We are now in the midst of highly turbulent political times, which represents a source of worry and concern for many of my constituents. I understand this worry and I want to outline my thoughts on how we go forward from here.
I have delayed setting out my views on Brexit until the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration have been finalised and agreed, and until I have had time to read them, listen to the debates, and take soundings from my constituents who hold a diversity of views on this topic.
This note sets out why I support the deal, although it is not perfect, why I have made the compromises and trade-offs that I have and what the alternatives are.
I have gone into some detail about the major criticisms of the deal by commentators, but I also recognise that these are evolving on a dynamic basis. Therefore, I point my constituents to the publications from the House of Commons Library and the Gov.uk blog that sets out much more detail. I don’t expect my constituents to take what I say without asking for proof, so I am always happy to provide more if details aren’t supplied here.
May I also draw your attention to the article in the Daily Telegraph from former Conservative party leader William Hague whose views align with mine. He states very clearly that while certain aspects of this deal are not perfect, as a Brexiteer himself, as I am, we must vote for it, because the alternatives would lead us to no Brexit.
I am always happy to discuss any item of detail or policy with my constituents and you will find details of how to do so at the end of this note.
Over the days and weeks ahead fresh details will emerge, and queries will be asked. As the situation is changing rapidly I will always remain responsive to my constituents for updates on new developments, as they happen. This is at times a highly technical debate and it is characterised in the media by half-truths, misinformation, badly informed speculation, and mischievous briefing for political reasons. I always pledge to give my constituents the facts, not spin, then they can make up their own minds.
I certainly do not expect all my constituents to agree with me on this issue. However, I ask for the opportunity to set out my thought process, and how I have come to this decision, in the interests of transparency and accuracy.
Summary: Why I support the deal – it isn’t perfect, but the alternatives are worse.
Parliamentary arithmetic and political reality
This debate must be understood with one simple and over-riding fact in mind before we engage with the argument. That is that with the parliamentary arithmetic the way it is, there is simply no majority in the House of Commons for a no-deal scenario. Those of us who support Brexit might all wish there was, but we must face reality.
This is why, all along, the Prime Minister has been set on pursuing a deal, that can command the support of the House of Commons. I believe she is right to do this.
Let me be clear. Had there been a simple way through, with the majority of MPs supporting this, where we could have started from the premise that we are leaving without a deal and had started preparing for a managed no-deal exit from day one, I would have advocated this.
But this is not where we are. The results of the 2017 election delivered a House of Commons arithmetic that meant the Government could not have passed any legislation to this effect. As soon as the requirement for a meaningful vote was on the statue book, the Prime Minister had no alternative but to seek a deal with the EU.
On our side we are split between those who voted remain but now accept the result and therefore support the deal, those who voted remain who don’t accept the result and want a second referendum, and those who voted leave but for many reasons often nothing to do with Brexit itself, don’t support the Prime Minister and have indicated they will not vote for it.
The majority of MPs don’t support Brexit. I do – because I believe in democracy
I am in a small minority of MPs who support Brexit and want it to happen, and I know that by voting down this deal we will inexorably end up with no Brexit or something that is very far away from Brexit – effectively BRINO.
This is not about an abstract set of circumstances that people might prefer to prevail. It is about the political reality of the world as it is. Should the Prime Minister present a no-deal scenario to Parliament, it would be immediately rejected. She was right therefore to negotiate a deal from the start.
All the criticisms of the Prime Minister’s actions must be understood with that one simple fact as context.
Main criticisms of the deal
I want to start by addressing some of the strongest views head on; that we should simply walk away, or leave without a deal. This may sound appealing on the surface, but it cannot happen, for the reason I have outlined above. While this may still be the outcome, and I have been the first to call for better preparedness for a managed no-deal, it could not have been the initial negotiating strategy.
I have been clear all along that I stood on a manifesto commitment to deliver the result of the referendum. 62% of my constituents voted to leave the EU. And I and the Prime Minister have been clear all along that we must deliver Brexit, and take back control of our money, borders and laws.
Which Brexit did people vote for?
There was a vote in the referendum and 17.4 million people voted to leave, the biggest exercise in democracy for some years in this country. In my many thousands of conversations with my constituents, I hear nuanced and diverse reasons for the Brexit vote, including but not limited to, sovereignty, democracy, the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), immigration, lack of accountability and control, fisheries and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the vast payments into the EU budget, and the direction of travel of the EU towards ever closer union, an EU army, and many more.
There are 17.4 million possible versions of what Brexit looks like, and no politician knows exactly what those voters wanted when they voted to leave. Some people claim to know what “all” their constituents or “all the people they know” voted for. I have knocked on thousands of doors, for nearly 10 years, as a political campaigner, and spoken to many thousands of people in my role as the MP. It is clear to me, that people voted for Brexit for many different reasons. It is not the case, as some people claim, that “everybody voted to leave without a deal”.
There was no clear mandate for leaving without a deal, and it would have very serious consequences, threatening the constitutional integrity of our United Kingdom, particularly with respect to Northern Ireland, and for the frictionless trade that many small businesses employing many of my constituents rely on for their livelihoods.
By the same token, those who voted remain have vastly different opinions, from being passionate Europhiles to taking the view, as I did when I voted remain, that staying in would represent the least worst option for the business I was running then, compared to the difficulty and chaos of trying to extricate ourselves from 40 years of co-operation.
It is unrealistic to believe, as some commentators do, that there is some ideal version of a Brexit deal that would please all these vastly differing spectrums of opinion. So, everyone, however they voted, must appreciate that millions of other people do not agree with them, and in order to get most of what they want, they have to accept some compromises and pragmatic trade-offs.
The deal is the only deal on the table.
This deal is the only deal that is on the table. There is no other, alternative, deal.
Despite much heat and light, none of the critics have come up with any credible alternative that delivers on the result of the referendum, respects the constitutional integrity of our United Kingdom, respects the Belfast Agreement and safeguards Northern Ireland, and ensures frictionless trade.
So if we vote down this deal we face yet more division and potential political chaos, which I do not believe benefits my constituents. We also face a possible leadership contest, while the opposition would relish this, at this time when we are taking part in these important negotiations, it would be a total distraction. And whoever is our party leader must face the same parliamentary arithmetic, a House of Commons that would not vote through either no deal or some version of staying in the EU.
This deal delivers on the referendum
This deal delivers on the result of the referendum, it takes back control of our money, borders and our laws, all the key things that Redditch voters have desired. And it also enables frictionless trade to continue, and for us to have our own independent trade policy in the future. It ends vast payments into the EU budget, and it allows us to have the immigration policy that is right for our businesses and public services, ending free movement of labour. It enables continuing co-operation on defence, security and nuclear power. And it also allows business certainty for the future, and only one set of changes to plan for. This is important for the many employers in Redditch, particularly our world-leading manufacturers, who employ many of my constituents, and who have welcomed this deal.
The importance of protecting business and jobs
As a Conservative, I believe in business and enterprise, having run a small business myself. It is not the voice of big business or the CBI I listen to, but my constituents who run small businesses, who have told me that they need certainty and clarity.
I also listen to the voice of the many EU citizens in Redditch who have made a huge contribution to our community in many areas. Under this deal, their rights are protected and we welcome them to stay. I have also received a lot of correspondence from former UK citizens who have moved to the EU. This deal also protects their rights, if they have already settled there, something that would be totally impossible under a no-deal scenario.
In my previous life in business, I understood that pragmatism is a good thing. As a Conservative, I believe in practical solutions, and with dealing with the way that the world actually is, not the way I would like it to be. We do not live in an ideal world. I want to see the government deliver Brexit, and protect jobs and our economy, listen to the concerns of people employed in our town by manufacturing businesses that depend on frictionless trade, and build a brighter Britain for my children and grandchildren, and engage with the very real concerns of exiting from the EU after 40 years of co-operation in all areas of our national life without causing undue disruption and distress.
I believe in being pragmatic and dealing with the world as it is not as I would like it to be
Every decision has an alternative, and if people aren’t prepared to compromise at all, there are vast numbers of people who face getting nothing of what they want, and ending up with something a lot worse than what we have now.
