A number of constituents have written to me in the past couple of weeks to let me known their feelings with regard to the status of the UK leaving the European Union. This update is intended to respond to all those who have contacted me, whether on one side of the debate (calling for me to support a second referendum) or the other (urging me to reject any deal which gives too much ground to the EU) or somewhere in between. My communications suggest that correspondents are split on preference in the same way that Parliament is.
I do not support a second referendum. We have already had a referendum and this was based on the deal which the then Prime Minister got from the EU. This was rejected by the majority of the voters who voted (and by 60% in my main polling district of Rother). I made it clear before the referendum, and since, that I would abide by the majority result.
I do not support those who say that people did not understand what they were voting for. I find this a pretty patronising view and the same could be said for every election ever held. The arguments being deployed by both sides were, in my view, partially exaggerated by the end but it was clear to me, from both sides, that ‘Leaving the EU’ would mean leaving the Single Market, Customs Union and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and that the process would not be easy and could negatively impact the economy. I formed that view having listening to both sides of the argument, rather than campaigning for one over the other, and urging my constituents to do likewise.
To have a second referendum with constituents asked to vote on the basis of a complex transaction is unrealistic and I expect would provoke the question that they vote for me to deal with the legislation, having made the ultimate binary decision themselves.
I am aware that some will not support my view but I hope it is clear and the reasoning is understood even if it not accepted.
Supporting the Govt White Papers
Those of you who attended my presentations and public meetings will have heard me critique the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Relationship (or Chequers Deal). There is much in the legal offer which works well and other parts for which I am less enthusiastic. Ultimately, compromise is going to be required from MPs because there are 650 of us and, like you, we all have our preferred exit terms.
It seems clear that the EU is not going to accept the offer as presented in these documents so I am reserving my judgment for when I have something before me which is capable of being voted on. If that is not possible, then we will end up without a framework deal. This is the similar basis, as the former President of the EU reminded me last week, upon which Switzerland has been operating with the EU for years. As he also said, the EU is not very adept at entering into agreements whereas the UK prefers a more contractual way of dealing. I make this point because it may well be that both parties just cannot agree a framework deal, in which case both parties should accept this and put effort into a lighter series of bilateral agreements which cover the essentials (Switzerland has one hundred separate agreements having tried yet again, but failed, to agree a framework with the EU).
I should make it clear that I would prefer for the UK to leave with an agreement with the EU. I am not an advocate of entering into a deal of sorts which does not agree terms but kicks the can down the road in return for the UK paying the exit sum being discussed. Per my previous point, if we cannot agree terms then the UK and EU need to be straight with the public that this is the case. I am concerned that we will have a longer implementation period with no guarantee that we will ever reach an agreement. I prefer certainty and do not want the negotiations to drift to a never-ending conclusion.
With regard to Northern Ireland, I do not believe that the border is the impossible issue which it is made out to be. We have had border controls for years, even during the peace process, due to differing excise and other regime differentials. These do not need to be of the type erected for security purposes during the troubles. More of our trade goes between Dover and France than it does between Northern Ireland and the Republic. If it can work in the latter, it can work in the former. If it can work between Norway (a country outside the EU and Customs Union) and Sweden, it can work between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
If it comes to a deal, which MPs will be able to vote on, I will be faced with a choice of weighing up the democratic argument (are these the terms which both parties in the referendum appeared to describe to constituents should we vote to leave) versus the impact on the livelihood on my constituents (would a ‘no deal’ put constituents’ jobs and security at risk).
This will not be a decision I will take lightly and I envisage that it will be the hardest I will have to make. I will certainly not base my vote on doing ‘as I am told’ by the Government Whips department (as some have suggested). I did not get elected, having previously spent 18 years in industry, to be told what to do or what is best for my future in politics in a decision as fundamental as this. Any decision I take will be made on what I believe is best, overall, for my constituents. Some constituents may disagree with the decision I take, but please do not confuse it with me being a careerist in politics.
Like you, I await the outcome of negotiations. My views have been made to those in charge of negotiations. With events being so fluid, this email may quickly become out of date.
As I mentioned to those who attended my meetings in August, I will attempt to hold a further meeting when the outcome is known and before a vote is held in Parliament. I will ensure you are sent an invite to this meeting on the basis that time permits it to be held.
When it comes to a vote, I will explain the basis behind my vote. That point will come, once I have a deal or conclusion to base my vote upon.