I have received a large amount of correspondence about the ‘Chequers Agreement’ on our proposed future relations with the EU. To be clear, the agreement is a negotiating position, not a ‘deal’. We now need to negotiate with the EU in the coming weeks to try and turn our proposals into firm and concrete building blocks for a long-term partnership.
From some of the coverage of the agreement, one would assume that the Prime Minister had just proposed a formal declaration of the end of the United Kingdom as a nation state, the surrender of our Government to ‘unelected bureaucrats in Brussels’, and the termination of all senses of freedom before the law for all true born Britons. This spirit has been echoed by many of my constituents, accusing the Prime Minister of ‘treachery’, and me of somehow siding with such Quisling like behaviour. I fully respect the fact that many of my constituents hold passionate (and often diametrically opposed) views on this subject. However, we must focus on the reality of what has actually been proposed rather than the inevitable exaggeration and hyperbole of much coverage and ‘noises off’, designed with different interests in mind than the national one. Senior Ministers have resigned and we should always respect those who nobly choose to give up collective responsibility for a policy position that they do not agree with. Nevertheless, in my view, the facts of the Chequers Agreement should be consistent with seeking a strong Brexit deal that does compromise – both within our divided nation, and with Brussels – but ultimately ensures we leave the EU in the most orderly and economically successful way possible. The Chequers Agreement proposes that on leaving the EU the UK would:
- end free movement
- stop sending vast sums to the EU in subscription fees, so that we can instead spend that money on priorities like the NHS
- be free to make our own trade deals
- still have frictionless trade in goods and services with the EU
- have flexibility to diverge from EU regulations in the services sector, which is so important to our economy
- avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland (not a condition originally imposed by the EU, but a promise we made in good faith to maintain the Belfast Agreement and therefore peace in the province)
- leave the common fisheries policy, becoming an independent coastal state, under international law, in control of the seas 200 nautical miles out from our coastline for the first time in decades
- leave the Common Agricultural Policy so that we can take control of how we support our farmers and agri-environmental concerns
- end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK
- above all, end the direct effect of EU law in the UK
Of course, we are going to be drawing up a common rule book for trade in goods, but it is worth reflecting that our exporters would have to comply with such rules anyway if they wanted to trade with the EU, which is why manufacturers have actively called for this particular policy. Without such agreement, we could not enjoy the frictionless trade that is so important to our manufacturing sector and we could not avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. Whilst people have expressed concern on this point, I would urge them to read the rule book and note how technical and uncontroversial the content is, and how little it has changed over the years. And the PM has made it clear that we would be able to diverge if need be, and thus have ultimate sovereignty.
I would ask those who voted leave if the above is really a ‘sell-out’. If we were to negotiate the above successfully, the UK would have excellent access to the EU market without paying billions in for the privilege, and without free movement. Would that really be so bad an outcome? For those like me who voted to remain – whose views must also be taken into account – I would argue that the above is a balance between the factions, delivering the verdict of the British people to leave but with sufficient protection for the economy that we can do so in a sensible and orderly fashion.
We should also ask what the alternatives are. I have heard many say that we should just walk out of the talks and revert to WTO terms when we leave. This is an extremely risky route to take. It is not ‘project fear’ to say that the likelihood of painful outcomes would be high. Without any agreement at all for customs and standards our border crossings, particularly the ports, would be gummed up with tail backs and this would hurt our economy and manufacturing sector in particular. I should say that I did not like the ‘project fear’ nature of the Remain campaign but in this case, with so immediate a crashing of a system that has taken 40 years to build – and with no alternative arrangements in place – it is hard to imagine that the impact on consumer confidence, the pound in our pocket and business sentiment would not be profound, and for the worse.
Those who advocate such an option believe it delivers the purist form of sovereignty. However, I would argue that, quite the opposite, for the sake of illusory Governmental sovereignty, we would be maximising the risk of unleashing economic headwinds over which we would have no control, no sovereignty. No country can control the markets, and we should well remember that from previous bitter experiences. Instead, we should seek to maximise the chance of a positive, balanced deal between ourselves and the EU which minimises economic risk.
And those who still feel that the above gains would not be enough to justify supporting the Prime Minister’s approach should remember that we all have to compromise. I campaigned to Remain. I do not try to hide that fact just because the majority of my constituents voted the other way. Many of my own party members wholly disagree. But my motives were no better or worse than theirs – my view of our national interest. I argued that as the largest nation in the EU but not in the single currency, which I campaigned against with vigour, we had a unique offer in the highly competitive global economy. I also argued in those referendum debates in Sudbury and Harwich against a member of my own party (Bernard Jenkin MP) that we were taking for granted the peace and prosperity our country has enjoyed for decades. Populism has been unleashed since the painful 2008 crash, just as it was in the 1930s. We know where that ended and whilst I am not suggesting war is headed our way one only has to look at the trade row between the US and China to see where nationalist bombast gets us: into angry confrontation and a desire to rail at the world and look for scapegoats.
For all that, we are a democracy. And for that reason, having voted the Referendum into law to finally settle the question of our future once and for all, for better or worse, I really would be betraying my leave voters if I now reneged. I voted for Article 50 and believe that Parliament and HM Government have a duty to work together to find a way to leave the EU that keeps our national unity as in tact as possible. This cannot be done through a second referendum. It cannot be done by ignoring the result or storming out of talks and resorting to WTO terms which would risk harsh economic consequences. It can only be done by a sensible deal that compromises on all sides whilst preserving the key elements that make up Brexit. I have outlined those above as the main components of the Chequers Agreement.
But this is only a negotiating position. We now need to come together and back the PM so that she can turn these aspirations into practical reality via a successful negotiation. In the meantime, we must prepare for no deal and the PM confirmed that we are stepping up such work. ‘No deal’ must be planned for, but not hoped for. It would shatter unity between ourselves and the EU; between leave and remain voters; and above all, within our precious union, risking the break-up of that great institution of co-operation and collective good that has stood the test of time, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
This is the time to balance our patriotic passion with our British sense of pragmatism. It has been said that the ‘Brexit dream is dying’. On the contrary, the Brexit reality is coming alive. But it is doing so in the real world. That is where the negotiations will take place and that is where we will have to live out the consequences of our actions.
I look forward to a successful negotiation.