Brexit: The Withdrawal Agreement and my views

UPDATE 02/04/19 Indicative Votes 2

In the second round of the Indicative votes, I voted as follows:

i) The Customs Union- I voted NO, because staying in a customs union post-brexit would deny us the valuable ability to craft our own trade deals post-brexit. It would also entail us signing up to significant parts of EU law and legislation without a seat at the table with which to affect the making of such legislation. 

ii) EEA/Common Market (stay in the single market)- I voted AYE. I consider this deal worse than the Prime Minister's deal, but in the spirit of compromise I decided to back an option I felt I could live with, which avoids a No-deal exit and respects the referendum vote. 

iii) Second referendum- I voted NO. Calling a second referendum would instigate a second referendum on Scottish independence, putting Scotland through 2 more divisive referendums when we haven't recovered from the last two. Additionally, this is an unashamed attempt to overturn the result of the referendum, an act which would destroy what trust the public has in Parliament. 

iv) "Parliamentary supremacy" (revoke article 50)- I voted NO, for the reasons outlined above. Additionally this sets a very dangerous precedent giving Parliament control instead of Government, because unlike the Government Parliament is not accountable to anything.

As you will have seen, all these options failed to pass. The option that has received the most support is the Prime Minister's withdrawal agreement, which is also the one with the best chance of passing. Therefore, my efforts will be focused on getting that passed and avoiding a No-deal exit.
 

 

UPDATE 28/03/19 Indicative Votes 

Yesterday, the House voted on a series of options for Brexit. All were defeated, meaning we have once again failed to provide a clear way forward. Time and time again this has happened.

In the votes yesterday, I cast my votes as follows:

No Deal: I voted NO, because I believe if we left without a deal it could be damaging to our country and our Union. We have not prepared adequately for it.

"Malthouse Compromise (2 year transition intending to avoid a hard border)": I voted NO, because this is an unrealistic idea which the EU have said they won’t accept. 

Second Referendum/People's Vote: I voted NO, because MPs should put into action the result of the 2016 referendum, where the UK electorate gave us a direct instruction to leave the EU. In the 2017 election I was elected on a manifesto that pledged to take us out of the EU. 

Customs Union: I voted NO, because staying in the customs union without having influence over its running not what I want at this stage.  

Common Market 2.0: I voted NO, for the same reason I voted against the Customs Union. I am also sceptical as to the viability of this option, and would need to be convinced. 

EEA/EFTA: I voted YES, despite concerns about this option. If the House of Commons is to move forward we may well have to make compromises. This option is far from ideal but is more feasible than the other options.

Revoke Article 50: I voted NO. This would not answer the Brexit issue. Even if we held another referendum after revoking article 50, the losing side would not give up their arguments, and it would not change the parliamentary arithmetic which is currently stopping any deal going through. It would also cause great damage to our democratic system as we would have overturned the result of the 2016 referendum. Additionally, it would be against the manifesto pledge I made in 2017 that I would implement Brexit.

The Prime Minister's deal was not an option yesterday but looking at this lineup highlights to me again that it is the best deal; it delivers on the result of the referendum and offers the chance to put the Brexit issue to bed. It guarantees rights for EU citizens, gives certainty to businesses, and provides a smooth and orderly exit. None of the other options that offer a form of Brexit are plausible without a form of withdrawal agreement, and none of them are guaranteed to be possible in future negotiations. 

 

 

UPDATE 26/03/19

The House of Commons has now voted Aye on the "Letwin amendment", giving the House control to submit MPs to a series of non-binding indicative votes. Although these votes will not actually apply, what they will do is show what options MPs could support.

Up to now, the House has failed to support anything- we have only opposed. With people getting more and more fed up of antics in Parliament it's time for us to recognise we have a deal that respects the result of the referendum, protects EU citizens and businesses, and gives certainty to all. The Prime Minister's deal. 

 

UPDATE 14/03/19: No deal and extension, and what's next

In the voting on amendments before the Prime Minister's motion to oppose a No Deal Brexit on the 29th of March, an amendment was laid and was accepted by the House that intended to prevent a No-Deal Brexit, not just on the 29th March, but at any time in the future. That is why I voted against that motion.

I believe that a "No deal" Brexit on the 29th of March would be a bad outcome. We are not prepared and it would cause massive disruption. Therefore we must act based on the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. It is the pragmatic thing to do. 

The amendment to the "No deal" motion drastically changed the intent of that motion, and meant that I could not support it. While I do not want to leave the EU on the 29th of March without a deal, we cannot remove that option from what could be a very long and drawn-out extension period.

We are hearing today that the EU could offer as much as 2-3 years of extension, which is already concerning, but made worse if "No Deal" is not an option for that period. This is because during that extension, which would be for the purpose of agreeing a new Withdrawal deal with the EU, we would need the option of "No Deal", just as we had for the current negotiations. 

Ahead of today’s votes, I would like to set out my intent:

  • It is fundamentally important to respect the UK referendum vote result and that the UK leaves the EU.
  • This should happen with a deal agreed, a transitional period and the stability that would bring.
  • If we have to obtain an extension to the current exit date of the 29th of March to obtain such a deal, so be it.

However the best result is to agree to a deal before the 29th of March and leave on or near that date.

This situation is not what we intended and very far from ideal, however in a compromise situation one must acknowledge that one has to compromise, and therefore take the best possible course of action to ensure the result of the referendum is respected. 

