I've come to the conclusion that when people watch television, and they have a certain view on an issue, they hear what they want to hear. I've got used to it by now, but it really does irritate me. Take today, for example. This morning I appeared on the Andrew Marr Show for the paper review with Grace Blakeley.
This is what Twitter made of it...
- I am a sell out and now support Remain
- I am a hard brexit hypocrite who wants no deal
- I minimised the effect of no deal
- I predicted riots in the street if Brexit doesn't happen on March 29th
That's quite a record given I am supposed to have said all that within the space of about three minutes of air time.
Let me explain exactly where I stand, so there can be no misunderstanding. I'll start with the deal Theresa May has negotiated. Or should I say "negotiated".
When it was published I said repeatedly I thought it was a terrible deal and that I'd rather leave the EU with no deal, and even went as far as saying I'd rather vote to stay in the EU than support the deal. And I meant it. I could not support something which had an open-ended backstop and could mean that we perpetually stay in the Customs Union. I didn't like the 'Chequers' elements of having to abide by some of the Single Market rules without any say in how they're developed. I still don't. If I had been an MP, I would have voted against the deal in Parliament on 15 January. I would have done it to make a point both to the Prime Minister and to the EU.
I still think it's a pretty ropy deal, but I now think there is a chance to improve it. If Andrew Murrison's or Graham Brady's amendments are chosen for debate on Tuesday, and Parliament votes for them, I believe there is a chance that just for once, Theresa May can go to Brussels and say, OK, this is what I want, and be very specific about it. The DUP has now made clear that if she can negotiated some sort of sunset clause or time limit to the backstop of three years, they would row in behind her. I'd even accept five years, on the basis that if the EU couldn't come to an agreement with us in five years, then they are not serious. People will quote the Canada deal, which took seven years, but they conveniently forget the fact that we already have a free trade deal, and all that needs to be done is to decide which parts of the current relationship need changing. That should not take three years, let alone five.
The most important thing is that in 61 days we actually do formally leave the EU. At the moment I fear that we won't, because the government will be forced by a Remain based Parliament to pause Article 50 and extend the leaving date. Yvette Cooper's amendment is a double-edged sword. I am not wholly convinced it will pass on Tuesday but if it does, it's possible to argue that it will be helpful to Theresa May in concentrating the minds of Brexiteers who are opposed to her deal. Because if they don't fall in line by 26 February they really do risk Brexit not happening at all. If Article 50 is extended, even if there's only a delay until the end of June, it could still mean that Brexit won't ever happen.
These are the scenarios...
- A general election is called, Labour wins and has to rely on SNP votes. The SNP price for that is to revoke Article 50 altogether.
- A second referendum happens and Remain wins
- It turns out the only majority in Parliament is for a Norway style deal which involved remaining both in the Single Market and the Customs Union
Under each of those scenarios, Brexit doesn't happen or it does in name only, if you believe that remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union are the two most important planks of the EU.
I'm not prepared to risk that. Whatever the imperfections of Theresa May's deal, we...
- Formally leave the EU, and on 29 March the 1973 European Communities Act is rescinded
- We are no longer members of the CAP or the CFP
- We no longer pay into the EU budget after the financial commitment has been realised
- The rights of UK citizens and EU citizens here are protected
- Freedom of movement ends after the transitional period
- Security co-operation is clear
- We will not be part of European Army
- We will not be part of a common EU foreign policy
Michael Gove's position is that as long as we get out on 29 March, we can evolve our arrangements with the EU afterwards - a bit like the devolution settlements with Scotland and Wales have evolved since 1998. It's one way traffic, and so it would be with the EU. I was sceptical about this last year, but it's an argument that I now thank has increasing validity, given the numbers in Parliament, and the fact that on both sides of the debate there are 'Irreconcilables' who are more interested in ideological purity than necessary pragmatism.
The 'sellouts' are those who seem unable to recognise political reality. They're playing into the hands of those who pretend they 'respect' the result of the 2016 referendum, whereas in reality they are hell bent on overturning the result and determined to remain in the EU whatever the cost in demeaning democracy. I'm not selling out Brexit. They are.
I don't fear leaving without a deal, although I recognise there would be considerable short term disruption. Nor do I WANT to leave with no deal. However, it is important to count. And it's quite clear that there are the numbers in Parliament to frustrate a 'no deal' scenario. If there aren't, we'll know on Tuesday. In reality, the only way of frustrating 'no deal' is to force the government to ask the EU to extend Article 50. The only other way is to repeal or amend the existing legislation. Given Parliament voted by a massive margin to trigger Article 50, you'd have to ask if all those MPs who now want to extend it actually realised what they were doing.
The Sunday Times and Express both had stories today in which they detailed how the government is planning to introduce martial law if there is public disorder after we leave on 29 March. On Andrew Marr I said I thought public disorder was more likely if we FAILED to leave on 28 March. I didn't think that was remotely controversial, as it is entirely logical. That does not mean I desired it or predicted it. I did neither.
I am just as much in favour of Brexit now as when I voted for it on 23 June 2016. I voted for it in good faith that the government would handle it properly. I am afraid that Theresa May has got things wrong at every turn. But none of that means I have changed my mind about the primary reasons I voted to leave. I have not. If there were another referendum I'd vote leave again, with even more enthusiasm. The way the EU has treated this country since that vote hasn't necessarily surprised me, but at times it has been disgraceful. I have lost count of people I know who voted Remain, but have switched to Leave now because of the actions of Juncker and Tusk. Yes, I am sure some people have gone the other way, many because Project Fear Mk II has scared the bejesus out of them, but that was always inevitable.
So I remain a firm Brexiteer, but I am also a practical one. I can count the parliamentary arithmetic and no matter how much I wish things were different, we have a parliament which is 70% Remain, and will vote accordingly. The MPs that do that may have to account for that whenever the election comes, but we must remember that MPs are not mandated by their electorates - they are supposed to represent them. It does not mean they have to agree with them, but they have a duty to explain their actions of they go against their constituents' firmly expressed wishes.
There. Glad to have got that off my chest!