Thursday, 1 August 2019

Getting on with Brexit

This week I returned to government, picking up where I left off as the Minister of State for agriculture and fisheries. It is a policy area that I have always been passionate about having studied horticulture and worked in the family farming business for ten years. Fishing is also an important industry in Cornwall and in the five and a half years that I did the job previously I led our annual negotiations on quotas at the EU. It is good to be back and part of a new Government that is now pursuing the more assertive approach I advocated in February.
The next few months will be crucial to restore the credibility of our democracy, implement the decision taken in the 2016 referendum and to restore self government in this country as we come out of the European Union. Boris Johnson has reinvigorated Government in his first week and set a clear and determined course. I resigned from Theresa May’s Government in the spring because I disagreed with her decision to dither and delay our exit date. I felt that it signalled weakness and undermined our negotiations. With the election of Boris Johnson there is now a renewed sense of purpose and a fresh mandate for a new Prime Minister to deliver what we said we would in our manifesto. We will use whatever means are necessary to ensure that the UK leaves the European Union by the end of October and we will leave with or without an agreement.
Of course, there will still be obstacles to overcome, not least those MPs and political parties who have set themselves against the referendum result and have made clear that they will force people to vote again until they give a different answer. The EU, who have not really acted in good faith in their negotiations with Theresa May, will also have to decide whether they want to make the sensible changes requested by Boris Johnson and remove the so called “backstop” or whether they will remain obstinate. There will be many arguments over the next three months but this long running saga must now be brought to a head and be resolved once and for all.
Boris Johnson has appointed a new Cabinet that shares his determination to deliver Brexit. He has also appointed a number of new advisers to support him in the task ahead. A number of them worked on the successful Vote Leave campaign which inspired people to vote for a better future and to take back control of our own laws. It is important to have the right advice and support of people who believe in the objective because one of the main weaknesses that Theresa May faced is that too many people around her didn’t really agree with government policy or understand that leaving the EU really is in the national interest. In politics, if you embark on major change, you have to have a team that understands and believes in what we are delivering as a country.
In Defra we have many issues to address. Firstly we need to consider what tariffs we would apply to imports once we leave. Measured by import value, the UK is the third largest market for food in the world after China and Japan and probably the most sophisticated. We have discerning consumers with an interest in food provenance and very high standards of animal welfare and food safety. Everyone wants access to our market but we must do nothing that jeopardises what we have built. We are also designing a major shift in the way we support farmers away from arbitrary payments based on land area where most of the money goes to very large and wealthy landowners and instead focusing funds on delivering enhanced animal welfare and environmental improvements. On fisheries, if we leave without an agreement, then as early as this November this year, we will be negotiating new arrangements and setting new conditions on any access to our waters and we will begin to rebalance the unfair sharing arrangements imposed on us by the EU.
No one can know for sure how events will develop over the next few months. However, at times of uncertainty what people need from their government most of all is a determined clarity of purpose and with the election of Boris Johnson we now have it.

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