Soft Landing, not Soft Brexit

Soft Landing, not Soft Brexit

There has been plenty of coverage of the government position settled at a meeting of Cabinet last Friday at Chequers. Many think that this is a pragmatic starting point for the final rounds of negotiation with the EU. However most of the negative feedback cries betrayal but doesn’t really explain why the critic is against the deal, just that it is not Brexit. We have had a three page statement from the Prime Minister and now, a round of media articles and interviews but the detail comes next week in the White Paper. So rather than relying on the same journalists that both sides have been arguing are biased against remain/leave (delete where applicable), I rearranged my Saturday morning to go to a briefing in Downing Street to hear from those closest to the PM. On Monday I will attend another briefing with more colleagues and hear from the Prime Minister herself before reading with interest the White Paper when released. What I have heard so far satisfies me that whilst this approach is not where I would have wanted to be as someone who campaigned and voted for Leave, but is the most pragmatic offer that we can give at this stage.

When I was debating during the referendum campaign, the main pillars of the argument to leave were sovereignty – taking control and putting the UK parliament in control of our decisions, pooling sovereignty only when we chose to for our advantage; controlling immigration, so introducing a system that was fairer, allowing people with the skills and experience that we need and want into the UK no matter which country they were from rather than allowing unskilled economic migrants from parts of the EU with high youth unemployment to jump the queue and thirdly, to be able to expand our trade through ambitious free trade agreements with countries whose economies are booming and are predicted to become dominant in decades to come, all the time whilst keeping on friendly terms and continuing to trade with our closest partner, the 27 remaining countries of the EU, albeit their economy had been stagnating for the last decade and decreasing in size of our proportion of global trade. I was often asked what my Brexit looked like, to which I would always reply that I could tell them but that would preclude them from having a say. We were giving the government a mandate to leave and the way that we would leave would be arranged through debate and negotiation. So here is why I believe that this proposal fully meets the terms of the referendum in getting us out of the EU, rather than BRINO (Brexit in Name Only)

1. We will be leaving

Nothing changes in terms of our leaving date. We will still formally leave the EU on March 29th 2019. Assuming we reach a deal, we will have an implementation period, something that has already been agreed. This is simply to allow businesses to ready themselves for the trading arrangements that we agree. It’s not practical to reach a technical customs arrangement for example in April and expect businesses to be able to handle this just two months later. We need customs officers, particular technology in place. It’s complicated but deliverable with political will and a reasonable notice period. The agreement reached is that the implementation period will come to an end no later than December 31st 2020.

2. We will stop paying in large sums of money after we leave

The agreement that was completed last year means that we will be paying a final sum which includes the months of the implementation period and brings us to the end of the EU budgeting period that we were involved in preparing the budget for. However as we will be leaving the political organisations of the EU and will no longer be a member, there will be no huge membership fee to pay. Anything that we do end up paying will be based on our decision to buy into particular projects such as ERASMUS, the student exchange programme that comes with EU membership but is also open to third countries like Turkey and Taiwan. We can pick and choose which of these projects we join, if any. The money that we are then not spending on EU membership can be spent within the UK. Some of this will clearly replace the funding that is redistributed from the EU at present to farmers, universities and regeneration projects for example but again, we will decide where and how this is spent so it can be better targeted and spent more effectively.

3. Freedom of Movement will end

The automatic right of EU citizens to come to the UK to live will come to an end. The proposal talks about a mobility framework so that UK and EU citizens can continue to travel to each other’s territories, and apply for study and work. Travelling to each other’s territories is important so we don’t burden holidaymakers and travelling business people with a complicated visa application system, thus hindering travel. Applying for study and work is very different from having the right to walk in and study or work. There may be a preferential system for EU member states in this regard but only on the same basis as our top tier trading partners pushing for one in a free trade agreement, countries such as India, USA, Australia. So again, this is a visa system agreed as a sovereign government in exchange for preferential access to their markets and is reversable.

4. The European Court of Justice will no longer be the highest court in the UK

Once we leave, the Supreme Court will be the highest court in the UK, so UK courts will not refer cases to the ECJ. Clearly the EU will still have the ECJ as their highest arbiter. Ironically if the EU tried to change this at our request, the ECJ would strike the deal down as illegal under EU law. So in any trade disputes, each party will refer cases to their own court system. Our courts will keep an eye on case law set by the ECJ but will not be bound by it. They will try to ensure that they keep a common interpretation in cases where we are applying a common rulebook, such as disputes relating to the movement of goods. (Note, the European Court of Human Rights is a different body and entirely separate from the EU. It will remain.)

