Brexit: The Withdrawal Agreement and my views

UPDATE: 12/12/18 No Confidence vote

 

Later today I will vote in support of our Prime Minister as leader of the Conservative & Unionist Party. She has my full confidence. It would be a monumental mistake to change Prime Minister at this critical moment in our country’s history.

For the last two and half years, Theresa May has done her level best in all circumstances to serve the national interest. She is clearly driven by a deeply held patriotic sense of public service and duty. The negotiations with the EU have been as difficult a negotiation as any British Prime Minister this century has ever conducted. She has suffered setbacks along the way but has shown resilience and patience.

It is now in the national interest that the Prime Minister concludes the task she has assumed of delivering the result of the EU referendum and doing so on an orderly and sensible basis, protecting our economy, jobs, our national security and the Union of the United Kingdom. I sought to become Stirling’s Member of Parliament because I passionately believe in improving the life-opportunities of all people. 

It is time for our country to move on from Brexit by delivering a sensible departure from the EU, negotiating a positive future relationship with our European neighbours and getting back to the issues that matter most to my constituents, namely, the economy, jobs, education, health and social care, housing and the future of our planet.

 

UPDATE: 10/12/18 Postponement of the "Meaningful Vote"

As of the 10th of December 2018, the meaningful vote has been postponed to a later date. The Prime Minister listened to MPs who raised one issue more than any other: the Northern Ireland backstop. She will now seek assurances from EU leaders that the sole purpose of the backstop is to facilitate our exit without creating a hard border on the island of Ireland. 

The backstop is not a mechanism for trapping the UK. Both the UK and the EU would find the backstop uncomfortable, in the unlikely event we have to resort to it. The reason why the EU will find it uncomfortable is because it offers a part of the UK (N.Ireland) access to the EU's single market, which is something they see as a privilege of membership of the EU. As the rest of the UK will be able to act as if we are outside the single market, the EU see N.Ireland in this scenario as a backdoor into the EU's protected market for a third country which is not paying a penny for the privilege!  This would be intolerable for them.

Once the PM returns with such assurances as she can win, which I expect will be as soon as possible, I will continue to support her deal. 

Our negotiations are not being helped by the divisions, within the Conservative party in Parliament and within parliament itself. The Prime Minister has managed to wrangle a palatable deal out of the toughest negotiations any British Prime Minister has had to handle for decades, and it's impossible to believe anyone else could have done better. We must unite now, pass this deal which gives us the basis by which we can leave the EU, and then start working on our future relationship. The future relationship is what we should keep very much in mind. 

 

The Withdrawal Agreement (May's deal)- 21/11/2018

I have now had time to consider the 585-page document and the accompanying outline political statement on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. I have also given serious thought to the options available to us as a country and heard from many constituents over the past couple of days, expressing their opinions and raising concerns about various aspects of the deal.

The deal is undoubtedly a compromise. As in any negotiation, you rarely get everything you’d ideally want. The backstop arrangements are particularly uncomfortable, especially on first reading. The backstop is the protocol that comes into play if no agreement is reached on the future relationship between the UK and the EU before the end of the transition period. I am convinced that any backstop - if it is triggered at all – must be temporary and that both the EU and the UK should feel a real sense of urgency to bring it to an end as soon as possible.

We must also make sure that the backstop creates no impediment to the operation of the UK single market. There must be no new barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I do feel very strongly that all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement must be respected, including no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

I am giving this deal my conditional support, although I remain open to asking for additional concessions from the EU in respect to how to bring the backstop to an end.

I will continue to scrutinise the withdrawal agreement over the coming days and weeks and seeking reassurances over Northern Ireland, Fishing, and our future arrangement with the EU.

 

FISHING/ CAP

Under this deal, I have been reassured that we will get out of the hugely damaging Common Fisheries Policy and can look towards Scotland’s fishing industry, after so many years of contraction, being able to expand and flourish. Scottish Conservative MPs were robust and determined to ensure that this reassurance was delivered. It has been.

We must be an independent coastal state from 2020 onwards. There have been clear assurances from the Prime Minister that we will be just that, both to me in person and to the House of Commons.

We will also leave the Common Agricultural Policy in full. The UK Government is preparing an agriculture bill to replace the CAP over the short term, and I will be continuing to urge the Scottish Government to set aside petty grievance politics and provide Scottish farmers with the same degree of certainty.

 

TRANSITION PERIOD

Critics of this deal say, with some justification, that during the transition period the UK will be in the position of a “rule-taker” under the EU’s jurisdiction but without having a seat at the table.

However, in my estimation, this is a low risk element of the withdrawal agreement. It takes a long time for the EU to agree rule changes and even longer to come into force. While in theory the EU will be able to make laws that we will have to abide by without having our own say over them, in reality we will be out of the transition period before any laws created during that time will start to be enforced.

 

BACKSTOP

The “backstop” is a protocol which forms part of the withdrawal agreement which will only come into play if the UK and EU fail to agree details of the future relationship within the two years from the start of transition period. In this backstop, we will continue to be members of the customs union and parts of the single market until a free trade deal can be struck.

