Julia Lopez MP sent the following reply to those constituents who emailed her about critical votes during the Saturday sitting of the House of Commons on 19 October 2019.
18 October 2019
Thank you very much for your email about the changes to the EU Withdrawal Agreement that the Prime Minister has negotiated.
I write this note six days’ overdue while waiting for the birth of my first child. Unfortunately, in being on maternity leave, I shall not be able to vote in person on Saturday but will be instructing trusted colleague, Lee Rowley MP, as my proxy. Lee and I have met this week to discuss the amended Withdrawal Agreement. Both of us voted on all three occasions to reject the Withdrawal Agreement that had been drawn up by Theresa May’s government, and given the gravity of these Brexit votes, I have outlined on each of these occasions why I took the position I did. Many of you will have been sent my detailed reasoning, but all my Brexit notes are posted on my website should they be of interest.
To summarise my primary objections to the last Withdrawal Agreement, I was deeply concerned that the customs arrangements and regulatory alignment set within the Northern Ireland backstop were, in truth, the desired form of the future relationship of both the government and the European Union. This would have effectively placed us within the single market and customs union but with none of the say over the rules that we currently maintain as a member of the EU. I felt this was inconsistent both with the referendum result, the election manifesto upon which I stood that pledged to leave the customs union and single market, and our long-term national interests as a sovereign nation. I was also convinced this arrangement was being insisted upon as a means of snuffing out our negotiating leverage over the nature of the future relationship and thus our ability to strike out as a more competitive and dynamic neighbour to the EU over the longer term.
I was concerned about a long transition period without any clarity as to what we were transitioning, extending the parliamentary turmoil and political and economic uncertainty that would be damaging to democratic and business confidence. While I was being encouraged by colleagues to believe a future Prime Minister or government might be able to move us away from the backstop arrangements, my judgement was that the absence of any unilateral right of exit from the backstop, the handing over of the £39 billion, commitments in the Political Declaration, the parliamentary arithmetic and the removal of ‘No Deal’ would make it difficult if not impossible to move to a looser relationship with the EU over time.
By the time of the third Meaningful Vote, I also looked at the political context and felt that we would have greater leverage in a six-month extension period to get an improved Withdrawal Agreement than signing off on the substandard deal and expecting these problems to be resolvable in the transition, when we would be bound by international treaty. Meanwhile, the subsequent EU elections delivered a strong pro-Brexit vote and opened a window of opportunity - as the guard changed at EU-level – for us to elect a different leader and Prime Minister who could try to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement and who ultimately sought a future EU-UK relationship not predicated on our adherence to existing EU structures and rules.
I have supported our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in trying to obtain a revised Withdrawal Agreement that would remove the most egregious aspects of the backstop. What he could achieve in this renegotiation was always going to be limited not just by the parliamentary arithmetic and shenanigans of the Speaker and those MPs who seek to thwart the referendum result, but by the timescale available to him and the flaws that were made some time ago in the British negotiating position – namely our agreement to the sequencing of the negotiations that separated out the withdrawal process from the discussions on the future relationship.
The decision before me on Saturday is not, therefore, whether this revised Withdrawal Agreement is perfect - because it is not. It still retains risk and elements that I am unhappy with, particularly over the ongoing legal jurisdiction of the ECJ in some matters, the practical workings of customs and regulation in Northern Ireland and future financial commitments. It also needs to be understood for what it is – the first stage of a negotiation that will continue to be complex and involve difficult trade-offs for both sides. The decision is about whether it is gives us enough space to carve a future path as an independent sovereign nation that seeks a different kind of relationship with both EU and non-EU countries over the long-term, and, very importantly, what the consequences of not ratifying the revised Agreement would be. How I answer the choice also relies on an interpretation of the likely options before us should the amended Withdrawal Agreement not be passed.
So, does the revised WA give us more space? I believe it does. It moves us away from the de facto customs territory of the last WA and presents a framework for a future free trade agreement that does not bind us into predetermined regulatory commitments. This gives us more room to diverge away from EU rules and regulations, should we choose to use it. This may eventually restrict access to the EU market but that then becomes a choice we make as a sovereign nation rather than one which is effectively imposed on us by the terms of the WA.
The UK becomes a single customs territory but checks on products moving between GB and NI will now be undertaken. This is intended as a temporary arrangement that could be superseded by alternative arrangements for managing the Ireland-Northern Ireland land border and eased by any future zero-tariff trading agreement between the EU and UK. In the meantime, a consent mechanism for Northern Irish politicians has been agreed that permits the arrangements to be reviewed every four years by the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is not difficult to imagine that this Withdrawal Agreement may prove economically beneficial to Northern Ireland in offering a gateway to both EU and UK markets, but I am nonetheless glad to see these controversial proposals subject to a democratic consent mechanism.
