‘Agreement on the table is good for all of the UK’
Next week MPs will vote to decide the UK’s future once we leave the European Union. They have a choice: a smooth and orderly exit from the EU, with the certainty set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, or risking a no-deal Brexit, with the damage that that would do to our manufacturing, food and farm businesses, or the division of going back to square one and reversing the referendum result of just two years ago.
The agreement that is on the table represents a good deal for all parts of the United Kingdom.
As part of this deal, a lot of attention has been focused on the backstop.
The backstop is an insurance policy; both the UK and Irish Governments, as well as the EU themselves have made clear they want to prioritise the overall future relationship and ensure our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland are met through the comprehensive and permanent new economic relationship, rather than ever having to enter the backstop.
Our priorities are clear. To preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom, to uphold the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and to avoid a hard border in any circumstances so that people and businesses that rely on an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland can continue living their lives and operating as they do now.
Crucially, the commitment to Northern Ireland’s constitutional status and the principle of consent is crystal clear in the Withdrawal Treaty, as the Attorney General set out in the House of Commons on Monday. And it will ensure that Northern Ireland’s business continues to have unrestricted access to both the EU and UK markets.
As a Conservative and Unionist I firmly believe that a Brexit deal that works for people here in Northern Ireland is impor- tant for the future of our Union and the consent on which it rests. As one recent poll showed, there is support in Northern Ireland from across the community for a sensible Brexit deal that avoids a hard border. It is not realistic to hope that by rejecting every option on Brexit, we could somehow still emerge with a plan that respects their views and the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland.
Indeed taking such a risk could have profound implications, particularly on the economy. I was in Belfast yesterday and the message from businesses was clear: companies in Northern Ireland need clarity and certainty so that they can get on with their business, and protect jobs and living standards.
This deal provides that certainty for business in Northern Ireland. That is reflected in the overwhelming support it has received from groups such as the Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland, who I met yesterday, and the wider business community here.
It gives the reassurance needed for business to invest and expand, knowing that the uncertainty of a no deal scenario, and all that could go with it, will have gone.
Politicians of all parties have an important decision to make when it comes to the vote in the House of Commons on this agreement. They will be accountable for this most important of decisions.
They will have to be able to justify ignoring the clear call to get this deal done and take the risk, with no other alternative on the table to take us back to square one, with more division and more uncertainty.
For my part, I will continue to work to ensure that we represent the interests of Northern Ireland — just as of England, Wales, and Scotland — as we look to the future. I hope that in the days ahead my colleagues in the House of Commons will consider the choice put to them, and listen to calls from business to deliver certainty and opportunity for all parts of the United Kingdom.