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Withdrawal Agreement

I am grateful to all those constituents who have shared their views with me over the past few weeks.  I have now had several hundred emails and letters, so many that I am regretfully unable to reply individually to each point, but I have read each one in coming to my own voting decisions.

There are different views across Sevenoaks and Swanley, just as there are across the country.  And they divide at least four ways: there are Remainers who oppose the Withdrawal Agreement because it leads to an unknown Brexit and there are Remainers who support it, as keeping the UK fairly close to the current customs union; there are Leavers who want a purer Brexit and so oppose the Agreement for exactly the same reason, and there are Leavers who now support the Agreement fearing that unless we accept it we may never leave the EU at all.   It is impossible to reconcile these differences in a single vote.

My conclusion is that we must implement the Referendum result as we promised, and we must avoid the potential damage to our economy and disruption here in Kent of leaving without any deal: the Leave campaign itself argued for “a careful change, not a sudden stop”.  The government is committed to an orderly withdrawal, and my view is that there is now a greater risk of a disorderly exit if we do not support the Withdrawal Agreement today. Though the Agreement is flawed, and weakens the United Kingdom by disadvantaging Northern Ireland, these are issues to which we can return when the subsequent Withdrawal legislation comes before Parliament.  That is why I supported the Government today. 

With all best wishes

Michael Fallon MP

Brexit Update – 20 March

Britain voted to the leave the EU; so did Sevenoaks.  That’s why in Parliament I’ve spoken and voted against simply re-running the referendum.  The government is committed to respecting the result and securing an orderly withdrawal: the Leave campaign itself argued that leaving must be “a careful change, not a sudden stop”.   We need to avoid risking damage to our economy and potential disruption here in Kent.

All sides have recognised the flaws in the original Withdrawal Agreement.  It treats Northern Ireland differently; it doesn’t allow us to exit the trade negotiations if talks fail next year; and it doesn’t spell out clearly how we can still trade smoothly in goods and services once we have left.   I therefore want to see a better, fairer Agreement, and if it is improved I will support it.

I appreciate that the Parliamentary processes have been frustratingly slow.  But we have been in the EU for forty-six years: undoing existing co-operation in trade, security, technology and research was always going to be complicated.    For the sake of our futures we must get it right. 

Weald Community Shop

I was delighted to visit, along with Councillors from Sevenoaks District and Parish Councils, the fantastic, ‘Best Business in the Community’ award-winning Weald Community Shop on Friday 15th March.

The 50 volunteers who run the shop have created so much more than a shop.  It is a community hub and exemplifies the community spirit.  I congratulate all involved.

Brexit Update

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.

Statement on the Resignation of the Sevenoaks Conservative Association Chairman

Statement from Michael Fallon MP

We are all sorry that Polly has resigned.  At the Executive Council meeting last Friday I thanked her for her work. I updated members fully on the Brexit negotiations and voting.

Leaving without a deal has never been the government’s policy.  It was not the Leave Campaign’s policy: they made clear there would have to be a transitional period rather than a cliff-edge.   We must do everything possible to avoid the damage of new tariffs, however temporary, and to minimise any possible disruption to our businesses here in Kent. 

I remain committed to implementing the result of the referendum but I could not support the original Withdrawal Agreement. I support the Prime Minister’s efforts to get a better deal.

Ofcom: More Transparency on Rural 4G Coverage

Sir Michael has joined a group of MPs in demanding more transparency from Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, on 4G coverage in rural areas.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Rural Business published a report last autumn which set out a series of recommendations to improve rural coverage, including more transparency and accountability of mobile operators.


The APPG has written to Ofcom’s Chief Executive Sharon White, outlining their concerns that Ofcom’s commitment to fulfilling those recommendations will only come at the end of their period of obligations – and not throughout.

Sir Michael said: “Improving rural coverage is vital for many SMEs in my constituency. Ofcom must hold operators to account more strongly.”

National Apprenticeship Week

Apprenticeships are a vital in giving experience and jobs for our young people – so I was delighted to meet those providing, and benefiting from, those opportunities in Parliament.

