Jonathan Clark: Brexit has reopened two constitutional conflicts which must be resolved

Does authority reside with Parliament or the People? And are MPs representatives or delegates? Both must be answered.

Jonathan Clark was a Fellow of Peterhouse; at Oxford, he was a Fellow of All Souls College; latterly he has been Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago, and Hall Distinguished Professor of British History at the University of Kansas. His latest book is a study of Thomas Paine.

The British have, typically, little interest in constitutional law. Unlike the French, who regularly rewrite their constitution in revolutions or attempts to prevent revolutions, the British tend to assume that little changes and that all is well. Alas, the constitutional problems accumulate nevertheless. Dominic Grieve was right in a recent Commons debate to say that there are areas of the British constitution that need clearer definition. But what exactly are they? Why is the Brexit question so difficult to resolve through the familiar Westminster machinery?

The big issues of constitutional conflict are so fraught because they happen in legal grey areas, in which agreement and definition have never emerged. Today there are two such major areas, though many minor ones.

The first is the question of sovereignty: where does ultimate authority reside? It is many centuries since any significant number of people claimed that it resided with the person of the monarch alone. But the decline of that image was followed by the growing popularity of another, ‘the Crown in Parliament’, that is, the monarch, the Lords and the Commons acting together. This image never went away, but was upstaged by the doctrine of the lawyer A. V. Dicey (1835-1922) that ‘Parliament’ (meaning, increasingly, the House of Commons) was sovereign. Yet from the Reform Bill of 1832 into the 20th century, successive rounds of franchise extension strengthened another old idea, that the ultimate authority lay with ‘the People’, however defined.

From 1973, when the UK joined the EEC, it slowly became evident that the answer was ‘none of the above’: ultimate authority lay with Brussels. Parliament rubber-stamped increasing amounts of secondary legislation from an evolving super-state. In 2019, departure from the EU would remove that layer of command. This prospect inevitably reopens an old debate, which had never really been settled: was Parliament or the People finally supreme? Its re-emergence reminds us that Dicey’s doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty was the opinion of one commentator only. That opinion partly corresponded to contemporary practice, partly not.

Today, the tide is everywhere running in the opposite direction. Deference and duty daily fade; the key word everywhere is ‘choice’, and this means the choices of the many, not just the few. The transformation of communications places steadily more power in the hands of a steadily more educated, better informed ‘People’. But this trend has been matched by another, seen across the West in recent decades and at all levels: in increasingly complex societies, the executive has everywhere grown more powerful vis-a-vis the legislature. Political scientists have largely ignored this tide, but it has swept forwards nevertheless. It means that two powerful social forces now collide. Across western democracies, ‘ordinary people’ find means of complaining that they are ignored by elites who ‘just don’t get it’; elites decry ‘populism’ and exalt the opinion of ‘experts’, expressed to within one decimal point in forecasts of outcomes 15 years hence.

This collision reopens a second, equally old, question. What is a Member of Parliament: a delegate, or a representative? Edmund Burke famously outlined the case for the second: MPs, once elected, represent the nation as a whole; they owe the nation their best judgment; they are in nobody’s pocket. But another idea is just as old, and equally honourable: MPs are sent to Westminster by their electors to redress the electors’ grievances, and are accountable to them. Against Burke, we can set another intellectual, Andrew Marvell, MP for Hull in 1659-78, who was paid by his constituents and regularly reported back to them. Understandably, Burke’s high-sounding doctrine proved the more popular among MPs. But after he framed it, his constituents in Bristol threw him out for favouring Irish commercial interests over theirs, and he represented thereafter only his patron’s pocket borough.

Both ideas in their pure form are unacceptable. But how the balance between the two is to be struck can never be quantified or defined, and a crisis like the present makes the impossibility of a definition clear. ‘The People’ voted by 52 to 48 for Leave, and a larger percentage now says ‘just get on with it’; but about five-sixths of the House of Commons are for Remain.

