The impasse over the EU Withdrawal Agreement prompted me over the weekend to support an amendment to try and move the deal forward. My opponents have consistently attempted to portray me as someone who wants a ‘hard’ Brexit but such assertions are dishonest and untrue. I have always said that I would prefer the United Kingdom to leave the EU with a deal that is good for both us and the EU. However, I would exit on WTO rules if only a bad deal was on offer.
In 2017, I was elected on the basis that “No deal is better than a bad deal” and that a Conservative Government would “ …maintain as frictionless a border as possible for people, goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland” (Conservative Party Manifesto Page 36). My commitment to these points remains and as such I have signed an amendment which proposes that the Northern Ireland backstop is replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border. I believe this can be achieved by a streamlined customs arrangement - or ‘max fac’ - that would involve a customs border between the UK and the EU but one that is as frictionless as possible. The proposers of the amendment suggest this could be achieved by:
- Negotiating a waiver with the EU so that entry and exit declarations don’t have to be submitted for goods being moved between the UK and the EU;
- Allowing goods moving between the UK and the rest of the world to travel through the EU without paying EU duties (and vice versa);
- Negotiating the recognition of “trusted traders” (Authorised Economic Operators) by the UK and EU so that they can move across borders more quickly;
- Technology-based solutions for to achieve smoother border crossing (for example an IT system linking customs declarations and vehicle registration numbers).
This view is now being shared by business. The UK Chamber of Shipping agrees with this point of view and has publicly stated that “ …the Government and the EU must agree to reopen negotiations and remove or, at least, introduce a time limit for the Irish backstop” (The Times 28th January 2019).
The backstop is an issue that is vitally important and has to be addressed. I am not happy with the deal being proposed by the Prime Minister but I could support it, subject to this amendment. This would prevent a no-deal scenario, maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom, fulfil the result of the Referendum to leave the EU, and allow the country to move forward. For these reasons I will be voting for this amendment.