I know from my discussions with local residents that they want us to get on with delivering what the majority voted for in the referendum. That is what we are doing, and we will not compromise on the decision to leave. We will take back control of our borders, our laws, and our money, leave the Common Fisheries Policy and Common Agricultural Policy – all whilst protecting jobs, security, and the integrity of our United Kingdom.
It appears the Government has now concluded negotiations with the European Union. If so, this has delivered a withdrawal agreement only, which covers citizens' rights, a proposed 21-month transition period after the UK's departure on 29th March 2019, and details of the so-called £39bn "divorce bill". This means that discussions about our future relationship are ongoing. While in any negotiation there is always give and take, there is no commitment for the UK to remain in the single market or customs union, despite what some of my colleagues may think – even though none of us have actually read the agreement document itself.
Overall, my position remains the same, I will only support an agreement that meets all of our commitments in the 2017 General Election manifesto. I am confident that this deal will do that. Yes, the Government’s proposal is a compromise. So, while it may not be 100% of what we all want straight away (no deal could ever achieve that), it is a start and is far better than no deal at all.
I would also like to reiterate a point from my earlier statement, the EU referendum only delivered one simple instruction – leave the EU. Consequently, there is only a mandate for the outcome, not the means. My responsibility now is to shape those means and get the best deal for the residents of the Clacton constituency, and I believe the Government's approach will do just that. This approach will ensure that those businesses who do export to the EU, including many small businesses in our area that I have visited recently, will be protected.
Before I move on, I must say that there has been a lot of discussion about the backstop recently, most of it overblown. The backstop is an insurance policy to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland and will not be needed. It is a hypothetical bridge between the transition period and our future relationship with the EU. Simply put, it will only be put in place if no agreement on that future relationship is signed at the end of transition. I understand, from media reports, that the withdrawal agreement includes a backstop that will keep the UK aligned with the EU customs union for a limited time. However, in a constructive and positive negotiation this insurance policy should never be needed. Interestingly, I understand that today’s withdrawal agreement contains a statement on this future relationship, so we are already off to a good start in these subsequent negotiations.
The discussions, so far, have been long and tough, with thousands of hours of hard work and engagement on both sides. Cabinet will meet today to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and to decide on next steps in the national interest.
Following this, Parliament will make a sovereign decision on this agreement. When it has been published, and we have all had a chance to go through it in detail, I am confident it will be an agreement that I can support. It represents the next big step to becoming the global Britain we need to be. However, should I find that there to have been any more concessions to the EU, I will have to reconsider my position. I have made that clear to the Prime Minister on several occasions and said the same to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union only yesterday.
Rest assured, the UK will be leaving the EU next year with my continued assistance, and I would not support any attempts to delay our withdrawal or for there to be a second referendum – as I have often said, this would only lead to greater division.