Among Conservative MPs, something under 100 are evidently for Leave; of the other 200 or so, about half are on the Government payroll in one capacity or another, and more would like to be. So profound a dissociation between elite and popular opinion is rare. Worse still, public opinion polls and the growing practice of referenda quantify the problem as never before; the issue is easily expressed in binary terms (Leave or Remain); and the arguments have been fully rehearsed. Other countries show similar problems of relations between the many and the few, but in the UK these are brought to a focus. Since the constitution has failed to resolve them, public debate is full of expressions of elite contempt for the ignorant, prejudiced, xenophobic, racialist populace on the one hand; of popular contempt for the self-serving, condescending, out-of-touch Establishment on the other.

Before 1914, Conservative peers making technical points over a budget were manoeuvred by Lloyd George into a constitutional confrontation that could be memorably summed up as ‘Peers versus the People’. In this clash, the peers could only lose. Now, the Remainers have been manoeuvred into a constitutional confrontation that, if it goes much further, will be labelled ‘Parliament versus the People’. In such a conflict it can only be Parliament that will lose. In that event, the damage would be considerable.

These great questions of constitutional definition are seldom solved; rather, the issues are defused by building next to them a new practice. The present challenge is to accommodate that new arrival in the political arena, the referendum, and to turn it into a clearly specified, moderate, and constructive institution, as it is in Switzerland. Those concerned about daily policy should think again about a subject, once salient in university History departments but now everywhere disparaged: constitutional history.

Stalemate

May wins – but not by enough to break free from her internal opponents. Too strong to fall and too weak to win, she is, if anything, more exposed to them than before.

The editors of this site spare no effort on our readers’ behalf.

Why, we have even offered you exact figures from today’s confidence ballot.  200 votes for Theresa May and 117 against her, we wrote this afternoon, would be a “Problematic Win”: “once the opposition to May climbs above a third of the electorate, it becomes harder to assert legitimacy”.

So it has proved.  A third of the 317 Conservative MPs is 106.  So 117 is a bit north of that – 37 per cent, close on two of them in five.  Furthermore, one must take the payroll vote into account.  Either 62 per cent of the non-payroll voted against her, an indisputable majority.  Or one must let that percentage fall…but raise the proportion of the payroll that opposed her, pari passu.

All in all, this result isn’t bad enough to spur her Cabinet into removing her, as Margaret Thatcher’s did to the then Prime Minister in 1990 (Were its members less timid and had the Tories a majority, matters might be different, especially were the Government not embroiled in the most important negotiation of modern times.)

But nor is it good enough to free Theresa May from the ERG, their allies and the DUP – or from the Conservative Norwegians and second referendum campaigners, for that matter.  And since her vote is a bit lower than expected and the opposition a bit higher, the ERG whips can take a modest bow.  Having apparently predicted the result to within three votes, they have salvaged their reputation for numeracy.

The ERG claims 80 members – a total about which we’ve always been a bit sniffy.  But the lower the number really is, the more support they’ve put on today – in the wake of a rushed ballot, the timing of which caught the group on the hop; of a co-ordinated Twitter blitz on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and of a carefully-crafted appearance by her outside Downing Street, in which she pushed claims about the contest that were, shall we say, debatable.

You will say reply May scooped 63 per cent of the vote, and that her leadership can’t now be challenged for a year.  Quite so.  However, those facts simply open up a new range of problems.  She will have wanted to win by a margin large enough to justify bringing her Brexit deal back to the Commons.  It is very hard to see how this drab result can be treated as a springboard to that effect.

But if it can’t be used to threaten the Commons with No Deal (as in: “my deal or no deal”), it can scarcely be used to threaten the Commons with no Brexit either (“my deal or no Brexit”).  These numbers don’t give her a platform solid enough on which to pivot to postponing Article 50, or a Second Referendum, or Norway Plus.

The Queen is the most powerful piece on the chess board.  And the Prime Minister is the most powerful member of the Government, usual rules permitting.  May retains the title, but cannot move except by putting her side into check.  Her internal opponents can’t no confidence her for the next twelve months.  But she can’t win votes or get legislation through without their help.

