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 now been passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
As I am sure you are aware, this process has not been straightforward and it has been nearly a year since the legislation first entered the House. Since then, there have been 273 hours of debate, more than 375 amendments proposed by colleagues and several crucial votes on the overall Bill and selected amendments.
This has been a timely process, however it was crucial that, given the importance of this legislation to the country, the Bill was intensely scrutinised and every MP was given the chance to effectively represent the views of their constituents by both tabling amendments and contributing to debates. 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 was passed to give the House of Commons and the House of Lords a vote on the final deal.
This ensured that the final amended Bill that was passed was as effective as possible in providing the foundation for the UK’s political and legal landscape once we leave the EU.
It was also important that it provides certainty about the position of the UK after Brexit as well as security and a degree of flexibility. In order to help with this, 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.
This only legislates to implement trade agreements that the UK is already signed up to as part of the EU. In order to provide continuity in our country’s existing trade relationships, these agreements will be transitioned into UK law on terms as close as possible to those the UK is currently a part of. The Trade Bill cannot be used to implement new trade agreements with new partners that do not exist before exit day.
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.
The passing of the EU Withdrawal Bill is the first step in guaranteeing that Britain can be as strong as possible after we leave the EU.
On the 6th July, the Cabinet reached an agreement on what the UK’s future relationship with the EU should look like. These proposals offer a realistic and practical vision for the future, putting Britain and business first, whilst fully respecting the result of the referendum. This was published by the Government in a White Paper on the 12th July.
The Government is pursuing a policy which takes back control of Britain’s borders, defence and laws, whilst also guaranteeing the freest possible trade in goods with the EU.
A key element of this is a commitment to maintain a common rule book on industrial goods and agricultural products so that we have a free trade area with the EU. Crucially, Parliament will have sovereign control over the rules and regulations of this rule book, meaning that if EU regulations are not directly beneficial to the interests of the UK, we will be able to reject them democratically.
Creating this Facilitated Customs Arrangement will also ensure that there is no hard border in Northern Ireland, protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom. This position avoids the UK being forced back into the EEA and Customs Union, whilst takes back control of our trade policy.
We must now continue to support the Government in the remaining stages of negotiations over the terms of our withdrawal.
Negotiations with the EU have been ongoing since late last year. In December, The Prime Minister successfully reached an agreement with the European Commission on issues surrounding citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland, and the financial settlement.
This secured the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK under our own law, with a reciprocal deal in place for British citizens living in the EU.
The Common Travel Area with Ireland will be maintained post-Brexit, ensuring continued peace, stability and growth in the region.
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. However, this is not binding and we will not pay this settlement if the rest of the negotiations are not beneficial.
Since December, we have also agreed upon 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 and Common Agricultural policies, operating on the same basis as we do now.
Of course, as the Prime Minister has said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Nevertheless, this progress represents a momentous move 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.
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.