The UK voted to Leave the EU on 23 June 2016. Leave won the referendum with over 17.4 million votes on a turnout of 72.2% - it was the largest democratic vote in our nation's proud history. Almost three and a half years on, we are finally on the cusp of leaving the EU.
I voted to Leave the EU because I did not like the direction the EU was heading - toward greater political, military, and economic integration - and, as a democrat, had grave concerns at the lack of democratic accountability at the heart of the EU project. The EU Commission wields immense power. Their processes and decision-making are secretive. It is run by unelected and unaccountable technocractic bureaucrats, who show scant regard for ordinary people. I do not wish to dwell on the arguments for Leave v Remain, that thankfully was resolved with the referendum result.
Theresa May attempted and failed to pass her withdrawal agreement three times in the House of Commons. I scrutinised her deal. The Withdrawal Agreement is an international treaty, so permanent unless and until we negotiate a new one.
My concerns on her deal - and the reasons why I opposed it on all three occasions (nothing had changed to make me change my mind) were:
- The backstop - which was overtly an attempt by the EU to keep the UK entrapped within the Single Market and Customs Union and prevent us from taking back control our independent trade policy, striking deals with the rest of the world.
- Lack of consent on Northern Ireland's status - the Northern Ireland assembly would have had no say as to whether it would stay within the negotiated special arrangements. The default would have been it would stay within a backstop “unless and until” alternative arrangements had proven that it was possible for Northern Ireland to share arrangements with Great Britain without requiring the return of a hard border.
- Commitment to a "level playing field" - this commitment was contained within Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement and was legally binding. It meant the UK would have been unable to legally diverge from EU environmental, employment laws and other regulations - it was not taking back control.
- European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction - due to the backstop, the ECJ could have retained jurisdiction in perpetuity.
I also had concerns with the Political Declaration, although as these were not legally binding agreements, I was prepared to be more flexible.
What Boris Johnson's negotiating team, led by David Frost, has done is turn a remarkably bad agreement - with little time to renegotiate, and the Remain establishment acting to stifle any attempt to secure a better deal through the Surrender Act, and conducting parallel negotiations with Brussels against the UK Government - into a deal that I can get behind.
- The backstop is gone - Northern Ireland will remain within the UK customs territory, and able to benefit from trade deals we strike. I personally am not opposed to checks on goods transported from the UK to Northern Ireland that are then transported on to the EU - this is an understandable and logical arrangement for customs integrity.
- Consent mechanism - Northern Ireland can leave the special arrangement if it wants. It can do so with a double majority (i.e. both nationalist and unionist majority) vote in the Stormont Assembly. The future of Northern Ireland will now be decided in Belfast, not Brussels.
- No commitment to a "level playing field" - this is gone, and now in the Political Declaration. I have concerns on it being there, but am able to compromise as it is not legally binding.
- ECJ jurisdiction ends when we leave - The ECJ will still have jurisdiction over EU citizen’s rights for a time-limited period, and over disputes that relate to an interpretation of EU law in the Withdrawal Agreement. But when we leave, we are free to set our own laws.
The Political Declaration, aside from the "level playing field" (see above) and text on fisheries (again, I am willing to compromise given the circumstances as it is not legally binding), improves substantially on the previous one. May's deal set us on the path to a Customs Union, Boris's deal sets us on the path toward a Free Trade Agreement and the future of an outward, global, free-trading Britain.
This is not necessarily the outcome we could have achieved if we had conducted negotiations in a similar manner from the start. Accepting the EU's sequencing was a monumental misjudgement. Many saw the EU as a trade area, rather than a political project. We didn't ask for more than we wanted and weren't prepared to play hardball. Theresa May also wasn't really prepared to walk away. She chose a poor negotiator in Olly Robbins. As someone who has negotiated numerous UN resolutions and deals on behalf of the UK while in the Foreign Office, I could see these were major strategic and tactical errors.
Notwithstanding this, we now have a deal that improves substantially on the bad deal Theresa May's team negotiated. David Frost and his team has negotiated the best outcome we could have achieved given the situation he inherited. This is Brexit. We will be out of all EU laws. We will be able to agree free trade deals. European Court supremacy ends in Britain. We will be in control of taxes. Northern Ireland will be in the UK customs territory forever. And the anti-democratic backstop has been abolished.
This is the best Brexit deal for Reading East – this is a real Brexit deal which ensures that we take back control. It's now time to Get Brexit Done.
|Revised Withdrawal Agreement||938.37 KB|