5. We will be leaving the CAP and CFP

We will no longer be subject to the Common Agricultural Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy. This means that although we will have some agreed restrictions on exports of agricultural products to the EU and imports, we will not have the EU micromanaging our farmers telling them which crops to grow and how. In leaving the Common Fisheries Policy we can reclaim our fishing waters.

6. There will be no hard border in Ireland, nor will Northern Ireland be treated differently from the rest of the UK

There are no Free Trade Agreements anywhere in the world that completely get over the need for checks. This proposal avoids the demand from the EU that Northern Ireland be kept within the EU Customs Union. However the proposal would bring us to near-frictionless trade with the UK and EU working together on the phased introduction of a new Facilitated Customs Arrangement that would remove the need for customs checks and controls between the two. The UK would apply our set tariffs on goods coming to stay in the UK and the EU’s tariffs on goods passing through to the EU. In the vast majority of cases businesses would pay the right or no tariff upfront and otherwise through a repayment mechanism. It is estimated that only around 4% of businesses will have to engage in the repayment process.

7. We will be able to do our own independent trade deals

By completing this bespoke customs arrangement, we would be liberated to secure our own trade deals with the rest of the world. Some of the conditions of the proposal will mean that some of the deals may not be able to be comprehensive for all sectors. Common rules on agri-foods for example will mean that we would be unlikely to be able to bring in hormone-treated beef from Australia for example, but that would likely be controversial in itself when Parliament considers any agreement. Australia would be content with increasing the amount of non hormone-treated beef that it sells to the UK. The only area that we are proposing to have ‘dynamic alignment’ with the EU is around State Aid. We are proposing to commit to not reduce environmental standards or workers’ rights and a few key areas. Apart from these, we will be free to diverge away from EU rules on the understanding that this will have a consequence on our future trading arrangement with the EU from that time on. Again it is our sovereign decision. There may come a time when we are more confident as a nation to drift away from dependency on the European markets towards the emerging markets that are predicted to grow significantly. This agreement gives us a soft landing from undoing forty years of a constrained partnership with the EU and the ability to take off again in the future when we are ready and importantly, when we ourselves decide.

8. We are stepping up preparations for No Deal

I’ve always believed that a bespoke deal is by far the best option but that we should be confident enough and prepared to walk away with no deal. This gives some steel in our negotiating position. I am pleased that the government has recognised the need to build on the work that they have already been doing to prepare for a no deal scenario. It is the responsible thing to do in continuing preparations for a range of potential outcomes. There is only a short time before we are due to conclude talks so the government has agreed to step up such preparations.

This is not a perfect deal by any stretch of the imagination and there is much more to examine and to achieve. The common rulebook means that we don’t end up with a clean break from the EU. However in talks with businesses, it is clear that many will continue to keep to the EU rulebook anyway in order to keep their existing trading arrangements in place. We are not restricting ourselves in our services-based economy which represents 80% of our GDP and the vast majority of future opportunities. We will be aiming for arrangements on financial services that preserve the mutual benefits of integrated markets and protect financial stability. Much of the pipeline of regulation of financial services markets is on a global basis. These ties are not ideal but help get formalised access and move us on. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and get this deal done. The next stage will be to see if Michel Barnier can accept this, since we are cracking open a gap on the EU’s four treasured pillars of freedoms, the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour, but he would be well advised to understand the consequences of rejection. Whereas he is the custodian of the EU ideology, the leaders of the 27 member states will have far more of a view of the effect on jobs, prosperity and the political climate in their own countries if the 6th largest economy walks away.

Having campaigned to leave, I take my responsibility for getting through this seriously. So if you are taking a view, take the time to look at the whole picture first. It’s complicated, hence this isn’t a tweet or a Facebook post. People may be distracted (rightly) by the World Cup and getting Brexit fatigue but at this stage it’s about detail. The Prime Minister has done a remarkable job in the most difficult circumstances. There is enough in this proposal for me to back her and I look forward to the White Paper on Thursday.

Launch of the Coalition for Global Prosperity

Launch of the Coalition for Global Prosperity

As part of my work on the International Development Select Committee, I was delighted to attend the launch of the Coalition for Global Prosperity (CPG).

The Coalition for Global Prosperity brings together political, military, business and faith leaders who believe that an effective development budget, alongside an active diplomatic and defence strategy, keeps Britain at the forefront of saving lives, alleviating poverty and bringing freedom, security and prosperity to those who need it most.

I enjoyed hearing more about the Coalition’s work and listening to addresses from Rt Hon David Cameron, UK Prime Minister 2010-2016, Penny Mordaunt MP, Secretary of State for International Development, Major General James Cowan, CEO of the HALO Trust and former major general, Becky Platt, NHS nurse and member of the UK Emergency Medical Team, Simon Bishop, Chair of the Coalition for Global Prosperity and Theo Clarke, Chief Executive of the Coalition for Global Prosperity.

I believe Britain is a force for good in the world, and UK Aid is a big part of that. Like the CPG, I believe UK Aid makes Britain, and indeed the wider world, safer, healthier and better off.

Find out more about their work here.

Supporting Carers Week 2018

Supporting Carers Week 2018

I attended a Carers Week speed networking event with carers and charities in Westminster, pledging my support to unpaid carers locally.

The event was in support of Carers Week, to celebrate and recognise the vital contribution made by the 6.5 million people across the UK who currently provide care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, illness, mental health problem or who needs extra help as they grow older.

It matched up MPs and carers to share experiences of caring and the support they need to take care of their own mental and physical health and well-being.

Eight national charities have come together to call for urgent support for unpaid carers to be Healthy and Connected as new research released at the start of Carers Week reveals the toll that caring can take on many carers’ own health and wellbeing.

I was delighted to be able to show my support for the carers in my constituency at the Carers Week event and I pledge to support the 8,801 carers in Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park through my work in Parliament. Unpaid carers make a huge contribution to our society, providing vital and often hidden support to friends and family members, and it is right that we value them and ensure they have the right support at the right time. I look forward to working with the Carers Week charities, and, with unpaid carers, locally, to make a difference to their lives.

Heléna Herklots CBE, Chief Executive of Carers UK, on behalf of Carers Week, said: “Without the unpaid care provided every year by family and friends, our health and care services would collapse. Yet, caring for a loved one too often means carers neglect their own mental and physical health.Finding the time and space to be healthy, get enough sleep and maintain relationships with others are all huge challenges identified by carers. By working together during Carers Week we have a huge opportunity to make our communities more Carer Friendly and make a difference to those who contribute so much.”

Carers Week 2018 is made possible by Carers UK joining forces with Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, MS Society and Which? Elderly Care and kindly supported by Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition.

For further information visit www.carersweek.org.

Launch of the ‘Red Bag’ Scheme

Launch of the ‘Red Bag’ Scheme

I was delighted to attend the parliamentary launch of the ‘red bag’ scheme.

The Hospital Transfer pathway, often known as ‘Red bag’ is a simple initiative that is helping to improve communication between care homes and hospitals at all points of the resident’s journey. It keeps important information about a care home resident’s health in one place, easily accessible to ambulance and hospital staff. This facilitates a smoother and more efficient handover between care home, ambulance and hospital staff, and reduces unnecessary delays in the patient journey.

I am also so proud that Sutton has had a leading role in inspiring this to come about.

In 2015, the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, the Sutton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and local care homes in Sutton got together to form the Sutton Vanguard.

Shortly after, they came up with the ‘red bag’ to allow patients to have all their medical notes, clothes, etc, in one place to help get vulnerable and elderly people the treatment they need and get them home as soon as possible.

Three years later and the Minister of State for Care, Caroline Dinenage MP, has launched it in Parliament to promote this being implemented more widely across the country.

We should all be so proud that this excellent initiative started here in Sutton and means more people can get home from hospital sooner.

HGVs Update

HGVs Update

I was pleased to meet with officers from Sutton Council and Transport for London (TfL) on Gander Green Lane to look at the ongoing problem of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs).

This is an issue that I have been working on since before I was first elected in 2015. A link road between the A24 and A217 was planned many years ago to allow traffic to flow without causing disturbance to residents, particularly on Gander Green Lane. However, with subsequent development, this is now seemingly impossible.

Therefore, I have been working to get HGVs trying to access the Kimpton Industrial Estate off of Gander Green Lane. A report was commissioned in 2016, which agreed that this was an issue and pointed particularly to the issue of the signage on Gander Green Lane being a problem.

However, progress has been slow.

On 3rd May 2018, I was delighted that Jed Dwight, Param Nandha and Ryan Stoneman were elected as the Conservative councillors for Stonecot. They have been working on this issue with me and have also been raising this as a concern of local residents.

Last Friday I met with Councillor Jed Dwight and Councillor Ryan Stoneman, Chairman of KIPPA BID, Colin Newton, along with officials from Sutton Council and TfL, with our local Conservative London Assembly Member, Steve O’Connell, to push for action.

I was pleased to hear TfL and the Council agree that signage was an issue and to go away and look at how this can be improved.

I will keep local residents updated along with Councillors Jed Dwight, Param Nandha and Ryan Stoneman.

Challenging Train Timetable Chaos

Challenging Train Timetable Chaos

The timetable changes across the country’s rail network was always going to be a challenge, with every scheduled train being reviewed rather than just piecemeal changes. However this was made an impossible task causing more misery for commuters by the seeming lack of preparation for this mammoth job. I raised the issue with the Secretary of State for Transport in Parliament last week but also had a chance to sit down with a representative from GTR, the train operating company that runs both Southern and Thameslink.

It would seem from both my feedback and his data that Thameslink is the service that has been particularly affected by these changes. The long term benefits to our part of the network of the new timetable were a reduction in the time to turn trains around, splitting and attaching them, especially at East Croydon. Network Rail co-ordinate all the timetabling supplied by the various operators and give final approval to the National Planning Process with around 12 weeks to go, thus allowing the companies three months to prepare. For some reason this was delayed until only three weeks before the changes. This meant that some infrastructure was not completed, some changes to depots were not in place and crucially the drivers’ programmes could not be completed in time.

This programme is completed in three stages. Firstly, the operator would work out how many drivers were needed in each depot so as to minimise travelling times at the beginning and end of shifts. Sometimes two or three drivers were being transported on a single train. Of course, if that is delayed, that has a knock-on effect on each of the services meant to be led by the drivers stuck on the train. Secondly, the drivers would have their ‘diagrams’, their overall shift routes, again to ensure they were as efficient as possible. This would be ‘optimised’, reviewed closely six or seven times to make sure they haven’t missed anything and only then would the drivers receive route-specific training should it be required. It is a safety requirement as laid down by the unions that a driver can only drive on routes that they have specifically been trained on, to familiarise themselves with signals, junctions, hazards etc. This training is typically around six accompanied trips in each direction along each route.

In trying to run a full service and train drivers, this is doubling up on the resources required, taking trained drivers off their job to bring on others so the problems are likely to go on for quite some time. New drivers are coming on stream each week, with GTR giving priority to the drivers who are already some way along their training. Whereas in previous years, GTR have had a chronic shortage of drivers, they now just about have enough, but not with the right training for the reasons explained.

GTR have been cancelling a number of services the day before which is clearly inconvenient enough. However, they are still having to cancel up to 150 services on the day itself which is causing even more frustration. My worry is that with the emergency timetable not due to be stable until mid-July, the overall situation is unlikely to improve for some time to come. One of the worst situations that affects constituents in Sutton is the total cancellation of the Wimbledon loop trains at peak times. I’ve raised this issue forcefully because it just cannot be acceptable for people whose livelihoods are dependent on getting to work on time should be put out with few realistic alternatives. GTR carry out a ‘gap analysis’ to try to minimise such lengthy gaps without a service so I will continue to push to ensure that this very significant gap is filled quickly. Because of this analysis it is always helpful when people are raising the matter of trains with me to let me know which services in particular they are most affected by. I’ve been complaining to and about GTR for some years now but in order to get each part right in the short term, the more focused I can be, the more productive the complaint I hope.

I welcome the Glaister review into how the process became such a shambles. I cannot believe that no-one decided to postpone the changes until the operators were ready, whatever the original reasons for the delay in approval. However it’s not feasible to go back to the original timetables now as all of the other services around the country that are less or not affected by the situation would be dragged into the problem. But at least we will get some answers. However as a commuter myself, I think that most people are less interested in which bit of the industry is to blame and more interested in us concentrating on getting their train running on time. I will continue to work to that end.