I believe that Brexit should be about redefining the UK’s relationship with the EU, and redefining Westminster’s relationship with the rest of the UK. To do only the former would be to ignore many of the reasons that motivated people to vote Leave, and would also mean that the UK is ill prepared to deal with a future outside of the EU.
It is therefore, vitally important that we secure the best possible Withdrawal Agreement, as this will lay the foundations of our future relationship with the EU. I know from the conversations I have had with my constituents that the public are understandably impatient for progress and certainty. They want us to move on to the next stage of our negotiations, and want the Government to begin tackling the many other challenges that our country faces. However, we cannot make that progress without reaching an agreement in Parliament.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Government has made a number of announcements. These include a “Stronger Towns Fund”, some guarantees for workers’ rights, and a minor concession by the EU on the issue of the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’. In parallel with these announcements I have had countless conversations with constituents, local business, trade unions, local council leaders, MPs, and Government Ministers – including the Prime Minister.
I entered this recent period of deliberation with an open mind and a clear set of priorities to inform my decision-making process:
- The best interests of my constituents and our country;
- Respecting the 2016 vote – the platform on which I was re-elected to Parliament in 2017.
However, neither the Government’s announcements, nor the conversations I have had, persuaded me that voting for the current Withdrawal Agreement was in the best interests of my constituents in Barnsley.
That’s why on Tuesday I did not support the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement; a position shared by seventy-five Conservative MPs and every other political party represented within the House of Commons. I believe that further concessions from both the Government and the EU to improve this deal can and must be pursued.
On Wednesday, I voted for a motion stating that the House of Commons does not want a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. The Government’s own analysis shows that leaving without any form of trade deal will lead to a 7% fall in the size of Yorkshire economy. This would cause very significant levels of job losses – especially in manufacturing – and have a serious impact on the lives of residents in Barnsley and South Yorkshire. Along with the vast majority of the House of Commons, I do not believe that leaving the EU with ‘No Deal’ is in our country’s best interests.
On Thursday, I voted for the Government to seek a “one-off extension” of the negotiation period up to the 30 June 2019 “for the purpose of passing the necessary EU exit legislation”. I did so in order to prevent a potentially damaging ‘No Deal’ exit, and to give the Prime Minister the maximum amount of time to negotiate a better Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. I have no desire to unpick the outcome of the 2016 referendum, but firmly believe that it is my duty to fight for the best possible Withdrawal Agreement until the last possible moment.
As we now enter one of the most critical periods in British political history, I will continue to prioritise the best interests of the people of Barnsley. I remain hopeful that Parliament can avoid a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, agree a better transitional relationship with the EU, and – should the Government choose to do so – give greater assurances to the many communities who voted Leave.
The stakes are too high to indulge in party politics and I will continue to urge the Government to work with all Members of Parliament in finding a solution that is able to command the support of the majority of the House of Commons.