This update was sent to constituents on 16th November 2018
*Please note this update was written before the political declaration (future relationship) was substantiated. You can view the updated political declaration here.
The Prime Minister and the European Union negotiating team have now agreed a draft withdrawal “agreement” to facilitate the UK leaving the EU. This is essentially the divorce agreement with some pointers towards the future trading arrangements.
This update is fairly lengthy so if you do not want to read the full thing, I can confirm I will be voting against the deal in Parliament.
The 585 page draft agreement document covers the basis on which the UK will leave the EU in March 2019, not the future relationship, however it should be noted that some of the provisions made in the draft run till 2030.
You can view the full document here but I will attempt to summarise below:
- Finances – The draft agreement formalises the £39 billion we will pay to cover previous commitments to the EU.
- Citizens’ Rights – It maintains the existing EU residence and social security rights of more than 3m EU citizens in the UK, and about 1m UK nationals living on the continent.
- Transition – the draft allows a transition of 21 months (from March 2019 to end of 2020) where the UK will maintain its current relationship with the EU, minus elected representation.
- Northern Ireland – the issue which has dominated discussion in the lead up to this announcement, Northern Ireland will, at the end of 2020, remain in an EU customs union with the rest of the UK and also retain some aspects of the Single Market in order to maintain the Good Friday Agreement, if no deal can be reached.
In summary the deal means that when the transition period ends and if we have not (as expected) negotiated a deal on the future relationship with the EU the whole of the UK will stay in a customs union, and Ireland will retain some aspects of the Single Market – leaving an effective economic border down the Irish Sea. This is referred to as the “backstop”. This was always the likely outcome when the Prime Minister agreed to the so called ‘Irish backstop’ back in 2017 which guaranteed no hard border on the island of Ireland. Any attempt to leave this backstop will crucially require the consent of the UK and the EU.
What is clear is that this deal is the worst of all worlds. This deal damages our economy – especially the services sector – by eventually pulling us out of the Single Market, the deal limits our ability to travel, work and live in Europe, it damages the integrity of the United Kingdom and it erodes our sovereignty by maintaining EU control over vast areas of our public life with no representation and no ability to remove ourselves from the arrangements without EU approval.
In essence, this is not what was promised by the proponents of the Leave campaign back in 2016 and it has pleased neither remain nor leave sides of the argument.
You can read my Edinburgh Evening News article about the deal here.
To come into force, the Brexit deal requires approval by, in sequence, the UK cabinet, an EU summit, the House of Commons and the European Parliament. The Prime Minister has just about managed to get her proposals through her cabinet despite losing 6 Cabinet Ministers and Junior Ministers (at the time of writing), including Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary who negotiated this deal and the Northern Ireland Minister who would be responsible for any backstop. However, she has no chance of getting this deal through Parliament. All opposition parties, the DUP and around 80 backbench Conservatives will likely vote down this deal.
The so called ‘meaningful vote’ concession we won from the Government in December last year is looking very significant. The Government are of course trying to prevent opposition parties from amending the draft but I am confident the Speaker will disallow this. The Government are trying to use a process that hasn’t been used in the House of Commons previously. They want to vote on the deal first and then take amendments afterwards. That would mean we would have to vote to approve the deal before trying to amend it. This is completely outrageous, and the procedures committee has agreed. We are yet to see what the Government will do but we need to maintain the age-old process of dealing with amendments in the first before voting on the substantive “deal” motion. For the full technical analysis on the meaningful vote from the Procedural Committee please read this short note.
Yesterday the Prime Minister came to the House of Commons to sell her proposals. In three hours of questions the number of parliamentarians who voiced support for her deal could be counted on one hand.
You can watch my question to the Prime Minister here.
It is clear that there is no majority in Parliament for this deal or, very possibly, any deal. The only options now open to the Prime Minister are to crash out without a deal or take this momentous decision back to the people.
The Prime Minister herself has acknowledged, for the first time, that it is this “deal”, no deal or no Brexit. Donald Tusk has said that no deal would be the worst solution, this deal is a compromise, but no Brexit would be easy. That, to me, seems a commitment to reverse the Article 50 process if requested by the UK Government. Brexit is not inevitable.
My view is crystal clear, there is no deal better than our current membership with the EU and we need a People’s Vote to gain the informed consent of the country on how to proceed.
Labour Party position
My position has always been slightly ahead of the Labour Party and I have been single minded in pressing for, as a minimum, staying in the Customs Union and Single Market. I have also been involved in the Peoples Vote campaign from the beginning as a senior member of pro-EU campaign group Open Britain.
The Labour Party, at its annual conference, approved a motion to vote against any Brexit deal that does not meet 6 tests (and it clearly doesn’t), to call for a General Election (but with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act that is almost impossible as it would require Government support), and then keep all options on the table including campaigning for a People’s Vote with the option to remain.
The Labour Party will also be voting against this “deal” which is a huge step forward. Now I think the argument that a General Election is not likely has to be won so we can move swiftly on to campaigning for a People’s Vote. That is what I am working on with likeminded colleagues and will continue to press for.
What happens next?
The 25th November has been pencilled in for an EU summit where the European Council will meet to sign off on this agreement. The agreement will then be brought before the House of Commons where I will vote against it as currently constituted. Of course, I hope there is an opportunity to amend the deal to include provisions for a People’s Vote.
Before then it seems likely the Prime Minister will face a vote of no confidence from her colleagues in the Conservative Party and potentially we could have a new Prime Minister. Although I understand that the Prime Minister may have enough support to survive a challenge.
I will finish with this Tweet from David Cameron before the 2015 General Election: