I won’t be joining the so-called ‘mutineers’, but the Daily Telegraph headline about Conservative backbenchers was ill-judged and wrong.
First of all, it revealed I’m afraid a lack of understanding about what the issue is all about. It’s nothing to do with whether MPs want to stay in the EU. All my colleagues recognise that we are leaving. This is simply a difference of view about how best to do it. Those who have backed former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve’s, amendments disagree with the Government’s proposal to enshrine our exit date on the face of the Withdrawal Bill. Doing so, they argue, limits the UK’s freedom of manoeuvre in the event that the talks go down to the wire and more time is required.
They’ve got a point, and on balance I would prefer the Government to think again. But unlike the issue of the right to remain for EU nationals, which I thought so fundamental as to warrant rebelling on, I can’t see this as an issue to go to the barricades over. That’s for three reasons. First, when MPs of all parties voted to trigger Article 50 it was on the clear understanding that the clock would start ticking down to exit in March 2019. Second, the exit date was made clear in the Prime Minister’s Florence speech. And third, in the event that we need more time it’s possible to bring emergency legislation before Parliament to achieve that.
But it’s perfectly possible for intelligent, rational, people to take different views on this issue. Vilifying MPs for exercising their judgement is wrong.
Last week, I was delighted to support Anti-Bullying Week. It’s become an issue close to my heart having spoken to so many young people across Cheltenham from All Saints’ Academy to Bournside. My parliamentary inquiry into online bullying and the impact on adolescent mental health has taken evidence from over 1,000 young people, many of whom had been had been driven to the edge of despair. I’m writing the report now. Expect the recommendations to be robust!