Across the board this evening, she and the pawns and knights of the ERG glower and frown at each other.  We have stalemate.

And all the while, Labour watch and wait for the day when they can take on the Queen and her allies themselves – if she’s still in place then.

Chicken May

Is she chickening out on Brexit? Or playing chicken with Commons and Party over her deal? Or merely a headless chicken herself – bent on daily survival?

What now is Theresa May’s plan, this morning after the day before?  The simplest explanations are often the most convincing.  In her case, this is: she no longer has one.  Her ambitions for country, party and self have shrunk to seeing each day out.  The most primal of human instincts has taken over, more urgent even than the drives to sex and food: simply to survive. Clinging to office fills her horizon.  She shuffles on into a void.  The will to power has left her a ghost.  Perhaps that is all that can be said.

But there are two other potential answers, assuming that she is not brooding on a general election or preparing to resign – a move that would be out of character for a woman who appears to equate being Prime Minister, whatever the circumstances, with doing her duty.  These explanations are worth probing because, with the future of country, Party and Brexit at stake, Conservative MPs, activists and others must work every faculty to read the signs of the times accurately, and then act promptly.

The first is that she has already decided to postpone Brexit, seek a second referendum, or both.  This take has it that she knows very well that her deal will not be substantially improved by the EU; that it therefore cannot pass through Parliament; that the Remain-friendly Commons will shortly bid for control of its proceedings and timetable – and that she will then, a confidence vote from her Parliamentary Party notwithstanding, give way.  No deal is better than a bad deal has been supplanted by any deal is better than no deal.

Like an empty boat being pushed by the tide, she will drift along with the five-sixths or so of MPs who see a no deal Brexit as the ultimate political evil.  Perhaps the Commons will somehow pull for Norway Plus instead; more likely, it won’t.  It was worth watching which Cabinet heads nodded on her own front bench yesterday when she reiterated the Government’s present stance on a second referendum – and which didn’t.  Greg Clark’s didn’t so much as twitch.  David Lidington and David Gauke are also reported to be ready for a U-turn.

As for that policy – opposition to another referendum – how sure is it?  Indeed, what faith can we place in any commitment that May makes on Brexit, or indeed on anything else?  She promised that she wouldn’t call an election last year; that her Brexit policy would be based on “a comprehensive system of mutual recognition”; that migration would be controlled during transition; that transition wouldn’t be extended; that she would oppose new regulatory barriers in the Irish sea. Ministers were told last year that the backstop had no legal effect.

Politics is a rough old trade, and bending the truth is, as elsewhere in life, part of it.  But even by the standards of Westminster, the Prime Minister’s breaches are brazen.  Leave aside as debatable those manifesto commitments on the Customs Union, the ECJ and the Single Market, and look at the events of recent days.  May said that the EU would not offer us a better deal if the present draft is rejected.  Now she suggests that it can be improved after all, not ruling out changes to the Withdrawal Agreement itself yesterday.

Stephen Barclay and Gove were sent out – the latter only yesterday morning – to assure the public that the meaningful vote would go ahead.  As late as 11am, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was insisting that this was so, even as Cabinet Ministers were briefing that it wasn’t.  Small details like these have big consequences.  Near the core of May’s problem in selling her deal to MPs is that too many of them have simply lost trust in her.  Some no longer believe assurances even when they are accurate – say, on future divergence.

The second interpretation of the Prime Minister’s thinking is completely different.  We advance it with some hesitation, because it may represent less a scheme crafted deliberately than one stumbled upon by accident.  The sum of her statement yesterday was that the meaningful vote is postponed.  She gave no indication whatsoever of when it will be brought back.  In reply to Justine Greening, she suggested that the Government is obliged to hold it by January 21.  Later that day, that was flatly contradicted by the Commons authorities.

