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Post Brexit vote in Commons - pre-confidence vote
(pic: Meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Rt Hon David Lidington to discuss Brexit with businesses last month)
As somebody who advocated Remain in the EU referendum, I have deep respect for the result and enduring faith in democracy so conclude that cancelling Article 50 would be a betrayal of Brexit voters in the North East. As a Remain advocate I have come to change my mind and can see the opportunities to the UK outside the EU, unlike many I don’t cling to the arguments that failed in 2016, nor do I support those who want to find ways of frustrating the referendum result.
In my head I can accept that - despite the short term turbulence and instability - leaving the EU on WTO terms will not wreck Britain. But I am also a realist and can see that there are not enough votes in Parliament to leave with No Deal and that those Brexit MPs who have become so ideologically attached to No Deal risk losing Brexit. That is why, despite the turmoil, I believe it is still worth sticking with Mrs May. Her first response to the massive loss on Tuesday night was to reach out to those with whom she disagrees and invite them to talk to her; Jeremy Corbyn’s first response was to try to smash her to bits by going for a vote of no confidence. She put the Country first, he put his party first.
There should be confidence in the Government because, when the Brexit issue is parked, there has been some serious progress in other economic areas. The UK deficit is down; income tax has been cut; record numbers of people are in work; the credit crunch has been tackled and business has greater access to finance; more homes are being built (the number of new-build home starts in England was up 12 per cent in the quarter ending September 2018); devolution is enabling areas like Tees Valley to power ahead with critical investment and will be coming to the North of Tyne soon. There are lots of reasons for confidence and one giant fly in the ointment; Brexit.
It is easier to say what you are against than to say what you are for and then to compromise. I found myself sympathising with the concerns of the region’s Business 4 EU group this week, but fundamentally disagreeing with their stance of a so-called People’s vote; another referendum would only create more uncertainty, disrespect the voters of 2016 and, unless it’s fixed and undermined by a quirky question, could well result in another ‘Leave’ vote - thus wasting everyone’s time.
There are as many factions in the business community as in the rest of the population. I know numerous committed Brexiteers in business. I was personally in favour of Mrs May’s comprise deal, and there are lots of people who want a customs union arrangement. The best use of time in business is spent preparing for different outcomes rather than hand wringing about our politicians, no matter how justified that is!
The politicians must now to stretch every sinew to reach a deal that is compatible with leaving the EU - Mrs May’s deal (and I read it) did provide a staging post for leaving, but fell at the great hurdle of the Irish backstop. Adopting many of its contents in a structured ‘No Deal’ exit would certainly cushion the worst case No Deal scenario. It might be possible, to leave without a formal deal but to have a ‘pay-as-you-go’ transition, whereby trade and customs arrangements continue while meaningful negotiations take place on a future free trade agreement. A bit like a member of staff leaving a business, then coming back on a freelance basis to fill the gap – being paid, playing by the business rules but not trapped in the business beyond their willingness to stay. More dramatically, perhaps we should adopt the time honoured EU way of reaching deals, through a long summit meeting effectively by locking our political leaders in a negotiating room until the early hours of the morning, and letting proximity, privacy and exhaustion force them into a compromise. The Catholic Church chooses Popes in private conclave, and that proves an effective way of forcing agreement!
Whatever the outcome of the next few weeks, we should be resilient to the turbulence and uncertainty that surrounds us. As Charles Darwin once said: “It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”