MP says UK must have “courage” to stand up to EU and say ‘no’ to withdrawal deal

Shailesh Vara MP

Shailesh Vara MP - Credit: Archant

North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara says the European Union is “laughing” at the UK over its Brexit impasse and says the prime minister was not “robust” enough in negotiations over the withdrawal deal.

North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara says the European Union is “laughing” at the UK over its Brexit impasse and says the prime minister was not “robust” enough in negotiations over the withdrawal deal.

Mr Vara, who has been the member for North West Cambridgeshire since 2005, has served previous governments as a minister for justice, as a minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, and as a government whip.

However, he resigned from his post as a minister in the Northern Ireland office over his opposition to the Brexit withdrawal deal agreed by Prime Minister Theresa May, something he says is not right for the country.

He also said the country was “not in a better place” following Mrs May’s victory in the confidence vote because the terms of the deal with the EU remained the same.

Mr Vara said: “It was indeed a momentous vote in parliament last week, and the prime minister won her vote of confidence; but I’m not sure that we are in a better place now than we were before, because ultimately the vote was based upon the withdrawal agreement that Theresa May has brought back from Brussels, and is still the same deal on the table that I resigned over.

“What we have now is a prime minister who, having won her confidence vote, will probably have an unassailable position at least for the next twelve months in parliament. But for my part, I want to say that it has always been about the deal on the table, and not the individual in question.

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“The problem is that she’s left with the same agreement that has caused her all the problems she’s had to face, up to now. And the EU have made it abundantly clear that they’re not going to change their minds on this deal. So, given the strong opposition to the deal as it stands – and I have to emphasise here that there are a lot of politicians who you would not normally regard as the ‘usual suspects’ in terms of rebelling against the party line – I think that the prime minister is still going to struggle. “I’ve been a member of parliament for nearly 14 years now. I have won four general elections in this constituency that I am privileged to represent, and I’ve been loyal to my party throughout. I’ve spent nearly 10 of those 14 years on the front bench, both in opposition and in government. So, it has taken a lot for me to take the stance that I have – but I genuinely believe, having read the 585 pages and the 26 pages of the political declaration, that this is a really bad deal for the country, and my constituents.

“Therefore, I’m not sure that we are in a better place now than we were a few days ago, unless the European Union is prepared to actually renegotiate the agreement. And it’s all very well the EU saying that ‘we’re not going to do it’, but when they do, we, as a nation, need to stand up and say ‘…well, in that case we (the UK), will have to consider alternatives’.

“The difficulty I have is that I don’t believe that the Government has been as robust in all of these negotiations as it should’ve been. In an ideal world, what we should’ve done two years ago is that the prime minister should have said very publicly that she was instructing her civil servants to prepare for a ‘no deal’ scenario. But in the meantime, of course she would negotiate with the European Union, because we would like to have an agreement with them, and it’s in everyone’s interests that we have that agreement.

“She could’ve said ‘…but, in the event that we don’t achieve an agreement, I don’t want my country to be unprepared’. Now that would’ve added sufficient tension to the deal with the EU for them to think ‘we need to get a deal with the UK, because these people are serious, and they’re making preparations’. But I’m sorry to say, that it doesn’t appear that we’ve done that.

“Therefore, we find ourselves today with the European Union looking at us – laughing at us – saying that they have the UK backed into a corner, and now we’re going to have to take the deal that they are going to give to us, rather than the other way around. To the EU it seems as if we’re not properly prepared – and we’re not.

“Since 2016, the chancellor has committed more than £4billionn to the preparation process for a ‘no deal’ Brexit – so I acknowledge that there is a whole lot of preparation being done.

“But I think that it’s also important to remember that in any negotiation you shouldn’t buckle under during the negotiations simply because the other side shouts a little bit louder than we do. The fact that the government made it abundantly clear to the EU that we wouldn’t entertain a ‘no deal’, means that we can now position ourselves immediately.

“And to those people who say ‘what about all those lorries that’ll be queuing from Dover right up to the M25, and that we won’t be able to have fresh fruit and vegetables from France?’, to those people, I say, there will be lorries lined up from deep inside France all the way to Calais, full of fresh fruit and vegetables which will be rotting.

“Look at the way the French do business. We’ve just seen President Macron make two huge tax concessions, reversals of his policy, because the people of France were protesting the price of fuel on the streets of Paris. They protested, so he made changes. Those protestors were lorry drivers, hauliers, farmers, fresh fruit and veg producers who would’ve been very upset with their president if he hadn’t done as they told him to.

“President Macron, I am minded to say, would, I am sure, say that it would be in his country’s interests to do a deal with the UK, because it absolutely is in his country’s interest to do a deal with us. And what about Portugal? They wouldn’t be able to export their avocados to us, or Spain, their fresh fruit as well? The Italians, their washing machines, their dryers, their cars? The Germans, their cars? And across the continent their wine? And so on.

“All of the leaders of these countries have to look after their own people – and the crucial thing here is that in May 2019, we have European Union elections coming up. And when you’ve got elections coming up, no political leader wants to have unrest in her or his country.

“Therefore now is the perfect opportunity for Britain to stand up and say ‘we will not put up with this agreement’, and leave it at that – because if we had the guts to say that, then the EU would have to say – with the elections coming up in the near future, and with the potential for riot and upset in their own country – that they would come to the table and say ‘we are sure we can do a deal that’s agreeable to both sides’.

“We could try to get a three-month extension, because it’s in both parties interests to do that. The EU are not prepared for a ‘no deal’ scenario, and so it isn’t to anybody’s benefit to have a ‘no deal’ scenario. If only we had the courage to stand up to the EU and say ‘no’, then they might look at the UK and think ‘well, these guys are serious’, because it’s not in their interest to not have a ‘no deal’ either.

“The problem is that the UK has simply shied away every time the other side said ‘no’. We should’ve had the guts to stand up to them… and it’s still not too late because we could still stand up to them and say ‘we’re not going to settle for this agreement, and if that means ‘no deal’, then it’s ‘no deal’.”