I have received a large amount of correspondence, reflecting a wide variety of opinions, all of which I have taken into account. I write to set out my views on the situation and how I have voted over the past few days. In all cases I’ve voted with the Government, who should now concentrate all their efforts on securing a deal by 31 October.
Whilst at the 2016 Referendum I voted to remain in the European Union, I have always taken the view that it is important to respect the outcome of the Referendum. My approach has been not to thwart Brexit, but to seek to shape the form that it takes.
Personally, I was content with the Withdrawal Agreement which the previous Prime Minister negotiated and for which I voted on three occasions. I felt that it was a pragmatic way forward and it meant that we left the European Union with a deal in place. The feedback that I received from local businesses, trade associations and health organisations was that this arrangement was acceptable to them and they had serious concerns about leaving with no future trade agreement with the EU in place and reverting to World Trade Organisation terms.
Unfortunately, from my perspective, the majority of the House of Commons did not reach the same conclusion and thus the UK did not leave the European Union on 29th March, as originally was intended. As a result, Mrs May ultimately resigned as Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson was elected in her place in late July.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly assured parliamentary colleagues of his intention to leave the European Union on 31st October ideally with a deal in place. His meetings during the week beginning 19th August with Mrs Merkel, Mr Macron and Mr Varadkar gave an indication that the three most important counties in the European Union as far as Brexit is concerned, could be prepared to negotiate so as to find a way by which the UK can leave the European Union on 31st October with a revised deal, which is acceptable to both the UK and the EU.
I attended a meeting in Westminster on 5 September at which the Government set out their strategy for obtaining a revised deal. They are serious about carrying out these negotiations, though there is a great deal of work to be done and the events of the last week have weakened their negotiating position.
The feedback which I am currently receiving from local businesses and other interested parties is that their strong preference is to leave with a deal, that the uncertainty created by the Leave Date being continually put back is seriously affecting business and they recognise that the Government have stepped up No Deal planning, though as Operation Yellow Hammer reveals there is still a great deal of work to do.
One of the sectors of the economy that will be most affected by a no deal is agriculture, as World Trade Organisation terms are not favourable to the export of many UK crops and farm produce.
The feedback which I have received from many constituents is that Parliament will be held in a very low regard if Brexit is delayed again and that the Government must leave ‘no stone unturned’ to secure a Deal. With this in mind I have joined a cross party group of MPs, whose intention is to vote for a deal to leave the EU before 31 October.
With regard to the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament on Monday 9 September ahead of the State Opening of Parliament and a Queen’s Speech on 14th October, I can understand why this has caused concern, but with Parliament due to be in recess for much of September and early October for the Party Conferences, a relatively small number of sitting days are lost and we have already debated Brexit issues at length over many months with no positive outcome being achieved. Moreover, there will be time after the EU Council meeting on 17th October for Parliament to consider the terms of any new deal which the Government may have agreed with the European Union.
It should also be pointed out that this is one of the longest sessions of Parliament since the Civil War, a lot of other very important issues have not been considered and there is a need to bring forward much needed new legislation on a wide variety of issues such as health & social care, education and transport infrastructure. It is for these reasons that I supported the Government’s prorogation.
On Wednesday, the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that the prorogation was illegal, and the Government have lodged an appeal against this decision which is due to be heard in the Supreme Court on Tuesday. It is important that the Supreme Court’s decision is respected.
I had two concerns with regard to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.6) Bill which passed through Parliament last week and received Royal Assent on Monday 9 September. This legislation puts back the date by when the UK must leave the EU and prohibits leaving the EU on a No Deal basis.
Firstly, as mentioned I do not believe it is appropriate to keep putting back the date by when Brexit must take place. The matter is dividing the country and is causing much business uncertainty and needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.
Secondly, whilst my very strong preference is for the U.K. to leave with a deal in place, I believe that the Government’s negotiating position with the E.U. has been significantly undermined by taking the "No Deal" option off the negotiating table.
On Tuesday 3 September, 21 Conservative colleagues had ‘the whip withdrawn’ as they voted in favour of this Bill and as a result they are not at present members of the Conservative Party. I do not agree with this decision and I have advised the Government of my views. These are colleagues, who have had distinguished parliamentary and ministerial careers and have never rebelled before. This decision starkly contrasts to the approach that the previous Government adopted towards those colleagues who did not support the Withdrawal Agreement.
I believe that it is important that the Conservative Party retains its tradition of being a broad church, representing a wide variety of views, with colleagues respectful of other beliefs and opinions, even if they may differ from their own. We must remain at the centre of the British political spectrum and not move to an extreme position.
The situation in which the country finds itself is highly unsatisfactory and I take the view that this Parliament has run its course, should be dissolved and an early General Election should take place. However the House of Commons has now decided on two occasions not to pursue this course.
As to the immediate way forward, we need to resolve the matter as quickly as possible, to deliver Brexit in the most pragmatic way, move forward to address the many challenges that have been overlooked in the last three years and take all necessary steps to ensure that the U.K. retains its prominent global role, both politically and diplomatically, and as a fulcrum of free trade.
I believe that the Government should now use the next 5 weeks to seek to negotiate an acceptable revised deal so that we do leave the EU on 31st October. This won't be easy, but it's the best outcome.
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