This week is traditionally seen as the start of the new parliamentary year, as the House of Commons returns from its summer recess. However, the first items of business focus our attention on the problems that were not solved in the previous session, rather than on new challenges. In particular the overwhelming need for us to bring the Brexit negotiations to a successful close. One of the main reasons that I backed Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party leadership election was his commitment to take our country out of the European Union by the current deadline of 31st October. I want the UK to leave with a good deal in place that helps us establish a free trade agreement with the rest of the EU, but also crucially leaves us outside of its political institutions. The ‘backstop’ provisions in the current version of the withdrawal agreement are unacceptable because they would bind us, perhaps indefinitely, into the EU Customs Union, restricting our ability to strike new trade deals with other countries, and requiring the UK to abide by most of the rules of the EU Single Market, even though we would have no say in setting them.
The government has been very clear with the EU about the changes we want to see to the withdrawal agreement in order to make it acceptable. It is also apparent that unless the UK is prepared to leave the EU without a deal on 31st October, there is no prospect that other European leaders will be prepared to make these amendments. That’s why I will not be supporting the legislation this week to try to make it legally impossible for the UK to leave the EU without a deal.
We have to stop this Brexit doom-loop in which we have become trapped. This has seen Parliament state repeatedly that it will support Brexit with a deal, but every time a particular type of agreement is proposed it votes it down, requiring a further extension in the negotiation process. The EU knows that in this situation it can hold out in the hope of getting the withdrawal agreement it wants, or just keep extending the UK’s membership. We have to bring this to an end and the only way we can do this is by being clear that we are leaving on 31st October, deal or no deal.
It is possible, however, that there will be enough votes in the House of Commons to pass legislation which would stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal and bind us into a further three months of membership, at the minimum. In this scenario, the Prime Minister is right to say that he would be prepared to seek a general election in order to break the deadlock, and campaign for public support for his strategy to take us out of the EU by the end of October. In this he will have my wholehearted support.