Under their interpretation, May’s real deadline is March 28, since the Commons must ratify any amended deal reached with the EU no later than that date.  This could open up an opportunity for the Prime Minister to play a risky game of chicken with our EU interlocuters, the Commons and the Party.  For the later the meaningful vote takes place, the more sharply a no deal Brexit will loom.  This might open up an option for her: don’t rush for a settlement pre-Christmas, but spin out the talks instead – thus ramping up pressure on MPs.

It is possible to think May now believes that, under that pressure, the EU will fold next year, and offer a time limit or a unilateral exit from the backstop.  Or that she is concluding the Commons would collapse, even if the EU did not – that, with March 28 and no deal immiment, Labour would buckle and abstain, together with other opposition parties.  Or that even if Jeremy Corbyn did not, some Labour MPs would.  Meanwhile, Conservative opponents could be steered into the abstention column, and Tory abstainers into the aye lobby.

Now, this scenario makes many assumptions: that the Prime Minister will still be in place; that there is no Cabinet revolt; that the Commons has not, by the New Year, wrested control from the Government altogether; that MPs do not (if May seeks to spin out her dealings with the EU) revolt, propose the postponement of Article 50 and perhaps a second referendum, and then see her back down; that the Prime Minister has not been censured, or the Government no confidenced.

But one can also see how the truth could be found here – that May is not so much a headless chicken herself, or seeking to chicken out of Brexit but, rather, now sees before her this game of chicken unfolding as next year unfolds.  It would have one immeasurable plus from her point of view.  It would if successful be a win.  Her deal would have triumphed.  She would have crushed her internal opponents – hard Brexiteers, Norwegians, second referendum supporters: the lot.  The stage would be set for her to go on and on and on towards 2022.

So, back to the present. The wolf has cried 48 letters many times.  It may be that, unlike the animal in the fable, it never comes: that waiting for those letters is like waiting for Godot.  The next 24 hours or so may represent the last chance before the New Year for Tory MPs to act.  Some may do so, convinced that the Prime Minister is beyond rescue.  Others may waver still, terrified of the effect of a leadership challenge on what’s left of the negotiation, or unconvinced by May’s potential replacements.

Our bottom line is that the referendum result must be delivered.  If pro-Brexit MPs believe May is now set on a chicken game, they may stay their hand.  If they conclude that she is set on abandoning Brexit, they won’t and shouldn’t.  On Sunday, we recommended that Tory MPs should send in letters if no substantial change to the backstop emerges this week.  Perhaps the most reliable guide should be what could be called the Greg Hands test – namely, to send in those letters if real preparations for no deal aren’t announced before the weekend.

Henry Newman: There are only two European Council options this week – a managed no deal, or a backstop with an exit

EU leaders should recognise that May is serious in trying to reach a negotiated deal that has a chance of passing Parliament.

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

By delaying the vote on the Brexit Deal, the Prime Minister has reverted to her favourite political tactic – kicking the can down the road. Her advisers feared that if the vote had been held today, the size of the defeat would have sunk her entire prime ministership. But at some point the music will have to be faced. There are already, according to ConservativeHome’s tally, over 70 Conservative MPs opposed to her deal. So, before the vote is re-introduced, the Government will need to secure meaningful changes. But how? And in delaying the vote, the Prime Minister has herself called into question her own confidence in her Government’s ability to deliver her flagship policy. She has put a big question mark right over her own authority.

Re-opening the deal won’t be easy. The EU are sticking to the line that it’s been agreed and is locked down. Senior figures insist that they won’t consider changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. But without some substantive changes it’s pretty impossible to see any route that will lead to Parliament agreeing to ratification. Equally, if the deal is re-opened, European states will try to press the UK further on fish and so-called level playing field issues, as Stephen Barclay warned on Sunday. Of course, if the French did insist on pressing further on, say, fish that would only make it harder for the Prime Minister to get her deal through the Commons.

It’s far from clear that any deliverable changes could actually secure the support of some of the Prime Minister’s toughest critics. The criticisms of her deal are – for some – as much an expression of lack of confidence in her leadership, as about any specific policy concern. Unfortunately, Theresa May is not a brilliant advocate at the best of times. Now, when she is up against a wall of noise and a widespread sense of betrayal, she is struggling to be heard.

