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Jeremy Hunt: This deal is a compromise, but it honours the referendum result – and it must pass

Jeremy Hunt is Member of Parliament for South West Surrey, and Foreign Secretary.

For once the cliché is justified: today really is an historic day. The House of Commons is about to vote on an agreement that would change our national destiny and take Britain out of the European Union in just 73 days.

It took a remarkable sequence of events to get us to the verge of leaving the EU after 46 years. There was a referendum that most experts predicted would deliver a victory for Remain. There was an election that left us without a majority. Even so, we now have a 585-page Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated and concluded with 27 countries. It has compromises but not even the Prime Minister’s fiercest critics would doubt her dogged determination that has got us to this point.

But it is clear the opponents of Brexit are not giving up. On the face of it, all the cards are stacked against them. At the 2017 election both the two main parties pledged to leave the EU. They are up against a Government and a Prime Minister committed to delivering on this. And most importantly of all, those who want Brexit stopped are up against the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU, more than for any other cause or party in British history. Like many who campaigned to remain in the EU, that for me is the single biggest reason we must honour the mandate: as one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world it would be a devastating blow both to our national cohesion and our global reputation if the political class succeeded in unpicking what the people had told it to do.

It is of course perfectly principled to take a different view. But the effect of changing the parliamentary rules to prevent No Deal would – whether intended or not – also allow Parliament to stop Brexit altogether. Because you cannot just change the rules of Parliament on one specific issue: once the precedent has been set they can be changed on any issue.

This kind of asymmetric tactic to delaying or stopping Brexit would be significant for two other reasons: firstly because the most likely outcome would not be a decisive shift to a different kind of Brexit, rather a move to constitutional stalemate and Brexit paralysis. Businesses up and down the country desperate to plan would instead be condemned to months more uncertainty. But secondly – and much more profoundly – it would directly pit the will of Parliament against the will of the people.

We have never had a written constitution and that has given us admirable flexibility to move fast at crucial moments. But it has always depended on restraint from parliamentarians, recognising that our role is not to impose our will on the people but to remain faithful to our democratic mandate. After a referendum in which all major political parties promised to honour the result, failing to do so would lead to a potentially irreparable breach of trust.

So why vote for this deal? It has compromises and elements that make many people – myself included – frankly uncomfortable. Yet it does contain much that Leave voters were demanding: sovereign control over immigration, leaving the CAP and the CFP, no large annual membership fees, and only the most limited role for the European Court of Justice. At the same time, it protects businesses and jobs that depend on trade with the EU in the way any responsible government would obviously seek to do. And with skilful negotiation, an independent trade policy will be something we can achieve.

The risk is that by opposing it in the hope of something better, we end up with the worst possible outcome: no Brexit at all.

Why is that? Because those seeking to reverse the Brexit decision have a simple three part plan: defeat the Government in the meaningful vote; then use the deadlock to extend Article 50 and push for a second referendum. It is not scaremongering to point this out: the first part may happen tonight and then with the amendment planned by Dominic Grieve for later in the week Parliament could require the Government to adopt the second.

If Brexit were then to be reversed in a second referendum, how would we look the 52 per cent who supported Brexit in 2016 – and went on to vote Conservative in the 2017 General Election – in the face? They trusted us to deliver Brexit – and we would have failed.

I have many colleagues and friends whom I respect enormously who have taken an honourable decision to accept that risk, but I cannot. This is our moment to deliver on what the British people asked us to do and we should seize it.

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Guto Bebb: Conservative MPs’ opposition to this deal is about far more than just the backstop

Guto Bebb is MP for Aberconwy, and a former defence minister.

Two months have now passed since the Prime Minister published the Government’s Brexit deal. In that time, I’ve spoken to colleagues and constituents; to friends and family; and reached an unavoidable conclusion: this deal is not in our national interest.

Conservatives from John Redwood to John Major agree that this is a bad deal. Whilst much of this unhappiness has centred on the vexed question of the Irish border and the backstop, colleague after colleague has made it clear that this is a bad deal for Britain for reasons that go way beyond the backstop. Never mind the backstop, most of us think it’s a bad deal full stop.  I anticipate that the comments within the letter sent by the President of the European Council and European Commission, released this morning, will change little.

Steve Baker, deputy chair of the ERG, wrote last year about his opposition to the deal, “In the end, it’s not really about the backstop.” This is, by far, the majority position. In the People’s Vote campaign’s analysis of the public statements made by the 100-odd of us Conservative MPs who are against the deal, just 13 of the colleagues who made negative comments about the deal wrote that their opposition was predicated solely on the nature of the backstop.

The rest listed several reasons why the deal is unacceptable. Seventy-two colleagues cited that the deal does not meet the promises made in the 2016 referendum – nor come close to doing so. The British people were told that Brexit would allow them to “take back control”, yet this deal, as my colleague Sam Gyimah made clear, involves the UK surrendering our voice, our veto and our vote – likely for a period of time far longer than any backstop or transition period.

Forty-one colleagues wrote about the uncertainty that this deal entails. It settles nothing. It merely ties up the terms of our departure, leaving the UK to pay a £50 billion divorce bill while postponing the difficult decisions until after we are out and have given away our money. Our future relationship with the EU is sketched out in a vague ‘Political Declaration’, a short document which guarantees nothing and will result in many more years of arguments and disagreements with the EU and throughout this country. Successive governments will travel back and forth to Brussels struggling to make sense of a deal that makes no sense for Britain. It is a deal that heralds a new era of ‘Brexternity’.

It is also no surprise that our analysis found that many members of our party, the Conservative and Unionist Party, cannot vote for this deal that threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom. Again, it is not just the backstop that puts strain on the Union, it is the large swathes of the deal. The consequences of the agreement reached on fisheries, and the safeguards for Northern Irish economy but lacking elsewhere, will turbocharge calls for Scottish independence. Whilst at the moment there are majorities against Irish unification and Scottish independence, a poll by Deltapoll earlier this year found that there is a majority for Scottish independence and Irish unification if Brexit goes ahead.

The numbers of colleagues implacably opposed to the Prime Minister’s deal, and the sheer variety of reasons why, make it impossible to see how it can ever be passed. The country needs another route forward.

Our options are limited and not pretty. We could leave with no deal, which many colleagues, myself included, consider a form of ‘national suicide’ and simply will not let happen.

A Norway+ relationship in reality amounts to EU membership minus any control or influence – something nobody wants nor voted for.

Then there’s an unappealing, messy, Frankenstein customs union relationship suggested by the Labour Party.

Or, as I think is likely, if Parliament cannot find a majority for any of these options, and is unable to make a decision, we could agree to let the people decide. Given how far the reality of the Brexit options are from what people were promised in 2016, this would not be a democratic scandal as some suggest. Given gridlock in Parliament, it is a pragmatic solution to a constitutional, national crisis.

It might be politically uncomfortable to tell the people that we politicians have failed, but the public are not stupid, they have seen forging a successful Brexit is far harder than anyone could have anticipated. They have seen the limits of what type of exit deal can actually be negotiated. They have seen that Parliament and politicians simply cannot agree a way forward, and know that we cannot just crash out.  Many colleagues, backbenchers, ministers, and Cabinet ministers, are sympathetic to the idea of returning to the people. But there is a risk we end up in a second rate end state if they do not make themselves heard.

We have an impasse in Parliament, and will soon have a full blown national crisis, if members of Parliament, particularly on the Conservative side, do not provide the pragmatic, democratic solution of another referendum.

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Antoinette Sandbach: Lower bills, less waste and better health. Time to insulate UK homes.

Antoinette Sandbach is a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee 2015-2017, and is MP for Eddisbury.

Last year, unnecessary winter deaths topped 50,000 – and more than 15,000 of these are directly relatable to a cold home.

This figure is shameful, and represents a huge amount of suffering. It is also clearly avoidable. There can be no justification for cold homes in the UK, blighting the lives of the neediest in society and leading to knock-on effects that spread through the economy – from lost working days to hospital visits and tumbling morale.

Before fingers start to be pointed, we must be clear: this figure is not due to rising energy bills, which, on average, have fallen over the past decade. They are also declining as a percentage of household income, the latest Ofgem data shows, as energy-hungry appliances are replaced with low-power alternatives and inefficient gas boilers are upgraded to the latest technology.

But while our TVs, computers and fridges are costing less to run, we still waste a huge amount of energy from UK homes in the form of heat. This is one of the largest open goals in UK politics: the lack of measures to insulate our homes and slash how much energy is wasted from leaky windows and poorly insulated walls and roofs.

Since 2008, the Government has logged the energy efficiency of UK homes as they have been sold or built; a register of 16 million homes that cover close to 1.5 billion square meters of British soil. They make for unpleasant reading. Upwards of 11 million of these miss the EPC C rating, which should be the bare minimum for any home.

This isn’t just a problem with older homes, in 2017, the largest entry on the register was band D properties, while more than 1.1 million properties are F- or G-rated, from which heat will be pouring out. Unquestionably, the homes of the poorest are likely to be the least-well insulated.

In addition to costing more to run, wasting so much heat requires us to import more gas from overseas, as well as unnecessarily adding to national carbon emissions. Imagine another aspect of life that was this wasteful. Cars that had not improved fuel efficiency in years, or businesses choosing not to boost competitiveness by reducing energy costs. It just doesn’t make sense.

Poorly insulated homes are also not fit for the future, something that Government is more than aware of. The Clean Growth Strategy aims to upgrade as many homes as possible to EPC grade C by 2035, but, unfortunately, is light on detail about how we get there.

Luckily, enthusiasm on both benches should help them decide. Building on recently-passed legislation that will ensure rented homes are warmer, cheaper and more pleasant to live in, a bill is working its way through the house on the potential for technology to boost energy efficiency. UK companies are among the market leaders in developing low-carbon tech, including on innovative efficiency kit, but without a route to market many of them will continue to rely on sales overseas.

A much-needed inquiry from the BEIS committee into energy waste will inject expert opinion into the debate, throwing forward a host of policies that can help us slash energy waste across the nation.

Legislation to ensure that new homes are built to the highest possible standards must, surely, make sense. Opposition from the housebuilding oligopoly needs to be shouted down, with developers forced to build high quality homes that will be cheap to run for decades to come.

The failure of the last wide-reaching piece of efficiency legislation – the Coalition-introduced Green Deal – should not dissuade ministers from acting in this space. It won’t be difficult to get this right – ensuring that new homes are built to the highest standards and that homeowners are incentivised to upgrade windows and insulate lofts.

After all, less money spent on heating leaves more to pump into the economy; research has shown that every pound invested in energy efficiency will boost GDP by £3.20 as the country is left with more disposable income to spend on household bills, new clothes or weekends away.

Other countries manage to insulate their homes far better than we do; it is not right that Britain should fall behind on such a simple act. If we get this right – and there is no reason why we should not – morbid headlines about winter deaths will rightly become a thing of the past and we as a nation will be able to take pride in all of society living in high quality homes.

