6th December 2018
Before I became an MP, a friend and I started a company from scratch which supplied broadcasting equipment and services to radio and tv stations. We eventually ended up supplying broadcasters in 48 countries around the world. Some were in Britain and the rest of Europe while many others were in America, Africa, the Far East and as far as New Zealand.
My business took me to many of these countries and it made a Brexiteer out of me decades before the word was invented. I could see the potential for Britain growing its world export base, if only we weren’t hindered by the trade barriers imposed by the European Union.
So when almost 60% of the Lichfield Constituency voted for Brexit, I was delighted. Especially after the scare stories – all of which have come to nought – put out by the Government publicity machine. It is all happening again now. But it wasn’t always so.
On the morning of 17th January 2017, seven months after the EU Referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May said “We will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union.
“This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states.”
Recognising what continued membership of the Single Market and Customs Union after Brexit would mean, she went on to say it “would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country. It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all”.
And she was right!
But nearly 2 years later, the tune has changed.
I can agree with most of the Brexit Deal that Theresa May has negotiated. It is eminently sensible. It will ensure that after Brexit, planes will still fly to Europe, Brits will be cared for on holidays in Europe and vice versa. It all makes total sense both for the EU and for the UK.
But there is one fatal flaw in the Deal. It is the clause that was agreed at the very last moment. If we agree to the Deal, the EU can keep us in the Customs Union indefinitely. We will not be allowed to leave when we want.
So what’s wrong with that?
Being in the Customs Union prevents us from setting our own import and export tariffs; in other words we will be unable to set up Free Trade Agreements with countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan all of whom are extremely keen to strengthen trade with us for our mutual prosperity.
And remaining in the Customs Union, we will not regain control over our immigration policy. While I and the Government both still want to see people coming to the UK for work, especially in sectors where we have skill shortages or lack of unskilled labour in say fruit picking, I want the UK to decide our own immigration policy, not Brussels.
And then there is the ‘buy out’ payment of £39 billion to the EU. This has been reduced from the £100 billion that was originally talked about. And the amount is probably fair. But to make any payment to the EU before we are fully out is negotiating madness. There will be little incentive for the EU to release us from the grip of the Customs Union.
Within 2 hours of Theresa May signing the accord, President Macron of France said he would use this golden chip to blackmail the UK into allowing French trawlers into the best British coastal water. If we don’t agree, he will stop us leaving the Customs Union. Spain have made demands regarding joint control of Gibraltar. And it will go on and on.
Even Olly Robbins, the civil servant in charge of negotiations, apparently advised the PM that this is a bad deal. I cannot betray our nation by agreeing to this. This is not easy for me. I rarely vote against my own Party (the only other major vote was when I opposed HS2). But as a Member of Parliament, I have to do what is right for the country.
So will this mean a chaotic, no-deal Brexit if Parliament votes this down?
No, it will not.
Much of what is agreed is sensible and the EU and the UK will not tear up the whole agreement – some 585 pages. And both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have confirmed that considerable resources, time, and money have gone into ‘No Deal contingency planning’. So there will be a deal – but not this one.
And the United Kingdom is not without leverage if we use it. We are the biggest export market in the world for the German car industry; bigger than the US and China combined. We are the biggest Financial Centre in the world, bigger than the US and bigger than Frankfurt, Paris, and Amsterdam combined. And we are the biggest export market for French farmers.
As the fifth largest economy in the world and second largest NATO power, we are not like Luxembourg trying to leave the EU. And sharing the English language and English Law with so many other countries globally, a proper Brexit, out of the Customs Union, free to trade as an independent nation, spells prosperity and a golden future for our country. That is why many of us voted ‘Leave’.