North Devon’s MP has revealed why he defied party orders in refusing to vote on a crucial vote in Parliament last week that saw a no-deal Brexit ruled out.
Peter Heaton-Jones said he acted “in the best interests” of those he represents in controversially refusing to side on the issue of leaving the European Union without a deal, but called for an end to Brexit uncertainty.
He insisted that Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular withdrawal deal was “the best way - possibly now the only way” to deliver on the referendum result as a delay to Brexit becomes almost inevitable.
Government whips had tried to discipline Conservative MPs into keeping no-deal as an option if the deal fails to make it through the House of Commons before March 29.
But Mr Heaton-Jones joined a host of government ministers and four cabinet members by not voting on the motion.
It was defeated by 321 to 278 votes, drawing criticism that Mrs May had lost control not just of the Brexit process but also her party.
“I certainly could not support that, because it would have damaged our chances of securing a good Brexit deal with the EU, and been contrary to the wishes of the majority in North Devon who voted Leave,” Mr Heaton-Jones explained.
“However, having listened to businesses, farmers and employers in North Devon who are extremely worried about the risks of no deal, I felt I could not vote against.”
The landmark motion was not legally binding meaning that a no-deal is still a possibility, but it marked the latest pitfall with 10 days until Britain, unless legislation is changed, must leave the EU.
A delayed Brexit has become almost inevitable after a chaotic week in parliament which also saw May’s withdrawal deal overwhelmingly rejected for a second time and MPs support an extension to Article 50.
Mr Heaton-Jones said he “reluctantly supported” the delay to Brexit to ensure a smooth departure but called the idea of a second referendum, rejected by MPs last week, “extremely divisive and damaging to our democracy”.
The government’s Attorney General and Torridge Geoffrey Cox was told he had doomed May’s plan after many MPs based their decision on his legal advice stating that the risk of a hard Irish border remained “unchanged”.
Commons Speaker John Bercow yesterday (Monday, March 18) added the latest shock to the Brexit process in ruling that the exit deal could not be put before MPs for a third time this week, as the government planned, unless it was significantly changed.
But Mr Heaton-Jones remained determined that the government’s deal was the Brexit that the people of North Devon and the country voted for.
“At the last general election, I was given a mandate by the people of North Devon to secure Britain’s exit from the EU,” he added.
“I’ve always believed the best way to achieve that is with a withdrawal agreement.
“Sadly, too few of my colleagues feel the same way.
“I hope this will change, and that enough MPs will realise that the best way – possibly now the only way – to deliver Brexit is to support the withdrawal agreement this week.
“If that doesn’t happen, the way ahead is far from clear.
“This uncertainty has to stop.”
North Devon voted two years ago by a 57 per cent margin to leave the EU, while in Torridge, the Leave majority was more than 60 per cent.