28 JAN 2017

Brexit - continued No 4

Brexit continued No 4

The Government has set out its 12 negotiating objectives for Brexit. It has stressed that while this is part of the plan to leave the EU, it is not part of a plan to leave Europe. On the basis of the feedback it has so far had from European colleagues, the Government does not believe that we can be part in, part out. It is therefore seeking a new and equal partnership with our friends and allies in the EU. In order to help constituents understand the 12 objectives the Government has set, I repeat them below without a commentary from the press.

I am about to hold a number of discussion forums around the constituency on the subject of Brexit. I want to hear what it is that are people's concerns and what they want me to look out for in negotiation. It is a listening exercise that I would like people with all views to attend.

  • 1. Certainty: the final deal that is agreed between the UK and EU will be put to a vote in both Houses of Parliament.
  • 2. Control of our own laws: this will bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain.
  • 3. Strengthen the Union: this is intended to strengthen the Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom.
  • 4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland: this is to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom's immigration system.
  • 5. Control of immigration: the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was that we need to control the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain but there must be control.
  • 6. Rights for EU nationals in Britain, and British nationals in the EU: this is to guarantee these rights as early as we can.
  • 7. Protect workers' rights: as we translate the body of European law into our domestic regulations, this is to ensure that workers' rights are fully protected and maintained.
  • 8. Free trade with European markets: as a priority this is to pursue a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and EU member states. It cannot though mean membership of the EU's Single Market. That would mean complying with European Court of Justice rulings, free movement and other EU rules and regulations without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. And because we will no longer be members of the Single Market, we will not be required to contribute huge sums to the EU budget. If we contribute to some specific EU programmes that we wish to participate in, it will be for us to decide.
  • 9. New trade agreements with other countries: this is to create a customs agreement with the EU and have an open mind on how we achieve this end.
  • 10. The best place for science and innovation: we will continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.
  • 11. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism: we want our future relationship with the EU to include practical arrangements on matters of law enforcement and intelligence.
  • 12. A smooth, orderly Brexit: we want to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded. From that point onwards, we expect a phased process of implementation. We will work to avoid a disruptive cliff-edge.

Let me address a number of other points that have been made.

Status of the Referendum

I disagree with those who tell me that the referendum was 'only' advisory. In our manifesto which was supported by over 11 million people (and very clearly before that), we said explicitly that we would accept the result of the referendum whatever it was. The Referendum effectively ceased being advisory at that point.

How voting now against giving the Prime Minister permission to start Article 50 negotiations would comply with that has not been made clear or how we would ever be trusted in taking democratic decisions again if we voted against. Those, like me, who voted to Remain need to accept that we lost the argument and that we lost the vote. I am not throwing in the towel and admitting defeat but I am recognising that a decision was made. As I have already said, my responsibility now is ensuring that the best deal can be reached for the country that is consistent with the recognition of that democratic decision.

The use of statistics

I understand the feeling of desperation that many feel at this decision but I find the use of statistics to justify why this was not a democratic decision as particularly bogus – almost as much as some of the claims used by both sides in the Referendum campaign itself. It was a simple referendum. The issue of a supermajority, whereby more than 60% would have been required to trigger leaving the EU, have been discussed in Parliament. But at the time of the Bill there was no overwhelming call for this, least of all from the Liberal-Democrats. Similarly there were no calls for a second referendum at the time the Bill was going through the House. Voting again and again until the 'right' answer is produced is precisely what the EU has been most criticised for.

Debate in Parliament is some 60 hours

I am working in my own fields to explore what aspects of our current membership of the EU are essential for us to take forward. There will be debate over this both inside and outside parliament. Inside parliament we have already had some 60 hours of debate on Brexit and different aspects of the UK economy and society. Very few of these debates have been reported in the press but they remain an important source of information to Government and Parliament alike. They should also be of interest to all with a concern in the decision.

The Prime Minister has promised a vote to Parliament at the end of the process once an agreement has been reached and we are voting on a simple and straight forward Bill to give the Prime Minister discretion to begin the Article 50 process this coming week.

Some of the debates we have had in the House of Commons since the beginning of November 2016 include:

  • Leaving the EU: Security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice
  • Leaving the EU: the Rural Economy
  • Leaving the EU: European Social Funding in Scotland and the UK
  • Leaving the EU: Infrastructure in Wales
  • Leaving the EU
  • Leaving the EU: Funding for Northern Ireland
  • Leaving the EU: Animal Welfare Standards in Farming
  • Exiting the EU: Science and Research
  • Exiting the EU: Businesses in Wales
  • Exiting the EU: Scotland
  • The Government's Plan for Brexit
  • Exiting the EU and Transport
  • Exiting the EU and Workers' Rights

Parliament is therefore fully engaged with Brexit

The nature of representative democracy

For over 300 years we have had a clear picture of MPs as representatives rather than delegates where they have to use their own judgment. In reaching a decision they have to take into account information such as the enormous number of debates in both Houses which have not been reported by the press. This is not a question of party loyalty as some have tried to suggest. It is a question of taking a balanced view of these factors. However, if the referendum really was advisory, it is difficult to see why those who want to remain are using it to try to tie my hands now in how I may vote.

Like many in South Oxfordshire I voted to Remain and still believe that that would have been the better option. But I am not going to defy the democratic vote of the country as a whole either directly or indirectly, not through party loyalty but because I do not believe that would be a credible action to take. I am not in denial that a decision was made and I do not believe that the promises made by either campaign during the referendum campaign had the sort of influence that people now say they did. We have set out a plan for getting the best for the country out of Brexit.

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