I have received a lot of emails and letters from constituents about the debate and vote, next week, on the legislation required to trigger Article 50 and start Brexit negotiations with the EU.
Interestingly, by around 4 to 1, those contacting me ask me to vote in favour of the Bill. Although this is not necessarily a reflection of the level of local support, it reinforces my sense – from hundreds upon hundreds of emails and personal discussions locally, along with the national polling e.g. from YouGov – that the public mood has shifted in favour of getting on with Brexit.
I will vote in favour of the legislation, and I would make four key points about where we are now.
First, whilst I respect all sides of this debate, we must give effect to the referendum as a matter of basic democratic principle. A small number of people have suggested to me that, given our constituency voted Remain, I was duty bound to vote against the Article 50 legislation. I am afraid this is unprincipled nonsense. The referendum gave every one of the 77,000 voters in Esher & Walton a vote. Indeed, I fought very hard for everyone to have their say through the referendum – and no other party was prepared to trust the British people. Personally, I stood up for my convictions, and what I believe to be the best interests of the country, and I was always mindful that there were good arguments on both sides. However, we all agreed to respect the result. And in a referendum, we vote as one country. It would be quite undemocratic for any MP to try to block Brexit negotiations from starting, and I suspect only a very small minority would support such wrecking tactics.
Second, the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech, which you can read in full here, set out the UK’s detailed plans for Brexit and our vision of post-Brexit Britain as a self-governing democracy, a good European neighbour, and a global leader in free trade. This is a powerful and compelling vision for the future, which I strongly support.
Third, the suggestion by some that the UK should try and somehow stay a formal member of the Single Market or Customs Union is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It is not possible to leave the EU in any meaningful sense, and stay a member of the Single Market. We would still, in effect, be bound by large swathes of EU rules and the ECJ, and lose control of our immigration policy and the power to strike free trade deals with non-EU countries. This is not just my view, it is the position that the EU takes and the Remain campaign took during the referendum. During the referendum, Vote Leave consistently made clear – including myself – that leaving the EU meant leaving the Single Market, but negotiating the best ‘access’ to it, given the UK and EU’s mutual interest in retaining barrier free trade.
Fourth, and above all, it is time to turn the page. We’ve had enough political wrangling at home. Now we must start the serious diplomacy abroad. The UK economy is strong – the fastest growing in the G7, with record levels of employment. We have confounded the pessimistic forecasters, who predicted an immediate shock to the UK economy. Yes, there are risks and uncertainty ahead. But, we are well placed to mitigate and manage that. Our EU partners are talking a far more constructive language. From the EU Trade Commissioner to the German Finance Minister, they recognise the scope for a win-win deal, and the damage a poor deal or no deal would do to European firms and workers. We must start the negotiations with a generosity of spirit, and take our European friends at their word, whilst preparing for all eventualities.
So, we can now go into these negotiations with self-confidence, a strong strategy, and an ambition to seek out a new deal that works for Britain and the EU. That is what I will be working for in the months that follow, listening to all sides, and committed to managing down the risks, while grasping the golden opportunities ahead.