I make no apology for this very long and wordy email – normal service will be resumed later this week! I want to explain where I am on Brexit, why I intend to vote in favour of what’s called a meaningful vote tomorrow and ask for your views. My inbox is inundated with emails, mainly from non constituents. Most are supportive but many are not only nonsensical but also offensive and threatening. Those behind them are now targeting Broxtowe Conservative Association. I want the views of my constituents, of whatever political persuasions. I also want you to know that I will not give in to threats of deselection and to my personal safety. So bear with this long email, please read it and send me your thoughts.
As ever, Anna
I know you’re fed up but we have to get Brexit right
I think most people are heartily fed up with Brexit and I understand why. It is hugely complex and both main parties, and indeed the Cabinet, remain divided on what type of Brexit deal is best for our country.
But as I suspect you know, getting Brexit right is vital and is the most important set of decisions our country has taken in decades. Whatever we were told during the Referendum, you can’t simply unravel 43 years of membership of the EU in a year or two and getting a new trading deal is far from the “simplest” of matters as we were assured.
So for our sakes and the future of our children and grandchildren we have to get this right.
What’s a “meaningful vote”
The Government has already agreed that Parliament will have a meaningful vote on any deal we strike with the EU. You may be surprised that anything other was ever considered (especially given the European Parliament and all the Parliaments of the other member states will get a vote on the deal), but we had to fight hard to achieve this! It means your democratically elected representative will have a say on our final arrangements with the EU after we leave.
In just the same way, I believe Parliament, notably the House of Commons should have a meaningful vote in the event of us not getting a deal with the EU. It’s not revolutionary and neither does it make me a “traitor” as I have been called. Tomorrow, I will vote to give Parliament that “meaningful vote” and in so doing I will be voting against my Government.
Last week we debated this issue in Parliament as part of the EU Withdrawal Bill (learn more about it here). A number of Conservative MPs met the Prime Minister and she assured us that the Government would draft an amendment to the Bill to deliver that meaningful vote. She told us it was a “matter of trust”. I do not doubt the Prime Minister is a woman of her word but I did doubt that she would be able to deliver on what was agreed because of the power of the “hard Brexiteers”; so far I am sorry to have been proved right.
An amendment was agreed but then overturned by a small group of Ministers and MPs. The Government then produced an amendment that actually delivers an entirely meaningless vote on “no deal”!
Yesterday, the House of Lords voted for the original amendment, which would give a meaningful vote and it will be debated and voted on tomorrow in the Commons. I will vote for it.
You may find it ironic that some of those who voted for us to leave the EU on the basis that our UK Parliament must be even more sovereign, are the very same people now working to stop Parliament having a meaningful vote on “no deal”.
Yesterdays debate in the Lords which I attended, can be read here and the various speeches give the arguments for and against and an explanation of what has happened in the last week.
Why I am not a “traitor”
Sir Winston Churchill wrote:‘The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate. Burke’s famous declaration on this subject is well known. It is only in the third place that his duty to party organisation or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there in no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy.’
You may recall that in the run up to last year’s General Election I made it clear that if I were re-elected, I would continue to make the case for the Customs Union and the Single Market (I have written more on both below).
Like many candidates over many decades, I did not agree with an important part of my party’s manifesto. It is, perhaps ironic that many of my Conservative colleagues who say I am reneging on our 2017 manifesto have themselves, made a career of standing for Parliament in defiance of the longstanding Conservative policy to remain in the EU. Most, like the Brexit Secretary of State, David Davis have voted against our party over a hundred times over the years! I don’t believe David has ever been called a traitor and nor should he.
By way of a non-Brexit example, a number of my Conservative MP colleagues are openly opposed to HS2 and were elected on that basis to Parliament. No one (and that includes me) has any difficulty when they accordingly break three line whips and vote against the Government on HS2.
But apparently what is sauce for the goose is not available for the gander.
Last week I did not support the Government when I voted for us to stay in the EEA (in effect the single market) and to form a new customs union (the actual amendment I supported was very tame). This was true to the undertakings I gave last year but in any event, on Brexit, a subject that divides MPs within both main parties, I believe it is critical we put our country’s interest above loyalty to our party.
To be frank I am getting a tad tired of being told I am trying to stop or thwart Brexit. I am not; I voted to trigger Article 50 which means we will be leaving the EU in March 2019.
