While the Cabinet were holed up at Chequers discussing Brexit, I was driving up to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. Ben Bradley MP and his campaign team were about to take part in their 61st consecutive day of campaigning. Mansfield was a constituency which we won, in large part, because of our commitment to deliver Brexit.
The conversations on the doorsteps were about jobs, housing, the NHS – but hardly about Brexit. Mansfield voters obviously assume that the Conservative Government is going to deliver the Brexit that they voted for.
By the time I got home to Essex, the Chequers meeting had concluded, the Prime Minister had made her statement, and the media (social and traditional) were having a field day. Like a lot of people, I was concerned that the Prime Minister and Cabinet had agreed to something that might change all those conversations in Mansfield from what a good job Ben was doing to negative ones about a failure to deliver Brexit.
I got a message from Downing Street inviting me in to a briefing meeting on Saturday morning and I cancelled my attendance at the opening of the Gosfield fete in my constituency to attend.
I’m glad I did, because the reality of the Government proposal was quite different to the noise in the media.
The first point that Gavin Barwell, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, made was that we would be leaving the EU. We would be leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. We would no longer paying multiple billions of pounds a year membership fees. And we would be taking back control of who can live and work in the UK.
This means that the big three issues that underpinned the Brexit vote would be honoured; sovereignty, immigration control and money.
Over 17.4 million people voted to Leave the EU. Naturally there will be a multitude of reasons why people voted Leave, but this Government’s proposal addresses the issues that were explicit in the referendum campaign on both sides – Remain and Leave.
In addition to these explicit commitments, there were a number of implicit commitments that the Prime Minister will honour, the most obvious of which was to protect British business and keep the UK economy growing and sustainable. This is why the proposal protects the flow of integrated supply chains, keeps UK agricultural produce comparable with EU markets but allows our tech and service sectors the flexibility they need to grow and exploit new global opportunities.
Many people, myself included, wanted to see the UK free to sign trade agreements with the large and growing economies around the world. The USA, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia have all shown a desire to sign significant trade agreements quickly after we leave the EU, and this proposal allows us to do so.
As a Unionist party, the Conservatives wanted to make sure that nothing we did would put our union with Northern Ireland at risk. The most contentious issue is the decision to adopt EU regulations and standards for manufactured good and agricultural products. Doing so enables us to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and keeps Northern Ireland in the UK. This is a prize well worth a degree of compromise.
This has evolved into quite a shopping list, with many elements generating conflicting pressures, keeping quick and fluid trans-EU supply lines and leaving the Customs Union for example. Addressing these issues took time and a willingness to be flexible, both on our part and by the EU27.
If in the future we find this arrangement too restrictive, or if it prevents a lucrative trade agreement, the UK Parliament will have the power to end it. The decision, the balance of advantage and consequence would sit with a sovereign UK Parliament. Those Cabinet members who campaigned for Brexit have shown a willingness to be pragmatic in order to get a working arrangement with the EU, but we will also need the EU27 to show an equal level of flexibility by disconnecting market access from free movement. They won’t like it, but should realise that it is in our mutual benefit to do so.
The Prime Minister and her Cabinet have come up with a workable plan and I intend to support them in delivering it.