Following the indicative votes on the different Brexit options put forward by MPs, Luke Pollard, Labour and Co-operative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport has written the below letter to the people he represents in Plymouth.
HOW I VOTED ON THE BREXIT OPTIONS
Last night, MPs voted on a series of options to break the Brexit deadlock in Parliament. I wanted to write to you to explain what and why I have been voting on and what I think is in the best interest for Plymouth.
Brexit is a mess. It is taking longer than we were promised it would and it is costing more and is more complicated than we were told it would be in the referendum. Worst of all it is closing off opportunities for our young people. We are running out of time to stop a crash out no-deal. The Prime Minister’s deal – her Government’s flagship policy – has been rejected resoundingly twice and Parliament has been in deadlock for months over what to do next. The Government is split and I am very concerned that really important issues like the NHS crisis, unaffordable housing, rising poverty and problems in our schools are being masked by the Brexit crisis. That is why I backed Parliament taking control from Ministers to decide where we go next.
I’ve thought long and hard about the decisions I had to make last night. Since being elected I have held nine open public meetings on Brexit attended by over 1,100 people. From my weekly #AskLuke Facebook lives, monthly #MeetLuke open public meetings and my post bag I know many of the people I represent are deeply worried about Brexit’s impact on our city and our country. So am I.
Plymouth has a wide range of views about Brexit and people are changing their minds all the time. I know this because I get letters and emails from people telling me they are thinking again about the decisions they made in 2016. What is important now is that we find a way to break the Brexit deadlock in Parliament.
I did not expect any one option to win a majority. The votes were designed to show which options were not supported and which ones MPs could compromise and come together. I think we made progress towards that with no deal being defeated and larger number of votes for a customs union and a public vote on any deal Parliament eventually agrees.
I want to set out how I voted on last night’s key votes.
I cannot support a path that will force Britain to leave the EU without a deal. The damage to business and trade exports such as food and medicines would have huge consequences for Plymouth and would make us all poorer.
In 2017, I was elected on a manifesto that opposed leaving the EU with no deal. The official Leave campaign of the 2016 referendum, Vote Leave, said that Britain would leave the EU with a deal. No Deal would cause significant and lasting economic damage to our city and it is an option that Parliament has firmly voted against it.
That’s why I voted against Amendment B to leave the EU without a deal. This amendment was defeated 160 to 400 revealing a strong Parliamentary majority against a no deal Brexit.
LABOUR’S ALTERNATIVE PLAN
I voted in favour of Labour’s alternative Brexit plan outlined in Amendment K. I was elected on a manifesto that said Labour would respect the result of the 2016 referendum but deliver a Brexit based on preserving jobs. Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe, to support our manufacturing industry and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland. This arrangement would ensure that the UK would have an appropriate say on any new trade deal terms. It is really disappointing that for two years the Prime Minister has refused to engage with our plan. Sadly, not many Conservatives backed our plan in the votes.
I support a customs union in any Brexit deal reached with the EU and voted for Amendment J. It is necessary to avoid queues at the border and additional costs for businesses. While this option did not gain the most outright votes, it came the closest to a majority with 264 MPs voting in favour and 272 voting against.
COMMON MARKET 2.0/NORWAY PLUS
I voted in favour Amendments D for the Common Market 2.0 proposal sometimes referred to as Norway Plus. This is a compromise that is designed to respect the result of the referendum by ensuring we would depart from the European Union’s political instituions but keep us in the economic systems. It would give us control over our fishing and farming policies while also minimising economic damage and uncertainty as the UK would fit into an ‘off the shelf’ economic model used by other countries.
While I can see the merits of this option, it’s not my preferred outcome. I worry we would still be locked into EU institutions like the single market, paying money to Europe but giving up our seat at the table to decide the rules. But I said MPs have to compromise and that includes me so I backed this amendment as I think a softer Brexit is in all our interests and this model has some merits that are worth exploring if we are to leave the EU. It was defeated 188 to 283.
