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Position on EU Withdrawal Agreement

As we approach the important vote next week on the EU Withdrawal Agreement I thought it might be useful to restate my position.

Let me begin by making clear that the UK will be leaving the EU at 11 pm on 29th March 2019. That date and time are enshrined in the EU (Withdrawal) Act, which was placed on the Statute Book in 2018.

The EU Withdrawal Agreement sets out the terms on which we will leave the EU and includes an implementation period that would allow us to leave in an orderly fashion. I want us to have such an arrangement. I also want us to have a good trading and political relationship with the EU post Brexit.

However, although I took the trouble to read the 600 page Withdrawal Agreement, and did so in the genuine hope of being able to support it and recommend it to my constituents, I became increasingly concerned about one particular aspect.

The Agreement proposes that in the event of no deal being negotiated during the implementation period that would ensure no hard border between Eire and Northern Ireland, there either will be a “backstop” position, during which the EU and the UK would enter a “single customs territory”, or, the UK could apply for an extension to the implementation period.

Once again I would be happy to support an extension to the implementation period, because that is explicitly time limited in the Agreement to a period of one or two years, meaning it would finish, at the latest, in December 2022.

However, the “backstop” is not time limited.

Currently the document reads (with regards the Northern Ireland Protocol, otherwise known as the backstop): "...this Protocol is based on the third scenario of maintaining a full alignment with those rules of the Union's internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement, to apply unless and until an alternative arrangement implementing another scenario is agreed,"

I would like to see added at the end: "or within one, or two years from 31st December 2020, whichever is the sooner."

That is a simple and logical amendment, which reflects the time limitation of any extended implementation period. If adopted, I would be able to support the Government in any future vote, as would, I am sure, a large number of my colleagues.

The amendment would ensure the UK is not kept in the EU for an unlimited period. If the EU refused to make such an amendment, it would raise the serious question: Why not?

My belief is that it is because if the text remains as it is the backstop is open ended, which technically means we could be kept inside the EU for ever. And it could happen, because the UK would continue to pay £billions to the EU whilst the backstop is in place. Bearing in mind that the EU wants our continued membership and money, it seems to me there is no real incentive for the EU to negotiate an acceptable trade deal, which would ensure no hard border between the Eire and Northern Ireland and allow the UK to exit the arrangement.

It is worth pointing out that over the last couple of weeks, I have received hundreds of emails about the Withdrawal Agreement, the vast majority of which urged me to vote against the Agreement.

If the UK is kept for an unlimited period in the Northern Ireland “backstop”, thereby effectively keeping us in the Single Market and the Customs Union, with all that entails, it would be a betrayal of the vast majority of people in Sittingbourne and Sheppey who voted to leave the EU.

I cannot and will not betray those people.

I should add that I have just come from a one-to-one meeting with the PM at which I was able to explain my concerns fully. I also told her that I sympathised with the position in which she finds herself. I won’t repeat all of our conversation, however, it is clear she understands that the NI backstop is a problem that has to be resolved if she is going to get the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. I am keeping my fingers firmly crossed that she can somehow come up with a solution that would allow me to support her.

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