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Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of news in relation to Brexit, with many residents getting in touch with me.
I appreciate the passion and interest many residents have shown in their letters and emails, with the exception of a tiny number who realised their arguments were so weak they could not make them without using abusive language to my staff or about those they disagree with. One concern I share with many is the way a minority on both sides of this argument do not see the difference between disagreement and disrespect.
Whilst appreciating the correspondence I have received I did not get elected to only focus on one issue to the exclusion of all others. I also cannot take all my staff away from dealing with essential casework such as housing, welfare or immigration queries purely to respond on Brexit, especially those based on “click to send” email campaigns. Therefore to be able to continue work on issues such as securing extra school funding, getting Paignton onto the list for Future High Streets Funding and the campaign against changes to our local Fire Cover I will cover the range of issues raised in this update, rather than individually.
I am conscious to cover every aspect of this issue would result in me writing a book, but I cover the most common themes I have been sent in my emails this week below:
Information & Advice about Brexit
Several residents asked about where they could get advice on Brexit in relation to their business or personal circumstances.
The Government has now launched a new website which aims to not only give information for businesses and residents in the UK, but also UK Nationals living in the EU. There are country specific pages setting out what needs to be done to prepare for Brexit and a relatively simple Q&A process to follow which helps guide people to the right pages.
You can find it by following this link:
If you have a personal issue relating to preparing for Brexit, eg Your business is waiting for a response from an official body, you are applying for settled status or have had difficulty getting specific information do let me know as my team will be happy to assist with casework.
EU Citizens in the UK
Many EU Citizens have come to our bay under their treaty rights and are valued members of our community, the simple message is they are welcome to stay.
The Government has been clear the rights of those living here before Brexit will be guaranteed, with the exception of the tiny number who have abused our hospitality by committing criminal offences. The process for applying for settled and pre-settled status is already up and running, with no charge at all for using it. If the UK leaves without a deal the deadline for applying will be 31 December 2020.
Many employers have already helped their staff apply and the purpose of the scheme is to ensure there is a permanent record of those who it covers. This is with the intention of preventing a situation in future where someone, or their relatives, do not have clear proof of this status applying to them. A range of government data sources are used to help confirm status, including HMRC Records.
There have been some recent media stories about this system, yet it is worth noting over 1 million EU Citizens have already had their status recognised under it. The Home Office has recently issued a statement replying to the issues raised in these stories. You can read it by clicking here:
For clarity, the Government has also reached an agreement with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, and a separate agreement with Switzerland whose citizens also have free movement rights.
Some raised with me recent media coverage about changes which might affect those already living here. The headlines did not reflect the substance of the suggestion, which was the application of the UK’s existing Criminality Rules to those who are EU Citizens. UK Law provides for an automatic review of whether someone who is not an EU Citizen should be deported if they are convicted of a crime and sentenced to 12 months or more in prison. The current freedom of movement rules set a higher bar for EU Citizens, meaning in essence only repeated or more serious violence would qualify for removal.
In essence, the change suggested would potentially only affect the tiny minority of EU citizens who have been or are convicted of such crimes in the future, although I appreciate this was not the impression created by the media coverage.
Irish Citizens are covered by the Ireland Act 1949, plus provisions of the Belfast Agreement (Better known as the Good Friday Agreement) and agreements dating back to 1922, which give them the same status as UK Citizens within the UK. This means they do not need to apply for settled status as their rights are based on separate agreements with give greater rights, not those provided under the EU Treaties.
Finally EU Citizens who already have a separate UK Immigration Status under are our own migration rules, usually those seeking British citizenship, do not need to apply again under the settled status scheme. Although do check your position on the Government website.
UK Citizens in the EU
A number of residents asked about the position of UK Nationals in the EU, where the situation is more complicated.
One of the reasons I voted for the Withdrawal Agreement is it created a guarantee, under EU Law and enforced by the ECJ in the remaining 27 states, in relation to the rights of UK nationals living in the EU. Without a Withdrawal Agreement the position depends on the law of each Member State and the rules they adopt.
Some are being similarly generous to the UK’s offer to EU Nationals living here, others are being more restrictive and charging a fee, although none are suggesting any UK national would need to leave post-Brexit. I do though expect many may take a similar line to the UK on those of our nationals who have abused the hospitality and welcome of the country concerned by committing criminal offences.
The Government’s Brexit website is the best place to find the latest advice for UK Nationals living in an EU nation, with a guide per country available online.
The European Health Insurance Card
Some have raised the issue of reciprocal healthcare arrangements, in the form of the European Health Insurance Card.
