Please be assured that I absolutely understand the emotive nature of this issue and how strongly people on both sides of the argument feel about Brexit.
As you may know, I supported the Remain campaign in the referendum and I regret that we were unable to convince the public of the case to stay.
That said, I have always made clear that I would respect the result of the referendum and, as such, it follows that I support the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) bill and voted in favour of giving it at second reading here in Parliament.
It is also the case that I share the Prime Minister’s reading of the referendum result and the message it contained about immigration. All the available evidence backs the conclusion that, overwhelmingly, this was what drove people to vote Leave.
I specifically draw this out because it is the prime shaper of what Brexit will look like. As the Prime Minister made clear in her speech at Lancaster House, if we reject one of the 'four freedoms’ that underpin the EU, in this case freedom of movement, then we cannot expect to enjoy the other privileges of membership such as unfettered access to EU markets, the customs union and so on.
These issues and many, many others will be subject to negotiation with the EU so as to create a bespoke relationship with the EU. The final result must suit both the UK and the EU but the starting point is a clear acceptance on the UK side that, whatever is finally agreed, it cannot be as advantageous as being a full member of the club. That isn’t to say that it can be a ‘punishment beating’ either and it HAS to be the case that the UK makes it plain it is prepared to walk away from a deal if it is to have any credibility at the negotiating table. In short, I completely reject any characterisation of the current position as any kind of Brexit (hard / soft etc etc) other than the ‘what can be negotiated’ Brexit.
So let’s move on to the various amendments that are down on the subject of parliamentary approval of any deal and look forward to March 2019.
Setting aside for a moment that fact that it has always been for the UK Government to sign treaties and Parliament to ratify them, let us look at the practicalities. The amendments simply say that any deal has to be approved by Parliament and, if not approved, that Ministers try and do better. But isn’t the practical effect of this exactly the same as what the Government is proposing except that it gives control over the negotiation to the EU rather than to the UK? If any of the amendments of this sort are accepted, all the EU has to do is to turn around and say “we’re not changing the deal" and we’ll be back to exactly where we started when the deal was first put to Parliament. Given EU negotiators approved of the original deal, what incentive do they have to do anything else?
So the only thing that might incentivise the EU to shift its terms is the prospect of complete failure and this, of course, is exactly what we saw in reverse with Wallonia on the Canada/EU trade deal. Wallonia didn’t ask for new terms to be negotiated; it just rejected the whole package and waited to see if the parties would shift positions. And guess what? They did.
The message here is loud and clear. Activation of Article 50 was voted for by a huge majority in Parliament. That means we’re on our way out of the EU in any event. So most of the amendments down are just ways for Parliamentarians to send virtue signals to the outside world or are real attempts by those who were on the losing side of the second reading vote to get in the way of the process.
In short, the addition of any of them to the Bill will only make it more difficult for the Government negotiate a successful Brexit and, as such, I can't support the changes proposed.