Brexit - Statement on the Withdrawal Agreement

The House of Commons will vote on the Withdrawal Agreement next week on Tuesday 11th December and I will be voting against it. I think it is important that I lay out the reasons I will be voting against the agreement to my constituents. Thank you to every constituent who has contacted me during the last three years about Brexit. I appreciate the strength of feeling on both sides of the debate but the UK and the constituency voted to leave and I believe it is right to deliver on that decision.

First of all, it is important to note that the Withdrawal Agreement is not a trade deal with the EU. It is an agreement on our transition out of the EU accompanied by a supplementary Political Declaration on the future trade relationship which has no specific or legally binding commitments. The Withdrawal Agreement therefore requires us to pay the EU £39 billion for no trade deal in return. It would see us under the jurisdiction of the ECJ and voiceless within EU institutions while still having to abide by their rules. We would not be able to strike trade deals with other countries and Northern Ireland would be in a separate regulatory area to the rest of the UK.

Everything the EU wants is legally binding within the Withdrawal Agreement and everything the UK wants out of a new relationship with our neighbours is a mere promise to discuss it at some point in the future. It is a one-sided agreement that does not protect the UK’s economic interests or sovereignty. Negotiations for this future trade deal would take place in a situation where the UK has handed over the financial settlement to the EU and is trapped in an indefinite customs agreement we could not leave unilaterally. Choosing to negotiate our future agreement in a situation where we have no leverage and could not walk away is unacceptable and therefore I will be voting against the deal.

The Key Criticisms of the Withdrawal Agreement:

The UK would remain a rule taker under the ECJ. The ECJ has enormous powers of interpretation over the Withdrawal Agreement, including over all aspects of retained EU law (Article 174), the financial settlement (Article 160) and on cases arising in the transition (Article 87). During the transition period, we must follow all EU rules for “goods placed on the market” (Article 41). This is not even the ‘Common Rulebook’ as stated in the Chequers White Paper, but the EU’s rulebook in full where we will have no say in the making of those rules.

The UK has no right to unilaterally leave the agreement. We may only leave with the EU’s permission. The EU will only consent to this if a replacement trade deal is signed that meets their criteria. The only condition under which the UK may appeal a decision not to let us leave is if the EU is not acting with “best endeavours, in good faith”, which is extremely difficult to prove and would be ruled on by the ECJ.

The UK would not be able to pursue independent trade deals. Agreeing to adhere to and adopt all EU legislation, as well as participate in the Customs Union via the backstop, means the UK will not be able to agree new trade deals with other countries. Trade deal negotiations require sovereignty over tariffs and regulations to be able to negotiate bilateral or multilateral harmonisation, equivalence, or reductions. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK’s tariffs and regulations would remain set by the EU, with no UK input, meaning we could not sign new trade deals.

The Withdrawal Agreement threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom by including a backstop arrangement which puts a border down the Irish Sea. The backstop keeps Northern Ireland in the Customs Union as well as abiding by additional EU regulations that would not apply to Great Britain. The agreement forces Northern Ireland to accept regulatory alignment with the EU. Entering into the Customs Union and following masses of EU regulation is not necessary to stop a hard border. The UK, Republic of Ireland and the EU have all pledged to avoid a hard border and there is no political will for the EU to implement punitive measures.

The Withdrawal Agreement does not end Brexit uncertainty for business. The likely extension of the transition period coupled with the weak political declaration means that the transition period could run indefinitely, prolonging the turmoil of the past 18 months and uncertainty about the future. It prolongs the period of leaving the EU by at least another two years and, because of the backstop, could leave the UK in permanent interminable negotiations, with no unilateral right to leave the EU permanently.

A managed no deal under WTO rules is better than a bad deal, and this is a very bad deal. Leaving outright next March under WTO is a cleaner break and more democratic than continuing to draw out this process and remaining within the Single Market and Customs Union without any say over the rules. This would then provide us a stable position from which future trade negotiations can be conducted.

WTO rules are international laws that regulate trading relationships of its 164 member states and 98 per cent of global trade. British businesses that currently trade with American businesses use WTO rules and our exports to non-EU countries we trade with on WTO terms have grown three times as fast as our trade with EU countries since the mid-2000s.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has submitted schedules on both goods and services, marking the two major milestones involved in finalising an independent seat at the WTO. Our independent membership of the Government Procurement Agreement was approved by a committee at the WTO recently which will allow British businesses to continue bidding for overseas public sector contracts worth £1.3 trillion each year. The UK has prepared for a WTO no deal situation so we can walk away from a bad deal like the Withdrawal Agreement.

I respect that not every constituent will agree with my decision but I hope this helps you understand my own position and why I believe this is the right way to vote on Tuesday.