Cllr Anna Firth is Cabinet member for Legal and Democratic Services, and Brexit spokesperson, on Sevenoaks District Council. She is a former Parliamentary Candidate for Erith and Thamesmead, and was Co-Chair of Vote Leave’s Women for Britain.
‘Compromise is a virtue to be cultivated, not a weakness to be despised.’ – Star Wars
I am a committed a Brexiteer. Having campaigned throughout the country for Brexit during the referendum, I was delighted when the result declared that we would be leaving the EU. I have not changed my view.
However, like many, I have followed the ensuing EU negotiations with disgust and disappointment. Disgust at the way the Commission have exploited the Northern Ireland border issue and refused point blank to settle the rights of EU citizens living here and of UK citizens living abroad to avoid unnecessary stress and upset. Disappointment also at the Commission’s refusal to discuss the UK/EU future trading relationship upon which millions and millions of businesses and livelihoods depend until the “divorce bill” was settled. Nothing in Article 50 mandates that money issues had to be settled before human and/or trading issues, and no mature, successful business would treat its single biggest business partner in this way.
I therefore approached the Chequers statement with a bucket full of scepticism. However once I finally managed to escape the shrieking commentariat (who seem primarily interested in driving a pre-determined agenda) and actually read the document, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Is it what I would have drafted? Certainly not. I believe we should have made it very clear from the outset that we were perfectly happy to see a No Deal break with the EU, carrying with it a very modest exit payment. No deal, no payment. Nothing I have seen in the last two years changes my view that the Commission is an undemocratic group of self-important bureaucrats interested in little more than self-aggrandisement, who were slowly but surely squeezing the life blood from this country.
But I live in a country of 64 million people – and am hugely privileged to do so. And although I was on the winning side in the referendum, a margin of 52:48 tells me that over 16 million people, a very significant minority, hold the opposing view and believe that we are heading for a disaster. I am humble enough to know that just because I believe something to the case, doesn’t necessarily make it so. In addition, I have spoken to enough people since the referendum to know that most people did not vote to be worse off, yet common sense tells me that untangling our European ties after 45 years of membership was never going to be simple or cost-free – rather like trying to pick the dissolved sugar out of your cup of tea.
I believe it is therefore beholden on us Brexiteers to respect the genuinely-held views of the opposing side and strive for an agreement that delivers what we voted for, whilst recognising many people’s very real fears and, above all, protecting frictionless trade for the many businesses, jobs and livelihoods that currently depend on it.
And I believe that the Chequers agreement, as amended in the Commons on Monday, does that. In particular:
It clearly aims to provide a common rule book for goods, but “covering only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border”. Domestic goods and / or those goods destined to be sold outside the EU are clearly excluded.
The ECJ is replaced with a joint institutional framework for dealing with UK-EU agreements, including the ECJ for EU rules and UK courts for UK rules. However it explicitly goes on to state “the court of one party cannot resolve disputes between the two.”
The UK Government and Parliament will determine the domestic immigration rules that apply, including the ability to agree a new EU mobility framework no different to that the UK may offer other close trading partners in future.
Huge annual budget payments end and we will regain control of our own waters and be outside the Common Agricultural Policy, as widely reported.
Personally, I am concerned by the practicalities around the Facilitated Customs Arrangement, but if the EU and UK authorities are comfortable that they can make it work it would appear to tick a number of necessary boxes. But if it does not, we can revisit the terms as an independent state operating in our own interests, at a later date.
It is not the perfect agreement and I welcome the four amendments proposed by the ERG and accepted by the Government. However, it is surely one that ticks the majority of the Brexit boxes whilst recognising the very real fears held by many in our country. Furthermore, it appears to provide at least a fighting chance of the UK being able to negotiate a trade deal with the US as well – surely the very definition of having our cake and eating it?
And for those who feel the proposal is so fundamentally flawed it justifies outright rebellion, there is only one question. If you think that this agreement is bad, how does it stack up against Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto? Because if, as a party, we cannot find agreement on this, that is what we are delivering the United Kingdom.
I never thought that as a politician I would find words of wisdom coming from an England footballer. But as a party we would do well to listen to the words of Kyle Walker, England’s central defender: “We might live in a time where sometimes it’s easier to be negative than positive, to divide than to unite. But England, let us keep the unity alive.”