On Wednesday last week the House of Commons passed the European Union Notification of Withdrawal Bill; this is the Bill required to give the government the formal consent of parliament to begin the negotiations for this country to leave the EU. After lengthy debate over three days, which required parliament to sit after midnight on Monday, the legislation completed all of its stages in the House of Commons, and without any amendments to the Bill having been passed. The Bill must now go through the same process in the House of Lords, but the Commons has sent a clear message that it is the will of the people that the legislation should be confirmed, and the negotiations for our withdrawal from the EU started in earnest. The House of Lords should know that there will be severe criticism if the unelected chamber seeks to frustrate this process, and that the House of Commons would do everything necessary to ensure the safe passage of the Bill into law.
This is just the start of the process, not an end in itself. There will be a whole range of issues which will need to be addressed and resolved over the next two years, as we complete the process of leaving the EU. Locally, issues like the management of cross channel freight traffic will be of vital interest. We need to make sure that the large volume of lorries crossing Kent, can complete their journeys without delays which could cause backlogs of traffic. It is another reason why the Operation Stack relief lorry park is an important piece of infrastructure for the future, in case customs checks slow down the flow of traffic. I also believe that we should negotiate a completely new settlement for our inshore fishing fleet, comprising of the smaller trawlers, under ten metres in length, which make their living from Hythe Bay and other near coastal waters. Nationally, the inshore fleet catches less than ten per cent of our fish, and I believe it would be better to mange this outside of the Commons Fisheries Policy quota system.
I also recently chaired the first of a series of meetings that are being organised by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee, looking the impact of Britain leaving the EU on the creative industries; a sector which is of increasing importance to our local economy as well. There are various schemes, like Creative Europe, which supports the cultural and audio-visual sectors, which are greatly valued, don’t require us to be a member of the European Union, to continue to participate in. Another, is the European Broadcasting Union, which organises the Eurovision Song Contest, and is actually older than the EU itself. Whilst I completely support the process of Britain leaving the EU, we should also look carefully at European schemes, which work well in our national interest, and which we could stay involved with as a non member state.