A very happy new year to all readers.
This week Parliament resumes consideration of the EU Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration (which sets out the framework for the new relationship between the UK and the EU in trade, security and much else). The vote is due on Tuesday 15th January.
The Withdrawal Agreement provides for the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion following the 2016 referendum. It deals with the rights of UK citizens living in EU countries and EU citizens in the UK; it provides for a transition period until December 2020 during which the UK, although out of the EU, will remain within the single market and customs union to provide certainty while the details of the new arrangements are negotiated and agreed; and it establishes how the financial settlement (estimated at c£39bn net over several years) under existing commitments which we have made will be calculated and paid. This includes the budget contributions during the transition period.
If the new agreement is not concluded by December 2020, there is provision for a one or maximum two year extension of the transition period. If there is no extension to the transition period, the EU and the UK would enter an arrangement to ensure that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland, in accordance with the Belfast Agreement of 1998. The arrangement is commonly called the backstop. It is there as a last resort to ensure no hard border if no other solution has been found through the new trading arrangements.
The backstop is controversial in both the UK and the EU – in the EU, because it does not accord with the rules of the EU single market; and in the UK, because it means that Northern Ireland would remain within the EU single market for goods while it is in place. For that reason, if it does come into effect, both parties will need to work to have it in place for as short a time as possible,
The Political Agreement sets out the framework for the future agreement between the UK and the EU which it is intended would be concluded by the end of the transition period. It provides for a free trade area for goods comprising the UK and EU, with zero tariffs and close customs arrangements to ensure the minimum of border delays. The UK would conduct an independent trade policy; freedom of movement as we currently practice it would come to an end and be replaced by the UK’s new immigration policy; we would set our own agricultural and fisheries policies; and the general jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK would cease.
I will be supporting the Agreement and Declaration because they provide for an orderly exit from the EU, with a transition period for the detailed negotiations and preparation for the close, vital and wide-ranging new relationship which we will have with our neighbours and largest trading partner.