Justine Greening: How party politics and Brexit is putting the nation at risk

Theresa May addresses MPs at the end of Wednesday's no confidence vote which the Government survived.
Theresa May addresses MPs at the end of Wednesday's no confidence vote which the Government survived.
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WHAT a time to be in politics. In just one week, we had a vote that effectively means the Prime Minister’s Brexit Plan has been overwhelmingly rejected by Parliament, followed by a no confidence vote that the Government subsequently won.

Like most backbench Conservative MPs, I could not support the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal – it was clear my community was united in rejecting it and I voted against it.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a packed Commons.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a packed Commons.

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As for the no confidence vote, this is absolutely no time for a self-serving general election called by the Labour Party when the British public want their MPs to be fully focussed on finding a way forward on Brexit.

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The challenge on Brexit is not about whether it is a Labour or Conservative plan. The challenge is that Brexit cuts right across party politics. It’s one of the principle reasons why Parliament has faced so many challenges in trying to find a route forward which sufficient MPs can actually support.

MPs announce the result of the vote over Theresa may's Brexit deal which was defeated by a record margin.

MPs announce the result of the vote over Theresa may's Brexit deal which was defeated by a record margin.

Yet all of this comes on the back of a British electorate which has steadily grown more and more tired of some of the dysfunctional party politics that they see taking place in our country, and also in the chamber of the House of Commons.

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A party politics that too often prioritises short-term, press release politics playing to its core base, irrespective of whether that reflects the British public’s desire for working across parties, if necessary, to take the long-term decisions that actually deliver for the British people and, crucially, for future generations.

Brexit is the latest, profound long-term challenge Britain faces which people feel their political classes have failed to develop a strategy to deal
with.

Justine Greening is the former Educaiton Secretary.

Justine Greening is the former Educaiton Secretary.

Whether it is social mobility, housing, social care or anything else, our party politics isn’t effective at resolving these big challenges.

We spend too much time arguing between parties for the purpose of scoring political points and not enough time working cross party to agree common ground to provide a platform for a long term, ambitious plan that isn’t chopped and changed by politicians every few years.

The only difference with Brexit is that it has a deadline of March 29, so the lack of plan is impossible to ignore.

The reality is that party politics won’t solve Brexit. Party politics – and the personalities alongside it – have got in the way of finding a sensible approach for Britain.

I think when people look back at this period in our history, many will feel like it was actually both front benches that failed to rise to the challenge of delivering on Brexit and a route forward.

Every single minute that we spent on Wednesday in Parliament debating whether or not we should have a party political general election was a minute lost in finding a consensus in Parliament for a route forward on Brexit, and all the time the clock is ticking down.

The Prime Minister doesn’t just need to listen to what MPs are saying, but go beyond that.

She must allow MPs to have the same clear cut votes on different options in the same way that we did when we were finally able to vote on her deal.

That’s the only way to find out if there is a consensus for anything.

Whether it’s departing with no deal or a different version of soft Brexit, like Norway’s relationship of following EU rules and paying for access to the common market, the House of Commons should be allowed to vote and find out if there is a majority supporting either option.

As we saw this week, it is only a vote of MPs that really proves the actual level of support or opposition there is for an option.

In the end, if those votes confirm that Parliament really is in gridlock, then we need to allow people back into the process and give them their right to vote for a route forward and break the deadlock.

There is no point having that public vote in the form of party politics and a general election.

What policy will either main party have on Brexit?

And how can it get all its candidates to agree it when there’s such a divergence of views inside each party?

A general election is the wrong question.

We need an updated Brexit mandate from the public for a new course of action that delivers what they actually want today.

People, through their MPs, have rejected the Prime Minister’s deal so it’s the most sensible way to ensure we have their backing for Britain’s next step.

Parliament’s gridlock on Brexit means it can’t find a route forward and the British people should anyhow be wary of another type of fudge.

It’ll shortly be time for MPs to have the courage to give the public the final say.

It’s a far more responsible approach than just guessing and hoping.

Justine Greening is a Conservative MP and also a Remain supporter. Born in Rotherham, she was Education Secretary until last January when she lost her job in Theresa May’s first reshuffle of 2018.