Ac­cept this deal, or Brexit may never hap­pen

The PM’s plan isn’t per­fect, but if it’s voted down our di­vided Par­lia­ment could stall the process of leav­ing

The Sunday Telegraph - - Letters to the editor - LIAM FOX Dr Liam Fox is MP for North Som­er­set and Sec­re­tary of State for In­ter­na­tional Trade

In just un­der four months’ time, the UK will leave the Euro­pean Union. For those of us who be­lieve Bri­tain’s best fu­ture lies out­side a supra­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion dead set on ever-closer union, this is a goal we have spent years work­ing to­wards.

I cam­paigned for a ref­er­en­dum. I voted to hold the ref­er­en­dum. I cam­paigned to leave. I voted to leave. We won. We are now within touch­ing dis­tance of break­ing free from the Euro­pean Union. Do I think ev­ery­thing in the Prime Min­is­ter’s deal is per­fect? No. Do I ex­pect it to be per­fect? No. Does it do what we need it to? Yes.

We will be out of the EU, end­ing the risk of Bri­tain be­ing dragged into an ever-more fed­eral Europe. We will be free to de­cide for our­selves who comes to the UK. Free to de­cide who fishes in our waters. Free to de­cide how to sup­port our farm­ers. Free to open new mar­kets around the world to the best that Bri­tain pro­duces.

The ex­act path of our exit is not yet fully cer­tain. That is to be ex­pected. Un­wind­ing 40 years of grow­ing Euro­pean in­flu­ence in our laws, our pol­i­tics and our coun­try was al­ways go­ing to take time. An im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod is a sen­si­ble step to make this process as smooth as pos­si­ble.

The back­stop isn’t ideal. We don’t want to end up there – and we cer­tainly don’t want to stay there. Nei­ther do the EU. And I don’t be­lieve we will.

There are those in the trade pol­icy space who say that the UK would not be able to at­tract in­ter­na­tional part­ners to new trade agree­ments dur­ing any back­stop be­cause they would not know when any such agree­ment could be im­ple­mented, but the same would ap­ply, of course, to the EU. Who would want to have a free-trade agree­ment with the EU if they didn’t know what their fu­ture re­la­tion­ship would be with the UK – the world’s fifth-big­gest mar­ket, right on their doorstep?

There is also a sus­pi­cion in some EU quar­ters (hard for many Euroscep­tics like me to un­der­stand) that the back­stop is a way, if the UK doesn’t get what it wants from our fu­ture re­la­tion­ship, to re­tain sin­gle mar­ket ac­cess with­out mak­ing any fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion and out­side free move­ment. What, they say, would we tell Nor­way or Switzer­land who al­ready have to pay for such ac­cess?

De­spite all this, I know some peo­ple think this is a risk. I un­der­stand that. But I worry that we are fo­cus­ing on the wrong risk. There’s a much graver risk that we need to see clearly.

Be­fore the ref­er­en­dum there was never a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment for leav­ing the EU. It took the ref­er­en­dum to change that. Yes, Par­lia­ment voted to trig­ger Ar­ti­cle 50 and re­peal the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ties Act. But I worry what a Par­lia­ment that lacks a nat­u­ral Leave ma­jor­ity might do if this Brexit deal is voted down.

We have a deal that has been reached, painstak­ingly ne­go­ti­ated, and ready to go if only MPs vote for it. It may not be what ev­ery Leave sup­porter imag­ines as their per­fect Brexit. But what hap­pens if MPs don’t vote for it? What hap­pens if those who back Brexit don’t come to­gether to back this Brexit?

The truth is that Par­lia­ment is sov­er­eign and Par­lia­ment will de­cide the way for­ward. When I look across the House I see John Mc­Don­nell and Jeremy Cor­byn mo­bil­is­ing for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, and I see the SNP, whose sole aim is to break apart our coun­try. MPs can ask the Speaker for emer­gency de­bates to have their say. The Lords will have the chance to amend the Trade, Fish­eries and Im­mi­gra­tion Bills.

We need to leave. There are laws we need to pass for any sort of or­dered Brexit. These would be at risk of amend­ment by the op­po­nents of Brexit – ei­ther to re­quire the gov­ern­ment to seek an ex­ten­sion of Ar­ti­cle 50, or to de­liver the most chaotic pos­si­ble exit in an at­tempt to force a change of course. Wher­ever you look, their di­rec­tion of travel is clear and not in our favour.

As Leave sup­port­ers, the choice we face isn’t be­tween the deal the Prime Min­is­ter has reached or a deal we might like to reach. The choice is be­tween this deal and the very real risk of no Brexit. If Par­lia­men­tary tac­tics are used to steal Brexit from the Bri­tish peo­ple, faith will be lost in the very fab­ric of our demo­cratic process with po­ten­tially un­know­able con­se­quences.

I will never for­get the morn­ing of June 24 2016. Years of hard work paving the way for a ref­er­en­dum. Months of hard cam­paign­ing. The re­sult came in and Bri­tain voted out. We are so close to de­liv­er­ing that re­sult. On March 30 2019, I want to wake up in a coun­try that has left the Euro­pean Union. I don’t want to be left won­der­ing how we man­aged to snatch de­feat from the jaws of vic­tory.

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