Mrs May’s 2017 Election Conservative Manifesto said only sign a Withdrawal Agreement if there is a good Future Partnership Agreement as well

The Conservative Manifesto for the 2017 election made pledges on the matter of the EU, and has never officially been renounced or amended by the Leader. I and many others stood for election on it and supported the Brexit pledges in it. I did not support the elderly care proposals in the same Manifesto as I made clear before the election. The PM subsequently dumped these.

It might be helpful to remind the PM and others of what the Manifesto said:

“We continue to believe no deal is better than a bad deal”. The Manifesto proposed a Future Partnership Agreement but accepted it was only worth signing if it was a good one. This remains the PM’s stated view.
It also said
“As we leave the EU we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union” This too remains her view, though there is now unwelcome discussion of staying in the Customs Union for longer.
The Manifesto also saw the need for linkage between the EU wish for us to sign a Withdrawal Agreement and the PM’s wish to have a Future Partnership Agreement. “We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside the withdrawal, reaching agreement on both within the two years allowed by Article 50”. Here the PM has proceeded to negotiate mainly on the Withdrawal Agreement, making it impossible to agree a Future Partnership Agreement before we leave in March 2019. This surely means we cannot sign the Withdrawal Agreement they propose.

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There will be no economic blockade of the UK when we leave the EU

Those who most want us to stay in the EU think the EU is a dreadful organisation. They wrongly say the continent will mount an economic blockade of the UK, stopping us importing medicines and food, to starve us back into membership.

There are many reasons why they cannot do this. It would mean breaking international contracts to supply. It would mean overturning World Trade rules. It would mean contradicting the EU Treaties which require the EU to have friendly relations with neighbouring states and to promote free trade with them. It would mean the EU acquiring new powers to prevent private companies and individuals doing business with UK customers and suppliers.

Let’s take the case of food imports. Food coming through a UK port will be checked and charged customs by UK authorities. They can do so away from the border, and can ensure smooth passage through our ports. Why would they want to suddenly hold up goods that we are importing just fine today through those same ports the day after we leave? Why wouldn’t they levy customs as they levy VAT and Excise today, electronically.

Or let’s take the case of medicines. A continental drug supplier will have the same contract to supply the same drugs on March 30 2019 as on March 29th 2019. The NHS has tested and approved the drugs for us. The company has factory based test facilities with inspection systems that satisfy the NHS today. They will still satisfy the NHS on March 30th 2019.

So why would the supplying company wish to withhold supplies and face a legal challenge from the NHS? Why would a continental port wish to hold up the export of goods for further checks, when these goods have all been produced to EU standards and checked in situ?

Some say the port of Calais will delay our exports going to the continent, demanding more checks at the frontier. If they do then the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, Zeebrugge, Ostend and Amsterdam would love to take the business and will not wish to hold them up. Many of the lorries going back to Calais are continental lorries running empty and wanting to pick up a new revenue earning load as soon as possible. Why would the continental port wish to get in their way?

The EU has many powers, but it does not have the power to impose an economic blockade on a friendly European state that happens not to be a member of the EU. The private companies involved all want to keep the business.

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Stamp Duty revenues fall with higher rates

I see others are now writing that Stamp Duty revenues have been adversely hit by the imposition of much higher rates, as predicted here. Official figures show Q2 2018 housing Stamp duty revenues down on a year ago, with sharp falls in transaction volumes for dearer homes following the higher tax rates. So why doesn’t the Treasury set rates that increase the revenues instead of hitting them?

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Why we will get an economic boost from leaving the EU on 29 March 2019

Many commentators wrongly assume the EU will impose some kind of economic blockade on the UK once we leave the EU. They are not making any legal provision so to do, and it is difficult to see how they would do it. They cannot break the many outstanding contracts to supply or to import. Were Calais to work a go slow the Belgian and Dutch ports would willingly divert the business and gain market share. The planes will fly on March 30th, and Airbus will still be buying UK made wings in order to meet its customer contracts. The EU has many powers over the UK government, but it has limited powers over importers, exporters and multinational companies when it comes to stopping them doing business. National governments employ the border and customs staffs.