There are of course substantial problems with the Prime Minister’s deal, particularly regarding the backstop and our (lack of an) ability to exit it. But the shape of this deal was set months and months ago. And – contra the view of many – it has little to do with the Government’s Chequers Plan. After May lost her majority in June 2017, David Davis accepted the EU’s sequencing of the negotiations, ensuring that the Irish border question and the financial settlement had to be resolved before discussing the future. Later, the Cabinet accepted a backstop as the price for the EU agreeing a transition period. Rather than defining what the text of that December 2017 agreement actually meant – and therefore what the backstop would entail – the Government said nothing for months. The Commission were left to define how the backstop would work, all on their terms.

Critics and supporters of the Brexit deal alike are misrepresenting it, as this Reality Check from Open Europe explains. The Prime Minister reassures no one when she conflates different elements – mixing up the backstop and future relationship when describing the deal. She claims we will have an independent trade policy, but there’s a crucial caveat which she too often neglects: we can have an independent trade policy when the UK leaves the backstop. Equally, she insists with her deal that she’s taken back control of our money, our borders and our laws. Yet it would be more truthful to admit that in the backstop she would have achieved two of her three aims fully, and gone a long way to reaching the third (by limiting but not eliminating the direct jurisdiction of the European Court).

The Prime Minister’s critics come from both sides of the Brexit divide, but are united in opposition to the backstop.

On the one hand, some such as Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah are opposing the deal to try to force a second referendum. Others such as George Freeman prefer a softer exit – a Norway Plus model.

At the opposite end of the scale, hardline Brexiteers are making various demands some of which are more deliverable than others. On Sunday, Boris Johnson called for the UK to “delay the payment of at least half the £39 billion [so-called Brexit bill] until they’ve done a free trade deal by the end of 2020”. In fact it’s already the case that under the current plan less than half the bill is due before 2021. He also insisted that “we can have a withdrawal agreement that does not contain the backstop”. Unfortunately, I’m yet to speak to a single EU figure who thinks the UK could have a withdrawal agreement without a backstop.

On the other side of the Commons, Labour’s Brexit policy is a shambles. Labour reject the backstop, complaining it could last indefinitely but seek to replace it with an indefinite customs union (albeit with a say over trade deals which isn’t on offer now). They claim that their customs union policy would resolve the Northern Ireland issue, yet it would do nothing to resolve regulatory questions. Labour reject a Norwegian solution but instead support “a strong Single Market deal” – whatever that is.

At the end of the week, there’s yet another European summit where the Prime Minister will face European leaders weary of the Brexit wrangling. From rows over Italy’s budget and Poland’s judiciary, to the crisis in France with the gilets jaunes, Brexit is far from the only show in town. But the assembled leaders should recognise that May is serious in trying to reach a negotiated deal that has a chance of passing Parliament. And that without further changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, there’s a serious risk of a disorderly no deal.

She should level with the European Council and offer them two broad options. Either give up on improving the deal, in which case they need to recognise that it will likely not pass the Commons. Or, seek to make limited but substantive changes to help it on its way through. If it’s to be No Deal, then the leaders should agree to authorise discrete side agreements (on matters such as aviation, citizens rights and so on). That way they can mitigate a chaotic No Deal.

But it would be ironic indeed if the deal failed to pass the Commons because of a backstop designed to protect the Irish border, thus leading to No Deal, putting at risk the Irish border. So it would be better for the EU to look at what changes can be made in a combination of international agreements, legal instruments and public commitments, to work in concert with domestic legislation in the UK.

First, the negotiations need to define a clear role for the Stormont institutions in the backstop. Second, they need to rule out a situation where an internal customs border could be imposed on Northern Ireland, either by the EU or by the UK replacing the backstop with a Northern Ireland-only customs union. And finally, and most problematically, by looking again at the exit mechanisms from the backstop.

