Yesterday I launched a Politeia pamphlet – How to take back control

This is how my pamphlet begins roughly like this:

Let us make 29 March 2019 our Independence day.

We should be proud of our democratic past and confident about our democratic future.
Restoring the right to govern ourselves is not a threat but a promise. It is not a problem but a whole host of opportunities.

The UK has made such a contribution to the language and architecture of freedom, and to the ways and words of democratic government. The British people had the courage to say they wanted to restore our leading place amongst the nations of the free. We voted against more laws and taxes we do not approve for ourselves. We voted to take back control of our own destiny.

People say we should think most of the young. I agree. I do. I want to give to them the most precious political flower of all, the flower of freedom. Because I believe in our young people and their potential, I want to give them the means to do as they wish through a self governing country.

My generation had that taken away from us by successive transfers of power to the EU without the consent of many British people. Gradually, directive by directive and treaty by treaty, we lost control of so much of our public policy, lawmaking and taxation.

Bureaucracy, the lowest common denominator, the suffocating hand of centralised authority, comes from Brussels. By taking back control here at home, we can so much more prosperous, inventive, adventurous and engaging with the wider world.

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The debate and votes on the EU Agreement

Parliament was told on Monday that the Speaker will accept votes on up to six amendments to the government’s motion to approve its EU Withdrawal Agreement. The official Opposition has already tabled an amendment that declines to approve the Agreement and asks for customs union and single market membership. This is very likely to be selected for a vote. There is a Lib Dem amendment seeking a second referendum. There is a Hilary Benn/Dominic Grieve amendment seeking to reject both the Withdrawal Agreement and exit without an Agreement. There are then amendments seeking to avoid or amend the Irish backstop. There may be other amendments before the Speaker makes a decision on which ones to select for votes.

Under the procedure laid down the votes on amendments will take place before the vote on the government’s main motion proposing the Withdrawal Agreement. Were any of the amendments to be carried, the final vote will then be on the amended motion rather than on the government’s original motion proposing the Withdrawal Agreement. It is important to recognise that were the government to lose an amendment the straightforward issue of whether to accept or reject the Withdrawal Agreement will not be voted on. Presumably the government would find the Opposition amendments unacceptable, having tried to vote them down in the first place. It therefore seems likely the government would ask Conservative and DUP MPs to vote against the motion as amended.

Yesterday the government managed to lose three important votes. The votes on whether the government has been guilty of contempt of Parliament or not was mainly lost owing to the disaffection of the DUP over the Withdrawal Agreement. The third one was over how to proceed in January with what should be a neutral motion on leaving if we are leaving without an agreement, if that is the course owing to the defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement. This was lost owing to Conservative opponents of the government from the Remain side who want to keep open a route to thwart Brexit. It shows the difficulty of whipping against the background of a Withdrawal Agreement which suits neither side in the referendum argument, by a government which has lost the reliable support of the DUP. Supporters of Mrs May also wanted to use the threat of no Brexit to try to get pro Brexit MPs to vote for the May Agreement. This in unlikely to work as the Agreement is penal and does not get us out of the EU in any normal sense of that phrase.

The government should now publish the Attorney General’s advice as Parliament requires. It should accept Parliament and much of the country does not want the Withdrawal Agreement, and notify the EU accordingly.

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Let’s take control of our economy

Leaving without an Agreement looks more likely given the bad response of most MPs to the proposed Withdrawal Agreement and delayed exit. So let’s make the most of the money, the freedoms and the opportunities leaving brings. More than half the voters expect things to get better when we leave, and so they can. That requires the government to cheer up and take some action.

1. Relax the current tight money policies a bit – they are slowing our economy too much
2. Set out a new budget with an additional £15bn of spending increases and tax cuts for 2019=20 at least, financed by saving the Withdrawal payments
3. Encourage import substitution with a farming policy based on more home grown food
4. Allow UK vessels to land a much larger share of our fish by taking control of our fishery in 2019
5. Encourage more fish processing industry
6. Novate all existing EU trade deals promptly
7. Intensify negotiations with the USA, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and the others who are keen to sign Free Trade Deals with us once we have the power to do so
8. Make clear there will be no new checks at our ports on imports from the EU in the short term, and any longer term extra checks will be done away from the border or with sufficient capacity at the port to avoid delays
9. Set a new tariff schedule which lowers our external tariff, removing all tariffs from imported components for manufacturers and from items here the tariff raises little net revenue

It’s high time the media allowed a proper debate on how to take advantage of the opportunities of leaving after months of just recycling false scare stories about the costs.

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Publish the legal advice

It is normally right for the government to withhold its legal advice from freedom of information requests or Parliamentary questions. Where the government is pursuing a court action to collect more tax or prosecute some criminal or to justify its actions, it should keep its own legal advice to itself to give it the best chance of a successful court outcome. The case of the legal advice on what the consequences of an International Treaty will be before we have signed it is altogether different. Parliament is to decide whether to sign this Treaty or not. Parliament therefore needs to know the legal implications of what we are being asked to sign.

