Over 200 local people attended an open meeting in Burnham-On-Sea on Thursday evening (November 29th) where the town’s MP James Heappey fielded questions about the Prime Minister’s controversial Brexit deal.
There was standing room only in Burnham’s Baptist Church in College Street for the 95-minute debate where a wide cross-section of views were raised and Mr Heappey gave frank answers.
“A ‘no deal’ would be pretty brutal”
The MP outlined the options for Brexit as he sees them and described the Prime Minister’s deal as “not perfect” but the “best, pragmatic deal.”
He said “crashing out” of the EU with no Brexit deal would create a situation that would be “quite brutal”.
And the Burnham MP added that holding a second referendum would be “a huge betrayal” to voters.
‘Get on with Brexit’ plea draws biggest applause
The biggest applause of the night went to Burnham’s Bob Nicholson who gave a passioned speech about how voters had been “conned” in the lead up to the 1975 EU referendum and he urged Mr Heappey to “please get on with Brexit.”
Questions from the floor also included subjects such a the Irish backstop, the future of Gibraltar, immigration, trading conditions, freedom of movement, extremism, the lack of reliability around polling numbers on social media and the legal powers of Parliament.
“There’s a reasonable case for a second referendum”
One member of the audience in the upper gallery said he felt there was a “reasonable case” for a second referendum.
He felt this was due to the changes that have happened since the 2016 vote and better clarity now around the deal on the table. Mr Heappey explained that does not support a second vote.
‘What’s your favoured option, Mr Heappey?’
Another member of the audience asked what the Burnham-On-Sea MP’s “personal favoured option” is, including a General Election.
Mr Heappey responded: “The probability of the boss [Theresa May] getting it through is probably very low.”
But he revealed the “most likely scenario” involves the PM going back to the EU for a “time-limited backstop.”
“For heaven’s sake, James, get it done!”
Burnham’s MP said he frequently gets approached by Brexit-weary constituents, adding: “The number of people that grab me and say ‘for heaven’s sake, James, get it done!,'” which prompted applause.
Burnham resident Tony Lynham tackled him, though, on his support for the deal before it was even published.
“You accepted it before you even read it. You said you’d support Theresa May and the book hadn’t even come out.”
Another resident, Harriet Browne, told the MP that the movement of EU workers is important.
She emphasized the need for overseas workers in the UK for crucial services such as the NHS. “Why are people so worried about free movement when it works both ways?” she said.
‘Is there a Plan B Brexit deal being worked on?’
Another audience member asked whether national media reports about a separate Brexit deal being compiled in the background are true.
Mr Heappey played these down but did not rule out changes to the deal if it fails to get through Parliament.
MP: “There’s no majority for a hard Brexit”
The MP ended the evening by summing up how the next few weeks will go and the numbers in the House of Commons. “There’s not a majority for a hard Brexit in the House of Commons… and definitely not in the House Of Lords.”
Mr Heappey looks certain to vote in favour of the Prime Minister’s deal in the crunch House of Commons vote on Tuesday 11th December.
While he said he would “listen carefully” to the five days of parliamentary debate prior to making his vote, his mind appears set on supporting the deal.