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Valedictory Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Conservative, Sevenoaks 3:35 pm, 5th November 2019

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. It seemed to me incredibly important to keep the confidence of the House, having won its support back in 2015 for airstrikes in Iraq and then for their extension to Syria. Of course, that we were able to keep that confidence was down in no small part to the precision of our pilots and their skill in difficult conditions in minimising civilian casualties.

My successor will inherit a thriving and prosperous constituency. My constituents enjoy a good quality of life, remarkably low unemployment, a wide choice of schooling, frequent rail connections to the capital and the protection of the green belt—over 90% of my constituency is green belt—but there is still work to be done, including on the regeneration of Swanley, one of the other towns in my constituency, especially through new investment and the promise of a fast link service from Maidstone and Otford through Swanley to the city of London.

We also need to ensure that boys in my constituency have access to grammar school places. Whether you like it or not, Kent offers an 11-plus system, but Sevenoaks was the only district in Kent that did not have any grammar school places. I was delighted that after a 15-year campaign we managed to establish a girls’ school annexe, which has been open now for a couple of years, but we still need to ensure provision for boys’ grammar school places alongside it. We also need to continue to protect our green-belt protections in Sevenoaks. The Government’s unrealistic housing targets will put pressure on that green belt, though I know that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench are conscious of the need to balance the demand for new housing with our commitments to protect the green belt.

I hope that this election campaign will not ignore some of the longer-term challenges our country faces. We have spent an awful lot of time—perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly—debating the withdrawal agreement. In the end, that agreement only dealt with Ireland, our payments into the EU budget and the rights of EU citizens; we have not started yet on the major negotiation that really matters for business and jobs in my constituency, which is our future trading relationship, and I fear we have not yet started to explain to our electors some of the trade-offs that will inevitably be involved as we come to deal with the challenge to agriculture, financial services, the aerospace and automotive industries and our fisheries, and accommodating their legitimate right and desire to trade freely with the European continent with the views of our partners.

We will have to quickly put in place the security partnership that has long been promised in various documents the Government have issued—I fear we have spoken far too little about this—and make sure there is no cliff edge at the end of January or February in the policing and judicial arrangements that our constituents expect and in the way our agencies work with other agencies across the European continent to deal with terrorism and organised crime. We will also need to work with our former partners in the EU to continue to uphold the rules-based international order. We do not debate foreign affairs nearly enough in this House. When I first entered Parliament, in the ’80s, we had much more regular debates on international affairs.

We are dealing with a resurgent Russia that is in breach of many international conventions, whether on nuclear arms, chemical weapons or the protection of sovereignty under the Helsinki accords. We are dealing with a very ambitious China that is flouting the law of the sea convention, which it has signed, and continues to steal—there is no other word for it—the world’s intellectual property. And we are dealing with a mercantilist United States that is degrading the World Trade Organisation and slapping sanctions even on its friends in pursuit of a policy of “America first”. When it comes to holding the rules-based international system together, there really is a role for the leadership among the western nations, and particularly for our own nation here in the United Kingdom.

Let me end by thanking all those who have helped me so much over the last 31 years, particularly the staff in my office.