Over the past couple of days I have supported a series of amendments to try to reduce the risk of the U.K. crashing out of the EU on March 29th with No Deal. The Government must stop introducing deliberate delays and instead make serious plans for what happens if the Prime Minister's Deal is rejected. As there have been no changes to the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, rejection looks to be near certain and we do not have the luxury of time on our side with just 79 days to go until Brexit.
Yesterday I voted for an amendment that will prevent the Government implementing the "no deal" provisions of The Withdrawal Act without the explicit consent of Parliament.
In essence, this was about Parliament making it clear to Government that there is no majority for No Deal. That message was highlighted further during a cross Party meeting between the Prime Minister and over 200 MPs after we had written to set out our deep concerns about the damaging effect of No Deal on individuals, businesses and communities.
Today I supported a further amendment in order to reduce the timeframe for Government to return with its proposals about what should happen next if the Deal is voted down next week. The Government will now have 3 days rather than 21 days to respond.
This matters because of the very serious consequences that would follow if we left the EU in a chaotic manner and the increasing risk of that happening as a result of running out of time for any alternatives.
A majority of MPs won't support No Deal because of both the immediate and longer term damage this would inflict on our economy. The government's own forecasts predict that growth over the next 15 years without a deal would be 9.3% lower than it would otherwise have been on current terms.
WTO rules are not the panacea that some claim, British exports to the EU would be hit by tariffs of around £6bn. The cost of Imports would also be affected, increasing the cost of living in the UK.
There would be serious disruption to complex supply chains hitting many of our key manufacturers and also creating delays to the supplies many products including diagnostic supplies and medicines which are crucial to patients who rely on NHS care. Stockpiling and other No Deal planning costs are already running into billions and the Government could and should prevent this waste by ruling out No Deal.
But the avoidable problems created by No Deal extend beyond this to the major disruption to networks of cooperation in vital areas such as policing, security, research and travel.
We would all be affected and whatever the rhetoric from those who argue for No Deal, Britain would be far poorer, weaker and more isolated. No responsible Government or MP could vote to knowingly and deliberately inflict this on the people they represent. I and many of my colleagues would resign the Conservative whip if it became the Party's stated policy objective.
It is also time for Government to stop presenting this as a simple binary choice between the Prime Minister's deal and No Deal. Parliament has shown and will continue to demonstrate that it is not prepared to accept that.
I welcome the NHS Long Term Plan, which is wide ranging and ambitious. It rightly celebrates the successes of the NHS but is realistic about the scale of the challenge to meet relentlessly rising demand and to improve services. It acknowledges the pressure on staff as a result of the workforce shortfall and the urgent need to upgrade facilities including digital resources.
It is one of the greatest triumphs of our age that we are living longer but more of us are living with complex and long term conditions and there are widening inequalities in the degree to which both young and old are living in poorer health. There also remains an unacceptable variation in outcomes and experiences for patients from one area to the next even where that cannot be accounted for by resources or local challenges.
The Plan sets a number of priorities such as making sure that a greater share of NHS resource goes to mental health, especially for children and young people as well as to GP and wider community services. It lays out a number of proposed improvements to major areas such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory disease as well as a welcome focus on children and young people.
I'm glad to see the Plan accept the recommendations of the Health and Social Care Committee on closer joined up working across the NHS. Not only to bring truly integrated services with social care but to break down unnecessary barriers between GPs and hospitals, and between mental and physical health. Some of these artificial barriers could be better cleared if there were changes to legislation, including to help reduce wasteful and bureaucratic competitive procurement rounds and to allow a greater priority for joint cooperative working rather than competition. The HSCC recommended that any legislative proposals should be designed by and come from those working in and alongside the NHS, rather than as top down proposals from government.
The success of the Plan will depend on having the NHS and Social Care workforce to deliver it and much will also depend on the Spending Review settlement ahead. The 3.4% average annual uplift for NHS England over the next 5 years does not include the public health grants which are central to prevention of ill health and reducing inequality, grants which this year are continuing to fall. Nor does the NHS settlement include the crucial funding for Health Education England which covers education, training and professional development.
The Plan also makes clear that it cannot deliver without a stable and realistic long term settlement for social care. The government's Social Care Green Paper is expected within weeks and it is not possible to fully assess the NHS Long Term Plan without also seeing the long term proposals, including the financial settlement, for social care.
Likewise for capital funding, which is also due to be announced in the Spending Review later this year, because this will underpin new facilities, technology and equipment as well as tackle a worrying maintenance backlog.
The Plan proposes to fund evidence-based NHS prevention programmes, including to cut smoking; to reduce obesity, doubling enrolment in the successful Type 2 NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme; to limit alcohol-related A&E admissions; and for the NHS to contribute to lowering air pollution for example. But for these to be successful there will also need to be cross government action with a willingness to be prepared to look at tackling health inequality and prevention in all areas of policy as these big issues cannot be properly tackled in isolation by the NHS.
