Brexit

6th December 2018

The Meaningful Vote on the Agreement for the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship between the UK and the EU

1. Introduction

On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom agreed to leave the European Union and in March 2017 the Government served notice under Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union to leave on 29 March 2019.

Subsequently the UK Government have been negotiating the terms of our withdrawal from the EU. These negotiations have not been straightforward, though an agreement has now been reached in the form of the Withdrawal Agreement and a Political Declaration which sets out a framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

These terms for leaving the EU are now being debated and are due to be put to a “meaningful vote” in the House of Commons on 11 December.

I am now setting out my views on the proposals and how I intend to vote on Tuesday.

Whilst I voted for the UK to remain in the EU in 2016, I am mindful of the fact that 63% of those who voted in Waveney voted to leave the EU. I respect this decision and I have subsequently made it clear that I will not thwart Brexit. My decision on whether to support the current deal is based on what I believe is in the best interest of the Waveney area and the whole of the UK. I have considered the terms of the Agreement carefully and have also taken into account the feedback I have received from constituents, businesses and those working in the NHS.

From the outset of the negotiations I have held the view that they were always going to be difficult; that the EU negotiators would be obstinate and awkward and that disentangling 40 years of ever closer integration would be complex and would not be achieved in “one fell swoop”.

2. The Withdrawal Agreement

The Withdrawal Agreement extends to 585 pages and most of its provisions are straightforward, acceptable and what one would expect to find in an agreement of this nature, where two parties are parting and going their own separate ways. 

One of its provisions is for there to be an Implementation Period which runs until 31 December 2020, which allows businesses to continue trading as they do now without any disruption, whilst the arrangements for a new trading arrangement with the EU are put in place. From the feedback which I have received from business I understand why there is a need for such a transition period, so as not to unnecessarily disrupt business and place jobs at risk.

The issue that has been scrutinised most closely are the provisions that relate to Northern Ireland. It has been very difficult to reach an agreement that protects the integrity of the UK, retains an open border with the Irish Republic and does not undermine the Good Friday Peace Agreement.

The Withdrawal Agreement sets down the mechanism for addressing this issue.

Both ourselves and the EU are required to use our respective “best endeavours” to reach an agreement on the Northern Ireland issue by the end of December 2020. If this does not prove possible then we shall enter a “backstop” during which further negotiations will take place.

The Agreement contains legal provisions designed to ensure that an understanding is reached on this issue as soon as possible and it is expressly stated that the “backstop” is not a permanent solution and is only a bridge to a future relationship. As an alternative to entering the “backstop” the UK can request a single extension to the Implementation Period beyond 31 December 2020.

There is understandable concern that despite the various legal duties imposed on ourselves and the EU we could find ourselves in the Implementation Period indefinitely. That said it is clear from what the EU’s negotiators have stated that they do not want the UK to stay in a “backstop” longer than necessary as they believe that would give our businesses an unfair competitive advantage.

3. The Political Declaration

The Political Declaration extends to 27 pages. It sets out heads of terms for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, which it is intended should be finalised and agreed by 31 December 2020.

It contains specific details for our future economic relationship with the EU, including a new Free Trade Area with no tariffs, new arrangements for financial services and with regard to fishing, on which I comment further below, for the UK to be an Independent Coastal State with control over our own waters, deciding who can access them and on what terms.

The Declaration also sets out the terms for a future security partnership and how we will cooperate with the EU on such matters as the exchange of sensitive data and information relating to defence and security and extradition arrangements that will enable the efficient and swift surrender of suspected and wanted criminals.

In summary the Agreement secures the following political objectives:-
a) Control of UK Borders and the end of Free Movement
b) We shall no longer be making significant annual contributions to the EU and we shall be able to spend more on our own priorities such as the NHS, transport and infrastructure.
c) We shall be able to agree our own free trade deals around the world.
d) We shall have control over all our own laws, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.

4. The Fishing Industry

Brexit provides a unique opportunity to revitalise the Lowestoft and East Anglian fishing industry.

The foundation stone upon which this will be achieved is taking back control of our waters out to 200 miles or the median line with other coastal states. In doing so we would resume the position that we held prior to joining the Common Market of being an Independent Coastal State.

This means that we shall control access to our waters, deciding who can access them and on what terms. This is something that the EU, in particular the French and the Dutch, do not like in that they wish to retain access to our waters on the same terms as in the Common Fisheries Policy. In negotiations to date the Prime Minister has steadfastly refused to agree to this and it is important that this position is retained.

