Brexit Update

25th March 2019

Thousands of constituents have contacted me in recent months to share their analysis and views on the Brexit crisis.  

Every day I read all the emails/letters sent to me on Brexit. With so many pouring in I simply can’t reply to every one personally.

But with one week until we leave the EU without a deal, under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Bill, (unless the Prime Minister gets her Withdrawal deal through Parliament and secures a short extension to implement it) I wanted to explain my position and answer the questions most frequently asked by constituents. 

I remain 100% committed to respecting and delivering the result of the EU Referendum. Although I voted Remain in 2016 I was the first MP on the losing side to say we MUST respect the result. 

I believe that if Parliament was to try and frustrate or overturn the result it would trigger an even more serious political crisis, and public anger.

For the same reason I am also opposed to a 2nd Referendum. Whilst I agree that the Referendum was one of the worst political campaigns in memory, dominated by untruths and threats, and some illegal campaigning, that can sadly also be said about many General Elections, and I believe the basic result was clear: for a whole host of reasons 17m people, 52% of the electorate (and 62% in my constituency) voted to Leave. We all promised to abide by the result. I intend to keep that promise.

I also intend to keep the solemn pledge I have made on the three election nights when I have had the privilege of being elected as our MP: to represent ALL the people in Mid Norfolk. Not just those who voted for me. The same applies to Brexit. I am 100% committed to honouring the result: a narrow 52:48 majority, in which huge majorities of the young, people in business, the professions and public services voted to Remain. We may have lost the argument but they didn’t lose the right to be represented by their MP. In helping decide HOW we leave, I will speak for the interests of ALL my constituents, as best I can.

After the appalling fiasco of the 2017 election which saw the PM attempt to make Brexit into a party political issue, make a series of ill-judged promises and threats, losing her majority and damaging public trust, I resigned from the Government to campaign for a different type of Brexit based on trying to secure cross-party support from Northern Labour MPs in Brexit constituencies, and a bold package of policy  REFORMS to tackle the underlying cause of the legitimate grievances people voting Brexit were demanding MPs address: whether uncontrolled immigration, welfare tourism, generous foreign aid alongside local spending cuts, or just a sense that Parliament was no longer representing the people we serve. 

I resigned to focus on that bold package of reforms which I have pursued through my RENEWAL project.  

In the last 3 years since the Referendum I have consistently supported the Government in trying to negotiate and secure a Brexit Withdrawal deal. 

I supported the “No Deal” option as a vital negotiating chip in those negotiations.  

But after 2.5 years it is now clear that the PM and a small group of unelected advisers have handled the negotiations appallingly, NOT prepared properly for No Deal, NOT working cross-Party, trying to deny MPs a say, and now frustrated by the Speaker, Mr Corbyn and a small number of hardline Brexit extremists like Arron Banks who actively want a Brexit crisis to destabilise the EU and trigger a UK political crisis, we are now at a crisis impasse.

Whilst The Opposition parties, along with c.50 Conservative MPs and 10 DUP MPs, have not backed the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, I did vote for it again last week, though, like many others, with reservations. 

It is not a perfect deal, but I fear the alternatives more: No Deal, a long extension which I fear could lead to No Brexit, a Second Referendum and a General Election all of which I fear would deepen the crisis and risk civil unrest.

On No Deal - whilst, if we were properly prepared, I think the country would obviously survive and soldier on, it is quite clear that there would be very serious short term disruption, especially damaging to key sectors here in Norfolk like farming, food processing, automotive, haulage, specialist manufacturing, life science, research and Higher Education, with serious disruption to key sectors like medicines and the NHS which could risk some people facing very serious and potentially fatal consequences. NO RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT CAN TAKE THOSE RISKS LIGHTLY. 

Even if that could be managed, I fear the act of a No Deal Brexit would be seen politically as so reckless that the Government and Conservative Party's reputation for competence would be so damaged with a huge swathe of voters that we would quickly be thrown out of office and replaced by Mr Corbyn and his hard left Marxist Momentum movement, which I fear would make the crisis even worse, triggering a run on the pound, a flight of investment and a serious economic crisis of debt, inflation and recession. 

The stakes could not be higher.

This is a time when all of us in Parliament have to put the National interest before anything else: Party, Constituency, career or personal preference.

