Maybe you cannot keep asking the same question in Parliament

The Speaker’s ruling was a good one on the government’s Withdrawal Agreement. It has twice been decisively rejected. On the second occasion the government tabled additional documents and argued it was a amended proposal,  but  many in Parliament thought the changes did not amount to much. As I wrote at the time, ask the same question and you probably get the same answer. From this clear ruling it seems the government cannot  now table the same Agreement and vote again on it before the end of this week when the PM goes to the European Council.

If she goes to the Council and gets some material change to the Agreement then she could return to the Commons next week and seek another vote. Meanwhile the ruling should also have implications for some other hardy perennials that this Parliament likes to go over and over again. Several times we have voted down staying in the customs union. We have voted down a second referendum. We have voted down the Cooper-Boles-Letwin idea of taking over the Commons agenda to legislate for Brexit delay. Perhaps now these cannot  be put again either.

It is also true that the Commons approved a motion against leaving without an Agreement. That however contradicts the legislation the House has passed, where the legislation will take precedence unless amended.

I am urging the Prime Minister to go to the Council at the end of this week and tell them we ware leaving without signing the Withdrawal Agreement. I am asking her to table a free trade agreement and to invite them to talks as we leave the EU in accordance with their timetable. I do not see why the UK would seek an extension to Article 50. So far Ministers have been unable to come up with any plausible reason why the EU should grant us an extension.



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Two offers of delay

The Withdrawal Agreement is a deliberate expensive delay. It means we do not take back control of our laws, or our money or our borders for at least 21 months, and probably for 45 months under the extension built into it. That would take us well beyond the next General election, and would mean no Brexit for six and half years from the referendum!  Remain forces would be then be arguing the referendum was out of date and we have to just accept staying in. It also means trying to negotiate our eventual way out under duress, with the EU pocketing all they want in the Withdrawal Agreement and likely to demand even more sacrifices for little in return. There would also be the backstop, likely  to keep us in the customs union in perpetuity.

There is then the nebulous “long delay” of recent briefings. No time limit, no price, no legal basis has been set out, because of course there is no such agreement as yet. Does it come with continuing full membership? If so they would have to fight the European elections, which the two main  parties have no wish to do. Or would it come with some new lesser status, in which case it will need elaborate UK legislation and a new Treaty like the Withdrawal Treaty Parliament has twice rejected.?

So there we have it. An actual very expensive long delay which Parliament rejects, or a theoretical long delay which the 188 Conservative MPs who voted against delay could not accept. What a silly idea that we have to choose between a disaster and phantom.

The default option remains leaving without signing the Withdrawal Agreement, which remains the best option. Then we could get on immediately under EU rules with negotiating a free trade agreement with them. The government should table one now to avoid new tariffs and barriers if the EU agrees to negotiate an FTA.

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I see no reason for a delay in Brexit

The Prime Minister gave her word many times that we would leave the EU on 29 March. The Conservative Manifesto said we would either leave with a good deal or with no deal. The government has had 2 years eight months to negotiate a deal, and to put in place everything needed to leave with a series of mini deals without a Withdrawal Agreement. I do not see why we should now change this approach and ask for a delay. The Withdrawal Agreement itself is a massive delay as well, so the government is offering two kinds of delay.

The EU has said it will not re open negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement. Unless the UK can take the money back off the table and insist on leaving free to make its own trade deals and settle its own laws and borders as part of a new negotiation there is no point at all in a delay. Such a delay proposal would never be accepted in the EU.

Some people argue that the UK needs a longer time for Parliament to hammer out a  consensus. There is no sign that Parliament will be able to do that. It could have done it at any time over the last couple of years but chose not too. The  minor parties oppose Brexit outright and Labour has moved to a position of effective hostility to a proper Brexit. Labour has always seen Brexit more as an opportunity to  damage the Conservatives and press for an election by playing up differences rather than looking for a national consensus, which is the normal attitude of an opposition in the UK.  There is no reason this is about to change so the main opposition parties will suddenly want to work co-operatively to find the elusive compromise most people can accept.

The EU has always said we cannot negotiate a trade deal with them until we have left. That is why the best course of action for both sides from here is for the UK to leave on 29 March, but both sides to immediately enter serious talks about a free trade deal. This would allow both sides to carry on without imposing tariffs and new barriers to trade whilst we negotiated the details of the Free Trade Agreement.  A long delay with us still in the EU would put off any negotiation of our future trading relationship, adding to business uncertainty and putting off investment.

The government and the private sector have prepared for a March 29 exit, and have spent money on stocks and other arrangements. There would be understandable anger by many if all that has been wasted.

The “long delay” idea needs whole hearted Labour support, EU consent, and is still in search of a sensible purpose for it. With 188 Conservative MPs voting against any delay Mrs May has no government majority for delay! Those who threaten us with a delay have to explain how and why.

