Over recent weeks I have received hundreds of new emails, letters, phone calls and messages from residents across Torbay each giving me their view about what should happen next in relation to Brexit.
Due to the sheer volume I sadly cannot reply to each one individually, hence this email sent to those who have been in touch about Brexit; so as before I will set out my response to the key issues and the choices being made over the next few days.
I appreciate each message and the time taken to let me know your views, with the exception of a tiny number on both sides of the debate who realised their arguments were so weak they could not make them without using abusive language.
I will not repeat all of what I said previously on the prospect of a Second Referendum, the details of the Withdrawal Agreement or some of the other options proposed such as Norway+, Switzerland and Common Market 2.0. You can find these on my website by following the link below:
There has been a large amount of disinformation circulated about this debate especially on social media, with some of this reflected in the comments sent to me. I would suggest anyone with a specific interest in an area does take time to read the superb analysis produced by the House of Commons Library. This does rebut the more outlandish claims made about the Withdrawal Agreement or Leaving Without One (No Deal).
You can find them by following these links:
Leaving without a deal:
I am conscious residents will be interested to hear my reasons for the votes I expect to cast later today. Several amendments were submitted to the motion, although only two have been selected for debate and voting on by the Speaker. These are Amendment A, which seeks to turn the motion into a statement ruling out No Deal and Amendment F, which relates to part of what has been referred to in the media as the Malthouse Compromise. I deal with these below but will start with last night’s vote.
Last night’s Vote on the Proposed Withdrawal Agreement:
One message, particularly over recent days, has been clear from many residents they want Parliament to get on with it, end the uncertainty and deliver on the result of the 2016 EU Referendum.
There was much discussion in parliament yesterday about the latest documents agreed with the European Union in relation to the much-discussed Northern Ireland Backstop.
On the backstop, the Withdrawal Agreement now provides:
· The political commitments given by the EU that the Irish backstop is not intended to be permanent now being set in law.
· Legal force, equivalent to the Withdrawal Agreement, underpinning the right of the UK to suspend its obligations under the backstop if the EU breaches its obligations to negotiate a free-trade deal in good faith.
And the political declaration sets the framework for the future trade negotiations amended to require the EU to work to establish an alternative to the backstop by the end of the transition period.
Whilst the deal is not perfect, and I am not going to pretend it is, it does deliver a clear route out of the European Union on 29th March and the return of UK control over key policy areas like Fishing and Agriculture. It also includes a time limited transition period for businesses to adjust, and for certainty during the negotiation of the final future relationship, which cannot start until we have left the EU.
I regret the Withdrawal Agreement has not passed through Parliament as it means the uncertainty continues, including about Brexit itself. Whilst I respect the genuine concerns and deeply held beliefs of some colleagues who felt unable to support it last night, it is clear most MPs who voted No did so with the aim of either pushing the UK into the EU Customs Union or of thwarting Brexit altogether.
Whilst those who wish to Revoke Art 50 and Remain in the European Union should be honest about their intentions not use points about the Withdrawal Agreement to cover this real intent, those who keep voting with them in the hope of a different form of Brexit are becoming unwitting allies in this.
It is notable that long-term Brexit supporters, including Philip Davies – the first MP to publicly call for the UK to Leave the EU – backed the deal last night with a view to ensuring Brexit was delivered. Ken Clarke, a long-standing supporter of Britain’s membership of the EU, also voted in favour of the deal to deliver economic certainty.
I do not see other options as credible or likely to attract this type of support from both ends of the debate. Those voting no did so for contrasting reasons, some hoping for a harder Brexit, others for No Brexit. They could both be disastrously wrong as to the outcome they actually achieve.
The Motion before the House today asks the House of Commons to decline approval for the UK leaving without a Withdrawal Deal on 29th March, whilst noting this is still the legal default unless the law is changed.
This motion does not have legal effect and cannot change the law itself, yet if passed would see Parliament vote tomorrow on possible requests for an extension to article 50. This could then see legislation introduced into parliament next week to alter the law.
I will vote against this motion as just voting not to have “no deal” on a specific date does not change the need to decide on the UK’s future. Those demanding “no deal is taken off the table” are giving a soundbite not a solution. The option to not conclude a deal needs to be present as a potential fallback in any negotiations on implementing the Referendum Result.
There are two amendments potentially being considered as well (although they may be withdrawn before being put to a vote):
This Amendment replaces the original motion with a declaration rejecting leaving without a withdrawal agreement at any point, not just on 29th March.
For the reasons outlined above I will not be supporting this amendment. Just passing motions “ruling out no deal” is ineffective, only passing a solution will do this.
This amendment might make a statement, but the time for this has past. Decisions are now needed.
This amendment seeks to add a statement at the end of the Government motion referencing part of what the press has called “The Malthouse Compromise”.
There are four parts of the statement, two of which have already been implemented by the Government. The first is publishing the UK’s Day One Tariff Schedules which was done this morning. The fourth asks for a unilateral guarantee of EU Citizens rights in the UK, which has already been given with the Government having introduced a Bill to do this. I support both these elements, but the two remaining cause me great concern.
The second part of the statement requests the Government to seek an extension of Article 50 to 22nd May 2019, in theory to allow tariffs to be implemented. Yet this date was inserted in a handwritten change to the original version, which was tweeted by one of the MPs supporting it, stating 30th June. This does not give me confidence in this plan.
The third part is the reason I will vote against this amendment. It indicates the Government should seek a “mutual standstill agreement” with the EU until 30 December 2021. This would in effect see us extend what is basically an implementation period beyond the current end date of December 2020, as proposed by the Withdrawal Agreement.
It is likely this “standstill” would only get agreement by the EU if it became dynamic alignment with emerging EU Laws, including over services which are not covered in the Backstop Arrangements and which we would end any need to follow after the end of the transition period.
The third part of the statement also suggests the UK agrees to continue making contributions to the EU budget at the current rate until this time. In effect paying a large amount of money, not dissimilar to the Withdrawal Agreement, but without resolving the many other issues covered by it.
I genuinely find it surprising some not prepared to back the draft deal last night are supporting this as it seems to include many of the issues of concern raised about the deal and would still need EU agreement.
Article 50 Extension
If a “no to no deal” motion passes tonight, tomorrow Parliament could vote on what extension request the UK should make.
Just voting to extend the process does not provide a solution and the EU is very unlikely to agree one just to allow some MPs to avoid having to make their mind up about their preferred solution now. An extension could see us go past the point where we would be required to hold fresh elections to the European Parliament, potentially seeing the UK electing MEPs who serve for only a very short period.
We all had our reasons for voting as we did in June 2016, but more than two years on from that vote, we must achieve some certainty and direction. Just kicking the can down the road does not do this.
We need decisions, not more uncertainty. An extension should only be considered for a specific reason, e.g. to allow Port Facilities to be improved to facilitate customs checks or to allow for ratification in the UK and EU Parliaments of an agreed deal.
I hope the above is of interest and I am sorry again that I am unable to reply individually to the many hundreds of messages and emails I have received.
With my very best wishes.
Kevin Foster MP