I wanted us to keep the PM’s promise to leave on 29th March - but after the PM has delayed and delayed in the hope that her deal would pass, with 1 week left I now cannot see a way where this is possible, even if enough MPs decide to vote for the Prime Minister’s Deal this week. There is simply not enough time for the Treaty legislation to pass through both houses of Parliament by Friday.

I will vote for the PMs Withdrawal deal again next week. 

I hope other MPs will see sense and do the same. 

But it now looks likely that her deal will be defeated again - by an extraordinary alliance of DUP, SNP, Labour, LibDem and 50 hard-line ERG Conservatives. 

The PM says she will then seek a 3 month extension to try again.

(The EU says they won’t grant it unless her deal is passed. I think they’re bluffing. We should call their bluff. They don’t want the damaging and destabilising chaos of a No Deal either).

But in the 3 month extension we HAVE to find a solution. 

I don’t think the PM’s deal is perfect - I have genuine concerns about it, principally around the backstop and the risk of a regulatory border with N Ireland undermining our Union. Personally, like Douglas Carswell and Dan Hannan, I believe that our joining the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) would better deliver the Brexit that the majority of my Leave voting constituents told me they wanted (“to be in the Common Market, not a political union”).  

So, if Mrs May extends for 3 months I will continue to campaign hard for a different solution which COULD get through the House: dropping the N Ireland backstop and replacing it with our joining EFTA: the European Free Trade Association, which I believe has a number of advantages:

✔️Inside the Single Market but

✔️Outside the Customs Union

✔️Free to do global trade deals

✔️Taking back control of Farming and Fisheries

✔️Not subject to the ECJ but the EFTA Court with British Judges

✔️Only paying for what we want from the EU

✔️By joining it we would establish the “two tier” Europe I believe has always been the most sensible and likely outcome of the different visions of Europe pursued by different countries.

Whilst it is true that EFTA would require “free movement”, that is, crucially, free movement of “workers” with a work permit and a job, not “EU citizens”, which is very different. Nonetheless I believe that to be acceptable to the many Leave voters whose principal concern was immigration, we would need to complement EFTA with two major UK reforms: 

(a) a major set of UK Welfare restrictions for economic migrants we need, to stop “welfare tourism” which so many constituents rightly felt was deeply unfair, and

(b) reforms and investment in Skills and retraining our own citizens fearing economic redundancy.

I believe an EFTA based Plan B would be the best solution of all: giving us both the continuity of access to the EU common (single) market we need to protect existing jobs and investment, AND the freedom to take back control of farming and fishing and our own laws and freedom to trade globally. 

—-

I am very aware that tempers are running high, nerves are frayed, people are frustrated, exhausted and inpatient with all the low grade political gamesmanship which, after two and half years, has led to this crisis. 

Believe me, I share that, deeply.  

I have never been so ashamed of this country’s politics. 

I continue because I believe I owe it to my constituents to try and do the right thing. 

There is no easy solution which will be universally popular, or deliver all the many ill-judged promises and red lines which have been pledged.

The best we can aim for now is a Brexit which honours the vote to Leave the European Political Union, with as little economic and political damage as we can, and allows us to move on and get back to proper Government in this country, to tackle the urgent domestic policy issues which must be addressed. 

——-

I know that my analysis and position will not please everyone. 

It will probably trigger another wave of hate mail and accusations of betrayal and threats. 

But I wanted to set out my position properly, honestly, directly and fully to let you know how I see the mess we are in, and what I am committed to doing on behalf of ALL the 74,000 people I am honoured to have been elected to represent. 

As ever - I welcome feedback - whether supportive or not. And any points you feel I have not taken into account.

I cannot promise you how this will turn out. We are in dangerously uncharted waters.

But I can and do promise you that I take the responsibility to try and do the right thing very seriously.

George signature

DISSOLUTION OF PARLIAMENT

I am not currently an MP, as Parliament has been dissolved until after the General Election on 12th December 2019.

You can contact me on george@georgefreeman.co.uk.

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George Freeman: New technology can save the NHS

21st September 2015 There is a truth in our society that we can no longer ignore. With a rapidly ageing population, the UK faces a new demographic reality. | ConservativeHome



George Freeman: How technology will transform care and debate about our NHS

18th January 2015 The technological revolutions which have transformed so much of our economy and society are about to transform healthcare. | ConservativeHome


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