Statement regarding the draft Agreement on Brexit

Independent North East MEP Jonathan Arnott has issued the following statement with regard to the draft Agreement on Brexit, which will go before Cabinet shortly.

“The People of the United Kingdom participated in a Vote in June 2016. That vote of the people mandated withdrawal from the European Union. More people supported Brexit than have ever voted for anything else in British history. Previous elections confirmed the desire for such a vote; subsequent Acts of Parliament and a General Election underlined the decision already taken. To fail to respect such a mandate would strike at the core of our constitutional democratic process. It would irrevocably damage the relationship between the electorate and the government, to an extent I shudder to imagine.

Brexit must happen; that much is clear. Even a competent Prime Minister might well have struggled in negotiations; I have watched opposition politicians sniping from the sidelines for over two years, demeaning and belittling our great nation, and taking the side of the European Union unquestioningly on every issue in negotiations. Those politicians have made the task of negotiating Brexit immeasurably harder. They have done a disservice to our nation so great that it would be easy to resort to hyperbole. Each politician who has so undermined should examine their consciences and ask whether they owe the British people an apology: have they acted out of mere naïveté, blanket loyalty to the European Union, or from a genuine desire to sabotage the vote of the people?

As I have said, even a competent Prime Minister would have struggled. Instead, we have Theresa May. Her Mansion House speech exuded confidence, but I fear her subsequent actions have spectacularly failed to live up to her words. A weak Prome Minister may deliver powerful words, but not results.

The concessions we already know about are vast: compromises on legislation, on borders, on finances and on regulatory alignment.

In the coming days, we will no doubt learn of further concessions.

The Cabinet, and Parliament, must now scrutinise what Theresa May has returned to them with. The basis for such scrutiny should be whether or not the Agreement delivers upon the primary reasons people voted for Brexit.

It should, as Theresa May herself implied at the start of this whole process, be dependent upon whether we have as a nation genuinely taken back control. By the end of the process, will we have:

  1. Stopped EU courts overruling our own?
  2. Repatriated legislative power from Brussels to Westminster?
  3. Stopped sending vast sums of money to the EU each year?
  4. Gained the ability to sign our own free trade deals, without EU rules interfering with our trading arrangements with other nations?
  5. Regained full control over our policy on immigration, ending the discrimination between EU and non-EU immigration? 6. Regained full control over our sovereign waters and fisheries?

These questions broadly reflect May’s negotiation priorities. They also will generally shed light on whether or not the deal respects the people’s vote.

It seems unlikely, bordering on impossible, that the Agreement will even come close to respecting the Vote of the People in 2016. Nevertheless, it is all too frequent in politics – and it is the nature of the 24-hour news cycle in the media which pushes this – for detailed comment to be expected on documents not yet published, let alone read. Digesting 500 pages of technical agreement will not be straightforward, but all sides should take the trouble to do so. Informed debate matters.

Another question will be critical. We need to ask to what extent this Agreement will bind us in perpetuity. If it genuinely offers transition to a more acceptable relationship with the European Union, that is one thing. But if we remain trapped, locked into such an unacceptable fudge, with no means of altering the arrangement without EU approval, we risk being forever trapped. I am wary of this point, and await full publication of the Agreement.

If Theresa May has indeed failed in negotiations, then Cabinet and Parliament have a responsibility to prevent a poor deal going through.

Theresa May herself told us that no deal would be preferable to a poor deal: if she has indeed returned with a poor deal, Parliament would be right to reject it; in Theresa May’s own words, a no-deal scenario would be better.

Time is running short. It is unfashionable amongst those who support a true, proper, clean Brexit to say so, but time is now of the essence.

There is another approach, but that requires a change of Prime Minister. The window of opportunity will be short, but must be taken.

A simple but wide-ranging tariff-free trading agreement with appropriate mutual recognition of standards can, I believe, be negotiated in time – but it now requires courage and leadership. Those qualities have sadly been lacking in our government.

If this draft Agreement proves to be as bad as is being floated, there will only be a brief opportunity to replace incompetence with competence at Number 10 – to snatch victory from the jaws of the defeat which I fear is in turn being snatched from the people’s victory of 2016. Such competence will not, sadly, be found on the Opposition front bench.”