National Apprenticeship Week is 4-8 March this year, and I would encourage you to attend an event local to you to understand more about the various post-education opportunities you have. You can access more information here: https://nawevents.co.uk/

Sir Michael with apprentices ahead of National Apprenticeship Week

World Cancer Day

World Cancer Day helps to raise awareness of the scale of the challenge and the role we can all play in the fight against the disease.   Greater awareness is key and we must do more to tackle preventable risk factors.  I was pleased to meet Cancer Research UK to hear more about the work being done in Sevenoaks, and I will continue to work with our local NHS staff to drive down waiting times for treatment.

Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy

The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy is a unique network of forest conservation initiatives involving all 53 countries of the Commonwealth.

As part of this project Sir Michael has planted 5 saplings in the Sevenoaks constituency recently:  two Silver Birches on Brittain’s Common; one Hazel in Swanley Park; and two Rowans near the Bradbourne lakes.

The 5 saplings sent to Sir Michael were donated by the Woodland Trust with the support of Sainsbury’s and are part of an initiative which has seen over 500 MPs in the UK becoming involved with the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy project.

Michael planting 2 Roman saplings near the Bradbourne lakes
Michael planting 2 Rowan saplings near the Bradbourne lakes

Michael planting a Silver Birch at Brittain's Common
Michael planting a Silver Birch at Brittain’s Common

 

PM’s Brexit Deal Simply Isn’t Good Enough

Security co-operation, Gibraltar, fishing rights, the fight against serious crime, the role of the European Court – all these things are important. But in the end, Brexit is a negotiation about trade: how we continue to trade in the European markets and how we reach new free trade agreements with countries across the world.

Nobody doubts that the Prime Minister has tried her very best. But neither the Withdrawal Agreement nor the political declaration with which she has returned give us any certainty whatsoever about our future trading relationships. The pledge that both sides will simply use their “best endeavours” is legally meaningless and of no comfort to businesses now faced with two, or even three, years of further uncertainty.

This simply isn’t good enough. It’s certainly not worth paying £39 billion for. Nor is it sensible to surrender our voting and veto right at the start of the next set of negotiations without any guarantee that our continental trade will continue as smoothly as now, nor that in any future trade agreement we will be allowed – allowed ! – to reduce our external tariffs with new trading partners overseas.

The very presence of the backstop – legally binding on us if the Commons passes this deal – illustrates the leverage that each of the 27 EU member states will have over the free trade agreements that we want.

I think this is a huge gamble, and one in which we are putting all our cards face upwards on the table at the start. President Trump’s warning that we may not be able to trade with America after Brexit is a stark reminder of just how much power the EU will have over our trade agreements. If they don’t suit Europe too, then the external tariffs stay in place. Nowhere in the Withdrawal Agreement is there any provision for our unilateral exit from the backstop.

So we do need a better deal. And I should be clear that this should not be a delaying tactic to buy time for the arch-Remainers who want to find ways of simply staying in. Though I and the Prime Minister voted Remain, she is right to say that we must fully respect the referendum result.

That means I don’t want a no-deal, with unknowable consequences, including preparations for turning the whole of my local motorway in Kent into a permanent lorry park. Nor could I support a second vote which would inevitably be just as divisive as the first. What I do want is a much clearer understanding of how our future trade will work. Aspiration is not enough, not least because nothing in the political declaration is legally binding.

What do we mean, for example, by jointly hoping to develop the proposed “single customs territory”? How similar would it have to be to the current customs union? Why does the declaration only commit the EU to “consider” the facilitation arrangements set out in the Chequers document?

There’s no reference anywhere to the frictionless trade so often cited by the Prime Minister. How much further compromise would be needed on our alignment with future EU regulations if the new economic partnership between the UK and the EU has to “respect” the integrity of the single market?

Many mistakes have been made throughout these negotiations (and yes I was in Cabinet and party to some of them). Too often we rushed ahead: triggering Article 50 before there was an agreed Cabinet position; accepting the backstop without thinking through the consequences for free trade agreements; underestimating the importance of the shared sovereignty of the island of Ireland.

I believe that we need to take stock now, and consider whether what is being proposed really will turn out to be in our long-term interest.

If the House of Commons turns down this Brexit deal, that means sending our team back to the negotiating table. It might even mean a few extra weeks or months before we formally leave. But that would certainly be better than risking another two or three years of argument as to what these vague declarations and aspirations will actually mean in practice, with all the consequent uncertainty for our businesses. We owe it to our people, Leavers and Remainers alike, to get this right.

Sir Michael Fallon is MP for Sevenoaks

This article was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on 27th November