Update on Brexit position
The situation regarding our leaving the European Union is fast-moving. At the moment, the Commons has rejected the draft Withdrawal Agreement by 149 votes, which is the fourth largest government defeat in history. This follows on from a rejection by 230 votes, which was the biggest ever defeat.
The current draft Withdrawal Agreement does not, in my view, represent Brexit. To start with, it is not a trade deal, but merely a draft withdrawal agreement. This draft agreement has the potential of tying us to a customs union (under which we could not negotiate our own trade deals across the world, as we said we would) indefinitely, would place Northern Ireland into a different regulatory regime, would keep us under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in certain areas and would require us to continue paying money to the EU. We would be prevented from leaving this arrangement without the EU’s permission.
Under the Conservative Party manifesto at the last election, we said we would leave the EU. Since then, the Prime Minister has stated over a 100 times that we would leave the EU on 29th March. She also said in her Lancaster House speech that we would not be half-in, half-out of the EU, so that we would not be in the single market or the customs union. I want us to stick to these promises.
The Speaker of the House of Commons has responded to the situation by saying that, under the rules, the government cannot put the same motion again to the Commons, so we will have to see what happens from here. Basically, there are three options: get a better agreement and bring that back to the Commons; leave without a deal; or delay our leaving.
My preference, of these three options, would be to leave the EU on 29th March without a deal being in place now, but to apply for the triggering of Article 24 of the WTO/GATT, which would enable us to continue trading on much the same terms as now while we pursue a free trade agreement with the EU. I will not support the draft Withdrawal Agreement as it stands nor will I agree to an extension of our membership.
"Trade after Brexit" campaign
I have received a number of emails outlining concerns regarding our trade agreements after Brexit, particularly relating to the scrutiny of such agreements, and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms. However, I would like to assure you that such concerns are unfounded.
Maintaining safety and public confidence in the food we eat is of the highest priority. Without exception, imports must meet all the relevant UK product rules and regulations. Any future trade agreements must work for UK farmers, businesses, and consumers, and uphold food safety, animal welfare standards, and environmental protection. In addition, when it comes to products imported to the UK – quality, safety and performance will continue to be paramount.
Regarding scrutiny of future trade agreements, the Government is committed to transparency and scrutiny of its trade agreements. The Government has committed to Parliament scrutinising our future trade arrangements. Parliament will be able to inform negotiations, be regularly updated, and will ultimately play its role in the ratification of any new Free Trade Agreement through the process set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. I have followed these issues very closely, and tabled dozens of written questions on trade issues – as well as introducing amendments to the trade bill. I will continue to fight to ensure that the Government maintains the highest standards for food safety, environmental protection and product rules & regulations.
Likewise, I will continue to campaign for greater transparency in upcoming trade deals and work to ensure that they serve the interests of my constituency and the country. ISDS mechanisms are a complicated subject and there are certain campaign groups who seek to mislead the public about this subject. The right of governments to regulate in the public interest is protected in investment chapters in free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. The UK has more than 90 bilateral investment treaties in place with other countries and there has never been a successful ISDS claim brought against the UK, nor has the threat of potential claims affected the Government’s legislative programme.
I would like to reassure you that ISDS does not, and cannot, force the privatisation of public services. In addition, the UK supports transparency in ISDS. The new United Nations Rules on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration, to which the UK is a signatory, are specifically designed to address such concerns. On the specific issue of public healthcare, the Government is committed to protecting the NHS. The NHS is safeguarded by specific exemptions in all EU trade agreements and, as our country leaves the EU, the UK will continue to ensure that rigorous protections for the NHS are included in all trade agreements it is party to.