I have listened to the Prime Minister’s speech this afternoon with interest.
It’s no secret that I voted remain, though I was not an MP nor active in politics when the referendum was held. I voted remain after very strong lobbying from my children, and based on my business experience, fearing the inevitable disruption and added complexity from business as usual.
But even the day after the vote, I remember hearing calls from some who wished to overturn the referendum vote. And I thought at the time that this was wrong. Fundamentally I am a democrat, and people had ample chance to make their views heard, and I believe then as I do now that those principles of democracy are sacred and should be respected. I was well aware of the strength of the leave vote, having campaigned extensively in a previous election in a leave constituency. So, I know very well how people felt and when some people try to suggest, as a minority have done, that their leave vote was based on xenophobia or ignorance, it is utterly insulting and wrong.
Since becoming an MP, I have obviously become very involved in the debates. And over a period of months I have changed my view. I have seen up close and personal the paid lobbyists in Brussels from big business, people who have never started or run a small business in their life, telling us that all would be doom and gloom - which has not happened, and which I do not believe will happen. Businesses are experts at exploiting opportunities, entrepreneurs are flexible and creative and they are in business because they are capable of solving problems. Many of them voted leave, as did their employees.
I have seen the attitude of the EU Commission, which seems to be doing an excellent job trying to frustrate the democratically expressed view of our country, to preserve their own interests. And I have seen small and growing businesses in Redditch thriving, doing what they do best which is taking advantage of the economic climate they are in. All these things have influenced me and I now join the small but growing group of “releavers”.
Of course, I have also heard opposing views because this is a binary choice. And there are always going to be people who do not agree with the vote. It is important that I take their views on board which I do very seriously. I am not, and have never been an ideologue. You can’t’ be a business person and be an ideologue. I’m interested in what works, what delivers the best outcome for Redditch and for the country.
This vote was never just about pure economic arguments. Anyone who has spent thousands of hours talking to voters will know that very well. People are entitled to vote based on their own opinions - that is the glory and strength of our democracy.
But the legitimate concerns that people and employers have raised have been recognised. And I have welcomed the Government already addressing many concerns that they have raised such as the status of EU citizens, the Irish border, the future stability of our health services and other sectors that employ EU and migrant workers.
And today in a significant speech, we saw more of the detail and clarity that has been widely called for. The Prime Minister addressed concerns of people who voted remain and who voted leave. She made what I thought was a very good speech that seeks to unite the country. No-one is going to get everything that they wanted, that much is clear, but I am certain that this Government is going to deliver on the will of the people and take back control of our money, borders and our laws.
Within the business community, as I know from being a member of the BEIS (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) Select Committee, there have been many concerns raised about the effects of leaving the EU without a deal. The car industry that is so important for our local economy here in Redditch have been very pessimistic. And let’s be honest, some things will not stay the same. The car industry depends on complex global supply chains and the skills of people from all over the world. It’s important that the Government and the EU, because let’s remember this is a negotiation that both sides need to engage in and will benefit from, work through these issues to protect our important automotive industry. I’ve looked closely at the evidence and heard from many industry bodies so I fully understand how much of a priority this is.
It’s good that businesses have today welcomed the additional clarity that they have called for during the transition period and beyond. This includes key objectives of frictionless trade while preserving the historic and precious Belfast Agreement. It includes an economic vision that softens the impact on our businesses, agreements on trade and customs, regulations and the membership of EU bodies, and more.
It involves co-operation with the important European Agencies such as EASA, the European Medicines Agency, and a pragmatic acceptance of the limited role played by the ECJ in these. The difference is that Parliament will have a say on these laws in the future.
The speech also deals with another key factor that we have heard about in our committee, which is a customs partnership or arrangement that allows us to continue with frictionless trade, but does not prevent us from striking our own free trade deals around the world in future.
Of course, we are also leaving the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, but we are going to have the opportunity to set and adhere to our own high standards for our own markets, animal welfare, and produce. There will be no race to the bottom.
I truly believe this speech will enable us to come to the EU negotiating table with a set of concrete proposals. There are compromises on both sides, as there are always in a negotiation. Anyone knows that in a negotiation, not everyone gets everything they want. We need to be realistic and so does the EU. But our Prime Minister has shown steel and pragmatism in equal parts, which is what I believe is needed to move us forward.