I am extremely disappointed and frustrated to have not been selected to speak in the debate on the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill today.
At the last two General Elections I have promised my constituents that I would do everything I could to ensure that the UK did not leave the EU or transition period without a deal.
Therefore, I am very pleased and relieved that the UK and EU have reached an agreement before the end of the year. As I have said many times over the last 4 years, a deal is infinitely better than 'No Deal'. Negotiating such a complex deal in record time, and in the middle of a pandemic, is a huge achievement for both sides and a testament to both negotiating teams.
The four and a half years since the referendum have been difficult and divisive for this country. On a personal level, due to my sincerely held views on Brexit and No Deal, I have received death threats, been called a traitor and was suspended from my own party.
Whilst I voted to ‘Remain’, I always respected the result of the referendum and that is why I voted for every single Brexit deal presented to Parliament. However, my view was the referendum did not tell us how to leave and was certainly not a mandate for a ‘No Deal’. That is why I took the difficult decisions in the last Parliament to ensure Parliamentary scrutiny of any deal and to prevent a ‘No Deal’ exit.
I also sought compromise between both sides of the debate. I argued for a closer post Brexit relationship with the EU. However, that argument was lost in the last Parliament when the Lib Dems failed to support the close customs arrangement and ‘Norway 2.0’ options.
My fervent hope now is this deal will allow the country as a whole to move forward.
The deal before us is infinitely better than ‘No Deal’ and I voted for it for that reason. It goes some way to smoothing the cliff-edge that would have been inevitable if no trade deal had been struck at all.
The primary benefit of the deal is it removes all tariffs and quotas on goods. This is a huge potential financial and bureaucratic burden removed from businesses, which allows them to concentrate on the other requirements in the deal, such as rules of origin.
There are significant benefits of this deal to important sectors, which would have been absent in a ‘No Deal’ situation. For example, there are measures to help aviation and road haulage to avoid even more disruption to supply chains, and there are important provisions relating to joint security.
There is a mutual recognition agreement relating to the manufacturing of medicinal products – which is absolutely critical during the pandemic. This avoids costs and delays associated with a separate process in the UK and the EU. The deal also provides for the UK and EU to continue to work closely together on pharmaceutical regulation, and health risks.
I was also pleased to see the UK opt into a number of important EU schemes, namely Horizon Europe, Euratom Research and Training, and Copernicus. I was concerned to see the Government had decided not to participate in the Erasmus scheme, and I particularly hope to see current offers for UK students being honoured. I am seeking further information about the proposed Turing Scheme, which seeks to replace Erasmus. You can read more about this here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-turing-scheme-to-support-thousands-of-students-to-study-and-work-abroad
I am also pleased that the deal provides for UK Citizens to retain access to free emergency healthcare across Europe next year. This was one element of Brexit which had the potential to directly and negatively affect many families individually, and I am glad both sides have come to a sensible agreement. However, I will be arguing for full access to reciprocal healthcare to be agreed and implemented.
These benefits, and more, would be lost in a ‘No Deal’ outcome, which would be the case if Parliament had rejected the Bill today. Therefore, I could not countenance voting against it and I will kept my promise to my constituents and supported the Bill.
I was surprised to see the Lib Dems vote against the deal, and consequently for ‘No Deal’ today. This exposes their hypocrisy and their failure to grasp the reality of the situation before us. They have become the party of ‘No Deal’.
Whilst I strongly welcome the deal, there are areas in which I think there needs to be improvement in 2021.
The Prime Minister was right to say that this deal does not provide all that we would have hoped for financial services. So, it should now be an immediate priority for this Government to concentrate the next set of negotiations on securing a better deal for this sector. Failure to do so will mean New York and Singapore could take some of the EU facing business away from UK firms.
I remain surprised at the huge amount of time and effort spent on the issue of fishing, a very small part of our economy, compared to financial services. The financial services sector has 1.1million employees in the UK, provides 10.5% of the country’s tax receipts, and its exports are valued at £60billion a year, 40% of which go to the EU.
The financial services sector is left without “passporting” rights or a full equivalence decision from the EU. The deal contains a 6-month transition period allowing data flows to continue, pending an equivalence decision, so I am disappointed there was no such arrangement for all financial services.
It is critical that we see progress on the establishment of structured regulatory cooperation, to help ensure there is a full equivalence determination from the EU. I note that the UK/EU “Partnership Council” established by this deal has 19 specialised committees and 4 working groups – but none of these cover financial services. Establishing a committee to cover financial services, or services as a whole, should be an essential objective of the Government and I shall argue for its immediate establishment.
I am also concerned that the services sector will face new costs and bureaucracy as their professional qualifications will no longer be automatically recognised acorss the whole EU. I will be pressing the Government to continue to work with the EU on this into 2021, in the hope of achieving some sort of mutual recognition agreement.
I am also disappointed at some of the exclusions from the visa waiver rules. Musicians, artists, and performers do not seem to be on the EU’s visa free 90-day list, which will be a blow to these industries which rely heavily on easy cross-border trade.
This will also damage the Premier League’s ability to attract the best talent. UK clubs will no longer be able to freely sign players from the EU. to sign any more European youngsters under the age of 18, and vice versa.
While some sectors like aviation and pharmaceuticals benefit from mutual recognition agreements, many others do not, leading to non-tariff barriers and costs from certification processes. I urge the Government and EU to continue engage on this point in 2021 in order to reduce trade barriers. This is particularly important for food producers, where for example there will be requirements for meat/dairy exporters’ establishments to be approved alongside vet checks.
As I have said many times throughout this Brexit process, ‘No Deal’ would be catastrophic for our economy. This deal is infinitely better than ‘No Deal’ in many respects and helps make the changes from 1st January more manageable for people and businesses. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government for securing this deal. However, as I’ve set out, there are still many outstanding issues which must be resolved and improved for the good of our economy, and I will be urging the Government to take the appropriate action.