The EHIC entitles those covered by it to be treated on the same basis as those living in the nation concerned. It is worth noting it is not a guarantee of being treated in a similar way to the NHS whilst abroad and does not cover any repatriation costs, hence Travel Insurance should always be taken out if heading away on holiday, including to countries covered by the EHIC.
If there is a deal, current rights on access to healthcare will remain the same during any implementation period. If there’s a no-deal Brexit, there will be changes to how you access healthcare if in one of the EHIC Countries, although many UK Citizens living in the EU already qualify under the social insurance schemes of the state concerned.
The government has made an offer to all EU countries to continue the current reciprocal healthcare arrangements if there’s a no-deal Brexit until 31 December 2020. This would mean the government continuing to pay for healthcare costs for current or former UK residents who are living in or visiting EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.
The government aims to reach reciprocal healthcare arrangements either across all EU countries or with each country individually. Parliament has already passed legislation empowering the Government to agree a deal on this in a no-deal scenario.
Does Proroguing Parliament Mean MPs Have No Say?
The announcement of a new session of parliament and the prorogation of the existing session, the longest since the 17th Century, caused a lot of debate last week.
As the House of Commons official Social Media accounts made clear a prorogation is not unusual, it usually happens once a year and is then followed by a Queen’s Speech (Amidst the ceremony of a State Opening of Parliament) where the Government sets out its legislative Agenda for the year ahead. The last Queen’s Speech was back in 2017, just after the General Election.
Parliament will meet this week, next week and in the run up to Brexit on 31st October. It is worth noting the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons had, on behalf of the Labour Party, called several times for a new session of parliament, including on the last day the House of Commons sat before recess:
“When will we have a new Session of Parliament? This has been the longest.”
MPs can opt for a number of choices if they wish, and earlier this year a bill pushed by backbenchers cleared the Commons in a day, despite government opposition.
Whilst there are many motions and statements MPs may point to about their views, Parliament states its will when it passes legislation. Any new law would be binding, although its exact effect would depend on how it was drafted, something those proposing legislation in Parliament will be aware of.
If a deal is reached with European Leaders at the European Council on 17th October, the Government will present it to parliament and introduce a Bill for its ratification. Whilst a Treaty can be negotiated and agreed by the Government it can only be ratified if Parliament consents, plus any domestic legal changes necessary to implement it must be agreed via the usual parliamentary process. The same applies to any future long term trading agreement with the EU or any other nation or trading block.
What has happened is opportunities for further time wasting and delay are now disappearing. Three years after the Referendum few businesses or residents I meet are demanding MPs take even longer to make their mind up about the future, with many being clear a final decision must be reached, whatever their own preference.
Why Not Delay Again?
Some MPs are proposing to extend Brexit until 31st January 2020.
I will not be supporting this proposal. After over three years it is impossible to see what another 3 months will achieve, apart from further undermining public confidence in the ability of MPs to make their mind up.
I am yet to hear any clear explanation from those advocating this extension as to what they believe would change about the choices facing our country purely by delaying it yet again. Are EU Leaders going to change their mind on 1st January in a way they would not on 29th October? Will those MPs who want to Revoke Article 50 suddenly decide Brexit is a great idea on 19th January? What economic event will take place in January which will make Brexit easier to manage?
The proposal just strikes me as can-kicking and adopting a position for today’s media headlines, not the future. I appreciate some MPs don't like the fact a decision must now be made and would rather continue spending their time scoring party political points or offering soundbites about “No to No Deal”, rather than have to explain clearly to their voters why they voted for a final option.
Many businesses have based their preparations for Brexit on the 31st October deadline and few wish yet another deadline to be set. Extending is not a cost free option and I was struck when meeting a number of businesses over recent weeks how most made clear their biggest wish now is for certainty about the future.
I have been disappointed to note some, notably on the opposition benches, have already ruled out voting for any new agreement with the EU, despite demanding a “no to no deal” and before they have even considered what may be put forward. Deadlines make deals, a further delay would not and the prospect of it just undermines the work being done by the Government to get one which can pass parliament and brings us no closer to any resolution.
For clarity, a Withdrawal Agreement only covers the settlement on exit, further talks would follow on long term trading relationships based on a Free Trade Agreement.
Finally, there is no right for the UK to request endless extensions to the Article 50 process, similarly there is no requirement for the EU to agree to any request. One of the remaining 27 members can veto any extension.
Whilst the EU might agree to an extension if asked, this cannot be an endless process, at some point at least 1 state would say it is time for Britain to make its mind up, potentially bringing about a No Deal outcome with only a few days’ or a couple of weeks’ notice.
Is the Government Working To Get a Deal?
The simple answer is yes and will seek parliament’s approval for it if one is agreed.
