Despite the political controversy of the past few weeks at Westminster, I believe the United Kingdom remains firmly on course to leave the European Union with a deal – if MPs hold their nerve.
On January 29, the House of Commons expressed its support for that outcome, provided there were legal changes to the Northern Ireland backstop to prevent it operating indefinitely.
When the Government set out to secure those changes, I did not know what the response in Europe would be.
© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited ‘Despite the political controversy of the past few weeks at Westminster, I believe the United Kingdom remains firmly on course to leave the European Union with a deal – if MPs hold their nerve’But in the discussions I have had with the leadership of the European Union and the leaders of every EU member state, I have found a real determination to find a way through which allows the UK to leave with a deal.
That engagement has already begun to bear fruit.
The UK and EU are working towards a joint work-stream to develop alternative arrangements to ensure the absence of a hard border in Northern Ireland, in parallel with our negotiations on the future relationship.
We are doing our own ministerial-led work – supported by civil service resources and with £20 million of government funding – to help develop, test and pilot proposals which can form part of these alternative arrangements.
© ReutersWe are also continuing to hold detailed discussions on the legal changes that are required to guarantee that the Northern Ireland backstop cannot endure indefinitely.
But securing the necessary changes to the backstop is not the only thing the Government is doing to build support for the deal across the House of Commons.
We are developing detailed plans to give Parliament a clearer and stronger role in the next phase of the negotiations, in which the UK and the EU will agree the detail of our future relationship. We are discussing with the EU what additions or changes can now be made to the political declaration outlining that future relationship that will increase people’s confidence in the ambition of both sides to agree to it as soon as possible.
© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Securing the necessary changes to the backstop is not the only thing the Government is doing to build support for the deal across the House of Commons
And to protect workers’ rights, a concern for many MPs as we leave the EU, we will give Parliament a vote on whether it wishes to follow suit whenever the EU changes its standards. The UK leads the way on workers’ rights, environmental protections and health and safety – as we leave the EU, we will continue to enhance them.
I firmly believe that a deal is within our grasp.
Yesterday I committed in Parliament to give MPs a second meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement by March 12 at the latest. I am confident that we can win that vote. But because many MPs are worried that if we lose that vote Parliament would not have time to make its voice heard on the next steps, I gave two other assurances.
If the Government has not won a meaningful vote by March 12, we will ask MPs if they support leaving the EU on March 29 without a Withdrawal Agreement.
If the House rejects leaving on March 29 without a deal, the Government will bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short limited extension to Article 50.
© ReutersAnd if the House votes for an extension, we will seek to agree one with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation.
But I do not want to see Article 50 extended.
Our absolute focus should be on working to get a deal and leaving on March 29. Doing so would give businesses and citizens the certainty they deserve.
By committing Labour to holding a second referendum, despite promising to implement Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn has shown once again that he cannot be trusted to keep his promises. His cynical political games would take us back to square one.
Instead, Parliament should do its duty so that our country can move forward.
We want to leave the EU with a deal that gives us the best of both worlds: a close relationship with our nearest neighbours and the chance to make the most of our talents and resources by building new relationships with growing economies around the world.