Thursday’s publication of a future framework agreed between the UK and the EU means we now have clarity as to what will be put before Parliament, both in terms of the withdrawal agreement and the outline of the future relationship. Both confirm that we are leaving the EU and the latter, in particular, makes clear that we will do so with a better trade deal than many thought possible, with full control of our money, laws and borders and with no hard border in Ireland. I can look constituents in the eye and be clear that I support this deal.
I appreciate that there are a wide range of views when it comes to our exit from the European Union. There are people who voted one way or another on the referendum and feel more strongly than ever that they were right and there are others who voted one way but have changed their minds. There are some for whom any compromise with “the other side” is unacceptable and others who are searching for a middle way. Most businesses want to see the maximum certainty in a process which is all about change and most constituents I speak to when I go knocking on doors just want the issue to be resolved so that they can focus on all the other important things that matter to them.
I have always sought to deliver on the fact that the majority of my constituents who voted in the referendum, like the majority of people who voted in the UK as a whole, voted to leave the EU and end our political participation in what had become a political project. This means we have to end the UK’s participation in the institutions of the EU, come out of the Single Market and the Customs Union, take our MEPs out of Brussels and Ministers out of the Council, come out of the Commission and the Court of Justice. It means leaving the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. It means we must end the supremacy of the ECJ in the UK and its ability to overrule or strike-down laws passed by the UK Parliament and we must end free movement and the vast annual financial contributions of the UK to the EU.
However, I have always sought to reconcile the result of the referendum and the decision of Worcester voters with the interests of our local economy; with the national interest in striking a good deal with our neighbours and with the UK’s position as a highly respected country which does things properly; respecting the rule of law and meeting its obligations, a leading player in international trade and an innovative outward looking country with ambitions to trade freely around the world. A country that doesn’t want to shut itself away or cease to be a magnet for talent across science, culture and art.
I have never pretended that the process would be easy and I have never played down the challenges of doing this properly.
Others made the case that the EU would let us “have our cake and eat it” or that this would be “the easiest negotiation in history”. What I have sought to do is to focus on our vital national interests, what our obligations, commitments and opportunities are and how we best achieve them.
It is no surprise that the deal that our Prime Minister has brought back from negotiations is controversial. It was never going to satisfy everyone. People who want us to cut all ties with our neighbours will not be satisfied with the compromises made to protect trade and investment between us, whilst others who wish we were not leaving the EU at all will never be satisfied with anything short of full membership. However, I believe the vast majority of people, including the majority of serious business people, do want to see something between these extremes.
Businesses in every area of our economy have been clear on the need to have a period of transition, an implementation period, in which rules do not change straight away giving them time they can use to prepare themselves for new arrangements in the future. They are also clear that we need agreements on data transfer, on how to avoid friction at the border and on the extent of recognition for one another’s rules that will allow them to go about their business. This matters for non-European global investors such as Yamazaki Mazak and Komatsu in Worcester just as much as it matters for European investors into the UK such as Worcester Bosch and RWE Npower. It matters for UK companies that trade in Europe, buy from it, and those that trade more internationally from a UK base. The agreement that we have reached delivers such a period of stability, meaning that businesses face no cliff edge and that they have twenty-one months to put in place their preparations for the future.
Citizens also need to know where they stand. Whilst the referendum result does mean and should mean that free movement should end, it is clear that nobody meant this to be a threat to the three million and more EU citizens who legitimately and legally chose to make their homes in our country and who make a huge contribution to our city and our society. Nor should it jeopardise the arrangements under which around a million British citizens, including many from Worcester, live in EU countries.
Whilst it is perfectly possible to create UK laws that protect the position of the 3 million, it is much harder to protect complex arrangements for reciprocal healthcare, accumulation of pension contributions or social security arrangements unilaterally. We need an arrangement that puts these in place to reassure all 4 million citizens who would otherwise be affected. A population eight times the size of Worcestershire or 40 times that of Worcester deserve the best possible deal for citizens. The deal that has been negotiated delivers that.
The negotiated settlement we have agreed with the EU also reaches a full and final settlement of the UK’s financial contribution and, whilst I know that many questions will be asked about this, it is important to recognise that the bulk of the figure agreed represents only what we would have paid for the period up to December 2020 in any case. The UK made commitments during the period of our membership to see through a seven-year budget. To walk away from these would risk undermining our reputation as a country that keeps its word and weaken our chances of striking trade deals with faster-growing markets around the world, whilst putting us into what would most likely be a long-running and expensive dispute with our nearest neighbours. Far better to have an agreement which makes clear that we will settle our bills, keeps the British rebate in place for the period of our contributions and keeps our farmers, businesses, and universities in receipt of the funds they have bid for over the remainder of the period until 2020.
