One of the few things that everyone agrees on when it comes to Brexit is that it is all a complete mess. No one voted for this divisive shambles undermining our economy and trashing our international reputation. But the undeliverable promises made during the campaign have collided with reality and a hung Parliament. It's like being locked in a car with a broken handbrake and an incompetent driver, rolling towards the edge of a cliff.
The Prime Minister has twice put her Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework, to a meaningful vote claiming it to be the 'will of the people'. It certainly isn't the will of Parliament which has rejected it on both occasions by historic margins.
Brexit reality turns out to please almost nobody, neither the 48% who voted remain nor the majority of Leave voters. The Deal is deeply flawed and looks nothing like the sunlit uplands promised during the 2016 referendum campaign. The problem is that the Prime Minister's alternative, to leave with No Deal, is even worse.
In a crowded field, one of the strangest moments of this past week was for the Chancellor and other cabinet ministers to be setting out the stark and grim reality of No Deal, only for the government, just a few hours later, to be effectively whipping their own MPs to vote for it. Many abstained rather than vote for catastrophe. Collective Cabinet responsibility and the Prime Minister's authority have evaporated but given the reality that we are just a fortnight from Brexit, the government limps on.
Thankfully Parliament has made it clear that it absolutely rejects No Deal because of the compelling evidence of the real world harm that would inflict.
The problem remains that MPs remain deeply divided and cannot agree what they do want. Parliament is completely gridlocked.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister continues to stick rigidly to her false binary choice between the Deal on the table and heading over the cliff and intends to bring the Deal back for the third time of asking. There are no changes to the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement and little prospect of a different answer.
At that point the PM has been instructed to return to the EU to ask for an extension to Article 50. A short extension would only help if the existing Deal was agreed and the time could then allow the backlog of legislation to be passed. Otherwise it would be like constructing a gangplank from the edge of the cliff to No Deal. A longer extension however would draw us into elections to the European Parliament.
The Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework are flawed but this 'warts and all' Brexit is the best that could be negotiated. Whilst an alternative Norway style model with or without a customs union would be less economically damaging, the trade-offs would infuriate hard Brexiteers even more.
The divisive reality of Brexit leaves no one happy. It has already cost us billions and it has drained time and energy away from so many other pressing priorities. We should be striving to end austerity and getting to grips with issues like social care, education and police funding, housing and the environment but instead, two years on, we are still consumed by the hard choices underlying Brexit.
In my view, it is time to take the decision on Brexit reality back to voters. There is no consent to the deal on offer, no one voted for this mess and people should have the right to weigh up the risks and benefits of the actual Deal on the table, or a clearly defined alternative, and decide whether to go ahead or to stick with the deal we already have.
Parliament had the opportunity to show its opinion on this yesterday but for all their protestations to support a second referendum, the Labour leadership, decided to scupper the vote by heavily whipping its MPs to sit on their hands and abstain. The only leadership on offer this week from the Labour benches was from Select Committee chairs like Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn. More than ever, Jeremy Corbyn looked like an opposition leader in hiding rather a Prime Minister in waiting.
The grim news from Sunderland that Nissan have pulled out from a major future investment, should come as no surprise. Even Patrick Minford, one of the very few economists who Mr Rees Mogg and other hard Brexiteers can rely on to support their views, told a Parliamentary committee that WTO would all but destroy the UK car industry, but inferred this would be a price worth paying. Not for the tens of thousands of people and their families who depend on Nissan for their livelihoods across the North East.
It is not just the steady drum beat of warnings from firms like Jaguar Land Rover, Honda, Airbus and the pharmaceuticals sector that should worry us but the deep concerns of small and medium size companies the length and breadth of the UK about the consequences of No Deal.
It's easy to talk glibly about 'clean Brexit' but there is nothing clean or appealing about the reality of No Deal. I've seen the slogans 'Let's go WTO' outside Parliament, but there is a good reason why no country chooses to trade exclusively on those 4th division terms. All nations prefer trade deals but these are complex and time consuming to negotiate. At a stroke, if we exit with No Deal, we lose the trade deals we enjoy covering nearly 80 countries which extend to us because we are members of the EU. These deals cover around two thirds of all our goods exports and, as with the car industry, it is likely that other countries would prefer to import from nations with whom there are deals in place.
For our part, simply removing tariffs unilaterally on imports from one country, would oblige us under WTO rules to remove them from all which would mean kissing goodbye to major sectors of our own industries. How would our own farmers compete with a flood of cheap imports of lamb, beef and vegetables? The simple answer is that they would not cope with a rush to the bottom on pricing and the inevitable trade offs on welfare standards.
Far from being the 'easiest deal in human history', to quote the International Trade Secretary, Brexit reality does involve difficult trade offs and compromises. We were promised that scores of deals would be ready on the stroke of midnight as we left the EU, that 'Britain would hold all the cards' and that we would retain the 'exact same benefits'.
The reality is that the Prime Minister is presenting us with a choice between a bad deal that leaves us with no future certainty and No Deal.
It turns out that No Deal is worse than a bad deal - but I do not accept that this is a binary choice. I don't accept that either of these choices can be said to represent the 'will of the people'.
Having lost the vote to ratify the deal in Parliament by an historic margin of 230, the government then cobbled together an assortment of backbenchers to produce an amendment to try to paper over the cracks. The deliberate fiction underlying the so called Brady Amendment, was a mirage that the Prime Minister could unilaterally achieve a renegotiation of the Irish Backstop. That together with offers of constituency bungs for wavering Labour MPs was enough to scrape the amendment over the line last week but I suspect the divisions within both main parties run too deep for that alliance to hold when the Meaningful Vote to ratify the deal returns to Parliament..
There is no prospect that the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement will be reopened and the Brady amendment will have achieved nothing but leave us rolling closer to the edge of the cliff edge of No Deal on March 29th.
We are woefully unprepared for that crash and it is worth looking at the report from the independent Institute for Government which sets out the sheer scale of the legislative and planning backlog https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/brexit-two-months-to-go-final-web.pdf
Despite the looming chaos, this week Parliament has no Brexit bills on the order paper. On Monday for example, government has scheduled a general debate on sport. I support the cancellation of the February recess but this must be used for serious action on the backlog, not left as window dressing with MPs free to continue any holiday plans they might find it inconvenient to rearrange. We do not have the luxury of time as there are fewer than thirty Parliamentary sitting days until the UK is set to leave an alliance of structures and interdependencies that have built up over more than four decades.
As the countdown to the meaningful vote on 14th February continues, many MPs will be weighing up whether they should knowingly vote for a bad deal in order to avoid the chaos of leaving with No Deal and no transition.
They should not accept that miserable binary choice but make it clear that no responsible government could inflict that kind of pain on the people. I could not remain in the Conservative Party if its policy objective was to deliver such a disaster or if that became its de facto policy after the Meaningful Vote by deliberately continuing to run down the clock.
The current deal is also problematic in that it pleases neither remainers nor the leavers who were lied to about the inevitable trade offs that would be necessary to at least partially protect jobs, livelihoods, supply chains and the wider economy, security and health.
Government could and should rule out No Deal and seek consent from the British People before an irreversible leap into economic decline which will set back our ability to reverse austerity. Checking consent through a People's Vote is the only way to be sure that this really is the will of the people.
It may be that people decide the benefits of Brexit outweigh the risks but this would be in the full knowledge of the version of Brexit involved.
Without this valid consent there is no consent and we face years of ongoing division, recrimination and resentment as the consequences unfold.
There is nothing anti democratic about pausing Article 50 for a further democratic process and I will continue to press for this. In the words of David Davis, one of the most vocal campaigners for Leave, "if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy".
I voted against the PM's Brexit deal on Tuesday not only because of concerns about the Withdrawal Agreement itself but because the accompanying political declaration on the Future Framework delivered nothing but uncertainty and the prospect of years of wrangling to come. The scale of the government defeat has made it absolutely clear that this deal cannot pass the House of Commons. It is not just a matter of a few tweaks, the Deal fundamentally pleased neither remainers nor the majority of those who had campaigned for leave.
Far from being the easiest deal in history, the reality was always going to be that compromises and trade offs would be necessary during negotiations. Brexit reality is very far from the sunlit uplands promised during the campaign.
Parliament has reached a complete impasse and I do not believe there will be a majority for any of the alternative proposals and least of all for leaving with no deal at all. In the meantime the days are counting down to March 29th and we risk falling into a chaotic No Deal Brexit unless an alternative is in place. No responsible government could knowingly and deliberately allow that to happen given the serious real world harm to individuals, communities and our economy. The term 'clean Brexit' is a misnomer, it would leave a great deal of avoidable misery for too many of our fellow citizens. No doubt the comfortably off leaders of the Leave campaign would be fine but the economic fallout would hit the poorest the hardest. It has taken a decade to recover from the effects of the 2008 crash and that involved many tough choices about government spending. I want to see an end to austerity, not see us deliberately crashing out with no deal and putting that recovery in jeopardy.
I believe that the only alternative way out of this mess will be to seek an extension of Article 50 and a People's Vote.
My feeling is that a People's Vote should at least include the only negotiated deal as well as an option to remain. I know many people would also like to see No Deal included. The Electoral Commission would advise and Parliament would debate and decide on the question if a decision was made to go ahead with a Referendum Bill. The following report from the Constitution Unit at University College London on the mechanics of a referendum sets out the mechanics of organising a referendum and how this could be achieved in far less than a year https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/sites/constitution-unit/files/the_mechanics_of_a_further_referendum_on_brexit_-_constitution_unit_report_183_revised.pdf
Due to a recent amendment which I supported, the PM must now announce her next steps on Monday, rather than having 21 days as she would otherwise have been able to do. Reports are that the government is now in listening mode but I struggle to see any changes to the Deal that would unite enough backbenchers and secondly be approved by the EU to see it succeed. Others a pushing for a Norway Style deal which would allow us to continue membership of the Single Market, alongside a customs arrangement. This would be the softest type of Brexit and whilst far less economically damaging than No Deal, would again run into the problem of pleasing neither remainers nor leavers. It is likely that many leave campaigners would find it even less acceptable than the PM's Deal given that so called 'Norway plus' would prevent an independent trade policy and see the continuation of free movement of people.
I think it is unlikely that the Commons will agree a compromise that the majority of MPs can support and I would only agree to back Norway Plus if the public were also given the opportunity to weigh up its risks and benefits and have the final say.
I am working with colleagues from Parties across both sides of the Commons to bring an amendment in support of a People's Vote.
I realise that Brexit remains a highly contentious issue and I hear passionate views from both sides of the argument.
I supported the government in the confidence vote on Wednesday and I do not think this lies in contradiction with my vote against the Brexit deal the day before. A general election will not resolve the single most contentious issue before us because these are never fought on a single issue.
I believe that a People's vote would allow us to move forward together with confidence that the nation had given its consent based on the facts and Brexit reality rather than unrealistic promises. It is now over two years since the original referendum, longer than the period between our two most recent general elections and it is nonsense fo some to suggest it is somehow anti democratic to allow people to change their minds and express a democratic opinion. I fully accept that the result could be the same but it would at least be a settled decision based on all the facts and we could finally move forward together rather than tearing ourselves apart.
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.