None of this will be easy, particularly when it comes to the exit mechanism. But the European Commission already privately acknowledges that the backstop cannot endure for the long-term. They also say it is weatherproof but not tsunami-proof. It’s time to make clear what is already obvious – that the backstop must be legally operable, but that it cannot be a permanent trap which a political earthquake could not ultimately sweep away.

Theresa May’s explanation of why she is postponing the vote on her Brexit deal

Below is the text of the statement Theresa May has just delivered to the House of Commons, setting out her intention to postpone tomorrow’s vote on her Brexit deal We have now had three days of debate on the Withdrawal Agreement setting out the terms of our departure from the EU and the Political Declaration […]

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Below is the text of the statement Theresa May has just delivered to the House of Commons, setting out her intention to postpone tomorrow’s vote on her Brexit deal

We have now had three days of debate on the Withdrawal Agreement setting out the terms of our departure from the EU and the Political Declaration setting out our future relationship after we have left. I have listened very carefully to what has been said, in this chamber and out of it, by members from all sides.

From listening to those views it is clear that while there is broad support for many of the key aspects of the deal, on one issue – the Northern Ireland backstop – there remains widespread and deep concern. As a result, if we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow the deal would be rejected by a significant margin.

We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the House at this time.

I set out in my speech opening the debate last week the reasons why the backstop is a necessary guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland and why – whatever future relationship you want – there is no deal available that does not include the backstop.

Behind all those arguments are some inescapable facts: the fact that Northern Ireland shares a land border with another sovereign state; the fact that the hard-won peace that has been built in Northern Ireland over the last two decades has been built around a seamless border; and the fact that Brexit will create a wholly new situation: on 30th March the Northern Ireland/Ireland border will for the first time become the external frontier of the European Union’s single market and customs union.

The challenge this poses must be met not with rhetoric but with real and workable solutions.

Businesses operate across that border. People live their lives crossing and re-crossing it every day. I have been there and spoken to some of those people. They do not want their everyday lives to change as a result of the decision we have taken. They do not want a return to a hard border. And if this House cares about preserving our Union, it must listen to those people, because our Union will only endure with their consent.

We had hoped that the changes we have secured to the backstop would reassure Members that we could never be trapped in it indefinitely. I hope the House will forgive me if I take a moment to remind it of those changes.

The customs element of the backstop is now UK-wide. It no longer splits our country into two customs territories. This also means that the backstop is now an uncomfortable arrangement for the EU, so they won’t want it to come into use, or persist for long if it does.

Both sides are now legally committed to using best endeavours to have our new relationship in place before the end of the implementation period, ensuring the backstop is never used. If our new relationship isn’t ready, we can now choose to extend the implementation period, further reducing the likelihood of the backstop coming into use.

If the backstop ever does come into use, we now don’t have to get the new relationship in place to get out of it. Alternative arrangements that make use of technology could be put in place instead. The treaty is now clear that the backstop can only ever be temporary. And there is now a termination clause.

But I am clear from what I have heard in this place and from my own conversations that these elements do not offer a sufficient number of colleagues the reassurance that they need.

I spoke to a number of EU leaders over the weekend, and in advance of the European Council I will go to see my counterparts in other member states and the leadership of the Council and the Commission. I will discuss with them the clear concerns that this House has expressed.

We are also looking closely at new ways of empowering the House of Commons to ensure that any provision for a backstop has democratic legitimacy and to enable the House to place its own obligations on the government to ensure that the backstop cannot be in place indefinitely.

Having spent the best part of two years poring over the detail of Brexit, listening to the public’s ambitions, and yes, their fears too, and testing the limits of what the other side is prepared to accept, I am in absolutely no doubt that this deal is the right one. It honours the result of the referendum. It protects jobs, security and our Union. But it also represents the very best deal that is actually negotiable with the EU.

I believe in it – as do many Members of this House. And I still believe there is a majority to be won in this House in support of it, if I can secure additional reassurance on the question of the backstop. And that is what my focus will be in the days ahead.

