I would be the first to concede that the Prime Minister did not inherit the best hand in the negotiations, with her predecessor making no preparations whatever for a leave vote in the referendum. The referendum in North West Leicestershire was not close: it was 61% to 39% to leave the European Union. In the east midlands, it was 59% to 41%.
Leave the European Union we must, but this withdrawal agreement is not the way to do it. It will not deliver the Brexit that 17.4 million people voted for. At least when we are in the European Union we can leave, whereas I think that if we get this withdrawal agreement we will never be able to leave. We will be handing over our major bargaining chip, £39 billion of taxpayers’ money, for what? For the bulk of the divorce payment during the transition period, with vague promises of a future relationship which is in no way legally binding.
Many of my colleagues rightly pointed out their concerns about the backstop to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland: a hard border that was already dismissed before it became a political issue by HMRC Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland customs and excise, when they stated that the existing infrastructure was quite sufficient to deal with the border on the island of Ireland; a border that all parties concerned—the EU, the Republic of Ireland and the UK—said they would never implement; and a border that the WTO stated is unnecessary for security concerns.
We are told that neither the UK nor the EU wishes to use the backstop, and that the EU would be uncomfortable with the backstop. Reading through the agreement, however, it looks like the deal of the century for the EU if we sign up to it. Not only will they get to keep the £100 billion in trade deficit we have with them, but they will have an agreement that prevents us from partaking in free trade deals that allow our people to access cheaper goods and services. That effectively makes the Department for International Trade redundant. No country with an existing EU free trade agreement would need to deal with the UK, and any country that does not have an existing free trade agreement would be subject to tariff rates set by the EU.
All the agreement will do is prolong the uncertainty. We could go into years of negotiations over a free trade deal. I campaigned to leave, and leave we must on the basis of sovereignty. This agreement would see our country not getting back control, but losing control and losing sovereignty. Even the Prime Minister’s own Brexit adviser Olly Robbins is reported to have warned her that there is was no guarantee that Britain will be able to exit the backstop, which risks leaving us trapped in the EU’s customs union indefinitely.
I am of the very strong opinion that the final relationship that the European Union has in mind for the UK, if we ever get to that point, will be very similar to the backstop. Let us remember that under this withdrawal agreement we would be subject, if we got to a final agreement, to the veto of the remaining EU27 on the final deal. We already know that the French will want our fish, Spain will want at least joint sovereignty of Gibraltar and everybody else will want a piece out of it.
This is a bad deal. It will not get back control of our money, our borders or our laws. It will not regain our sovereignty, but lose our sovereignty. I am not walking away from the Prime Minister; she walked away from her Mansion House speech. I cannot support this withdrawal agreement. I will be voting against it. Quite honestly, my chairman rang me last night and said, “Don’t bother coming back to North West Leicestershire if you vote for it—you’ll be deselected.”