Crispin’s Brexit Blog Post
12th December 2018
Over the last few weeks I have received over 1,000 emails, letters, calls and cards regarding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This is an issue that generates much passion, often heat rather than light!
As it will be impossible for me to reply to each and every single piece of correspondence individually, my statement below intends to give my constituents a clear overview of my position on this fraught and difficult issue for our country.
I have argued many times that the European project is one that requires further integration to ensure its success. This means a path towards joint economic, foreign and defence policy along with the evolution of adequate democratic processes to implement and monitor the ever deepening union, not least a common fiscal (tax and benefit) policy to support the Euro common monetary union.
This route would have brought a number of benefits to its member nations – including the ability to become a large influential power by virtue of its sheer size – but time and time again, exception after exception, our discomfort with this idea as an independent island nation has been starkly apparent.
The choice to be part of this project has always been an option for the British people and in 2016, Parliament explicitly gave the electorate the decision on the UK's relationship and we chose to leave – paving the way for Europe to strengthen its project and for us to broaden our horizons beyond the continent.
This result must be respected, even if it was unexpected by some. The ballot paper presented voters with an unambiguous choice to remain in the EU or to leave. Voters were even reminded, in a £9m head start for the Remain campaign, about the benefits of staying in the EU by the Government leafleting of every household in the UK. Yet the electorate judged the merits of the different arguments and over 17.4 million voters decided to leave the EU.
Both main political parties pledged in their manifestos at the General Election 2017 to respect the EU referendum result and these parties received over 80 per cent of the vote. MPs from across the political spectrum then voted 494 to 122 in favour of invoking Article 50 in 2017. That gave formal legal notice to the EU that the UK was leaving. Some now argue for a second referendum but it would only serve to further divisions and it would be wrong.
First it doesn’t respect the decision of those who voted in the first referendum. People voted to leave because they wanted change. Forcing follow-up votes in what could become a ‘neverendum’, until the people get it ‘right’ in the eyes of the establishment, would be a disaster for the integrity of our democracy.
The second issue would be to agree on the format of the referendum and its questions. Some Remainers now want a choice between the PM’s deal and Remain. An out and out establishment fix.
The Prime Minister’s deal
Whilst the Prime Minister has succeeded in achieving a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, it would have been defeated by about 250 votes in the House of Commons.
The greatest issue is that the UK is placed in an indefinite situation where it becomes a satellite of the EU. Differential treatment for Northern Ireland would cause to the integrity to the UK’s Union and leaving the EU should be an opportunity to strengthen our nation, not for our international agreements to threaten its integrity.
We would obey EU law without a say and we would have to seek permission from a third party to authorise what should be our sovereign decision to leave. We would be held hostage to other EU States making impossible demands of our industries for us to agree a deal such as French access to our territorial waters or the Spanish seeking assurances that could undermine the sovereign position of Gibraltar. This weakens our hand in the negotiations to come.
But it is also important to realise that my concerns with the current deal, and those of many of my constituents, go well beyond the ‘Backstop’.
First, whilst encouraging words from negotiating partners are always welcome, it is legal, binding agreements that matter. The Political Declaration, with both its advantages and disadvantages is a non-binding, unenforceable agreement. Any significant change in direction from the EU or unexpected situation could render these words obsolete. From the change in leadership in Germany, to populist uprisings in France, Italy and Eastern Europe to the upcoming European Parliament elections this is a possibility all too real to ignore.
Second, it is not true that this agreement provides businesses the certainty they need. There is a whole new round of negotiations during this transition period before we get to the economic partnership between us and the EU – and this could go on indefinitely. Indeed if, in two years, an FTA is not forthcoming, we might be in the same position as we are today only with an extended implementation period that the enactment of the Northern Ireland backstop leaving businesses in complete limbo four years on.
Third, the agreement puts us in a position of accepting the EU’s demands in leaving whilst preventing us from being able to enjoy the benefits of leaving. During the transition period the UK will be able to negotiate new trade deals, but these will not come into force until the end of the (possibly indefinite) transition period. Why would other nations commit their expensively acquired and limited resource of qualified expert trade negotiators to a negotiation with the UK?
Finally, all of this at what cost? 39 billion pounds. That is, I pause to reflect, £1,400 per UK family, or £60m per constituency. To put ourselves in such a dreadful position is unacceptable but to do so without concrete guarantees in return is wholly unacceptable.
A clean World Trade Organisation Brexit providing certainty
Beyond the Withdrawal Agreement, we should be asking ourselves whether there is a better way to deliver Brexit altogether – I know there is.
It was always evident that brokering a trade deal with the EU in two years would be challenging but the Withdrawal Agreement should have not been segregated from the Trade Deal. Doing so undermined our position by placing us in a situation where we had to agree to the EU’s demands on our withdrawal before even being able to discuss the economic partnership we would form.
Keeping a strong hand was and continues to be key in these negotiations and the best way to be in this position is to be able to be free to walk away from the negotiating if needed. This needs a skilful combination of negotiating with determination and good faith but also careful preparation for this scenario.
During numerous interventions in Parliament I called for the above and during my time as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, an evenly split Remain-Leave cross party committee of MPs published a report on the implications of ‘No Deal’ scenario in 2016. You can read this here: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmfaff/1077/1077.pdf
Any strategic adjustment is bound to have some costs. The cost of moving towards World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms may be higher than others in the short term but we must remember that we are working for the long-term future and prosperity of our country and therefore what will ultimately matter is the long-term payoff.
Over the weeks to come, people will see that the deal the EU has offered the UK is simply infinitely worse than the option of moving to a clean global Brexit, on WTO terms, where we will be able to make new free trade deals and we will have the freedom to manage the economy in our best interests. It will allow the country to embark on a new strategic direction, including offering a new deep and comprehensive free trade deal with our friends in the EU underpinned by cooperation in securing our shared liberal democratic values.
When faced with both the indefinite possibility of the current Withdrawal Agreement terms and the second round of negotiations that need to follow it to reach a Trade deal with Europe, the only certain option is a clean global Brexit.
A far cry from some lawless wasteland, WTO rules regulate trading relationships of its 164 member states and 98 per cent of global trade. Indeed, British businesses that trade with the United States already make use of these rules. This is especially pertinent considering that the USA is our biggest national export market running at an embarrassingly large surplus and not the huge deficit that is our trade in goods with the EU.
The EU’s share of the global economy has already significantly deteriorated over the last 30 years and this trend is set to continue as it is outgrown by the rest of the world. 90% of global GDP growth is expected to come from outside the EU in 2020 and these rules will allow the UK to quickly reap the benefits from other market opportunities. Exports to non-EU countries we trade on WTO terms with have grown three times as fast as our trade with EU countries since the mid-2000s.
Turning to concerns on the border with Northern Ireland under WTO rules, I would note that all parties have said they will not create a hard border. In fact, it is Ireland, who stands most to lose from a move to unqualified WTO terms especially considering the UK receives 13.4% of Ireland’s exports. The Irish must explain their approach to these negotiations. It strikes me as an extraordinary act of self-harm.
In this context why is the ‘Backstop’ being allowed to dominate these discussions? The EU and the UK could choose to implement checks away from the border or investigate other technical solutions at their disposal. But even if this fails, under WTO rules it is possible to apply for a waiver as research from Plan A+ has shown. Under Article IX:3 this is available when the application of WTO obligations would conflict with some other overarching principle of international law in this case, that would be Good Friday Agreement. Or under Article XXI through the application for a National Security exemption. Whilst it is true that both are narrowly drawn, the potential for conflict in Northern Ireland and a return to the Troubles would fully justify any request for a WTO waiver and secure the understanding from both the EU and other WTO members.
A return to WTO rules would put us in the position Brexit can and should yield at this point in time: a strong negotiating hand, which provides certainty to business and allows us to reap the benefits of a clean Brexit in just under four months. Only from here will we be in the right place to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU without having given in to every European demand from the divorce settlement to our national integrity.
I am in favour of seeking a Canada style FTA plus elements of security and foreign policy cooperation. This would be based on the most ambitious trade agreement that the EU has ever concluded. Called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), it would take much less time to negotiate with the EU than the seven years it took Canada due to starting from a place of regulatory alignment.
CETA removes roughly 99% of customs duties on European exports to Canada and vice versa. After seven years, all tariffs on industrial products are due to disappear completely. A large bulk of tariffs on agricultural products will also be removed. The “plus” would come from linked agreements on fisheries, aviation, security and foreign policy co-ordination, which are not included in the Canada-EU agreement.
I set out my suggestion for EU-UK Cooperation on Foreign and Security Policy post-Brexit in a paper that you can read here: https://bit.ly/2Lejezc
I hope this reply is helpful in understanding why I will be opposing the Prime Minister’s deal and why I am seeking a Canada +++ style FTA as offered by the EU leaving us as an independent country, not a satellite of the EU.
I believe that the issue of confidence in the Prime Minister needs to be addressed to everyone’s benefit and the speed at which the Conservative party have organised this vote is commendable.
It was with very mixed feelings that I let it be known that I had written to Sir Graham Brady asking for a vote of confidence in the Conservative Party Leader but I agree that no deal is infinitely better than that bad deal.
You can read my full view here: https://www.blunt4reigate.com/news/crispins-telegraph-article-conservative-vote-confidence
Thank you for reading
I do not believe that we should just push a course of action ahead we know is harmful to our country only because we’ve run out of steam to do anything better. I believe that most of my constituents would agree with this view.
If you have written to me, thank you for all your correspondence. There are still several months before we are due to leave the EU with many variables in between. I will endeavour to keep this updated as often as required.