"People's Vote" 150119

Thank you for your email regarding Brexit, the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and a "People's Vote".  I can assure you that, since I was elected in 1997, I have always acted in what I believe to be the best interests of my constituents.

I do not share your pessimism about Brexit. I strongly believe that the UK has a spectacular future outside the failed political project of the EU. In 1999, 61% of UK trade was with the EU, now it is 43%. By 2025, it has been projected that our exports to the EU will account for under 35%. Since 1998, UK exports of goods to the EU have grown by just 0.2% per year, whereas our exports to non-EU countries have grown 16 times faster at 3.3%.

I consider myself an outward looking person; I am an internationalist. I speak German and French; I was President of a European Trade Association.  I want to be good friends and partners with our European neighbours as well as our allies across the world.  I do not see the decision to leave the European Union as incompatible with that view. 

Leaving the European Union and its Customs Union is a precondition for the UK to become a leader in global free trade, boosting our exports and lowering prices for all consumers. Economists for Free Trade estimate that prices will be reduced overall by around 8%, with the price of food dropping by around 10%. Competition will be stimulated across the economy, raising productivity and GDP by around 4%.

Whilst I would like to see a favourable deal agreed, I do not believe that there is anything to fear from a so called "no deal".  If we have agreed a deal with the EU, the terms of that deal will dictate our trading relationship with the EU but WTO rules will govern the larger part of our trade with the rest of the world. If we have not agreed an EU deal, Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) rules will apply to the EU as well.  The EU must, under WTO rules on non-discrimination, provide the same seamless Customs procedures and mutual recognition agreements that it provides to other countries. Economists for Free Trade calculate that Brexit on these terms could give the Treasury a dividend of £65 billion to spend each year by 2025.

This would be in addition to saving the £39 billion which the Prime Minister has pledged to the EU as a “divorce bill”. To put that in perspective, £1 billion could pay the salaries of 23,000 nurses, 10,000 doctors, 20,000 police officers or 29,000 soldiers each year.

The overwhelming majority of Britons – emphatically including those who voted to Leave – feel absolutely no resentment towards workers or students from overseas, recognising and valuing the skills and experience which they bring. Whether they are eye surgeons from Bangalore or skilled abattoir workers from Eastern Europe, it is manifestly in our national interest to be as open as possible in attracting the best talent from across the world.

Freedom of movement, particularly when there is such an obvious net momentum from East to West, cannot be sustained and if we acknowledge that some restrictions are sensible, why should we be prejudiced in favour of Europeans?  We should welcome people from all over the world, but this process must be carefully managed to meet the needs of British business and society in a spirit of collaboration.

Failure to deliver Brexit in full will do serious, lasting damage to the integrity of our democratic institutions, as the democratic mandate for Brexit has now been tested three times.

In 2015, the Conservatives promised that, if elected, we would hold a decisive in/out referendum on the UK’s EU membership. The Party was returned to Government with more votes and MPs. The EU Referendum Act was subsequently passed by a ratio of six to one in the Commons, with Parliament deliberately and voluntarily giving responsibility for the final decision on our membership of the EU to the British people.

As the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in his Chatham House speech on 10th November 2015:

"This is a huge decision for our country, perhaps the biggest we will make in our lifetimes. And it will be the final decision. So to those who suggest that a decision in the referendum to leave would merely produce another stronger renegotiation and then a second referendum in which Britain would stay, I say think again. The renegotiation is happening right now. And the referendum that follows will be a once in a generation choice. An in or out referendum. When the British people speak, their voice will be respected - not ignored. If we vote to leave, then we will leave. There will not be another renegotiation and another referendum."

When the referendum was held in 2016, a Government leaflet (costing the taxpayer over £9 million) confirmed that this “once in a generation decision” was “…your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.” 17.4 million people then voted to leave the EU – more than have ever voted for any issue or party in British history.

In her speech at Lancaster House, Mrs May gave the detail on what leaving meant: “We do not seek membership of the Single Market…Full Customs Union membership prevents us from negotiating our own comprehensive trade deals…We will…bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”

MPs from across the political spectrum voted 494 to 122 in favour of invoking Article 50 in 2017. MPs will vote on the deal when it comes to Parliament. I was pleased to be in the Chamber of the House of Commons when Royal Assent for the Withdrawal Bill was announced.  This repeals the 1972 European Communities Act and sets a clear date for us leaving the EU. 

At the 2017 General Election, the Conservatives repeated the pledge from Lancaster House, with a Manifesto commitment that “As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union”.

The Conservatives won more votes than any Party for 25 years. Labour gave the same message so that 85% of the votes cast in the election were for Parties which defined Brexit as leaving the Single Market, the Customs Union and the remit of the ECJ. Pro-Remain Parties – including the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Greens – saw their number of votes fall.

It would be an appalling travesty if the people’s wishes – which have been expressed democratically time and again – were to be overturned. A new “People’s Vote” would undermine the foundations of our democratic institutions because it would give voice to the notion that a democratic majority – indeed, an emphatic one of 1.3 million – is somehow not enough to take a decision legitimately.

Such tactics are long established in EU politics; the institution has historically had few qualms over rerunning or simply ignoring popular verdicts with which it disagreed.

As Lord Lamont pointed out in the House of Lords recently, there have been 48 referendums on integration measures and not once has a vote been rerun when its outcome was in favour of further integration, even when the majority was small.

Contrast this to what has happened when national electorates have had the temerity to vote against the EU consensus. Denmark held a second referendum on the Maastricht Treaty after rejecting it in the first, and Irish voters were made to vote twice on both the Nice and Lisbon Treaties.

The EU’s contempt for democratic decisions was amply demonstrated in 2005, when both France and the Netherlands voted to reject the European Constitution. Ahead of the votes Jean-Claude Juncker said, “If it's a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it's a No we will say ‘we continue’.” The then President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said, “They must go on voting until they get it right.” They were true to their word. The French and Dutch failed to ratify the Constitution, so it was simply reheated as the Treaty of Lisbon and on the project went.

The EU’s institutional detachment from national electorates and its view that people and their concerns simply get in the way of its grand vision are precisely why so many voted to leave. Brexit is underpinned by the noble desires of democratic control – a people wishing to decide who spends their money, who shapes their destiny and having power to remove their rulers by voting.

I am sorry that we do not agree on this issue but thank you for taking the trouble to share your views.

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