Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Newspaper column 9 October 2019 - Brexit update

Another week and another significant time for the Brexit process.

Last Wednesday the Prime Minister presented his proposals to unlock the Brexit stalemate with the EU. These included workable and pragmatic plans to address the issue with the Irish border.

In essence it would see Northern Ireland remain in the Single Market for all goods in terms of regulation and movement of goods between the north and the Republic of Ireland, but not be subject to freedom of movement of people. Northern Ireland would be outside of the EU Customs Union, along with the rest of the UK. There would also be a ‘democratic lock’ which would enable the devolved administration in Northern Ireland to review these arrangements every 4 years if a permanent solution has not been found.

Most importantly, in my view, the proposals lay out a clear path for the UK to be free from all its current ties to the EU and work for a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, whilst enabling us to develop trading arrangements with other countries. This is in stark contrast to the previous proposed agreement that had a risk of us being locked into a Customs Union with the EU indefinitely.

I believe these proposals, presented in good faith, are a fair compromise. They show a willingness on behalf of the UK to shift from previous positions and meet the EU half way. What is now required is for the EU to be willing to also compromise a bit and move slightly towards us.

The initial signs were encouraging, that there was broad support from across Parliament for these plans. MPs from different parties and holding different positions on Brexit indicated they could support these plans. However, we then heard that the EU did not see these plans as workable.

It is frustrating that there is a real sense that the EU are now moving the goal posts, having previously indicated an agreement of this nature would work. It is difficult not to come to the conclusion that they are using the issue of the Irish border to back the UK into an untenable position. They appear unwilling to make any compromises in order to find a deal.

Further discussion will be ongoing over this week, with the EU saying they will be coming to a firm position on this by the end of the week.

It is well known that MPs opposed to Brexit rushed a Bill through Parliament last month that seeks to force the Prime Minister to request an extension rather than leave without a deal at the end of this month – the so-called Surrender Bill. It is now blatantly clear that this has undermined our nation’s negotiating position and is actually making getting an acceptable deal harder. Any notion that this Bill was in our national interest is clearly wide of the mark. It has hindered our ability to get a deal, which is I suspect the real intention.

There remain only two ways to prevent a no deal Brexit – either agree a deal or cancel it altogether. The position of the opposition parties is now clear. The Lib Dems want to revoke Article 50 and overturn the biggest democratic vote in our history. The Labour Party refuse to support any deal and simply want to kick the can further down the road and prolong the uncertainty.

There is only one leader of a major party who is committed to deliver on the referendum result. Boris Johnson remains committed to taking us out of the EU on 31st October. Preferably this will be with a deal if the EU are prepared to compromise. But having made a fair and reasonable offer to them, if we cannot agree then we will leave without a deal.

Many will ask how this will be done with the Surrender Bill in place. It is very unclear precisely what the full details of this Bill are. It was rammed through the House of Commons in just four hours without the usual scrutiny and debate. Therefore, it remains to be seen the exact implications of the Bill and whether or not it does leave any holes by which a delay can be avoided.

I have been overwhelmed with the number of people contacting me in recent days. Whether it is by email, phone calls or face to face. There is a very clear message that I am hearing time and time again – Get Brexit Done. No more delays. No more uncertainty. No more talking. We just need to get on and leave. I remain committed to support the Prime Minister in his determination to lead us out of the EU at the end of the month.