While we wait to see how the vote or votes on the relationship with Europe will be tabled in January, I wanted to comment on a number of points made in emails to me. There is nothing more likely to be a major turnoff to the British public than an attempt to humiliate the British Prime Minister or the British people. Yet this is what the EU has done in dealing with Mrs May. It follows the same treatment of David Cameron when he tried to get a comprehensive deal that would have prevented the current Brexit problem in the first place. It follows the treatment of one of my Parliamentary colleagues – a Remain voting MP – in trying to get a simple answer from Mr Junker when he visited the Council of Europe about how he controlled the Commission budget which Mr Junker tried to say was none of our business. As I was present when this exchange was heard, I was not impressed.
The issue we face comes down to making sure that we are not trapped in what has been called the Irish Backstop forever and have our own ability to come out of it. Since the EU does not want us to have a Backstop and, we believe it will never be used, I cannot see why they are being so obdurate over it. The Prime Minister has therefore sought time to see what movement there might be on the issue – a discussion which is still going on - before the Deal as a whole is brought back to the House of Commons.
I do not believe that anyone, except a small group, wants a no deal exit from the EU. This is not about whether we can survive on WTO terms of trade. It is about bringing to a successful conclusion all the issues which will have no solution if we leave without a deal such as law cases, and being pursued through the courts for money that we owe the EU. The £39 billion set out in the Agreement that we will pay the EU is not a sum plucked from the air but has been calculated carefully to reflect the balance of what we are likely to owe. So, no! I will not agree to fetter Mrs May's discretion in dealing with Europe. She must have the right to threaten a no-deal outcome even although no one – on either side – is looking forward to a no deal outcome.
Secondly, some people are suggesting that I have changed my view and am now a Leaver. Let me be clear; it would still be my preference to remain in the EU. However, in a national referendum, the Remain argument lost the vote and it does none of us any good to continually go back over this and use opinion polls to suggest that the situation has changed.
I am also asked to be more visible in supporting a Peoples' Vote campaign and staying in the EU. For every email I get asking me to support another referendum I get an email reminding me that 'leave means leave. We have already had a 'people's vote' and Leave won. I do not believe that another referendum would help cure the divisions we currently face in our country. Furthermore those seeking a second referendum seem to believe that it would be decisively 'remain'. This may not be so.
Under Article 50 the time limit for the initial period for making arrangements for our departure from the EU was 2 years. It was always going to take this long and the period has not been wasted or prolonged. We have a deal on the table, which with one exception (the Backstop), I can support. Those who see it in terms of betraying the Referendum result or our relationship with Europe have missed the point that much of it relates to the transition or implementation period of a further two years. It does not define our relationship with the EU for the future.
And lastly, I am told that it is the biggest crisis faced by this country since the end of the second world war. I disagree profoundly with this. It is not a crisis at all – just something that has to be worked through.
The Withdrawal Agreement will ensure that, pace the transition period, the UK takes back control of its laws, borders and money, an end to free movement, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice coming to a close and after the £39 billion has been paid vast budget payments to the EU ending once and for all. We will also be out of the Common Agriculture Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. EU and UK citizens will have their rights protected, including for healthcare and pensions. They will be able to continue to live their lives broadly as they do now.
At the same time, the UK will be able to negotiate its own international trade deals from the start of the transition or implementation period. This will allow us to take advantage of the estimated 90 per cent of world growth that will come from outside the EU in the future.
SENT AS AN ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER
Ahead of the five day debate on the Brexit deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated I wanted to set out my thinking thus far.
Let me start by saying that, despite what the papers may say, I have not decided how I am going to vote in the 'Meaningful Vote' that will come at the end of the debate. To do so would rather destroy the purpose of the five days of debate in the House of Commons. One long standing MP rather cynically put it to me that the purpose of debate was not to change anyone's mind but simply to make position statements. That may be true of some but I find that one of the most depressing aspects of this whole business. Thankfully it is not true of all MPs.
What I want to do in this briefing is to set out how I see the Agreement as it stands. I do so having read the whole of the draft agreement published on 14th November and having had discussions with Ministers on some of the details. I have also heard differing views already expressed by colleagues, read some of the analysis in the media and the views sent to me by constituents. I will admit that I have been frustrated by those who have written with their views but who openly admit that they have not actually read the Agreement. If this is such an important issue then surely it is not too much to read the source document rather than rely on the interpretation of others. The document although long is not dense.
