Update: Brexit and vote of confidence
I apologise for the length of this post, but I wanted to give you the full picture of why I have taken the stances and actions I have, because I did not arrive at those decisions lightly.
I was upfront about my position. I signed a letter of no confidence in Theresa May in July following her Chequers proposals and voted against her continued leadership of the Conservative Party in the vote, as did 116 other Conservative MPs. I did so for a number of reasons. Although I hadn’t supported her in her bid to become Conservative Leader in 2016, I was very supportive of her statements regarding the EU, such as Brexit means Brexit, that we would leave the customs union (manifesto commitment), that we wouldn’t be half in and half out of the EU (Lancaster House speech January 2017) and that there would no border down the Irish Sea.
It was only when she started to depart from those assurances, through her Chequers proposals, and then more recently in her proposed Withdrawal Agreement, that I came to the view that she was not the right person to lead the country. I haven’t for one minute doubted her resilience or resolve, her energy or her determination. But those qualities don’t make up for the lack of a strategy or coherence in policy. The Withdrawal Agreement which she put to Parliament, and then subsequently withdrew in the face of very substantial Conservative opposition, went against so much of what she had previously said. And in my opposition to that proposal I have received overwhelming support from people in my constituency.
I was also very concerned by the effect that the proposed Withdrawal Agreement was having with our relationship with the DUP, on whom we depend for a Parliamentary majority – thanks to the calling of an unnecessary General Election and a subsequently appalling campaign. Relations between the DUP and Mrs May have become very strained indeed recently. Just yesterday, they issued a statement saying
We had a useful meeting with the Prime Minister. It was an opportunity to outline why the current Withdrawal Agreement is dangerous to our economy and the Union. We emphasised that tinkering around the edges would not work. We were not seeking assurances or promises. We wanted fundamental legal text changes. We have been consistent which is why it is so frustrating that our warnings about the backstop have not been heeded. The DUP wants a sensible deal which our MPs can support in the House. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to work towards that. Unionism in Northern Ireland and across the House of Commons has rightly stood against this Withdrawal Agreement. It should be utterly unacceptable to any unionist. For Northern Ireland traders to be expected to treat GB as a third country is ridiculous and was never going to receive support in Parliament.
It is the breakdown of the relationship between Mrs May and the DUP which could bring about a Corbyn government. If Mrs May insists on trying to force her Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons, and somehow succeeds in doing so, the DUP could not be guaranteed to support the government in a confidence motion. They have their own electorate to answer to and they would not do anything to help bring about the border in the Irish Sea which Mrs May always said she wouldn’t agree to. In this scenario, a General Election could result and we would therefore be risking allowing Jeremy Corbyn into No 10. Voting down the Withdrawal Agreement, or even removing Mrs May from office, will not lead to a General Election, but the loss of DUP support would. Mrs May says she will now seek to obtain legal text from the EU which will reassure MPs. She, and the EU, had previously said that this would not be possible, and if she fails to do this and simply brings back essentially the same Withdrawal Agreement then the scenario I describe above becomes live.
However, Mrs May kept her position as leader of the Conservative Party. I accept that result and we move on. As I would under any leader, I will carefully scrutinise any proposals which she brings back to the Commons regarding our leaving the EU and will vote the way I feel is best for our country and my constituency. Substantial and legal changes will be needed before I support the Withdrawal Agreement, but let’s see what comes back.
Brexit Negotiations- Update- 15th November 2018
I cannot support the proposals made by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet yesterday. Neither, it seems, could the Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, who has resigned. This is two Brexit Secretaries of State which the Prime Minister has lost in the last few months because of the proposals she has made.
My objections to the proposals centre round the fact that they would tie us into the customs union for longer; that we could not unilaterally decide to leave the customs union; and that Northern Ireland would have a separate status to the rest of the UK. Objections to this latter point have been made by the Northern Ireland Minister, Shailesh Vara, who has also resigned.
The proposals being made do not reflect the “Brexit means Brexit” and Lancaster House stances which the Prime Minister has previously taken. They also put a higher value on achieving frictionless trade (which is very important) than on achieving true independence for our country – independence which would allow us forge trade deals across the world. To me, Theresa May has thereby demonstrated that she has the wrong priorities.
Although I have always held strong reservations about her leadership, I was prepared to give her time to demonstrate that she really did believe that Brexit means Brexit. However, after she appeared to come away from that stance by making proposals following the Cabinet meeting at Chequers, I wrote a letter to Sir Graham Brady MP, Chairman of the 1922 Committee, requesting that a vote of confidence in her leadership be held.
That letter is still held by Sir Graham and remains live. It is for others now to judge if they believe that Theresa May is the right person to continue to take us through the Brexit negotiations or that, like me, she has clearly demonstrated that she is not the person to do so. Either way, I think most Conservatives believe that she cannot lead us into the next General Election, not least because the government we are attempting to run is without a majority because of the disastrous decisions she took in connection with the holding and running of the last one.
I will now continue to focus on trying to help bring about a change in direction of our Brexit negotiations so that the UK can become an independent, global trading nation once again.
The government is still hopeful of reaching a deal with the EU about the terms of our leaving and future relationship. However, the EU is saying that a sticking point is the question over the Irish border. I believe this to be a red herring.
At the moment, there is a political border in Ireland. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland also use different currencies, have different rates of Corporation Tax, VAT, excise duties, Air Passenger Duty and Tourism Tax. Even so, trade continues seamlessly and people can move North and South, and to Great Britain for that matter, due to the Common Travel Area which was agreed in 1923.
I see no reason why these movements of goods and people should not continue after the UK leaves the EU. The Trade Facilitation Agreement, together with the World Trade Organisation objectives of frictionless trade, reduce the likelihood of the need for any significant delays or checks at the Irish border which would delay the import and export of goods. This likelihood is further reduced by the availability of technology.
Facilities, such as trusted trader agreements, checks at the origin and destination of goods and further technological procedures are all available now. I therefore see no reason why the EU cannot sign up to an agreement now. Delaying for a further twelve months, after the implementation period, will not bring about further so-called solutions.
People's Vote Campaign
I will not be supporting calls for a people's vote on the final terms of the deal. This is because this would essentially be a re-run of the referendum and it is unclear what would be on the ballot paper and the level of support necessary to decide on an outcome. If there are three options and the vote requires a simple majority, the leave vote could be split, allowing the remain vote to come through the middle, when in fact the majority voted to leave. I believe that we must respect the outcome of the EU referendum, where a majority of the country voted to leave, and achieve an outcome which reflects what people voted for.
Brexit: The Environment
The Secretary of State has been carrying out excellent work in this area, setting out his plans to ensure we leave the planet in a better state for our children, with stronger protections for animal welfare, cleaner air and greener spaces. Earlier this month, our Ivory Bill had its Second Reading in the House. This legislates for one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales, covering ivory of all ages - with some narrow exemptions. The maximum available penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail. From consulting on a ban of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds to introducing tougher sentences for animal abusers, the UK is leading on many environmental issues globally.
I have also received campaign generated emails regarding "Brexit's impact on the environment". As the Prime Minister said in January, Brexit provides an opportunity to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections—not to weaken them. This is why the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has launched a consultation on the development of a new independent statutory body to safeguard the environment alongside approaches to embed EU environmental principles in our own domestic law.