NORWAY WITHOUT CUSTOMS UNION
I voted against the former Fishing Minister’s Amendment H to leave the EU with a Norway style deal. This is a less comprehensive version of the Common Market 2.0 proposals and lacks a customs union. This proposal is less practical and would not solve the issue with the backstop in Northern Ireland. MPs strongly voted against this option, with only 65 votes in favour and 377 against. I voted against this option.
REVOKING ARTICLE 50
We must avoid a no deal exit at all costs so after much reflection I supported Amendment L to revoke Article 50 in the event of no-deal. I believe that a no-deal Brexit will seriously harm Plymouth leading to job losses and disruption of food and medicine supplies. This amendment – dubbed the Cherry amendment after Joanna Cherry, the MP who proposed it – is an emergency brake to avoid a no deal. This measure would have givien MPs a tangible option to oppose no-deal. However, my preference is still to have a deal which is put to the British people for a public vote. I voted for this option but it was defeated 184 to 293. This is a better result than I had expected and reflects the growing number of MPs opposed to a no deal.
In our Parliamentary system if Parliament cannot agree a way ahead then the decision is normally put back to the people via a General Election. It is clear to me the Prime Minister and the Conservative Government is clinging onto power at all costs and so an election is not available. In such circumstances, the only way to break the deadlock is to put any deal agreed to the public via a ratification referendum.
I know there are people who will agree and those who will disagree with my view. That is what happens in a democracy, but I want you to know that I have not taken this decision lightly. I have listened carefully to the views of those people I represent, from all political traditions and perspectives. Parliament is deadlocked and we need a way to break the deadlock. I voted for a public vote.
Britain faces huge challenges with our NHS in crisis, housing more unaffordable for many and poverty and suffering being caused by Universal Credit. I worry that Brexit is dominating the political agenda and issues that affect people every day are being overlooked by a Government that is divided and weak. We need a way out of this mess and if MPs can’t find one in the Commons then the people must decide.
That’s why I voted for Amendment M, known as the Kyle-Wilson Amendment which says that any withdrawal agreement should be ratified by the British people. I believe that any deal reached with the European Union, including Labour’s own plan, should be put to people via a ratification referendum with the option to remain a member of the EU. You deserve the final say. While this amendment was also defeated, 268 to 295, it gained the most votes of any of last night’s options and more votes than for the Prime Minister’s deal the last time it was put to Parliament. The PM could get her deal through Parliament tomorrow if she included a provision to put it to the people via a public vote.
Amendment O known as the Malthouse Plan B seeks a “standstill” agreement with the EU while negotiating a trade deal. Essentially it is about having a “managed no-deal” scenario (which is a contradiction in terms) and would involve a series of mini-deals and a transition to no-deal Brexit. As I have said before, I cannot support any circumstance in which the UK leaves the EU without deal and I do not believe no-deal is in Plymouth’s best interests. This is another unicorn and I voted against it. Parliament firmly voted against this option, it was defeated 139 to 422.
In Plymouth roughly a third of people I represent voted to remain in the EU, roughly a third did not vote and just over a third voted to leave the European Union in 2016. It is becoming clear that Brexit is proving to be more expensive than we were told it would be, more complicated than we were told and more difficult than we were promised it would be. There is no silver bullet on Brexit and no scenario that keeps everyone happy. There are no easy answers. Last night’s votes were not about finding a winner but working out which options should be discarded and which options we should explore further to find a way to break the deadlock.
I remain opposed to the Prime Minister’s deal and will vote against it. I have voted to extend Article 50 to give Parliament the time it needs to find a solution. I am grateful to everyone who is sharing their views with me whether those are more leave or more remain. I am here to represent your views and none of the decisions Parliament is taking are easy. I will continue to hold open public meetings and will continue to keep you updated about Brexit.
While Parliament is in deadlock the other issues affecting Plymouth have not gone away and I am trying to talk up on those too. So in the last fortnight I have spoken in Parliament about our poor school funding, the long-term basing of the Royal Marines, about climate change, about getting a better deal for fishing and making the industry more sustainable as well as other things! You can find what I am up to on my website www.lukepollard.org
Luke Pollard MP
Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport