When I was the Minister for Fisheries at DEFRA, I had the arduous task of renegotiating and reforming the deeply discredited Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
I was met with opposition from forces that wanted to scupper any deal being done. An agreement was finally reached in on the early hours of Wednesday 15th May 2013 after two years of discussions with other EU Governments. I was clear then that I would have refused a deal that would have gone against the three principles of the UK Government that any new CPF arrangement should see a legally binding commitment to fishing sustainably, a ban on the discarding of perfectly edible fish at sea and there must be devolution of key aspects of managing fishing quota to member states, instead of being controlled entirely from Brussels.
In all negotiations the UK has entered with the EU, the prospect of a positive outcome has always looked the bleakest prior to the deadline. But as with my experience with reforming the CFP, the very last minute focusses the mind and a deal is reached. I remain optimistic that whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, a settlement can be reached that protects the interest of businesses in West Berkshire and beyond. I am working constructively with the Government for that outcome.
The Prime Minister’s proposals as set out in the Future Relationship White paper are a sensible, pragmatic approach which does just that. There are key businesses in the West Berkshire area which rely on free, frictionless trade between the UK and EU. The proposals put forward by the Government will ensure that continues.
But this is a critical time in the negotiations and it is possible for the deal to shift. I am relaxed about the nature of any deal with the EU as long as it meets my two key criteria:
- It honours the result of the referendum and by the end of the process we will have left the European Union
- It protects the interest of business, by ensuring continued free trade between the UK and EU
To have a second referendum or so-called “people’s vote” would not meet either of these and would make things worse. Another referendum would create more uncertainty and more division. It would take a long time and it is unlikely it could be completed before March 2019 as Parliament requires legislation for referendums to happen. There would be several hotly contested issues including what question should be on the ballot paper, who is entitled to vote, issues around spending limits, questions about what the result would actually mean, to name just a few.
But more widely, any calls for a second vote are a complete waste of time and energy. We have already had a second ratification on the referendum; this was the General Election last year and the result was over 80% of people in the UK voting for a party which was committed to honouring the result of the referendum in 2016. In Newbury, I was clear that I would support the Government’s programme to leave the EU and respect the result of the referendum. I saw an increase in my personal vote. It is estimated that in the Newbury constituency 52.2% voted to remain at the referendum. In last year’s election, 61.5% of people voted for me knowing full well my position on this important issue.
I am determined to continue to work constructively and in the interest of both the country and my constituents to see a good settlement as the UK leaves the EU. The October EU Council has shown that there are positives to take away from the progress of negotiations with 90% of all matters now agreed. But it also shows that there is more to do. We are not quite at that final deadline yet, but we are getting close. There is going to be more speculation, more tension and more late-night negotiations before this process is completed. But all sides want to see a deal reached and I am confident that the EU will be true to form once again and produce one at the very last minute.