The government has presented its position paper for the next phase of the Brexit negotiations, and although this was agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers last Friday, it is still the subject of hot debate. However you voted in the referendum, and whatever your position on the current negotiations, I think that most people believe it is vital that we get on with it. People need some certainty to help them plan and prepare for the future, not least for businesses who sell their goods across Europe, and those that rely on recruiting people from the rest of the EU, particularly seasonal workers who are so important for our local hospitality and agricultural businesses.
The clock is ticking, as we are set to leave the European Union at the end of March next year, whether there is an agreement for our future relationship or not. However, it has been agreed in principle that there will be a transitional period until the end of 2020, during which the UK will prepare to leave the European Single Market. The area of increasing focus and debate relates to the future customs agreement covering the movement of goods between the UK and the rest of Europe. This is of particular importance to all of us in Kent, where the Channel Tunnel and Port of Dover are the main route for goods vehicles to access the rest of Europe. As I have written here before, we send a lorry to France and Belgium, on average every 15 seconds, every day of the year. The government has stated that it intends to leave the formal Customs Union with the rest of the EU, because this would limit our ability to negotiate independent trade agreements with other countries around the world. However, we clearly need some arrangement in place to allow goods to flow freely as they do now, between our ports and the continent. The best thing we can do though is not to just to wait for the successful outcome of our negotiations, but to show the EU that we have effective alternatives in place. In particular, we need to accelerate our investment in contingency infrastructure to manage cross channel trade, in case we are unable to reach a satisfactory long-term agreement.
Last Friday I attended the annual Kent County Agricultural Society show at Detling. It was wonderful to have the chance to enjoy it bathed in the amazing hot weather and sunshine we have been experiencing, which is not always the case with this popular event. The livestock shows are for many people the highlight, and I was pleased to see such an excellent display from the young farmers section. In particular I was delighted to meet with some of the students and teaching staff from Brockhill Park in Saltwood, whose school farm students had collected a number of first prize awards for their animals. I would also like to send my congratulations to Brockhill for receiving another award last Friday, that of secondary school of the year at the Shepway Sports Trust Annual awards.