It's our duty as MPs to vote for Theresa May's Brexit deal — it's the only reasonable option
But once the votes were cast and the clear result was Leave, I knew it was my duty as an MP to follow the people’s instruction. It was Parliament’s duty to do that.
The Conservative manifesto on which we were elected in 2017 contained a commitment to leave the EU and I have followed that commitment, voting for Article 50 and opposing a second referendum.
Remaining true to that democratic commitment is also the reason I voted against Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement in January. That deal seemed designed to keep Britain in a dark treacle of EU bureaucracy.
It established a separation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. And it presented hard-pressed taxpayers with a £39billion bill — for the privilege of this divisive and never-ending backstop.
THE BEST OPTION
Now, with the Brexit clock ticking perilously close to midnight, I have decided to vote FOR the deal Theresa May will soon bring back to Parliament.
I do not believe there is any betrayal in my decision. It is one, I believe, that will be shared by many of the MPs who also voted down the deal just weeks ago.
No Deal would be disastrous for the UK and Europe. Big businesses would survive but many of the UK’s hundreds of thousands of small businesses would not. They are the backbone of our successful economy.
We have an overriding duty as Conservatives to protect them and the jobs they provide from No Deal.
I am in no doubt that the public are increasingly anxious about the catastrophic consequences of No Deal. This week, a waitress in my constituency asked me whether, post-Brexit, her family would be able to pay their household bills.
We must protect jobs and business from No Deal catastrophe.
It was one of countless similar conversations among individuals, families and their communities.
Many are terrified about their futures and their country’s. It is our duty as politicians to act and speak responsibly to calm such fears.
None of this means those who voted to leave Brussels have changed their minds. They want a Brexit which works for everyone and which does not needlessly risk jobs and living standards.
Should Brexit not happen, voters will feel cheated and disenfranchised by Parliamentary manoeuvres which frustrate the Referendum and keep the UK in the EU.
Such an outcome would spark a political crisis, potential civil unrest and political extremism, which has no place in British politics. MPs know that if they again vote down the PM’s deal, with any positive changes it may contain, they will hugely increase the likelihood of Britain remaining in the EU.
WE CANNOT BETRAY DEMOCRACY
Of course, most reasonable people will accept a postponement of a few weeks to the March 29 Brexit date.
But it seems far more likely that any delay to Article 50 would be much longer.
This would give time for the Remainers to force through a Second Referendum — based on a fudged question denying voters the clear-cut choice on which they voted in 2016.
So I believe a vote for the Prime Minister’s deal is now the only responsible option.
No deal risks economic chaos and plummeting living standards. Opening the door to remaining in the EU, or having another vote, will cause an unprecedented political crisis.
I believe our future relationship with Europe should involve Britain becoming part of Common Market 2.0.
Any delay to Article 50 would give time for the Remainers to force through a Second Referendum.
This would mean our joining the European Free Trade Association alongside successful countries such as Norway and Switzerland. The UK would be out of the EU, out of the political union, the ECJ, the Common Fisheries and Farming Policies.
We would have brakes on freedom of movement and much more. But as EFTA members we would be part of the European Economic Area, safeguarding our businesses and jobs.
That though is for the next round of negotiations during the necessary transition period which will follow Brexit Day.
In the meantime, it is our responsibility as MPs and democrats to make sure we exit the EU on the terms of the deal which the PM brings back to Parliament.
Voting it down a second time will leave us all facing the stark choice of either the economic disaster of a no deal, or the political disaster of a Second Referendum.
Either option would be a betrayal of democracy for which the political classes would be damned by voters with devastating consequences.
- Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, former skills minister and he chairs the Commons education committee.