Just before I set out the detail, I would like to point out that it would be wrong for people to believe that I have had nothing but requests to vote against the Agreement and the deal that has been done. I have also had a large number of emails and letters in support of the deal. In fact I have had emails telling me that I should take a whole number of competing actions on this with most seeming to assume that there are no alternative views. There are those who voted to leave the EU who are urging me to push for us leaving with no deal; there are those who voted to leave reminding me that we should honour the outcome of the Referendum; there are those who voted to remain in the EU who want the Government to ignore the outcome of the Referendum and ask again; there are those who are urging me to support the current deal due to concerns at leaving with no deal – and so it goes on.
The Agreement contains good measures as well as those about which I have concerns. With an Agreement of this size that is inevitable. The Agreement is effectively divided into two key sections – the transition period and post-transition. This is based on a date of leaving the EU of 29 March 2019 at 11.00am. The transition period will last until 31 December 2020 and one of its purposes is principally to make sure that business, Government departments and individuals have a clear understanding of where they stand at that date. In the meantime, during the transition phase, businesses will be able to trade as now.
The transition period contains the following. First, the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. After that date, the temporary arrangement whereby the UK continues to count as if it were a member of the EU ends for good.
In the meantime, the Agreement commits us to work towards putting in place co-operation on issues of foreign affairs, security and defence but we would not be obliged to join an EU army if the rest of the EU developed this proposal.
During the transition phase it is not true that the UK will be excluded from all EU institutions and that we will effectively be what has been called a vassal state. We will continue to participate on a case-by-case basis with EU bodies particularly where what is being discussed affects the UK. During this period, we will be able to sign and ratify new bilateral trade deals between the UK and other countries.
In relation to fisheries our quota cannot be reduced. From the last year of transition we will be negotiating on a case by case basis with the aim of putting in place a new agreement shortly thereafter.
More generally, the UK ceases to be part of the EU Budget in December 2020 and negotiates its contribution based on what activities it participates in. Its capital in the European Investment Bank and the European Central Bank are repaid. A large element of the payment the UK will make relates to pensions for which we would otherwise be pursued through the courts.
The chapters on goods and customs contain some sensible provisions on the handling of matters related to what any charging authority would want to see as transition arrangements. Some of these inevitably last more than two years.
On Citizen's Rights the Agreement provides certainty over rights and applies both to EU citizens and their families living or working in the UK and to UK citizens and their families living or working in mainland Europe. This includes mutual recognition of each other's professional qualifications. UK courts will decide issues arising but will be able to seek the advice of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a period that has been seen to cover 8 years.
On the question of Northern Ireland I remain curious as to why this has taken on so much importance. Of course, I do not want to see the Good Friday Agreement compromised. But I think that too much emphasis has been placed on what should be an administrative problem. The Agreement creates a single customs territory of the UK so Northern Ireland will not be part of a separate customs territory. It also commits us to agreeing a better arrangement before the agreement or Protocol on Northern Ireland comes into effect. If this is not possible it gives the UK the right to two courses of actions – (1) either an extension to the transition period or (2) a backstop which maintains that the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK is maintained and to ensure the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will remain open as it is today.
Under the backstop there will be no tariffs on trade in goods between the UK and the EU and most trade restrictions will be removed. Northern Ireland will be the sole part of the UK which will be aligned to extra rules of the EU's single market meaning some checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Although it is not intended for the backstop or the extension of the transition arrangements to come into force, this does give rise to concerns about how we will exit the backstop if we wish to without the agreement of the EU. I believe that this would fall to the international arbitration committee, which will handle disputes, to decide on but am waiting for clarification of this point from the Attorney General.
There is also a legal commitment to use best endeavours to avoid the backstop ever coming into force and there is scope in the framework about exploring alternative options. However, the reality is that the EU have every incentive to avoid the backstop coming into force as it would create a major back door risk for their single market and customs union and effectively give us access to the single market for goods without either money or free movement
This issue comes down to one single matter – trust. Do we trust that we will be released from the backstop? I know that the EU has not given us just cause for too much trust – or is that the spin put on by the press? But I am not going to believe that in the full international light of day either the EU or the 26 member countries will chose to stand in our way.
