Calderdale MPs split down the middle ahead of vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal

Conservative MP Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker and Labour Halifax MP Holly Lynch
Conservative MP Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker and Labour Halifax MP Holly Lynch

The ticking of the Brexit clock is drowned out only by barracking from the back benches for Theresa May as MPs prepare to descend on Parliament for Tuesday’s ‘meaningful vote’ on her controversial EU withdrawl agreement.

The vote, which will go some way to deciding the direction the country will take in its difficult departure from Europe, has already been postponed after the Prime Minister admitted it was about to be “rejected by a significant margin” last month.

The idea, she said, was to go back to Brussels to gain assurances that would “get this deal over the line”. But with the rearranged vote now due for next Tuesday, it appears that to use a phrase now well-associated with the Prime Minister, nothing has changed.

Concerns about the deal centre around the UK having to follow EU rules and regulations while having no say in how they are developed during a transition period lasting until the end of 2020 – and fears that this could be extended indefinitely by the EU through the ‘backstop’ proposals designed to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

There are also fears that the extension of a Brexit deadline to 2020 would be seen to be ‘kicking the issue into the long grass’, allowing time for any momentum growing behind a second referendum to build.

It’s a debate that has split Calderdale MPs down the middle. As Halifax’s Labour MP Holly Lynch prepares to break off from maternity leave to act in line with her party and vote down the proposal, Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker has refused to join Tory rebels and will instead cast his vote in favour.

It is his belief that Tuesday’s vote is not about future trading deals, and that it is an important opportunity to move on the withdrawal and direct the transition period ahead.

“I am quite pragmatic about the agreement,” he said, “I say this as this is purely a stepping stone to get to another place. Are there things which I am uneasy about? Yes, but not enough to make me think that voting against the deal is the best option – not least because this could end up with Brexit not being delivered at all.

“It is for these reasons that I will be voting to back the deal and will back the Prime Minister.”

Calderdale voted 55.7% in favour of Brexit in the 2016 referendum, a split Mr Whitakker, who campaigned for remain, says has been reflected whilst canvassing for opinions on Tuesday’s vote.

“I’ve received hundreds of emails and phone calls from constituents on the Brexit deal,” he said, “some of these ask me to totally reject the deal and vote for a ‘No Deal Brexit’.

“Others ask me to support the PM and support the deal brought forward, whilst a smaller number of people are asking for a second referendum. I think it is pretty clear that whichever way I vote, I’m not going to please everyone.”

Halifax MP Holly Lynch, who also campaigned for remain in 2016, once again refused to rule out her support for another referendum.

She said: “I would like to give reassurances that I continue to take constituents’ opinions on board, and, given the exceptional circumstances of this vote, will be travelling back to Parliament for the Brexit vote next week.

“I will be voting in line with the Labour Party to reject Theresa May’s deal, as it does not meet Labour’s six tests which were set out at the start of the negotiation process.

“Labour Party conference agreed that we should push for a General Election so that we can try to negotiate a Brexit deal that would be best for jobs and living standards, and underpin our plans to upgrade the economy and invest in every community and region.

“If this is not possible then the Labour Party has agreed that all other options must remain on the table, including a People’s Vote. I support this position and will continue to monitor developments closely whilst I am on maternity leave.”

The 50/50 split in opinion between the two Calderdale MPs does not translate across Yorkshire, where around three-quarters of the region’s politicians are set to vote against Mrs May’s deal.

Not a single MP who responded to a Halifax Courier survey said their mind had been changed by the delay and with the EU continuing to insist the current agreement is “the best and only deal possible”, it appears it will take an extraordinary political turnaround for the Prime Minister to win the vote.

Morley and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns is among the Tory rebels, after previously warning the plan would keep Britain “half-in, half-out” and fails to deliver on the promise of Brexit. A spokesperson said: “Andrea will not be supporting the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal agreement.

“Andrea strongly feels that the vote should not have been delayed as this would have sent a strong message to Brussels that this is not a deal in which parliament can get behind.”

If it is voted down, Britain will be heading into unchartered territory with less than three months to Brexit. Mrs May said last month that three potential paths lay ahead for the country – her deal, no deal or no Brexit; and the first one looks as though it may soon be ruled out.