Tomorrow I will take part in one of the most important votes in Parliament for decades. I want you to know how I intend to vote and my reasons why.
As you will know the Prime Minister has negotiated a Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union in order for our country to leave the EU. The Agreement covers the terms of our departure, namely, that we would leave at the end of March and move into a 21 month “transition period” continuing to be members of both the Single Market and the customs union. We would pay the EU £39 billion as part of our legal obligations and to secure access to both the Single Market and the customs union.
During the “transition period” we would negotiate our final trading and other relationships with the European Union which would come in to force at the end of the “transition period”. It is important to note that in fact those negotiations will not even begin until 2020 given the EU Parliament Elections in May and the appointment of a new Commission. So I believe it is extremely unlikely we will have agreed a trading agreement. In that event the transition period can be further extended but is time limited to 12 months. If we have still not reached a trade deal then the so called “back stop” would automatically come into force. The back stop would place the UK into a customs union which we would not be able to leave without the agreement of the EU. There would be separate arrangements for Northern Ireland which would mean it would in effect remain in the Single Market. If the Government wins tomorrow’s vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, it will be placed in statute in order for it to become a Treaty between the EU and the United Kingdom. Accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement is a far shorter document called the “Political Declaration on the Future Framework”. In brief, it outlines the principles upon which our future trading, security and other relationships will be determined. Like many other Conservative MPs I will not be supporting the Withdrawal Agreement. I agree with many of my colleagues who campaigned and voted for Leave that it does not deliver on the result of the EU Referendum. They are particularly concerned that invoking the “backstop” will represent the biggest transfer of our sovereignty ever. They are also opposed to the Agreement because of the continuing role of the European Court of Justice. I understand their concerns – where we are very much in agreement is that the separate arrangements for Northern Ireland set a dangerous precedent and mark what many of us fear would be the ending of the Union. Where many of us part company is over the merits (I believe there are none) of leaving the EU without any “deal”. Such an outcome would be a disaster for our country, in my opinion, especially as the necessary provisions to mitigate the worst outcomes are not in place. After the Referendum, I accepted the result and accordingly voted to trigger Article 50 which began the process of our leaving the EU. I took the firm view we needed to bring our country back together and settle on a Brexit deal that would be in our best economic interests and avoid the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. To that end, I and other Conservative colleagues sort to persuade the Prime Minister to find a compromise and not set down “red lines” too early on. I took part in many debates in which I made this point as well as in my meetings with Theresa May. Unfortunately, all those efforts were in vain. I argued for our membership of a customs union and continuing membership of the Single Market. In the General Election of June 2017 I made my views on both very clear and in due course was returned as your Member of Parliament. Again, along with others we hoped Theresa May would rub out or soften her “red lines” but even though we had done poorly in the General Election and lost our majority, there was no change in policy. In December 2017 I voted against the Government to secure the very debate we are currently having in Parliament with the attendant “meaningful vote” on the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, tomorrow. Many of my Conservative colleagues are now very grateful for our “rebellion” and the irony is not lost on me given the horrible attacks on us notably from newspapers like the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail! By the Summer of 2018, I and others took the view to vote in favour of both a customs union and the single market (it is now being called “Norway plus” in the media and amongst MPs – it was also once known as the Common Market). It’s now two and a half years since the Referendum and whilst I agree we need to “get on with it” as many constituents tell me, I also believe we have to act in the national interest. If the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement is passed we will leave the EU without the trade deal we were promised. Not only is that bad for British business who demand certainty more than anything, it means the arguments and debate about our future trading relationship will continue for years. In any event, the type of deal we are likely to achieve based on the Future Framework, according to the Treasury modelling would mean at best a 4% reduction in our future prosperity. In short my constituents will be poorer if I vote for Theresa’s Agreement. I do not believe it is right for me to vote for something in the full knowledge it will harm the people I represent, particularly younger people and young families, when an alternative is available.
I do not seek to “thwart” or stop Brexit. Only the British people can do that if that is what they want. I do believe the Prime Minister’s deal should be put back to the public in a People’s Vote or second referendum. I also believe the option of remaining in the EU should be on the ballot paper and accept there is an argument for a “no deal” Brexit option as well.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has contacted me about events last week when I tried to enter Parliament. As you may have seen my Chief of Staff, Sean and I were surrounded by a very small gang of extreme right wing yobs. They were abusive and intimidating and unfortunately the police did not intervene. They have targeted me and journalists before and have used sexist and racist language to journalists on that occasion. The number of supportive emails and calls has been overwhelming and my thanks to everyone. I should add the local Nottinghamshire Police have been extremely supportive and I think there’s a good chance they would have responded differently. Lawful peaceful protest is an hugely important part of democracy and long may it continue. Equally people have a right to go about their lawful business free of intimidation, harassment and abuse. Broadcasters must be free to do their job and viewers must be able to hear what’s being broadcast.
I think it is very important to be clear that these yobs do not represent anyone but themselves and most certainly do not represent people who voted Leave in the 2016 Referendum.
For the record, I was deeply offended at being called a “Nazi” but, and I speak as a former criminal barrister, I am not sure any criminal offence was committed apart from a breach of the peace. What I believe was unlawful, followed afterwards and I certainly do not see why MP’s staff should be subjected to intimidation and abuse.
Returning to tomorrow’s vote. It is anticipated the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement will lose – the only question is by how much. In that event I do not know what will happen. I believe Parliament must consider and vote on all the other available options. My great concern is that both the Government and Labour Opposition will ensure this most important of decisions is yet further delayed.
With all good wishes, Anna