Brexit: Where do we go from here?

11th December 2018

My statement and BBC Radio Norfolk interview on how to resolve this Brexit Crisis:

“After a long weekend re-reading the Withdrawal Agreement, all the legal and political analysis, and hundreds of emails from constituents,  I decided with a heavy heart that I cannot in good conscience support the Prime Minister’s current Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement. This is for three principle reasons:

First, the legal and constitutional implications of the “backstop” effectively give the EU a veto over the UK’s options in negotiating a future agreement. No Government should accept this.

Second, triggering the backstop would mean an ever hardening border between GB and Northern Ireland. Indeed, I fear this would undermine the Union of the United Kingdom and set a dangerous precedent for Scotland. We would be unable to exercise any of the regulatory or economic freedoms we might enjoy outside the EU.

Third, I fear that this Agreement would put the UK into an economic and political relationship with our European neighbours, trading partners and security allies that is unstable. Such an unstable Brexit would damage our economic prospects and would see the UK become a constant and continuing source of instability in Western Europe just when we need stability and confidence.

This current Agreement tries to find a way to implement the various red lines and promises which have been made, promising continuity of market access today for freedom to diverge tomorrow. But, in reality, I fear it will not provide the lasting Settlement we need.  

It is clear that the Labour Party, the SNP, the DUP and the staunchest Brexiteers are against it. Simply put, this Draft Agreement has no chance of getting through Parliament.  

The country is divided.   All parties are divided.   Parliament is divided.   

The Prime Minister went to the country asking for a Brexit mandate at the last General Election. Instead, she lost her majority.  The truth is simple: there is no clear mandate for any one interpretation of how to deliver Brexit.

Parliament must decide. Our elected representatives in our sovereign Parliament must represent the will and interests of all the people we serve.

I believe we have to respect the will of the people in the Referendum (in which we asked for their decision).  But we also have to respect the nature of the result - 52% vs 48%. - and the result of the subsequent election.  

After two and half years, we are in danger of fatally undermining the reputation of the UK and its Government, Parliament, and public trust in our democracy. We are in danger of becoming a laughing stock.  

We have to try and find a form of Brexit that could command a majority in Parliament, and allows us to move on and get back to the urgent domestic reforms and international challenges that the last two years have distracted us from.

Whilst I fear neither would bode well, if Parliament can’t find a solution to this then logic suggests that the people must decide: either in a 2nd Referendum or in a General Election.  However, I believe both options carry the very strong risk of deepening the divisions and disillusionment, and not providing a lasting resolution. 

But if Parliament cannot find a solution, then there is no other way to break the impasse.

If Parliament goes back to the people, we need to have tried EVERY option in the search for a Brexit deal that CAN win majority support.  

I believe there may be a Plan B which could command cross party support. In this Plan B, we could join the European Free Trade Area, which would give us the benefits of accessing the Single Market without being in the political union.   It isn’t perfect and has its problems. But the signs are that it does have cross party support and might be able to get through Parliament. 

The most problematic part of EFTA is its Free Movement provisions. But I think these could be dealt with on the basis that:

- EFTA provides for Free Movement of Workers (not Citizens)

- EFTA has migration control mechanisms

- The EU is itself in the process of reforming its migration and Free Movement laws under pressure from other Member States

- The UK could (and as I am suggesting, should) implement tough welfare elegibility reforms to restrict UK welfare entitlements only to UK citizens and people who have lived and worked here for [3-5] years.

- The UK could also introduce a bold and generous Skills and vocational Training “Passport” and citizenship entitlement. This would be aimed at blue-collar UK workers who fear that they are being made redundant by cheap migrant labour and technology, to give them opportunities in the modern economy.

The EFTA option should certainly be explored, not dismissed.

Given that it is now clear that Parliament is not going to support the draft Agreement, I believe the PM and Cabinet need to reflect that reality and change tack.

Pretending that there is a majority for a Conservative or Labour Brexit is foolish.  There isn’t. 

A responsible One Nation Conservative Prime Minister and Government should lead by signalling to Parliament that we have a willingness to work cross-Party to find a solution.  

Maybe we can’t.  The Labour Party is as split as the Conservatives. Jeremy Corbyn is mischievously pretending to be both a Remainer and a Brexiteer in the hope that the Brexit chaos will lead him to power.  

So, maybe in the end the people will have to decide.  

But if they do, it will be essential that they see it is not because we have put party politics before the will of the people we serve.

I urge the Prime Minister and Cabinet to take this moment of crisis to show the leadership this country so badly needs.  

If we don’t, I fear that the Conservative Party will suffer a historic and potentially fatal blow to our reputation. We risk no longer being the One Nation party of national interest, allowing a hard left Corbyn government to come to power. And, worse, Brexit becoming the moment that public trust in our democratic institutions finally collapses.  

The stakes could not be higher.


Click here to listen to my interview with Nick Conrad today on BBC Radio Norfolk:




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