Let’s be honest, this issue has divided the nation and particularly the Conservative Party for many years. There are those who did not want to go into the EU in the first place, and nothing short of a complete clean break will please them. On the other hand, many of my constituents voted to remain and many leavers now want to remain because they did not see a way out that protected their jobs in the manufacturing industries our town depends on. So, there is no scenario under which the PM, or indeed I as the MP, can please these views.
I am listening and will continue to listen
Sometimes we MPs are accused of not listening. I can assure people reading this that I have read every single email, letter, and social media comment on this topic (and all of the others that I receive on every topic!) However, as I hope people will understand, listening to views doesn’t mean that I can act on all of them. While I may listen carefully to the diversity of views expressed, by definition, I cannot act on all of them because they are asking me to do completely opposite things. I therefore say to my constituents, I have heard you, but I respectfully disagree, and I cannot unfortunately, please everyone.
As your elected representative, it is imperative that I act in the interests of all my constituents, including those who did not vote for me, and the country. I must carefully weigh up these diverse and totally conflicting opinions and decide what I am going to do as your elected Member of Parliament.
If this destroys my electoral prospects – as some people threaten – that is a risk that I must take. By the way I do not believe this to be true and it is not borne out by my mailbag or many numerous conversations with my constituents either.
My conscience will be clear, I will know that I voted with my head and my heart in the best interests of all my constituents, not my narrow political interests. This decision will be about balancing risks on all sides and it will come down to a judgment. Let me be clear, this was not an easy decision.
My support for the deal
I have come to the view that I will be backing the deal, with one important proviso. I am making it crystal clear that there should be no further compromises made in the trade talks, and if the deal is voted down in Parliament in a couple of weeks time, there must be no going back into the EU, no talk of a second referendum, and we must urgently prepare for a managed no-deal clean exit from the EU.
While I have been clear that if asked to vote again, I would now vote to leave, I have never been one to advocate leaving without a deal. It does not reflect the views of the vast majority of my constituents and I do not want this to happen. But, if Parliament cannot support the government’s deal, it is the clear responsibility of Government to properly prepare for this.
Managing a no-deal exit
What is often not appreciated about leaving without a deal, is the sheer number of EU bodies, and agencies that affect our daily lives without us even being aware of it. We need to make plans for important research and scientific co-operation, security and defence collaboration, nuclear power agreements, and a whole raft of others. And that is before we have looked at the Home Office and thought about terrorism, visas and passports, and the fight against international crime, money laundering and fraud.
As I have also said above, we would have no guarantees from the EU on our citizens rights in the EU countries, with no deal. No guarantees on travel, study abroad, recognition of professional qualifications under a no-deal scenario.
I make this point to underline that no deal really is about so much more than just trade alone. Of course, all these things can be managed, but they come with big consequences, in terms of government resources, spending trade-offs, distraction, some inevitable confusion and unintended and unforeseen consequences.
Security implications – it is the first duty of government to keep us safe
Many of the things that we do not see and never think about that keep us safe, protect us from criminals who wish to do us harm or defraud us, are achieved in collaboration with the EU. The first duty of government is to protect its citizens. To achieve the same level of security and defence co-operation, in our national security and our internal security, in a no deal scenario would be a big investment by government.
As such, I believe that leaving with a deal is the best possible outcome and means we can swiftly move on from the Brexit debate and focus on other priorities such as our NHS, our public services, building enough affordable houses for young people, and addressing the social care problem.
This is one of the biggest problems for Leave voters and Brexiteers. It is something that I wish we could avoid. But it is unfortunately very clear that the only way the EU would negotiate a deal is with a backstop. In their view, this is a very significant concession and a movement from both their espoused red lines and from the position they started from.
I have sought personal assurances on this from Cabinet Ministers and from Steve Barclay, the new Brexit Secretary, as well as attending hours of briefings. I will reiterate what he said, because it is crucially important: it is not in the EU’s interests to see us enter, or to keep us in, a backstop.
