In last week’s column, I began by saying that it wasn’t clear, at the time when I was writing it, what position our country would find itself in by the time it appeared in print.
I am glad to find that the immediate prospect of a sudden “no-deal” exit from the EU (with the very severe risks that would have entailed) has now receded.
Of course, this does not, however, answer the underlying question of how the country should now proceed.
Having myself voted to remain in the referendum itself, I nevertheless felt very strongly that the majority verdict should be followed and that the UK should leave the EU in accordance with that majority view expressed in the referendum.
I continue to feel that – which is why I voted to trigger Article 50; I helped to “broker” the Withdrawal Act and voted for the Withdrawal Act; and I have voted on three successive occasions for exiting on the basis of the Prime Minister’s deal.
Like everyone else, I have been forced to recognise the fact that neither some of my Conservative colleagues nor sufficient colleagues from the opposition benches in the House of Commons have been prepared to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal to make that a reality.
My own view, for some months, has therefore been that the only way of achieving an orderly exit is for the Government and the Labour Party (as the principal Opposition) to find an accommodation which can involve approval of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement on the basis of changes to the Political Declaration on the future trading relationship which can be rapidly negotiated with the EU and can obtain the support of a majority of MPs.
It has taken rather a long time for the Government to reach the same conclusion. But I am delighted that this is exactly what the Prime Minister is now trying to achieve with the Leader of the Opposition, and I am modestly optimistic that a solution will emerge, enabling us to leave the EU in an orderly fashion before the summer.
In the course of my efforts to work with people across the House of Commons to prevent a “no-deal exit”, and to provide time for a compromise solution to be found, I have seen once again what I frequently saw during the years when I was involved in the Coalition Government. Politicians of different political parties typically have more in common than tribal loyalties normally allow them to admit. When they sit down to discuss matters involving the national interest in private and in a grown-up way, the results are often productive.
I hope and believe that we are now this more productive mode of political engagement.
Of course it may all go wrong. Such negotiations have much to do with personal chemistry, emotional intelligence and quirks of fate – so nothing can be guaranteed. But we have to give consensus and compromise and pragmatism a chance if we are to secure an orderly exit.