EU Drama plays out in Parliament

MP Huw Merriman with Prime Minister Theresa May SUS-181122-103453001
MP Huw Merriman with Prime Minister Theresa May SUS-181122-103453001

It’s been another tumultuous week in Parliament. Last week, the Prime Minister published the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement. Over 585 pages, this document sets out how the UK will leave the European Union. It was accompanied by a shorter document, which sets out how we hope to form a new trading and relationship accord with the EU once we leave. Difficult provisions in the first agreement, are meant to be solved in the second. However, this gap in timing in the two agreements is causing some to become anxious that we will not leave the EU entirely in March next year if we have not nailed our future terms and dates.

Perhaps it was this tension which caused some MPs to lose their heads, and their manners, in the following days. I understand that, for some, there is a point of principle at stake but there are ways of registering disappointment. Rather than being disrespectful and rude to my own Prime Minister in the House of Commons, I prefer to understand the detail, ask questions, seek reassurance or changes, and then make my mind up. I do not, when the Prime Minister is at the despatch box for three hours explaining the drafts, seek to humiliate or make a name for myself. Having spent last Saturday knocking on doors in Battle, it would appear that constituents take the same view (regardless of voting intentions). This is no surprise to me, with the thoughtful community we have. However, it is refreshing that it is not just me who is left disappointed by the antics.

Last Thursday, along with the 649 other MPs across all parties, I was invited to meet the negotiators from No10 to get an overview of the deal and ask questions. There were 4 slots in total. For my slot, I was the only MP who attended. It was like an Oxford University tutorial (albeit with three tutors). This worked well for me. Having dissected both draft agreements back in the summer when presenting to constituents in my last three public meetings, I was able to focus on what had changed and what would happen next. My disappointment that other MPs did not join me was compounded by the fact that I must have walked past about 8 MPs mouthing off to TV cameras on my way to the committee room. They could have been sat in a more productive place on behalf of their constituents.

With so many MPs voicing displeasure, including those supporting our minority Government from Northern Ireland, where do we go from here? With matters still not agreed with the EU, the Prime Minister is back in Brussels this week to fix the terms of both our withdrawal and future relationship. Hopefully some of the furore will help persuade the EU that they need to give more in order to get any agreement from the House of Commons. In my mind, one thing is clear: we are leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. Unless the Government falls, and the opposition are elected, I cannot see that date changing. Therefore, we have two choices: leave on orderly terms agreed with the EU or leave with no terms. I understand those who say that the latter is preferable, and that we can be safe in the knowledge that we are a large economy and importer which would cause our EU neighbours to think twice before damaging us and them. However, if that uncertain place is much more damaging for us, and my constituents lose their jobs or their incomes as a result, then this is not what I came in to politics to deliver.

Whatever happens, and whichever way I vote, I want to be able to say that I have tried to bring my constituents into the conversation. Following on from my 10 public meetings in the referendum run-up, and the 3 meetings held this summer, I am holding another set in the next fortnight in Heathfield, Battle and Bexhill. I hope constituents will join and, as they have done previously, listen, reflect and then use their voice. Perhaps the same approach will one day rub off on MPs.