On Christmas Eve the Prime Minister announced that after intense negotiations the British government has reached a trade deal with the European Union, concluding the process of our EU exit. Last night the House of Commons voted by a decisive majority to support that deal. Four and a half years on from the biggest democratic exercise in our country’s history we now have a deal that takes back control, while maintaining a friendly relationship based on free trade with our nearest friends and neighbours. This delivers on all the manifesto commitments on which the Conservative Party was re-elected in 2019 and on my long-standing ambition to ensure we secured a deal with the European Union based on full restoration of U.K. sovereignty and free trade.
I always believed that a full and fair referendum on EU membership was the only right thing to do as I saw our relationship with our neighbours changed and like many people felt that too many decisions were being taken over the heads of the British electorate. I campaigned for a referendum even before it was my party’s policy, I campaigned for reform of that relationship and although I campaigned to remain during the Brexit referendum campaign as I believed that remaining was the right pragmatic choice to make at that time, I always respected the fact that the electorate would decide. When the British people spoke and people in Worcester voted decisively to leave the EU I immediately accepted that it was incumbent on the government to deliver on the will of the British people.
After the referendum I was appointed one of the first Ministers in the Department for Exiting the European Union and over two and half years in that department, as it’s longest serving Minister I worked to secure the Withdrawal Agreement including the protection of rights for four million U.K. and EU citizens living in each other’s territories, the transition period and to set up our approach to the future relationship negotiations. There I set out the preferred future partnership of a relationship with a strong security partnership, an economic deal without tariffs on all goods and services; reduction of trade barriers without being bound by European rules; personal data protections; and associate membership of the Horizon programme so that our academic institutions can continue to work together to ensure we’re at the cutting edge of science and technology. All of these ambitions are achieved by the deal on which the House of Commons voted yesterday. Also at DExEU I prioritised protecting our citizens in Gibraltar by enabling them to have visa-free access to the Spanish mainland. Gibraltarians will have full access to the Schengen free travel area, protecting both their sovereignty and their ability to trade and travel.
The deal we have reached is a good deal for the United Kingdom and one that I am proud to have voted for. There will be no tariffs or quotas, meaning that many businesses will be able to continue to trade within Europe without extra baggage or cost and that British consumers will be protected from the negative impact of tariffs. Security cooperation can continue in a way that benefits the safety and security of our people and there will continue to be a basis for the free exchange of data between the U.K. and the EU as well as recognition for our world leading standards for food and farming. Northern Ireland’s place in the U.K. customers territory and our internal market is protected but so is the absence of a border with the Republic of Ireland which has proved so important to the working of the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process.
A truly sovereign British Parliament will regain full control of British law, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. As promised we will continue to maintain the highest labour, environmental and climate standards. But we will do so because it is the right thing to do and it will be our elected MPs who set and are held accountable for these rules.
Fish featured heavily in the Brexit negotiations and I’m glad that this deal will take back control of our waters. Fishing communities will benefit from a boost of £100 million to expand and update their fleet of vessels. A five year period will help ease the transition, after which we will have full control of our waters. Crucially we continue to be able to export fish tariff free to our biggest market in Europe but our fisherman shall immediately begin to see the benefits of an increased share of catch.
In leaving the European Union and bringing and end to the transition period we are delivering on a solemn promise made to the British people, one which was reconfirmed in both the 2017 and 2019 elections. In December 2019 I was re-elected to represent Worcester with an increased majority and over 50 per cent of the vote after promising to get Brexit done. Within weeks we had passed the Withdrawal Agreement and now, one year later, we have a trade deal that will allow us to show what Global Britain means to the world. We can strike our own trade deals and set our own laws. We have control over our borders and our waters and we can thrive as an independent nation.
The people of Worcester 54:46 in favour of voting to leave the EU and this deal delivers on that outcome. Respecting the fact that the majority voted to leave but also that a significant minority wanted to protect our trading relationship with European neighbours. It protects the interests of businesses and consumers by ensuring no quotas or tariffs are introduced that would hinder trade with the EU.
This deal allows us to close this particular chapter and get on with the priority of British people which is combatting Covid, getting the country back to some kind of normality and then building back better and levelling up our economy. With this deal marking the largest and most comprehensive trade deal ever reached by the European Union it shows that we can get off to a new start as friendly neighbours and with over 60 other trade deals already signed this year it is a great jumping off point for our ambitions for Global Britain. I hope that after so many debates and arguments over the last few years this deal settles the issue of our departure from the EU and avoids the unacceptable extremes of either reversing the referendum result or leaving on bad terms and in dispute with our neighbours. Now is a time for the whole country to come together and make a success of our new position and it is time to look to the future with confidence.