In January, parliament rejected the proposed EU withdrawal agreement overwhelmingly. We believed the prime minister could do better. With the luxury of time, and with a clear ask, we sent her back to Brussels with a fresh mandate. She has not achieved all of it, but she has improved on the proposal that was laid before us in January.
The attorney general’s advice reveals that there are circumstances where the UK could be tied into the backstop. There is no point denying that. Yet, the risk of that is seriously reduced through a combination of new measures that have been introduced.
The unilateral declaration sets out the government’s understanding of the agreement and our future intention. The backstop exit mechanism is not unilateral or binding, but it does add legitimacy to our case and give us a substantial legal argument should we reach that point.
The joint statement makes a clear commitment to urgently finding a technological border solution before the end of next year. France announced its new “smart” border system just this week for the Dover-Calais link. That alone shows this alternative is possible. It is not a perfect solution, but it does reduce the risk of being permanently trapped in something we cannot abide.
And no legal agreement is devoid of risk. The choice now is how we balance that risk. The situation has changed since January – we have little time or political capital left to use. It is no use to sit and consider the many problems that have led to this position. Hindsight is no help at all. We must act on what lies in front of us. The choice now is either this improved deal or not leaving on 29 March. It is a choice we must make.
If we do not agree on a deal this month, parliament will – against my wishes – extend Article 50. That would break our promise to the electorate to leave on 29 March, and potentially put Brexit as a whole at risk. There are significant political, democratic, and economic consequences to reneging on our manifesto commitments – and none of them
The improvements to the deal rebalance this calculation, and I now feel that rejecting the deal is the riskier option. We must take the bird in hand ahead of the two in the bush, and live to fight on for a positive long-term relationship with our European neighbours.
Despite my reservation, I will vote for the amended deal to deliver Brexit on time. That is the reality of where we now find ourselves. Some say leaving with no deal would be preferable, and in many ways, I agree – but the parliamentary arithmetic as it stands will not let that happen.
I cannot countenance voting against this deal if it ultimately leads to Brexit falling by the wayside. These changes do not make for an amazing deal, but they do rebalance the equation. They reduce the risk of a permanent bad deal, while the risk of no Brexit constantly increases. I will vote for the withdrawal agreement tonight, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.