The most frustrating thing about Brexit, through my eyes, is how unbending everyone is. The prime minister suffered defeat after defeat yet keeps coming back to parliament expecting a different outcome.
I truly fear that if we carry on like this faith in our political systems, institutions, and culture – which is the envy of much of the world – will totally collapse. Something has to give.
All the way through Brexit I’ve done my best to give our community voice. I’ve worked with a team of MPs to come up with ways through that respected the referendum result, could carry a majority in the Commons, and limit the damage any Brexit would do to our long term potential as a nation.
But we’ve been driven to a different destination. It’s a place where both main parties are split over Brexit and factions have widened and deepened over time, not healed. Neither party can be united around a single way forward with enough numbers to carry a vote and both party leaders have opposing views on the next steps. So we’ve reached gridlock.
I’ve sat in the chamber for days, in meetings for hours, and an eternity reading and learning about the workings of our legislative process. I always promised you I’d do my best to tackle the steep learning curve in this job!
A couple of weeks ago I sat down with fellow backbencher Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield in the northeast. He represents a northern Leave seat that is traditional in its politics, and I a southern Remain seat who’s political landscape is ever changing. Phil came to spend time in Hove last year and I likewise went up to Sedgefield for a while. We both learned a lot in our political exchange programme!
So Phil and I sat down and talked about ways through the current mess that should equal respect for the communities we represent. After a while a compromise plan started to emerge. The next day we went to sit with an amazing clerk of the House, who first started helping the Commons with its legislative work in 1976 so he knows a thing or two! What emerged is a compromise plan that is growing in support and has the very best chance of breaking the gridlock and providing an opportunity for our country to heal.
It’s quite simple.
We intend to table an amendment to the ‘meaningful vote’ which Theresa May must hold before the end of March. Our amendment makes an offer to government and gives it an instruction.
The offer is that the Commons will allow her ‘deal’ to pass through parliament. The instruction is that her deal must be put back to voter for a ‘confirmatory vote’.
We’ve based the confirmatory vote on the same model used in the Good Friday Agreement, which was also put to the people in the same way. It is very different to the 2016 referendum. That referendum was advisory, this one will be binding. Even better, the second the deal is confirmed by the public it will go onto statute without ever needing to return to parliament. Conversely, if the country refuses to confirm the deal then the status quo is maintained and government is instructed to revoke Article 50, again without having to return to parliament.
It means our compromise plan is not a ‘neverendum’ or ‘best of three’. Our plan offers a definitive end to this nightmare, one way or the other.
If the plan is endorsed by the public, then Remainers will have to accept that they voted on facts and not just the promises of 2016 and we will have to dust ourselves down and work hard to overcome the challenges that lie ahead. Similarly, Leave supporters would have to accept the same if it goes the other way, but at least we will have come together as a parliament, which has voted, and a country which would have also voted. In my mind it’s a democratic double-lock. It is the best hope we have of moving forward and healing our divided nation.
In order for the Theresa May’s deal to pass parliament MP’s like me will have to abstain on it once it has been amended to include a confirmatory vote. This is tough. Other people can vote for it. And then people who have been against a referendum will have to have a period of campaigning out in the country. This is a plan where everyone….everyone…has to give something. It truly is a compromise. And my goodness do we need some of that in our public life.
In normal times a plan like this would be impossible even to promote. But the truth is that we are not in normal times. Our political landscape is eccentric to put it politely! That means we are going to need an imaginative way out of this and I truly believe this is it.
MPs will be able to vote in different ways to allow the bill to pass. Those same MP’s might take different positions on the plan once it’s out of parliament and into your communities and you are all equals with one vote each. This is the kind of flexibility that is needed in our politics right now, don’t you think?
There’s a lot of talk about the ‘establishment’ these days so let me ask you this. There are two ways through this mess now. First, Theresa May can call in small groups of MP’s to a cosy office in Downing Street and offer them knighthoods or new community centres in their constituencies in return for votes. Or we can get the deal she’s negotiated with the EU out of parliament and into our communities up and down and across our nation and invite you into this discussion and give you a say on how we move forward as a country. Which of those two options is an establishment stitch up?
So our plan breaks the gridlock in parliament, offers a definite and definitive end to the Brexit withdrawal nightmare, and is the best chance we have of healing our politics and country.
This is what I have been working so hard on in recent weeks. Good friends of mine have left the Labour Party recently and they’re still friends of mine now. Some are fleeing the Tory Party too. I’m listening to what they’re saying, I owe it to you, residents, to do that. But please believe me when I say that I have a chance to make a real impact on Brexit with this deal. A small window of opportunity to deliver something that could have a massive and lasting impact on our community and country too. I owe it to you to give this everything I’ve got and that’s what I’m doing.
Loads of you have written to me to express views about the new grouping in parliament and saying what you think I should do. I read every one of those. Can I say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who’s written in because the messages you’ve sent express loads of different views but they have all be incredibly kind and supportive. All of us are trying to make our way through this really difficult period in our own ways, you as parents or employees or employers, and me as your MP. The fact that we’re looking out for each other at such a time is something really special and speaks very well of the kind of community we have.