Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
Last Thursday, members of the Prosperity UK Alternative Arrangements Commission, which I am co-chairing with Greg Hands, visited Brussels. We were there to present our interim report on how alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland can be found, and to listen to comments on our report.
Later this week, we will present our final report and draft protocols, again to demonstrate how, with pragmatism and goodwill on all sides, a solution can be found. Without one, it appears that it will not be possible to have a withdrawal deal passed by a majority in the Commons and, if the UK is to leave the EU, then it will do so without any deal or formal understanding about the future relationship between the UK and EU being in place.
Meanwhile, last week, a number of MPs backed amendments to the legislation on Northern Ireland that we were debating in the Commons that aimed to stop Parliament being prorogued – and, therefore, to stop a No Deal Brexit taking place. One such amendment was passed and two were not.
We have reached a quite extraordinary state of affairs when the thought of proroguing Parliament to stop MPs having a say on a major shift in the UK’s foreign and trade policy is even a possibility.
I understand why colleagues want to put down a marker now that prorogation won’t work. And I understand why so many are so keen to take on the undesired outcome (for most people) of a No Deal outcome to Brexit.
On those issues it is worth reading the replies both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have sent to the One Nation Caucus on these issues.
From Boris Johnson:
“With regards to your question on ‘No Deal’, I want to again emphasise that this is not an outcome I am aiming for and is not an outcome that I want. As I have set out before, I believe that the very act of preparing for ‘No Deal’ will make that scenario less likely…I would also like to make it absolutely clear that I am not attracted to arcane procedures such as the prorogation of Parliament. As someone who aspires to be the Prime Minister of a democratic nation, I believe in finding consensus in the House of Commons.”
And from Jeremy Hunt:
“I would reassure your colleagues that I still believe that the quickest way, the safest way, and the most secure way to leave the EU is with a good deal….In no circumstances would I prorogue Parliament as a means of securing a No Deal outcome.”
So it seems to me that rather than poring over our Erskine May and Commons standing orders, we would be better to recognise the reality of parliamentary arithmetic, and the need for a positive way through the current Brexit impasse.
Now more than ever the public (and the EU) need to see what MPs are in favour of – not what we are against. If anything, we need to crystallise the Brady amendment into something tangible and practical.
And the tangible and practical proposal on offer will be the Alternative Arrangements report and protocols produced by the Prosperity UK Commission.
On these proposals and in reply to our letter, Johnson said this:
“Key to this new deal will be avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland, a prospect no serious candidate would ever dream of entertaining. To that end, I have read the Alternative Arrangements with great interest and I will continue to use it as a consultation document moving forward. The EU has also recently announced that it will be looking into the Alternative Arrangements, a clear sign that our joint goal to ensure there is never a no hard border in Northern Ireland is already underway.”
Hunt said this:
“The negotiating team would be tasked with producing an alternative exit deal, based on the Alternative Arrangements proposals, that can command a majority in the House of Commons and address, seriously and forensically, legitimate EU and Irish concerns about the Irish border and the integrity of the Single Market.”
I would therefore hope that all those working on plans to stop No Deal will find the time to add, to their summer reading lists, our final report. It is clear that it will be influential with whoever is the next Prime Minister. And it has always been the case that the best way to avoid No Deal is to have a deal, which is what we have been working on since April.