Local MP John Lamont has set out his concerns about the Withdrawal Agreement in a speech in the House of Commons today (Wednesday 5th December).
Speaking 6 hours in to the second day of debating in the House of Commons, John said that the public were by and large tired of Brexit but that they were relying on MPs to get the decision right.
In his speech, the MP said he continued to have significant misgivings about the agreement, particularly over the lack of clarity about fishing post Brexit, the Northern Ireland backstop and the fact that the text of the agreement put off so many decisions for a later date.
He also praised the Prime Minister, who he said has “an almost impossible job.”
Describing the vote as one of the hardest decisions in his political life, the MP said he was going to use the debate “to carefully judge what is in the best interests of my constituents, Scotland and all of the UK” before coming to a decision.
Ahead of the vote, constituents can give John their views about the agreement by filling in his survey online, or getting in touch by email.
Speaking in the House of Commons, John Lamont MP said: “Almost everyone I have spoken to, whether they support this deal or not, has a huge amount of respect and admiration for the Prime Minister and the job she is doing. Negotiating a Brexit deal with the EU was an almost impossible job.
“I have never doubted the Prime Minister’s desire to achieve the best for the country and that she has poured her heart and soul into every aspect of this negotiation.
“And my admiration for our Prime Minister is making my decision all the more difficult.”
On the possibility of voting against the Withdrawal Agreement, John said: “Our country is better served by this government rather than any other alternative. I understand the significance of even contemplating voting against my government and colleagues.
“But my job here is also to consider the national interest; the interests of my constituents.”
Outlining his concerns about the agreement, John concluded: “We are putting off so many of the outstanding decisions for a later date.
“I have wrestled with this for hours, days and suffered many sleepless nights.
“I have spoken with many businesses and residents in the Borders and I am here to represent their views.
“Trying to reconcile my deep misgivings about this agreement compared to my loyalty to this Prime Minister and Government has not been easy. One of the hardest in my political life.
“I have until Tuesday to consider my position and will use that time to carefully judge what is in the best interests of my constituents, Scotland and all of the UK.”
John’s speech is copied below (check against delivery)
Since the EU referendum result, we have all been grappling with what that means for our constituents and for our country and with how to best respond in the interests of our country. The public are, by and large, tired of Brexit. For many, the issue has become abstract, legalistic and confusing. Frankly, they want us to get on with it.
But our constituents are relying on us to get this right.
This debate and vote may be one of the most important that Honourable and Rt Hon members will have to make in this parliament. Perhaps the most important vote of our parliamentary careers.
Almost everyone I have spoken to, whether they support this deal or not, has a huge amount of respect and admiration for the Prime Minister and the job she is doing. Negotiating a Brexit deal with the EU was an almost impossible job.
I have never doubted the Prime Minister’s desire to achieve the best for our country and that she has poured her heart and soul into every aspect of these negotiations.
And my admiration for our Prime Minister is making my decision all the more difficult.
It goes without saying that I am instinctively loyal to this Government and to this Prime Minister. Our country is better served by this government rather than any other alternative. I understand the significance of even contemplating voting against my government and colleagues.
But my job here is also to consider the national interest and those of my constituents.
That is why I am listening carefully to the contributions from all sides of this House and in particular to the comments from Government Ministers in reaction to the concerns that I and others have raised.
DECISION MAKING – what happens if we reject this Agreement
Part of my decision making process has been considering what happens if Parliament rejects this Agreement. We have been told that it is this Deal; No Deal or Brexit could be stopped.
The default for this process is clear: We leave the EU at 11pm on 29 March with No Deal. This is due to both the EU Treaty and the EU Withdrawal Act was passed earlier this year, that was amended to include that date and time of exit.
It is regrettable, in my view that there has not been greater clarity from the government as to what will happen in the event – as seems increasingly likely – that this place does not give its support to the Withdrawal Agreement. We are effectively being asked to support this Agreement without any proper understanding of the alternatives.
We are effectively balancing risks as part of our decision making: the risks associated with this agreement as opposed to the risks of the unknown.
Turning to the Withdrawal Agreement itself,
the fishing industry along the Berwickshire coast in my constituency has been decimated in recent years and I know that many of my fishermen and women are looking forward to life outside of the CFP. Whilst I have been re-assured by the words from the Prime Minister, I am less comforted by the views expressed by other European leaders, that fishing could be sacrificed for a Trade Deal.
Whilst I am happy to accept the word of our Prime Minister and her commitment to Scotland’s fisheries, my fear is that the precise arrangements will not be decided until further point in time. Clearly no government can bind its successors, so no promise now will necessarily have any effect in the future.
NORTHERN IRELAND AND BACKSTOP
As a unionist, I have serious concerns about the provisions for Northern Ireland given that there is at least a risk of Northern Ireland being treated substantially differently to the rest of the United Kingdom, which would certainly be contrary to the Articles of Union.
The main nationalist parties have signed up to this Agreement. However, both the UUP and DUP have said that they are completely opposed. This causes me a problem. Given the troubled history in Ireland, any constitutional change needs to have the support of both communities in Northern Ireland.
Now some say that unionists in NI need to take a pragmatic approach; they need to compromise. But that fundamentally mis-understands unionism in Northern Ireland.
So I have every sympathy with those in this place who represent the unionism in Northern Ireland who have expressed concerns about the potential impact that this Agreement will have on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
FUNDAMENTAL CONCERN IS THAT WE ARE AGREEING TO AGREE
Fundamental concern is that so much of the EU Withdrawal Agreement is an agreement to agree something further down the line. The can is being kicked further down the road.
Now as someone who studied law at Glasgow University and trained and worked with Freshfields along the road from here, one of my lasting memories from law school and from those teaching me how to draft legal documents is the dangers of drafting something which could be construed as an “Agreement to Agree”.
So why is this such a problem? The consequence is that these Agreements often lack sufficient certainty to constitute a legally enforceable commitment. Now many hours of court time have been spent trying to ascertain what constitutes sufficient certainty.
There have been many reassuring words about the high standard imposed by the “best endeavours” commitment in the Withdrawal Agreement but the reality is that this is meaningless if the obligation lacks certainty.
This Withdrawal Agreement was supposed to be a bridge to our permanent relationship with the EU but the danger is that it becomes the norm.
We are putting off so many of the outstanding decisions for a later date.
I have wrestled with this for hours, days and suffered many sleepless nights.
I have spoken with many businesses and residents in the Borders and I am here to represent their views as their MP.
I am trying to reconcile my deep misgivings about this agreement compared to my loyalty to this Prime Minister and Government has not been easy. One of the hardest in my political life.
I have until Tuesday to consider my position and I’m going to carefully judge use that time to carefully judge what is in the best interests of my constituents, Scotland and all of the UK.