[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 7:02 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray 7:02 pm, 9th January 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Chris Elmore. We have one thing in common, in that I was also due to speak on the day the Government pulled the debate. I welcome the opportunity that all Members now have to put their views on the withdrawal agreement on the record in the House of Commons. I strongly disagreed with the Government’s decision not to proceed with the debate in early December. It seems that the only progress that has been made since is the progress towards the Brexit date. In respect of the deal, sadly nothing has changed.

I approach this debate as someone who voted remain, but I admit that I was a reluctant remainer. I was unsure what the future would hold if we left the European Union, but as someone from a farming background I saw many problems within the farming industry that were caused by the European Union. I did vote remain in 2016, but I am a democrat and I respect the decision taken by the country.

The Moray constituency, which I represent, was split right down the middle. After more than 48,000 votes were cast, just 122 separated leave and remain. I am acutely aware that no matter how I vote in this place, I will be unable to please all my constituents. Indeed, a combination of my strongest supporters and my fiercest critics will, for a combination of reasons, either wholeheartedly agree or disagree with how I ultimately vote. That is a situation that I and many others right hon. and hon. Members are in.

I also want to say at this point that I commend the Prime Minister for everything she has tried to do to achieve the deal. With the work she has put in, no one can question her determination and drive to ensure that there was a deal on the table. At every point in the process challenges were put in place. There are many aspects of the deal that I support, but there are others that I do not. In this debate, I will focus on the two key areas where I still have the most significant concerns.

The first surrounds the future of our fishing industry. While the number of fishing boats and active crews in Moray is just a fraction of what it once was, there are many people and many communities who still feel extremely strongly about this industry and are passionate in their feelings. I promised, at the election that brought me here and since then, that I could not support a deal that did not deliver for our fishing industry. I maintain that point of view.

I would say, however, that I fully understand why many of my Scottish Conservative colleagues feel they can support the deal with regard to fishing. The ambiguity in the wording suggests that we can become an independent coastal state with control over our waters and over who fishes what, where and when. Unfortunately, that same ambiguity in the wording allows many in the EU to feel they have the opportunity to maintain or even increase their access to UK waters going forward. I welcome the political declaration and what it has to say about the future of fishing, and indeed the Prime Minister’s own very strong stance on the issue, but I have to reconcile that with my own belief that if we as MPs vote with the Government next week, we will be rubber-stamping the deal with no guarantee that the promises in the political declaration will ever be achieved or delivered.

At this point, I would like to make mention of the Scottish National party, as we so often do. There are four of its Members here today. I have made my views clear—[Interruption.] I am just saying that I thought four was a good number for the SNP to have in the Chamber. I have made very clear my views on the future of the fishing industry why I cannot support the deal because of them. It is rank hypocrisy, however, to hear from the SNP that they would stand up for the fishing industry. These are the same SNP Members who say they want Scotland to go back into the common fisheries policy as an independent country. They cannot claim to hate the CFP and then say they will go back in and reform it.