The ‘Meaningful Vote’ 

As you might know, back in July I moved from the Government Whip’s Office to the position of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU).

Some would say I was destined to end up in this Department. After first standing for Parliament in 1997, I was elected as a Member of the European Parliament in 1999, where I remained for ten years prior to being elected to represent the constituency of Daventry in 2010.

On being elected to Parliament I became the Chair of the, now famous, European Research Group (ERG) and helped set up the Fresh Start Project along with my colleagues Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice. Those who have followed my political life will know that I have always been in favour of reforming our relationship with the EU. The Fresh Start Group was established to examine the options for a new UK-EU relationship, set out what this new relationship could look like and establish a process for achieving reform.

As you know, during the referendum I campaigned to leave. I believed it would be in the best interests of my constituents and my country. I haven’t for one second changed my mind.

In an open letter I wrote to constituents in May of 2016, I outlined the four reasons why I would be campaigning to leave. They were democracy, trade, money and immigration. If you would like to see a copy of this letter in full you can do so using the following link – https://tinyurl.com/yal6djnv

So, when I examined the deal the Prime Minister negotiated with our European partners I judged it on whether it achieved those aims. I will now go through each of these in turn and analyse whether they fulfil the principles and aims I campaigned on.

Democracy

In preparation for leaving the EU on the 29th March 2019, Parliament has already seen Bills being tabled and debated on subjects we have had no real say on for decades. The Fisheries Bill and Agriculture Bill are already before the House of Commons, soon to be followed by an Immigration Bill (which will determine whom we choose can come into our country to reside and work) and our first Environment Bill for 35 years.

The 28 unelected European Commissioners who have a huge say over how our country is governed will no longer have a role in our political landscape.

Yes, this deal does mean we are taking back control of our laws. We will no longer be part of this political club which lacks transparency and accountability.

Trade

The ‘Political Declaration’ agreed between us and the EU affirms a commitment to “respecting the result of the 2016 referendum including with regard to the development of its independent trade policy.” On top of this I know, from my Ministerial role in the Brexit Department, we are moving forward fast in negotiating trade deals for when we leave the EU - and of course, the ‘Political Declaration’ is essentially the framework of an ambitious and comprehensive trade deal with the European Union in the future.

Yes, this deal means we can negotiate trade deals and will take back our seat at the World Trade Organisation.

Money

The EU arranges its budgetary matters in 7-year agreements called ‘Multi-Annual Financial Frameworks’ (MFF) and the next MFF is due to start in 2021. When we signed up to the current MFF no one expected there to be a referendum on our EU Membership, let alone a decision to leave. Thus, as part of the deal for us leaving, we have said we will honour the monies we promised to pay until the new MFF comes into effect. This amount makes up the vast bulk of the £35-£39 billion figure you see in the papers described as the cost of our leaving. We will not be needing to pay these monies from when we leave - the only monies we will pay is those we agree to as part of becoming ‘Associate Members’ of European Agencies we choose to join and various other liabilities for pensions etc.

Yes, this deal means we won’t be sending billions of pounds to the EU each year and instead this money can be spent at home on our priorities, like investing in our long-term plan for the NHS.

Immigration

Again, as the ‘Political Declaration’ states: “while respecting the result of the 2016 referendum including (…) ending of free movement of people between the Union and the United Kingdom.” The declaration also describes what this means in some detail. One of the main reasons we need a new ‘Immigration Bill’ is because, for the first time in decades, we will be choosing who can enter, reside and work in our country. It will be a massive and controversial debate and one I’ll be talking about a lot as we move forward - but for now, I just want to make the obvious point: we can only have our own immigration policy if we have left the European Union.

Yes, we will be taking back control of our borders.

“So, if the deal does all this, why is there all the excitement and noise about MPs not voting for it?”

Actually, that is a simple question to answer!

The offer signed off by our EU partners a few days ago comes in two parts. The first part – the ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ ensures we leave the EU in a smooth and orderly manner on the 29th March next year and is legally binding. The second part, the ‘Political Declaration’, signed by the heads of government of all the 27 other EU Member States, the European Commission and the European Parliament, is a statement of intent which both affirms and shapes the direction of our future relationship.

The declaration plots the course to our new “economic partnership” with the EU coming into effect at the end of the transition period (31st December 2020) at the latest. Some say this is an ambitious timeline and so, last December, it was agreed that if it was not met, one option to avoid the EU’s Single Market being compromised at the Northern Irish border, would be a type of insurance policy - the “Northern Irish Backstop.”

The fact the ‘Political Declaration’ is not legally binding has caused the majority of the issues you’ll hear on most news programmes. However, it is impossible for it to ever be so. Quite understandably, the European Commission will not negotiate on anything that might affect the rules they protect with an existing EU Country whilst that country is an existing Member State. For example, it could not agree any changes to Freedom of Movement with us in a legally binding way until we have left otherwise every other Member State would be asking for rules they don’t like to be changed. Before you knew it, the Italians would be demanding to be allowed to make their own national budget, the French change agriculture rules and the Spanish wanting to rejig fishing laws. Potentially chaos would ensue.

Thus, the EU will only discuss the matters I mention above with us once we have formally left the Union on the 29th March, 2019.

There is an option in the “Withdrawal Agreement” to extend the transition period for a couple of years to stop this from happening, but the fear is it could suit the EU to have us taking laws from them indefinitely even though it has set out (in the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement) both sides would use their “best endeavours” to get a deal done ASAP.

So, if you step back and view the arguments, few MPs have an issue with the deal – their main concern is whether we trust our EU partners to act in good faith and deliver on the ‘Political Declaration’ in good time.

I can quite understand why many of my fellow Members of Parliament don’t trust the EU to do this; but my personal experience of the European Institutions means that whilst I do not want them to be making decisions for me or my country, I do trust them to keep their side of this deal; once agreed to and formally ratified by the European Council, European Parliament and European Commission. If they fail to keep their side of the bargain, they would destroy the credibility they have built with business and other governments on the world stage over the past decades and would have broken the terms of the ‘Best Endeavours’ clause of the Withdrawal Agreement, an international treaty.

To get to this point, where we have a deal on the table, has taken two years of negotiations.

Number 10 have constructed a table, to demonstrate the shortcomings and advantages of the various alternatives, please see the attached PDF.

However, we only have one negotiated deal on the table, one negotiated deal to vote upon, one negotiated deal agreed with all our European partners.

Whilst I doubt whether another deal would get through the negotiation process, I’m absolutely sure most people and business do not want the extra period of uncertainty that any new negotiation would bring.

Nearly everyone I meet, no matter how they voted in the referendum, now want a deal to be concluded allowing the country as a whole to move on. I agree.

Therefore, I will be supporting the Prime Minister’s deal struck with the European Union in the forthcoming ‘Meaningful Vote’ - it provides certainty for business, stability for our economy and delivers on the all the areas I campaigned for in the referendum in June 2016 and means we will be leaving the European Union once and for all on March 29th, 2019.

PS: the process by which Brexit can be stopped is becoming clearer. I am genuinely worried about the actions of those who wish to stop Brexit here in Parliament and over in Europe. The recent comments by a senior adviser to the ECJ that the UK can stop article 50 without EU approval has only strengthened this resolve. I’ll take the negotiated deal ahead of not leaving the EU every time.

Attachments

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The Brexit Deal Compared.pdf 71.34 KB