I am not going to pretend that the Agreement or deal answers all my questions or yours. But it is a million miles from the attacks on the EU I have been expressed. There are differing views on the extent to which the EU can be trusted with these negotiations but I do not believe that it is right to go into these negotiations not trusting them at all either to deliver on this Agreement or to do what they have committed to do.
I have written before on School Funding but I make no apology for coming back to the subject now. It is an important one. Different aspects of funding for education have been hotly debated for some time and still are. I have raised many questions and had meetings with Ministers and schools in the constituency over time to do what I can to support our schools and sixth forms. I have been involved with a group called the f40 group which challenges the formula used for government funding. This formula has been weighted to areas of under privilege. Whilst this is understandable in some ways it has probably gone too far and has left Oxfordshire, an area of very high cost, as one of the 40 lowest funded education authorities. I remain committed to work to support our educational establishments.
As I said in the House of Commons last week, there are various figures being quoted by different campaign groups lobbying on different aspects of school funding and quoting a range of sources. It is not easy to get to what is really going on when each group, including the Department for Education, publishes only headline figures. The f40 group in fact published considerable detail. In order to help me get some dispassionate facts on the reality of the situation, I have turned to the non-partisan experts in the House of Commons Library to look into this for me. Once I have their research I will be able to make my own assessment and determine what action to take going forward.
However, I want to raise another point. First, I do not believe that any group – either a campaign group or those in the Department for Education – is lying over the figures and I find completely disingenuous the suggestion being made that the Department is showing deceit and dishonesty in this. Such accusations are neither constructive nor helpful in working together for the benefit of our young people. I am urging that going forward this confrontational approach can be changed into a more collaborative one so that we can properly understand the issues and work to make appropriate changes within budget constraints.
As it is, earlier this year, we announced the biggest increase to teachers' pay since 2010: a 3.5% increase to the main pay range, 2% to the upper pay range and 1.5% for school leaders. We will be funding this with £508 million over two years, over and above the core funding allocations schools have received, to cover the difference between the 1% that schools would previously have been budgeting for, and the pay award. The £187 million for this year's pay award is going out to local authorities and academies now. We also intend to fully fund schools and academies for the increased costs of teachers' pensions, planned for September next year.
The vote to leave the EU was a national vote as is the way of all referenda. Votes are cast in the usual counting areas and then pooled for an overall result. Neither the voting nor the counting areas were parliamentary constituencies. They were based on local government areas which in our case was the area covered by South Oxfordshire District Council. In the shockwaves that have been felt among those who voted to remain in the EU, some have tried to get breakdowns of the vote in a range of different ways. I cannot see the merit of this as it does nothing to change the outcome of the vote or add anything constructive to negotiations. The important thing to me is to recognise that a large number of people, like me, voted to remain but that we must now do all we can to get a good and fair deal.
However, mindful that some people are quoting various statistical analyses to try to get to a result constituency by constituency, I have looked at the analysis conducted.
Up until recently, the only source of information on constituency votes was a statistical analysis undertaken through the University of East Anglia. The BBC has tried to obtain data based on individual wards and was successful only in about a quarter of constituencies. The Henley constituency was not one of them. Electoral returning officers are not covered by Freedom of Information legislation and many councils mixed all ballot boxes before counting. The only ward disclosed by SODC was one which showed a large percentage of people who wanted to Leave. The BBC figure for South Oxfordshire as a whole was 54.9% Remain.
We are, therefore, forced back to the University of East Anglia data which suggests that the Remain percentage in the Henley constituency was 56.9%. However, as the House of Commons Library have made clear these figures are only "an indirect way of estimating what the results by constituency may have been. The actual results at constituency level may have been different."
That difference comes about from the fact that the "model was built by first examining the relationship between the demographic characteristics of local authorities and their referendum results, and then estimating what the results may have been within each constituency given its demographic characteristics."
Analysis of the known data compared with the work done in East Anglia has led to questions over the reliability of the university data. In Birmingham, for example, it over-estimated the Leave percentage by close to 10% and 24 constituencies had a difference of 3% or more. Six constituencies had their result outcome under this model swapped. Four constituencies had been estimated to have voted remain when they voted leave while 2 constituencies had been estimated to have voted leave when they voted to remain.
This assessment suggests that such manipulation of the referendum data is not reliable and I have to wonder why such effort is put in to it. We had a national vote and the result is an overall result. No amount of playing with the data can change that.
