TO those who voted to leave the European Union, and to those who accepted the democratic result, March 29 represented more than just a date.
It was a symbol that leaving the EU wasn’t a pipe-dream, but a reality.
In triggering Article 50, the Prime Minister held firm to her promise of honouring the referendum result.
March 29 spoke to that — that no matter how tough things were, no matter how difficult the negotiations got, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
But this week, that certainty has been removed.
Worse still, Parliament has offered nothing in return.
The right thing to do would have been to leave on March 29 with the Prime Minister’s deal.
I’ve always made clear that I am in Government to support the Prime Minister to deliver Brexit, and I’m not about to give up now.
It’s an uncomfortable fact that leaving the European Union in a way that is true to the referendum result is becoming harder and harder to deliver.
By refusing to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal — for reasons of party politics or idealism — we are now forced to face up to some brutal truths.
I want to be straight with the country about what they are.
Firstly, taking No Deal off the table does not change the fact the legal-default departure date is March 29.
So we have to agree a deal before then — or extend Article 50.
The only deal on the table is the one the Prime Minister has spent two and a half years negotiating. Starting over is just not an option — and if No Deal is unpalatable to
MPs, then the obvious solution is to support leaving with a deal.
Secondly, a lengthy delay puts us in the awkward position of having to stand candidates for the European Parliament election.
This would be a humiliation and the public would be right to be furious.
Worse still, as part of an offer for a long extension, the EU may require us to hold a second referendum.
Thirdly, we came dangerously close to a backbencher coup — where those who did not win the right to govern wish to take over the role of government, in an extra-ordinarily unconstitutional move that would overturn years of parliamentary conventions with the sole aim of stopping Brexit.
Make no mistake, their motives were not to deliver a different Brexit or to honour the result of the referendum — it would be to stop Brexit in its tracks. All the while, our hard-working voters and our long-suffering businesses just want to get on with life beyond Brexit.
In a survey by market researchers Survation, the majority of Conservative voters said they would take Theresa May’s deal over every other option — No Deal, a long delay or another referendum.
There is, however, an obvious solution to all this — and every parliamentarian can choose to take it.
‘Duty above all’
I spend my days at the legislative coalface as Leader of the House of Commons. I know what we need to get done to leave the EU in a smooth fashion — and I also know that we do not need is a lengthy extension.
While the negotiators have been hard at it in Brussels, I’ve been preparing for and delivering the legislative changes needed for Brexit to make sure our laws work when we leave.
So I know that if we get this deal passed next week, we can deliver Brexit quickly — and potentially much faster than the end of June.
If both Houses — the Lords and the Commons — acknowledge the country’s desire to get this settled, we can crack on with passing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
A short extension to get the legislation finalised is far better than a long one — which would come with unacceptable conditions we have no control over.
In setting out the parliamentary timetable, I will, as I always do, fully respect Parliament’s desire to scrutinise and debate.
But I will also be looking to move quickly, so Parliament can turn its attention to the wealth of opportunity that awaits us when we leave the EU.
As I said at the dispatch box this week, this is an important time for Parliament and there have been difficult decisions to make.
With such strongly held views across the House, it’s vital that we continue to listen to each other with respect and understanding.
Over the centuries, the country has looked on as Parliament has faced historic decisions.
Even in the most challenging of times, we have pulled together and put our duty above all else.
So I hope the House will now find a consensus that delivers on the will of the people to leave the EU as close to March 29 as possible.
We can then, finally, turn our eyes to the bright future ahead of us and seek to reinstate confidence in British politics.
Let’s do our duty — and do our country proud.
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