IT’S the issue which has dominated debate in the UK for more than two years - dividing politicians, communities and even families.

Arguments are continuing to rage over the problems and potential opportunities created by Britain’s groundbreaking decision to leave the European Union after four decades.

The nation is still deeply divided over Brexit, with no obvious resolution in sight.

Earlier this month the hard-fought withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May was rejected by Parliament in the biggest defeat suffered by a British Prime Minister since the 1920s.

Former Chancellor George Osborne claims the country has been left with two options - crashing out of the EU without a deal or delaying its departure.

Anti-Brexit campaigners worried about jobs and the future of the British economy are all too aware that time is running out.

Daily Echo: Stock photoStock photo

The referendum was held on June 23 2016. Mrs May triggered Article 50 nine months later, which means that under current law the UK will leave the EU on March 29 - whether an agreement has been reached or not.

The next big Brexit debate takes place tomorrow, when MPs will discuss Mrs May’s so-called Plan B and vote on their own proposals.

Amid talk of a snap general election or even a second referendum, members will examine more than a dozen amendments to the original deal.

Last week Mrs May made a statement to the Commons in which she conceded that the government’s approach had to change. She claimed it had - but critics say Plan B is basically the same as Plan A. One of the main stumbling blocks centres on what is set to become the EU’s only land border with the UK.

The Irish backstop guarantees that the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic remains open after Brexit. It has been hailed as a pillar of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian conflict.

But many Tories say the backstop would effectively prevent the UK from leaving the EU customs union.

Today the Daily Echo gives a platform to two Hampshire MPs with differing views on Brexit.

ALAN WHITEHEAD, Labour MP for Southampton Test

ACCORDING to the Brexit timetable, the UK will be leaving the EU on March 29 this year, regardless of whether there is a “deal” in place.

If we leave the EU with ‘no deal’ the government’s own figures show that the UK economy would be severely affected, falling 9% over fifteen years.

The “deal” Theresa May offered to Parliament at the beginning of January failed to secure arrangements for keeping the UK close to the customs union or the single market, it failed to provide a satisfactory solution to a new trading relationship, and it failed on the Northern Ireland border.

Daily Echo:

During the envisaged transition period negotiations on these matters will continue whilst we take whatever rules are imposed on us by the EU in the meantime. Given that we will have already left the EU by this point our negotiating position will be so weak as to be non-existent.

This deal is so poor that I cannot seriously believe that many people, if they had known the outcome, would have voted for it as part of the referendum process. This is why I joined many of my parliamentary colleagues from all parties in rejecting it by a margin of 230 votes – a government defeat larger than any ever seen in the history of this British Parliament.

Regardless of this historic rejection, Theresa May continues to cling to the disastrous ‘red lines’ which made her deal so untenable. She is stubbornly sticking to her failed deal and running down the clock making a no deal Brexit more likely by the day. No Deal Brexit cannot be allowed to happen. It would be disastrous for the people of Southampton and the UK who are already struggling under this Conservative Government.

I have been working with many colleagues also across all parties, to stop this outcome and to press for the negotiation of an alternative deal that really does work in our national interest, but this would require an extension to the time limit for leaving the EU which I am working hard in Parliament to get secured.

After the motion of no confidence in the Government was defeated, ruling out a General Election and a clean slate for negotiations, we are stuck with deadlock and a Prime Minister who is running down the clock to a catastrophic unplanned exit. Theresa May is unable or unwilling to renegotiate putting the UK’s economy and security at risk.

I don’t think that anyone, whether they voted leave or remain supports that kind of outcome. If neither Parliament nor the government can break the deadlock, then I think there will be no alternative but to put the final decision as to what we do back to the people in the form of a second referendum.

A second referendum will itself need an extension to Article 50, and if the choice at that point is to leave the EU with no deal or stay in and try to reform it from within I will certainly be supporting the option to stay.

JULIAN LEWIS, Tory MP for New Forest East

FOR MORE than 40 years politicians and big business have been in love with the European project despite its conveyor-belt to federalism. First, it was called the European Economic Community, then just the European Community, and finally the European Union – designed to achieve a political superstate under a single European Government.You hear nothing of this from desperate Remainers determined to reverse the Referendum result. Those who predicted ‘Disaster’ if we did not join the euro, and ‘Economic meltdown’ if Leavers won the Referendum, now cry ‘Catastrophe’ if we exit on World Trade Organisation terms.

Frankly, I don’t believe a word of it – and neither should you. Two years ago, Parliament voted overwhelmingly, and unconditionally, to trigger Article 50. This meant that our departure date was set as 29 March 2019, whether or not an exit deal was reached.

Daily Echo:

The Prime Minister assured us that “Brexit means Brexit”. This suggested that she would resist attempts to undermine or dilute what most people had chosen to do in the biggest ‘People’s Vote’ in our political history. She also declared that “No deal is better than a bad deal” – in other words that, if we could not reach a good departure deal with the EU, no deal would not be disastrous. She was right in both respects.

Normally, MPs take political decisions in Parliament on the basis of manifesto pledges and face the verdict of the voters, at the next election, on whether they exercised their judgement appropriately. This time it is different, because Parliament agreed in advance to be bound by the decision taken directly by the electorate in the EU Referendum.

Sadly, in Parliament we have a majority of Remain-voting MPs who are now trying to override rather than implement the Referendum result. They pretend to “respect the result” whilst straining every sinew to stop Brexit completely or to give us an alternative which amounts to Brexit-in-name-only.

Theresa May has told Parliament more than 100 times that we are leaving the European Union on 29 March. That date is enshrined in law and that law would have to be changed in order to alter it. Not one vote in Parliament is swayed by the endless empty rhetoric of people who made up their minds a long time ago. A Parliament of Remainers is trying to thwart the people’s vote to leave. Fortunately, the British people are better democrats than many MPs. Rather than being bullied, they would vote to leave in even greater numbers if forced to endure a second Referendum. It would simply waste even more time. ‘No deal’ can actually lead to a very good deal – but only after we escape from the clutches of the European Union.