22nd January 2019
Following last week’s votes in Parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement and the subsequent vote of no confidence, I think it is important that I set out for my constituents why I voted in the way I did.
On the 21st of November, shortly after the publication of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration agreed between the UK and the EU, I set out my reasons for voting against the deal unless significant changes were made. Nothing changed between then and the vote last week to change my mind and so I voted against the flawed Withdrawal Agreement.
The backstop, without a legally binding mechanism to unilaterally withdraw from it, is totally unacceptable to me and many of my colleagues, including the DUP. I appreciate the Prime Minister has worked extremely hard to put this deal together in immensely challenging negotiations, but I cannot vote for the backstop as it stands and I made that clear to her when we met on the 4th December. Warm words from President Juncker and President Tusk are not enough, they do not provide for a legal basis for us to withdraw from the arrangement, if we chose to.
One of the major reasons for my long-held desire to leave the EU is democratic accountability. This was once again put to the test as MPs were asked to assess the current deal and, crucially, the backstop.
The current Withdrawal Agreement asks that the United Kingdom would either have to choose between staying in the Implementation Period, or move into the backstop. The Implementation Period equates to effectively remaining a fully-fledged member of the European Union but without the ability to have a say in the running of affairs that will be dictated to us by the EU. This is undemocratic and leaves us as a rule-taker with no veto, voice or vote.
Or, if we choose to enter into the backstop agreement, it would mean a UK-wide customs union with the EU. It would also mean Northern Ireland adhering to certain Single Market regulations pertaining to the trade of goods. In doing this, Northern Ireland would see an increase in regulatory barriers for their trade into their largest market, Great Britain, and set Northern Ireland on a different path to the rest of the U.K.
Furthermore, the backstop has no sunset clause, and no mechanism that allows the UK to withdraw from the agreement unilaterally. This would mean that democratically elected governments in the UK could be elected by the people on manifesto commitments to leave the backstop – but they would be prevented from doing so with 27 other countries being given the veto over the UK. Again, this is fundamentally undemocratic and I cannot countenance supporting such an arrangement.
I made these points clear to the Prime Minister again last Thursday. I had been asked to come to Downing Street to give my views on how we move forward and I know the existence of this controversial backstop arrangement is a stumbling block too far for many of my colleagues.
I would like to reiterate. I am not a purist, and I am not seeking an undeliverable utopia of exactly what I view the perfect Brexit to be. I am prepared to compromise with aspects of this deal.
However, the Northern Irish backstop, to my mind, is fundamentally undemocratic, gives no incentive for either side to reach a mutually beneficial future relationship in a reasonable time frame, and will add to further arguments and uncertainty as we move forward.
My message to the Prime Minister was clear. We must have a mechanism, enshrined in the agreement or by legally enforceable codicil that allows us to leave the backstop unilaterally. That way at least it is up to the UK to choose for itself what is in our best interests. I hope we can achieve some progress on this aspect of the agreement.
I also want to touch on the vote of no-confidence in the government held last week. It will come as no surprise to my constituents that I voted in support of this government. Through all the wrangling and divisions on all sides of the House over Brexit, I am certain that a Conservative government is best for the future prosperity, security and freedoms of this country.
Since the Conservative government took office in 2010, we have seen 1,000 jobs created every single day and the lowest rate of unemployment since the 1970s. We have also made significant investment into our public services, especially the recently announced £20.5bn to be invested in the NHS - the single largest cash injection in our public services by a peacetime government in our history. This, amongst other things, is why the government secured my support and the support of the House.
I have no time for the political game-playing and disruption which appears to be the aim of the Leader of the Opposition. I agree with a great number of his own party that he is not fit to lead this country and I will endeavour to do everything I can to ensure that he never does.
Anne Main MP