The Trade Bill – busting some myths

A number of residents have been in touch in recent days regarding the votes last Monday on the trade bill and the (mis)representations of that vote which they may have seen on social media and in the press.  Given the level of interest, and those misrepresentations, I wanted to offer some more detail about what happened and why certain MPs, including myself, voted in the way we did.

Apparently, according to some reports and some of the emails I received, on Monday night, I:

  • put the NHS on the table in a future trade deal;
  • agreed that food standards could be significantly lowered in a future trade deal;
  • agreed that animal welfare standards could be significantly lowered in a future trade deal, and;
  • to top if off, voted to stop Parliament having a say on any future trade deal.

If it is true, that was quite the night on Monday that we had.  Look at what those terrible Tories have done again: swiping the nice food on my plate, trying to be mean to animals, removing my free health care and kowtowing to [insert world leader who people don’t like here].

The problem, though, is that none of the statements above are true.

None of them.

They might make punchy headlines or attention grabbing social media posts but every single one of those statements are false.  And it just highlights one of the problems with how some people, organisations and ideological groups twist, mislead and misrepresent – and it needs to stop.

Here’s some of the (many) reasons and problems why all of the commentary is wrong.  The explanations may not conveniently fit on a tweet or a pithy Facebook headline but that is often the issues – the misrepresentation can fit in a sentence whilst the actual, true explanation takes longer to explain:

Problem #1: The bill wasn’t even about future trade deals at all

What’s the thing that connects all of these accusations together?  That all of them are about future trade deals.

And the first problem on that is that the bill on Monday wasn’t even about future trade deals.

That bill, the Trade Bill, was not about deals that we may strike with America, Australia, India or any other country in the future.  It wasn’t about what things might or might not be acceptable, what our strategy is on or how we build closer relationships around the world over the long-term.

Instead, it was about something much more mundane than that; tidying up our legislative framework in readiness for when we leave the European Union transition period at the end of the year.  A lot of Parliament’s work currently is to ensure that we have functioning legal frameworks in the future, particularly as we take back control and powers from the EU.  It was, in the parliamentary parlance, a “continuity bill” – i.e. making sure we can continue to do what we are largely already doing after the transition period, rather than particularly change it at this stage.

So, the actual issues we were dealing with were not the NHS, food standards or animal welfare but, instead, the following:

  • making sure that we roll over existing trade deals, signed by the EU on our behalf in previous years, so we still have those relationships as an independent nation state;
  • making sure we are still part of a global agreement (the Agreement on Government Procurement) that we are currently members of through the EU but which we need to join independently as we take back powers over trade;
  • creating a UK Trade Remedies Authority to replace what the EU does for us today in case any country around the world starts competing unfairly, and;
  • allowing HMRC to collect and share data on trade in the future.

So when some MPs, mainly in the Labour and Green parties, tried to propose amendments dealing with how we negotiate future deals to a bill which doesn’t primarily deal with them, we didn’t agree them.  That seems pretty sensible to me – if a bill is about something else, we need to focus on that, particularly when the issues brought up are being dealt with elsewhere and by other means.

Problem #2: We’ve already confirmed that we will protect the NHS

And on that very point, completely separate to this argument this week, the UK Government has repeatedly already confirmed our approach on the NHS.  Here’s some examples:

“The NHS will not be on the table” (UK’s negotiating mandate for a US-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The Government has been clear that when we are negotiating trade agreements, we will protect the National Health Service (NHS)” (UK’s negotiating mandate for an Australia-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The Government has been clear that when we are negotiating free trade agreements, we will protect the National Health Service (NHS)” (UK’s negotiating mandate for a New Zealand-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The Government has been clear that when we are negotiating trade agreements, we will protect the National Health Service (NHS).  Our objectives reinforce this.” (UK’s negotiating mandate for a Japan-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The NHS is not on the table.  The price the NHS pays for drugs is not on the table.” (Secretary of State for International Trade, House of Commons, 17 June 2020)

And there are literally dozens of other confirmations, too.  The Government has made its policy really clear here.

