Why I can’t back PM’s Brexit deal

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Over the past few weeks my post bag has been heaving with emails and letters about Brexit and the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, which increased after I felt I had to resign from my position as a Government Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) as I could no longer support the new Government policy.

I thought I would use this column to outline why I took that decision and why I do not believe the deal being proposed is a good one for Northumberland, or the UK.

I stood and was re-elected in 2017 on a Conservative manifesto which pledged to honour the result of the referendum and take back control of our money, our laws and our borders, and seek wide-ranging trade deals across the globe. This deal does not allow us to keep that promise.

If accepted, the UK would remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), we would hand over a vast sum of money to the EU with no guarantee of a free-trade deal, and the deal allows any one of the 27 other EU member states to blackmail us into accepting poor terms by keeping us tied in the almost unheard of situation of a treaty we cannot exit from, which is exactly what President Macron has already pledged to do.

I can entirely understand why President Macron would want to blackmail the UK in order to secure the best possible deal for French fishing fleets. What I cannot understand is why we won’t do the same for our own.

I have always been a pragmatist, and I appreciate there are sometimes non-perfect elements which must be accepted for the greater good. That is why, although I spluttered into my tea when I read the part of the deal outlining the gold-plated, tax-free pensions the UK would be pledging to pay in perpetuity for the likes of Peter Mandelson, I thought, “well if that’s what it takes, so be it”.

But ultimately the overall deal does not deliver the promise of leaving the EU – the promises I stood for at the last election.

The primary issue with the deal is the Northern Ireland Protocol – or the backstop – which states that if a future trade deal cannot be agreed with the EU before the transition period is over, the entire UK will be locked into the EU’s customs union, with no lawful means of exit.

There have been some voices suggesting we sign up to this deal and simply renege on it at a later date. That would be wrong. This is a treaty under international law, and I firmly believe if the UK signs up to a treaty it must honour it.

The recent centenary commemorations are a timely reminder that the UK will always honour its commitments under international law (the Treaty of London 1915), even if it is at great cost to our nation, because we are honourable and to disregard the rule of law is dangerous and wrong. Therefore I do not subscribe to the “sign it and see” mentality. If it is a poor treaty, and it is, we simply should not sign up to it.

I cannot vote for this deal, which sees us honour the referendum result in name only, sees the UK determined not to take advantage of the many incredible opportunities that await our businesses beyond our immediate shores, and binds us to the jurisdiction of the ECJ in perpetuity.

I know many will disagree with my position, especially those who wish to stop Brexit, as well as those who see this deal as a means to “just get on with delivering Brexit”. I agree with the latter sentiment, but this is not Brexit.

I will continue to work towards delivering the outcome of the referendum and honouring the commitments in the Conservative manifesto on which I was re-elected in 2017, to take us out of the EU in a way which enables us to become an independent nation once more, able to strike trade deals globally and truly take back control.