Column: Tories in office but not in power.


I had expected to write my column this week on the back of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement being rejected by MPs.

I spoke in the debate on the Brexit deal last week and outlined my reasons for opposing it, raising my concerns around the opportunities that would be cut from our young people, the risk that a drop in public funding would have on the most vulnerable in society and the democratic deficit that exists across the country.

MPs from across the House shared similar concerns, and it looked like Theresa May was in for a devastating defeat.

Instead, at the eleventh hour, and despite repeated assurances to the contrary, the Government pulled the vote from the order paper.

Faced with a defeat, which the Prime Minister admitted would have been of considerable margin, she took the remarkable decision to postpone the vote until she can command a majority in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister’s decision to delay the vote shows the weakness of her position.

She is a Prime Minister in office but not in power and despite the delay being predictable, kicking the vote into the long grass won’t make it go away.

Theresa May will have to face reality sooner rather than later.

Her deal, no matter how much tinkering is done around the edges, will lead to a reduction in living stands and will not command a majority of MPs.

More than that, as she makes her way to Brussels, EU leaders have already made clear that they will not cave in to her demands and are not interested in changing or removing the Northern Ireland backstop simply to please the right-wing of the Tory party.

So the Prime Minister faces a crossroads – she either continues to pursue a deal which will not gain the support of Parliament or she allows the people to decide.

I have heard time and time again from Theresa May that the agreement is supported by the people and is the best deal possible.

If that is the case, she should be happy to test it.

It is my view that the only way we break this impasse is by doing just that – allowing a People’s Vote on the deal with the option of remaining in the EU on the ballot paper.

Without a referendum and by delaying the vote further, the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal becomes more realistic.

Leaving without an agreement would have disastrous consequences for businesses, create chaos at the borders, drive up food prices and lead to a shortage of essential goods.

The UK Health Secretary warned medical drug companies to expect six months of “significantly reduced access” to the main trade routes between Britain and Continental Europe if there is a no-deal Brexit.

That is a scenario that we cannot accept, and by gambling on timescales to make the decision an arbitrary choice between the Government’s deal and no deal risks that being a real prospect.

I understand the concerns people have about respecting the will of the original referendum, but no-one voted for this deal and no-one voted to be poorer as a result of it.

Respecting the will of the people would be allowing them to decide on whether they agree with this deal or not.

Enough is enough.

The Tories have tried to deliver Brexit and have failed – it is time to replace this chaos with a solution that will protect jobs, living standards and Scotland’s place in Europe.