At the same time, I would just caution constituents about the direction that some people seem to want to push the wider debate here.  We can be quite clear that the NHS is not going to be sold off (as we have been) whilst still, at the same time, be willing to take ideas from other countries and work with them where it is in our interests.  I want to find out how other countries are doing things that we can learn from, how we can improve treatments to make more people in the UK better and how we can learn from research, development and treatments being developed elsewhere.  We must not shut our borders like some ideologically-driven shrill voices seem to be suggest and I don’t want to be an MP that says to people in North East Derbyshire that makes it harder for them to have treatment, to benefit from other research or slows down access a new drug just because it was developed outside of the United Kingdom.  That won’t help anyone in the long-term and could, instead, do some real harm.  We can absolutely ensure that the NHS is not for sale whilst still wanting to cooperate with other countries in the future.

Problems #3 and #4: We’ve already confirmed that we will have high food and welfare standards

Equally, on food and animal welfare standards, the same points apply as the NHS.  We have confirmed in all of the mandates we have set out for negotiations underway with other countries that we seek high food and animal welfare standards.  You can find dozens of confirmations in those documents and in statements to Parliament by Ministers.

Problem #5: Beware of unintended consequences

Another problem is that some of the proposals put forward in Parliament on Monday night had potentially significant unintended consequences.  Even if put aside my issue that this bill wasn’t about future trade deals for a minute, and even if I had been willing in principle to legislate on a subject which wasn’t part of the scope of the laws we were debated, I still wouldn’t have voted for some of these proposals given the way they were written and the potential implications they had.

Take, for example, one of the proposals that some MPs wanted to be added to the Trade Bill: new clause 11.  That clause states very clearly that agricultural goods would not be allowed to enter the UK in future unless they were produced to standards “as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law” relating to animal health and welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, and plant health.

That amendment looks innocuous and acceptable at first glance.  Yet, it actually has the potential to have huge implications for our existing trading relationships, never mind the ones we might or might not strike in the future.

If the UK passes a law which says that the production of agricultural goods absolutely everywhere in the world must be at the level of what the UK decides then we aren’t actually dealing with potential future trade but, instead, potentially impacting the trade which we already do – and which no-one has raised an issue about and which were negotiated on our behalf by the EU.  The Minister on Monday evening in the Commons highlighted the potential unforeseen consequence as part of a slightly broader point here:

“the Opposition think they are talking about chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef, but are they actually able to look people in the eye and say that cocoa from the Ivory Coast has been produced to at least as high environmental standards as in the UK?  Are they able to say that beans from Egypt are being produced to at least as high labour standards?  Are they able to say that tea from Sri Lanka comes with the same high labour standards?  I think they are putting a lot of this country’s existing trade at risk.”

Problem #6:  Parliament already has the ability to scrutinise future trade deals

Contrary to some of the statements and myths, it simply isn’t true that Parliament doesn’t have the ability to scrutinise or vote on future trade deals when it comes forward.  Parliament already is able to review, scrutinise, vote on and, for all intents and purposes, stop the implementation of trade deals should they wish through the Constitutional Reform & Governance Act (2010).

At the point in the future when the Government has negotiated a draft trade deal, they will have to lay that draft treaty in front of Parliament and give MPs or Lords 21 days to review it.  Parliament is free to say that the treaty shouldn’t be ratified and, should it wish, can repeatedly delay that ratification – indefinitely if it wants to.  In addition, if a treaty requires changes to domestic legislation in order for the UK to comply with the terms of the negotiation, then that legislation would need to be voted on in Parliament and MPs, again, are free to reject the changes if they so wish.

I absolutely accept that there is a debate about the best way for Parliament to be involved on reviewing trade deals and I know that others take different views about whether existing processes are sufficient at the current time.  Yet, it is not true to suggest Parliament does not have the ability to review, discuss, debate, vote on and, should they wish, delay and practically stop implementation.


So, after all of the noise since Monday night, where are we?

Well, on Monday morning the UK Government was committed ensuring the NHS wasn’t sold off, committed to high food standards in any future trade deal, committed to high animal welfare standards in any future trade deal and there was a law that had already been in place for ten years which ensured scrutiny and oversight of trade deals.

Then Monday night came along and MPs, such as myself, voted on a continuity bill which wasn’t supposed to be about future trade deals.

