Karen Bradley is a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and is MP for Staffordshire Moorlands.
Earlier this week, Members of Parliament at long last managed to find a majority for leaving the European Union. The result – 329 to 299 – was decisive, and shows the British people that we do get it. Some of us have been saying this since June 2016, but now the House has finally got it too: you want us to deliver what you told us you wanted all along – to leave the EU and as soon as possible.
However, because many MPs want to make sure that the bill is given more scrutiny, they were not able to vote for the Government’s timetable for getting it through parliament. I understand their reservations. A Parliament that does not properly scrutinise legislation is one that is failing in its duty to hold the Executive to account. And I have particular sympathy with those MPs who defied their own whips to vote for the bill, when their compromise was to insist on more time.
But the fact is that we have spent three and a half years debating how to achieve Brexit since the people had their say. Now we just need to deliver it.
We have had previous versions of the “how”, including ones that I helped create and, frankly, that I was happier with. But I want to see this bill pass. All politics is a compromise whether we like it or not, and this is mine – made in the interests of honouring the referendum result.
Speaking to other MPs today, it is clear that many share my desire to get on to the next stage of the Bill. I know that the Prime Minister’s preference is to go for a general election. I urge him to bring the Bill back whatever. Brexit is within reach; we cannot risk losing it this time. And we might. It’s not just the need for a majority in the House that presents a risk, but the disruption an election might cause.
The parliamentary arithmetic makes getting an election without major concessions incredibly difficult in the first place. And any general election is a risk – as was shown so clearly in 2017. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ready to fight for my seat and to help win a majority that consigns Corbyn to history. But an election during yet another Brexit extension is a real gamble.
An election before we actually leave would become a proxy for a second referendum, with a volatile electorate voting along different lines from before and could deliver some very undesirable results. I fear that we Conservatives would lose too many good colleagues to a determined, anti-Brexit remain coalition in the south, meaning more Liberal Democrat MPs. And we simply would not pick up enough strongly Leave-voting seats in the midlands and the north, where the temptation of the Brexit party to traditional Labour voters would be irresistible.
The risk that we could see another hung parliament, where a coalition of Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems could put Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street, in return for second referendums on Brexit and on Scottish independence, should be enough to dissuade members of the Conservative and Unionist Party from supporting this approach. Brexit could be lost completely, and totally needlessly.
Brexit is within our grasp. I would like it to happen on October 31st, but if it is on November 7th or 14th – or maybe even, symbolically, November 5th, would that really be the worst outcome? I want to fight an election with our Brexit achievement on show but importantly on our domestic agenda. I want to be talking about putting more police on our streets and more money into our NHS. And that is what the British people want too. So let’s put our differences aside, get the debate done and get Brexit done now.