New figures show that youth unemployment has halved since 2010, whilst the unemployment rate remains at its lowest since 1975, and real wages grew for the seventh consecutive month, helping families have more money in their pockets.
Since 2010 the number of young people out of work has more than halved, and the unemployment rate is at a 43-year low – meaning more people have the security of a job and are able to provide for their families. The number of claimants in Henley constituency is 25 lower than August 2018.
Other useful statistics:
Last month, I wrote in my Thame Gazette article about my programme of 'Conversations in the street'. That is where I simply turn up and conduct what amount to street surgeries. In my article, I pointed out one fact from the surgeries was that "Brexit does not appear to come very high" on the list of things people want to raise with me. It seemed to set the cat amongst the pigeons, especially on social media. But what did those criticising this fact do? They decided to attack my work in conducting 'Conversations in the street'; attacking the very notion that an MP talks to his constituents on his own!
This week I saw an opinion poll conducted over 21-23 September by ORB International, a respected firm. It supported the view relayed to me by constituents in my conversations. First, one of the main results of the poll confirms that a massive 82% are fed up with both some pro-Brexit and some pro-Remain politicians who claim they speak for everyone who voted in the referendum. It is not just the politicians in whom many people have lost faith, either. They have also lost faith in the detail of what we are trying to achieve and simply want us to get on with delivering Brexit. That accounts for 52% of those polled.
In addition, 62% of those polled also took the view that they were not bamboozled by the complexity of the issues at the time of the Referendum or that the issues were too complicated. In other words, they believed they answered the right question and got the answer right.
But what does the Brexit look like that people appear to have voted for? First, it does not principally consist of a no-deal Brexit, particularly if those aged 18-24 are looked at on their own. The overall percentage opposing a no-deal solution was 48% with a low percentage of 30% for those who support no-deal. Moreover, it is also interesting to see what many of us have been saying for a long while now come through in the figures for the nature of the negotiations. 82% agree that the solution lies in making concessions on both sides – or in other words in one or more compromises. 71% agreed that the Government should prioritise negotiating an acceptable settlement including 62% of those who voted for Brexit.
I am not one to put undue trust in opinion polls but neither is this a case of simply sitting on the fence. We have a decision to implement; we are committed to leaving the EU in March of next year. Personally I also believe we need a negotiated settlement and that the Government needs the time and space to still try to achieve that. That is what this poll sensibly makes clear. This is neither the time for rushing around crying betrayal or for trying to frustrate the decision of the referendum. The matter, as the polling showed, will be sorted by compromise and for that we need to ensure that we keep a cool head.
A Hornchurch youngster has spent his summer as an intern at the Mother of Parliaments, thanks to a pioneering scheme run by a local charity. Ben Huseyin, who is autistic, has spent two fortnight long spells in my Westminster office.
Ben's internship came as a result of efforts by the Sycamore Trust UK, a local charity that helps children and young people with autism. In 2017, the Trust launched their programme for assisting young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder into work. Entitled SPACE (Supporting People with Autism into Continued Employment) and backed by the Glyn Hopkin charitable foundation, SPACE began the process of preparing young adults with autism for work. Candidates are required to complete a programme of several weekly modules, each relating to a specific activity, such as preparing a CV, or presenting themselves for interview.
As part of his work experience, SPACE was able to secure a place with the Conservative MP for Henley, and Ben's time has come to an end this week as parliament enters its summer recess.
I explained, "Ben has seen the full range of what an MP does. For example, he's seen me speak in debates in the main chamber and he's also been to Prime Minister's Questions. He's also been to a number of select committees as well as plenty of work in the office."
Although initially nervous, Ben has really enjoyed his spell working in Westminster and has gained some wonderful experience of life in Westminster. He said, "I have really enjoyed the work here. I was a bit nervous at first because I was worried it might be a bit above me, but it wasn't as difficult as I thought and I have been able to cope."
My office also ensured that Ben had some dealings with my constituents. I said, "every week, we read through the local papers and write to people in the constituency who have achieved something. Ben has been doing that research and drafting those letters."
