The vote passed and the deal was signed into law. I accepted the deal and voted for the bill while holding my nose. It was not a vote I felt good about but I feel it was the right decision. The good news is that the vote prevented the UK leaving the Brexit transition period without a deal. The bad news is that this deal is a poor deal for Britain, creates new obstacles to trade and fails to deliver on the promises made at the last general election or in the referendum but it was better than no deal.
Many of the emails I received over the past few weeks highlighted that there were no good choices at this vote. And that was correct. I was re-elected specifically on a personal pledge to oppose no deal. Unlike in the other Brexit votes there was no better option waiting to be found: no customs union, no single market option, no confirmatory vote, no general election. If the deal – with all its incredible flaws – was not voted through then Britain would leave without a deal and that would be even more damaging than this deal to our economy and place in the world. The Prime Minister did this deliberately and it is him and this Government that carries sole responsibility for this deal and its consequences.
I thought long and hard about whether voting for the deal or abstaining was the right option. Many people who I share views with made a passionate case for abstaining, but I also heard from people who did not understand what abstention meant and why I was considering not having a position on the biggest issue affecting our politics today. I think this deal is a bad one and in accepting the deal and letting it pass into law to prevent a no deal it will not change my view on Brexit nor Britain’s role in the world.
I also recognise that there were MPs who wanted to see no deal stopped who, for political reasons, chose to vote against the deal, and therefore for no deal, but did so in the hope that other MPs would outvote them and save them from the outcome they voted for actually happening. By voting against the legislation to implementing the deal, the only other option was no deal. I get the politics there – especially for smaller parties – but this was not a credible choice for me. I don’t believe this was a time for party politics, but for putting the national interest first, even if that meant accepting a flawed and poor deal in order to prevent no deal.
Brexit is not yet done despite the gusto of the Government. Services, which make up 80% of our economy, are not included in this deal. Outstanding matters on issues as wide ranging as data, security, environment, education and travel remain to be sorted. I was pleased to see that issues relating to Gibraltar were sorted a few days after the deal came into law by allowing Gibraltar to retain and further join some of the European Union’s processes and systems – a sensible option denied to Great Britain by the Government. I know most people just wanted Brexit done and I get that too.
The challenge now – with this poor deal, the holes in the deal and the all-consuming challenge of the virus – is how we come together as a country, limit the damage of Brexit and if and where there are opportunities, to seize them. The leave and remain divide is over – we have left the European and we have left the transition period. I believe the whole Brexit process has made Britain poorer and more divided, but it has also shone a light on people, communities and perspectives that had been ignored for too long.
I remain proud to be English, British, European and a Janner. And I know many people in Plymouth share that pride for themselves and their family. We now need to heal divisions created by the decision to hold this referendum all those years ago. Our politics is broken, and the Brexit debate showed that to be the case. A lot of feedback asked me to look at what we do next as a city and as a country rather than re-fight battles and there is a strong element of sense to those arguments. Britain is more divided than it has been at any point in our lifetime and the triple threats of the virus, Brexit an the climate emergency means we need to find a new way of doing business and politics.
I am grateful to everyone who participated in my public meetings on Brexit over the past three years. I was the only Plymouth MP to hold open public meetings and I feel my views were informed greatly by doing so. I have received tens of thousands of emails about Brexit and each one was sent with a passion and hope about the future, even if the route to achieving those destinations was different. Plymouth is a great city but we still have many obstacles to overcome and I will continue fighting for us to get our fair share of funding and to get the support we need.
Finally, I wanted to make a point about our city and its people. Plymouth is at our best when we value everyone regardless of where they come from, what their skin colour or religion is or who they fall in love with. At this time of uncertainty there are many European friends in our city who need to know we have their back and that they are welcome and valued in our city. I want us to send that message loud and clear to our neighbours, family members, friends and work colleagues – our EU friends are welcome in Plymouth. We value their contribution to our city, its culture and creativity. We value them and we will do all we can to make Plymouth the welcoming and safe place we know it can be. This may or may not affect you personally, but it is a cause worthy of our whole city uniting to defend.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me about Brexit. I hope you will consider doing so on other issues in the months and years to come.
Keep safe. Best wishes,