The EU Referendum result for the Broxtowe constituency (the declared vote was for the Borough which includes Eastwood and Brinsley) has been calculated at 51/52 % Leave and 49/48% Remain, of those who voted. Last June, with my views on Brexit and pledges on the single market and customs union widely known, I received the biggest Conservative vote in over 25 years (my majority was reduced because Labour picked up an extra 6,000 votes ironically many from former UKIP voters).
The duty of an MP is to represent all their constituents and that includes the 53% who did not vote for me last June as well as the 48% who voted Remain.
When history recalls events of the last two years it will note the failure of my Government following the Referendum to include the 48% in shaping Brexit and working to reunite our divided country. My friend and colleague Nicky Morgan MP wrote an excellent piece on this and related matters on Conservative Home which is well worth a read.
Not giving in to threats
In the run up to last week’s votes and subsequently I have received a barrage of emails, overwhelmingly from non constituents and the majority in support of my continued stance on Brexit.
However, a clearly co-ordinated campaign has seen a number of emails to Broxtowe Conservatives urging them to deselect me because they falsely claim I am trying to thwart or stop Brexit. Only one of these emails is from a constituent and none from members of the Conservative Party. They total 18. But they are effective in worrying association officers, many of whom would prefer an MP that didn’t trouble the whips and kept their head down on this most divisive of subjects.
Yesterday, the police came to my Parliamentary office to investigate another death threat. So far 3 people have received prison sentences (two suspended) for issuing death threats to me (and in one case to other MPs).
In the run up to tomorrow’s vote the abuse and the threats of “de-selection” continue and it is not only completely unacceptable they are a very real threat to our democracy. For my part it makes me even more determined but as I said in my speech in Parliament last week many other MPs find it impossible to resist them.
I hope you will read or watch my speech. In it I spoke of how many MPs and Ministers urge me on but will not speak out. the same is true of journalists and too many businesses.
Hard Brexit v Soft Brexit
There are some people with little understanding of how business works (and indeed many other important matters) or with an unbending ideology, who are in favour of our not reaching a deal with the EU. This “no deal” is the “Hard Brexit” that a very small but vociferous number of people, including some MPs and Ministers want. It is also worth noting that I have no doubt the Prime Minister is determined to get a deal and I also believe she wants what is called a “Soft Brexit”.
For the most part in any democracy, voters elect Governments who share their values and broad policy aims. Most elections are won on the basis of which party we trust the most and in particular, which one we believe will deliver the prosperity we need as individuals and as a society. I think most people understand the economy is the driver not only of ensuring we have properly funded public services, but also to deliver our common desire for our children to have a better life than ours. The majority of us involved in politics share these common aims, what divides us is how we achieve them.
Parliamentary democracy, with MPs elected not as delegates of their political party but as representatives of all their constituents, usually means politics is at most, observed by the overwhelmingly majority of people out of the corner of their eye.
Referendums are different to general elections as they are votes on a single subject. But some are better conducted than others. The recent referendum in Ireland was not simply about whether a part of their constitution which effectively prohibits abortion should be abolished, those in favour of abolition carefully laid out and explained exactly what their alternative would be. They even drafted the legislation to deliver a “yes” result. Having overwhelmingly won the vote there is now no debate about the consequences of the referendum vote and what “yes” means.
This is in sharp contrast to our EU referendum which failed to be clear as to what Leave would deliver in real terms. Now I have no desire to re-run the EU Referendum nor engage in any blame game but it’s undoubtedly the case that Leave meant different things to those who argued for it. The only thing upon which we can be sure is that 52% of those who voted, voted to leave the EU and our Prime Minister is determined we will leave on March 29th of next year.
But almost two years on we still have not determined what sort of long term Brexit we want. The Cabinet can not agree and neither can the Labour Opposition. It’s an appalling mess and whereas in normal times you can observe politics from the ‘corner of your eye’ you are now asked to turn your full attention to the fearfully complex options available to us.
In doing that we must also face the reality of what is on offer. In short, the EU is very clear as to what our options are by way of our final relationship with them after we leave. We can negotiate a free trade deal (like the recent one with Canada which we are a signature to as a member of the EU) or we can join something called EFTA (European Free Trade Agreement) which is a group of other European countries, including Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, who are not in the EU but are members of the “single market”. The Norwegians have welcomed our membership and the EU has made it clear that if we join EFTA then we can also form a new customs union with the EU. Norway does not have such an arrangement.
