Thursday, 10 October 2019

The Brexit finishing line is in sight

For over three years, politicians in Westminster have been arguing about how to deliver on the referendum result. We’ve been able to say what we don’t want and even voted against a deal three times. As someone who campaigned to leave and sought to compromise in order to achieve Brexit, it’s been a frustrating time. But the finishing line is now in sight, and it’s time to finally get Brexit done.
Despite his detractors and attempts by those who have sought to frustrate and cancel Brexit, the Prime Minister last week delivered a workable proposal that both delivers on the referendum and takes into account the concerns around making the Irish border.
It removes the so-called “backstop” which was anti-democratic and would have left the UK trapped in EU law with no way of getting out. It also disregarded the importance of political consent in Northern Ireland so it compromised one of the key aspects of the Belfast Agreement. That is why Parliament rejected the last Withdrawal Agreement three times.
The proposal was a revised offer that would have passed parliament. The UK would leave the Custom Union and Single Market whilst also restore the supremacy of British law over EU law and freeing the country from the European Court of Justice. It would ensure that British taxpayers’ money remains in Britain and spent on priorities that matter to the public but it would have addressed all the issues that were of concern to Ireland.
There would be a regulatory zone on the island of Ireland covering all goods but eliminating the need for all regulatory checks for trade in goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and any customs checks would take place either electronically or, where necessary for physical checks, at traders’ premises or other points in the supply chain. Northern Ireland would remain completely part of the UK customs territory and not the EU customs union.
It was well thought through and made a lot of sense but sadly, as usual, the EU have refused to engage in it. The problem all along in this process has been that the EU have adopted a stance that says they want us to stay fully in the EU so that we will still pay them large amounts of money and so they can still have control of our laws and a free run of our market. Getting them to accept that we have voted to become an independent country making our own laws has been a struggle, not least because they see a faction in Parliament including Labour and the Lib Dems who want to ignore the referendum result. If the EU senses that Britain no longer values it's democracy and us willing to simply ignore election results, then why should they have any qualms about demanding they maintain direct control of our laws?
This situation cannot continue. We need a General Election to settle this stagnant argument but first we must get out of the EU at the end of this month with or without an agreement. The vote to leave the European Union was a momentous decision in this country’s history and we need to embrace democracy.
As the world’s fifth largest economy with world leading expertise in science, finance and industry, we have an incredibly strong hand of cards to play as we leave the EU and we should not fear leaving without an agreement.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Party Conference

This week is Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, which marks the end of the conference season for MPs. However, in this world of upside down politics that we appear to be living in, I am writing this article not from Manchester but from Westminster as a result of cynical attempts by opposition MPs to wreck our conference.
Last week the Supreme Court entered the realm of political judgements and stated that the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue parliament was unlawful. I fundamentally disagreed with the Court’s decision and it was clear that those who brought this particular challenge before the court did so for the sole objective of frustrating Brexit and cancelling the result of the referendum. The events that followed this decision led to opposition MPs voting against the usual practice of a parliamentary recess to cover the conference season.
Westminster politics has become quite feral at the moment and only a General Election can settle things. However, in the meantime Boris Johnson is undeterred by these attempts to undermine him. The Conservative Conference went ahead as planned and was a great success with many exciting proposals on schools, police and the NHS once we get Brexit done.
Locally there have been significant announcements for Cornwall with the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock announcing that Cornwall will receive up to £450 million for a new hospital. This is great news for everyone in Cornwall and will be a significant boost to the many staff and patients who have come to give so much to our NHS. The plans are part of a new strategic Health Investment Programme of £13billion to upgrade hospitals across the country. This will include funds for the NHS in Cornwall to begin work, with local decision makers, to consider options and work up the business case, which could include a brand new acute hospital on a new site, upgrading of existing Community Hospitals as well as redevelopment of existing facilities at Royal Cornwall Hospital Treliske. This truly is welcome news and once more demonstrates the government’s commitment to delivering first class public services for everyone.
There was also an announcement that the National Living Wage, which was introduced by George Osborne a few years ago, would be increased to £10.50 meaning that the lowest paid will receive a substantial pay rise. Unemployment is at a record low but there are too many people who work hard but still struggle financially. This will be a boost for them.
There have of course been other issues discussed at the conference that received less attention. In my time as an MP and particularly as a Minister at DEFRA, I have worked to try to improve environmental and animal welfare standards. This week plans to restrict the export of live animals and to ban the keeping of primates as pets was announced. At DEFRA we’ve made great strides in improving animal welfare from installing CCTV in slaughter houses to improving the legislation around the breeding of puppies and we want to continue to improve the law.