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Remain appeals to democracy whilst disagreeing with its findings

Remain loses the EU referendum so demands a second one.

Remain loses the vote in  the Commons to hold a second referendum, so proposes to demand another vote in the Commons on it sometime and carry on campaigning for it.

Remain lose various votes in the Commons to keep us in the single market and customs union, so demand more votes on the same thing

Remain loves democracy only when the vote goes their way.

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The death of the second referendum

On Thursday evening we at last got a vote in Parliament on the People’s Vote proposal, recently adopted as Labour policy.  It was massively defeated by 334 votes to 85. Labour officially abstained, lacking confidence in their new policy.  The majority against was  249 votes. The Peoples Vote campaign now say this was not the proper vote! Isn’t it interesting how every time we have a  democratic vote which they lose, it does not count. Any vote you have only  counts as long as it is the answer they want.

On these numbers even if all remaining Labour MPs had voted for the second referendum it would still have gone down to a substantial defeat. 318 votes is a majority in this Parliament, after deducting  7 Sinn Fein MPs, four tellers for each division and the Speaker and Deputy Speakers. Opposition to a second referendum runs higher at 334, a comfortable margin of 16 over an overall majority of the Commons.

Those in the EU who fondly imagine the UK will be like other countries facing unpopular EU measures and will roll over and hold another referendum to change its mind need to understand this vote.  There is no likelihood of this Parliament voting through the complex legislation for a second referendum given the big majority against the whole idea. Brussels can rule that out. One uncertainty dogging the UK  has been removed.

If there is no prospect of a second referendum which would be the only way of trying to reverse the first, there is less value in delay from Brussels point of view. They used to say they would allow a delay for an attempt to change the minds of the public but not just for delay’s sake. Now they are suggesting they might countenance a long delay to put pressure on MPs to sign up to their penal Withdrawal Agreement. If many people  had such an advantageous deal for them on the table they would try hard to get the other losing side to sign it. That is a good reason not to do so.

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Delay and a second referendum

I will produce considered pieces on these two topics over the weekend.

The immediate headlines are

  1. A big majority of Conservative MP (188) and a bigger majority of Conservative members oppose delay. If the EU agreed a delay it could only go through with Mrs May and her minority of Conservatives  in alliance with Mr Corbyn and Labour. Seven Cabinet members oppose delay and other Ministers, leading to resignations if the PM were to want to press it.
  2. There is no agreement amongst delayers over how long and why.  If the EU won’t renegotiate anyway, how would the UK get a better deal after March 29 than in the 2 years 9 months before? How would delayers in Parliament explain it to voters who were promised Brexit by b0th main parties in the  2017 election ?
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My speech during the debate on the UK’s Withdrawal from the European Union, 13 March 2019

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Some 17.4 million people voted to leave. They were told by both the Government and the remain campaign that that meant leaving the customs union and the single market. They were told that many things would be damaging or wrong if we left. There was a series of very bad short-term forecasts for the first year after the vote, and the public said to the experts, “We don’t believe you”, and they were right about the short-term forecasts: jobs figures went up, not down; growth went up—there was no recession; and house prices performed reasonably well. This was a specific forecast for the year after the vote and before we could conceivably have left.

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): rose—

John Redwood: I give way.

Mr Speaker: Order. Any interventions from now on are perfectly legitimate, but if Members intervene, they will be preventing others from speaking. I just want them to know that.

Patricia Gibson: Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how anyone can trust this Government? We were long told it was the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal, but that is clearly not the case because the House could revoke article 50 if it so chose.

John Redwood: I do not agree. I think that that is exactly where we are: either we leave with the withdrawal agreement, or we leave without the withdrawal agreement. That is what the House voted for when it voted to send the article 50 letter, and that is what the House voted for when it enacted the withdrawal Act.

I am not here to recreate the arguments of the referendum. The public are heartily sick of Parliament’s going over and over the same arguments in which we have engaged for three or four years now, in the run-up to the referendum and subsequently. They expect us to be purposeful, serious and sensible, and to sort out the issues and problems arising from the decision to leave the European Union. That is exactly what we should be doing, and I come here in that spirit. I understand that remain voters have real concerns, although I think that some of them are exaggerated. It is up to us, working with the Government, to show that all of them can be managed and that there are many upsides, to which we are looking forward and which leave voters clearly had in their minds.

I want to reassure the House. Calling certain views certain names is not helpful to a grown-up debate. It is not a no-deal exit that we are talking about; it is a many-deals exit. As we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), a series of measures have been enacted recently in the European Parliament. On both sides of the channel, serious work is being done to ensure that lorries can move and planes can fly. Goods will move across borders, and there will be an understanding about what happens in relation to customs and other checks. The drugs will come in, and the food will come in.

