Parliament returned after the Christmas recess this week and debates remain dominated by Brexit, most notably the vote next Tuesday on the Prime Minister’s deal.
The vote was originally scheduled for before Christmas but delayed to enable the Prime Minister to seek changes that might convince Parliament to accept the deal. Regrettably it has not been possible to agree any changes to the legal text to the deal, and so it remains very unlikely that Parliament will approve the deal – and indeed I still cannot support it.
The question will therefore be what happens next, It will become even more important for both the UK and the EU to press ahead with planning for us leaving on 29 March without a trade deal in place. This is not what anyone wants but without a deal Parliament will approve, it is only prudent now to take every precaution.
While no-one should pretend there won’t be many challenges from this situation, many preparations have been made by both sides, and work continues at a pace. Notably this week, Jean Marc Puissesseau, the chief of the port of Calais, confirmed that Calais had been preparing for a year and there would be no delays. The EU have announced various plans for a transition ensuring that planes can still fly and UK trucks can travel to the continent, and similar contingency plans have been announced by the UK government.
However there are still options to avoid leaving without a deal. I would expect the Prime Minister to seek to re-open substantive discussions with the EU after the vote on the basis that the current deal cannot succeed. Possible outcomes range from removing the Irish backstop from the deal and seeking to pass the remainder of the deal – which I think likely to succeed in Parliament – or seeking to agree the transition through to the end of 2020 to enable negotiations on the future partnership. It may also be possible to agree a series of agreements on individual issues, and WTO rules allow parties who commit to negotiating a free trade deal to operate without tariffs for 2 years while the details are agreed.
In summary therefore the defeat of the deal next week does not mean a choice between a chaotic no-deal or no Brexit at all – it remains possible to deliver a Brexit that sees us deliver the referendum result with a clear departure from the EU institutions and rule-making while maintaining a close and co-operative relationship.
On other issues the Government this week also announced the details of the NHS 10 year plan showing how the real terms £20 billion a year increase will be spent – including a very welcome commitment to increase the funding of primary and community health services by at least £4.5 billion in the next 5 years, and the promise to expand access to mental health services especially supporting schools and colleges. These developments will help address concerns regularly raised by my constituents and help the NHS overcome the challenges it faces.