Theresa May is Prime Minister and is MP for Maidenhead.
When MPs pass through the lobbies of the House of Commons this evening, the fundamental choice they will face is whether or not to implement the decision of the British people who voted for Brexit.
I know that many ConservativeHome readers have had concerns about some of the detail of the agreement which was reached between the United Kingdom and the EU at the end of last year. But the deal that MPs will be voting on tonight is an improved Brexit deal containing crucial hard won changes.
Since the original deal was rejected in January, I have met MPs from all sides of the House. I have listened to their concerns – and I have taken those concerns to the EU, the biggest of which was that we may become trapped in the so-called backstop indefinitely. I have held more than 40 conversations with my fellow EU leaders on the telephone and in person. Along with the Attorney General and the Brexit Secretary, I have fought hard and explored every idea and avenue to secure the changes which Parliament requested.
Last night, following a face to face meeting with Jean Claude Juncker, I was able to announce that we have secured legally-binding changes which address MPs’ concerns about the need to protect the UK from being stuck in the backstop against its will.
First, there is now a legally-binding joint instrument — with comparable legal weight to the Withdrawal Agreement – which will guarantee that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely. If they do, it can be challenged through arbitration and if they are found to be in breach the UK can ultimately suspend the backstop.
It also includes a legally binding commitment that both sides will work to have alternative arrangements in place to replace the backstop by December 2020, so that it never needs to be used. Furthermore, it confirms that whatever replaces the backstop doesn’t need to replicate it.
And it entrenches in legally-binding form the commitments made in the exchange of letters with Presidents Tusk and Juncker in January.
Second, alongside this new joint instrument, the United Kingdom Government will make a Unilateral Declaration that if the backstop comes into use and it does not prove possible to negotiate a subsequent agreement, it is the position of the United Kingdom that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that could ultimately dis-apply the backstop.
Third, the UK and the EU have made a joint statement in relation to the Political Declaration.
It sets out a number of commitments to enhance and expedite the process of negotiating and bringing into force the future relationship. This includes beginning the work to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements immediately. There will be a specific negotiating track on alternative arrangements from the very start of the next phase of negotiations. It will consider facilitations and technologies – both those currently ready and emerging.
The UK’s position will be informed by the three domestic groups announced last week – for technical experts, MPs, and business and trade unions. I would urge MPs now to study these changes in detail in advance of the Meaningful Vote.
Back the improved deal and we are out of the EU. We will take back control. We will regain control of our laws, by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. For the first time in decades, we will be in control of our borders – ending free movement. The days of making vast annual payments to the EU will be over.
We will be outside of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries policy — once again becoming an independent coastal state and bringing an end to the hardship inflicted upon our fishermen.
Crucially, we will have our own independent trade policy, outside of the Customs Union and able to sign ambitious deals with friends old and new.
Reject the deal, however, and we do not know what the consequences may be. We would face delay and spend months going over the same arguments again and again. We may leave without the protections for jobs and security which the deal provides. We may never leave at all. None of those outcomes is attractive – and they run contrary to the message that I have heard time and again from people and businesses up and down the country that what they want is for MPs to get on with the job of delivering Brexit.
Now is the time to come together, bring an end to the uncertainty and get this deal done. Tonight, there is a chance to take a decisive step towards delivering on the result of the referendum and setting this country on course for a brighter future. I urge all my colleagues to take that step – and vote for this improved Brexit deal.