Statement on Withdrawal Agreement

Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, has issued the following statement on the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement, setting out why she will vote against it.

"Having reflected carefully on the draft Withdrawal Agreement, I cannot support it and I will vote against it if it is put to the House of Commons.

I recognise the need for compromise as we settle a new relationship with our European neighbours. I also believe it is very important to listen to views of people on all sides, whichever way they voted in the referendum. But what is proposed in the draft agreement does not respect the vote to leave and would not be in the best interests of the country.

The agreement would place us under a legal obligation to pay £38 billion to the EU without any certainty regarding our future trading relationship. The political declaration proposed on that relationship is brief and vague. In signing away the money, we would be giving up a key advantage in the negotiations for little in return.

The inclusion in the Withdrawal Agreement of the so-called ‘backstop’ further undermines our negotiating position in relation to a future trade relationship. This backstop arrangement would lock us into a customs union with the EU, and commit us to compliance with many single market rules, without being able to vote on them. Even more EU rules would apply in Northern Ireland, and the Withdrawal Agreement also requires checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

This backstop would come into operation in the absence of reaching a trade agreement with the EU. But they would have little incentive to reach agreement because the backstop arrangement would benefit them. We would be subject to their customs arrangements, and their rules, without having any say over them. Northern Ireland would have an even greater proportion of its laws determined by institutions in which they have no voice than would be the case in the rest of the UK. Once inside this backstop arrangement, we could not leave it without the consent of the EU, which they would be very unlikely to give.

A further serious concern with the draft agreement is that it retains a significant role for the European Court of Justice, meaning that we would not be regaining control of making our laws.

I have put the case for an extensive free trade agreement with the EU, based on a so-called ‘Canada Plus’ model. I do not believe that the measures proposed in the Chequers Plan or the ‘backstop’ arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement are necessary to prevent a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland. I agree that we need to retain a free-flowing drive-through border, but we can deliver that using existing technology and administrative procedures, with any new regulatory and customs checks taking place away from the border.

There is still time for the Government to press the EU for a better outcome to the negotiations than the draft which is now on the table. If the EU is unwilling to move on this, then we will have to consider walking away from the negotiations and leaving without an agreement.

That would mean trading under “Most Favoured Nation” status under WTO rules. This is the basis on which we do business with many countries, including the US. There are countries which do billions of £s of business with the EU on WTO terms.

If the EU were prepared to be pragmatic, we could have a relatively smooth transition to WTO rules after exit day. If the EU chooses to be hostile and obstructive, there would inevitably be some disruption in the period immediately after we leave. I have been urging the Government to prepare as thoroughly as possible in order to minimise disruption. I will continue to do that. They need to step up their preparations for leaving without an agreement.

I believe that the medium and long term benefits of leaving the EU and regaining control over our laws, our money, our borders and our trade, will significantly outweigh any short term problems arising from a ‘no deal’ exit.

Regaining the power to make our own decisions on how we regulate our economy will mean we can maintain standards which are just as high (or higher) than today, but enable us to deliver them in a way which is far more efficient and competitive. That would strengthen our economy. Taking back control over trade policy means we would have the option to remove or reduce many import tariffs which currently keep prices artificially high for UK consumers.

More people voted to leave in June 2016 than have voted for anything else ever in the history of British democracy. This was a legitimate expression of the natural desire to be an independent self-governing democracy, the basis on which most countries around the world govern themselves. EU membership means vesting supreme law-making power in people we do not elect and cannot remove – people who in this negotiation process have shown clearly that they do not have our best interests and heart and are prepared to try to inflict punishment for the democratic choice the country has made.

Brexit is an issue which has deeply divided both the constituency and the country. I will continue to work to try to bridge the divisions which the referendum has exposed. But I do not believe that the draft Withdrawal Agreement is the right way forward for the constituency or the country and I cannot vote for it."