In many ways the Plan mirrors themes and priorities that were also set out in the last long term plan, the 5 Year Forward View, many of which remain unfinished business. The last plan was undermined by the cuts to social care, public health, capital and training budgets and it is important not to see this repeated. It is also important to recognise the many important changes that did get underway and a number of successful pilots are highlighted as pointing the way ahead for what delivers better and more joined up health and care for patients. This new plan will be trying to make sure that the best care is delivered everywhere rather than as scattered examples of best practice and that Integrated Care Systems make sure that all parts of the wider health system are working together more effectively.
My view is that there will need to be access to the up-front resources to transform services in the same way as is often available to pilot projects for them to succeed, and to cover the double running costs that make sure that new facilities are in place before old services are dismantled. It is also important to allow time for changes to demonstrate an effect. In the short term new ways of working may even appear to increase costs but if in the longer term they help to prevent conditions worsening and reduce the need for more expensive treatments down the line that is in the best interests of individuals as well as reducing long term demand.
It is easy to end up talking about systems but all those tasked with delivering this ambitious Plan must above all keep the needs of patients, families and communities at the heart of everything they do.
It is now just 100 days until we are due to leave the EU and businesses, public services and the Public Accounts Committee are again producing evidence and warnings that the UK is unprepared for the shock of a No Deal Brexit with no transition. Any talk of 'managed no deal' is no more than a dangerous delusion and no more reassuring than a 'managed' car crash. No responsible government could knowingly inflict this kind of pain on the people and I could not remain a member of the Conservative Party if they made that their main policy objective to deliver such a disastrous outcome. No one voted for economic, health and social problems on the scale that would be unleashed in the event of a chaotic exit at very short notice.
I will continue to campaign in Parliament for the people to have the opportunity to examine and give their own verdict on the Prime Minister's deal with an alternative option to remain.
Many people have asked what I would do if the result were the same and Britain voted to leave. The answer is straightforward, I would do all I could to make that work in the full knowledge that we would be going forward together as a nation with informed consent. It is not asking the people that undermines trust in democracy, rather it would be to blunder ahead with plans that neither please the 48% nor the majority of the loudest campaigners for Leave.
Last night's confidence vote has clearly demonstrated that there is no majority in the Conservative Party in the Commons, let alone across Parliament, for the hard Brexiteer's vision of Brexit. I supported the PM in last night's vote. The inescapable truth is that the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework will not pass the Commons either but it is the only realistic negotiated version of Brexit. We have reached deadlock and sooner or later the PM will have to take her deal direct to the people or risk us crashing out in a chaotic Brexit with inadequate transition arrangements in place. Britain is woefully unprepared for that and no responsible government could allow that to happen.
This whole episode was unwelcome and unnecessary but at least we will all be spared the weekly threats of the '48' letters for at least a year and the PM should now stop trying to appease the right wing of the Party.
I will be backing Theresa May in this evening's confidence vote. I hope that the ERG will finally be shown for what they are, a small and unrepresentative faction pushing for a version of Brexit that has no chance of passing the Conservative Party let alone the House of Commons. It was irresponsible and self-indulgent for a few individuals to be pushing their own leadership ambitions at such a time of national crisis and particularly to have done so whilst our Prime Minister was meeting EU leaders abroad.
No one should doubt Theresa May's personal integrity and sense of duty and the contrast with those scheming to take her place could not be in sharper relief. Whilst I continue to hope that the PM will move to take her deal direct to the people, I have great personal respect for her determined efforts to try to find a compromise through the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework.
I hope we will now be spared the ERG posturing for a while as, following an unsuccessful leadership challenge, there cannot be another for 12 months.
The Parliamentary vote on Tuesday has now been delayed and we are awaiting a Statement from the Prime Minister in the Commons at 3.30 today to set out what happens next. I hope that there will be an acknowledgement of the gridlock in Parliament and a pledge to return the decision on the final deal to the British people, with an option to remain with the deal we already have.
The European Court of Justice has this morning ruled that the UK can unilaterally withdraw Article 50 if that follows a democratic process and that if it did so we would remain on current terms. This matters because there has been some false speculation that Britain might face a penalty for remaining and this puts beyond doubt that this would not be the case.
Thank you to everyone who has written to me about Brexit and the Parliamentary votes due to take place on Tuesday. It used to be said that 'a week is a long time in politics', but the situation appears to be evolving far more rapidly than that.
As things stand, it looks certain that the Approval Motion for the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework will fail to pass the Commons. This defeat would then come on the heels of three avoidable defeats last week where the government was found in contempt of Parliament for refusing to abide by its own promise to publish its legal advice, and on the issue of Parliament's demand to be able to amend future motions on Brexit.
