Last week I attended the regular meeting of our Association Executive Council and I updated members on progress of the Brexit negotiations. This is a summary of what I told them.
Since the previous meeting I have received well over 1,000 emails and letters, from both Leavers and Remainers, urging me to vote for various outcomes. The constituency, like the rest of the country, is divided about the way forward.
I have also been lobbied by local businesses who are increasingly concerned about the continuing uncertainty, two and half years after the referendum. They want to know what new tariffs may apply in the event of “no deal”, and what certification is likely to be required at ports of entry.
Preparations to cope with disruption in the event of “no deal” are now intensifying. I attend regular meetings on “Operation Brock” with the Police, the Roads Minister and officials from the Highways Agency, KCC and the ports. Work is nearly complete on the M20 contraflow, and the M26 will be closed and used as a lorry park as the third option once the M20 contraflow and Manston Airport parking are full. I have asked for further work to be done to minimise the effect on the A25 through the constituency. There are also plans in place to prioritise imports of food, medicines and other essential goods.
I have been fully involved in the ongoing debate. I spoke in the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement and I’ve written two articles in the Daily Telegraph setting out my concerns with the original text of the Agreement. I continue to discuss my concerns in meetings with those involved, including Ministers, officials and last week the Irish Ambassador.
Everybody is finding these negotiations frustratingly slow (and they are not helped by EU intransigence). They were, however, always going to be difficult: no country has ever left the EU before and no two bordering countries anywhere in the world operate different customs and tax regimes without some border checks.
In Parliament and in both the main parties there are hard-line views on both sides. Some Remainers want a second referendum but this would be equally divisive and I do not support a “re-run”. Others want the UK to leave without a deal: that is not our policy, and indeed is not what the Leave campaign itself favoured: they wanted “a careful change, not a sudden stop”. My own view lies in the middle: we must absolutely respect the referendum result but agree an orderly exit that minimises the cost to business and any disruption here in Kent.
In my view the original Withdrawal Agreement was not compatible with our obligations to the Union and did not give us sufficient clarity about the terms of our future trading arrangements with the EU: I therefore voted against it. The Prime Minister is now committed to achieving a better deal: if she can achieve that, even if it involves a short delay, I will support it.