The other reality we must face is the threat of a “Hard Border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I fully support the Government (and so do all the political parties) in being opposed to any such “Hard Border”. We all also support the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement which has delivered peace in Northern Ireland; indeed it is about to be put in to law in the EU Withdrawal Bill which is currently going through its final stages in Parliament, this week. In Parliament last week, the Government’s Minister stated it will to be impossible in law to reinstate a “Hard Border” in Northern Ireland. That means, like it or not, when we leave the EU we will have to have a relationship with the EU that allows goods, services and people to pass freely between Northern Ireland and the Republic. And the only way to deliver that is by our having a customs arrangement with the EU that delivers the current “frictionless trade” of the Customs Union and by our being a member of the single market by joining EFTA, which will ensure we have the “regulatory alignment” British business and the Prime Minister also wants. The result will not only be the retention of the peace process in Northern Ireland but delivery of what British business has been asking for in public but mainly in private.
The so called “Hard Brexit” means we leave the EU with no deal in place. Instead we trade with them as a member of the World Trade organisation (learn more about the WTO here). This body has its own set of rules which include the mandatory provision of secure borders. In other words we would be like the USA – with borders and custom points. The border between Canada and the USA is regarded as a potential model for our country as it is one of the “softest” in the world. Well; it took 10 years to build, cost almost $10 billion, relies on facial recognition of drivers and digital ID of containers, relates to 100 companies mainly supplying the Detroit automotive sector. Compare that to just one of our ports – Dover and the thousands of companies, lorries and drivers using it every other hour! There was an excellent news report on the port of Dover which best explains how business currently shifts good in and out of the UK into the EU (it takes about 2 minutes per lorry) compared with non EU trade which takes between 20 minutes and 2 hours. To be clear if we don’t have the sort of customs arrangements with the EU that we have now, we will either have WTO rules on customs (so long waits at custom posts) or a trade deal which will only affect some goods not all goods (so long delays on far more products than the current 2% going through Dover).
Please watch the Sky News report on my Facebook page.
The biggest champion of the single market was Margaret Thatcher who made an excellent speech in favour of it in 1988 which you can read here. Again to be clear, there are two reasons why people object to our staying in it. The first is that we would not have the ability to make the rules that govern it. If you read the debate below then you will discover that as a member of EFTA we will certainly have the ability to influence or “shape” those rules. In any event I think the benefits of the single market far outweigh the disadvantage of being a shaper not a maker. The second objection relates to the free movement of people. Again this is explored in the debate we had in Parliament.
I think it’s important to grasp the reality that people come to our country to work. With almost record high levels of employment its a myth that there is an army of British born people waiting to pick fruit and vegetables in Lincolnshire’s fields or work in the many factories and businesses in Broxtowe that rely on free movement and strong work ethic of EU workers. It is also a fact that we need migrant workers in our NHS and staff shortages are too often a result of EU workers leaving our country because they feel as if they are no longer welcome. It goes without saying that I want everyone in Broxtowe to get good training for well paid skilled jobs but its a simple fact of life a strong vibrant economy needs skilled and unskilled migrant workers. My final comment is this – immigration (and we have very little in Broxtowe 92.3% of people were born in Britain) has hugely benefitted Britain. Not just in the work migrants do and the taxes they pay, but whether from Italy or India they have enriched our culture and added to the sum of human experience and improvement.
I won’t rehearse the arguments again (you can read more here) I am supporting a People’s Vote on the final deal. I want to be very clear – whether any such vote takes place will be up to the people. It is gaining support and on Saturday there will be a march in London which I am attending. In my opinion it is right that once we know what the final deal is people should have their say on it. But the decision is yours.
You may well by now be in a state of despair! Lost in procedures and talk of meaningful and meaningless and just wanting all this to be over and sorted. You may wonder whether it really matters.
Well it is important. If by next February we don’t get a deal the consequences will be grave and profound for business, national security and many other important aspects of our lives. So it is critical in that event, that Parliament has a say as to what happens next – it cannot be left to a deeply divided Cabinet and a Prime Minister torn between the two sides of her Government.
It may be some compromise is reached which avoids a vote. If not I will vote for you to be represented by your MP in making sure, deal or no deal your views on your future and that of your children and grandchildren are represented.
As I said in my introduction, I would be grateful for your views.