Young people and adults with ASD have a constant battle trying to find work and at present, only 16% of autistic adults are in paid employment, which is a constant battle for the Sycamore Trust. The biggest challenge is finding jobs for a very capable group of people, as SPACE Project manager Nikki Murphy explained, "work experience and internships are great but these young people are capable of more. They are by nature very organised and polite and Ben is an example of that. He can travel anywhere, he is always on time and he is ready for work"
I echoed those remarks. I said, "it's been an enormous pleasure having Ben with us and I hope by having him here we've been able to show that it is perfectly possible to increase the number of people with ASD into employment."
Two appeal decisions in South Oxfordshire have confirmed the importance of Neighbourhood Plans.
The first of these was for a development of 95 houses on a site off Kennylands Road, Sonning Common. The Sonning Common Neighbourhood Development Plan (SCNDP) had allocated 26 houses for the site. The Inspector considered a number of factors in reaching his decision to reject the application but they came down to two points: (1) was the proposal to build on the site consistent with the SCNDP, and (2) would the proposal affect the character and appearance of the countryside.
This decision goes to the heart of what is good about Neighbourhood Plans and the efforts by the community not only to bring one into force but also to keep it up-to-date. In talking about the NDP, for example, the Inspector says that "It takes forward the shared vision of the community for the neighbourhood area....at its heart is the key issue of how many new homes should be built in the village, what kind of homes they should be and where they should be built." In other words the Sonning Common NDP has done the right thing for the right reasons and its wish to make a clear distinction between the surrounding AONB and the village is to be applauded. In common with many other NDPs the Sonning Common NDP provides for a substantial up-lift in housing numbers on the figures suggested by SODC. As the Inspector again said: "The strategy in the SCNDP, in my view, sets out a clear identification of where there is an expectation that development will go..." The Inspector also found that the site was an important landscape area and the development would conflict with the protection of what was an attractive landscape setting. Most importantly, the Inspector also clearly stated that he felt that guidance on what he should do was clear and that "where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood development plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted." I could not agree more with this statement and it is what I have been working to achieve.
Finally, the Inspector also made clear that the special arrangements I had helped bring in to tackle the situation where the District Council did not have a 5 year land supply and NDPs would need to rely on a 3 year land supply figure were to be followed.
The second case relates to Benson where I had successfully asked for a planning application for 180 houses to the south of Watlington Road to be called-in to be decided by the Secretary of State because I did not believe that it was right to decide this application when the Benson Neighbourhood Development Plan (BNDP) was so close to its definitive referendum. The Secretary of State has now decided not to allow the planning application to go ahead.
Of great importance in this case was the recognition that whatever SODC might be doing to undertake a review of all plans in respect of the EU habitats directive, the BNDP was still part of the development plan whether SODC chose to adopt the NDP or not. This was the very point I had confirmed with officials. Also crucially and this is worrying for SODC, its new 5 year housing supply figure may not be as strong as it claims although the Secretary of State considered the council can demonstrate something above 5 years. Just like at Sonning Common, the BNDP commits the village to a substantial amount of housing growth far in excess of the village's own requirements. Of crucial importance is the fact that the Secretary of State agrees that the proposal conflicts with the BNDP and should be given substantial weight. Again, using words similar to those used in the Sonning Common case, the Secretary of State concludes that "where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted".
Both of these cases show how the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspectorate are supporting Neighbourhood Plans. Of crucial significance is the fact that where an NDP has been brought into force planning permission should not normally be granted which conflicts with it. That more than anything should give a great deal of comfort to those communities doing a Neighbourhood Plan.
One of the issues in the White Paper "The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union" that many people seem to have a problem with is the Common Rule Book with the EU. The fear is that we will simply accept whatever the EU says. I want to show why this is not the case. To do this I have taken the advice of the Attorney General who is chief legal adviser to the Crown. This is a complex area of international law which I will try to explain.
The Common Rule Book only applies to goods but is part of ensuring that there are no hard borders between Eire and Northern Ireland. A Common Rule Book does not apply to services. It only applies therefore to 20% of our economy.
First, the Common Rule Book will not be applied simply by accepting what the EU says it should. It will require a new treaty which we will need to negotiate, agree and approve through the normal Parliamentary means. This is completely different to the process which applies now to members of the EU and I find it difficult to see how this does not equate to taking back control of our own laws.
The power, for example, that the EU has simply to make laws for the UK would go and rules made by the EU would no longer have automatic effect in UK law. The suggestion that, under this agreement, "it is inevitable that the application of the rules in the UK and UK regulatory bodies would continue to be bound by the decisions of EU bodies in the same way as if the UK were still a member state", is, therefore, inaccurate.
Existing EU Treaties would simply no longer bind the UK, and so the direct effect and supremacy of EU law as we have known it would end. In the future, it would be for the UK to legislate for the Common Rule Book, within our own system.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) would have no jurisdiction over the Common Rule Book and it would not be possible for UK courts to refer matters to the ECJ for reference. Our courts would pay due regard to the case law of the ECJ to ensure consistent interpretation and application of the Common Rule Book, but they will not be bound to refer matters of principle to the ECJ as before.
Disputes would be heard by an independent arbitration panel which is something I have long promoted in law. A matter could only be referred to the ECJ by mutual consent but it could not resolve the dispute. The ECJ can only bind the EU on the interpretation of EU law, not the UK, and has to respect the principle that the court of one party cannot decide disputes between the two.
If we diverged from the Common Rule Book there would be no sense in which the EU could impose disproportionate measures for this divergence. That would mean that, if it were in the UK's national interest, we could choose to diverge from the rule book and incur only proportionate consequences.
I hope this makes the position clearer.
Some people have asked why I have rarely written an Issues Briefing on Brexit. There are so many aspects to it that it would be near impossible to produce this as one document and there are anyway many good factual (and independent) briefings produced by the House of Commons Library to which I have directed people on many occasions and again included a link below.
My own position on Brexit has not changed. I campaigned to remain in the EU; I voted to remain in the EU. However, in the result of the Referendum I was on the losing side of the argument. The task now is to get the best deal that we can for the country. What I am after is neither a so-called hard or soft Brexit but a fair Brexit.
THE RECENT DEBATES ON THE EU WITHDRAWAL BILL
In recent weeks I have received some emails on the debate on the Lords Amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill. I received emails from both sides asking me to take contrary action and essentially, what these emails were saying was "I am damned if I do and damned if I don't" take a particular view on Brexit. Yet, as the Speaker of the House of Commons made clear, all I can do is follow my conscience on these issues in the full knowledge that I am a representative and not a delegate.
The situation with any Bill is that the position in Parliament is a dynamic one and not a static one. Bills are not put forward on a take it or leave it basis. They are the subject of discussion, debate and most importantly compromise wherever possible. Ministers indicate future changes as well as accept or reject official amendments. The EU Withdrawal Bill is no different. It is not a black or white position and the refinement continues.
What we have been discussing is the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. We have not been taking a second bite at Article 50 and whether the UK should leave the EU. The decision to enact Article 50 which starts the withdrawal proceedings was passed in the House of Commons by 494 to 122 – an overwhelming majority. I share the view that the House of Lords has exceeded its constitutional role in putting forward so many amendments that go beyond the terms of this Bill.
Membership of the EEA, the Customs Union and the Single Market were all defeated as Lords Amendments. In none of these cases did I believe that they were compatible with the decision reached in the Referendum and did not sit well side by side with our exit from the EU. The issue of a meaningful vote has become a fractious one since some are accusing the Prime Minister of going back on an agreement reached with Conservative rebels, although it has now been admitted that no such agreement was in fact reached. Personally, I thought we already had a meaningful vote on this issue and were well placed to hold the Government to account. I will look at any future amendments put forward on this subject but I would not underestimate the constitutional implications of what it is trying to achieve. See the House of Commons Library Briefing on this. https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/brexit/legislation/parliaments-right-to-a-meaningful-vote-amendments-to-the-eu-withdrawal-bill/
THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
There is an alternative to the EU already in place and that is the Council of Europe. It is the organisation which has kept the peace in Europe since the end of the Second World War. It is the institution which initiated the Convention on Human Rights which remains the principle treaty on the subject. It is the premier human rights organisation in Europe and looks after the European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU body but in front of which we have a success rate of well over 90%. It has 47 member countries and was the inspiration in 1949 of the UK amongst others. The work of the Council of Europe already affects a large number of different departments within Government. Clearly, it affects the Foreign Office since it covers so many aspects of foreign policy including whether individual countries meet their Council of Europe obligations and whether democracy can be enhanced in Turkey.