What most commentators then ignore is the big gains we will be able to achieve from repatriating our money. The balance of payments will immediately improve by £12 bn a year as we stop sending net contributions to the EU. We will be able to spend more money on our essential public services, and have some tax cuts. If we spent the full £39bn they are proposing to spend on so called transition on the UK economy over a two year period, that would provide an immediate 2% boost to incomes and output over that time period, all other things being equal.

There is also the question of how much stimulus to the economy we could achieve by setting a different tariff schedule from the EU one that met our own needs. Imposing some tariffs on EU exports to us where we have capacity to make at home could provide a boost on a net basis, given that we import more than we export. Cutting tariffs on products from outside the EU that we cannot make or grow for ourselves would boost our real spending power. I am not going to put a number on this, as it would not be nearly as great as the impact of spending our own money, but it could also be a positive figure.

I am still awaiting a formal reply to my letter proposing the government now publish our tariff schedule for next March. They have told me informally they agree, so will they get on and do it.

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The government has to understand there is no deal on offer from the EU

The government says it wants a deal. It means by this it wants an all embracing agreement on the future relationship including a free trade deal within it. The Opposition says the government must have an agreement, whilst making it clear it will seek to vote down the kinds of agreement the PM has in mind. All this is an irrelevance. The EU has been clear and consistent throughout. All it is offering is a one sided surrender Agreement or Withdrawal Treaty. Its main aim is to sign the UK up to this to take £39bn off us which they are not entitled to unless the UK is foolish enough to sign such an Agreement. Only if the UK signs up to such a damaging idea will they then discuss the details of a Future Partnership Agreement.

There are several good reasons why the UK must not sign any Withdrawal Agreement before we leave on March 29th 2019. We will leave in accordance with the two laws Parliament has passed to do so, unless Parliament repeals or amends those laws which this government assures us it will not do.

First, the UK will have no bargaining clout at all once we have signed the Withdrawal Agreement. The main thing they want is the money. If we also throw in accepting all their rules and regulations for another 21 months or longer, they have no incentive to move on or to make a decent offer.

Second, we need to spend that money at home on our priorities. That was one of the main reasons many of us voted for Brexit. A government which promised in its Manifesto to implement Brexit and take back control must not give the money away again.

Third, the UK needs to get on with implementing a fishing and farming policy that is good for home production and for our environment. We cannot stay another 21 months or longer in the CAP and CFP, as they are very damaging to us.

Fourth, the UK needs to put in place its own migration and benefits policies, as promised by the government following the Referendum

Fifth, we need to respond positively to the many offers of Free Trade Agreements from other countries, which we could not do if stay locked in the Customs Union.

Those who think there is an Agreement to be had need to come clean and accept that as far as the EU is concerned the only thing on offer before we leave is a penal Withdrawal Agreement. There is nothing in the drat of that Agreement that guarantees something better in a possible Future Partnership Agreement.

As the government has failed to table a free trade agreement during the 2 years 4 months they have so far been negotiating, accepting the EU false sequencing of the talks, there will not be one on offer before March 2019. We must therefore just leave, and then table one the day we leave and see what happens. The reality of us leaving without signing a Withdrawal Agreement is the best way to a Free Trade Agreement in reasonable time. Otherwise the EU will continue delaying and they will be laughing all the way to the bank to pay our large contributions in. There is no cliff edge, and trade will continue after March 29th. It’s more imports than exports, and the UK will not stop the food and medicines coming in to our ports which will by then be completely under our control.

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No more delays – just get on with it

As the EU does not want to do a deal on our future relationship anytime soon the UK must leave in March 2019 without signing the one sided and damaging Withdrawal Agreement they propose. We can then proceed to negotiate a free trade agreement with them if they want to. Many Conservative MPs are making it clear to the government that we will not support legislation seeking to prolong transition, nor will we support 21 months transition and large payments for no good reason. So far there is no sign of any deal better than just leaving. Extending our period under their control would take us into another 7 year spending period where the EU would not doubt want even more money from us.

