On Sunday 25th November the leaders of the 27 EU countries approved the agreement on the UK’s withdrawal. This was followed by debate in the House of Commons, with a vote on the deal scheduled to take place on 11th December 2018.
However, as you are no doubt aware, the Prime Minister listened to the concerns raised by Members from across the House of Commons about her deal, delayed the vote and went to the EU to seek legal guarantees, namely on the Northern Ireland backstop.
The Government has also stepped up preparations for a ‘No Deal’. This is appropriate response and one which any sensible Government would take. It remains the case however, that the best way to avoid a ‘No Deal’ is to back the Prime Minister’s deal.
It is clear from conversations and correspondence I have had with residents and businesses that people want Brexit to be settled and for us to focus on other issues. It is also important to recognise these negotiations have not been straightforward and there are diverse views on the matter.
Since the result of the referendum was announced, I have been clear it should be respected. I believe that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister does that. It is pragmatic. It allows us to embrace the opportunities leaving the EU presents us with and minimise the disruptive downsides.
The offer is good for businesses, protecting the economy and jobs. There will be a new free trade area for goods between the UK and EU, with no tariffs or quotas. This enables us to strike free trade deals as part of our independent trade policy, allowing businesses to capitalise on trading with the fastest growing economies around the world.
We will control our borders, ending free movement. The Government will construct an immigration policy driven by the needs of our economy and based on the skills someone has, rather than the country they are from. We will continue to be the welcoming country we have always been. However, in areas with low unemployment such as ours, we will need to attract people from overseas if we want vacancies filled in areas such as care services for some time hence.
Shared security of the UK and EU has been ensured through a comprehensive security partnership. This includes close reciprocal law enforcement and judicial co-operation. This will keep us safe against crime, terrorism and other threats, while also respecting the UK’s independent foreign policy and it will end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.
I know that people are concerned about the Northern Ireland backstop, an insurance policy that both the UK and the EU have stated that they hope will never be used. Therefore it is written into law that both sides have a shared determination to replace the backstop, this will include the consideration of all the facilitative arrangements and technologies which could avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The reason I believe any usage of the backstop would indeed be temporary or that it would not be used at all, is that if it were used the UK would get all the benefits of the Single Market with no cost and not having to sign up to Freedom of Movement. This is a situation the EU clearly would not countenance and I believe would drive both parties to seek a free trade agreement. As the Attorney General said during his statement to the House of Commons on 3rd December 2018, “this (the backstop) represents a sensible compromise”.
Finally, the UK will no longer be contributing vast sums of money to the EU, freeing up more money for domestic priorities. The payment we make over the next few years (between £35 – £39 billion) are payments for previous commitments. They will be staggered and we can withhold them in extreme circumstances if we are unhappy.
The EU has made a number of concessions, on money and access to markets amongst others. However, the Prime minister is clear that if we were to reject it, we would cause great uncertainty, threatening jobs, investment and the economy, as well as leaving less time to focus on domestic matters.
I do not want to vote to go back to square one, with no sense of where we will end up, particularly when there is a deal on offer that will mean an orderly withdrawal from the EU. This will allow for continued co-operation with our nearest neighbour and largest market, while also enabling us to build new partnerships around the globe.
The vote relates to the Withdrawal Agreement not our future trading arrangements. It is not the final destination, but a step towards it. To that end, I will continue to take a pragmatic approach, as I have done since the referendum result respecting that result but ensuring the prospects of all are looked after. I will be supporting our Prime Minister.