The backstop is based on a compromise solution and is intended to strengthen the undertakings which have been given to the people of Northern Ireland. There are two sides to every negotiation and both sides need to arrive at a point where they can accept the outcome and move on. What is vitally important is that the future relationship, namely a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, is agreed before the end of the transition period, and I believe it will be. We will also use the transition period to strike new trade agreements with many other countries and free trade areas around the world, so we are ready to implement as soon as we have left the transition period.

 

NORTHERN IRELAND

A vitally important component of the draft proposals is how the Good Friday Agreement is to be protected and bolstered and that is why it takes up 150 pages of the whole deal!

We all have a responsibility not to risk undermining a peace process which was hard won, and it must be safeguarded. Achieving this by reaffirming the requirements of the Good Friday agreement and preventing the re-introduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, something the UK, Ireland and the EU would never do, is to be welcomed.

I understand the concerns of our friends in Northern Ireland, but this deal does keep us together and does protect the peace. It is my considered view that it does not represent a threat to the integrity of the Union or the UK single marketplace.

We should be much less sympathetic to the shameless politicking and posturing of the SNP. The Nationalists will always subvert any issue in the hope of stoking up grievance for their own narrow purposes.  The draft withdrawal agreement reinforces and protects many measures put in place to secure the peace in Northern Ireland after decades of terrible violence. It is a complete and utter nonsense for the SNP to claim that Scotland is being disadvantaged by protecting the Good Friday Agreement, it is not.

 

STABILITY

I fully support our Prime Minister and will not be submitting a letter of no confidence.  It would destabilise the current situation further at a time when we should be pulling together. A house divided against itself cannot stand. 

Let us just consider for a moment the unprecedented task that anyone in that position is having to deal with. Brexit is a simple idea, but it is extremely complex to enact. I admire the resolute determination; the grace and dignity Mrs May has demonstrated in the last two years. Her steady focus has been to put the best interests of our country ahead of every other consideration and this is an approach which must be respected. We should not under estimate the significance of having a deal to vote on. Not long ago many people thought it would not be possible to deliver an agreement.

Most people knew this task would never be anything other than complex and difficult. Many of my colleagues hold passionate views, and I respect them immensely, but this is not the time for entrenched views or unrealistic expectations. It is a time for pragmatism and common sense.

 

CONSIDERATION OF OTHER OPTIONS

 

Re-negotiate the deal: The EU has made it absolutely clear they will not be renegotiating the main body of the withdrawal deal. Even if there was time to put this position to the test, there is no real will from the EU to offer anything more. Indeed, many EU officials have been quoted as saying that the current deal is “too generous” to the UK.

 

No Deal: It may be tempting to some to think in terms of ripping up the work of the last two years and settling on a No Deal Brexit.

However, having been a member of a parliamentary select committee inquiring into the impact of Brexit on vitally important industry sectors, I concluded, based on the evidence presented to the committee, that the widespread disruption resulting from No Deal is a very poor outcome. I have heard briefing after briefing from businesses, large and small, and trade bodies expressing the difficulty of leaving without a deal, from gridlock at the ports to disrupted supply chains including the supply of vital medicines.

The SNP want a No Deal outcome because they want a disruptive and disorderly Brexit. They want to break up the Union and will use any device available them to do it, at any cost. They continue to go on and on about their obsession about a second independence referendum. I have long been clear that I will not support anything which threatens Scotland’s place in our precious Union. 

 

People's vote: First and foremost, from a purely factual point of view, there is no time left to hold a second referendum before we are due to leave the EU at the end of March 2019.

From a personal point of view, as a Unionist, the idea of holding a second vote is unacceptable. Giving consent to a second referendum on a major constitutional issue (Brexit) will open the door wide to a second vote on another major constitutional issue (Scottish independence). In both cases the respective electorates have given their verdict and we should not be forcing another vote so soon after the last.

Reversing Brexit would be a democratic outrage. 33 million people voted in 2016 expecting the result of their vote to be honoured, and should Parliament fail to do so, many people will become disillusioned and disengaged with mainstream politics. Democracy will have failed. It is likely we would see the rise of populist and extremist parties, stoking bitter division and grievance.

Parliament cannot ask the people for their instruction in an official referendum and then ignore the result.

 

CONCLUSION

At this crucial time MPs from every party need to think long and hard about the consequences of their actions. We have a duty to the people of the UK to respect the referendum result and progress in an orderly manner towards leaving the EU.

I will be loyal to my constituency and the promise I made at the election. That promise was to deliver on the referendum result and make the best of Brexit. A no Deal Brexit has the potential to be hugely disruptive and destructive, which is why I will not support it. I have decided to give my support to the withdrawal agreement and the outline political statement on the future relationship because it gives Stirling’s businesses and Stirling’s families the certainty they need for the future.

Please do not hesitate to write to me asking about any aspect of Brexit, if you would like more detail on the draft agreement or if you want my views in more depth on any individual part of it.