I’ve been driven from content with the Chequers plan to extremely concerned in a matter of days

I’ve been driven from content with the Chequers plan to extremely concerned in a matter of days

When I left Downing Street last weekend following the briefing that I had received on the Chequers proposal, I was asked my view and my response was that on the whole I was content. Today I am not content, so what has changed?

Well, to use a word that is much loved at this moment in time by my Government, it is that my view has “evolved” into one of extreme worry and concern that the Brexit my voters backed simply cannot be delivered if we follow this plan.

The evolution of my concern has been based on four events since Saturday:

  1. The departure of two Cabinet Ministers who were cheerleaders for Brexit during the referendum, along with that of Brexit Minister Steve Baker
  2. The publication of the White Paper
  3. Liam Fox’s mid-week evidence to the Select Committee on International Trade (on which I sit)
  4. The pronouncements of Donald Trump, the President of the USA

The departure of some of the most strident Brexiteers from the Government is of deep concern to me. I welcome the additions of Dominic Raab and Geoffrey Cox, but to have the man who was leading the Brexit referendum campaign quit and to see him joined by the man who was most closely involved with the negotiations go should have alarm bells ringing within Government. This cannot just be shrugged off.

Why were their concerns simply ignored at Chequers? The suspicion is that the civil servant advising the Prime Minister, Olly Robbins, an ardent supporter of the EU, is now in charge. His plan has been adopted and the concerns of David Davis and others have been sidelined.

My observation is that the only resignations from the Government have been Brexit-backing MPs, and not a single Remainer has felt it necessary to go. It says it all, and this should at least suggest to Theresa May that there is a complete imbalance in her plan.

The last time Theresa listened to advisors to her detriment was during the awful and completely flawed General Election campaign last year. We went into it with a 24% lead and we left it with us clinging to power thanks to the DUP. This should have alarm bells ringing.

The White Paper itself gives the impression that we will be handcuffed to the EU on goods – that we leave the EU on the 29th March 2019 only to rejoin aspects of it, such as the adoption of the ‘common rule book’, at the same time. The mobility framework looks something similar to giving the green light to any EU citizen who can get a firm to offer them a job the right to come and work here. I am not mollified that this deal may be on offer to any other country that does a similar trade deal to the EU. We take control of our borders but in order to get the EU to sign up to this deal we are going to bend over backwards in allowing perhaps hundreds of thousands a year the ability to enter the UK workforce.

When Liam Fox came to the International Trade Select Committee I asked him about the importation of certain goods from the USA into the UK and I was told that in certain circumstances where those goods did not meet the common rule book standards of the EU, we could ask the EU if  we might import these goods. That does not sound like the sort of independence I or my voters supported just two years ago.

Finally, the plain-speaking Donald Trump burst into town, but not before giving a torpedo interview to Tom Newton Dunn of The Sun where he blasted the UK-US trade deal out of the water and explained that we seemed to be getting closer to the EU with this Chequers plan.

The American Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, already intimated that the US were looking at 0% rate tariffs in a trade deal but clearly if we can’t import certain goods on the say so of the EU, then where are our freedoms?

Even worse, Donald Trump said that he would have to talk to the EU to do some sort of deal. We did not vote to leave the EU to delegate our ability to negotiate trade deals with the USA, in any part, to a foreign power. The President also said during the joint press conference at Chequers on Friday:

“I don’t know what the UK is going to do on leaving the EU – just make sure you can trade with us.”

So if we fail to strike a deal, it will be because we failed to ensure we could trade with the US. The President also ducked any questions on whether a trade deal with the UK would be possible if it did not allow for agricultural produce to be exported here.

My advice to Liam Fox is that he needs to find out what blocks the White Paper has on inhibiting the UK from doing a trade deal with the US. It was, we are told, shown to Angela Merkel in advance, but nothing was said to the US to see if there were problems. Really?

I fully understand that we are looking mainly for trade in the services sector, but if this is not possible because the US President needs a trade deal that covers all areas, then are we going to have to ask the EU for permission for this to happen? Really?

A lot has changed since a week ago. The virtual silence on behalf of the daily tirade of Remain-loving MPs taking to the airwaves also sends the signal that the balance is all wrong.

I support my Prime Minister and the red lines she had which would allow us to embark on international trade deals throughout the world, taking control of our borders, not paying vast sums into the EU, not being in the Customs Union (or being handcuffed to one) and, most importantly, not having one foot in and one foot out of the EU…Yet it seems to me that being handcuffed to the EU on goods makes that impossible.

The contents of the White Paper appear to have been written in order to pacify the EU at every turn. When I campaigned up and down the country to leave the EU, if this is what I thought we were going to end up with, I wouldn’t have bothered.

Prime Minister, you have listened to Olly Robbins, you have listened to your Remain-backing MPs, you have listened to Michel Barnier and you have listened to the Remain-supporting CBI. As we get closer to 29th March 2019, would you now listen to the 17.4 million voters who voted to Leave the EU and look again at those areas where we have capitulated to the EU?