Tomorrow, I head back into Parliament for a critical week.
The EU Withdrawal Bill reaches the floor of the House of Commons, for its Committee stage. There will be parliamentary time of 64 hours, spread over 8 days, for all MPs to have their say.
And I’m looking forward to taking part in the debate, and voting in favour of the Bill. I’ve been contacted by many constituents, who have concerns about this process, and it’s right that they get answers to their questions and that I make my position clear.
Whether people voted for or against Brexit, I believe that the British people voted to leave the EU, and most people expect us to get on with it now. It’s also an undeniable fact that people in Redditch who I’m privileged to represent in Parliament voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU.
I have often been asked how I voted in the Referendum, before I was an MP. I neither campaigned for or against, I was much too busy with my work and family. And I have been up front that I made a finely balanced decision after much soul searching to vote to remain. I was lobbied very hard by my four children, all young adults and students.
But first and foremost I am a democrat, and I have always utterly refuted the idea that we should have another referendum or try to frustrate people’s expressed will at the ballot box by blocking Brexit, even if it was not what I personally voted for. I believed that at the time, and I believe it ever more strongly as each day goes past now.
I believe that we will get a deal, and that we will have a positive future outside the EU. Nothing I have seen since the referendum has persuaded me to change my mind on that. Our economy is growing, businesses are thriving, and the UK remains one of the best places in the world to live, work and raise a family, for reasons that are totally unconnected to the EU.
However, having seen the way that our EU partners are seemingly frustrating our democratic mandate, by their unreasonable approach to the negotiations and our trading future, I genuinely believe that were I to have the chance to vote again I would cast my vote differently.
Last week I visited Brussels on a select committee trip. It gave me the chance to see the EU at close quarters for the first time. And I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. We were lobbied extensively by the voice of big corporate business who do not want us to leave the EU and insist that they can’t manage without “certainty”.
But they need to understand that the British economy isn’t run in the interests of big corporates. And I find it ironic that many – particularly in the Labour party – who say they are on the side of ordinary people, are so wedded to a huge bureaucratic project, that operates in the interests of multinationals, without any regard to what the ordinary people in this country want.
Having run a small business all my life, before entering Parliament, I know that there is no such thing as “certainty” – at any time. There never has been – its an illusion. If a business starts trading with the US, with Donald Trump as President, is this certainty? And yet businesses enter the US market all the time, make profit, and create jobs.
Businesses need to know what terms we will trade on. But uncertainty is a fact of business life, and good, agile, businesses will adapt, protect jobs, and exploit new opportunities. That’s what I did in my previous business life, and I know that many businesses in Redditch and in the rest of the country are doing this also.
It is right that MPs from all sides of the House scrutinise this important Bill. But it is wrong to suggest, as some of our opponents have done, that this is some kind of “power grab”. I find it ironic that opponents of Brexit have been very happy to cede power to big corporations and unelected Euro politicians and their voices, and have ignored the voice of voters, who can’t afford to pay for Brussels lobbyists.
I will be listening very carefully to the debate. I want to make sure that our laws after Brexit protect workers, our environment, our rights, our borders and the sovereignty of our Parliament. This is what the Bill sets out to do.
The principal arguments by those who seek to derail this bill are that it involves a “power grab” by ministers, and that it undermines rights and protections on equalities, workers’ rights and the environment currently enshrined in EU law. This is wildly wrong.
As we prepare to leave the EU, we are faced with the task of transposing 44 years’ worth of EU laws into UK law, and we need to correct them so they make sense. So we need to take certain, limited powers to ensure that we can do that in time for exit day.
We want to ensure that no new barriers to living and doing business within our own union are created, so we are working with the devolved administrations to agree where we will need common frameworks in place and where powers can be devolved in the future, which is what we expect to see happen.
The most concerning allegation is that the government will water down rights. We have been clear that our decision to leave the EU will not change the UK’s longstanding tradition of ensuring people’s rights are protected. In fact, the bill explicitly brings into UK law all those directly effective rights under EU treaties.
This is in addition to all the rights and protections that already exist in UK law, and in our international obligations, including those listed under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The government has said that if any member of parliament finds a substantive right that is not carried forward into UK law, they should say so. It will do whatever is necessary to ensure that rights are not watered down and that we have the appropriate mechanisms and institutions to enforce them after we leave the EU.
Ultimately, this bill is technical in nature, designed to ensure a smooth and orderly exit from the EU. Voting to amend it will not delay or halt our exit from the EU but voting against it will lead to a legal cliff-edge that is not in the interests of anyone. The British people voted to leave, we have triggered Article 50, and the exit process is well underway.
It was parliament that chose to approve a referendum in which the British people voted to leave. This year it was parliament that chose to trigger Article 50 and begin the negotiations. And now, in the coming weeks, it will be parliament that chooses whether our departure is chaotic or smooth.
I’m clear that It’s my job to listen to the people of Redditch who have clearly said what they wish to see, and support this Bill to pass through the House.