WE take decisions all day every day – is the gap in traffic sufficient for me to cross the road? This is a regular one but fraught with mortal danger. We make these decisions rapidly and instinctively and thankfully they’re rarely wrong. What I faced on Tuesday was a decision that has been 28 years in the making, the longest and most strategic game of chess ever played.
I helped found UKIP along with half a dozen others all those years ago with my journey to achieve Brexit shifting away from that party upon my return to the Conservatives in 2005, as they had the ability to become, in my estimation, the party that could and would deliver the UK’s extrication from the EU. That decision was the right one.
I was faced on Tuesday evening at the second reading vote on the legislation to deliver the new ‘deal’ with a binary choice: accept or refuse; not dissimilar to the one that we faced as the electorate on 23 June 2016. I voted for the Brexit deal negotiated by Boris Johnson.
The deal is not perfect by any standards. The implementation period where we remain in limbo as rule-takers for 14 months is unwholesome. Although not clearly expressed in the new WA, UK taxpayers will pay more billions for the privilege of divorcing ourselves from the EU club. Northern Ireland will find itself in a different bureaucratic arrangement across many areas of business and that is a sadness that could have been avoided by the previous administration, but it is manageable and we can and will support them. Support of the Union of our four nations is fundamental to me.
The revised Political Declaration has loose language regarding ‘level playing field’ arrangements into the future. What might be given up in the pursuit of a future free trade deal with the EU? These are sound questions and real risks. But the prize is obvious – the opportunity to retake control of our laws, borders and money; the opportunity to capitalise on the biggest Brexit dividend of being able, for the first time in 46 years, to forge new trade deals around the world whilst negotiating a free trade and friendship FTA with the EU. Those negotiations will come later.
It would have been entirely comprehensible to refuse to vote for this deal because of its imperfections, but we don’t live in an ideal world of our own choosing. I’d love to live in a different house and own a different car, but circumstances do not allow that. I took no pleasure at all in being in a different voting lobby from the DUP; they have become friends and colleagues over my time in Parliament and I share their deeply held reservations.
The circumstances of Tuesday night, with the entire negotiating strategy, or more accurately lack of it, by Theresa May and her team; agreeing to the EU’s scheduling of talks – divorce before agreeing the future – and a dreadful WA with an imposed 31 October 2019 timeframe gave the new PM little wriggle room and little time. I am proud that I voted against Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement three times as one of the ‘Spartans’: it was truly foul with alignment to Single Market rules, high domestic alignment on taxes and much else and a destination of perpetual Customs Union membership with no unilateral way out. It was indeed Brexit in Name Only (BRINO). If I could see a clear route towards no deal by voting against this Bill I would have pursued that, but any hope of a path to no deal within this Parliament is simply for the birds. If I could see that further delay would result in a better deal, that would also have been tempting, but similarly not likely. I have shared enough voting lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson and Dominic Grieve during this process as they continue to frustrate Brexit while I attempt to deliver it. I was not prepared to do so again. What happened on the loss of the Programme Motion vote that followed, the procedure to allow the time to progress the remaining parts of the Withdrawal Bill, was proof once more that this current Parliament will do anything to frustrate and prevent Brexit.
Those opposed to Brexit have cleverly, and by exquisite design, further restricted our choices. The Benn/Surrender Act meant that an extension was to be an inevitable outcome if no further progress was made. Yet more time for those intent on frustrating the referendum result could mean a second (or third) referendum to meddle further, with the next moves being revocation of Article 50 or the festooning of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill with unacceptable amendments. The current make-up of Parliament is militantly anti-Brexit. The Speaker is willing to flex any tradition, procedure and rule to frustrate our departure from the EU. We saw that on Monday with his refusal to allow Meaningful Vote 4 to be put following Saturday’s obfuscatory tactics. The Fixed Term Parliament Act prevents any immediate General Election. This truly was a choice of imperfect deal or no Brexit. Given that choice, a complex decision became a simple one. Additionally the public want this done. I am all too aware of how any remaining trust in democracy is ebbing away.
The other factor in my decision is of course Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whom I supported strongly for the leadership. Commentators said that reopening the Withdrawal Agreement was impossible and that the Irish ‘Backstop’ was immovable. They weren’t. For the first time we have a sitting PM committed to Brexit; it may never happen again. I have every confidence that a Johnson government will never extend the implementation period and has the hardball approach to achieve a sensible future FTA with the EU and the commitment to maximise new global opportunities. A powerful factor in my decision was trust. A strong, leave-supporting Parliamentary majority will also be needed to complete the job. That will come in due course and we will win.
We now need to complete the legislation to codify the Withdrawal Agreement. The ride will be rocky yet perversely it may be the EU who say enough is enough and we may indeed leave with no deal (realistically a managed WTO exit). I have no fears about that.
We’re still in the foothills of the Brexit prize. After this length of time I have patience, I can wait and I will enjoy delivering the fruits of nearly three decades of work to a newly invigorated and independent Britain.