A specific drawback of the Withdrawal Agreement as it relates to fishing is that during the Implementation Period up to 31 December 2020, the UK will not be directly involved in the annual negotiations relating to fishing opportunities, though we shall be observers, can be consulted and the EU have to abide by various undertakings not to undermine the interests of the UK fishing industry. There is a risk as stated above that if the Implementation Period is extended as an alternative to the Northern Ireland “backstop” then this “limbo” period will be extended.

The Fisheries Bill which will provide the framework for the future UK Fisheries Policy that will replace the Common Fisheries Policy is currently going through Parliament and is at its Committee Stage in the House of Commons.

I am on the Committee which is going through the Bill “line by line” and if necessary I shall either seek amendments or clarification from the Government on issues of concern.

These include the ability of local fishermen to be able to catch and land enough fish to earn a reasonable living, an obligation to promote sustainable fishing in order to outlaw such unacceptable practices as electro-pulse fishing and a duty to promote an industry that will bring tangible benefits to coastal communities such as Lowestoft.

So as to make the most of this opportunity the local fishing industry, in collaboration with Waveney District Council, have secured a grant from Government to fund a study of the East Anglian industry. This work, which will take place over the next few months, will establish the current state of the industry from the Wash to Southend, will seek to quantify the extent of the “Brexit Dividend” and will reach conclusions in terms of what investment in infrastructure, skills and training is needed in order to bring the maximum benefit to our area.

In conclusion the current position is not as I would ideally have liked it to be; in that I would have preferred the UK to be resuming its role as an Independent Coastal State, negotiating directly with the EU, Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands as from December 2019. However as part of the overall negotiations to allow UK business to leave the EU with minimal disruption we have had to compromise and will not be able to take on this role until December 2020 at the earliest. There is a risk that this period could extend still further.

I have considered whether the terms that have been negotiated so far do provide the basis upon which we can revitalise the East Anglian fishing industry. On balance, I believe that they do, though risks and tough negotiations lie ahead. This includes:

a) The need to ensure that we retain the right to control who fishes in our waters which I anticipate will continue to come under pressure in the detailed negotiations on the final provisions of the Political Declaration 

b) The concern that the Implementation Period could extend beyond 31st December 2020

c) The need in due course to secure Government funds to invest in infrastructure and equipment, which will incentivise private sector investment.

5. Alternatives

It is important to consider the alternatives to the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated.

As to matters currently stand if the deal is rejected on Tuesday we would be leaving the EU on 29 March with no agreement in place, on World Trade Organisation terms. From the feedback which I have received from local business including manufacturers, food processors, hauliers and the energy industry this would be an extremely risky course to pursue which could disrupt business and place jobs and livelihoods at risk.

Today the operation of food stores, factories and the supply of medicines takes place on a “just in time” basis with limited amounts of products and raw materials being held in storage. Many of these materials are imported and if there is any disruption or delay in their delivery then there could be an adverse knock-on effect to the local community and economy.

A local GP has highlighted to me that 80% of medical radioisotopes, which are used to treat a broad range of conditions including cancers, neurological diseases and palliative treatments, are imported primarily from Belgium, France and the Netherlands. The nature of radioisotopes is that they cannot be stockpiled and they begin to decay as soon as they are produced. Thus any delay in their delivery could have very serious implications.

Another alternative which has been suggested is that there should be a second referendum. I do not agree with this as it would significantly undermine the very ethos of democracy and the very many people who voted for Brexit would feel disenfranchised and would lose all confidence in the democratic process.

6. Conclusion

The deal is not perfect, it is a compromise, but that is so often the case in such complex negotiations. There are aspects of it which I do not like but as matters currently stand I believe that it is the best of the options currently on offer and thus I will be supporting the Prime Minister on Tuesday.

Events are moving swiftly and it is quite possible that Parliament will be considering alternative proposals in the next few days and weeks. If and when we do so, I shall be carefully considering the options, adopting a similar approach as I have outlined in deciding how to vote.

 

Peter Aldous

Member of Parliament for Waveney

December 2018

The Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries

Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill

Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill

Surgeries

Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2019: 

Kessingland, Saturday 26th January
Lowestoft, Saturday 23rd February

 

 

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