But if you take a step back, it is clear that this House faces a much more fundamental question. Does this House want to deliver Brexit? And if it does, does it want to do so through reaching an agreement with the EU?

If the answer is yes, and I believe that is the answer of the majority of this House, then we all have to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to make a compromise – because there will be no enduring and successful Brexit without some compromise on both sides of the debate.

Many of the most controversial aspects of this deal – including the backstop – are simply inescapable facts of having a negotiated Brexit. Those members who continue to disagree need to shoulder the responsibility of advocating an alternative solution that can be delivered, and do so without ducking its implications.

So if you want a second referendum to overturn the result of the first, be honest that this risks dividing the country again, when as a House we should be striving to bring it back together.

If you want to remain part of the Single Market and the Customs Union, be open that this would require free movement, rule-taking across the economy, and ongoing financial contributions – none of which are in my view compatible with the result of the referendum.

If you want to leave without a deal, be upfront that in the short term, this would cause significant economic damage to parts of our country who can least afford to bear the burden.

I do not believe that any of those courses of action command a majority in this House.

But notwithstanding that fact, for as long as we fail to agree a deal, the risk of an accidental no deal increases. So the Government will step up its work in preparation for that potential outcome and the Cabinet will hold further discussions on it this week.

The vast majority of us accept the result of the referendum, and want to leave with a deal. We have a responsibility to discharge. If we will the ends, we must also will the means.

I know that members across the House appreciate how important that responsibility is. And I am very grateful to all members – on this side of the House and a few on the other side too – who have backed this deal and spoken up for it.  Many others, I know, have been wrestling with their consciences, particularly over the question of the backstop: seized of the need to face-up to the challenge posed by the Irish border, but genuinely concerned about the consequences.

I have listened. I have heard those concerns and I will now do everything I possibly can to secure further assurances.

If I may conclude on a personal note. On the morning after the referendum two and a half years ago, I knew that we had witnessed a defining moment for our democracy. Places that didn’t get a lot of attention at elections and which did not get much coverage on the news were making their voices heard and saying that they wanted things to change. I knew in that moment that Parliament had to deliver for them.

But of course that does not just mean delivering Brexit. It means working across all areas – building a stronger economy, improving public services, tackling social injustices – to make this a country that truly works for everyone, a country where nowhere and nobody is left behind. And these matters are too important to be afterthoughts in our politics – they deserve to be at the centre of our thinking.

But that can only happen if we get Brexit done and get it done right. And even though I voted Remain, from the moment I took up the responsibility of being Prime Minister of this great country I have known that my duty is to honour the result of that vote. And I have been just as determined to protect the jobs that put food on the tables of working families and the security partnerships that keep each one of us safe.

And that is what this deal does. It gives us control of our borders, our money and our laws. It protects jobs, security and our Union. It is the right deal for Britain. I am determined to do all I can to secure the reassurances this House requires, to get this deal over the line and deliver for the British people.

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Brexit – so what happens now?

Being your Day Editor today is a bit like trying to hit a rapidly moving, erratically directed small object… with a crossbow. So, where are we? Theresa May intends to postpone the meaningful vote There will be a Statement to the House of Commons from Theresa May at 3.30 p.m. The European Court of Justice […]

Being your Day Editor today is a bit like trying to hit a rapidly moving, erratically directed small object… with a crossbow. So, where are we?

  • Theresa May intends to postpone the meaningful vote
  • There will be a Statement to the House of Commons from Theresa May at 3.30 p.m.
  • The European Court of Justice has ruled that the United Kingdom can unilaterally withdraw its Article 50 letter
  • The House of Lords is still scheduled to wind up its Brexit debate this evening with a symbolic vote

But is it as simple as that. One Tory MP thinks not;

The next steps aren’t obvious – a dash to Brussels to seek concessions?

The Liberal Democrat Press Team probably have it right though…

So, what should the Liberal Democrat strategy be?

* Mark Valladares is increasingly bemused…