Following Parliament not voting to support the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU, the Prime Minister has set out how the Government will proceed.
The Prime Minister has met with the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Westminster leaders of DUP, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, and backbench members from both sides of the House of Commons. It is important now that Parliament has rejected the only deal on the table that we all work together to find a way forward.
Some people in Parliament and across the country have suggested this means holding a second referendum. However, as the Prime Minister stated to the House of Commons, “Our duty is to implement the decision of the first one”. This is something I agree with. It has been my consistent view since the result of the referendum was announced that it must be implemented, and I voted remain. I also stood on a manifesto at the 2017 General Election to respect the referendum result. Indeed, parties that did so received over 80% of the vote.
We cannot pick and choose when we accept the results that democratic processes give us. To not do so now could undermine many people’s faith in our democracy. I also believe that putting the final deal to a public vote could impact our ability to get the best possible deal for our country.
Some Members of Parliament have suggested extending Article 50. In my mind this would simply kick the can down the road and prolong any uncertainty. It is also unlikely that the EU would agree to extend Article 50 without there being a clear plan as how we are to proceed. To that end, all scenarios indicate Parliamentarians must make a decision in order to move things along.
It is therefore right that the Prime Minister is engaging with Parliament to overcome understandable concerns with the Withdrawal Agreement that has been negotiated.
A major concern for people has been the issues relating to the Northern Ireland backstop. The Prime Minister has reiterated that the Belfast Agreement should be fully respected and that there should be no hard border on the island or Ireland or down the Irish Sea. The Prime Minister has also acknowledged concerns that we could be indefinitely trapped in the backstop and that it could lead to Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the UK. She has committed to take the conclusions of discussions from Members of Parliament on this issue back to the EU.
Concerns have also been raised in Parliament in relation to the Political Declaration. This sets out the basis for developing our detailed negotiating mandate with the EU for the future, but some have felt that it needs further precision. This however, fails to see that the declaration is by its very nature for us to decide upon.
The Prime Minister has outlined that the new phase of negotiations will cover a far broader range of issues and in greater depth. This will require us to build a negotiating team with wide expertise. The Government will also seek input from a range of voices outside of government and will engage more extensively with businesses, civil society and trade unions than to date. However, it cannot be overlooked that there have been many voices feeding into discussions thus far. The Government will consult the House of Commons on its negotiating mandate.
The Prime Minister has also recognised concerns of some that our exit from the EU could lead to a reduction in workers’ rights and environmental standards. Parliament will therefore be provided with a guarantee that our country leads the way in these areas. There are minimum standards currently, which are in line with the EU. To think when we often lead discussions in these areas we will always look to diminish standards is naïve. A balance between exemplar standards and business requirements is the logical destination.
Finally, a number of us felt uncomfortable about the uncertainty facing EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU. Particularly around their status being confirmed. The UK Government has already committed to ensuring EU citizens in the UK will be able to stay, and continue to access in-country benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now, under any scenario. Some EU Member States have guaranteed the rights of British nationals under a No Deal, and the Government will step up its efforts to ensure they all do so.
I am delighted that the Government has waived the application fee. This will ensure that there is no financial barrier to EU nationals who wish to stay. Anyone who has or will apply during the pilot phase will have their fee reimbursed.
I am content that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU represents a pragmatic route to implementing Brexit. This is why I supported it when it was presented to the House of Commons. Before coming to that decision, I read the draft Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration, as well as the Attorney General’s advice.
The deal is not perfect, but any deal negotiated between 28 countries was always going to involve compromise for everyone. However, it honours the result of the referendum by returning sovereignty to the UK in a number of areas. We will leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ, regain full control over our immigration policy, as well as our fishing waters and agricultural policy, to name but a few. Crucially, the deal also paves the way to an orderly exit.
The Prime Minister has been clear that the process of engagement with Parliament is ongoing and that she will go back to the EU to find a way forward. The focus of the Government rightly remains on delivering on the mandate of the British people, leaving the EU in a way that benefits every part of our United Kingdom.