Update: On 10th December, the PM made a statement to the House in which she demonstrated that she was listening to strongly held concerns about the Withdrawal Agreement, especially in relation to the controversial backstop arrangements that are designed to guarantee no hard Irish border. I support her decision to seek further assurances from the EU before putting the Agreement to a vote.
Brexit divides the constituency as it does the country. Some people, on both sides of the argument, have strong opinions which seem to have hardened in an increasingly angry way. For the majority in the middle, I sense growing confusion and dismay.
I am grateful to the many constituents who have written to me with their views and am genuinely interested in hearing more.
I will be supporting the PM, and not just out of loyalty as a Government Minister, or out of respect for her tenacity and resilience, which have been admired by many.
I was a marginal Remainer. I saw strong arguments on the Brexit side, not least on the opportunity to take back more control and have more flexibility in a fast moving world. However, I thought the balance of risk weighed in favour of staying in a relationship that was very important to our prosperity and security.
Now I believe that the result of the referendum needs to be respected.
I can persuade myself that we will be better off over time, especially given the difficulties that the EU face. However, I want any deal to minimise the short term risk to our economy and security.
I believe the Prime Minister has worked tirelessly to try and strike the right balance. I can see that the Withdrawal Agreement will deliver on many things that mattered most to those who voted Leave. The agreement will allow us to have our own immigration policy. We will come out of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy. We will be free to make our own trade deals. Once we have met our obligations in the Withdrawal Agreement, we will stop sending large amounts of money to the EU. At the same time the Political Declaration sets a positive framework, rooted in strong mutual interest, for reaching agreement on the terms of ongoing trade and security cooperation.
It is a negotiation and therefore involves compromise. So of course it will not please everyone. I understand concerns about important details such as the backstop arrangements to avoid a hard border in Ireland. However, it is just that – a backstop insurance policy which everyone wishes to avoid. I think the big picture is set about right.There is still a lot to negotiate but I can see a sensible outcome that gives us our long term freedom without creating damaging short term shocks.
My absolute priority is to avoid a No Deal scenario. When I was Industry Minister I spent time listening to the concerns expressed by our largest employers about a No Deal Exit. I am clear that it will cost jobs. Now as Policing Minister, I am involved in our contingency planning for No Deal. Over time we have built with our EU partners a set of tools that help us share crucial information to identify and arrest criminals. They are important and the PM has quite rightly stressed the mutual need for an ongoing security partnership that preserves these capabilities. However if we lose access to those tools in a No Deal scenario, I am very clear that our contingency plans represent a step backwards at a dangerous time. So for both economic and security reasons, we need to avoid a No Deal exit.
I understand the argument in favour of a second referendum. However it is not helped by the fact that the loudest voices in favour of it clearly disagree with the verdict of the people in the original referendum. I fear that it will exacerbate already bitter division and uncertainty. I think that our priority at this time is to give our representative parliamentary democracy the opportunity to agree a solution that has the best possible chance of bringing the country together.
Disentangling ourselves from the very complex web of agreements we have with our EU partners was never going to be as straightforward as some of the Brexit prophets would have us believe. The PM has delivered something many thought impossible. Her critics have failed to come forward with an alternative that is credible or delivers on the referendum. At the moment, I can only see one deal on the table and that is the one I will be backing.
My primary concern about Brexit is about the division that it has created. It is not that long ago that we hosted the Olympics in such style. There was a spirit of confidence and unity in the country that I wish we could have bottled. How different it feels now. I know Brexit is a critical step in our proud history. I know how important it is to get right, not least for our children. I know the negotiation is not complete, but like many people I want us to move on, make the best of it and heal the division.
I will be supporting the Prime Minister.