Statement on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration

This statement was published before the vote due on Tuesday 11th December was postponed and remains relevant for the vote on Tuesday 15th January.

Parliament is due to vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on Tuesday 11th December.

I have had a mix of emails from constituents on all sides of this debate. Some say it leads to a hard Brexit and others say that I should support the Prime Minister to avoid no deal. I have other constituents say it is ‘Brexit in name only’ and others saying it is a sensible compromise Brexit. I have also had people calling for another referendum.

It is my duty to listen to all these representations and act in the way I believe is best for Wimbledon and our country. I voted remain, like most people in Wimbledon, and we are left with a situation we did not want.

Since then I have kept my election commitment last year to oppose a Hard Brexit, against vicious opposition at times. I voted against the Government to secure a meaningful vote, against the ERG’s amendments which undermined the Prime Minister, in favour of a Customs Union should there be no deal by January and to make it an objective for the UK to participate in the European medicines regulatory network. My colleagues and I have secured many more concessions without having to resort to votes; on Citizen’s Rights, the Irish border, environmental standards, refugee rights and accountability to Parliament.

I see it as my duty to find a way to make the best of any given situation, mitigate any potential harm, and to act in a way which is most likely to protect jobs, the economy and the livelihoods of my constituents. 

There are two parts to the agreement with the EU, the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the Political Declaration (PD). Both are distinct and important for different reasons.

The WA provides a transitional period, which businesses have been calling for, to allow time for the future relationship to be negotiated. During this transition period businesses and people will see very little change as the UK will effectively remain in the Single Market and Customs Union until 2021, though this can be extended. The WA also provides for a “backstop” to ensure that there is no border in Ireland should there be no future relationship agreed between the UK and EU before the end of the transition period. It ensures that the rights of EU Citizens currently in the UK and UK Citizens currently in the EU will continue to be protected. It makes arrangements for a financial settlement between the UK and EU, and has provisions to ensure legal certainty in areas such as data protection, judicial cooperation and security issues.  

It is not perfect, and from the point of view of someone who would have preferred to remain in the EU there is no way it could be perfect. For example, the backstop is uncomfortable to everyone, including the EU, but is a necessity to preserve the Good Friday Agreement.

The Political Declaration sets out a framework for the future relationship between the UK and EU, which will be negotiated next. In my view, it is by far the most important part of the process and this view is shared by Kenneth Clarke, Nicky Morgan and many others of those who have also been called the ‘Brexit mutineers’. At this stage of the negotiations the question of whether we have Canada+, Norway+, Chequers or something else are relevant.

This Declaration is not legally binding and is vague in places. For example, I would like to see much more detail on the plan for financial services, a key industry for London and the whole country, about which I have raised concerns in Parliament since the referendum. The most significant element of this Political Declaration, which has been the case throughout the whole process, is a commitment to avoid a border in Ireland through a UK-wide solution. What facilitates trade at the Irish border will do so at Dover and other ports.

Over the last year I have been an advocate of EFTA/EEA as a potential solution. My views have not changed on this. If the Prime Minister’s goal of securing a bespoke deal that is UK wide, avoids a border in Ireland and therefore a border elsewhere cannot be realised during the next stage of negotiations, then EFTA/EEA remains the only sensible alternative option. EFTA/EEA is fully compatible with the WA and the PD.

Whilst many have called for me to reject this deal, there has been very little consideration of what would happen in this event. Weighing heavily on my mind is the fact that if nothing happens, if Parliament and the Government cannot decide any course of action, the UK will leave the EU with no deal in March; this is the default option and would be a catastrophe. Indeed, as businesses say to me, this deal allows us to move forward, protects jobs and rules out no deal.

Another referendum is being proposed by many people and while a large majority in Wimbledon, like me, voted to remain in 2016, this does not automatically mean they support another referendum now. The path to a second referendum is not obvious and it could be a risky approach. It is likely only to be achieved after a period of chaos which itself damages the economy. Indeed, at a time when the country must come together this is likely to be a divisive process rather than one that heals.

There is no consensus, even amongst supporters of another referendum, over what the question should be, let alone a question that would command the trust of the whole electorate.  Other matters that would need to be agreed are the franchise, the timing, allowing for Electoral Commission consultation, and an extension of Article 50 which leads to complications with the European Parliament elections next May. With enough political will all these issues could be resolved, but it is in no way easy, and if there is no agreement on a way forward we will be heading towards no deal.

I understand why some who voted remain are so fed up with this process they would just like another roll of the dice in the hope of a better outcome. But I need to weigh up these risks and come to a decision which is most likely to protect the economy, jobs and livelihoods. However, as I have said before, I remain open to all arguments for all possible options as this process proceeds.

For the reasons above I have decided to support the deal. The deal is supported by the Institute of Directors, the Financial Times, the Confederation of British Industry, the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and others. Accepting the deal, and negotiating the future framework is the most certain way to protect jobs and the economy. However, if the deal is rejected I will work tirelessly with colleagues to work on a ‘Plan B’ and to avoid a ‘No Deal’ outcome.

The decision I will be making has nothing to do with my Ministerial role, the Conservative Party, or the Whip. Over the last year I have demonstrated I am very willing to stand up for what I believe in and oppose a ‘Hard Brexit’. For this I have been called a mutineer, attacked on the front pages of national newspapers, lost my role as Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party and received death threats.

By doing so, we secured the right for Parliament to vote on the final deal, so there can be no suggestion I am not taking this decision very seriously. Indeed, the only reason the “People’s Vote” campaign can exist is due to eleven of us last year. Ultimately, we ensured the Brexit process would be much more accountable to Parliament. We also achieved commitments in legislation to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, as well as protections for refugee rights and environmental standards.

This is likely to be the most significant decision I make as a Member of Parliament and I will vote with my conscience and principles, as I have demonstrated many times before.

As ever, if you have any further questions on this or any other issue you can email me on or write to me at the House of Commons.

This is a rapidly changing situation and I will continue to keep you updated.