Alongside these three significant elements of the Withdrawal Agreement, we have agreed legally effective means of winding down aspects of EU law that have had their effect in the UK for over 40 years – so-called separation issues – which mean that we will be leaving effectively and without undue disruption. The absence of such agreements would not create the political heat that we have seen on other issues, but it would most likely create added costs for business and citizens alike and a bonanza for lawyers. Much better to do these things in an orderly and agreed fashion which reflects the fact that the UK will be legally and permanently coming out of the EU, taking control of our laws.
Then there is the future framework. This is the document that will set the course for the next stage of negotiations and the future partnership between the UK and the EU we want after we have left. This delivers many things that we were told would be impossible to achieve:
We were told that the EU would never offer a trade deal to a country that left it, better than that which they offer to other third countries – yet the framework sets out proposals for a more ambitious deal on both goods and services than the EU has with any other third country today, whilst recognising that the UK will be free to pursue its own trade policy.
We were told that we could never reconcile the act of leaving the EU with our commitments to having no hard border on the island of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement – yet the framework contains a detailed protocol that delivers just that.
We were told that the UK could not leave the EU without sacrificing Gibraltar and, in some of the wilder predictions, both the Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland – yet it is clear from the Withdrawal Agreement and the future framework that we have achieved crucial progress for all our territories, protected the integrity of the United Kingdom and secured agreements in relation to frictionless borders for both Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, without sacrificing any of our red lines on sovereignty.
We were told that the only way in which the EU would accept close trade ties would be if we followed their rules, kept free movement and accepted the ECJ – but in the future framework we see ambitions to recognise regulatory autonomy and to work together to achieve the best possible trade in goods and services, whilst we have clarity that free movement and the jurisdiction of their court in the UK will come to an end.
We were told we would lose access to vital security cooperation, data, scientific and cultural programmes – and yet the framework clearly sets out plans for close cooperation across all of these and across nuclear energy, education and space as well.
Of course, there are some aspects of the arrangements that are uncomfortable. In particular the wording of the Northern Ireland protocol has generated controversy, but we should remember that it was there to deliver on a UK ambition – meeting our own commitments to the peace process, the Good Friday agreement and no hard border – not something that any UK government should want to walk away from. We resisted the attempt to try to make us place Northern Ireland in a different customs territory to the rest of the UK and have protected the integrity of the UK internal market. The framework and the language of the agreement in committing both parties to use their best endeavours to ensure this protocol never needs to come into force, and to bring a future relationship into place, reflects the UK’s longstanding ambition to resolve this issue through the future partnership. A treaty between the UK and the EU with a good trading relationship between us and all our near neighbours, combined with the maintenance of the unique British-Irish arrangements on a common travel area, is the best way to deliver this.
At the end of the day the agreement which has been reached does involve compromises. This was always going to be the case.
To achieve Brexit without any compromise might have satisfied a small proportion of those who voted to leave but it would not have delivered the prosperity they were promised or the extra money for public services, and it would have undermined the very global ambitions that they were purporting to pursue. To ignore the wishes of more than 17 million people nationally or 29,000 in Worcester and stay in the EU after Parliament and the Government had promised the British people the final say, would be a betrayal of democracy. We have to find a way to deliver on both the referendum and the economic prosperity of our country. The negotiated agreements offer this.
When Parliament comes to vote, it will be for MPs to choose between leaving the EU with or without these arrangements. Each MP will have to consider what is best for their constituency and the country. I am very clear that it is better for Worcester and for the UK to achieve this deal.
I have worked on it with determination over the last two and a half years and I will continue to work to deliver it in the months ahead. The disruption and uncertainty of no deal is not something I could support and not something that I believe is in the interests of local jobs, investment and growth.
No doubt there is political capital to be made by attacking the agreements this country has reached with the EU and we will see politicians of all colours opportunistically trying to do so. They can provide criticisms but not solutions, slogans but not a way ahead.
I have always believed that this country can succeed either inside or outside the EU and I believe that we now need to take the responsible course and prove that to be the case. This means achieving the best deal that can be done for our citizens, our businesses and our economy, and getting that deal done before we leave the EU next year. To approve it will allow us to move forward into the future with confidence, to reject it would be to step backwards into division and uncertainty.
On March 29th 2019 we will leave the EU – let’s do it with this deal and all the certainty that this will provide.
To read the full text of the Withdrawal Agreement, see: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/759019/25_November_Agreement_on_the_withdrawal_of_the_United_Kingdom_of_Great_Britain_and_Northern_Ireland_from_the_European_Union_and_the_European_Atomic_Energy_Community.pdf
To read the political declaration on the framework for a future partnership, see: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/759021/25_November_Political_Declaration_setting_out_the_framework_for_the_future_relationship_between_the_European_Union_and_the_United_Kingdom__.pdf
To read the Prime Minister’s 40 Reasons to Back the Brexit Deal, see: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/40-reasons-to-back-the-brexit-deal
For detailed information and other documents, see the Government’s The Brexit Deal Explained website at https://brexitdealexplained.campaign.gov.uk/