Thursday, 24 January 2019

Honouring the result of the referendum

Although people are weary of talking about Brexit, as we approach the critical moment of departure it does dominate everything in political debate and events are moving quickly. Difficult negotiations often go all the way to the wire and this one is certainly difficult. 
I have always thought that it would be better to come out of the EU in an orderly way with an agreement on a future partnership to ensure there was no disruption to trade. However, to deliver this required both the EU to act responsibly and for parliament to work towards finding a consensus that would end the Brexit argument and put our country back together. In the event, the EU dragged its feet and made the negotiation protracted and far more difficult than it needed to be. Meanwhile, parliament has so far stubbornly refused to bridge the differences in opinion that exist to secure a consensus. 
My hope has always been that a compromise around an option similar to Norway might eventually prevail. It would mean we became an independent country again, took back control of agriculture and fisheries and could have an independent trade policy while aligning some of our technical rules with our closest trading partner to facilitate trade. 
However, there is one group of MPs who refuse to consider such an option because they want to go further and another group who refuse to consider it because they still think that they can use a parliamentary ruse to frustrate the referendum result, block Brexit altogether and force people to keep voting until they vote to stay in. As a result, deadlock currently reigns, and the clock is ticking. 
If parliament cannot forge a consensus and the EU refuses to make concessions, then we have no option but to walk away without an agreement. In the weeks ahead, I will still argue for compromise and continue to offer an olive branch to other MPs who have dug themselves in to polarised positions. However, in the final analysis we must honour the referendum result. I strongly oppose those who argue that we should ignore a democratic vote and try to force a second referendum. I will not support cancelling Brexit nor holding a second referendum. 
Leaving without an agreement will cause some friction and it is difficult to predict the extent of this until we actually do it. The government has been actively planning for this contingency for two years since it was always a possibility. In my own department, Defra, huge amounts of work as gone into the systems that would be required for borders and for new documentation to accompany exports and to consider what our trade policy should be in a "no deal" scenario. It won't be smooth, but we are probably as ready as we could ever be. People want us to get on with it.

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