Constituents had requested that I vote in various ways on Wednesday. These requests have been made in various combinations, and with a wide array of rationales to support them.
I am updating you on my subsequent voting record. Please note that this information is also available online at https://bit.ly/2CeXqyy
There were eight votes on Wednesday. Options available ranged from support of no deal, through soft Brexit options, to support of a second referendum and the revocation of article 50. In approaching these votes, I was led by three key principles:
1) My support for a second, confirmatory referendum (which includes an option to remain). I think this is the best way to break the deadlock in Parliament, and ensure that any Brexit deal has the backing of the electorate.
2) My desire to avoid a damaging, cliff-edge Brexit: which would expose vulnerable communities to harm, and jeopardise jobs.
3) My desire to show pragmatism and moderation, which is the entire basis of the indicative voting process. Indicative votes seek to achieve consensus across the House of Commons, so it is essential that parliamentarians be open to second and third choice options – rather than sticking resolutely to their absolute preference. I hope that constituents will share this pragmatism moving forward, as I believe that it is in the only way to bring the country back together. The nature of successful negotiation, as Margaret Beckett said in her excellent speech, is that nobody gets everything they want – but everybody gets something.
As such, I voted as follows:
1) Require a public vote to confirm any Brexit deal passed by Parliament before its ratification
I voted for this option.
The Brexit process has dominated the British public’s time and political attentions in the past three years. We are, as a result, much more informed about what Brexit means for the UK. As such, I think it is vital that any deal between Britain and the EU is ratified by a second referendum. Such a referendum must include an option to remain.
2) Revoke article 50 two days before Britain would leave the EU without a deal
I voted for this option.
There was a consensus in 2016 that, even if Britain voted to leave the EU, it would not be on the grounds of supporting a ‘no deal’ outcome. The Leave Campaign suggested that Britain would be able to secure a positive future relationship with the EU, based upon a mutual recognition of interest in a ‘bespoke’ trade deal. This would be, according to Cabinet ministers, the easiest negotiation in history.
This unrealistic vision has yet to materialise; instead, the prospects of no deal have become ever more real. And support for no deal has come to dominate the strategy of Tory Brexiteers.
If Britain were to leave the EU without a deal it would be a disaster for our economy, for our Union, for environmental standards, and for our national security. I cannot, in good conscience, countenance such an option. So, along with many other parliamentarians, I have repeatedly voted to reject the possibility of no deal. And, if such an outcome were to become inevitable, I think Parliament should avoid it by revoking Article 50 two days before any approaching Brexit deadline.
3) Commitment to negotiate a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU; Labour’s plan for a close economic relationship with the EU; UK membership of the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area
I voted for these options.
I believe that, in any Brexit deal between Britain and the EU, it is essential that we retain a customs union in order to protect the Northern Irish Peace Process. It is also essential to retain a customs union to preserve the ‘just-in-time’ supply chain, which underpins manufacturing jobs in the UK.
4) Leave the EU without a deal on 12 April; Calls for the government to seek to agree preferential trade arrangements with the EU
I voted against these options.
As stated above, I think ‘no deal’ would be a dangerous outcome for Britain – and for my constituents in Reading East. No deal jeopardises our economic prosperity; it risks mass unemployment; it leaves Britain isolated in international affairs; it reduces national security; and it opens the prospects for a race to the bottom in environmental standards and human rights. It has no democratic mandate, and is rejected by the vast majority of my constituents.
I also think there are no grounds for the pursuit of ‘preferential trade arrangements’, as supported by Tories in the Malthouse Compromise. This is because (in contrast to the suggestion of a customs union, which they have endorsed) EU officials have also repeatedly and specifically ruled out these kinds of preferential arrangements as a way forward. The Malthouse Compromise and its predecessor, the Brady Amendment are therefore, clearly non-starters. The Government has only entertained these options as a means of cynically preserving the Conservative Party.
5) Remain within the EEA and rejoin EFTA but outside a customs union with the EU
I abstained on this option. Again, a customs union is key to protecting jobs, and to conserving the Northern Irish Peace Process.
I believe that the indicative votes last night were a qualified success.
The option for a customs union won 264 votes last night (and only lost by eight votes). The option for a second referendum won 268 votes (and only lost by 17). These relative voting successes compare favourably with Theresa May’s two attempts to get her deal through Parliament. In her first and second meaningful votes, Theresa May won only 202 and 242 votes, respectively.
It is my view that the indicative votes of last night do, therefore, provide a valuable platform for continued discussion in Parliament. I hope that this will be possible next Monday.
I will of course continue to work hard on this issue, as I know it is of great importance to my constituents.
Britain currently faces a very challenging period in its history. And I am concerned about deepening divisions across the country. This is why I am promoting a sensible, moderate approach to all these options. Because it is only by coming together that we, as a society, will find solutions to the difficult questions we face: whether those questions be about Brexit, or about the multitude of other challenges of the twenty-first century.