In 'normal' times, the official opposition would then move to a vote of no confidence in order to try to trigger a general election. That Labour now say that they will delay, this reflects their ongoing reluctance to come off the fence on the issue of a People's Vote, as they have long promised their members that they would move to back such a vote if their bid to trigger an election failed.
The simple reality of the situation we face is that both the main political parties are divided on Brexit. The same is true of our country, this constituency, communities and even within families.
Parliament has reached gridlock, with no majority in support of any of the options, not for the Prime Minister's compromise, not for the softest 'Norway' style Brexit, with or without a customs union, not for a Canada style free trade agreement and least of all, because of the scale of the consequences, for No Deal without any transition.
Once the approval motion falls, it is likely that the PM will try to seek further concessions from the EU but their position has remained united and that looks unlikely. Coming back to the Commons with cosmetic warm words will not yield a different result.
The fact is that this negotiation was always going to be far tougher than was claimed during the referendum campaign in 2016. Far from being 'the easiest deal in human history', breaking away from more than four decades of close ties will leave Britain poorer and more isolated. Brexit is about far more than free trade deals or being in the fourth division trading on WTO rules.
The uncomfortable Brexit reality is set out in the WA and FF, full of trade-offs, compromises and future uncertainties that please no one. If agreed this wouldn't end the wrangling, the real negotiations about our future relationship would just be beginning as set out in the 26 page wish list of the Future Framework, but with no leverage on the part of the UK.
I cannot support it for that reason, but also because I do not think it has the valid consent of the British people. At the time of the original referendum, Brexit was sold on a false prospectus of unrealistic promises and at a time when no one could say which of the many versions would be the final outcome. We now know what Brexit looks like and people are in a position to weigh up the risks and benefits of the negotiated deal as opposed to unrealistic promises that cannot be delivered. Rather than plunge us into weeks of constitutional crisis or risk crashing out with no deal or transition, I hope the PM will take her deal to the people with a simple question about whether they wish to proceed on these terms or stick with the deal we already have. I will be supporting a People's Vote.
The message from clinicians and scientists is clear; Brexit is bad for our health. It will be harmful for people who rely on the NHS, research, social care and public health as well as for the workforce on which these depend. Having listened to the evidence presented to the Health and Social Care Committee in Parliament over the past couple of years, I cannot remain silent about the impact this will have on the communities I was elected to represent, especially in the event of a chaotic exit with no deal and no transition. Hard Brexit in particular would knowingly, and avoidably, inflict reckless damage to the close partnerships, built up over decades, in place at every stage from research and development to medicines and devices arriving on the community pharmacy or hospital shelf.
There is no version of Brexit which will benefit the NHS, social care, public health or our life sciences sector, only varying degrees of harm. This, together with the wider economic fallout from Brexit, will have the hardest impact on the most disadvantaged in society. We would not be insulated from the economic damage here in Devon.
Brexit reality is vastly different to the fantasy Brexit miss-sold to the public during the referendum campaign. The promise on the side of the bus of an extra £350m per week has crashed into the inconvenient truth that there is no Brexit bonanza for the NHS, only a Brexit penalty. A new report, Brexit and the Health and Social Care Workforce in the UK - by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) - also highlights the vital role of EEA nationals across social care as well as the NHS, and the scale of the threat to recruitment and retention as a result of Brexit.
It is likely that there will be provision for doctors and nurses coming to the UK after Brexit, albeit at extra cost and bureaucracy, if the government follows the guidance of the Migration Advisory Committee. But the effect on the social care workforce and those who rely on them for care will be particularly serious because of the salary threshold of £30,000. We already have a serious shortfall of healthcare assistants in social care in our area. We cannot afford to lose or further demoralise those who have given so much to our health and care services.
Brexit is major constitutional, economic and social surgery and we are all being wheeled into the operating theatre on the basis of a vague consent form signed over two years ago when no one knew which of the many versions of Brexit would be taken forward. It is time to insist that our politicians apply the principle of informed consent. The Withdrawal Agreement has been published alongside a draft Future Framework for our relationship with the EU after Brexit. Only now can we properly weigh up the risks and benefits of the proposed surgery rather than the fantasy Brexit touted in the referendum. Parliament is in gridlock and there is no majority for any of the options. It is wholly disingenuous for Mr Corbyn or the right wing of the Tory Party to pretend that they could negotiate a better deal with less than 130 days until we could end up crashing out with no deal and no transition. Neither will an irresponsible leadership challenge help in such a moment of national crisis.
The Government needs to recognise the stalemate and suspend Article 50 to allow the public their say on the only realistic deal that could be negotiated. That People's Vote should include the option to remain in the EU.
People may come to the same conclusion to leave the European Union. To proceed without informed consent, however, would not only be grossly unethical, it would also place the blame for the unintended consequences squarely at the feet of all those politicians from across both main Parties who allowed it to happen.
Alongside a group of current and former clinicians in Parliament, I plan to bring forward an 'informed consent' amendment to the 'meaningful vote' approval motion on the final deal that would make the deal conditional on a People's Vote. It is not acceptable for MPs to sit on the sidelines claiming that the people have already delivered their verdict. Without informed consent there is no valid consent.
If you were about to undergo surgery, you would expect to know what the operation involved and to be informed about all the risks and benefits. It's called informed consent and no decent surgeon would go ahead without it.
Brexit certainly is major surgery with far-reaching consequences and the government is about to proceed without informed consent.
At the time of the referendum the choice was simply to leave or to remain. The type of Brexit was not on the ballot paper, which is like a surgeon asking their patient to consent to an amputation in two years' time without either of them knowing whether this would involve a few toes or their whole leg.
Voters were assured that this would be the easiest deal in history and that the world, including the EU, would be queuing at our door to trade on our terms. There would be cake and we would be eating it, alongside every fish that swam in our waters.
In the real world, instead of a bespoke deal we are all being marched briskly to the edge of the cliff. No deal and no transition look increasingly likely to be the outcome, and is the preferred option of those MPs who have deliberately and fatally undermined the Chequers plan.
The surgery looks set to be far more radical than anything set out in the referendum and the side-effects and complications of a hard, walk-away, no-deal Brexit with no transition are very different from the promised targeted surgical excision of just the parts of the EU that the Brexiteers didn't like. Shouldn't people have an opportunity to weigh up the risks and benefits before proceeding?
Once we know the final terms there is not just an opportunity but a duty to set out the unintended consequences as well as the potential benefits. There is a compelling case for that to be followed by a people's vote: we have to make it clear to government that it should not embark on potentially ruinous surgery without the informed consent of the British people.
It might be that a majority nevertheless decide to proceed, but there is no democratic mandate for Brexit until the choice is clear and an informed decision can be made. If the hard Brexiteers are confident about their walk-away, no-deal scenario they should be happy to agree.
The polls show that public opinion is turning on Brexit, especially as the sheer scale of the cost and consequences becomes clearer.
No responsible government should countenance deliberately and knowingly inflicting such economic and social harm on its people before at least checking that is what they really wanted.
During and after the referendum campaign I asked many people about the priorities behind their vote. The fact is that there was no one single issue. For some it was a promise on the side of a bus, for others, 'taking back control' over issues ranging from agriculture and fisheries to immigration and sovereignty. I met almost no one, then or now, who felt that we should accept being poorer as a result. As the reality hits home that the EU will reject sector by sector deals, 'the cake and eat it' approach, even if that means economic pain on both sides of the Channel, a stark choice lies ahead: Do we really want to march out through the exit door with no deal at all and with less than a year to put in place complex customs and borders arrangements? Rather than presenting a rose-tinted view, the hard Brexiteers need to level with the public on the scale of the unintended consequences. The government should not keep the economic impact analysis locked in a secret reading room accessible only to Parliamentarians but publish these so that everyone can examine the evidence.
In supporting New Clause 5, an amendment to the Trade Bill that would keep us in a form of customs union or customs arrangement after Brexit, I am not 'blocking' Brexit or 'obstructing the will of the people'. Britain is leaving the EU. This is an argument about the type of Brexit and that was not on the referendum ballot paper. The duty for MPs in carrying out the will of the people is to examine the evidence and press for the best possible Brexit, not to make their constituents poorer.
My view is that we should also opt for membership of the EEA and EFTA at least for the transition period. This would allow us to leave the Common Fisheries Policy and, like Norway, regain control over our fisheries, an issue of great importance to Brixham. But frictionless trade is also hugely important for both fishers and the processing sector, and in particular for exports to our most important markets in the EU.
Without a form of customs union or arrangement, border checks are an inconvenient inevitability. Without a customs union the current fudge over the border between North and South on the island of Ireland will inevitably become untenable. No one wants a return to the conflict of the past. The price of abandoning any kind of customs union is too high and I won't support it.
There is also a simple truth that there is no Parliamentary majority for a walk-away, no-deal Brexit. The small band of hard Brexiteer MPs need to stop throwing down red lines like spaghetti and stop threatening to remove the PM unless she bends to their will. The PM has herself spoken clearly of wanting a customs agreement with the EU and NC5 is compatible with that as it does not call for 'the' Customs Union on existing terms. My role as an MP is to read the evidence and to clearly state the case for what I believe is in the best interests of my constituency and the country even if that is sometimes wilfully misrepresented by those who simply want us to walk away, whatever the unintended consequences.