The House of Commons now has the opportunity to consider a wide range of alternatives to overcome the current Brexit stalemate.
For my part my favoured course is to support the Withdrawal Agreement that has been negotiated and if there is another vote on it, I shall support it again.
It delivers Brexit in an orderly, non-disruptive way. We regain control of our borders, we resume full control over our laws, we shall no longer make significant annual payments to the EU and we shall be able to agree our own trade deals around the world. Moreover the rights of British citizens living abroad and those EU citizens living here are fully protected.
Moreover, the Withdrawal Agreement provides the framework for revitalising the Lowestoft and East Anglian fishing industry, in that it provides for the UK to take back control of our waters, deciding who can access them and on what terms. The Fisheries Bill which is currently going through Parliament provides the basis of the future UK fisheries policy. I obtained some amendments and clarification from the Government when the Bill was at its Committee Stage before Christmas and I have put down a further amendment that has the objective of ensuring that local fishermen have the opportunity to catch sufficient fish to earn a fair living and with which to supply local markets and processors.
The study which the local fishing industry and Waveney District Council have commissioned will establish the extent of the Brexit dividend for the industry in East Anglia 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.
Therefore the existing deal remains very much my favoured course. The purpose of the indicative votes process is to see if there is a consensus in Parliament for alternative courses. In considering the various alternatives that have been put forward, I am mindful of the need to respect the result of the 2016 Referendum and I shall therefore not be voting for a Second Referendum or a revocation of Article 50.
I also take the view that a long extension would not be in the country’s best interests as it would prolong a period of uncertainty and discord that has already gone on for too long.
Various options have been put forward including remaining in the Customs Union and what is known as “Norway +” and “Common Market 2.” I shall not be supporting these as I believe that they concede too much.
So as to break the deadlock and as a second option to the Withdrawal Agreement, if it selected by the Speaker, I am prepared to consider an arrangement whereby the UK remains a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) and returns to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which we invented in 1959 and which involves no customs union and no backstop.
This delivers on the referendum result as the European Communities Act (1972) would be repealed, on time, without an extension and we would legally leave the EU. It also has the advantage that we leave the Common Fisheries Policy and we will be able to implement the emerging fishing policy that can revitalise the local industry which I have outlined.
The main drawback of this proposal is that the EEA agreement generally requires free movement for work though there is no reason why we cannot seek to negotiate an exemption from this provision.
The other option to consider is leaving the EU without a deal and operating on World Trade Organisation Terms. There is a case for keeping this on the negotiating table though the indications are that such an arrangement will not obtain parliamentary support. I have in the last week canvassed local businesses, trade associations and representative organisations on their current position. These include businesses from the haulage, oil and gas, packaging, leisure, farming and food processing sectors as well as health providers and utility companies.
All are concerned about the impact of leaving the EU on WTO terms on their businesses and by implication the potential negative knock on impact to those who work for them and those to whom they provide goods and services.
Most are not keen on a long extension as this would prolong the period of uncertainty, though some would prefer this in order to make sure we get the right deal in place.
There is a general view that the Customs (Tariff Quotas) (EU Exit) Regulations which the Government published on 7 March, which are intended to address the concerns about WTO Tariffs will have limited beneficial impact.
There is a specific concern from those who hauliers who operate on the continent that they will find it incredibly difficult to do so in the event of a no-deal, whilst the poultry and livestock industries are particularly concerned that their businesses will be undermined by low/tariff free imports of food not reared to the high welfare standards that farmers meet in the UK.
In conclusion the current logjam has been going on for too long. From my perspective parliament needs to remove this uncertainty as quickly as possible in the next few days and get on with the job of delivering Brexit in an orderly manner.
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