Gale's View - 19/12/2018

December 19th 2018

I have received, in recent weeks, a number of communications relating to Brexit. Setting aside those that are frankly offensive and happily mostly not from my constituents, and which are simply deleted without response, they fall into three categories.  In the main they are pro-forma e-mails sent out by push-button lobbyists using databases and divided almost evenly between those who are calling for a hard, “No Deal” exit from the European Union and those who call for a “People`s Vote/ Second Referendum “in the hope of reversing the decision to leave. The third group are thoughtful personal observations and responses to what may reasonably be described as a genuine national dilemma and I am endeavouring to afford these the courtesy of individual replies. 

Bearing in mind that this is written in time to meet newspaper deadlines and that events are fast moving, let me, in the interests of those that I represent, review the situation as I see it both from North Thanet and from Westminster.

In June of 2016 the British people took a decision to leave the European Union. I personally did not vote for that course of action but I accepted the result of the referendum and I believe that Parliament has a duty to deliver on that decision on the best terms available to a United Kingdom that includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and that remains regionally divided on the issue.

Because there was a binary “in or out” question on the voting paper there are probably as many variations on the theme as there are electors. Those that say, as some of the round-robin e-mails suggest, that “this is not what we voted for” actually mean “this is not what I myself thought I was voting for” but do not necessarily or even remotely reflect the views of others.

Neither is it correct to say that we can simply walk away without a settlement.  A divorce, after forty years, requires an apportionment   and a settlement of obligations and responsibilities. Even the “Hard Brexit” demanded by some will require an agreement. We are legally bound to financial and security commitments that we have, as a responsible nation, to honour.

Last week’s challenge to the Prime Minister’s Leadership of the Conservative Party was, in my view, irresponsible, unnecessary, doomed to failure and merely exposed the self-interest of some of those who instigated it. It also further weakened the UK’s negotiating position at a critical moment in our history. Contrary to the Black propaganda peddled by those, on both sides of the House, who see personal advantage in chaos, a change of Leader or a change of Government, the Withdrawal Agreement, which I continue to support, does honour the result of the referendum.

Under the agreement we will be leaving the European Union, the fundamental demand. We will bring to an end unbridled freedom of movement from within mainland Europe. We will terminate the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and the power of the European Court of Justice over our own law-making institutions. We will, and this is equally important, protect workers’ rights, animal welfare, the employment of our people and our security. We will also have the power to negotiate our own trade deals with developing markets. 

The Withdrawal Agreement itself is a legally binding paving measure. Much negotiation will take place to secure our final political relationship and the long-term future basis for trade with the remaining countries of the EU and that is why, while some clamour for instant withdrawal, a transition period is necessary.  I personally believe that the concern over a “backstop agreement” in relation to Northern Ireland is ill- founded. It will suit neither side – the UK nor the EU and particularly not the Irish Republic -  to have an open-ended arrangement and neither, as the Attorney General has made clear in the House, would such a measure be legal, in the long term, under The Treaty of Lisbon.  Nevertheless, the Prime Minister has recognised the domestic concern, artificial or otherwise, and is seeking to obtain, beyond any reasonable doubt, the intent behind a `backstop` that it is hoped and expected will not be implemented in the first place. Hence the requirement to postpone but not cancel the `Meaningful Vote` and to engage in yet further discussions with the Council of Ministers.

The Prime Minister has said, in my view correctly, that there remain three options; the Withdrawal Agreement that she has negotiated, a Hard Brexit and No Brexit.

“No Brexit” is not what people voted for in 2016 and a “People`s Vote or a second (actually a third) referendum is a thinly-veiled attempt to reverse the decision. A campaign would not only be divisive but would almost certainly result in yet another marginal result – possibly this time just in favour of remaining. Would that then be definitive? Of course it would not.

A Hard Brexit of the kind advocated by those with little to lose in terms of employment or standard of living would almost certainly have a devastating short and probably mid-term effect upon our economy and prospects for employment and prosperity, and most certainly upon our security – a largely overlooked factor in these discussions.

In the chamber it became apparent, following my question to Mr. Johnson, that neither he nor Mr Mogg nor any of their supporters have, while prepared to criticise others, any viable alternative, save a ludicrous “we would negotiate better” claim, to offer.  The “Norway Plus” and “Canada Plus” options would leave us as paying rule-takers without resolving other issues or delivering the reality of Brexit that a majority thought that they were voting for and Her Majesty`s Opposition, led by Mr. Corbyn, would bind us into agreements that would shackle us again without delivering on Brexit.

The idea that somehow the EU is, after two years of painstaking discussions and having, from their point of view (there are two sides to this coin) made considerable concessions, going to roll over and, just because Mr. Johnson or Mr. Davis (who has already tried) or Mr. Raab (who has already tried) or Mr. Corbyn (who has been trying to negotiate behind the PM`s back) or anyone else, is on the other side of the table, going to deliver a significantly different or better deal is moonshine.

Which leaves a Withdrawal Agreement that, while a compromise and therefore not perfect, ticks most of the boxes. Two out of three leaves one and in the interests of the United Kingdom rather than self-interest it is time that Parliament got behind the least worst deal that is on the table and then allowed the Government to get on with the real work of reaching the full and final settlement of our membership of the European Union. We surely owe that if not to ourselves then at the very least to the children and grandchildren who will have to live with the consequences of our actions and decisions long after we are gone. 

Finally, Suzy and I, and the team in the Office would like to send you every good wish for Christmas and for the coming New Year.  In case of emergencies we can be reached over the holiday period on 01843 848588.

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