At the time of writing my last column, it looked like this month’s column would be the last written whilst the UK was still a member of the EU. However, at the EU Council summit last week it was agreed that, subject to the deal being passed this week, the date of our departure from the EU can be extended to 22 May in order to provide the time to pass the necessary legislation. Then, earlier this week, Parliament voted to hold indicative votes on possible ways forward. This means that if Parliament does not agree a deal soon, there are only three possible outcomes: Parliament could stop Brexit altogether, the UK could leave the EU without a deal, or there is a ‘softer’ Brexit which could mean staying in the customs union and maintaining free movement after a further extension to Article 50 that would mean having to hold European Parliament elections.
I know that there are deeply held views for and against each of these outcomes. However, it is clearer to me than ever that the best way forward is to pass the Prime Minister’s deal so that we can end the uncertainty, fulfil the result of the referendum and allow the country to move on towards a new future outside EU.
But, of course, Brexit is not the only thing going on in Parliament, and last week we also had the Spring Statement which delivered a positive economic update and some very welcome announcements. The Statement showed that the economy is doing well, with employment at a new record high of 32.7 million people, unemployment down to a 44-year low and the number of women in work at a record high! Additionally, wages are growing at the fastest rate in a decade and have been outstripping inflation for a full year, which means more money in people’s pockets. The Office of Budget Responsibility also forecast that wages will continue to rise faster than previously expected and ahead of inflation, while at the same time employment will continue to rise, the economy will grow faster every year and the deficit and national debt have been revised down each year for the next five years.
All of this good economic news means that the Government has been able to launch our plans for a bright future for Britain – creating a digital economy, redoubling our commitment to skills and world-class infrastructure, staying at the cutting edge of clean growth and tackling the big issues like knife crime head-on. However, all of this economic progress and opportunity remains dependent on MPs delivering a Brexit deal as soon as possible.