The DUP are concerned about the democratic consent mechanism being subject to majority vote rather than allowing unionists a veto, but this must be balanced against the support for the proposals of other unionists and business people who counter that the arrangement could revive Stormont and reinforce the Union by placing Northern Ireland in a potentially advantageous economic position. It also must be balanced against the risks to the union of other proposals that have been put forward, such as the backstop in the last agreement, and the potential political and constitutional consequences that could quickly flow from the continued failure by parliament to pass a Withdrawal Agreement.
I am much more comfortable with the direction of travel in the non-binding Political Declaration, with its greater flexibility on defence, level-playing field commitments and movement towards a comprehensive free trade agreement. Meanwhile, once the transition period ends in 2020, we could still leave on WTO trading terms without triggering the old backstop arrangements that would effectively lock us into EU systems. This goes some way to retaining key negotiating leverage in the next stage of talks.
Turning to the next question – what are the consequences of rejecting the revised Agreement?
A handful of MPs are convinced that it is either this ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’ as the EU would not agree to an extension or the Prime Minister would find a way of subverting the terms of the so-called Benn Act. Several Brexit-supporting constituents who have written to me have requested that I hold out against this Withdrawal Agreement in order to get to their desired ‘WTO-deal’ destination by 31 October.
My own view is that if this Withdrawal Agreement is rejected, the EU would ultimately opt to extend but on condition that it would dictate the length of extension beyond the proposed 31 January deadline – I understand June 2020 has been mooted as a possible option. Parliament, for its part, would accede to that proposal, ensuring that we cannot leave on 31 October, and we would then be into exceptionally dangerous territory that could see the 2016 referendum thwarted entirely. Putting aside the question of whether constituents feel it would be better to leave or remain in the EU, I think the consequences of further delay would be profoundly harmful to our democracy, the functioning of our country and the health of our economy. For these reasons, I shall be firmly voting against Oliver Letwin’s amendment to force the Prime Minister to request an extension, should it be selected by the Speaker tomorrow.
Any extension could also make way for a second referendum. I appreciate that some, predominantly Remain-voting constituents would like the opportunity to vote again on the Brexit question. However, I think a second referendum could do untold damage to the public’s faith in our democratic system (already at a very low ebb) in overturning the understanding that the first referendum’s result would be honoured, and manifesto pledges stuck to. I would further be concerned about the manipulation and gaming of the options on the ballot paper to deny any choice to leave without a Withdrawal Agreement. I am also unconvinced that a second referendum would put an end to this question and not merely continue the toxic political debate over Brexit, no matter the outcome.
With parliament in its current composition voting down all proposals that would lead to some form of Brexit resolution, I fear only a General Election can take us forward. I have twice voted for one and this would have given those of you who disagree with my any of my views the opportunity to vote against me. However, this zombie parliament has insisted on blocking even this.
I will not pretend that the Prime Minister’s revised Withdrawal Agreement is exactly what I would have wanted from the moment Article 50 was triggered, given that it leaves intact elements of the previous iteration that I have disagreed with. However, it is the inevitable product of compromise and contains many sensible provisions that can help us move the country forward by giving clarity to citizens and businesses (I attach and paste below his Withdrawal Agreement letter and briefing to MPs for your information). All of us must take stock of the political context by which it is framed and view any decision not just in terms of the consequences of ratification but the consequences of its rejection and the persistent limitations placed on the government’s room to manoeuvre by the parliamentary arithmetic and relentless attempts of those MPs who seek to stop Brexit altogether.
I voted Leave in the referendum. Havering voted by nearly 70 per cent to Leave in 2016, and I stood on a manifesto in 2017 to honour that referendum result. It is time to get us to the next stage of the Brexit process and take the country with us. I shall be backing the Prime Minister should his Withdrawal Agreement be voted upon tomorrow and doing all I can as your MP in the next stage of talks to secure a future trading relationship with the EU consistent with the economic interests of our nation and the outcome of the 2016 referendum.
I thank every constituent who has engaged with me on the Brexit issue. Your correspondence throughout these past two years with me as your MP has been invaluable and while it has been impossible to find consensus among us all on Brexit, I do hope that you can at least understand the reasoning behind each of my votes and accept that at all times I have tried to be consistent with the mandate upon which I was elected and through which my legitimacy as your MP derives.
With best wishes,
Julia Lopez MP (née Dockerill)
Hornchurch & Upminster
Hornchurch | Harold Hill | Cranham | Upminster | Harold Wood | Emerson Park | North Ockendon | Noak Hill | Elm Park
Please find below two accompanying documents published today.
Explainer for the new deal
The Government's legal position on the question of terminability of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland