Caroline Flint

Standing up for Don Valley.

Time for MPs to take Remain off the Table - my Daily Telegraph article

Read my article about why MPs should focus on securing a deal - not delaying our departure from the European Union.

It's now 946 days since the UK voted to leave the EU in the referendum, 723 days since Parliament overwhelmingly voted to trigger Article 50, and 596 days since both Labour and the Conservatives pledged to honour the referendum outcome at the general election. You would think all those decisions meant no MP could countenance Remain as a viable option. How wrong you would be.

The rearguard action to delay, then kill, Brexit is in full force. We hear a lot from MPs about "taking no-deal off the table". For some, this is code for extending Article 50, delaying Brexit, allowing time to hold a second referendum before we leave.

I cannot agree. The public simply don't trust the MPs who are asking for no-deal to be taken off the table to then get on and deliver Brexit in any sort of form. If we were to take Remain off the table too, we would have far more trust and support.

Those same MPs will line up behind the Yvette Cooper proposal, which would enable Parliament to force a vote to delay Brexit Day to December 31. That would mean contesting the European Parliament elections in May, three years after we voted to leave. Imagine how that will go down with voters.

And what is the purpose of a nine-month delay? More talks? Hardly. The EU shuts down for elections in April; it also shuts down for the summer, only reappointing Commissioners in October. Slim hope of much negotiating before Christmas.

The purpose is to frustrate, delay and maybe even prevent Brexit. We cannot be blasé about the dangers that poses to our society and to our political system.

Canvassing in my Don Valley constituency at the weekend, the most common view I encountered, among both Leave and Remain voters, was: "Can't you all work together to sort this out?" I wish MPs devoted as much energy to fighting for solutions as they do to parliamentary manoeuvres.

At least voters have respect for sincere efforts rather than their current disdain for what they perceive as game-playing. With so little time to go, we cannot dodge the reality that unless we work purposefully and with a willingness to compromise, we risk no deal.

Many MPs, including me, have received industry representations opposing no deal. Those letters from the CBI, car manufacturers, the ceramics industry and airport operators are not arguing for a delay or a second referendum. They want the certainty of a deal, and this should be our overriding aim - not messing about trying to rewrite the result of the referendum.

The Government hasn't helped. For too long, Theresa May refused to reach out beyond her backbenchers and the DUP. The first signs of progress emerged when a small group of Labour MPs took the opportunity to lobby the Prime Minister seeking guarantees on workers' rights and environmental standards. Our meeting led to her first phone calls to the trade union leaders in her premiership, as well as meetings in Downing Street.

On Monday, she announced in the Commons new commitments on both environmental standards and workers' rights. Alongside the decision to waive EU citizens' registration fees, Labour should welcome these changes as important goals achieved and the first signs of the Government responding to the wishes and concerns of MPs on our side of the House. The harsh tone at PMQs needs to be replaced by open, constructive discussion. I hope Jeremy Corbyn will engage in talks.

A customs union remains a big point of difference. But the EU has insisted trade and security can only be negotiated after we have left. That means there are further talks and much more important deals ahead of us.

For now, we need a new approach. And in return for Labour's support, the Government should offer us a seat at briefings and access to officials during the next stage of talks.

I believe a clear majority of MPs believe we should respect the outcome of the referendum. To fulfil that promise while also avoiding the prospect of no deal, the only thing to be done is work towards a deal.

With 63 days to go, there is time to resolve this, if there is the will.

Caroline Flint is Labour MP for Don Valley and a former Europe minister
This article was published in the Daily Telegraph 25 January 2019.
Follow Caroline Flint on Twitter @ CAROLINEFLINTMP; read more at opinion

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