Mark Harper is a former Chief Whip, and is MP for the Forest of Dean.
We find ourselves in the middle of one of the most momentous weeks in our political lifetimes. A constitutional tug of war like no other – between Government and Opposition, between Parliament and the people.
Clarity in modern politics is important, and it is clear what we want to do. We want to deliver Brexit as soon as we can – deal or no deal, no ifs or buts. Then we will be able to get on and govern to deliver on the people’s priorities such as levelling up education funding, boosting the NHS and tackling crime.
However, on the face of it, it is not immediately clear what our opponents in the Commons, led by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party actually want. Let’s see if we can find out.
Let’s start with a (supposedly) easy one. Do they want to deliver Brexit?
It is obvious that the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists don’t want to abide by the 2016 referendum result, but what about Labour?
Well, their 2017 general election manifesto was clear that Labour “accepts the referendum result”. Great, but have they made efforts to respect that promise? No.
When they had the opportunity to vote for a deal, they didn’t. Even when the previous Prime Minister and her Cabinet, mistakenly in my view, reached out to Labour to try and meet their demands, they still did nothing.
While some, like Gareth Snell, Sarah Champion and Lisa Nandy, have expressed regret at not voting for a deal to deliver Brexit when they had the chance, behind closed doors, senior members of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet are unrepentant and clearly have no intention of delivering Brexit at all.
Dawn Butler, with a straight face, said that “if anyone doesn’t hate Brexit, even if you voted for it, there’s something wrong with you”. Meanwhile, Keir Starmer thinks that “whatever the outcome…deal or no deal, there’s got to be a referendum” with Emily Thornberry saying that Labour should “campaign, unequivocally, for Remain”.
It’s clear, then, that Labour really does not want to deliver Brexit.
Stop No Deal?
Labour’s position on preventing us leaving the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement, something they regard as “the worst possible deal”, is at least clear. However, if they really think this, why didn’t they vote for a deal when they had the chance?
Instead, their stance of ruling out no deal not only fatally weakens the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand and increases the risk of longer delays to Brexit, but it also increases damaging levels of uncertainty.
Uncertainty is business’s worst enemy – just ask Aston Martin’s CEO, Andy Palmer, who says he would “rather leave with No Deal than drag negotiations on”. It’s clear that Labour want to force more damaging on uncertainty business, leaving them unable to plan for the long term.
When it comes to whether Labour want a general election, the answer we have got has depended on which hour you ask the question.
While Corbyn has said that he is “absolutely ready to fight” a general election, he was then almost immediately contradicted by a member of his Shadow Cabinet.
In wanting an election but not wanting one that they fear they will lose, Labour are once again doing a very uncanny impression of Vicky Pollard.
After all of the above, we are left with one final question – do our opponents actually want to stop Brexit altogether?
We don’t need to look very far to discover the real answer. Section 3(2) of the Bill on today’s Order Paper, if passed, compels the Prime Minister to accept whatever extension he is offered by the EU – be it 3 months, 6 months or 10 years, with whatever conditions are attached by the EU, unless Parliament opts for a no deal Brexit.
I’m afraid the mask has slipped and the plans of our opponents in Parliament are clear. They wish to open the door to indefinite delay – leading to the halt of Brexit altogether.
Conclusion – “constitutional outrage” and stop Brexit
The real aim of our Parliamentary opponents is, as it turns out, hiding in plain sight. Their decision to wrestle the Order Paper out of the control of the Government – for the second time this year – thanks to the gross misuse of the conventions of the Commons is not only a “constitutional outrage”, but it is simply the first step of their plans to stop Brexit.
Brexit has the largest democratic mandate in British political history – it cannot, and must not, be ignored, but that is exactly what Labour and our other opponents in Parliament want to do.
It is clear that only the Conservatives will respect the result of that mandate, end the uncertainty and then set out a sound platform on which to govern and deliver the people’s priorities. If we soon have to prove that to the country at the ballot box, then prove it we shall.