First, it means that non-EU members have access to the Single Market and Customs Union, without paying in, or following other rules like Freedom of Movement – they regard these as dividing up the four freedoms which, don’t forget, they always said they would never do. It is, essentially, cherry picking, which again they said they wouldn’t do.
Secondly, keeping us in the Customs Union wouldn’t be beneficial for the EU. It would mean they could not negotiate their own trade deals as an essential prerequisite is being able to define the trade territory. If we are in their customs union, but seeking to depart, this would prevent future negotiations by the bloc.
Thirdly, Article 50 contains legal mechanisms to ensure the backstop is only ever temporary and cannot be used as a future relationship.
Fourthly, the EU have now accepted that alternative arrangements such as technology can be used to overcome the hard border issues. The government will work at pace to bring these into existence.
In a way, the backstop is an insurance policy, we hope it is never triggered, but in the same way you would never buy anything significant without insurance, it is a necessary part of many commercial and trading arrangements, and does not detract from the good faith of all parties to the agreement to avoid having to use it.
I have my own concerns about exiting from the backstop in the future. But we must remember that both sides do not want to use it. If we are in it, it represents a failure by the EU to agree access to our profitable markets, for their own members. Of course, the Germans still want to sell us cars, the French sell us cheese and the Italians their wine. So, the EU wants to negotiate a good trade deal to satisfy the demands of their own domestic businesses and consumers.
Because the EU has now conceded ground, there are provisions within the political declaration to explore alternative arrangements, including the use of technology, to solve the problems of the Irish border to ensure the Good Friday Agreement isn’t violated. I believe these can be implemented in good time and we can negotiate an ambitious trade deals.
The backstop is mutually uncomfortable, both for us and the EU. Effectively in the backstop we would be in the old “common market” – not paying in to the budget, not accepting freedom of movement and not accepting all the EU’s rules, but – and this is a big but – having free access to their single market. So, they definitely do not want to set a precedent for this and they certainly do not want to offer it to other member states. Ireland for example are very unhappy about this because they perceive Northern Ireland as having advantages under this arrangement that Ireland doesn’t have.
If you talk to businesses and civil society in Northern Ireland they are strongly supportive of the backstop because it gives them many economic advantages as well as the security assurances they need to avoid any risk or link to The Troubles. Those of us who grew up in Birmingham or the nearby areas, as I did, will remember all too well this awful period and that is why I take this issue so seriously.
The role of the ECJ
Another concern I had was regarding the role of the European Court of Justice in future dispute settlements. But, this has been somewhat alleviated by the Prime Minister’s explanation of what will happen in this situation. She made it very clear that the jurisdiction of the ECJ will end. The final arbiter of any disputes during our withdrawal would be a Joint Committee, which will be made up equally of members from the UK and the EU. Only, where EU law is concerned, can the Committee ask the ECJ to provide an opinion and this opinion is not binding.
Even if we were totally outside the EU, if we were doing trade deals with them, we would need to ask courts to make reference to the ECJ. This is a normal part of international trade law.
Comments in the media from legal experts
At this time, there is a lot of heat and light on this particular debate. But, I would ask my constituents to beware the comments of ‘legal experts’ and ‘legal opinions’ being used by either side of the argument to present opinions as if they were definitive fact. This is a highly dubious practise. Legal arguments can only ever be just that – arguments and opinions.
You can find any number of distinguished lawyers to make or refute any number of personal stances on this issue, and by and large, they reflect the personal political views of the lawyer who is making them. I come from a family of lawyers and know this better than anyone.
Consequences of voting down the deal
Ultimately, each Member of Parliament must use their own judgement and consider the alternatives of voting down this deal.
Many people argue that some unspecified alternative leader or Prime Minister could have negotiated some unspecified alternative deal that somehow would command overwhelming support. I always ask the question, what one element of the deal would you change that would achieve this? The answer usually comes back to either not respecting the result of the referendum at all (i.e.., stay in), or leaving without a deal, for which there is no majority in Parliament.
