Due to the large number of speakers in the EU withdrawal debate last night I was unable to deliver my full response to the Government's Brexit withdrawal agreement. For the benefit of my constituents I wish to make my full speech available to them.
On June 23rd, 2016, the British people directed us to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, and it is our duty to put that into effect.
We must not ignore them or tell them to vote again until they give a different answer or deliver a non-Brexit that keeps us in the EU in all but name.
Many people who voted in the referendum had not done so previously but they cast that vote on the understanding that it would be respected.
To fail to deliver on their verdict would be an extraordinarily anti-democratic act, which would send a message to those voters that voting simply doesn’t work - that democracy simply isn’t for them. That has catastrophic consequences.
The Brexit we deliver must be genuine, but it should also work for our economy and consequently jobs – handling the risks of Brexit while embracing the very clear opportunities.
No parliamentarian is 100% comfortable with what is in front of them, including myself. That was an inevitable conclusion, specifically without detailed direction, from the outcome of a leave vote. The weeks which have passed since the agreement was published have been a torturous time for many of us trying to determine what we believe is best for our country and for our constituents.
The decision we take must be individual and justifiable to our constituents.
When I and my fellow Scottish Conservatives wrote to the Prime Minister in November, in strong support of the fishing industry as we have always been, her robust response confirmed that she recognises the importance of delivering for Scottish fishing. Quota shares must be agreed annually as an independent coastal state and not determined beforehand.
Nobody can say the fishing industry has not been pragmatic in these negotiations. Accepting the deal, even though it effectively keeps us locked into the CFP with no say over quotas for the year 2020, is compromise enough in my mind – and in their minds.
Therefore, whatever should happen today and over the coming months, let me be clear that I could not support any extension to the transition period beyond December 2020.
An extension of just one day would be an extension of one year until the next round of annual quota negotiations, and that would be wholly unacceptable. We need the freedom to embrace the sea of opportunity Brexit presents.
That is in comparison with the SNP, who want to take Scotland straight back into the EU and, accordingly, the CFP. They said they want a reformed CFP – it is simply not possible, and only seeks to deliver false hope. No-one, absolutely no-one, is fooled by their duplicity on this issue, least of all Scottish fishermen.
Now to Northern Irish protocol.
Firstly, we cannot forget about the current divergence in place between NI and GB due to devolution and The Good Friday agreement. My disappointment that the case for technological solutions has not progressed further is clear, and this must continue to be a priority – although both the EU and UK have stated it is a commitment through the political declaration, Parliament must hold their feet to the fire on this game changing prospect.
I have made it clear I would feel much more comfortable with a date which ensured the future economic partnership was concluded within an outlined period. Just as businesses do not have years to conclude complex deals, they have a window and must work night and day to adhere to that or walk away.
A deal is a negotiation and a large dose of pragmatism must prevail. Nothing was going to be perfect to us all – nor could it be.
But few would say that this deal is ideal, and I would be one of them. But the decision tonight is about what we, as parliamentarians, believe is right for the country at this pivotal point in our politics.
Having only been in this place 18 months, I can see so clearly why the public distance themselves from the elected. It is blindingly obvious. Because too often self-interest takes over our decision-making process. Labour willing a general election in a misguided attempt to grab power, and the SNP determined to force a ‘No-deal’ situation in the hope that would accelerate their case for independence.
We have seen language such as “lynching” another member of this place or phrases relating our negotiating status to attaching ourselves to “suicide belts” – politics has always been a highly pressured arena, but have we lost all our responsibility to act as role models in our communities?
No wonder some of the public are so disillusioned with politics.
I’ve spoken with a number of the largest businesses in Angus as well as knocking on doors and meeting with constituents – and an over-arching concern is the lack of certainty.
This decision, for me, is about my businesses, my constituents - those I represent.
The UK does not wish for a closer alignment to the EU than we have with this deal - as so many in this place believe is in their interests. We must respect the ‘will of the British people’ – a phrase some people are tired of hearing, but one that I refuse to stop using regardless of how uncomfortable it makes those who refuse to accept the result.
In this deal we leave the CFP, leave the CAP which is important to my rural constituency, give businesses vital certainty, rights for EU citizens as well as British citizens living in the EU, security co-operation and the opportunity to implement an immigration system that works for Britain. It is not at all surprising that this deal has support from the Scotch Whisky Association, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, National Farmers Union and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.
In summary, Mr Speaker, this withdrawal agreement may not be perfect, and the majority of honourable members in this place who support it would not pretend that it is.
But does it deliver on the decision taken by the people of our United Kingdom in 2016? Yes.
Does it return to us full control of our borders as so many people wished? Yes.
Does it provide long-term stability for businesses, for our farmers and for our fisherman? Yes.
And of all the options on the table, is this agreement the one that is most in the national interest? Mr Speaker, I believe that it is, and that is why I will be supporting this deal tonight.