Many areas which would be covered by an exit deal are uncontroversial eg Mutual guarantees of Citizens Rights and the UK continuing in schemes such as ERASMUS & the EHIC, plus sharing of information to combat crime and terrorism. These areas have in effect been settled by previous work.
Where the difficulty comes is in other areas such as the financial settlement and arrangements to avoid a hard border in Ireland, especially the notorious backstop which saw the withdrawal agreement rejected by MPs on three separate occasions.
There are few whose preferred outcome is a complete no deal, for most a deal is the preferable outcome. Even in a no deal scenario, in terms of our Exit from the EU, there would then be discussions afterwards to look at agreeing a Free Trade Agreement.
Yet the worst outcome is continued uncertainty and after three years matters must be resolved. Hence the UK will leave the EU on Thursday 31st October 2019, with or without a deal.
What About the Impacts Claimed of No Deal?
Many residents have been in touch expressing concerns about what a “no deal” outcome may mean for our bay and nation.
A No Deal outcome is not the ideal scenario, yet in the absence of a deal which can command support in parliament and the country more widely, it is the legal default to deliver Brexit set by Parliament two years ago. The setting of a clear deadline has also added focus to the work of both the EU and UK in trying to find a deal, which will be lost if this clarity is removed.
The Government has stepped up preparations for no-deal on a range of fronts, including at crucial ports and with major industries, including agriculture. Many businesses have implemented their own plans already, plus the clarity from government of the date for our departure has spurred many others to do so.
Many goods which come into the UK do so from outside the European Union and these will not be affected by regulatory changes. The UK Government has also published its temporary tariff schedules which will apply in a No Deal Scenario. Under the temporary tariff, 87% of total imports to the UK by value would be eligible for tariff free access.
Tariffs would still apply to 13% of goods imported into the UK. This includes:
- a mixture of tariffs and quotas on beef, lamb, pork, poultry and some dairy to support farmers and producers who have historically been protected through high EU tariffs
- retaining a number of tariffs on finished vehicles in order to support the automotive sector and in light of broader challenging market conditions. However, car makers relying on EU supply chains would not face additional tariffs on car parts imported from the EU to prevent disruption to supply chains
- a number of sectors where tariffs help provide support for UK producers against unfair global trading practices, such as dumping and state subsidies. Tariffs would be retained for these products, including certain ceramics, fertiliser and bioethanol
- to meet our long-standing commitment to reduce poverty through trade, the government currently offers preferential access to the UK market for developing countries. To ensure that access for developing countries is maintained, we would retain tariffs on a set of goods, including bananas, raw cane sugar, and certain kinds of fish
The Government is especially focussed on ensuring key supplies such as medicines reach the UK and is putting arrangements in place for priority goods at key points of delivery. There is also work being done to assess which businesses may face particular challenges from a no deal separate to wider changes in their market place.
Fuel supplies have been one point raised in a number of emails and on Thursday I visited Milford Haven, one of the UK’s key import points for energy resources. The overwhelming majority of their resources arrive from outside the European Union, but the prospect of facing EU Tariffs exporting to Ireland is a challenge. Interestingly, given the comments in emails, the concern now focusses in relation to petrol on the prospect of how without tariffs a surplus of supply on the global market and in domestic production could see domestic industry lose customers. A contrast to what some would expect.
There could be impacts of a No Deal Brexit, yet the Government is working hard to mitigate them and some of the recent coverage is wide of the mark in terms of actual projections. Yet some of those most keen to make dramatic claims about the negative impact it could have were also only too keen to vote against a deal three times earlier this year.
If they genuinely believe the predictions they are making, why would they risk them by not voting for a deal when they had the chance to?
Why Is The Northern Ireland Border Such An Issue?
The land border in Ireland is not only an issue of trade, but intrinsically linked to the politics of the island.
Since Ireland was divided in 1922 the border has been a focus of political debate, although for most of its history has been entirely open. The Belfast Agreement (Better known as the Good Friday Agreement) makes clear its open status is part of a constitutional settlement which was endorsed in referendums held in both the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland. This agreement is also binding in international law.
The UK Government has made clear it will not place infrastructure on the border, it would also be wholly impractical to do so on a physical basis. The Irish Border is similar to a county border in other parts of the UK with communities, farms and families straddling it. Some roads cross the border in multiple places in a few miles.
The focus of the debate in relation to Brexit is regulation of goods crossing the border, rather than people. There is no requirement to show a passport or check people crossing it due to the Common Travel Area which operates between the UK and the ROI. This arrangement is based on a bilateral agreement between our two nations, not EU Law, and allows travellers to pass through border controls in either country. Those who have flown from Exeter to Dublin may have noticed they could travel on their driving licence, rather than needing their passport due to the CTA.
