Life in Politics with Hilary Benn MP: Brexit - what next?

The last few days and weeks have been terrible for our country.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 11:49 am
Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Everyone I meet, whichever way they voted in the referendum, is full of uncertainty about what is going to happen as the Brexit drama unfolds.

One thing is however crystal clear. The Government’s Brexit deal has been overwhelmingly rejected by the House of Commons. It was the largest defeat for a Government in the history of British democracy.

I voted against the deal because it completely fails to give us clarity about our future relationship with our biggest, nearest and most important partners – the rest of the EU.

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Like many people, I was hoping for a clear direction so we know where we’re heading.

Businesses and the people who work in them need certainty about how trade will operate in future, what access there will be to EU markets for our services industries (which make up 80 per cent of our economy) and what workers’ rights and environmental protections there will be. Instead all we got was uncertainty.

Now, despite the rejection of her deal, the Prime Minister shows little sign of changing her approach. It’s all very well saying that her door is open but it’s not much use if her mind is closed.

The single most important thing she can and must now do is to take a no-deal Brexit off the table. The evidence is very clear that it would be disastrous for jobs and businesses in Leeds and right across the country.

Throwing aside our current trading and single market agreement with the EU, which is better than anything else we have with other countries, without having something else to replace it would be like a football team choosing to give up its place in the Premiership to play in Division Two. What is the sense in doing that?

We now know what Parliament is against but we have yet to establish what Parliament might support.

I think that MPs should now vote on a series of choices for what might happen next. These are: voting again on the Prime Minister’s deal (which unless something changes seems futile); leaving with no deal (which in my view and that of many businesses would be disastrous); renegotiating the deal to change the Irish backstop, move to a trade deal like Canada or for the UK to join the European Economic Area (like Norway) and stay in a customs union (which I favour); and finally whether there should be a second referendum.

Now is the time for all of us to be honest with each other about the choices and the trade-offs that we have to make as a nation on this very important decision which will have profound consequences for our future.

We need to find a way of bringing together a divided country by acknowledging that not everyone will be happy with a final deal and all of us are going to have to compromise.

If the Government does not do this then Parliament must take responsibility to try and find a way forward.

And if we remain deadlocked then, unless there is general election, how else will we resolve this other than by asking the British people to make the final decision?

Hilary Benn is the Labour MP for Leeds Central.