It is an honour to speak after Jim Fitzpatrick, who has been on a journey similar to mine, but from a different direction and a much longer one. If there is anything I can say to convince him to cross over the line and completely support the agreement, I hope I can say it in this debate.
I rise to speak in support of the withdrawal agreement, and it has been a journey for me. I was not here when the House voted for the referendum, I was not here when it voted to trigger article 50 and I did not campaign for either side during the referendum, but I did vote leave, and I knew what I was doing. Contrary to what Opposition Members have said, I was not misled or confused, and I disagree with some of those on my side who feel that this deal is not what the 17.4 million voted for. I am one of the 17.4 million. I agree with the Prime Minister that no deal is better than a bad deal, but this is not a bad deal.
In my maiden speech, I said that democracy was messy. Of course it is. I never expected a perfect deal, and I also knew there would be concessions. Had this deal been on the ballot paper in the 2016 referendum, I would have voted for it as better than remaining. I have received thousands of wholly irreconcilable opinions from my constituents asking me to do things that are mutually exclusive. I have looked at what the best option is to satisfy as many as possible, and I believe this deal respects the referendum while looking after those who have concerns about the significant change we are making in our relationship with the EU. So I am supporting this deal, not because it is perfect or it is exactly what I wanted, and not just because I think it is good for the 52%, but because it is also good for the 48%.
Why do I think that? Why do I think this is a good deal? There are several reasons for that. I like the fact that it avoids a cliff edge, because of the transition period. I like the fact that it gives us full control on services, which are 80% of our economy. I am a free marketeer and, much as I feel we can do well on our own, I like the compromises on state aid and monopoly law—those are good restrictions to prevent our descending into a wholly socialist state. I like the fact that we are leaving the ECJ’s jurisdiction and that we are ending free movement. Even the backstop, which does give concerns, has great advantages, not least that we will not be paying any money to the EU despite having access, via Northern Ireland and in other areas, to the EU market. I represent a farming constituency, and the tariff-free and quota-free access negotiated in this agreement are most welcome. More importantly—this is the reason I chose to speak today—this deal gives guarantees on citizens’ rights, not just to EU citizens in the UK, but to UK citizens in the EU. There are those who want to vote against this deal and speak about the loss of citizens’ rights, but I ask how they can do that, knowing full well that no deal would mean that those people, especially British citizens living abroad, who had no chance to vote in the referendum, would suddenly lose their rights.
People have talked about other options, such as revoking article 50. That is a terrible idea, one that comes from people who think they can wipe away the referendum and pretend it was all a bad dream. That cannot happen and they should think carefully about the consequences. What would we be saying if we, the UK, the fifth largest economy—it certainly was in 2016—with the same population as 15 members of the EU, cannot leave? If we cannot leave, who can? If we do not leave, why would the EU ever reform? Many Opposition Members talk about wanting to reform the EU, but if we cannot leave, why would it reform, knowing that no one else will leave? We need to leave in order to show that it is not a prison but a co-operative organisation and that if it no longer works for people, they can escape it.
Mrs Lewell-Buck, who is not in her place, talked about extending article 50, but I disagree with her on that, as to do that would be to kick the can down the road and just keep us in this limbo even longer. What happens if the EU says no? What happens if it demands concessions? The EU has said that negotiations are over and it is either this deal or no deal or no Brexit. I am not against no deal, although it is not my preferred option, but I am against no Brexit, as are the vast majority of my constituents. I doubt I am going to be able to change the minds of many of my friends on the Conservative Benches. I am thinking of my right hon. Friend Mr Francois, and my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) and for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). I wish we were in the same place, but we are not. However, I am happy that at least the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse might be coming across. I will take that as a win and hope that many people will think about changing their minds on this.