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Peter Bone: I helped move Cameron’s Government to deliver the referendum. And this deal doesn’t deliver on the result.

Peter Bone is a member of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, and is MP for Wellingborough.

All my political life, I have been campaigning to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union superstate. Quite simply, I believe that the United Kingdom should be a sovereign nation making its own decisions.

In 2011, I was behind the motion that we should have a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. This was opposed by David Cameron’s government and, winding up that debate, I suggested that MPs should put the country first and their Party second. The vote resulted in 81 Conservative MPs defying a strict three-line whip to support a referendum.

In 2015, with my colleagues and Parliamentary neighbours Philip Hollobone and Tom Pursglove, I held a ballot in North Northamptonshire to find out whether local people wanted to leave the EU. This was the biggest vote on the European issue since 1975, with 100,000 ballot papers distributed across Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby and East Northamptonshire. The result was that 81.1 per cent voted to leave.

In December of that year, along with Tom, I co-founded a non-party political Leave campaign – Grassroots Out. I travelled to every corner of the United Kingdom, speaking to people from all areas, ages and backgrounds. I held grassroots events in village halls and at street stalls. I addressed major rallies of thousands of people at venues in every part of our United Kingdom. I knocked on thousands of doors talking to people who were energised by this great democratic event.

On the 23rd of June 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted by a substantial majority to leave the European Union.

Unfortunately, more than two years on from that great debate, the Prime Minister’s proposal does not deliver the Brexit that 17.4 million people voted for. Let us look at what people told me mattered to them.

First, they wanted an end to the free movement of people from the European Union. They thought it unfair that people from the EU could come to this country and enjoy the benefits of our public services when they had no connection with the United Kingdom, yet at the same time skilled workers, such as doctors, from outside the EU, couldn’t get in. They wanted to see a fair immigration policy based on merit not where you come from.

Theresa May claims that her deal ends free movement, but this is palpable nonsense. The Commons was promised an Immigration Bill more than a year ago. However, it was only last month that we got a White Paper on what might be in the Bill. If the government was planning to end free movement when we left the EU, we would have had such a Bill by now.

The non-binding political declaration, which is just a wish-list, talks about ending free movement, but of course we have no detail of our future trading relationship, and it is highly likely that the Government will trade off ending free movement for a trade deal. The one thing that is certain is the Prime Minister’s plan does not guarantee the ending of free movement.

Second, they wanted an end to billions and billions of pounds paid each and every year to the European Union by UK taxpayers. Last year, we gave the European Union a net £9 billion contribution.

Since we have been a part of the European project we have given a net subscription fee of over £210 billion. If that money had stayed in this country, we could have improved our public services, cut taxes and lowered national debt. This cost might not have been so bad if we had had a trading surplus with the European Union, but of course this is not the case: they sell £100 billion of goods more to us then we do them each year.

Under May’s plan we would pay a minimum amount of £39 billion to the EU for the transition. That equates to £60 million for each constituency in the country, just think what a difference that could make! However, the £39 billion is only the start. Her plans allow for a further extension of two years for the transition period which would cost a further £20 billion.

In addition, we don’t know how much we have to contribute each year in any future trading relationship. So, it is reasonable to expect that the Prime Minister’s plan will cost in excess of £60 billion. That is hardly stopping paying billions and billions of pounds each and every year to the European Union.

Third, they wanted us to make our own laws in our own country. Clearly, our citizens want to return control to Parliament. They want to elect their politicians to make laws which are in the interest of the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They also want the power to be able to throw out those politicians through the ballot box. Simply, they want sovereignty returned to our country. They are fed up with laws and regulations made by European bureaucrats who are not subject to scrutiny or to election by the people.

May’s plan would sign up to accepting laws made by the EU, with no say in making them. The worst part of this being that we have no unilateral right to end this arrangement, and we could become a permanent rule-taker, not rule-maker.

Fourth, they wanted us to be judged by our own judges, not by a foreign court, as our judicial system is the envy of the world. Our judges are of the highest integrity and calibre, and they make their decisions based on the law of the land and never for political reasons. Yet at the moment our Supreme Court is subservient to the European Court of Justice whose judges are appointed for political reasons. They have a long record of producing dubious decisions which seem to be based more on politics than the law. What the British people want is a set of properly qualified judges, solely interpreting the law of our land and making their decisions purely based on the evidence they have put before them. That is what we have with our judicial system and that is not what we have with the ECJ.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s plans would have us in a transition period for up to four years, during that period we will be subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice. What is worse, is that we will not have any say in how the laws are drawn up, and we will have no presence in the ECJ. Even after the implementation period, if the Northern Ireland backstop kicks in, we will still be subject to European rulings on vast swathes of the law and regulation that affect us. So clearly the May’s proposals do not allow for our own judges to judge our own laws.

The Prime Minister’s proposal might be the worst deal ever for this country. It is certainly not the Brexit that people voted for. As Bill Clinton might have said about Brexit: It’s the Sovereignty, Stupid!

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Owen Paterson: No Deal would put the people back in control.

Owen Paterson is a former Environment Secretary and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He is MP for Shropshire North. He is Chairman of UK2020.

The EU question has always been about sovereignty.  It is about who governs the United Kingdom and how.  Parliament deliberately put the answer to this in the hands of the British people by passing the EU Referendum Act in 2015.  In 2016, the people gave their answer.  They wished, via democratically-elected Members of Parliament, to govern themselves.

The Withdrawal Agreement categorically fails to deliver that result.  Despite repeatedly ruling out membership of the Customs Union, the Prime Minister’s proposed “single customs territory” locks the UK into it in all but name.  The UK would be tied to EU rules on critical policy issues, with the European Court of Justice retaining the right to issue “binding rulings” on the interpretation of such rules and sanction the UK for non-compliance.

The Agreement is not even compatible with the EU (Withdrawal) Act passed earlier this year.  This Act repeals the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA) entirely from March 29 of this year.  Yet under the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement, a version of the ECA will remain in place throughout the lengthy transition period.

The supine nature of the Withdrawals Agreement’s negotiation is fully revealed in its treatment of Northern Ireland.  The Backstop would keep Northern Ireland in the Customs Union and Single Market, creating a new political entity called “UK(NI)”.  Northern Ireland’s elected politicians would have no say over significant areas of this new entity’s policy (ironically, unlike those in Dublin); Northern Ireland’s constitutional status would be fundamentally altered in clear breach of the Belfast Agreement’s Principle of Consent, the requirement to consult the Northern Ireland Assembly and even the Acts of Union 1800.  With no unilateral right to end the arrangement, the UK could continue indefinitely as a permanent rule-taker, with no say as to how its rules are made – while paying £39 billion for the privilege.

None of these failures arise under World Trade Organisation terms.  The WTO has already confirmed that “nothing in WTO rules . . . forces anyone to put up border posts”, so there would be no “hard border”.  The jurisdiction of the ECJ would end and we would save ourselves £39 billion. The UK would be free to make its own laws, to be interpreted in our own courts.  We would take our independent seat on the WTO to work for free trade with allies across the world.

Perhaps the real reason for the Establishment hysteria surrounding a No Deal Brexit under WTO rules is that we actually would be leaving.  The other options now being floated – extending Article 50, a second referendum, or the subjugation demanded by the Withdrawal Agreement – are designed to hold the UK in the EU’s orbit in the hope that it may be sucked back in.  These options would completely fail to honour the biggest democratic verdict ever delivered in British history.

The optimal Brexit outcome remains a wide-ranging, zero-tariff Free Trade Agreement as offered repeatedly by Donald Tusk.  Such a deal can still be negotiated, but not by the end of March.  Having wasted so much time on the Withdrawal Agreement, leaving on WTO terms is now the only way to break free fully and build a more prosperous, independent future.

This article is adapted from a new Economists for Free Trade report: ‘No Deal is the Best Deal for Britain

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Leo Docherty: No other country allows soldiers doing their duty to face perverse legal pursuit

Leo Docherty is the MP for Aldershot. He is a member of the Defence Select Committee and a former soldier.

This week in the House of Commons I proposed a bill which would ensure that the UK derogates from the European Convention on Human Rights prior to deploying troops on combat operations. I did this because we need to ensure that our armed forces are protected from legal pursuit and that their resolve and capability to deliver hard fighting power, when needed around the world, is undiminished.

The legal pursuit of our soldiers and veterans is a particularly painful chapter in our country’s history and must be urgently resolved. Last year in my constituency, in the Aldershot garrison, I had a conversation with a senior soldier who had just left the Army after three decades of distinguished service serving in the most elite units, in the most brutal and demanding theatres of operation. His experience of sustained legal pursuit in relation to operations in Afghanistan left him with a deep sense of betrayal. Even though he was the son of a soldier and himself had served 30 years, he told me “my sons will not serve” which pained me.

Of course, soldiers do not wish to be above the law. They just want to be under the right one. For generations, the Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Conventions governed operations carried out by our soldiers, until that is, until 1998 when the unintended consequences of the Human Rights Act and the ECHR kicked in, leading to a catalogue of injustice involving hundreds of soldiers from all operational theatres; Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

No other country has such a perverse situation in which soldiers doing their duty face this kind of legal pursuit. Indeed, ten countries – including France and Spain have in effect opted out of certain aspects of the ECHR. So there can be a way forward, a way which my colleague Tom Tugendhat MP has tirelessly pointing out since his election to the Commons in 2015. The excellent Policy Exchange Report which he co-authored Clearing the Fog of Law makes clear the alarming manner in which our Armed Forces are entangled in Human rights law, to the extent that the ECHR applies wherever and whenever a British soldier employs forces. This means that foreign nationals, including enemy combatants can sue the UK for breach of the ECHR both in courts in London and Strasbourg following military operations. To prevent this we must – as other countries have done – derogate from the ECHR.

Another powerful voice is that of Johnny Mercer MP, my fellow member on the Defence Select Committee who has tackled head-on the outrageous scandal of the Iraq Historical Allegations Team and was instrumental – along with other members of the Defence Committee – in urging Sir Michael Fallon to close it down. The Defence Committee continues to investigate the scandal of legal pursuit and we have heard from witnesses about how the army is “running scared of the law”.

This is something that must end. And it must end, not only because of the past and the painful spectacle of legacy cases which cause so much distress to service men and women and their families. It must end because of future operations. Getting the legal basis of military operations right underpins the central mission of our national defence at this time; the rejuvenation of our armed forces to meet the complex new threats that we face.

Whether we like it or not we will need to, in the future, fight our enemies abroad. We need to be honest with ourselves about that. Soldiers are versatile and adaptable, they can be superb peace-keepers, aid workers, policemen, diplomats. They can and do perform all of these roles. But they are first and foremost, above all else, soldiers – whose task is deliver overwhelmingly military fighting power to kill and destroy our enemies.

And they must have the correct basis in law for them do that – in situations where domestic human rights law is simply not applicable. Soldiers need to know they can deploy and fight on our behalf by adhering to the Geneva Conventions and the Law Of Armed Conflict. They need to know they can deploy and fight on our behalf – and know that they will not then face spurious legal accusations decades after the event. And they need to know that they can deploy and fight on our behalf with the full confidence of our government, our society behind them.

For these reasons I hope that the government will back my private members bill, because as well as being a manifesto pledge and something all Conservatives can surely agree on, it is an issue, ultimately, of protecting the people of our Armed Forces and our national security.

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Stephen Booth: There are reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. But its security provisions aren’t one of them.

Stephen Booth is Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

In the vociferous debate about the proposed Brexit deal, the implications for UK security and foreign policy have come a distant second to economic and institutional considerations. However, this week Richard Dearlove, former MI6 head, and Charles Guthrie, former chief of defence staff, have written to Conservative Associations warning that the Brexit deal will “threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways” and bind the UK into “new sets of EU controlled relationships”. We certainly should debate the UK’s future security and foreign policies in light of Brexit, but there are several reasons why these dire warnings about the proposed deal are either misplaced or implausible.

Successive UK governments have cooperated selectively with the EU in security and foreign policy, reflecting concerns about the direction of travel or degree of integration. The UK secured opt-outs from EU law enforcement and internal security integration and many Brexiteers cited the erosion of these protections by ECJ jurisprudence as justification for withdrawal. Nonetheless, matters of external security, defence and foreign policy were largely protected by our national veto, the threat of which the UK successfully used to prevent EU ambitions for an autonomous military HQ, for example.

At the root of concerns about the proposed deal seems to be a fear about what might happen, rather than what the Withdrawal Agreement actually says. It is true that, during the transition period, the UK will be bound by EU foreign and defence policy decisions. The UK may be consulted on a case by case basis, but we will no longer have a formal role in shaping these decisions or be able to lead any resulting operations. However, crucially, throughout the transition period, the UK can refuse to apply EU decisions for “vital and stated reasons of national policy” – we have a de jure veto. The UK will be bound by existing EU rules on police and judicial cooperation during this time, but will be excluded from new rules that fall under our existing law enforcement and Schengen opt-outs.

If the UK were to enter the Backstop, either in 2021 or by 2023, there is no agreed provision for UK-EU security and foreign policy cooperation. UK commitments under EU law and the Withdrawal Agreement would fall away and the basis for cooperation would need to be negotiated either separately or under the auspices of a comprehensive UK-EU future partnership. The UK would not be legally obliged as a result of the deal to do anything, although the Withdrawal Agreement provides both sides with the option of agreeing a successor security agreement – obviously the UK would have a veto over this.

It is further argued by the deal’s critics that “buried in the Agreement is the offer of a ‘new, deep, and special relationship with the EU in defence, security and intelligence”, which would undermine the UK’s three core security and foreign policy relationships with NATO, our US bilateral agreements and Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangements”. This warning presumably refers to the joint UK-EU Political Declaration on the framework for the future partnership.

First, as many critics of the deal have pointed out, the Political Declaration is not legally enforceable, whereas the Withdrawal Agreement would be. At this stage, it is simply an “offer” and does not bind the UK. Indeed, the lack of legal enforceability of the Political Declaration is the typically-cited reason for opposing the deal. Here the assumption is that the Political Declaration is binding. It is not.

Second, the future relationship foreseen in the Political Declaration is impossible to reconcile with the claim that it would undermine the UK’s core security relationships. Indeed, the declaration states that the entire future relationship should provide exceptions for matters of national security, which is the “sole responsibility” of the UK and the EU’s member states respectively. The UK could “participate on a case by case basis” in EU-led security and defence missions and be consulted accordingly. Intelligence sharing would be “voluntary” and the parties would “produce intelligence products autonomously”. The UK and the EU would pursue “independent sanctions policies driven by their respective foreign policies”. None of this would compel the UK, or the EU, to do anything at all with regards to external or security policy, other than keep the other party informed.

Finally, it is unclear what alternative, if any, form of cooperation with the EU the authors of these warnings would find acceptable. There is no doubt that past and future UK governments would rank the three core relationships with NATO, bilaterally with the US and Five Eyes, as the most important (a Jeremy Corbyn-led government might prove the exception). However, successive governments have also acknowledged that the UK must also promote its interests, both offensively and defensively, with European partners and allies. The UK has a close bilateral relationship with Europe’s only other globally-relevant military and defence power, France. This is underpinned by bilateral treaty, but France is actively pursuing its foreign policy interests via the EU and therefore cooperation with the French could well mean working with the EU to some degree. The question is on what basis.

Leaving the EU is likely to mean the UK will not be able to formally shape, lead or veto EU foreign policy or defence decisions in the future. This is a direct consequence of Brexit. Equally it means we will not be directly bound by them. It is possible to argue that the EU is being short-sighted in only offering the UK take it or leave it European cooperation on security and foreign policy issues. This may yet change, and if the EU wants to secure UK cooperation, our ability to provide resources and capabilities will be of immense value and therefore provide us with influence.

Nevertheless, it will be up to future governments to work out how best to further UK foreign policy interests independently of and sometimes in cooperation with the EU. Nothing agreed to date would prevent the UK from refusing to take part in EU-led or “controlled” initiatives or from insisting that any future cooperation would only be provided under a NATO umbrella.

There are many valid reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. My judgement is that, on balance, it is worth supporting. But the concerns raised by Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie don’t stand up to scrutiny.

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Gareth Streeter: Three facts which suggest a rise in food bank use is not just down to Universal Credit

Gareth Streeter is a councillor in Croydon, a former Parliamentary candidate and charity campaigner.

It almost seems a lifetime ago that Universal Credit was heralded as the great white hope of compassionate Conservatism.

Hailed as a progressive revelation which would simplify a laboriously complicated system and break a generational cycle of joblessness it even – at one stage – enjoyed cross-party support.

Since it’s roll-out began however, believers in the innovation have often failed to hold their nerve. Left-leaning media have lambasted the changes as pushing already poor people further into poverty and this narrative has been bolstered by regular figures from the Trussell Trust claiming that – since the roll-out began – food bank usage has reached a record high. It has been almost a year since the headline figure of a million Brits using food banks first hit the headlines.

While Universal Credit is now available in all areas, this year was due to mark the transfer of existing benefit claimants to the new system – a process that would be complete by 2023. The Government is best placed to know how equipped it is to make this transfer as seamless as possible. If they have serious concerns about the dangers of the roll out to the cash flow of low-income people, they are wise to delay it. Rome was not built in a day and it is eminently acceptable for the biggest welfare reform in generations to take a decade.

The Conservative Party has never been one to celebrate the victory of principle over practice. If Universal Credit fails in its objective of helping people into work, and simply pushes people into food banks in the process, we should withdraw our support for it. But if we do, we should base this decision on fact rather than misplaced fury.

In reality, the media reports linking the introduction of Universal Credit to an increase of food bank usage are questionable in fact and devoid of context. Before anyone judges Universal Credit too harshly based on these criteria, it is important to remember three essential points of context.

The UK has the second lowest level of food bank usage in the G7

If Universal Credit – or any other measure of welfare reform – is the main driver of food bank usage in the UK than it would be a uniquely British phenomenon. However, when compared to similarly wealthy countries, reliance on them is relatively low.

When Obama volunteered at a food bank late last year it was hailed as a noble gesture – which it surely was. But there was no commentary around the fact that far more Americans used food banks under his presidency than Brits ever have under a Conservative Government.

Even if we believe the figure that a million Brits used food banks in a single year (and it really is a big ‘if’) this equates to about 1.5 per cent of the population. In the USA, an epic 12 per cent of citizens have had the same experience.

While this may not be a major shock given America’s reputation as a minimal-safety-net nation, countries with a more socialist bent than Britain also fare worse. Research suggests that 1.8 per cent of people use food banks in Germany and a staggering 5.8 per cent do so in left-leaning France.

Japan (0.1 per cent) is the only G7 country to rank below the UK. While no robust research exists as to why these figures are so low, most commentary speculates that Japanese pride is likely to be a major factor in preventing people seeking help.

These figures alone should give us extreme caution in putting the blame for any increase in food bank usage on the shoulders of welfare reform.

The rise in food banks began under Labour and before welfare reforms

For a variety of different reasons, food banks are a relatively recent addition to the social offer in Britain, with the Trussell Trust (the main body behind them in the UK) launching their food bank network in 2004.

As a result, food bank usage increased 20-fold in the last years of Labour’s reign. Was this down to an increase in hunger following the recession? Or was it the result of churches and other community groups heroically mobilising themselves as a result of the increased awareness of poverty that always comes with economic instability?

It is very difficult to say. But if Labour has now decided that the food bank phenomena is a direct result of Government policy, they have some probing questions to ask about their own time in office.

The rise in food banks probably result in an increase in referrals rather than an increase in hunger

Universal Credit has been heavily lambasted for delays that have left people out of pocket. In truth, benefit delays have always been a problem.

As we have seen, the rise in food banks begun under the last Labour Government. However, they refused to allow these acts of charity to be part of the solution and banned Job Centres from referring claimants to these potential sources of help. This changed in 2010 when the coalition – with a belief in the big society – allowed Job Centres to sign-post to food banks, initially by giving vouchers. This is almost certainly the reason that food bank usage has continued to rise.

The use of a food bank may not be everyone’s preferred option to the problem of benefit delays. But it is surely better than the hopelessness offered under Labour. Without being directed toward a food bank, people not able to extract support from friends and family presumably went hungry.

These points do not mean that the roll-out has been free from problem, or that Government shouldn’t keep a watchful eye and be proactive in fixing errors. It must of course take the time it needs to iron out the kinks. The Trussell Trusts research suggesting that the increase in food bank usage was greater in areas where Univeral Credit had been fully rolled out for a year or more is worth taking seriously (although the sample size is small).

However, this research does not explore how much increased awareness of food banks in pilot areas was a factor and crucially, this research was conducted before the introduction of the full advance loan, which is a major game changer.

Having spent the time delving into this issue, I am confident that Universal Credit is not at the heart of the problem. But that is not to say that we do not have a problem. People in our country are struggling and it is essential that every aspect of society – including government – plays its part in understanding and fixing it.

What we need now is for Government, charities, faith and community groups and other agencies to come together to understand the underlying causes of food poverty and to work collaboratively to address them. I am committed to playing my small part in this – but I am concerned that if we continue to make a scapegoat of welfare reform, we will not only fail to judge Universal Credit on its merits, we will never gain the depth of understanding we need to truly make poverty history.

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Lee Rowley: Brexit is big. But our politics is bigger – and I say that as a committed Leaver. Here are some ideas to boost it.

Lee Rowley is MP for North East Derbyshire, and Co-Chair of FREER.

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.  Has there ever been a time when one subject so overwhelmed the political debate in our country?  Where one political Death Star loomed over every facet of public policy to the point where, at least for the political class, nothing else appears to matter?

The last few months have felt as though we’ve entered some shadow realm where our relationship with Europe has obliterated UK politics.  Brexit gnaws away at the most reasonable people, engulfs even the most tangential subjects and saps the life out of even the most joyful of conversations – and I say this as a committed Brexiteer.  Even Christmas was not immune.  MPs were told to use the festive period to reconsider the Prime Minister’s deal as if an over-indulgence of mince pies and sherry would result in a sudden epiphany that it was, somehow, acceptable after all.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I have as strong a view on Brexit as the next person (perhaps even more so than many!).  Yet Remainers and Brexiteers alike must recognise the politicians are stuck in an ever-decreasing circle of fervour, hyperbole and hysteria.  And all the while, those outside the bubble tire of the indulgence of the political class.  The people made a decision two and a half years ago.  And they are bored of politicians trying to frustrate it.

The people are completely right – and for two reasons.  First, because we’ve got to honour the referendum result.  Second, and just as importantly, they are right because we’ve got to move on.  As a Party, there is so much that we have to do and, relatively, so little time to do it.  Not just the day-to-day responsibility of government, which needs continuous attention, but also because we’ve also got properly to wrestle with the underlying bigger issues which are going to determine whether we continue in government, whether we have the right answers to future challenges and whether, crucially, we can defeat the resurrected zombie of 1980s socialism.

So as the meaningful vote debate gets underway again, here is an article that doesn’t primarily focus on the EU for a change.  And here are six big issues that need our urgent attention when we, finally, move on from Brexit.

First, we’ve got to accept that there is a massive change coming in the way we live, work and play through technology – and that needs better thought and consideration than we’ve managed to date.  Mark Wallace was absolutely right a few days ago when he talked about the need to embrace technology and the good that it can bring for society.  Yet, more importantly, that change is coming anyway – and it is an abdication of responsibility if we don’t engage properly.  A recent report suggested that in the next 20 years, seven million jobs will be lost – one in every five in the country.  If the UK gets its act together, a similar number (or even more) could be created.  But we need to think it through.  And most people in Westminster still don’t even know what machine learning is.

Second, we’ve got to stop banning things.  As Conservatives, we have a guilty pleasure for paternalism; our inner restraints occasionally loosen as we believe people need to be saved from themselves.  We know we shouldn’t, but we do.  Yet, that isn’t what our mission is about.  Freedom is what sets us apart from the socialism – and that includes the freedom to make mistakes as well as take opportunities.  If, as a party, we really believe in this principle then we have to have the hard conversations with the country about why government can’t do everything, not just bask in a warm glow of where it can.  If we don’t make a clearer case about our belief in people, then we become a pale pastiche of Labour.  And, for those who believe that people over-indulge too much on sugary treats already, why would people choose the Diet Coke version of nannying government when they can have the full fat one from Jeremy Corbyn?

Third, we’ve got to stop the money arms race with Labour on public services.  As a Conservative, I believe in strong public services which help people up, support them when they need and make our country safer and secure.  You need money to do that.  But it isn’t an end in itself.  Spending an arbitrary number on education or increasing the health budget by a similarly arbitrary figure focusing on the wrong thing.  Corbyn is the one fixated on inputs and processes.  We should care only about the transformation money can bring and the outcomes it delivers.  Stop talking in billions.  Start talking about what we want to do and what we want to achieve by when.  How to raise the number of children getting world class education.  How to improve cancer outcomes.  How to connect people in the north by rail.  Focus the debate on outcomes or we will lose.

Fourth, we are going to have to have a proper discussion about what we want government to do in the future.  Demographic change, increasing demand and increasing complexity in health and social care are all going to strain public budgets in the coming decades.  Some assessments suggest the NHS is going to need another £50 billion.  The ONS thinks that there will be another eight million people over 65 in the UK in 50 years’ time.  It’s fantastic news that we are living longer but it also requires us to seriously reform our public services to avoid us becoming a national care home with a country attached to it.  People have a right to expect their government to come up with solutions and to be able to pay for it.  We need a clearer conversation with the public and a strong reforming mission as we renew in Government in the run-up to 2022.

Fifth, we are going to have to work out how we restore democracy.  Quite simply, the way in which we approach decision-making is stuck in the 1990s.  Political manifestoes declare lofty ambitions once every five years and then politicians disappear off to squabble about them.  We are awash in national and local consultations perpetuating a thin veneer of public involvement, followed usually by politicians doing whatever they want anyway.  A hundred years ago, politics was the practice of educated people taking decisions for the uneducated.  Absolutely rightly, no longer.  Today, politics should be a continuous process of discussion, debate and interaction with everyone – where that interaction matters.  And it will need to be a more local conversation than before which, by default, means accepting that services will be delivered differently in different places.  Democracy is fragile.  And we need to renew it.

Finally, we are going to have to learn how to “deliver” in government.  Another little commented national scandal is the continuing inability, across all parties, of government to function.  Carillion showed the limits of poorly structured services – not because private enterprise doesn’t work (far from it) but because it wasn’t set up properly.  Sitting on the Public Accounts Committee every week, I hear horror stories of billions lost through poor Government administration and projects, both public and private.  And the Civil Service leadership glides effortlessly through whatever screw-ups occur, no matter what.  Real reform of government requires proper leadership, a proper understanding of change management and deliverers who are actually held to account.  We aren’t even trying at the moment.

