I have been contacted by a number of constituents about the recent report of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union.
Can I first of all encourage you to read the report, if you have not yet had the opportunity to do so, because some of the comments made about it bear no relationship to the conclusions that a majority of the members of the Committee reached. You can find a copy using the link below:
As you will see, the report is absolutely not about overturning the result of the referendum or stopping us from leaving the EU. It's about getting the best possible deal while we still have the maximum negotiating clout.
We are now at a critical stage in the negotiations and there are only seven months to go in which to reach agreement on a whole range of really important issues. These include the UK’s future economic relationship with the EU - ie what happens on trade and services? - co-operation on foreign policy, defence, security and the fight against terrorism, working together on things like aviation and food safety, the approval of new medicines and scientific research and the as yet unresolved question of how to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and the the Republic.
If substantial aspects of our future partnership still remain to be agreed in October 2018, then what we have recommended is that the Government should seek a limited extension to the Article 50 timetable to ensure that a sufficiently detailed agreement can be reached.
I would add that when the Brexit Secretary David Davies gave evidence to the Committee in January, he said that we need to have the substantive negotiations concluded before the transition period starts. He argued that you can’t have major negotiations during the transition period itself because the balance of power in the negotiation alters. So we are just taking Mr Davies at his word and saying that if you can't complete all of the negotiations that you want by the current deadline then it would be sensible to seek a limited extension of the Article 50 period.
As for the fact that the Committee's report wasn't agreed unanimously, the truth is that the referendum showed that the country was almost evenly divided, as is the Cabinet and Parliament. So it is not entirely surprising that the same is true of the Select Committee. Achieving agreement in the Committee on how to handle Brexit is not always easy but we resolve any differences by voting, which is the democratic thing to do.
Finally, I would point out that the recommendations were carefully considered and backed up by evidence, and the report was adopted by 13 votes to 7, with Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish Nationalist and Plaid Cymru members all voting for it.
Hilary Benn MP
Chair of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee