As the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Brunei I was concerned to read about the next level of the Sharia Penal Code that has been recently introduced in Brunei. I visited the country last November meeting the Sultan and a number of ministers and key advisers to discuss existing and developing trading links that date back for many years. The recent additions to the Penal Code had not come into force at that point.
Both Jeremy Hunt as Foreign Secretary and Penny Mordaunt as Secretary of State for Women & Equalities have taken a strong line on this matter with the Foreign Secretary tweeting after a meeting with his Bruneian counterpart: “Just had the Bruneian foreign minister to my office to drive home the UK’s shock at new Sharia law. We work well together on many issues, but profoundly disagree on this. His suggestion that Sharia prosecutions are in practice unlikely is not acceptable: everyone should be free to be who they are and love who they want.”
I share these concerns wholeheartedly and know that we will all continue to speak out at every level of government. Some petitioners have suggested that we seek to expel Brunei from the Commonwealth, some that we refuse to trade with them. However in my experience, I have found that engagement works better than boycotts, sanctions and megaphone diplomacy. As Commonwealth members we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions, but we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality. We need to be at the heart of influencing countries, not on their overall governance, but on their approach to human rights.
It was clear from the moment the Government invoked article 50 that any agreement would likely come about late in the process. This has always been the way the EU has negotiated and whilst Parliament has pulled itself apart rather than coalescing around a single vision, Michel Barnier and his team have felt little pressure to offer the Government enough to get the deal over the line.
Until now we have seen a majority of Parliament working against Brexit. The LibDems and the SNP have wanted to pretend that the referendum never happened using a second referendum as a final throw of the die to undo the 2016 result. The Labour leadership just want a General Election. Jeremy Corbyn could write his own deal and still vote against it because of his single minded party political approach. Thus the Conservatives have been the only party looking to achieve an end in the country’s best interest although clearly there are a range of options as to what that end should be.
So we end up after two years approaching the end game; the crunch votes which will see if we get Brexit at all or not. Having campaigned and voted to leave, I voted for the original Withdrawal Agreement as I was and remain worried about the possibility that those of us who battled to get to this point could end up as heroic losers.
Although the default legislative position is that we leave with no deal in the absence of an agreement, there seems to be a clear majority in the House to avoid no deal at all costs. I’ve been clear that I would much rather leave in an orderly fashion with a deal but would be prepared to leave with no deal as long as we have tried everything to secure one first. The best way to tackle any short term turbulence and prosper after has to be by retaining as much goodwill as possible with our nearest trading partners.
But taking No Deal off the table is madness. That would be like someone trying to negotiate a lower price from an estate agent whilst their spouse is behind them measuring up the curtains and holding colour charts up to the walls in full view of the smirking agent. EU member states would like us to remain, albeit not at any cost, so the prospect of sufficient flexibility on the backstop to get the deal across the line diminishes each time a senior MP talks down the UK’s willingness to walk away from the negotiating table.
Leaving on WTO terms will cause disruption for a number of reasons. Firstly WTO terms by its very definition only covers trade, not security or other areas of co-operation so other deals would need to be negotiated as soon as possible. The government has released its latest impact assessment of a No-Deal Brexit expressing concerns about the serious impacts it will have on the UK. We will overcome these in time, should it go on for long. However I am not convinced we will be in no-deal territory for a protracted period. With the clock running down, both sides are eyeballing each other waiting for one to blink and change position. The UK hopes the EU will learn the lesson of the Cameron renegotiation when their reluctance to give him any more than a fig leaf, probably tipped the referendum result to a leave vote. The EU hope we will back down and not walk away without a deal.
However after March 29th, the EU have nothing further to push if they want to see us pay the full amount of recompense outlined in the Withdrawal Agreement and avoid any mitigating budget changes the Chancellor may consider to keep our economy competitive which will likely come at a cost to the EU, especially our nearest neighbours. A revised deal will likely come back within weeks and agreed. If this should transpire, we will need to be creative to ensure that the UK doesn’t lose out in a war of attrition during this period. But there is simply no need to test this theory. We can keep on the road to securing an ambitious free trade deal with the EU and get on with grabbing the opportunities that I voted for when I put a cross in the Leave box, by voting for the Withdrawal Agreement tonight. The second stage of negotiations can turn an imperfect deal into a good one as long as we show the real ambition that Global Britain is all about.
I wish that the EU negotiating team had made this so much easier by showing just a bit of flexibility, recognising the problematic nature of the backstop and making enough change to get the DUP and Conservative leavers to support it. Although the extra legally-binding assurances about the backstop are helpful. Despite the selective reading of the Attorney General’s legal advice by many which has only focused on the last paragraph rather than taking in the whole document, there are three key points about this latest change.
- The improved deal has a new, legally binding commitment, with comparable legal weight to the Withdrawal Agreement, that the EU cannot try to apply the backstop permanently… and the UK could ultimately suspend the backstop if they did.
- The legally binding text also says the UK and EU will work on Alternative Arrangements to replace the backstop by December 2020… so the backstop need never come into force
- The UK Government will make a Unilateral Declaration that if the backstop comes into use and discussions on our future relationship break down so that there is no prospect of subsequent agreement, it is the position of the UK that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately end the backstop.
Failure to leave will be a disaster on so many fronts, not least the prospect of any meaningful reforms to the institution that we will have chained ourselves to for years to come.
Having waited for Brexit for decades, the prospect is just days away. Rather than risk losing this prize, we must grab our chance, get through the open door and run towards freedom.
A considerable number of my constituents in Sutton have been in touch with me regarding the proposals for the borough-wide Controlled Parking Zone which Sutton Council are consulting on. The important date is 16th December when this closes so it is vital if you haven’t expressed your view you do so before then via the link below:
Sutton has a very high level of car ownership, due in part to us being an outer London borough which doesn’t have the high levels of public transport like an area closer to London would have and this policy has the potential to significantly affect the way many people in this borough go about their day-to-day lives whether it be commuting to work, getting their children to school or going out to the shops.
This type of scheme has been pushed by the council before in the Wallington area around the station when I was a councillor before becoming an MP. I campaigned against it as a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It gained a significant amount of opposition from residents to be ultimately rejected. I have concerns about the way this particular scheme is being rolled out in terms of the lack of consultation that I’ve heard about from those who’ve contacted me and also concern about whether the number of permits and their price will change from what is initially offered. Whilst the aim of reducing overall emissions in the borough from vehicles is a noble one, I’m sceptical that using a CPZ to do this will alleviate the problem and cause further problems to residents that use car regularly, particularly if they use a car as part of their business. The Council seem to be wanting to charge residents for their parked cars which clearly won’t be emitting anything, thus encouraging them to drive during the day.
I do appreciate that there are some areas mentioned in this group which appear to need some form of parking control, however there are plenty of other areas across the borough, particularly in the Sutton West and South wards, that do not need a controlled parking zone at all, there isn’t a strong case for it happening and it’s therefore crucial that if you oppose this happening to register your view.
I’ll be working closely with the councillors in those wards such as Cllr Lily Bande, Cllr Catherine Gray as well as Cllrs Tony Shields and Tim Crowley who have been in turn working with residents such as Sandra Ackland to raise awareness of what is going on and for as many views to be inputted as possible and I’ll continue to take on board what’s been fed back to me from residents in Sutton.
I was visiting refugee camps in Kenya when the Cabinet meeting was called to discuss the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement. So I quietly read a copy of the Agreement thousands of miles away from the febrile atmosphere in Parliament, dipping in and out of the media coverage when I had WiFi. This meant I was able to concentrate on the detail; the facts rather than the gossip and speculation. This is way more complicated than the empty hackneyed phrases vassal state and cliff-edge tripped out by the people chasing a perfect Brexit that doesn’t exist and those who want to wake up and pretend the referendum never happened.
I campaigned and voted to leave. I take my responsibility very seriously to ensure that the UK sees this through and leaves but in the most orderly way possible. I had already come to the conclusion that I would vote for this imperfect deal, one that is at the very cusp of what I could support, but the vote in Parliament at the beginning of the five days of debate has cemented in my mind the fact that if this deal does not go through then Brexit itself is at severe risk. It is clear that the division runs through the country and in the constituency. That means I’ll lose the support of plenty of people whatever I do next week. My sole thought process is for the good of the country – not my career, not my party or the Prime Minister – although a Jeremy Corbyn-led government will also have a hugely negative impact on the country as a whole. This deal is going to be tough if not impossible to get through Parliament but the likely alternatives are so much worse, mainly because of Parliamentary arithmetic. As US President, Lyndon Baines Johnson said, the first rule of politics is to be able to count. The arithmetic if this deal doesn’t go through leads to an end point that in no way respects the referendum result.
I’ll try to go through my reasons in turn, though this may quickly become dated if the pace of events continues at the same speed until the vote on Tuesday.
There are a key list of factors as to why I and 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU in June 2016, some of which mattered to people more than others. Just about all to my mind get sorted within the deal on the table
- Leaving the political institutions of the EU – We won’t have the EU Commission, the EU Parliament, the European Central Bank looking over us in the future. We will leave the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. The European Court of Justice will not have an effect on people in the UK apart from having a say on citizens rights for the next 8 years and interpretation of EU law in disputes. Politicians in Westminster will be the ones that will remain accountable for UK laws.
- No more huge membership fees – These end when we leave on 29th March 2019. Neither will we be under threat of having to contribute to bailouts within the Eurozone – something which we should not have been having to do anyway but still ended up paying.
- The end of Freedom of Movement of People – This ends with the implementation period so we will be able to move towards a fairer, better controlled immigration system.
- The ability to strike our own independent trade deals – We will be able to negotiate trade deals but crucially we will not be able to implement them until we leave the implementation period and eliminate the Irish backstop
So to my mind the deal satisfies the vast majority of tests to respect the referendum result. But there are clearly drawbacks.
- The Irish Backstop – In order to satisfy the argument that has arisen about the EU being able to protect the integrity of its Customs Union, it is insisting on an insurance policy to make sure that if a future trading agreement cannot be thrashed out with the UK, goods can’t be imported without checks from the UK. Some people are saying that we should not have a backstop at all. The political reality is that after a year of both sides whipping up the Backstop, there is no way that suddenly Michel Barnier is going to say, yes the UK is right, let’s forget all the stuff we have been talking about for the last year. The Irish Taioseach, Leo Varadkar has no majority in the Irish Dail. If the backstop is removed, his government will almost certainly fall so his domestic agenda dictates that he takes a hard line on this. All of this despite the EU, the Irish and the UK saying that they do not want to erect a hard border between Ireland and the UK.
- Bringing an end to the Irish Backstop – The only way to get rid of this insurance policy is through a Joint Committee made up of equal numbers of representatives from the UK and the EU who will decide when circumstances are such that it is no longer required. This will be likely through a new Free Trade Agreement which uses a combination of technology and other methods to satisfy both sides that rigorous border checks are not needed. The UK cannot unilaterally decide to leave (neither can the EU) as it would no longer be an effective insurance policy. They cannot put an expiry date on the backstop because again, this would not work as an insurance policy so it has to work on trust and negotiation. It’s clear why the UK would want to get out of the Backstop as soon as possible but less known is why the EU find it unpalatable and will want to negotiate in good faith to move on and scrap it. The Backstop means that Northern Ireland gets full access to the EU market but unlike its Southern neighbour, it doesn’t have to pay a membership fee for the privilege nor allow the Freedom of Movement. This breaks one of the four key pillars that until now have been sacrosanct for the EU (Freedom of Movement of goods, services, capital and labour). The EU do not believe that the backstop would stand up to scrutiny in a court after a couple of years, as it would have been set up under Article 50 which only deals with withdrawal terms, thus only temporary measures, not permanent solutions. Therefore the backstop cannot be open-ended. Actually it may be illegal in itself even on day one should it be tested in court. UPDATE: A couple of interesting articles that go into this in more detail are from Stephen Booth of Open Europe and Bruno Waterfield a Brussels-based journalist writing for the Times. The Attorney General’s legal advice states that the Protocol does not contain a mechanism to ensure that the backstop doesn’t keep the UK in the Customs Territory indefinitely but this is advice on a narrow point. It is clear to everyone that the Protocol itself does not cover this point so as to protect the comprehensive cover for both parties. It does not cover the aspect of the issue regarding how to deal with permanent conditions imposed via a clause meant only to cover temporary transitional arrangements.
- Common rulebook on goods – The Political Declaration suggests that our future relationship with the EU will have many of the hallmarks of Chequers which would tie us down to adhere to the EU rules on goods and agrifoods crossing UK/EU borders. This will undoubtedly limit some of the trade deals that we can do but the rules and regulations within this area are quite mature. The rulebook has not changed in a meaningful way for the last thirty years and many major multinational companies have indicated that they will be unlikely to diverge anyway. Most companies will see no negative effect and some may be left with the status quo.
- Agreeing to the £39bn divorce bill up front – This will have an impact on our negotiating position as our money is a significant hand for us to play. However it’s not quite as strong as might be thought on first sight. Part of this is made up of the amount that we will be paying during the transition period. Based on current membership fees, that’s an estimated £16bn or 40%. Much of the rest is made up of what the UK agrees are its financial obligations which we will almost certainly pay anyway so as not to be seen as an unreliable partner. Failure to do so will clearly have a big effect on our ongoing relationship with our biggest trading market and other countries looking in.
So what are the other options rather than this imperfect deal?
- Leave on WTO terms (No Deal) – This is the default position according to Article 50 if we cannot reach agreement with the EU about our future relationship. I am comfortable with this as a Plan B as long as we have properly prepared. Some people have wanted to do this from day one but that doesn’t stand up intellectually. Why would we be in a mad rush to arrange Free Trade Agreements around the world but not even try to do one with our nearest and biggest trading bloc. It is a different matter if we have tried and fail to reach an agreement. I believe that should the Government fail to pass the Withdrawal Agreement next Tuesday, we need to go back to Brussels on Wednesday and not only escalate the contingency planning for leaving with no deal but start talks with the EU on bilateral agreements in plenty of time, on such matters such as the Open Skies agreement to keep our planes flying in and out of EU airspace and suchlike. I have no truck with the millenium bug style doomsday talk but we do need to get on with this if it is to remain a viable option.Leaving without a deal, if planned correctly, will be fine in the medium to long term and may bring a more equitable approach to negotiations with the EU likely to come back to the table to address the competitive advantage that we could gain in trade with other countries.However it will cause short term turbulence however well we plan. I remember the year that we left the ERM was also the year I bought my house which lost one-third of its value within 12 months. I’m still in the same house so it has had no effect on me whatsoever but others were devastated in the resulting turmoil suffering increased debt and repossession. It’s all very well for people to say it will be okay in the end but I have to vote on what is best for the country across the board and will ensure my thought process keeps people’s jobs and families very much in my mind. Therefore I have it as an option but nowhere near my default position. It would seem that this possibility has been diminished anyway as a result of votes in Parliament just this week.On Tuesday an amendment that was moved by Dominic Grieve and passed by Parliament, thus defeating the Government, made a No Deal scenario far less of a possibility in my view. If the deal on the table is voted down next Tuesday, any successive vote on that or another deal can be amended. Basically this means that a largely Remain supporting Parliament can start to take the initiative on Brexit including pushing hard for No deal not to be on the agenda. It’s not straightforward by any means but there is a thumping majority in Parliament to move against a No Deal scenario.
- EEA/EFTA (Norway) – Nick Boles MP has pushed the idea of the UK moving into the existing economic model called the European Economic Area which is a looser arrangement than that of the 28 member states. However in recent days he seems to have changed his proposal from being a temporary measure whilst negotiating our own bespoke trading arrangement to one that we will be in for the long term. This is a much softer Brexit than the current deal, taking rules from the EU for the long term; paying a membership fee and still having to keep Freedom of Movement of People.
- Canada +++ – This is a much looser free trade agreement which is my preference in theory where we don’t have equivalence in standards and qualifications which need to be checked. Instead there is mutual recognition, a level of trust between two mature economies that each have similar standards, perhaps through different methods. However at this particular point in time, I do not believe that we are in a position to step into such an arrangement. This deal does not exclude moving our negotiating position for the future relationship to such an ambitious approach. I said that this was my preference in theory but this is real life. I have to be pragmatic. The EU are nowhere near this as an option. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk claimed he would offer us Canada +++. What he omitted to say was that this would only be for Great Britain, not Northern Ireland which would then need to be carved out and treated separately whilst this arrangement was in place. What he was claiming was Canada+++ was very different from the expectations of many here in the UK.
- A Second Referendum – I led a Petitions Committee debate on this last Monday which you can watch here. We had a clear decision taken on a simple and clear question. The referendum had a high turnout and 17.4m voting to leave was the highest number of people voting for anything in a UK plebiscite in our country’s history. It’s just not acceptable to keep revisiting the same point – one reason why many voted to leave the EU in the first place after they pushed Ireland twice to vote again on the Nice and Lisbon Treaties and Denmark once on Maastricht because they didn’t get the result they wanted. The vast majority of those wanting to hold a second referendum are not seeking clarity, they are seeking to reverse the result as borne out by the LibDems twitter hashtag #ExitfromBrexit. It’s incredibly disingenuous for them to claim otherwise. Campaigners are the same people who claimed the original referendum was divisive, yet here they are wanting to do it all again as if it was suddenly a healing exercise. The government stated during the referendum that they would respect the result of the referendum, 499 MPs voted to invoke Article 50 and 80% of the electorate that voted in 2017 voted for parties whose manifesto commitments included respecting the result and leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. We have moved on a long way since the view that the referendum was only advisory. Failing to respect the will of the people would be disastrous. Too many people have spent time trying to unpick the original result and point fingers elsewhere rather than understanding why people felt so strongly about wanting to leave.There are obvious problems with the process of arranging a second referendum. There is no realistic prospect of getting the legislation through Parliament to then put the arrangements in place to have a referendum before the 29th March. If Article 50 was to be extended to allow for this, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act would also need amending as it states that the Treaty of Rome would have no place in UK law after 29th March. There is no agreement on what the question might be. One school of thought is that it could be a two answer question without Remain on the ballot paper as the fact that we are leaving was determined back in 2016. This has a certain logic but doesn’t suit the campaigners who just don’t want to leave at all. Another is to have three answers to choose from – Government Deal, No Deal or Remain. Now imagine what might happen should Remain win with 40% of the vote. 60% of the votes will have gone to the two leave options but the clear majority of people will have been trumped by a minority. The constitutional bear traps are huge. Before we even get there, the ill-will that so many people will feel that their voice has been ignored the first time around will be palpable as articulated by the Archbishop of York this week who expressed concern that it could lead to civil unrest.
- No Brexit – Until this week, I had thought that the only way that this could be achieved would be to extend Article 50 to a point in the future far enough ahead to make it all but staying. However this week, an Advocate-General of the European Court of Justice gave his opinion that Article 50 could be unilaterally pulled by the UK, thus cancelling Brexit entirely. It is only an opinion but the ECJ tends to follow this in its judgement. Therefore, in the unlikely but possible scenario of another quick General Election and perhaps a change of government, withdrawing our Article 50 notice is a possibility, thus leading to Brexit being cancelled entirely, another domesday scenario in terms of our democracy.
As you will have noticed, I don’t find any of the above particularly palatable with only the No Deal scenario being vaguely acceptable which leaves us back to the deal on the table, realistically the only game in town. I would rather there be no backstop. I would rather we could find another way to have a more liberal approach to goods so as to have more extensive trade deals with other countries. The former is just not realistic at this point of the negotiations. The latter is still possible as we haven’t even started our trading arrangement talks yet beyond the broad points included in the Political Declaration. That is because we accepted the EU’s sequencing of talks a full two years ago. So we have had to get our divorce arrangements in place first and have to wait until we are out and considered a third country until we can start our trade talks.
The bad news for those who are bored of Brexit is that we are only halfway through. However it means that it will be the result of the second half that determines whether this compromise deal becomes a good deal. Therefore we need to change our approach. I have been incredibly frustrated and disappointed by the paucity of ambition in Parliament when it comes to asserting the opportunities that lay ahead for the UK. Instead, the divided nature of the House and the fact that the government have been open to questioning and debate at length in the Chamber, means that the argument has been pulled in all sorts of directions. The Liberal Democrats and SNP just want to stay in the EU at all costs. The Labour party want a General Election rather than worrying about the pros and cons of any Brexit deal. Much of the debate has been based on fear of an independent future rather than the prospects of an agile buccaneering approach to trade that allows us to continue our work with our neighbours whilst renewing our relationships with Commonwealth countries; building up trade with the growth economies in Asia and rediscovering free trade with the US and South America. We have so much going for us here in the UK. I’ve never gone down the line of other countries needing us more than we need them. Yes trade should be a competition but sustainable trade is done best in partnership.
Therefore I want the next stage to be negotiated in a different way. Instead of carrying on the talks with a small team centred around the Prime Minister, I believe the PM should clearly oversee and lead the process but the Brexit Secretary should have the task of negotiating all of the co-operation matters such as security, research, data protection and the Secretary of State for International Trade should be putting the extensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU in place. We have an excellent, highly-experienced trade negotiator sitting in the wings. Crawford Falconer, working for Dr Liam Fox is dealing with all of the FTAs around the world apart from the biggest- that with the EU. Having these three leading members of the government bringing together the best such as Crawford, will instill a bit more trust in the process and uses our talent much better. The Political Declaration doesn’t specify the Chequer’s option. I was concerned to read in the original Political Declaration that talks would build on the backstop as I want to see the backstop gone in time, not just rehashed but I note that the wording has changed in its second, more extensive iteration to read build on and improve. This needs to include technological solutions to avoid the need for extra checks and a border so we can concentrate on the wider matters, not just one small but important part of the country.
The deal in front of us is Brexit. It’s not all immediate but frankly it was never going to be. It’s so much more than ‘Brexit in Name Only’ (BRINO). But there is a risk in accepting this deal. We will have signed off the payment of our final payment; a backstop which requires joint agreement to end and some areas of trade where we will be limited in liberalising through FTAs but I believe this is a risk worth taking. It is certainly a lower risk than not supporting the deal and seeing a second referendum or worse still, the revocation of Article 50 leading to no Brexit at all. This can be a solid foundation as long as we keep our resolve and push on with ambition, determination and a rediscovered sense of national unity. So I ask people (especially my colleagues in Parliament) to set aside their egos, preconceptions, any sense of mistrust and come together, frankly even if it’s whilst holding your nose, to support the deal and get to the stage when we can actually leave the European Union. Then we can move on, securing our future relationship with the European Union; to start healing the divisions that we have seen across the country; restoring the bandwidth both in government and in the media to return to debating crucial domestic matters and start bearing the fruits of this hard-earned independence.
Sutton United’s league, The National League has chosen leading men’s health charity Prostate Cancer UK as its first ever official charity partner, to unite in the fight against the UK’s most prevalent male cancer…
In a first for English football a national football league will change its branding mid-season. Vanarama, the title sponsor of the National League, has changed its name to MANarama throughout the month of September to raise awareness of a deadly cancer that kills one man every 45 minutes.
The rebranding to the MANarama National League features a striking new league logo to highlight their support for Prostate Cancer UK – and Vanarama’s own site has also been completely rebranded to reflect its commitment to a fundraising drive which will see them aim to raise £150,000.
A new captain’s armband, which will be worn by all MANARAMA National League club captains on Non-League Day on Saturday, October 13th has also been unveiled. The 34 matches, including Sutton’s away match at Bohemians will see all skippers proudly displaying the unique bright orange band, which includes the iconic Prostate Cancer UK logo, to illustrate their clubs’ united stand against the most common cancer in men.
The league’s commercial partner Vanarama has also pledged to raise £150,000 in just 43 days from a vehicle-leasing incentive that runs across September, as they tell the nation to ‘lease a van, save a man‘. Vanarama and its newly-launched car leasing platform, Motorama, will donate £50 for every vehicle leased from the start of September until Non-League Day, when a cheque will be presented on October 13th at FC Halifax Town vs Chesterfield live on BT Sport. From September 1 until Non-League day 688 men will die from prostate cancer, emphasising the need to act.
On board with Non-League Day for the fifth time, Prostate Cancer UK raised £15,000 last year as more than 50 clubs joined the fight against the deadliest opponent of all, and this year’s day is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever with clubs from across the Non-League pyramid joining forces in a jam-packed day of activity.
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.