And, on Tuesday morning, nothing changed.  The UK Government remained committed to ensuring the NHS wasn’t sold off, high food standards n any future trade deal, high animal welfare standards in any future trade deal and the law remains in place still allowing scrutiny of any trade deals which the Government signs by Parliament.

Instead, what has actually happened is that a number of groups and people, some with pretty crude political and ideological motives, have caused unnecessary concern and anxiety by misrepresenting what happened.  And this is happening, currently, every few weeks – as certain organisations and parts of the media play games with the Parliamentary process and what we are doing.  We had the same histrionics and same media outlets accuse us of voting to lower food standards over the Agriculture Bill a number of weeks ago as we did this week over the Trade Bill.  Some of the press stories and posts could almost have been cut-and-paste word-for-word statements.  And, each time, these bills are about something else and the Government’s intention and approach do not change irrespective of what is alleged.

For me, putting aside all of the silly political game playing (as frustrating as it is), the heart of this issue is the UK becoming comfortable again with controlling trade policy.  The EU has dealt with our trading relationships with other countries since 1973.  It has signed trade deals on our behalf (too slowly, in my view).  It has negotiated on behalf of us.  We have forgotten how trade works and the need for a proper conversation about how it works.

For the first time in half a century we are taking back control over our trade policy.  We are learning again, as a country, how trade negotiations work, how things take time, how we need to allow space for proposals to be brought forward.  And, in the interim, a lot of loud voices are trying to skew the debate, claim things are happening that aren’t and scare people about trade.  I make no bones about it: I’m a proud free trader.  Trade deals have lifted billions of people out of poverty around the world in recent decades, brought countries closer together, created wealth, generated jobs and helped the United Kingdom prosper.  Thousands of jobs in North East Derbyshire alone depend up trade.  And we can create thousands more in the future if we can strike good, mutually beneficial trade deals with all of the countries the EU wasn’t able to do in previous decades.  We shouldn’t be afraid of those potential deals.  Of course we need to have red lines, to debate extensively and have clear objectives.  At the same time, we also need to be willing to make compromises and find agreements which are mutually beneficial and agreeable to countries over the long-term – but without crossing the red lines that we have.

So, next time you see an accusatory headline about trade policy on Facebook or Twitter, be sceptical.  If it accuses Conservative MPs of basically eating babies, then it’s probably not true.  There’s always an explanation for everything.  Our system does not, never has and, frankly, could not, deal with everything through law alone.  There is a process in place on tidying up our domestic legislation (like on the Trade and Agriculture bill) to get us ready for the end of the transition period and there is a separate process underway on striking future trade deals.  Let’s let both of them continue, based on the explanation above.  It’s hugely disappointing that Labour, the Greens, the Lib Dems, certain campaign organisations (38 Degrees and the like) and many parts of the media continue to play games on trade policy but, as an MP, I can’t stop people doing that if they want to.  What I can do, however, is vote on laws in a sensible way, approaching them based on the scope that was intended and recognising that the Government has already made strong commitments on many of the issues under debate.

And, finally, one of the big issues that all of these debates highlight is the propensity for misinformation and misrepresentation across social media and the press.  I’ll come back to this in the coming weeks as we need to debate and discuss that more as a constituency.  Yet, just because a screaming headline makes strong claims doesn’t mean it is right.  And just because an explanation takes more than a single tweet (as this one did today on the Trade Bill), doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.

Dominic Cummings

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch to let me know their views on Dominic Cummings; I’m grateful for everyone who has written to me and spelt out their views so plainly, whatever those views happen to be.

From reading every one of those emails (although not, yet, having been able to get back to everyone), it’s obvious that people are very concerned about what has happened.  Residents have highlighted their real frustration and, in some cases, anger.  Many have told me about sacrifices they have made and difficulties experienced over the last two months to help tackle coronavirus.  I understand all of that and, on a personal level, I have had many of those same difficulties and challenges.  Like so many others, I didn’t see most of my family for two months.  Many people I know have caught the virus and I couldn’t help or support them, other than down the phone, when they needed comfort.  Very sadly, an extended family member of mine passed away of coronavirus a few weeks ago.  It’s been grim – and so many people have had much worse experiences than I have.

