As the debate continues, I hope that this attempt to answer some of the most-asked questions, and to explain why I have done what I have done, is helpful.
Why don’t you just get on with it?
I agree. That is why I have voted for the Prime Minister’s deal three times. Some Conservative MPs and most opposition MPs have voted against the deal without being clear about what they would support. The Labour Party has changed its position so many times that you can’t escape the conclusion that they are playing politics with this vital issue. I voted remain but I am a democrat and have been consistent in voting for an orderly Brexit that respects the result of the largest popular vote in our democratic history.
But isn’t the deal a bad one?
No. It delivers Brexit. We would no longer send £ billions to Brussels every year. We would take back control of our borders, agriculture and fisheries. We would no longer be subject to the rulings in the European Court of Justice. The problem for some is the so-called Backstop. This is the insurance measure to cover border trade issues on the island of Ireland if within two years the UK and the EU have not finalised their new trading arrangements. On a balance of risk, there is very little chance of this happening as it suits neither the EU or the UK. Businesses and farming interests in Northern Ireland do not see this as a risk.
Haven’t you been trying to stop Brexit?
No. If others had voted the same way as me the UK would have left the EU on 29th March. What I have been doing is working with others across Parliament to find an alternative to the Prime Minister’s deal should that completely fail to pass. I think that this is a good insurance against no-deal or no Brexit. It might mean a softer Brexit, at least for a few years, but it would still be respecting the result of the referendum.
Why is the Prime Minister now working with Jeremy Corbyn to find a solution?
The country wants politicians to work together. Finding a solution which reflects the result of the referendum but ensures Britain leaves in an orderly way is in the national interest. I hope Labour step up to the challenge.
What is wrong with a no-deal Brexit?
- There is no transition under no deal. We literally crash out without any of the carefully negotiated measures in the Withdrawal Agreement applying. This means we are no longer in the security apparatus that allows easy transfer of data on terrorists or criminals or the European Arrest Warrant. There would be no protections for the Irish border issue or citizens’ rights.
- It knocks us out of around 70 existing trade deals overnight. We would be forced back to WTO “schedules” defining tariffs and quotas.
- WTO means effectively the highest possible tariffs. For example, milk and cars are currently zero tariff and under WTO would be 10% for cars exported to the EU and countries with a trade deal with the EU and 35% for dairy products.
- I have been approached by many businesses in West Berkshire alarmed by the implications of no deal. Farmers are looking at a tariff of 46% for sheep meat and similar levels for chicken, beef and pork. Financial services (covered in the Withdrawal Agreement) would see passporting end for the City, forcing many firms to establish EU branches to trade there.
- There would be an economic hit.
- A hard border in Northern Ireland would be likely to lead to what is called a border poll which could lead to Northern Ireland voting to leave the UK. This would be a further incentive to the independence movement in Scotland.
What is wrong with a customs union?
We are currently in a customs union. Under the Withdrawal Agreement we would be in a customs union for a transition period. Under a proposed customs arrangement, we would be able to sell or buy goods into and from the EU as seamlessly as within our own borders. But, being outside the EU, we would not be able to decide the rules for the arrangement and would not be party to discussions relating to the trade deals the EU was forming with other countries or for the management of the customs union. However, our membership of a customs arrangement can be ended, particularly if we negotiate our own trading arrangements with the EU in time.
Why is it all so complicated?
It took the UK 12 years to negotiate itself into the Common Market. For the next 46 years we have embedded much of our trading arrangements, our regulations and our laws in the EU and its treaties. We have managed our environment, our agriculture and our fisheries in accordance with the EU. We have joined up our criminal justice and security systems with the EU and its institutions. Just breaking free of all that was never going to be easy.
Why not hold a second referendum?
The referendum was the largest democratic event in our history. To have another would be saying to the 17.4 million who voted leave that we are going to ignore your decision. A second referendum would take at least 4 or 5 months to happen. It would require an act of parliament which would involve lengthy arguments about what question should be asked, how much money each side could spend and many other contentious matters. At the end of it all it is unlikely to solve much and certainly would not bring our divided nation together.
Is Brexit damaging our economy?
It is certainly holding back spending and investment. If a deal is agreed, that certainty will see huge amounts of cash currently sitting on balance sheets injected into our economy. But, overall, Britain is doing well. Our growth rates way outperform our closest neighbours. Foreign direct investment is up, exports are up, our trade in goods and services to EU and non-EU countries are up. The deficit is down, and tax receipts are high and rising.