This week the House of Commons will once again debate and vote on the European Union Withdrawal Agreement. For reasons that I have previously set out in this column, if the Prime Minister presents the same deal to parliament again, I will vote against it, as I did before. I don’t believe that it is in the best interests of this country for us to be committed to remain in an ongoing process of transition out of the EU, with no independent means of ending it. That would give the EU a huge advantage in negotiating any future trade agreement with the UK, because they would know that we would then be trapped in a backstop arrangement that we wanted to get out of.
The European Commission in Brussels have stated that if we don’t want to accept the Withdrawal Agreement as it stands, then we should say what changes we want to see, and they would be prepared to discuss them with us. For this reason, I would be prepared to vote for a legally binding amendment to the agreement, that makes clear that there should be a strict time limit on the transition and backstop process, or that the UK would have the right to give notice of its intention leave at a time of its choosing.
With regards to the position of the Irish government, I share their concern that post Brexit, there needs to be a commitment that the border between the north and south of the island will remain open. However, I don’t agree that the backstop proposals in the withdrawal agreement are the only way that this can be achieved. Neither government intends to create the infrastructure to enforce a hard border within Ireland, and I’m sure that we can work together to design a technical solution to keep the flow of goods and people open.
There are some amendments that have been proposed which seek to specifically rule out a no deal Brexit now, or delay Brexit altogether. If these motions were to pass, it would merely encourage the EU to make sure there is no further progress in the negotiations, in the hope that this would achieve either of these results, and that is why I won't be supporting them. We must be prepared to stand our ground and be clear with the EU that we want a deal, subject to certain conditions being met.
Last week, I attended a further meeting of Kent MPs with officials from the Department for Transport, Kent Police and Kent County Councils. We were given an update on the Operation Brock plans for managing road freight in the event of a no deal Brexit at the end of March. The works on the M20 have now been complete meaning that it will be possible to run the motorway as a contraflow with two lanes in both directions between junctions 8 and 9, even when lorries are parked on the coastbound carriageway. Whilst we would rather not see this restriction in place, unlike with Operation Stack, if used it would take a considerable amount of the pressure off of local roads should there be delays.