So, yes, Brexit is big.  But other things are bigger.  Taken together, these are the issues which will transcend individual portfolios and departments; the quiet problems which will monster us if we start thinking about them too late.  So, this week, as Brexit again sucks all the oxygen out of the room, remember this: we are essentially fighting over a foreign policy pivot and a future trading relationship.  Vast and existential they certainly are.  Yet at some point the Brexit fog will lift.  And, if we haven’t started to consider the underlying bigger challenges we face, then our party will be caught wanting.  More importantly, our country will be poorer.  And that’s a much bigger problem than whether flights will take off on 30th March (spoiler alert: they will).  Time to broaden our conversation.

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Chris White: The day the Speaker set fire to Erskine May

Chris White was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House. He is now Managing Director of Newington Communications.

Yesterday, and for the second time in two days, the Government lost a vote. Yet this defeat was was directly attributable to the decision by the Speaker to allow an amendment to be tabled and voted on, contrary to the existing ‘rule book’ of the Commons. This article looks at what the Speaker’s decision means for the Commons, what it means for Brexit, and what it means for the Speaker himself.

What does it mean for the Commons?

The Grieve amendment and the subsequent vote was about process – how the next five days of debate will happen, what the rules are for that debate, and what happens if the Government loses the meaningful vote next Tuesday.

As the Government had delayed the vote from before Christmas, a new Business Motion was needed. The Government tabled its motion, which was to be taken ‘forthwith’, and this is the word which the whole row hinges on. For non-procedural people, this means in Parliamentary terms that a motion must be put for a decision by the Commons ‘without debate or amendment’, and its usage is common practice.

Erskine May, the authoritative work on parliamentary procedure, states that questions forthwith “must be put without any possibility of amendment.”

Dominic Grieve tabled an amendment seeking to force the Government to return to the Commons inside three sitting days if it lost next week’s vote. Under the Commons rule book, because the Government’s new Business Motion was to be taken without amendment or debate, this should have simply been ignored. Instead the Speaker overruled the advice of the Clerk of the Commons and insisted that he would allow the amendment.  The Government lost the subsequent vote by 308 votes to 297.

This may seem like a niche issue, but as the subsequent hour long session of questions to the Speaker proved, his decision has serious implications.

  • Erskine May is clear that the Speaker’s ruling was incorrect – and he knew it.  So now we have a situation where the Speaker – meant to be an impartial arbiter of Parliamentary procedure – is openly interpreting Standing Orders (the Commons rule book) to suit his own ends.  MPs, if they even thought so before, cannot trust that the Speaker is impartial.
  • Grieve was allowed to successfully table his amendment but other MPs were not. Grieve succeeded at the Speaker’s intervention, yet other MPs, such as Peter Bone and opposition parties, were told by the clerks that amendments were not allowed, and so didn’t.  Yet the Speaker made no effort to inform MPs of his decision to break with precedent, Standing Orders, and Erskine May.
  • MPs now know that they no longer can rely on any clerk’s advice.  Instead they can simply go to the Speaker and potentially get a ruling overturned.
  • MPs queued up today to understand what this new ruling about the use of ‘forthwith’ meant. In response to Iain Duncan Smith, the Speaker clearly had no idea, stated that he would reflect on the matter, and blithely queried why MPs should believe that he should have “immediate and comprehensive knowledge of all circumstances that might subsequently unfold.”  Instead he promised to refer it to the Procedure Committee, but unless the Committee does a rapid inquiry, this looks like kicking this into the long grass.
  • The Government risks losing control of its business. With the Speaker in a mood to interpret what he likes, there are concerns that he will allow amendments to be tabled to any Bill that might try to scupper Brexit. That will probably mean that the Government will have to pull legislation, such as the Immigration, Fisheries and Agriculture Bills, meaning these sectors could be unprepared for a No Deal Brexit.

What does it mean for Brexit?

However much the Speaker may wish to reinterpret the Commons rule book, the fact remains that under current legislation, the UK will exit the EU on 29th March on No Deal WTO terms, unless MPs can agree on a Withdrawal Agreement.

This could be Theresa May’s deal, or another deal, but MPs must:

  1. Agree on what the alternative to May’s deal is (no easy matter),
  2. Get the agreement of the Government,
  3. Get the agreement of the European Union,
  4. Pass legislation through both the Commons and the Lords to give it legal effect.

This must all happen before 29th March, unless the Government seeks to extend Article 50 (essentially moving the leaving date later into 2019). However, extension would require agreement from the European Union. The Government could also unilaterally revoke Article 50 – but MPs on their own could not do so. Whatever the Speaker may choose to do, motions or resolutions in the Commons cannot override legislation.

What does it mean for the Speaker?

The Speaker has always had the full support of the Labour Party, but even opposition parties were taken aback by his ruling today – one source said that his ruling was “ridiculous” and he’s “spent all of his political capital and more. He’s now living on the political capital equivalent of a Wonga loan”. The Speaker has also assiduously courted support amongst independently minded backbenchers such as Bone, Bernard Jenkin and Jacob Rees-Mogg, yet all three were openly critical of his ruling today. On the Conservative benches, he is perhaps only supported by Christopher Chope and one or two others.

Yet this is not enough to seriously challenge the Speaker. The Conservatives are in a minority Government, without enough support from MPs on other benches to contemplate removing him. It’s clear that the Speaker has spent a long time waiting for this moment, and he’s going to enjoy it to the full. He has almost no check on his power, and as one Government source put it to me today, the next few weeks and months are going to be “trench warfare”.

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