Not that many of us need the Attorney’s advice to grasp just how dangerous legally this Treaty is. It is a Treaty with many long term commitments that we cannot get out of. It is a Treaty which undermines the whole idea of Brexit, by bringing back considerable powers for the EU and for its European Court of Justice. It is a Treaty which prolongs the uncertainty over our possible exit from the EU, damaging business. It is a Treaty which removes most of the bargaining powers the UK currently enjoys when we embark under its provisions to try to negotiate a Future Partnership Agreement. This is not a deal, but a straightjacket. This is not Brexit, but a new servitude.

I am against the whole idea of a Withdrawal Treaty. I voted to come out of the extensive Treaty commitments we currently have under the EU Treaties. I did not vote to enter a new binding Treaty with the EU I cannot get out of. Nor did I vote to end up in an Association Agreement with the EU, which is what they have in mind for the so called Future Partnership. Two Treaties to replace one, and probably at a similar expensive financial price, is not what we Leave voters voted for. We did at least like Article 50, the leave clause, in the current EU Treaties. The two new proposed Treaties have no get out clause!

The Attorney General had a successful career at the criminal law bar and doubtless wrote a detailed and careful opinion. He is also a politician and Minister who will be asked to explain parts of his advice to the Commons under the control of the government’s overall message on this Agreement. Parliament wants to see the full advice as some MPs think the most critical sentences about the Agreement are likely to be played down or ignored in any edited highlights for the Commons. It will certainly be a testing session for the Attorney to deliver enough of the shocking truth about this Agreement whilst defending the government that wishes to sign it.

Whatever happens on the publication of some or all of the advice, of one thing readers should be clear. There are quite enough of us MPs in the Commons who have read the draft Agreement and have serious doubts about the wide ranging powers it gives to the EU over us to ensure Parliament with or without the full advice will hold a debate knowing the main legal pitfalls of this unwise Agreement. You do not have to be a lawyer to understand the prose of this Agreement. In so many clauses of this document it places more burdens and restrictions on the UK long after we are meant to have left the EU.

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How do I represent my constituents on the issue of our exit from the EU?

A whole series of emails are arriving in my email box and doubtless in the email boxes of other MPs drafted to ask How will I represent the constituent, given their view. There are different versions, with some of the drafts used by people who want to leave, some who wish to remain, and some who want a second referendum. Some are individually worded by constituents. There are several different views, but an MP of course only has one vote.

There is, however, common ground in the vast majority of the emails I receive. Whether coming from Remain or Leave supporters, the big majority dislike the Withdrawal Agreement. Both sides sees this as an attempted compromise which suits few. Both see the Agreement turns us into a rule taker and bill payer. It removes our bargaining levers by legally binding us to give the EU what it wants before we have secured what we might like. Most people see this rightly as a very bad deal, with no agreement on what we might get out of an eventual Future Partnership Agreement. Some Remain voters think it would be better to stay in the EU to have vote and voice as well as taking their rules and paying the bills. Leave voters say the Withdrawal Agreement is not leaving, as we stay in the single market and customs union and carry on paying large sums to buy more time for talks.

This makes my task that much easier. My judgement has been throughout that this Agreement has to be voted down. In the light of the extensive correspondence I have received I do not have to worry about whether I am speaking for my constituents in so doing, as a majority tell me they too want it voted down. The question of what we should then do produces a variety of answers amongst constituents. I will return to these issues over the period of the vote and the sequel to the vote. I feel I need to honour my promises to electors in the 2017 General Election when I said I would support carrying out the will of the nation in the referendum.

The resignation of yet another Minister, the eleventh to go on this matter so far, is a reminder of how Mrs May cannot win this vote unless Labour change their minds. Ministers give up interesting jobs reluctantly, in order to vote against the government. That is eleven more votes against the Agreement so far. It is difficult to see how the Prime Minister could carry on if she goes down to defeat on this central policy she has designed.
The sooner we tell the EU we cannot sign the Withdrawal Agreement the better. The sooner we table a proper Free Trade Agreement and see if they want one the better.

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Advice to Michael Gove

The Withdrawal Agreement you are recommending denies us the Brexit you campaigned for. The alternative cannot be staying in the EU , which would be against everything you promised and against the Manifesto you and I stood on in the 2017 General Election.

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Leave voters are fed up with continuous Project Fear in Parliament and on much of the media

When a General election changes the governing party the media changes its mainstream agenda from the preoccupations of the outgoing government to the priorities of the incoming government. Media reflects the will of the people and the shift of power. Of course it allows the Opposition a say, and the Parliamentary Opposition battles to get some of its priorities onto the media as a challenge to the government. The Opposition gets more attention as the unpopularity of a government increases and or as another election approaches.

Most of the media have failed to reflect this sensible democratic approach to news over the Referendum. Most of them have carried on accepting as news and stories a series of tendentious or mendacious forecasts, predictions and non stories from the Project Fear stable as if the Referendum campaign were still underway or as if Remain had actually won. In this they reflect the Labour opposition. Elected on a Manifesto that said they accepted the result and would work towards the UK leaving the EU, Labour has instead spent the last seventeen months putting the case in the Commons for staying in the EU directly, and being remorselessly negative about leaving the EU at every available opportunity. Within the government the Chancellor and the Business Secretary have also delighted in highlighting gloomy and inaccurate forecasts of what might happen instead of seizing the many opportunities Brexit brings to lower taxes, cut tariffs, improve laws and promote more domestic business.

It is no wonder there is an ever growing gulf between most Leave voters and the Parliament and media which talks at them daily in discordant tones. We are constantly being told we were too stupid to understand what we voted on, that we never voted to leave the customs union and single market which were always an integral part of EU membership which we rejected, and that we should be asked again because we must by now have changed our minds. If an entirely false forecast of a mild recession after the vote would not make us vote Remain in the Referendum, maybe a even more false forecast (called a scenario) of a massive recession after we leave will force us to cry out for a second ballot.

It’s high time those of us who believe in Brexit and have many positive things to say about our regaining our freedom and lifting our growth rate once out were allowed some airtime. There is no indication that this will happen, leading to more people to turn off the BBC news and cancel their subscriptions to the Daily Mail. It as if all the opportunities from Brexit did not exist for most of the media and all too many MPs. The Leave voting public have more vision than the establishment.

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Mrs May faces a big defeat

It is true a fortnight is a long time in politics, and people can change their minds. It is also true that on the current arithmetic Mrs May is not just facing the loss of a crucial vote, but she is facing a landslide defeat. So far she has only mustered around 220 Conservative MPs who will probably vote for her proposal, with maybe 10 others from Opposition parties who might defy their party whips to support her. This leaves around 400 MPs of all parties who have said they will vote against. A defeat by around 170 would be a huge blow. The announcement by Sir Michael Fallon on Monday that he was against the Agreement was another big loss for her, as most had him down as a reliable government supporter.

What could she do instead? She could announce she has taken soundings and realises that her attempt to find a set of compromises with the EU has not produced an Agreement that suits either side or any party in the Commons. She will therefore cancel the debate and vote. Instead she would have to go back to the EU and tell them the draft Agreement they like is unacceptable to the UK Parliament. It either needs to be materially amended or the two sides need to agree on the UK leaving in March 2019 followed by free trade talks swiftly afterwards, or preferably starting immediately.

The amendment route looks unlikely to succeed. The EU has a long history of offering the UK too little too late to retain the country in its legal and political system, and will not take kindly to being told they have overdone it again. The rewrite necessary to the 585 page Withdrawal Agreement would be so wide ranging to make sure it can pass the Commons that it seems unlikely it could be achieved, even given lots of goodwill from the EU side.

This leaves us with exit and free trade arrangements, which is what will remain assuming Parliament does vote down Mrs May’s motion. Opposition forces in Parliament may want to find a way to delay Brexit or to push the idea of a second referendum, but this would not honour the results of the referendum. It would also require both the consent of each member state of the EU and new legislation in the UK in a Parliament with no government majority for any approach that entails deviating from implementing Brexit. It is no longer possible even if Parliament wanted it to legislate for a referendum and hold one prior to exit day on 29 March 2019.

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Futile Project Fear figures

Yesterday in the Urgent Question on the latest round of Project Fear Treasury forecasts I asked them to tell us what the growth rate was in the last 25 years before we joined the European Community, and what the growth rate has been in the last 25 years from 1992 when they established the full single market and customs union. It was obvious we grew faster outside the EU than in it, so the Treasury declined to share these actual historical figures.

As UK GDP data begins in 1948 I have now confirmed that between 1948 and 1972 when we joined the EC, growth amounted to 118%.
In the years from 1993 to 2017, following completion of the single market, growth was just 69%.

In other words, growth inside the EU was 41% lower than before we joined. So using the Treasury way of explaining these things, at today’s values the UK economy would be far better off in income and output terms than we are following time in the EU. They should adopt their own negative language and tell us just what a colossal loss of income and output this amounts to.

Those who support the EU will immediately say that the reason for the much slower growth in the EU is not to do with our membership. As soon as they accept this they must therefore acknowledge that the Treasury forecasts for the next fifteen years are wrong, as clearly a wide range of factors can affect economic out turns. Their protestations are, however, wild like their gloomy forecasts. It is the case that membership of the EEC led to a sharpened decline in much of our manufacturing in the early years when we took the hit of tariff free competition. It is also the case the European Exchange Rate Mechanism did great damage to jobs, output and incomes, at just the time when the EU completed its single market.

The Treasury forecasts of lower growth are likely to be well out, and their assumptions are not realistic for the WTO exit where they leave out most of the upside we would expect.

The Bank of England forecasts are just absurd. They assume a fall in output almost as large as all our exports to the EU! Even the Bank can’t think we would lose that much and can’t ignore all the import substitution we would do in such extreme and impossible circumstances. How else do they get to such a wildly high fall in output?

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Will the Treasury tell us the cost of belonging to the EU – that is fact not fiction

The Treasury want to know the impact of Brexit so they should go back and compare the growth rates we achieved in the EEC/EU with the growth rates we were experiencing post War before we joined. They would find our growth rate fell in the EU, so in their terms that means there was a big cost to belonging to the EU.

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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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