The Prime Minister's deal offers the best option for doing that. 
 

 

UPDATE 12/03/19 The big day: Meaningful Vote 2 

 

Yesterday, the Prime Minister and her Attorney General went to Strasbourg for one last attempt to carve out concessions from the EU on the backstop, in line with the vote in Parliament that gave her the mandate to seek such changes.

At that late hour, we finally heard that the EU were willing to talk, and this morning we are hearing the details around the proposed changes.

That the Prime Minister should, in the face of the experts and the Commission, find further compromise from Strasbourg to take back to Parliament must be appreciated for the achievement it is. In my view, these changes provide improvements to the already positive deal, giving further assurances that the backstop will only be temporary. 

I am now calling for my colleagues to back the Prime Minister's deal and make certain our exit from the EU. To my colleagues who are holding out for what they think is a better deal, I can only say you risk Brexit in its entirety, with all the political and social ramifications that failing to deliver the referendum result would have. 

We must put this issue to bed, and do it today. 

I strongly disagree with the idea of extending article 50, putting the UK through months or even years more of this uncertainty. 

Today I will be backing the Prime Minister's improved deal, with the aim of getting the Withdrawal Agreement through, avoiding No Deal or No Brexit. It's time to move on to other aspects of Governance, including the all-important Future Relationship with the EU.

 

UPDATE 27/02/19: Certainty for EU citizens

 

I have signed and supported my colleague Alberto Costa's amendment, which gives the Prime Minister a mandate to apply the agreed terms for EU citizens regardless if we get a deal or not. As a part of the withdrawal agreement, EU citizens in the UK will be offered settled status allowing them to remain in the UK indefinitely. We need to give people this certainty and stop them being used as bargaining chips. 

 

 

UPDATE 31/01/19: The way forward is shown

 

Tuesday was a busy and eventful day for MPs. We voted on no less than 7 amendments, each put forward by an MP seeking to divine the will of the House. The results of these votes mean that we now have a clear vision of what the House of Commons wants from the Withdrawal Agreement.

The House of Commons:

Wants to deliver Brexit. Amendments supporting a second referendum were withdrawn before the votes, because they didn't have support.

Does not want to delay Brexit. An amendment from Labour MP Yvette Cooper that would have made provision for our exit to be delayed by up to 9 months was voted down.

Would rather avoid a No Deal outcome. A non-binding amendment from Caroline Spelman MP showed that there are a majority of MPs who do not want to leave the EU without a deal.

Could vote to pass the current deal with an amended Backstop. Most significantly, the House voted in support of Sir Graham Brady's amendment, asking the Prime Minister to go to Brussels to renegotiate the backstop element of her withdrawal agreement. This indicates the deal could pass through the Commons if we see movement on the backstop from the EU.

Taking all this into consideration, we have sent the EU a clear message from these votes. Make changes to the Backstop and we can pass this deal, and get on with leaving. The EU now have a clear method of avoiding No Deal, something they want to avoid. They have already faced calls from European businesses to compromise to get a deal. 

 

UPDATE 17/01/19: What happens next?

 

As widely expected, the Prime Minister has lost the meaningful vote on her Withdrawal Agreement.

Parliament has sent a clear message that they do not agree with the Withdrawal Agreement as it currently stands. However less clear is what Parliament does want. In the coming days and weeks I expect that the focus of the Prime Minister and the Government will be to fully understand what will allow MPs from across Parliament to vote for a withdrawal deal.

All MPs will have to compromise if we are to find accord.

 I believe we can agree on terms. The substance of the current agreement contains a lot that Parliament is unanimous on. We all agree that EU citizens need certainty, and we agree that any withdrawal should include a transition period to give businesses time to adapt to new trading circumstances.

There is a comfortable majority for delivering on the result of the referendum. 80% of MPs stood on manifestos that pledged to take the UK out of the EU, and MPs should be determined to honour that.

On the other hand, there is no majority for a second referendum, nor is there a majority agreeable with a “No Deal” exit. These two results are very unlikely to happen in my view.

This is the current case for the Withdrawal Agreement, the means by which we can leave the European Union. With regard to our future relationship with the EU, we are still working towards a unique and tailored relationship that puts us on close and co-operative terms with our friends in Europe, while allowing us the freedom to strike new trade deals, control our borders, and create our own fishing legislation. A key part of this is a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU.

 

UPDATE 14/01/2019 What will happen on Tuesday?

 

This week we are heading into the meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement. In this video I outline what I think will happen in that vote, and what will happen afterwards: https://www.facebook.com/stephenkerrforstirling/videos/334808380457355/

In short, I believe the Prime Minister will lose the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, although I will be supporting her. Following on from that. I expect the Opposition to table a motion of No Confidence in the Government, which I think the Government will win. After that, the loss of the vote will give the Prime Minister more leverage in her continuing negotiations with the EU and I hope that when the Prime Minister returns to Parliament with her deal, it will have with it some assurances about the backstop in particular. 

The Prime Minister's deal not passing on the first attempt will not be the end of it. As time passes I believe more MPs will see the deal as the best option, as many are currently holding off supporting to pursue a second referendum. 

 

UPDATE 7/01/2019 New Withdrawal Agreement Vote

 

It has been announced today that the vote on the Government's withdrawal agreement will take place on the 15th of January following days of debate. I intend to support the Government on this vote and I am hoping that opposition MPs will put party politics to one side in this important vote. 

 

 

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.