This deal is the best deal available from the EU
Others argue that if only we had “stood up” to the EU we wouldn’t be where we are, or that we can now go back and get more. Frankly, I don’t find these comments credible. We are leaving the EU in March next year and this deal is the only deal on the table. The PM has negotiated this deal with guts, grit, and resilience and I know she is motivated only by what is right for the whole country. She is not motivated by her own political self-interest and she has shown this time and again. Indeed, she has shown her critics time and again that she has achieved what people said was impossible, including extracting concessions from the EU. My postbag is full of emails saying how much people admire her tenacity and her hard work in the national interest and asking me to back her and get on with Brexit.
Remember how campaigners said that we would not be able to divide the four freedoms, or cherry pick bits and pieces we liked? But this is exactly what has now been agreed with the EU. The fact that their members are unhappy with this deal shows how much the EU has conceded to us. This is a bespoke partnership, that is completely unprecedented.
The silent majority
From my conversations with thousands of voters, at my surgeries, while out knocking on doors, while I am going about my daily business, from my mailbag and the hundreds of pieces of correspondence I receive, I know that there is no majority in the country or in Redditch, which voted to Leave, for no deal. Rather, there is a silent majority, behind Theresa May, that accept this is a compromise deal and the best option available. Of course, not everyone will be happy with this deal, or with my actions. I must face the consequences of my actions, but I understand this, and I stand by my decision.
Why I do not support a second referendum or People’s Vote
I have not come to this decision lightly, as I know full well there are and will be people who are disappointed with me. Some of my remain supporting constituents have asked me to support a People’s Vote or a second referendum. I do not support this view, because I believe that people have already had a vote.
I believe in respecting democracy. People were asked what they thought. They gave their answer. The government committed at that time very clearly to implement whatever was decided. To go back on that now would I believe be a grave threat to democracy.
If there was another vote, it would extend this painful division and turmoil. Those calling for a People’s Vote fail to say what would happen if Leave won again. Would it be the best of three? And what if Remain won by a small margin? What does that say to the 17.4 million people who originally voted leave? I have seen no evidence for the claims by the People’s vote campaign that people didn’t know what they voted for. This is insulting to the intelligence of those people who voted leave. They are absolutely clear that they knew what they were voting for.
I make this decision based on recalling that I stood on a manifesto at the General Election, and received over 52% of the vote, to deliver on the result of the referendum. 62% of my constituents voted to leave the EU.
It is often said in the media, by commentators and by fellow MPs, that people did or did not vote for this or that aspect of Brexit. I can honestly say, that people have told me literally hundreds of different reasons why they cast their vote as they did in the referendum. So, it is clear that on any version of Brexit many would be disappointed.
How I have arrived at my decision independently
I have said in the House of Commons that this Brexit deal isn’t perfect. In coming to my decision to support it I maintained my independent judgement on this issue, and have not become part of any faction, or group. I am not a Minister and am not on the government payroll. While I am a PPS I receive no salary for this role. If I did not agree with the government position I would always be free to say so and resign my role.
I am able to speak freely as a backbench MP. I have taken the time to engage in the debates here in Parliament, with fellow MPs of all persuasions, with Ministers, with groups who support different outcomes, with my constituents, and with experts of all types. Ultimately, it comes down to my judgement that the risk we take by voting for this deal, is balanced against the risk of voting it down.
The stance I am taking is unpopular in Parliament given the loud and influential voices of those who seek to bring down the government or change our leader.
However, I have to be able to sleep at night knowing that I considered all the options open to me and I have made the choice that I believe is in the best interests of all my constituents.
The decision I must now make will have consequences for my constituents now and in the future. There are strong voices on all sides of this debate, and as your MP I listen to all of them. However, by the very nature of the issue, there are some people who are going to be disappointed by my stance. I will always be honest with people about why I vote in the way that I do and I will always seek to build consensus as far as possible. I recognise that in this debate, it will be impossible to seek consensus with many people. By pleasing one group of people, inevitably I disappoint another group, that is the nature of politics. Especially in these days of social media, the debate is highly unpleasant at times.
In the coming days I will be making the argument in Parliament that this deal on the table, while not perfect, is the best possible deal that could have been negotiated against all the obstacles that exist, is in the best interests of my constituents compared to the likely alternatives, and I will be backing Theresa May when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons.