Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
Getting back to my constituency and away from Westminster is very welcome at the moment. A weekend of Christmas tree festivals, Santa Fun Runs and shop window competitions is a good reminder that life does go on – even if Westminster politics feels as if it is in melt-down. I did wonder for a moment if, for the same reason, the Prime Minister might decide that Argentina is a good place to move to, and that we might not see her again in SW1 after the G20 summit.
But amidst the snow scenes and flashing lights, Brexit is never far away. And it is noticeable this year that constituents who would never normally comment on political events are all wanting reassurances from their MP about where the negotiation and parliamentary process is headed. I wish I could provide more guidance.
This is aside from the hundreds of e-mails I’m now receiving from constituents which cover every conceivable shade of opinion on Brexit – confirming just what a divided country we still are on this critical issue. On Friday morning a constituent assailed me with: ‘Are we doomed, Mrs Morgan?’ I replied that we were not, and that there would be a way through the apparent impasse. He looked unconvinced, and said that he has been explaining Brexit as being like a jam doughnut…the trouble being that at the moment it looks as if we have the half without the jam in.
But wasn’t it always going to be the case that a process as significant, polarising and complex as Brexit would result in no one getting what they wanted?
My views on the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement and the draft political declaration haven’t really changed since my last ConservativeHome column. But I am more alarmed by how definite so many of my fellow MPs are that this is a terrible deal, and that it must be opposed – not because they have an alternative plan, but because they hope to either secure a second referendum or because they would prefer a ‘no deal’ hard Brexit. For reasons set out by me and others, I believe both courses of action would be supremely damaging to the long-term interests of the United Kingdom.
But, as I previously warned, if the draft agreement is voted down and – as seems more likely now – more Conservative MPs (i.e: Sam Gyimah) speak out in favour of a second referendum, and if the Labour party changes its official views on a poll, the Brexiteers who hate this deal may find they end up with a second vote in which the only options on the table are the deal they’ve rejected in the Commons or remaining in the EU.
Indeed, the only credible alternative plan is a Norway Plus option. Nick Boles, its main protagonist on our benches in the Commons, has been open to taking on board comments and criticisms of the optionm and those changes are fully reflected on the website www.betterbrexit.org. This may well be where Parliament ends up – but it may take the ruling out of all other options before we get there. And if Parliament ends up reaching some form of consensus view, then the Government will have to adopt it, too.
And all the time this is going on, there are key debates about issues such as police funding, homelessness, social care funding and immigration which remain in the background when they should be front and centre of our politics. It is all very well for Caroline Lucas (and others) to write about all the issues they’d like to see addressed by the UK Government and politicians. But for as long as she (and those others) keep pushing the option of a second vote and oppose the proposed deal, then the airtime and Whitehall bandwith to deal with these other issues remains completely constrained.
During the next eight days, MPs must prove ourselves worthy of the positions we hold. Our actions will be scrutinised as never before. The stakes are high, and the alternatives need to be weighed very carefully. We cannot know for certain what the consequences of voting the Withdrawal Agreement down would be, but doing so will not provide certainty or stability. This is truly a vote in which, for decades to come, we will be asked to justify how we voted and why we voted the way we did.