As the old saying goes: ‘a week is a long time in politics’ – something that has never felt more true since the vote in parliament on whether to accept the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement on January 15.
That vote resulted in the biggest defeat for any government in the history of our Parliament. MPs from all sides – those representing constituencies that voted heavily to Remain; and those, like myself, representing seats that voted heavily to Leave – demonstrated that they did not think that the deal worked in the best interests of the country.
And, on the day after the vote, the House of Commons had the opportunity to demonstrate whether it had confidence in Theresa May and her government. Although I voted that I did not have confidence in the government, Parliament as a whole voted that it did.
The clock is ticking and so all sides must now come together and reach an agreement that commands the support of a majority of MPs before we leave the EU on the 29th of March.
I will respect the result of the referendum, which is why I voted to trigger Article 50 in March 2017. Respecting the referendum result means reaching a deal that works in the best interests of communities like ours, and that delivers in four key areas: workers’ rights; regional and economic investment; our future trading relationship with Europe; and national sovereignty.
The Prime Minister said that she wanted to reach out to senior Parliamentarians and look for areas of consensus and compromise. On an issue as complicated and challenging as Brexit, no side is going to be able to get everything their own way. It is time for all MPs of all parties to get round the table and work out a deal.
We still have time – before Britain leaves the EU on the 29th of March – to agree a deal that respects the result of the referendum and minimises the risk to our economy, jobs and manufacturing supply chains.
Agreeing this deal is important to ensure that we leave the European Union. But it is also important that the debate can be moved on from arguments over Europe – which have dominated our political discourse for the last 3 years.
There is so much else to do. We urgently need to fix our public services, which have suffered under 9 years of austerity, and address issues that are affecting peoples’ lives on a daily basis – such as housing, transport, skills and education and fixing the deeply flawed rollout of Universal Credit.
As the debate moves on, it will give us fresh opportunities to look at delivering devolution for our Region. For far too long, Yorkshire and the Humber has lagged behind London and the South East in terms of the amount of investment we get from central government. For example, for every pound that is spent in our region, London and the South East receives £3.20.
This points to an economic settlement that has left behind parts of our country and created a society of regional haves and have nots. Whatever else Brexit brings, it will provide us with a unique opportunity to press the reset button, and secure a future economic settlement that treats all parts of our country equally and fairly.
I'm ready to rise to that challenge and make Brexit and devolution work for Barnsley – I just hope that the Government will do the same.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 25 January 2019.