So, when people asked my view on the Dominic Cummings situation, I wanted to wait to give you a proper, considered view. And, after considering it over the weekend, I’m going to go through my thinking in detail.

Firstly, for those wanting a short and sharp answer: I’m afraid I cannot give you one.  I didn’t have the evangelical certainty of some early on Saturday that he had unquestionably done the wrong thing.  I refuse to draw an immediate and snap conclusion, based on inadequate information, rumour and innuendo.  And, even now, twenty-four hours after the press conference yesterday, I remain of the view this is a finely balanced issue and one that deserves more thought than some press and commentators have offered.

Yesterday, Dominic Cummings told us his side of the story.  That was absolutely necessary and the right thing to do. A series of charges (many unfair) had been levelled at him and we needed to hear his explanation.  I’m glad that he made his statement and, as he said himself, it would have been better if he had done it sooner.

Secondly is the question of whether what he did was reasonable.  From what I can see, there is a pretty balanced judgement to be made here.  He wanted to protect his child in the event that he and his wife became incapacitated.  I don’t fault him on that.  Should he have done all of the things he told us about yesterday?  In hindsight, maybe not.  Other people may take different views but I saw someone yesterday whose ultimate answer – that he tried to do the best for his family – was pretty straightforward even if the underlying detail was tortuous and involved.

Over the past day, I’ve tried to ask myself a single question: what I would have done?  The honest answer to that remains, still, that I don’t know.  I can see why some people would have made the trip and I can also understand why others wouldn’t.  That isn’t fence-sitting; it’s a recognition that everyone’s real lives are complex and it’s often impossible to put ourselves in the shoes of people making difficult judgements. We’ve all tried our hardest to fit into these restrictive and difficult guidelines for the sake of everyone but, ultimately, sixty five million lives will never go neatly and continuously into such constraints.

Taking Cummings out of the equation for a moment, where I’m much clearer is that the guidelines did include the ability for people to take other decisions in extenuating circumstances.  Most of my job over the last two months has been to try to help people whose lives don’t fit neatly into the guidelines.  I have spent hours on long phone calls, often with other MPs of all parties, going through a myriad of scenarios that the regulations could never hope to cover; returning from university when you weren’t supposed to travel, helping relocate to another part of the country for important, very serious personal circumstances, family members in real need a long way away, coming back into the country, not coming back into the country, visiting a second home for animal welfare issues and so on and so on.  The list has been long and varied.  It could easily have included a resident with the same question as Cummings.  And, each time, I’ve tried to help work through the guidance, identify the options and help people decide how to approach it.  Sometimes people have had to do things using one of the exemptions.  Other times they haven’t.

I’ve never been a politician who throws stones and I try to be relatively temperate in my judgement.  People are generally trying to do the right thing and, where politicians (or advisers) are concerned, they are mostly in it for the right reasons.  In my three years in politics, I haven’t really seen “one rule for one and one for another”.  I’ve seen people mostly do the right thing and sometimes not.  That’s human nature.

So, if you want me to condemn someone on the basis of a finely balanced judgement that he has made then, given the information I have, I’m not going to do it.  I’m going to accept that he was trying to do the best he could in difficult circumstances.  He knows, because he told us yesterday, that some people will agree and some people won’t.  And I’m going to continue to believe that most  people do the right thing most of the time – not because they were told to by Government or because a letter came through the door (as important as they were).  They did the right thing because it’s what people do.

The British people are a fair-minded lot.  And I can totally understand why they are frustrated at the moment.  Yet, being fair also means being willing to give people the benefit of the doubt at times, even if the judgement call could have gone either way.  That’s not me towing the party line or trotting out what the whips have told me.  I’ve gone against my party on enough issues that I hope my constituents know that I try to think things through.  And on this one, I’m sorry but I can’t, based on what I know at the moment, join the frenzy to condemn.  And neither am I going to condemn the Irish Prime Minister, the scientist on SAGE, the Scottish Medical Officer, Labour MPs or anyone else that made a value judgement or, in some cases, what looks like a debatable decision. People are human. My starting point is they are all trying to do their best and they do the right thing the vast majority of the time.