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The nationalised railway lets us down

I am still getting complaints about late and cancelled trains. I was sorry to see how many people were left stranded by a failure of the overhead power system on Great Western yesterday. Network Rail has decided to spend a lot of money on changing over to overhead electrical current to power the trains, but this leaves the system more vulnerable to accidents and to adverse weather doing damage to the power supply, with knock on effects to many trains.

My own recent experiences reinforces the view that there are problems.

I went to Yorkshire to speak two weeks ago, and to Cornwall last week. All four trains were around half an hour late. Most of the delays seemed to come from Network Rail issues, the fully nationalised part of the railway.

The train to Yorkshire was delayed by half an hour at Kings Cross owing to an unexplained incident to the north of London which delayed all Kings Cross departures. The train from Reading to Cornwall was delayed by a tree on the line. The train back to London from Yorkshire was delayed by slow trains ahead, with Network Rail unable to provide track capacity for a faster train. The train from Cornwall to Reading also fell foul of slower trains as well as service delays owing to quite high winds.

Why can’t Network put in more passing places? Why can’t they accelerate digital signalling to provide more train paths and instant re routing where possible and necessary?

It  is true some of the train companies also have problems. GWR have recently  acquired expensive new Hitachi trains to adapt to an expensive and partial electrification by Network Rail. My recent journey had no reservations on seats. I was told by two staff members that the GWR and Hitachi seat systems don’t work together. The new trains have to have several heavy diesel engines to generate power to run on the lines that are not electrified. This entails a double energy loss, once on power generation and once from the electric motors. This loss is presumably bigger than the double loss on using power station power from electric overheads where available, as the on board generators are likely to be less efficient than a large power station. The need for two forms of energy to turn the electric motors is an added burden on the train operating companies from the actions of Network Rail. As much of the power station power comes from fossil fuels and all the diesel generator power comes from fossil fuel it is difficult to see the environmental win from this development.

GWR also often runs two five car train sets joined together which makes an odd train with no ability to walk from the front five to the back five whilst staying on the train. Passengers complain that the seats are less comfortable than the 125 diesels they are replacing.

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The UK after Brexit

Freedom day is the day we leave the EU. It is one of those curious cul de sacs of history that the UK, a fiercely independent and democratic nation, spent 47 years with increasing shackles over our decisions in the EU. Like Gulliver, the UK found herself bound by more and more rules and regulations from Brussels, tied down by something UK voters were told was just a trading bloc. This so called common or single market was of course nothing less than a political Union in the making. The project of full economic, monetary, social and political integration was fully understood on the continent, but constantly denied by dishonest UK politicians. They were aware that UK voters were unlikely to sign up to the full scheme, so they pretended it was not happening.

Reality kept threatening to break through. Early skirmishes about whether Brussels should settle our labour laws or not were on party lines, with the left once in charge giving these issues away to the EU. The UK had a proud record of leading improvements in employment standards before we joined. Both major parties in the UK grasped that UK voters would not accept the abolition of the pound and the substitution of the Euro, so the UK negotiated an opt out from the biggest push so far for full union. There was an attempt to side step a common migration policy, but the EU found ways to require the UK to join them in a large part of their common borders regulations. Many UK voters disliked intensely the idea that they could no longer decide their money, their borders and their laws through UK elections and by lobbying their Members of Parliament. When they were given the chance to decide, they decided to leave the EU to take back control of their government.

Once we have left the UK can start to exercise her democratic rights again. The country that did so much to spread democracy around the world, provided the Mother of Parliaments, and had some of the earliest struggles to control the executive and create a proper democratic franchise, will need to learn again how to do things for herself through her own democratic institutions. It is true the UK did not distinguish herself by resisting the democratic forces of the Founding fathers of the USA. It is one of those ironies that those early Americans who championed the rights of the settlers did so from English precedents and from English political and philosophical writings. Today, as with the American revolution, the Mother of Parliaments at Westminster has to be taught a lesson in applying her own beliefs. Too many MPs and members of the House of Lords regret the decision of the people, and have sought to deny democracy her rights. They will have to accept that the UK is leaving the EU and will be better off from doing so.

