns to the House of Commons.

In the absence of an agreement, ‘no deal’ is the default outcome of our votes two years ago to trigger the Article 50 process – which was passed by a majority of 384. As the law stands, we leave the EU, with or without a deal.

It is difficult to implement change when in opposition. Unlike the ideological purists in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, who historically have preferred to lose elections than compromise on one iota of their far-left doctrine, Conservative policies have adapted over time to a changing world and thereby have remained relevant to voters.

However, there are still times when digging in for a particular policy is both warranted and proper. This is when core values are at stake, or when circumstances demand that you stand by a policy. Brexit is one such example, not least because Parliament chose to contract out the question of our EU membership to the electorate. That answer, now received, can not just be cast aside. Yet this is what the remain-dominated Parliament wishes to do.

As the time of writing, the House of Commons has seized control of the Brexit process, in effect setting itself up as a rival executive to the Government. We are now in uncharted waters, not least because it is not clear how, if at all, the legislature holds itself to account. It is not even clear how the process of ‘indicative votes’ will operate.

The Government has sensibly not committed to implementing the outcome of the votes, because it is not certain that MPs will vote for something that is achievable and MPs could suggest a course of action contrary to Labour and Conservative manifestos at the last General Election. I will continue to support my election promises of leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, of keeping ‘no deal’ on the table and of leaving the EU as soon as possible, as anything short of this is not honouring the referendum result.

A snap General Election looks increasingly likely. Whatever the outcome of the indicative votes, the numbers inside the Commons will not change. It may be that an election is necessary to redress the balance in favour of MPs willing to implement the referendum result, for history suggests it is unwise for any Parliament to distance itself from the people. The events of the next few weeks will be eventful and unpredictable.

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    John Baron MP
    John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay, and a former Shadow Health Minister. He is also Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the British Council.
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