I had hoped to first explain my vote for the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons debate last Friday. However, as I’ve called the Speaker out for his bias, this is now the second debate in which I am in the small number of MPs not called to speak.
The referee of our proceedings.
The Speaker's impartiality is essential. Not only does the Speaker decide who can speak during debates in the Chamber but he also selects the amendments that MPs vote on, meaning his office has the power to shape legislation.
He has made public his opinion – and vote – on the issue of Brexit and in what appears to be coordinated assistance to those who share his view, he has both overruled and strictly enforced precedent on a number of key Brexit votes.
There has been the controversy of the recommendations of the Dame Laura Cox inquiry into the Bullying and Harassment of House of Commons Staff, and he was defended, particularly by Dame Margaret Beckett, one of the more senior Labour members, on the importance of his position being sustained despite the bullying in order to oversee the discussions and denouement of Brexit. There is already a substantial amount on record of his own contribution to this culture in the House of Commons. He is in breach of his understanding, when first elected, not to serve more than nine years!
John Bercow’s Speakership has had its positives in enabling the Commons to challenge and question the executive. But in overturning all precedent to reduce government to the anarchy of a disputatious legislature is making our country a laughing stock. Extending his Speakership to oversee the debate on Brexit when he is clearly partial, is not only bringing his term of office into disrepute but put plainly, it serves to reinforce the argument that this Remainer Parliament is doing everything within its power to frustrate the choice of the British people to Leave the EU. Indeed, fellow Members’ palpable desire to see Brexit thwarted without the guts to stand up and say so, have been gleefully enjoying the Speaker’s rulings throughout the EU debates.
In the words of my colleague Ann Main last Friday, this is a Remainer House which will resist, kicking and screaming, every opportunity to take this country legally out of the European Union.
Why I have come to support the Withdrawal Agreement.
My change of heart came listening to the debate on Wednesday on the indicative votes. The smug self-satisfaction of the proponents of the “BRINO” (Brexit in name only) options filled me with dread. They appeared to have no idea of the forces behind the Brexit vote which will be multiplied many times if that decision is stolen back by the establishment and will go on to unleash grisly consequences for our politics which will be deeply unattractive. The Speaker’s collusion in this theft of a democratic choice has reinforced my anxiety.
The choice MPs faced last week was so difficult it is hard to resist the charge that it was deliberate entrapment by an Establishment forcing their opposition to the decision of the referendum.
Stripped of the ability to make the earliest success of Brexit without the option to play to our strengths through a clean break to WTO rules, MPs were faced two options. On one hand, resist her agreement and open up remaining in an ever-federalising Europe with its further political, economic and defence integration to make the project work or even worse, honour the referendum result in name only, remain subject to the EU’s rules and future trade treaties with no voice or vote in making those rules. Or on the other, support the current deal which has the potential to leave us tied to Europe through the Northern Ireland backstop until the EU so wishes. Put in this painful vice, I supported the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement.
First, to seek a longer extension in the dreadful context where Parliament has agreed it wants to Leave but only with a deal, the bargaining power of 27 member states with veto powers on this decision makes its costs horrifyingly incalculable.
Second, even if we do secure a longer extension, this will mean holding European elections, continuing to contribute to the EU budget at a cost to be determined by the 27 member states with said veto power, and our political capital both in Parliament and as a Nation being consumed by even more years of talking about Brexit rather than getting on with a decision either way. Furthermore, in the long term, the risk of losing Brexit altogether means that we may not be able to Leave for another generation by which point it would be too late as we would have fully succumbed to European integration.
Third, because the vote was not a ‘Meaningful’ one, a further vote would have had to happen to finally leave the EU on April 12th and this could have given the Government one last chance to finally secure ‘Alternative Arrangements’ to avoid the Backstop. Indeed, I have heard from sources in the Foreign Office that we were very close to securing this. At the time, the Government’s position was undermined by Remain Cabinet colleagues who through their joint media statement reassured the EU that we would not leave without a deal.
My first choice of Brexit is and continues to be to leave on WTO terms with the prospect of a Free Trade Deal following shortly after (you can read my reasons for this here: https://www.blunt4reigate.com/news/crispins-brexit-blog-post). However, in the face of a Prime Minister who had ruled this option out in terms, I supported this version of Brexit (albeit with its medium-term deficiencies) that does get over the line by which “Brexit” can be measured.
However, my vote wasn’t enough, as all the votes of the supporters of Brexit would not have been enough. Now, unless there is a surprise and the EU are driven by Macron for example to impose No Deal and the Prime Minister doesn’t then revoke in those circumstances (not impossible I fear) Brexit will have been stolen. Worse than that, we may have made ourselves a vassal state in the proper sense of that term.
Thank you for reading as ever,