So what we will we do with our freedoms? We will become a keen advocate of free trade globally, signing deals with those who share our vision of the power of free trade to spread and increase prosperity. We will liberate our fishing grounds from the Common Fisheries Policy, which has been unkind to our fish and to our local fishermen and women. We will put in place a migration policy that is fair to all corners of the world, eliminating the European preferences in the current system. We will be able to spend the large annual sum we currently send as tribute to Brussels on our own priorities at home. We will regain control of our tax system, permitting us to amend and change the system the EU has imposed on taxing transactions through a Value Added Tax.

I find the delays in getting out unacceptable and the fears expressed usually ludicrous. What part of “Leave” did the politicians not understand when they asked the people to decide? Why do they not see that spending our own money and making our own laws must be better, and should lead to greater prosperity for the country. The good news in all this is once again the people have proved to be more sensible than the political and administrative establishment who advise them and seek to control them.

Long live freedom. There is nothing to fear, and everything to welcome. I want my country to be self governing once again. Then if the politicians get it wrong, the people can kick them out and try with a new team. All the time we live under Brussels we have to accept the inflexibility and injustice of their laws.

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How not to negotiate with the EU

Too many in the UK government have always wanted to do the EU’s bidding. The preferred style of negotiating in the EU has been to ask the Commission what it is seeking to get through, then to tell Ministers that is what they have to accept or ask for. Labour in office had a fear of disagreeing with the EU, so they railroaded through measure after measure whilst claiming it was of little significance or something they had wanted all along. They fortunately realised they could not do this with the Euro, so they used the opt out the Conservatives had negotiated. Labour went on to sign us up to the Treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon, with the sacrifice of many vetoes, whilst claiming it was all unimportant and still left us as a powerful independent country. That claim when you pressed revolved only around our right to vote to leave the whole thing, as we could no longer make many changes we wanted to our laws, our budgets and our borders on our own initiative.

The EU itself used the system of rotating Presidencies to push its own vast power grab. When a new member state took over the Presidency of the Council, officials would recommend items from the large EU programme of work that they thought that country or the particular Minister would like to see, and then use them to try to accelerate the passage of those particular items. The UK was always marked down as a member state which under either a Conservative or a Labour government wanted to pursue the single market agenda, so it was brought into play to help put through regulation after directive to control business, stitch up specifications and ways of doing things, and put more and more under the control of the EU and European Court of Justice.

It is therefore not surprising that the civil service defined the Brexit task in a similar way. They forgot or did not worry that they had tried this foolish way of negotiating when Mr Cameron set them the task of negotiating a better deal for the UK to enable the country to stay in. The civil service talked him into flying from capital to capital to ask them what they would be prepared to grant, to avoid the embarrassment as they saw it of asking for things they would not allow. As a result Mr Cameron ended up asking for very little. He then discovered the hard way that that did not mean he would be granted the very little he asked for. The EU saw it as a negotiation and were presumably pleased that the original ask was so modest. The civil service were then ready to tell him he needed to moderate his very modest demands in order to get an agreement! The final deal was an insult of a renegotiation, which led the UK voters to reject the whole thing.

When it came to Brexit Ministers and the civil service were sent full details of how a good Brexit looked by Eurosceptic thinkers and politicians. Ministers and officials accepted the advice that we needed to send a letter to get out in international law, and to enact the Withdrawal legislation to get out in UK law and to create legal continuity under UK control. They then set about watering down or delaying everything else. The Home Office failed to follow through with the recommended new migration policy.The Home Secretary promised an early Migration paper which never emerged. The Environment Department failed to set out an early new fishing and farming policy ready for March 2019. The Treasury not only refused to set out a post 2019 budget to spend the savings but went out of their way to avoid savings, by encouraging more and bigger payments to the EU after we technically leave. The Business Department worked with a few international companies that did not like Brexit, instead of preparing a policy designed to make the most of the new freedoms once we are out.

Too many civil servants defined their role as to ask anyone in business or elsewhere who disagreed with Brexit to give their best scares over what might happen if we left, and then confront Ministers with these as obstacles to a full or early Brexit. They seemed to suspend their critical faculties, as many of the scares were absurd. A whole series related to the UK not being able to import things after Brexit because we would clog our own borders! Why would we do that, and where was the policy to do it, which was certainly never defined nor announced. The task they were set was to identify those things that we could change and resolve for ourselves, and those things that would work more easily if there were agreements with the EU or individual member states. The task became a vast new Project Fear, with many bogus problems and few of the obvious answers.

Worst of all has been the negotiating strategy. Once again there were endless Ministerial visits to countries that disagree with us, to get Ministers to water down the ask. There were also lots of meetings with those parties and interests in the UK who disagree with Brexit, but precious few with all the forces for Leave to provide a balance or refutation of what was learnt from the subverters of leaving. The officials and Ministers swallowed the idea that the Irish border was an issue, that we do have at least a moral obligation to pay lots more money for much longer to the EU though there is no decent legal base for that, that there is something called smooth trade at borders which only EU membership can sustain. Why did they not understand we have very smooth access for Chinese imports for example under WTO rules from a country which was not a member of the EU when I last checked. The UK Ministers accepted advice that put the UK in the position of petitioner or offender, rather than rightly posing as the customer of the EU’s big exporting industries that wants a better deal. The irony was, however, on this occasion officials did not seem to limit the UK’s asks to things which they knew the EU would accept. The Prime Minister of course has to take responsibility for the Chequers plan as she welcomed and supported it , only to find the EU disliked it as much as UK Eurosceptics.

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An MP’s surgery

MPs are receiving copies of a lobby email asking us to sign a pledge not to report illegal migrants if they come to our surgeries.  Let me explain the nature of an MP’s surgery and the legal position to those who send in this email.

The main purposes of an MP’s surgery are to take up cases for constituents where government has let them down, treated them badly or failed to apply its own rules fairly, and to listen to constituents who have advice on how laws and government policies should be changed to make life better.  Constituents often stray beyond their relations with national government into their relations with Councils and sometimes even their contractual relations with private sector suppliers and employers. The MP has most chance of helping with national government, where more direct access to Ministers can sometimes trigger a review of an action or policy which resolves the problem, or where legal change can sometimes  be generated to fix the problem for the future. I work with local Councillors on local matters, as the Councillors have privileged access to local officers that the MP does not have. Just as collectively MPs can change offending national laws, so Councillors collectively can change offending local policies.  Occasionally an MP  letter to a private sector company that is misbehaving can help , but as a general rule contractual disputes between constituents and private companies are best worked out in direct dialogue with the company and through the usual complaints processes available.

Attending an MP’s surgery does not give the constituent sanctuary from the law. Whilst an MP will handle information carefully, in order to process a complaint or resolve a problem with government the MP will usually have to share the information with the government. I wish to repeat that if someone comes to my surgery they should understand I have no special privilege to give them  to protect them from the law, and will normally share their information with the authorities to seek to resolve their issue. If someone is living in Wokingham as an illegal migrant and they wish to seek legal permission to stay then I will assist them if they have a sensible case by contacting  the authorities, but I cannot give them some indemnity or help them cover up their illegal status. Similarly if someone comes to me and tells me they have not paid tax I am happy to take up their case with the authorities if they believe they do not have to pay the tax or if they think their assessment is wrong, but I am not in the business of condoning tax evasion and have no blessings to give to tax law breakers.

Quite often an MP has to explain to a constituent that the law is as it is for a good reason, and they like everyone else will just have to accept it  even though they do not like it. Sometimes  I find advising someone not to pursue a complaint but to accept the world as it is can prove  to be good advice which they accept. You can cause yourself a lot of trouble and distress by pursuing complaints that are not going to result in a  good outcome. Show me a just cause and a clear unfairness from government and I will fight tenaciously to have the injustice remedied.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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