And, frankly, like I said on Facebook Live on Sunday, I don’t want us to go down a road as a country where we are deciding what was acceptable or not in every crevice of people’s personal lives.  Sometimes there are judgements to be made which are balanced.  That’s not me excusing Cummings.  It’s me saying I don’t think we really want to be in a political world where we are litigating how many times someone stopped for petrol or the toilet habits of a four-year old.  We can do better than that.

Now, I know that for some people this won’t be enough.  And to those, I say, in advance, I’m sorry. Yet, I’m not sure some of those with the racing certainties of recent days are actually looking to discuss. They made their mind up at the start or, in the case of a few, long before the story even came out.

For many others, they may remain sceptical after days of stories. Some of you just aren’t convinced and, even if you were, you still find it concerning. And I get that. We’re in a difficult time and our frustrations are high at the moment. I hope, in time, we can look back and say that, even if you still think he made the wrong decision, that you can see how someone might have come to that conclusion.

So, based on what I know, I’m not going to condemn Dominic for wrestling with the guidance and trying to work out what to do his best in difficult circumstances. So many of my constituents have gone through the same agonising questions. When they came to ask me for advice, I tried to help rather than condemn or criticise. It was the right thing to do then and it’s the right thing to do now. Lives are complicated. Decisions are difficult. Judgements are balanced. I think most people will get that, if not now, in time. And, as a politician, I want to tell it as I see it, even if sometimes some people don’t agree with me. It might have been easier to write a one-liner here that he should resign. But, genuinely, based on what I currently know, I don’t think he should. And you elected me to think through these things. You might not agree with my judgement on this one. But I hope you can see that I’ve at least thought about it and accept that, on balance, it’s a legitimate conclusion to draw.

Fracking – next steps

On 4th November 2019, the Government announced a significant change to its fracking policy through the introduction of an immediate moratorium on further fracking within England. The details of this policy announcement can be found here:

Fracking has been one of the biggest issues in North East Derbyshire for the entire time I have been a Member of Parliament. The proposal to drill at Bramleymoor Lane has cast a long shadow over our area and the overwhelming majority of people both close to the proposed site, and across the constituency as a whole, remain opposed to it. Back in 2017 when I became your MP, I promised I would campaign against the application and seek to stop it happening. Since then, I have done just that and have also been one of the MPs who has led the wider fight against fracking in the last Parliamentary session. This has included organising debates, meeting with Ministers, submitting dozens of questions, establishing a new Parliamentary group to monitor the impact of fracking, inviting experts to Parliament to discuss the matter, convincing an independent watchdog to investigate, introducing new legislation to stop earthquakes and speaking against the Bramleymoor Lane application on multiple occasions.

I strongly welcomed the decision by the Government to change policy in November. As I have said to residents over many months whilst we fought this battle, getting any Government to change key elements of their policy is difficult and akin to turning around a supertanker in mid-flow – it takes time, patience and a need to properly engage with the arguments to win people around. I always thought it would be a challenge but the weight of evidence, to me, seemed to point to fracking not being realistic or practical within the United Kingdom and I thought, over time, we could make a strong case. I am very glad to see the policy change.

More than that, I think the wording in the written ministerial statement is very helpful to those of us who have opposed fracking. Whilst the Government has been clear it will be led by the evidence, it has also stated explicitly that the attempts to frack last year in Lancashire, and the consequences of that attempt, were “clearly unacceptable” and that the moratorium will be maintained unless and until new evidence is presented. It also completely abandons the plans to loosen the planning rules around fracking, or determine fracking applications centrally, which was another key part of our campaigns last year.

During the General Election campaign, fracking was discussed extensively, including at many of the hustings that we held around the constituency. As will happen in an election campaign, there was a significant amount of political knockabout and fracking was caught in the crossfire of political point scoring. At a time when we had largely achieved our objective to stop fracking, new litmus tests were created by those seeking to differentiate their positions. That, I guess, is inevitable in politics! Notwithstanding that, my position has always been and will remain the same: that I oppose Bramleymoor Lane (and will fight it) and that I do not think fracking works for the UK as a whole (and I will fight it).

