Since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in June 2016, there has been much progress made towards the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Negotiations with the European Commission are progressing well and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has already passed through the House of Commons four times in its first, second and third readings and the committee stage and is now in the House of Lords. This is a crucial step in the passage of any piece of legislation. MPs and Lords from all parties are able to put forward amendments to change the wording of the Bill. In total more than 375 amendments were proposed by colleagues.
As you may know, during the referendum I was a supporter of the Remain campaign. However, the British people voted in a free and fair referendum to leave the EU. The Government therefore has a duty to deliver the referendum result and I am fully committed to this. I am aware that there have been calls from some of my colleagues for this not to be the case, but I believe that we require a fully united front if we are to secure the best possible future for the UK.
This was a message that was reiterated by the Prime Minister in her Mansion House speech on the 2nd March, once again demonstrating this Government’s unerring determination to secure the best possible deal.
The PM also outlined the 5 conditions that any final agreement with the EU must satisfy: it must respect the result of the referendum; agree to an enduring, mutually beneficial relationship between the EU and the UK; provide the UK with economic and physical security; leave the UK as a modern, outward-looking country; and strengthen the UK as a whole.
The first step in reaching this agreement was taken following a week of intense negotiations in Brussels in December. The Prime Minister successfully reached an agreement with the European Commission on 3 key issues that will enable Britain to move forward post-Brexit; citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland, and the financial settlement.
This secures the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK under our own law, one of the Government’s key targets from the start of the withdrawal process, with a reciprocal deal in place for British citizens living in the EU. Crucially, this aspect of the agreement ensures that the UK is in control of its own laws, with any cooperation with the European Court of Justice on a voluntary basis for a maximum of 8 years.
The Common Travel Area with Ireland will be maintained post-Brexit. This has been in effect since the 1920s and ensuring that it continues will guarantee continued peace, stability and growth. Both sides in the negotiations are also determined to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, something that hopefully will be confirmed in the coming months.
As part of the UK’s obligations to the EU, we have also agreed upon a fair financial settlement which honours these obligations and represents a good deal for taxpayers. This is money that would otherwise have been paid as a member of the EU in the years to come and, as we pay this figure, we can also now invest significant sums of money in the country’s priorities. However, this is not binding and we will not pay this settlement if the rest of the negotiations are not beneficial.
Successfully agreeing on a deal in this first phase enables us to move onto the crucial second phase of talks, focusing on the UK’s future partnership with the EU. This will hopefully secure the certainty required for people and businesses to plan ahead with confidence, in the knowledge that they are in a country which is fully prepared for its new role in the World.
Of course, as the Prime Minister has said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and this remains the first step in the process. Nevertheless, this deal represents a momentous step forwards in the Brexit negotiations, reflecting the tenacity and resilience of the Prime Minister to secure a deal which will benefit all parts of the United Kingdom.
Since the 2nd March, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis has agreed on a transitional period that will last from the 29th March 2019 to 31st December 2020. This will allow the UK to negotiate, sign and ratify its own trade deals with other countries. The UK will continue to abide by common laws until the end of the transition period, providing businesses and citizens with certainty and stability. Part of this means that the UK will remain a part of the Common Fisheries policy, operating on the same basis as we do now.
Whilst I was disappointed with the outcome of some of these amendments, I was happy to support those amendments that looked to strengthen the Bill. An amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve MP was passed and will ensure that the House of Commons and the House of Lords will get the chance to vote on the final deal. The Government has listened and will continue to listen to suggestions from Members of Parliament to improve the legislation relating to the UK’s exit from the EU.
It is important that the final Bill provides certainty about the position of the UK after Brexit as well as security, but also guarantees a degree of flexibility. It is my belief that there will be elements of the final Bill that we are dissatisfied with, however I am a pragmatist and this is about delivering a result for the country and ensuring continuity.
In order to help with this continuity and flexibility, the Government has introduced the Trade Bill. This Bill is designed to allow the UK to continue its existing trade policy with countries outside of the EU as far as possible immediately after Brexit.
Additionally, the Government is currently discussing the customs arrangement after the UK leaves the EU. Leaving the EU means leaving the single market and the customs union. The UK will be free to make its own trade deals after its withdrawal from the EU but it will also need to put in place new customs arrangements.
The Government has set out its position on the customs union and I am encouraged by the approach that it has taken. It wants the freest possible trade in goods with the EU and it has proposed that this be achieved either through streamlined customs arrangements or through a new customs partnership with the EU.
Moving forwards, I am confident that this Government will secure the best deal possible for the country. I know that my colleagues, led by the Prime Minister, will continue to work tirelessly in order to secure the best deal for the future. We must continue with a positive mind set about Brexit and I look forward to delivering on the next phase of the negotiations.
So, as the Prime Minister put it, ‘let’s get on with it’!