View from the House

6th August 2018

As Parliament rises after a turbulent session we should reflect on the progress we have made in our negotiations with the European Union and perhaps dare to anticipate what might be instore when the House returns in autumn.

Last month, I made my first ever contribution to any of the Brexit debates in the House of Commons. It has been 25 years since I was a Government Whip engaged in rallying support for the Maastricht treaty, with Britain’s two opt-outs - brilliantly negotiated by John Major. I learned from that experience the fierce passions on Europe that are held by so many of my friends and colleagues across the House, and in particular on the Conservative Benches.

The position today is far worse in terms of internal conflict than ever it was during the Maastricht era. Of course the divisions are not just within the Chamber; they run throughout our constituencies—the Royal Town was divided almost exactly 50:50. These fissures have led to a breakdown in normal party discipline far worse than anything we saw during the Maastricht era.

As a Back-Bencher I have felt that the best interests of my constituents are served by supporting the Government in these very difficult negotiations.
In a Parliament where there is no majority, power passes from the Cabinet room to the Floor of the House of Commons and it will be for MPs to decide whether to accept the deal that the Government comes back with.

It seems to me that there are now really only two possible outcomes. The first is a deal based largely on the Chequers settlement which will not entirely satisfy anyone. Indeed I know from my postbag that my constituents are split into two camps, holding largely the same reservations as Jacob Rees-Mogg on one side and Dominic Grieve on the other. But the Government have basically bet the farm on the Chequers formula and will now have to repel all boarders.

The alternative option is no deal, and I fear it is as simple as that.
If there is no deal, I am sure we will survive and all will be fine in 10 years’ time, but no deal will have the immediate effect of threatening our living standards. It risks endangering the opportunities I want to see for my constituents in the Royal Town, not least the younger ones entering the world of work for the first time. And it will be this Administration who will be blamed - whether people voted leave or remain. In any event, the Government now need to meticulously plan for this eventuality and comprehensively report to Parliament when we return in the autumn.

Finally, there are those who advance the case for a second referendum, I have come to the conclusion that while Parliament may wish to seek public endorsement of the deal, it is incredibly unlikely. If we held another referendum with a different outcome, why not have the best of three? We are a serious country, we settled the matter in a significant referendum, and for better or worse we must leave. Another referendum would be profoundly divisive, and would fail to bring our communities back together again.

I am afraid it is unlikely that we will do better than the plan set out in the White Paper, but there ought to be enough in the broad Chequers outline for people of good will to work with and coalesce around. I now urge the Government to use the summer to advance the proposals set out at Chequers and make progress with the EU. It will then be for the Government to propose, but for Members of the House of Commons to dispose.

Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP