When Theresa May dramatically postponed the vote on her Brexit deal in Parliament last month she said she was doing so as it was about to be “rejected by a significant margin” by MPs and that she would go back to Brussels to gain assurances that would “get this deal over the line”. But with the rearranged vote now due for next Tuesday, it appears that to use a phrase now well-associated with the Prime Minister, nothing has changed.
The Yorkshire Post contacted the 53 MPs in the Yorkshire and Humber region who are eligible to vote next week – with Doncaster Central’s Rosie Winterton unable to participate because of her role as Deputy Speaker – and found that of the 41 who replied, 32 currently intend to vote against the deal, with two undecided. Those opposing the plan include former Brexit Secretary and Haltemprice and Howden MP David Davis.
Concerns about the deal centre around the UK having to follow EU rules and regulations while having no say in them during a transition period lasting until the end of 2020 – and fears that this could be extended indefinitely by the EU through the ‘backstop’ proposals designed to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Not a single MP who responded said their mind had been changed as yet by the delay, although Labour MPs Sarah Champion and Kevin Barron both indicated they were undecided. Meanwhile, Conservative rebels such as Shipley’s Philip Davies, East Yorkshire’s Greg Knight and Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers offered some slim hope to Mrs May by saying their intention to vote down the deal may change should meaningful amendments be brought forward.
However, with the EU continuing to insist the current agreement is “the best and only deal possible”, it appears it will take an extraordinary political turnaround for the Prime Minister to win the vote.
If it is voted down, Britain will be heading into uncharted territory with less than three months to Brexit. Mrs May said last month that three potential paths lay ahead for the country – her deal, no deal or no Brexit; and the first one looks as though it may soon be ruled out.
For the handful of Yorkshire MPs who do intend to vote in favour of the deal, the fear that either Brexit won’t be delivered or the UK will leave without a deal and suffer major economic consequences as a consequence, is among the key factors in their thinking. It is a message being pushed by the Government’s chief whip, Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith, who was unsurpisingly among the seven regional MPs who confirmed they will support Mrs May.
Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake said: “In my view, Mrs May has delivered a workable deal that will give us free, no-tariff, unlimited quota trade with the EU, minimal or zero frictions at the borders, complete control over immigration for the first time in 45 years, no payment into the central EU budget, out of the common agricultural and fisheries policies, no ever closer union, no customs union and, therefore the ability to strike bilateral trade deals across the world and, crucially if we accept it, no disastrous general election or second referendum.”
Elmet and Rothwell’s Alex Shelbrooke said backing the Withdrawal Agreement would give the country a chance to focus on other matters besides Brexit.
“After two years of negotiation, we must move beyond this debate, agreeing a new deal and allowing the Government to get on with delivering its domestic agenda: investing an extra £400m a week into the NHS, delivering a record number of children in good or outstanding schools, and cutting income tax for working people.”
But the view that the deal should pass appears to be a minority one both in Westminster more widely and amongst Yorkshire MPs.
David Davis, a leading Brexiteer and former Brexit Secretary, has previously described the deal as “no good at any level” and said MPs have “got to make sure the stake goes through its heart and it gets buried at the crossroads”.
A spokesperson for Mr Davis confirmed to The Yorkshire Post that his views have not changed, saying: “Mr Davis has made his views on the Withdrawal Agreement widely known in the past few weeks and months. He will be voting against the deal when it comes before the Commons.”
He is among five regional Conservative MPs who confirmed their intention to reject the deal, with others including Morley and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns, who has previously said Mrs May’s plan will keep Britain “half-in, half-out” and fails to deliver on the promise of Brexit.
A spokesperson said: “Andrea will not be supporting the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal agreement next week. Andrea strongly feels that the vote should not have been delayed as this would have sent a strong message to Brussels that this is not a deal in which parliament can get behind.”
Most of the region’s Labour MPs are determined to vote down the deal – with the party’s official position being that it will seek a General Election if that happens and should that be blocked, potentially campaign for a second referendum. Paul Blomfield, Sheffield Central MP and Shadow Brexit Minister, said the party would also seek to prevent a no-deal Brexit occurring. “The Prime Minister’s strategy has long been to present Parliament with the ‘Hobson’s choice’ of her doomed deal or no deal at all. It is worse than ‘like it or lump it’: it is a choice between different degrees of economic harm.
“If there is a majority in Parliament for anything, it is against jeopardising our economy and putting the jobs and livelihoods of our citizens at risk by crashing out of the EU on March 29 without a deal and we will work to ensure that outcome.”
Yvette Cooper, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP, said postponing the vote has had the opposite effect to what was intended. “Theresa May has made a real mess of this and she’s lost support from all sides. She wants us to vote on a wish list rather than a proper plan. The Prime Minister’s Deal isn’t really a deal at all, it’s more of a stop gap. Most things aren’t sorted at all and this deal actually weakens Britain’s position in any future talks. Moving the vote has been a complete farce, she’s just trying to give herself some time to convince her own side to vote with her, but it doesn’t seem to be working.”
But while most MPs have nailed their colours firmly to the mast, not everyone has made up their minds just yet. “I’ll make my decision after I’ve heard the debate,” said Rotherham’s Sarah Champion.
But even amongst those still willing to listen, the Prime Minister must deliver an unprecedented transformation in cross-party political opinion in the next few days to succeed.
Five-day debate gets under way
A fresh five-day debate on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement will begin in Parliament today, led by new Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.
The so-called “meaningful vote” is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, with the Prime Minister concluding the debate moments before MPs vote.
Without some movement from Brussels, Mrs May is expected to lose the division, which was postponed in December when it became clear that the Government would be defeated.
The PM’s official spokesman has said it was hoped to inform MPs of any new EU assurances “before the vote”. Number 10 has denied a report that the Government was talking to Brussels about extending Article 50 to buy more time by delaying Britain’s departure from the EU.