It also covers the work of the Home Office particularly in relation to terrorism and security including the consequences of war in various countries and modern slavery. The Council provides the international framework for discussing issues related to security and terrorism and has produced the Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism which we signed in 2005. This has included criticism by me of the Government of Belgium for not taking action in advance of the terrorist attack at Brussels airport. It covers cultural and related historic activities including football and sports governance. It covers a number of environmental considerations such as the effect of climate change on tidal lagoons and air quality. It covers the Treasury since we have discussed basic citizenship incomes. These are just some of the areas of British Government it touches. The Council of Europe has no legislative ability in itself and its recommendations are just that. Across much of mainland Europe there is a wish not to be on the wrong side of the Council of Europe. It does have the ability to share best practices and ensure that there is a maximum of co-ordination. It is however in the field of human rights that there is a particular focus for our post-Brexit involvement in Europe.
Most importantly, the Council also participates in essential work to increase democracy by monitoring elections. For example we will be participating in the monitoring of the Turkish General Election. It is also producing guidelines for the conduct of referenda. Above all, the Council offers all this in a way which enhances our sovereignty and shows our willingness to share in areas where we benefit from international co-operation. There are no statutory implications for the UK or on our ability to enhance the need for best practice and co-operation.
REVISITING THE REFERENDUM
Some of the emails I received have unashamedly asked me to block or frustrate Brexit. I simply will not do this. To do so would fly in the face of a referendum result which was clear and which both the Conservative and Labour Parties agreed in their manifestos to carry through to fruition. To go back on this would be a betrayal of a democratic decision and I do not believe that that would be in the country's interests.
So it is unhelpful to try to argue that I should vote a certain way in order 'to satisfy the expressed wish of my constituents in the referendum.' The referendum was a national vote and not one based on constituencies where the figures are estimated figures based on a statistical model. The vote was not counted on a constituency basis.
A number of emails have tried to say that this decision was obtained on the basis of lies by the Leave campaign alone without a reference to the lies of the Remain campaign in what was widely described as Project Fear. This also fails to acknowledge that these lies continue on both sides of the argument today; witness the heavy distortions of what MPs have said by Remain leaflets. It fails too to acknowledge that the odour of sanctity surrounding the Liberal-Democrats is now well and truly compromised. It was the Liberal Democrat Party which was fined £17,000 by the Electoral Commission after the party breached campaign finance rules relating to the EU Referendum. The Party failed to submit a complete and accurate spending return. As The Daily Telegraph pointed out the fine is only slightly shy of the £20,000 maximum which can be levied. In addition, the Open Britain campaign was also fined for an incorrect spending return linked to the Referendum. Similar fining of the Leave campaign has already been documented.
A PARTY POLITICAL ISSUE?
Those who ask me to dispense with party interests in the national interest ignore the fact that what is in the national interest is itself a party political issue and that different parties take different views. And yet, as I have already mentioned, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are united in respecting the result of the Referendum. What we are seeing now is less about Party politics and more about Leave or Remain with underlying political advantage being grabbed wherever it can.
I understand the passion felt by those who want to remain in the EU. As I have said, this is the view that I took as well during the Referendum Campaign - although I fully admit that the EU requires fundamental reform which we are unlikely now to see. But we have to admit that we lost the vote. It is no use saying that opinion polls show people are changing their minds. Surely, the last General Elections have taught us that opinion polls are massively unreliable and are not an equivalent to a referendum or a general election. Moreover, the polls do not show a clear and massive swing for the Remain campaign anyway.
People try to tell me that Theresa May is heading for the hardest Brexit of all, but with no explanation of what this derogatory term means and in the face of an acknowledgement from her that there should be a customs arrangement with the EU. Other emails have spoken of negotiations being gridlocked. I simply cannot see that in the state of our negotiations, or at least I cannot see anything unusual about the state of the negotiations with the EU that is at all different from the negotiations I conducted in the private sector. The only thing that is different is a somewhat malign interest from the press and media. On the subject of a second referendum, frankly I do not like the idea. I do not believe it will help the situation by making a second referendum less divisive. We are going to see the same arguments raised again. We are going to see the same level of acrimony; the same willingness to use the law at every opportunity; and the same request for whoever loses to take their views into account. I am conscious of the statement made by the Archbishop of Canterbury who said that a second referendum on the final Brexit deal would be "unwise" and "not democratic".
THE BREXIT HUB
For those who would like to get non-partisan briefings on Brexit the House of Commons Library has set up a section on its website. This link takes you to the opening page https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/