I must start by admitting that when I said in my last column that the new Prime Minister had brought in dramatic changes, I didn’t expect them to be this dramatic. Events in Parliament are currently changing every hour, and by the time you read this, things may have changed significantly again.
This week is dominated by the ongoing bid by Opposition parties and government rebels to pass a law to force the PM to rule out the possibility of ‘no deal’ if he cannot obtain the better deal he is seeking, alongside the government’s announcement of increasing schools funding, and wider plans to improve public services in Wednesday’s Spending Review.
Last week the government decided to seek to prorogue Parliament (i.e. Parliament would not sit) from 9th/12th September until 14th October. From the mass of emails and letters I have got on the subject, I know this is hugely controversial, and that local opinion is divided. My impression is that by and large Remain supporters oppose it, and Leavers support it. I completely understand and respect the concerns expressed, and agree that parliament must decide how we proceed with the Brexit process.
However, prorogation is a normal parliamentary procedure that is constitutional and legal, and Parliament will have a lot of time to deliberate on Brexit between 14th October and when we are due to leave on 31st October. Because of this, I do not think it is accurate to say that prorogation means no deal can be pushed through against the will of Parliament, it merely provides the PM with the breathing space needed to see if the EU will reconsider its position on the backstop.
I am encouraged that the Prime Minister has stated he is planning for a new parliamentary vote on a withdrawal agreement on 21st-22nd October. No deal is not my preferred outcome, but I also feel we cannot indefinitely kick the can down the road. We must have a final resolution, and end this continuous uncertainty. I therefore hope Ministers can build on their positive discussions with EU leaders to agree a new deal that can pass the Commons.
Passing a law to delay Brexit in response to prorogation would weaken the government’s negotiating hand at precisely the time we need to be as firm as possible with the EU to force a revision of the Irish backstop. Promising to delay removes any pressure on Europe to compromise. There is also the problem that many of the bill’s supporters actually want to stop any Brexit at all, which I am concerned means a serious breach of trust with the electorate.
Given this threat, the Prime Minister has said if this law is passed, he wants to hold a general election to gain a majority for his position. However, even this is now in doubt, as the Labour Party, which has demanded an election virtually non-stop for 3 years, now says it doesn’t want one.
Nevertheless, I feel an election looms, because the House of Commons has rejected the government’s old deal, has failed to agree on any alternative deal, and also rejects no deal. This is a meaningless position that understandably saps the public’s faith in our democracy, and is why I have tried to act constructively throughout, supporting Theresa May’s deal twice after it was revised in line with my concerns over the Irish backstop, and then backing the compromise proposal of UK membership of the European Free Trade Association.
Given this stalemate, I am glad the government is getting on with the job in other areas, with this week bringing a £14 billion funding boost for schools to raise per-pupil funding and teacher salaries, and announcements on the delivery of the promised £20 billion a year budget boost for our NHS and the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers.
As I have tried to communicate here, there are no easy solutions, which is why my preference is for a sensible Brexit settlement that allows the country to move on. Not all residents will agree with the position I take, but I am continuing to consider very carefully all the feedback I receive from constituents, and to act in line with my sincere conviction about what represents the best outcome for our city and the country as a whole.