The regulations on immigration are not exactly the same between the two nations, yet the operation of the CTA is based on not having radically different rules. Hence neither country has joined the EU’s Schengen Border Free Zone as this would irrevocably undermine the CTA arrangements.
Similarly, some regulations are operated on an All-Ireland basis following the agreement of the Northern Ireland Assembly whilst it was operating. The all-Ireland Electricity Market is one area where close co-operation on regulation needed. There are also animal health checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain which were agreed by the assembly to guard against the spread of disease.
Whilst these areas will continue, there are also other aspects of the systems operating on the island of Ireland where differences have been present for some time. The rates of duty applying to Petrol, Tobacco and Alcohol can vary, along with the Irish VAT rate being higher than the UK one. This means enforcement procedures of regulations away from the border already takes place.
Whilst the Irish Border is politically significant the vast majority of Irish Trade heads across the Irish Sea, using the UK as a route to key markets in Europe. Holyhead and Dover are the focus of this trade, with preparations already being made to manage it after Brexit, especially for goods not intended for consumption in the UK, but only passing through it.
Where the EU’s concerns appear to come from is the potential for goods to be shipped across the Irish Border which may not met EU Standards or, more likely, which may avoid the External Tariffs the EU applies after the UK leaves the Customs Union. It is debatable exactly how likely this is given the geography involved and how in effect goods could only be sold into the Irish Market without having to go through further customs checks between the UK and the EU once shipped out.
The “Backstop” was included in the Withdrawal Agreement to respond to this concern, yet its wider effects meant the House of Commons rejected the deal entirely.
The UK Government has been clear it is prepared to offer a legally binding commitment under international law not to implement a “hard border” on the island of Ireland and to agree arrangements ensuring the UK is not used as a way to avoid EU rules for goods for sale within the Single Market, but for a deal to pass it will have to replace the backstop as a minimum.
Would a Second Referendum Be a Solution?
Several residents got in touch asking if there could be another Referendum, yet this is not a solution in itself and those suggesting it mostly do so based on being unhappy with the outcome of the last one.
A Second Referendum would provoke cynicism among many voters as, having been told the Referendum in 2016 would make the final choice, they would be asked to vote again because politicians disagreed with their decision. It would also be hard to argue the Second Referendum would be the final choice, having in effect ignored the first one by calling a second just three years later. It also raises the question of when a third could be held if the result is similar or even “a best of five” referendum as one Labour MP stated last week.
When a decision of constitutional significance is made in a Referendum, it is important democratic processes are followed to ensure it is respected. Parliament gave voters the final say on the UK's membership of the EU and the result must be respected, even if it was unexpected by some or not the one I campaigned for.
The ballot paper presented voters with a choice to remain in the EU or to leave. The consequences of either decision were communicated by campaign groups through a variety of print, audio-visual and digital media. The Government also sent a document to every household in the UK on the benefits of staying in the EU, in which it was clear the choice made by voters would be implemented.
As in every election, it was up to the electorate to judge the merits of the different arguments and over 17.4 million voters decided to leave the EU. Both sides made ill advised claims during the Referendum Campaign, with many of these debated and rebutted at the time. Yet ultimately voters decided to Leave, with the result in Torbay being clear and on a high turnout.
When out on doorsteps in the bay speaking with residents most would still vote the way they did last time, with some switching but crucially many who voted Remain respecting the decision needs to be implemented and indicating they would now vote Leave if asked to vote again.
Given the timescales, a Second Referendum would require parliament to bypass many of the usual procedures for such a vote and decide crucial questions, such as the wording of the question, politically rather than ask the Electoral Commission to consult on it. This type of behaviour would further undermine any confidence in the outcome.
For these reasons I do not support holding a second referendum.
Can the Government Push Through a US Trade Deal?
Finally, some have suggested the Government is setting a deadline for Brexit so it can rush through a Trade Deal with the United States of America.
After we leave the EU there will be opportunities to negotiate trade deals with the USA and the countries in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership. Yet whilst the Government can negotiate a deal, any such agreement would need to considered and ratified by parliament. This is a similar process to the UK agreeing Trade Deals which the EU has negotiated with third parties where a veto power would apply.
Any deal which required changes to UK Domestic law, especially around agriculture, would require the UK parliament and the Devolved Parliaments to pass the relevant changes. The Government could not do these on its own. Similarly the US Administration would need to seek the support of Congress for any agreement, the US President cannot just agree such treaties on his own authority.
Increasing free trade has helped boost economies across the world and there are companies here in the bay who would benefit from greater access to the US Market. The EU itself tried to negotiate a trade deal with the US under the Obama Administration, an opportunity which was missed.
I hope this is of interest and I am sorry I cannot cover every aspect of this complex issue, even in an update of over 4,300 words!!
Kevin Foster MP