Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.
Low Barnes Nature Reserve, Witton-Le-Wear, North West Durham.
If you grow up in the Pennines, memories of mid-winter have a magic of their own. Christmas holidays where you crunched across moors of snow dotted with hardy Swaledales and Rough Fell sheep. Days when it was so foggy you couldn’t see even a few yards ahead, and nights that were so clear and crisp that you could see the galaxy by lifting your head. Gritted roads, overwhelmed by inches of snow, become impassable. Stiles of stone or wood, iced with layer upon layer of frost that had to be traversed with care. This is the lay of the land now – deep in North West Durham as the wind blows in across the North Sea, from the East.
Being in Parliament on December 30th blew away the North Pennine idyll, and brought the political world back with a jolt. I was one of three dozen or so Members of Parliament who sat in until half past midnight to see Royal Assent granted to the EU (Future Relationship) Bill, transforming it into an Act of Parliament and securing our independent trading relationship with the European Union.
It felt like a real moment in history, looking across at deserted opposition benches – after almost five years of turbo-charged democracy that had brought down two Prime Ministers, seen two general elections and re-drawn the political map fundamentally in a way that everyone is still very much only just getting used to.
Throughout the day we had seen chaos from the opposition parties. Keir Starmer saying that he’d vote for the deal but didn’t like it: torn between his desperate desire to re-join the EU and the electoral necessity of not opposing Brexit, he opted for a position of re-writing our relationship with the EU as Labour’s policy at the next election.
The largest farce during the proceedings, however, was reserved for the ‘humble crofter with 10 acres’ – the former investment banker and forever three-pieced Ian Blackford of the SNP. The Scottish Nationalists who had said that they’d never vote for No Deal were there doing just that. The thickness of the brass neck is unsurpassed. Without irony, Blackford talked of his demand to be an “independent country inside the EU.”
The victims of Strasbourg Syndrome are many on the SNP benches. Always as giddy as kippers whenever they can wangle a constitutional angle. Simultaneously, they bemoan being in the United Kingdom, but their first question is always with regards to the ‘Barnet consequential’ of any decision. They screech in horror about a delay in total control of our own fisheries but, without batting an eye, push for those fisheries to be handed back – cod stock and two smoking herrings – straight back to the supertrawlers of the European Union’s fishing fleets.
But despite the wails of disjoined opposition, the Conservative Party was, for the first time in decades, almost wholly united on the issue of our relationship with the EU. The UK left and has a new cordial and friendly relationship with our European partners and, at the same time, can build on the excellent work that Liz Truss and her team at the Department for International Trade have been doing, seeking opportunities for extending and deepening trade around the globe.
For my constituents in North West Durham, this new relationship means that a promise has been delivered. The vote they made in 2016 mattered. Their votes cast in 2019 to delivering it mattered as well. When it comes to doing what they say, Conservative MPs can be trusted. Faith in promises, at least those of Tory politicians, has been restored.
We now have a real opportunity to build upon this trust with a renewed domestic focus. With the rollout of the vaccine, even the pandemic now starts to feel different. We are in the final furlong of life as a furloughed nation. There will be necessarily temporary diversions as we deal with a dynamic pandemic, like those that frequently add time onto my weekly journeys up and down the A1/M1, but our destination is clear. Deal with the pandemic then deliver.
More opportunity, good jobs, improved health, and educational opportunities for the ‘Blue Wall’ and beyond. Show the towns and villages of the North and Midlands, Wales and the costal towns dotted around our shoreline that they matter and that their pride in themselves and in our country is something to be celebrated and not scorned. Show a real alternative to the narrow nationalism peddled by the Europhiles of the SNP and the politics of resentment whipped up by second rate Labour rabble rousers.
The United Kingdom has grabbed itself another roll of the dice on the international stage. No longer politically and legally kow-towing to the officialdom of a continental bureaucracy in decline. The British people have given a similar opportunity to the Conservative party, against all the odds, to help shape that country and our constituencies to bank that faith that has been placed in us for the long-term.