Happy new year! I hope everyone has had a restful break over the holiday period. I must say after so much Brexit stress before Christmas, MPs were desperate for a holiday! But now we’re back in parliament to find it’s Groundhog Day – nothing has changed, except that there now remain even fewer days left until we’re due to leave the European Union. With the Prime Minister’s deal still apparently a long way short of the votes she will need to get it through parliament next Tuesday, this is an alarmingly short amount of time to avoid crashing out with no deal.
So it’s not surprising that you can sense a new sense of urgency and impetus around Westminster, characterised by some very excitable, even intimidating, behaviour. Some of that took place outside parliament, and I am one of many MPs who signed a letter to the Metropolitan police commissioner demanding action following the disgraceful threats to Anna Soubry MP and commentator Owen Jones from some hardline Brexit campaigners.
But there have been attempts to intimidate inside parliament too. Before Wednesday’s rescheduled debate on the Prime Minister’s deal began, Tory MPs wasted the best part of an hour challenging the Speaker’s decision to allow a vote on an amendment from Dominic Grieve, demanding the Prime Minister come back to parliament with a Plan B within 3 sitting days, if she loses the ‘meaningful vote’ on Tuesday. Eventually, the amendment was voted through, vindicating the Speaker’s stance, but the aggression and hostility in the chamber was, at times, very ugly.
The vote on Wednesday followed a similarly devastating defeat for the government on Tuesday, on an amendment to the Finance Bill, tabled by Yvette Cooper, which will prevent the government from spending money on ‘no deal’ arrangements without the explicit consent of parliament. Together, these two votes are about parliament doing what we are there to do, and indeed what Brexiteers told us we would be able to do if we left the EU, which is to scrutinise and call to account our own government. They mark a sea change in the authority of parliament in this process.
But these wins don’t mean the stress and uncertainty is over – far from it. Parliament is still a long way from finding a deal a majority of MPs can agree on. This impasse simply can’t go on much longer. That’s why Labour has said it intends to table a vote of no confidence in the government, to try to force a general election, which some Labour frontbenchers have suggested could come as early as next Wednesday.
And if we can’t have a general election, we are really running out of options now, and the situation is becoming very urgent. In my view, we will simply have to find a way to extend or revoke the Article 50 process, to give ourselves more time to resolve matters. My own preference, as I have made clear, if a general election is not possible, is to use that time to hold a people’s vote on the way forward.
I don’t take that view lightly, or even enthusiastically, to be honest, but because I passionately believe we must avoid leaving with no deal at all costs, and this could be the only route left open to us. And to put my cards fully on the table, I want remaining in the EU to be one of the choices on the ballot paper, and I will campaign for us to remain – as I did in the 2016 referendum.