A number of people have written to me asking for my opinion on the Brexit discussions which I have detailed below and will update as events change. This is my personal view and is largely based on my experience as a commercial negotiator during a thirty-year business career in car manufacturing, technology, banking and financial services. This does not make me an expert in trade negotiations with Europe but does give me an insight into the business operating models which have built up as a result of the UK being part of the EU trading bloc for more than forty years.
Keep up to date on my views on Britain's withdrawal from the European Union below:
Statement 4th September
This week it’s back to school and work for many after a summer break. A time for reflection and a time for new challenges, a changing of the seasons. There are definitely challenges in the political world at the moment. I have written before about my approach to Brexit which is that we should honour the result of the Referendum but we should leave in an orderly way, with a deal. I have spent too long working in many different business sectors to think that a “no deal”/WTO Brexit will have no or limited impact. It will have an impact, perhaps not as drastic as some reports, but meaningful and in my view unnecessary. I have voted three times to leave with a deal. Some claim that the agreement negotiated over the last three years with the EU is not really Brexit. Of course, people have their own image of what a “real” Brexit is but the Withdrawal Agreement is only the first stage of the process. It’s almost, dare I say it, the easy bit, but in a hung Parliament it’s proved anything but easy.
Just before recess I voted to ensure that Parliament could not be suspended in a bid to leave the EU, without a deal, at the end of October, without further scrutiny. Over summer the new Prime Minister decided to prorogue Parliament and bring forward a new programme for Government via a Queen's Speech. Importantly this ensured Parliament would be sitting from 14th October so the result of any Brexit renegotiation could be brought to Parliament. This did reduce the parliamentary time available but in my view, still left enough time to scrutinise and vote through a deal to leave the EU or a plan to leave without a deal. Some of my colleagues disagreed and concerned about this unusual manoeuvre, determined to pass new legislation to extend our departure from the EU until January 2020. Despite strong views amongst many in Chichester I did not support this approach as I believe the new PM deserves the time to find a deal that would be acceptable to Parliament. However, I’m still very concerned about leaving without a deal particularly when 92% of Conservative MPs, including leading Brexiteers such as the Prime Minister and Jacob Rees-Mogg, voted to leave with the previously negotiated Withdrawal Agreement. Yes this contains risk but there is no risk free way to leave the European Union, and it is more responsible than leaving on very basic WTO trading terms and creating a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; with all the risk that entails.
Some very highly respected colleagues have had the Conservative Whip removed. This is deeply concerning and I hope that this is rectified soon. It looks very likely there will be an election in the near future so everybody will, once again, get an opportunity to decide who you would like to represent you in Parliament. Our constitution and democracy has been challenged by Brexit but ultimately you, the voters, will always have the power to determine our destiny.
Statement 14th August
We now have a new Prime Minister in place and a new approach to Brexit. A deal was agreed with the European Union but Parliament has now failed to vote to support this deal on three occasions. It is clear that the current withdrawal agreement will not pass through the House of Commons despite the fact that 90% of Conservative MPs voted for the deal including the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Unfortunately in a hung parliament this is not enough to proceed. This leaves two options available assuming you wish to respect the result of the referendum; first to try to renegotiate a deal with the European Union which can gain wider support in parliament or if this is not possible leave, without a deal, on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms. In my view there is little point in delaying the date we leave the EU further as it is not more time we need but more compromise on all sides. I have said many times that I believe leaving the EU without any deal and trading on WTO terms would create unnecessary risk for thousands of businesses and millions of people across our country. This seems to be a very drastic action resulting from the fact that thirty MPs, from any party, did not support the deal which had taken three years to negotiate.
Currently the EU are stating they will not renegotiate any terms of a deal so we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. In my view the request for the EU to reconsider the permanence of the backstop is a reasonable request. Indeed, the parties already tried to address concerns raised about the backstop in March 2019 (LINK) where both sides tried to provide comfort that they did not wish the backstop to be applied at all and if it was it would be replaced with a permanent agreement including technology solutions on the Irish border when available. Unfortunately these side letters were not judged to have sufficient legal status (LINK) however, in my view it is reasonable to request that this “agreement in principle” be reopened and the parties consider how the backstop could be removed or replaced.
The Prime Minister has stated that it is his preferred position to leave the European Union in an orderly manner with a deal which is agreed through parliament. I support this position as it is by far the best approach to enable Brexit for both the UK and the EU27. There are of course some parties who wish to ignore the result of the referendum and remain in the EU, this is not a position I support. I believe we must respect the result of the vote however, this does not mean we should leave at any cost or inflict considerable economic damage to our country. We cannot leave the European Union without taking a risk, however, in my analysis and in my experience the risks contained within the withdrawal agreement were manageable and certainly less risky than leaving to trade on WTO terms. Reaching an agreement will require compromise from the EU, the UK Government and Members of Parliament and I hope as we near the deadline of 31st October 2019, positions will shift and an agreement can be reached.
Statement 1st July
In order to make a success of Brexit it is my view that we need to leave with an agreement. This is why myself, the leadership contenders and 90% of Conservative MPs voted for the deal which had been agreed with the EU over the past three years. In my opinion this deal provides a workable solution and delivered on the result of the referendum whilst protecting our economy from the damaging consequences of a “no deal” Brexit.
I understand some people actively want us to leave the European Union without any deal and trade on WTO terms but in my view this would create unnecessary risk for thousands of businesses and millions of people across our country. It is much better to find a deal that can pass through Parliament and includes a transition period.
We have currently reached an impasse in Parliament until we have a new Prime Minister in place, which is expected to be announced by the 23 July. Any new Prime Minister will almost certainly go back to the EU to try and renegotiate the terms of the Irish border backstop.
I remain supportive of leaving the EU but with a negotiated deal in place. If this is not possible then the new Government must provide a detailed plan with mitigation for affected industry sectors so we understand fully the implications of leaving to trade on WTO terms.
Statement 3rd April
Further indicative votes were held on Monday 1 April, I voted against the Common Market 2.0 , Confirmatory Public Vote and Parliamentary Supremacy motions. I choose to abstain from the Customs Union motion because whilst this doesn’t answer the frictionless trade or Irish border issue, it is an area where we could possibly work more closely with opposition parties to define and agree a customs arrangement for manufactured goods and agricultural products.
Statement 29th March
Indicative votes were held this week to try to establish what type of Brexit arrangement MPs would support. Unlike many MPs I have voted twice for Brexit and I fully support the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration as a reasonable, collaborative approach to leave the EU in an orderly way.
In terms of the indicative votes, I voted against all options that put our economy and jobs at risk and anything that looked like a second referendum in disguise. I have consistently said I do not believe we should have a second referendum which would undermine our democratic process and only prolong uncertainty for both businesses and individuals.
The other deal types, I believe, are all inferior to the bespoke arrangements that the Prime Minister has negotiated and agreed with the EU27 countries. In many cases, they still require the Withdrawal Agreement to be agreed and are largely unworkable as propositions. In particular they require the UK to continue with freedom of movement of people and to not enter into our own trades deals.
The reason I abstained from the EFTA/EAA arrangement (Motion H) is that it is the only option that could potentially be agreed without a Withdrawal Agreement, however, it would still be difficult to negotiate, with even more parties involved. In my view, this approach is still very much inferior to the Prime Minister’s deal as it would include accepting freedom of movement which the agreed deal does not after the transition period. However, I felt I ought to indicate if the PMs deal is not going to go through, what option could be considered if other MPs refuse to back the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration.