As you know, this month has been key for ongoing Brexit negotiations and debates in Parliament.
Like many people, I am deeply frustrated that the debate on Brexit seems to be the only issue that gets any "airtime" - there are many other challenges our country faces, whether day to day local issues such as South Western Trains, or longer term national issues like social mobility or social care, and we must find the political space for them. However, as the last two and a half years has shown, Brexit seems to take all the time there is.
We started five days of debate on the EU Withdrawal Agreement that were meant to lead up to a meaningful vote on the deal on Tuesday 11th December. However, a day before the vote was due to take place, the Government announced it would no longer take place, and the Prime Minister acknowledged it would have led to the Deal being voted against in Parliament.
Lots of people have emailed me about their concerns on the deal and I share those concerns. I believe what's currently being proposed isn't in the best interests of the country. If Parliament just nodded it through, its huge flaws for the UK would simply become apparent later and people would then question why we allowed it to pass, plus we'd have all the problems to still sort out. I've been through the 585 page Withdrawal Agreement very carefully and also the accompanying 26 page Political Declaration because it's so crucial to understand the actual terms being proposed for MPs to vote on.
A major problem is that the Withdrawal Agreement that has been agreed by Government ties Britain into complying with EU rules over which we will have no say, and for many years (whilst a free trade agreement is reached, which we have not begun negotiation on in detail yet). Consequently, as a deal, it does not ‘take back control’’, it actually gives away huge amounts of control and sovereignty over the rules that we have to follow back to the EU, which is not only wrong but will also prove to be unworkable. I see no prospect for any Parliament in the future simply accepting new EU rules if they are against the UK’s interests, and when we have had no role in shaping them. At that point we'd just be back to square one again with no agreed deal.
In terms of what the Withdrawal Agreement signs up to, on state aid rules (as an example) which may change in the future in a way that is not in our interest, we can be judged as in breach by the EU, and fined with as little as 30 days notice by the EU if we are "anti-competitive". They judge if we then have complied. Any EU business rules that change may very much affect UK business but we will have to follow them even though the UK will have had no input into their design. In addition, the deal also signs us up to agreeing that the EU will represent us at many international meetings to the exclusion of the UK attending separately - should it be at any such meeting, on an exceptional basis agreed by the EU, the UK has agreed to not take a position that is contradictory to the EU line, even though we will have had no voice around the table that decided it.
The deal is also not good for the political stability of the UK. It has proposals that mean that Northern Ireland will likely end up increasingly aligned to EU regulations rather than the rest of the UK, which will have a corrosive effect on our United Kingdom both in Northern Ireland and in Scotland. I am also very concerned it will also in practice undermine the Good Friday agreement which has helped bring peace and security for people in Northern Ireland and our country more broadly.
In addition, the so-called Political Agreement that is intended to set out the longer term relationship between the UK and the EU gives very little meaningful level of detail as to our future relationship, has no timescales, no guarantees and is not binding on either party. In other words, we will be legally leaving the EU but with no agreed or detailed relationship set out. Again this seems to be wholly inadvisable and unacceptable as an approach for the UK.
I think it's been clear for months that Parliament is in gridlock. That's why I’m campaigning very strongly with MPs from across Parliament for a second referendum to let the public have the final say, especially given that no-one seems happy with the deal as proposed. I trust my constituents to be able to make an informed decision choosing between the practical routes forward on Brexit compared to the existing deal with have with the EU, and this is a momentous step for Britain.