I think it is quite wrong to scaremonger and frighten people by pretending that none of that work has taken place—that German pharmaceutical companies will refuse to send their goods any more, or that the workers at Dover will get in the way and block them from coming in. It is not going to happen. We have heard very good news from Calais and Dover about all the work that has been done at both ports to make things work.

So let us come together and be practical, and let us understand that certainly all Conservative and Labour MPs were elected to this 2017 Parliament to get Brexit through. We all stood on national manifestos that said we would do that. The public cannot believe that so many Labour Members in particular are now saying, “We did not really mean it; we do not care about that; we want to stop it; we want to delay it; we want to redefine it in a way that means it is no longer Brexit.”

Brexit means taking control of our own money and then being able to spend it on our priorities, and the sooner we do that, the sooner we will have the boost to our economy which taking that measure would bring about. It means having tariffs that make sense for British industry, and for importers who might like some tariffs to be removed. I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has slashed tariffs from a load of imported goods that do not involve our competing actively in the United Kingdom. That will be better news for all the consumers who will not have to pay those tariffs any more once we have our own tariff schedule.

I have a big idea for the Government. I entirely understand that very many people in this Parliament want a bigger deal, or more deals, than what is currently on the table. My idea is that, even at this late stage, the Government should offer the European Union a comprehensive free trade agreement based on the best of EU-Canada and EU-Japan, perhaps involving more services, because we already have alignment with services. If the EU would agree just to talk about that—as I suspect it would—we could leave on 29 March without having to impose any new tariffs or non-tariff barriers on each other, and proceed, under GATT 24, to negotiate a free trade agreement. That, I should have thought, would unite a lot of moderate remain voters with most leave voters, and I strongly recommend it to the Government. Parliament must allow us to leave on 29 March, otherwise it will be the people against the Parliament.

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Leaving without a Withdrawal Agreement remains the default position

The Commons motion last night to reject a so called no deal or WTO exit does not change the law. That says we leave on 29 March.

Those who wish to delay Brexit need to persuade the government to go to the EU to negotiate a delay, and then to legislate for a delay. The EU so far is rightly asking what would the delay be for and how long would it be. They point out they are not willing to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement. They had indicated they might give a short delay to implement  the Agreement if passed, or a bit longer delay to hold a second referendum. The government and a good number of Labour MPs remain rightly against any such second Peoples vote.

The forces of delay have not  coalesced around a period of delay with a purpose the EU would accept. Mrs May still wishes to give her deal another airing in the Commons. This story has no definitive ending before the 29 March.

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The Spring statement

Today the Chancellor should confirm what the published figures have been telling us for some time. The deficit is lower than planned as his fiscal squeeze has been tougher . The government has collected more tax than planned, despite shortfalls on Stamp Duty and VED where they put rates up too much. Lower corporation tax rates and higher income tax allowances have helped or not impeded  increased revenue from both sources.  As a result of a combined monetary and fiscal squeeze the economy has slowed more than is desirable, at the same time as the Euro area economy has been hit by recession and slowdown.

What should he do about this? First, he should express concern that a slowdown is happening and signal he intends to do something about it. The Fed in the US has backed off from a monetary tightening that was damaging the US outlook, the Chinese authorities have announced tax cuts and monetary relaxation to deal with their slowdown and the European Central Bank has announced more cheap loan facilities for commercial banks in their territory. Where is the UK response?

Second, he should cut tax rates for Stamp Duty and VED where high rates have cut revenues. CGT is another one where a high rate is deterring  property sales. These cuts would boost revenue more. He should remove VAT from green products and from domestic fuel to celebrate our exit from the EU and relieve fuel poverty.  He should cut income tax further, and make a substantial reduction in business rates. He can afford to reduce his total tax demand, as well as cutting rates that will raise more money.

Third, he should increase spending where a good case can be made for better public service as a result. Social care, schools and the police are three priority areas where asking for bids for more money to improve services would be a  good idea.

The Chancellor lets the story run in the press that he will spend more if we vote for the Withdrawal Agreement. Now he has to make up his mind what to do knowing the result of the vote.  He could afford to spend even more and tax less  if we  just leave without the Agreement, as we will save all that money that otherwise goes to the EU.

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Ask the same question and you get the same answer

The crushing defeat for the Withdrawal Agreement again should come as no surprise. It united Remain and Leave voting MPs, as it is such a bad proposition for the UK.

We now know the government is not going to whip the Conservative party after all for the votes to come on Wednesday and Thursday. It is odd that a government which has constantly confirmed No deal is better than a bad deal, and asserted we will leave on 29 March 2019 is now not going to whip its party to support those two central policies that are very popular with many Conservative voters.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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