My vote in the European Parliament was “NOT a vote against Brexit”

The following letter has been published to address the concerns of constituents in the South East of England following recent press coverage.

On 29th March 2017 the Prime minister served Article 50. Prior to that the House of Commons had voted in favour of article 50 (without any amendment).

This letter explains where the negotiations are, and the significance of last week’s vote in the European Parliament.

At the outset I must insist this was NOT a vote against Brexit. The British people voted to leave the European Union, and their wish must be respected. Secondly, it was NOT a vote to derail or obstruct trade negotiations. I, in common with all other parties, want to see a successful and fair Brexit. However, two important points to bear in mind….. first, now that we are into the negotiation stage, “the devil is in the detail”; and second, any negotiation is much more likely to have a successful outcome if it builds on mutual benefits, rather than being adversarial.

Article 50 determines there be two stages to the negotiations. Next week the 27 European Prime ministers (the Council) will decide if enough progress has been made in phase one in order for them to authorise negotiations to move onto phase two. The European parliament resolution was to instruct the council whether or not sufficient progress had been made between the two parties.
Article 50 runs until March 29th 2019, which means time is limited and we urgently need to move on to the trade negotiations. However, it is my view that we have not yet made sufficient progress on phase one; and it is my judgement that moving to phase two before adequately completing phase one would ultimately lengthen the negotiation, not shorten it, and would severely diminish our chances of a successful outcome from phase two.

There are three issues to resolve in phase one:
The first is citizens rights (both for EU citizens living in the UK and for UK citizens living in the EU). I have received a large volume of mail from among those four and a half million people, all anxious for certainty and security. While I acknowledge progress has been made, to date, no agreement has been reached. I think it my duty, particularly to those constituents, to ensure that the rights and freedoms of these people are protected and to that end we need a formula that ensures equivalence and reciprocity.

Secondly, Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland)has announced that it will leave the European Single Market and the Customs Union. It also determined that there will be no ‘hard’ border in Ireland and that the Good Friday Agreement will be respected.
The people of the United Kingdom have expressed a clear wish to restrict and control the free movement of people from the European Union. At the moment, given that our land border with an adjoining EU state will have no border controls, there is no proposal how this might work. This issue cannot be deferred 1) because the people of the UK expect their government to take control of the borders 2) because both sides of the Irish border need certainty and 3) because of the impact it will have on any subsequent trading agreement with the EU.

Thirdly, Financial settlement.
This year, as in previous years, the 28 EU member states will devote over 40% of the budget to developing the single market. This is not charity, it is a seed corn investment which has grown into the world’s largest single market. Likewise this year, as in previous years, the UK is fully participating in many joint European ventures. For example, Erasmus (student exchange programmes), Galileo (satellite navigation), Euratom (nuclear exchange), Horizon 20:20 (private and university research programmes) and the European space agency. In her Florence speech the prime minister intimated that the UK would honour all its financial commitments. That was welcomed by the EU 27. But before trade talks can progress the 27 Prime ministers will want to know that, if they continue to invest in the single market, how or what will the United Kingdom contribute. Second, if we intend to continue to participate in joint European ventures, are we prepared to pay?

In my opinion, regardless which side of the Brexit debate you are on, getting a good deal for Britain is critically important. It is the detail of the agreement that will determine the success or failure of Brexit and it would be a mistake to ignore or gloss over the issues. A sound agreement needs to be build on sound foundations. We have made progress, but were not there yet.

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