I have received a huge numbers of e mails and letters arguing for both sides of the debate – a lot with anguish but also many with bitterness and vehemence that I have not encountered in politics before. That worries me a lot. Passions are greatly inflamed as a direct result of the 2016 Referendum which was to leave the European Union.
The difference in Beckenham between those that wanted to remain and those that wanted to stay in the European Union was less than one percent. My postbag is filled by both sides demanding action too; in equal proportions with the clear majority agreed that Mrs May’s deal is utterly unacceptable. I agree with them on that. Naturally, I have thought about this huge decision greatly and so I hope you will not mind if I spend a little time explaining how I see things.
To start with I do not think that the draft withdrawal agreement suggested by the Prime Minister is good enough and I cannot vote for it – at least as far as it stands.
Neither do I support having another Referendum. I thought we had a ‘peoples’ vote’ in 2016 and the decision was made then. To those that argue people didn’t know what they were voting for in the Referendum I remind them of what was in the Government (‘Remain’ supporting and costing £9 million) leaflet put through every post box in the country. Our then Prime Minister, David Cameron (an avowed ‘Remainer’), kept saying that, if we voted to leave the European Union, it clearly meant we were leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. There would be no half-way house. That was clearly spelt out and emphasised in that leaflet. David Cameron also kept repeating this message on TV and radio I recall. I also remember him explaining that the Referendum (in 2016) was a once in a lifetime decision and would not be repeated. Finally, if there was another referendum (probably impossible in the time anyway) and there was a majority in favour of remaining in the European Union (not sure of that by any means) would those that voted to leave to not also demand that there should be yet another (third) referendum for fairness?
Let me look at various parts of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement proposed by Mrs May and try and analyse what they mean to me.
The biggest stumbling block is the so-called Backstop Arrangement. It certainly does not return sovereignty to Parliament. We would still be bound to the European Union until, at some later date (unspecified) it is agreed that we can finally break clean of EU procedures. That can only happen with negotiation and arbitration which the EU establishment would ensure never happened. There is not even a Section 50 break-clean clause in the draft agreement, so we would be worse off than now where we can leave the EU. Under this deal we would be stuck in the Customs Union without the ability to trade with whoever we liked for an indefinite time. That was not under any circumstance what we understood by BREXIT in the Referendum.
The Backstop arrangement in the Draft Withdrawal Agreement also deals with Northern Ireland and suggests provisions separate to England, Scotland and Wales – again for an indeterminate length of time. That is hugely unacceptable and would destroy the Union of the United Kingdom.
The Political Declaration although not the Draft Withdrawal Agreement also suggests that Spain could have an influence on trade for the British Sovereign territory of Gibraltar; again, that is hugely unacceptable to me – especially as I am Secretary of the All-party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar.
Our fishermen are up in arms about the draft deal too. They are hugely concerned by the French President saying that he would never agree to us controlling waters where French fishermen can come now under EU arrangements. They see this as a betrayal and that is a fact. I do not think farmers will be much affected as regardless they will continue to receive their subsidies whether paid by us (via Brussels) or not.
Speaking too as an MP with a considerable personal investment in Defence from my past I am also concerned that the former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove, known as ‘C’, along with many other past senior Defence and Security officials, has warned that the Government would put the UK into European Union Defence structures. This aspect of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement is there but not obvious. In a letter to the Prime Minister Dearlove and the others, have written:
“Buried in the Agreement is the offer of a ‘new, deep and special relationship’ with the EU in defence, security and intelligence which cuts across the three fundamentals of our national security policy: membership of NATO, our close bilateral defence and intelligence relationship with the USA, and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. …. The first duty of the state, above trade, is the security of its citizens. The Withdrawal Agreement abrogates this fundamental contract and would place control of aspects of our national security in foreign hands.”
Breaking up our Intelligence with the United States in particular but also Australia, New Zealand and Canada would be a very serious development and a risk I would not vote to take.
Less than half our economy is linked to the European Union in any way and our country has a £95 billion annual trade deficit with it. The European Union sends us twice as much as we send it by way of trade and actually only about one in ten of our companies do business with the European Union. In financial terms tariffs on goods therefore have twice the effect on European companies importing to us than the reverse.
As things stand it looks like we may have to leave the EU without a deal and that is sad but may be the case. I would like a deal – but one that is in the interests of the UK as well as the European Union. The Draft Withdrawal Agreement is certainly not that.
If we leave without a deal we would have to trade with the European Union on World Trade Organisation rules which probably put about a 4 per cent tariff on our goods sold to Europe. But the same applies in reverse and the European Union sends us double what we sell to Europe. We would also be able to trade with whom we like and avoid paying a ‘divorce’ bill of £39 billion and, indeed, the annual £9.2 billion we give the European Union for no return. In short, a Break Clean (No Deal) scenario is manageable and certainly not the end of the World that some suggest.
I believe that Mrs May’s current deal is so bad for the UK that even staying in the European Union (against the Referendum result) may be preferable to what she proposes. The current Draft Withdrawal Agreement fails to satisfy many in either camp: both those who want to leave the European Union as well as many that want to remain in it. It is exactly what neither side wanted from the Referendum; those that wished to remain or indeed those that wished to leave the European Union.
Thus, if the choice was this deal or staying in the European Union, I would prefer to remain in the European Union than accept the deal on offer. The other option seems to be a break clean (No Deal) situation which is increasingly likely and may work too. Right now, I see my job as being to help the country get the best arrangement we can which may have to be leaving without a deal. We are a great country and can sort this one out.