This week I want to start my article by paying tribute to Cllr Stuart Earl. His sad passing leaves a huge hole in the many organisations and causes he worked for so tirelessly. It also robs us of a friend and colleague who dedicated his life to civic duty in his community.
I recall getting a call from a constituent, and resident in Stuart’s Little Common ward, who was rightly concerned about the dangers of crossing the A259 outside her home. Realising I could quickly fit in a visit a few hours later, I dropped Stuart an email out of politeness to invite him along. Not only did he join, he had spent the previous hour assessing the traffic and working out what he could do to campaign for a fix. This is typical of the many meetings and visits which we held together, despite him being an Independent and me being a Conservative. Party politics was not important to Stuart in this regard. It was all about working together to get the job done for the community. He will be hugely missed. It is down to those of us who worked with him to carry on the many causes which he had on his list.
Turning to my week in Parliament, this week the Prime Minister gave a further update on the status of negotiations with the EU for the UK’s exit in March next year. The Prime Minister reported that we are ‘95% there’ with an agreement which would see us leave the EU on agreed terms (albeit terms which will take another two years to implement). The 5% remaining is how we will operate our border with the Irish Republic. If, and when, a deal is reached, Parliament will vote on whether to accept it or reject it. If rejected by Parliament, the UK would leave without a deal in March 2019.
I know this issue is important because I continue to receive correspondence from constituents. I tend to hear from those on one side of the debate (calling for me to support a second referendum) or the other (urging me to reject any deal which gives too much ground to the EU) or somewhere in between. My communications suggest that correspondents are split on preference in the same way that Parliament is.
Many who had written to me had joined the ‘People’s March’ for a second referendum. As I have said before, I do not support a second referendum. We have already had a referendum and this was based on the deal which the then Prime Minister got from the EU. This was rejected by the majority of the voters who voted (and by 60% in Rother). I made it clear before the referendum, and since, that I would abide by the majority result.
Those of you who attended my presentations and public meetings will have heard me critique the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Relationship (or Chequers Deal). There is much in the legal offer which works well and other parts for which I am less enthusiastic. Ultimately, compromise is going to be required from MPs because there are 650 of us and, like you, we all have our preferred exit terms.
It seems clear that the EU is not going to accept the legal offer as presented by the Government so I am reserving my judgment for when I have something before me which is capable of being voted on. If that is not possible, then we will end up without a framework deal.
I should make it clear that I would prefer for the UK to leave with an agreement with the EU. However, I am not an advocate of entering into a deal of sorts which does not agree terms but kicks the can down the road in return for the UK paying the exit sum being discussed. If we cannot agree terms then the UK and EU both need to be straight with the public that this is the case. We could then opt for a series of lighter trade and border arrangements, the likes of which the EU and Switzerland have operated under for years. I am concerned that we will have a longer implementation period with no guarantee that we will ever reach an agreement. I prefer certainty and do not want the negotiations to drift to a never-ending conclusion.
If it comes to a deal, which MPs will be able to vote on, I will be faced with a choice of weighing up the democratic argument – ‘are these the terms which both parties in the referendum appeared to describe to constituents should we vote to leave?’ versus the impact on the livelihood on my constituents ‘would a no deal put constituents’ jobs and security at risk’?
This will not be a decision I will take lightly and I envisage that it will be the hardest I will have to make as your MP. Inevitably, and as part of the tapestry of our democracy, some constituents will disagree with the decision I take.