As it stands, the default legal position is that the UK will leave the EU without a deal on 12th April. So far, all attempts to find a consensus for a deal in the House of Commons have failed. At the time of writing this article the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement has been defeated three times in parliament. The Democratic Unionist Party remain steadfastly against it, as do a significant number of Conservative MPs. It is very difficult to see this situation changing. Last week, along with other MPs who had previously voted against the deal, I decided to support it, for the sole reason of trying to avoid a lengthy delay in Brexit. For me, the withdrawal agreement still carries a significant number of risks, not least that the EU may use it to try and trap us permanently in the Customs Union, and so restrict our ability to conduct and independent trade policy. However, I was prepared to run these risks, if that meant we could get a deal through, but it does not appear that we can.
There are a number of MPs who state that they want to leave with a deal and believe that others should support the Prime Minister’s deal. They need to start saying what their preference would be if that deal cannot pass through parliament. Over the last week I have supported the idea of the UK developing a relationship with the EU after Brexit that is similar to other successful countries, like Norway and Switzerland. This proposal would see us join the European Free Trade Area and remain in the European Economic Area. This would mean we would have a customs agreement with the EU, but still be free to negotiate trade deals with other countries. We would have access to the single market but would not be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This is a compromise, but I believe one that should be seriously considered. However, after two attempts to get agreement in parliament this option has also failed to gain enough support to make progress.
So where in reality does that leave us now. We could leave with no deal, leave with a compromise deal which will probably be a weaker option than the two I have discussed above, hold a second referendum, hold a general election or apply for a lengthy delay to the Brexit process with no clear idea of how or when we would leave. All of these options are bad, and this in truth is why the House of Commons is struggling to make a decision. It is like the old story about a lost traveller asking for directions in the middle of the countryside and being told by a local that they wouldn’t start there. However, much as we might like to have seen things done differently over the last three years, we are where we are. Finding a way through this that allows us to deliver Brexit with a deal that will enable a smooth transition out of the EU will require parliament to compromise and work together. That is what I will be trying to support this week. Then, if we can reach an agreement, we will need to work to bring this country back together after this brutal and messy process has been completed.