Our Brexit deal, which includes the Withdrawal Agreement and a declaration on our Future Relationship, has now been agreed. I hope that, like me, everyone has taken the time to review these documents in full.
After reading the draft Withdrawal Agreement, I said that I had concerns about the backstop – an insurance mechanism, which, if needed, is designed to keep us in an indefinite customs union with the EU, without a say, until an agreement on our Future Relationship is in place. This mechanism can only be utilised if a Future Relationship agreement is not in place at the end of the initial transition period (31st December 2020). Should that happen, the Government would then be able to activate the backstop or, if the EU agrees, extend the transition period for one or two years.
I do have faith in our negotiating team to get an agreement before the transition period ends, or earlier, and a swift agreement is in the interest of both sides; hence why both the UK and the EU have committed themselves to using ‘best endeavours’ to conclude an agreement before transition ends. Nevertheless, there is no binding obligation here, for either side, and the EU could choose to delay these negotiations and prolong our membership unnecessarily. Likewise, the EU can, via its representatives on the Joint Committee, refuse any extension to the initial transition period, which may be needed facilitate further negotiations, thereby activating the backstop mechanism.
The EU are, unfortunately, adamant that a backstop has to be included in any deal; as this is the only way to ensure that there is no hard border in Northern Ireland if negotiations break down. So, if we are to get a deal, which we must do to secure our future prosperity, we must accept the inclusion of this backstop. But, we can also prevent the backstop from ever being used, by ensuring that an agreement on our Future Relationship with the EU is in place before the transition period ends.
That is why I called for the final Withdrawal Agreement to be amended, to absolutely guarantee that agreements on our Future Relationship apply, in full, from the point at which transition ends. Clearly, such a guarantee would circumvent the backstop, which has caused so much concern amongst Parliamentarians, businesses, members of the public, including residents in the Clacton constituency, and the members of my local association, all of whom I have spoken to recently – I thank them all for their feedback.
However, despite raising my concerns with the Government, these were not placated by the final Withdrawal Agreement and the indefinite backstop, therefore, remains a possibility. I do not believe that this is acceptable, and to put this simply, unless a guarantee of this nature is in place, before we vote on 11th December, I cannot back this deal.
Make no mistake, I would be happy to support this deal, were this change to be made and, should the Government not provide any assurances or guarantees, I have already tabled an amendment to the Meaningful Vote motion to make the House’s approval contingent on these being in place.
Whatever happens next week, we must secure a deal – we cannot blunder into a no deal outcome. This would be a disastrous outcome, and not what my constituents, or local businesses, want. I also fear that if we do not get a good deal, and soon, the repercussions could be even more serious, and may inadvertently lead to a Marxist entering Downing Street.
Moreover, we must not waste more time with a pointless leadership contest – a different Prime Minister would face the same problems, against an EU emboldened by such a show of weakness.
But most importantly, we must not have another referendum; being binary, referenda are divisive by nature and would leave the country in an extended period of pain and uncertainty. What we must do is deliver on the result of the referendum by leaving the EU in good time.
I will not back any deal that fails to do this.