Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Why I'm backing the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement, and why I will continue to support Theresa May.

Unless you have read the entire Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and formed a view, or have made up your mind in advance of the publication, I will attempt to set out my reasons why I will vote for the proposed agreement and continue to support the Prime Minister.

In the past month I have knocked on more than 500 doors, from Haltwhistle to Prudhoe, Bellingham to Ponteland and plenty of places in between. I have also spoken at multiple business events and dinners, done several local coffee mornings, conducted surveys, held surgeries and received plenty of letters, and some emails on the subject of what we should do. 

From this, the message of the vast majority is clear: help the Prime Minister to get on with the job, and deliver a Brexit deal. To be frank this accords with the prevailing view expressed over the last year.

I think everyone accepts what an incredibly tough job Theresa May has. No Prime Minister since Churchill has faced such a difficult task. Despite this, she has managed to agree, in principle, the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, as well as the terms of our future relationship.

This puts us closer to a final Brexit deal than many people ever said she would manage. Yes, it is a compromise, but it is one that takes back control of our borders, our laws and our money while protecting jobs, security and the continuation of the United Kingdom. It delivers full market access for goods, economic certainty, and resolution of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. 

It is a pragmatic outcome that gives certainty to our employers and businesses, and protects jobs.
It is a deal that has been backed by a whole host of organisations and employers, from the established business organisations like the CBI to the Federation of Small Businesses, to local employers like Iceland Foods, the Royal Mail and BAE Systems. 

Views on Brexit are clearly not universal, and I have never pretended otherwise: some want to ignore the referendum result, and stay come what may. Others would prefer to leave with no deal.
I do not accept the first answer – in a democracy you accept the result. This cannot be the best of three. And whilst some argue that this is not sufficiently 'Brexit' - I again disagree. 

This deal will take us out of the EU on 29th March 2019. Not as far out as many MP's of all persuasions [and some members of the public] would like, but we will be out nonetheless.
The vast majority of the people I meet, and who contact me, are democrats, who respect the result, and want us to get a deal that gets the best outcome for the country. Almost everyone I spoke to has made the case that it is time to put the divisions of the referendum behind us. They respect the result and want an end to this.

It is also not good enough to simply knock the deal. I would say this very firmly to those who criticise it. The PM, Ministers and Civil Servants have worked long and hard to get us a pragmatic resolution of the many hundreds of issues that do need to be addressed as we go forward. Pretending that this process is simple - if only someone else were in charge - is naive.

For these, and many other reasons, that is why I will be supporting the Prime Minister’s deal when it comes before Parliament.

Some have cast doubts on the agreement that is it is either 'too much Brexit' or 'not enough Brexit', and both the Prime Minister and Number 10 Downing Street has gone through those doubts line by line to try and assuage concerns. To assist I will set out some of these below;

The Prime Minister's statement word for word to the House of Commons last Thursday is here:

The simple explanation of the Withdrawal Agreement is found here.

The simple explanation of the Political Agreement is here.

If you want to read the whole agreement it is here.

On Sunday, Stephen Barclay, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union - who campaigned for Brexit in 2016 - has set out why this is a good deal for Britain in the Sunday Express. Stephen explains how it is one that delivers on the result of the referendum, but lets us focus on the big domestic issues facing our country. You can read his article here

I have included more details on the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration below:

The Withdrawal Agreement:
  • Protects the rights of more than three million EU citizens living in the UK and around one million UK nationals living in the EU.
  • Gives us a time-limited implementation period that provides a bridge to the future relationship, allowing businesses to continue trading as now until the end of 2020.
  • Provides a fair financial settlement for UK taxpayers.
  • Ensures no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, with a UK-wide backstop respecting the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK. This agreement legally commits both sides to use their best endeavours to ensure the backstop is never used. If either side fails to do so, this could be referred to an independent arbitration panel.
  • This includes a mechanism which either the UK or the EU can trigger to review the arrangements, which could ultimately lead to the backstop ceasing to apply.

The Political Declaration:
  • Ends free movement of people such that we will have a new skills-based immigration system, which this country controls.
  • Provides for a free trade area and deep cooperation on goods, with zero tariffs and quotas.
  • Gives the UK the ability to strike new trade deals around the world.
  • Calls for ambitious arrangements for services and investment, alongside new arrangements on financial services. 
  • Contains new and specific arrangements on digital, covering a wide-range of areas, reflecting the growth and prominence of global digital trade.
  • Ensures the UK will be an independent coastal state, with commitments to ensure sustainable fishing levels and a new fisheries agreement with the EU.
  • Ensures the UK will be outside the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
  • Provides for employment and environmental standards. 
  • Commits to comprehensive and close reciprocal law enforcement and judicial cooperation to keep people safe.
  • A close and flexible partnership of foreign policy and defence.

On the issue of the Prime Minister I can confirm that

·       She has my support. I will not be writing a letter the Chairman of the 1922 Committee asking for a no-confidence ballot. To change leader at this time would be to add another uncertainty and distraction to our politics at a critical time.

·       If my assessment is wrong, and were such a ballot triggered, I believe that the PM would win. She enjoys large support from my constituents, and the vast majority of her party, for the way she has pressed on with this difficult task.

·        In any event, changing the leader does not deliver us a different outcome to the proposed deal that we would deliberate upon at this late stage.

·       Finally, I could comment at length on Jeremy Corbyn’s bizarre approach to such a serious issue. But, by his own admission he has not even fully read the agreement, and indicated he would oppose it before it was even published, come what may. He is using the process to try and bring about the downfall of government. That is his choice – but to pretend otherwise to his motives would be simply wrong, as his own MPs freely agree with me.

I can only make the judgement call for myself. I believe that the withdrawal agreement and political agreement is an outcome that respects the referendum, and protects the national interest long term, as outlined above.