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BREXIT UPDATE – MARCH 2019

Brexit continues to dominate Parliament.  Regardless of your views on it, if you are confused by what is going on and frustrated with the seemingly unending Parliamentary wrangles, you are not alone. Many of us inside Parliament share those frustrations. In this update, therefore, I will try to explain the past week’s developments in as plain language as I can.

Last Week’s events

On Tuesday 12th March, MPs once again voted resoundingly to reject the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, by 391 votes to 242. I was one of those MPs voting against. Despite all of the media attention given to the Northern Irish backstop issue (which you can read about here), this has never been the basis of my objection to the deal. I am more concerned with the fact that there are no guarantees about the kind of long-term relationship that the UK will have with the EU after the two-year transition period. If the Prime Minister’s deal goes through, we will potentially be faced with another two years of arguments about that future relationship.

Having again rejected May’s deal on Tuesday, Parliament then had to decide whether to leave the EU without a deal on 29th March or to give ourselves and the EU more time to find a way though the mess. On Wednesday 13th March, Parliament voted to reject a no deal Brexit, and this was also my view. Without a deal, customs checks would have to be put in place at channel ports, leading to damaging delays costing millions for companies like those in the automotive sector – which rely on just in time deliveries of components from mainland Europe to the UK and vice versa. The imposition of tariffs on goods traded between the EU and UK would also put up the price of many goods imported to the UK. Automotive companies and many others involved in manufacturing have warned how damaging a no deal Brexit would be. Given the importance of the manufacturing industry to the Midlands, that is a serious concern for jobs in our region. I spoke about the dangers of a No Deal Brexit in the House of Commons in January, and you can see my speech here.

On Thursday 14th March, the focus of debate moved on to how to secure the time needed to agree a way forward following Parliament’s rejection of no deal. This means extending Article 50 – the procedure though which Member states leave the EU. Britain triggered Article 50 two years ago with a deadline of 29th March 2019 for completing the process. Once Article 50 has been triggered, it can only be extended with the agreement of all 27 other EU Member States. Voting in favour of an extension was a sensible move to allow sufficient time to agree a realistic alternative way forward – for example by holding a series of indicative votes in Parliament to identify levels of support for different kinds of a Brexit deal from that recommended by the Prime Minister. Consideration could also be given to holding another referendum to break the log jam in Parliament and give the British people the final choice between any deal finally negotiated and remaining in the EU.

The Prime Minister’s Reaction

Unfortunately, in the past few days, and in contrast to what the Government had said last week, the Prime Minister has refused to request the kind of Article 50 extension that would be necessary to explore options such as these. Instead, she only appears interested in seeking an extension that would enable her once again to ask Parliament to vote for the kind of deal that has already been decisively rejected twice. It is simply not good enough and I believe Parliament must now insist on a different approach from the Government. Indeed, Theresa May’s attempts to keep presenting Parliament with a deal that has already been rejected could themselves be contrary to Parliamentary rules – something which the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, himself reminded the Government about in recent days.

In any event, as I write this update, the Government has now written to the EU to request an extension to Article 50 until the end of June. In the coming days we will hear the response from the EU and there is little doubt in my mind that pressure will increase on the Prime Minister to change course.

Looking Ahead

I have been contacted by a large number of constituents who have deeply held views on all sides of the Brexit debate, often urging me to do completely different or opposite things. In those circumstances, I believe my duty is to act in accordance with what I genuinely believe is in the interests of my constituents and the country as a whole. It is not surprising that an issue of such significance to the future of our country arouses such passion on all sides of the argument. Whatever our individual viewpoints, however, I believe it is vital that discussions about what the UK should do from here should be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect for differing positions – whether those discussions take place in the House of Commons, in the pub or on social media.  All of us have a duty to remember that, however the arguments now going on are finally resolved, it is in all our interests to remain focused on bring the country together. After all, we all have a stake in our country’s future.

FEBRUARY/MARCH NEWSLETTER

Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. If you would like to receive these updates by email, you can sign up here. Read more

KNIFE CRIME

Knife crime is nothing short of a national emergency and the Government need to treat it as such. Yesterday I said they should listen to Labour’s and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s proposals for an emergency funding package so that we can address this problem in a consistent and effective way. My question to the Home Secretary here:

QUESTION TO GOVERNMENT ON HONDA SWINDON CLOSURE

The harsh reality is that Britain’s reputation as a stable place to do business and as the gateway to Europe is being undermined before our eyes. Here is my question to the Government yesterday on Honda’s Swindon closure:

STATEMENT ON HONDA SWINDON PLANT CLOSURE

The loss of Honda’s Swindon plant is a bitter blow to the automotive sector in the UK and devastating for the 3,500 people who work there.

Representing the area of Longbridge, I know the impact that closure of car plant has on families whose livelihoods depend on it. The reasons for Honda’s decision today are very different to MG Rover back in 2005, but the affected families will today be feeling the very same fear for their futures as those who were affected by the MG Rover closure almost 14 years ago. Those individuals and families should be at the centre of our thoughts today. A range of practical initiatives were taken at the time of the MG Rover collapse to support both employees facing redundancy and other companies affected by the closure. The Government must look at what can be learned from those initiatives for Swindon today.

As with other recent announcements of the loss of a new model at Nissan in Sunderland and job losses at Ford and Jaguar Land Rover, Honda’s decision cannot be simply put down to Brexit. But it is clear that Brexit is an important part of the background in which these decisions are being made.

With a committed workforce, excellence in innovation and a stable operating environment, the UK has built up a deserved reputation as a great place for automotive companies to invest and as a gateway to the European market. It is that reputation that has made Swindon the home of the Honda Civic, but it is a reputation now under threat.

Decisions to accelerate development of electric and other powertrains beyond petrol and diesel are leading Honda and other manufacturers to review their operations worldwide. When they do so, they make judgements about where to do business. The harsh reality is that Brexit uncertainties are undermining confidence in the UK as the stable gateway to Europe that we have been until now. The looming possibility of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal on 29th March is adding an even more serious dimension to that uncertainty.

Brexit is hitting UK manufacturing and it is hitting it hard. It all underlines why whatever else happens in the coming weeks, the Government must rule out a no-deal Brexit.