We’ve got to get on with Brexit. We cannot continue going round and round in circles discussing and debating the Prime Minister’s deal when it is clear there is not enough support in the House of Commons for it to pass. The consequence of this political fact, which has been clear since before Christmas, is that Brexit has already been delayed once, and if we don’t get an agreement in place soon, there is a danger that it delayed for even longer.
It is always possible that there will be a late conversion to supporting the government’s proposed withdrawal agreement, and that it will be approved before 12th April; the date that has been set by the European Union, in order that Brexit can be completed before the European Parliament elections in May. However, we cannot gamble everything on that, and we cannot afford to waste any more time. That’s why on Monday night I voted for the House of Commons to take control of the business of parliament on Wednesday, so that motions can be tabled to see if there is a majority of support for an alternative Brexit strategy.
I will not support motions that seek to stop Brexit. I will not vote to revoke Article 50 and cancel the Brexit process, nor will I vote for a second referendum or for a lengthy delay to Brexit. My preferred option throughout the last few months has been for an amendment to the Prime Minister’s deal in order to remove the provisions that would leave us locked into the backstop arrangements, should we fail to agree a future relationship with the European Union, during the transition period. If that is not possible, then I think we should seriously look at Brexit based on leaving the EU and joining the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), an option that is also being called ‘Common Market 2.0’. The United Kingdom was one of the founding members of EFTA in 1960, which was established to promote free trade across Europe. If we re-joined EFTA, which includes other successful non-EU member states like Norway and Switzerland, then we would be outside of the Common Agriculture Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, and free of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice; our own courts would take precedence once more. EFTA members have a form of customs union with the EU to facilitate trade but are also free to trade deals with other countries. They are also part of the single market but can in certain circumstances restrict freedom of movement. We would have to make a financial contribution for access to the market, as other countries do, but this would be about half of what we currently pay as an EU member state. Such an approach would be a compromise, but if there is a majority in favour, it could deliver Brexit now and provide certainty for the future over our relationship with the rest of the EU. This means that rather than having negotiations carrying on for several years on our trading relationship with Europe, which would be the case with the Prime Minister’s deal, we would have a new model where the rules are already largely established. EFTA membership would also be a solution for the whole of the UK, and thus avoid the problems created by the Northern Ireland backstop in the current version of the withdrawal agreement.
Despite all of the complexities of Brexit the choices we face now are really quite simple. If there continues to be no majority for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, then we would have either a long delay, no Brexit, no deal Brexit, or a second referendum. If none of those options are appealing, then we have to find an alternative path to delivering Brexit, and fast. That has to start with finding a majority of support in the House of Commons, and is why Wednesday’s votes are so important.