A number of residents have been in touch since the election to ask about what happens now with fracking. Well, from my perspective – and for what it is worth – I think the Government is absolutely genuine about the moratorium and about changing policy. I know that some concerns were raised during the election campaign about whether the moratorium might prove to be temporary and that it may return soon after. As someone who has campaigned extensively in Parliament on this, I absolutely do not think that is the case. Of course, there are a range of opinions down in Westminster on fracking. Some, like me, think it is a bad idea. Others are willing to try it. There is nothing inherently wrong with that latter position, although I strongly disagree with it. Whether they conceptually think it is a good idea or not, most people now, however, realise that fracking is not a policy which seems practical and are supportive of the moratorium. I would expect and hope that energy policy discussions move on to other issues rather than trying to unpick the moratorium in the future.

So, in this new Parliamentary term, I wanted to set out my view on where we are and where we go next. Firstly, I take the Government at its word that it has stopped fracking in the United Kingdom and it will not change that policy without compelling new evidence. I think the argument against fracking has been won and that the many thousands of residents and campaigners who have fought to change policy have really achieved something here. As a result, we need to move the campaign from one of activism to vigilance – that we have largely achieved our aims and that we now need to keep watching this issue to make sure that there are no problems in the future and that the current moratorium is strong enough not to be circumvented.

In North East Derbyshire, therefore, I will continue to work with our local anti-fracking groups to support them in areas where we can work together. I am also continuing to monitor the current planning application for Bramleymoor Lane with Derbyshire County Council until the permissions to explore run out on the 16th of August 2021.

And down in Parliament, I will re-constitute the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Impact of Shale Gas so that it is ready and available in case there are any issues in the future (which I hope there won’t be). We will hold an Annual General Meeting in the coming months and then will organise meetings as needed.

I also think there are a couple of points to pick up on the moratorium which need further focus. The announcement back in November said that the Oil and Gas Authority, the body charged with reviewing this area by Government, would continue to put together evidence on how fracking works. I want to understand what additional evidence is being put together by interested parties like the OGA. I am currently in correspondence with them and will come back shortly. And, secondly, we need to make sure that it is clear that, given there is no future for fracking, there is no point in exploratory drilling. That is something I am working on at the moment and, again, will report back when I have further information.

All told, I want to tie up any loose ends and make sure that fracking has permanently and absolutely gone away. Ultimately, the proof on that will be time and little else – so we will be vigilant in the coming months as the moratorium beds in and the policy recedes, hopefully, into the distance.

Finally, I just also wanted to address one other point that a small number of residents have been in touch about – that of a ban. I know that there are some in the anti-fracking community who are unwilling to stop the campaign until a ban is put in place. I respect their positions and their desire to continue but, from my perspective, I am unsure that is a good use of time or, practically, changes anything on a day-to-day basis even if it did come into practice. Most campaigners have accepted that the decisions by other Governments, such as the Scottish Government, to stop fracking are the end of the matter – and they were moratoriums not bans. If it is sufficient in Scotland, I think it is sufficient in England. Whilst I wish those who want to pursue a ban well, I think my focus is best maintained on the points I have raised above.

Of course, if there was any likelihood of fracking coming back (which I hope and expect there won’t be), then, as I said in the hustings during the election campaign, I would do whatever was necessary to try to stop that including a ban if necessary. For the moment, however, a ban would not change anything on the ground and my preference is to work on ensuring the moratorium framework is strong.

We’ve made extraordinary progress over the past few years on fracking. Eighteen months ago, the Government were pushing ahead with fracking across the country and were planning on loosening planning rules to help it achieve that. Fast forward to January 2020 and we are now in a place where the policy has been reversed, the Government have a presumption against fracking, a moratorium stops fracking happening anywhere in England and the plans to loosen the planning rules have been abandoned. That is huge progress and thank you again for all of your support and help in getting us to that place. We have really achieved something here – and the campaign now moves into a different phase. I will continue to be vigilant to ensure fracking does not return and to work on the outstanding points described above.

Together, we have achieved a big win here. Thank you again for everything you did. North East Derbyshire said it didn’t want fracking. And now, thanks to everyone’s efforts, it won’t happen.

Stagecoach Bus Services: Outcome of Consultation

As many residents are aware, Stagecoach recently consulted on some proposed changes to their bus services across North East Derbyshire, which will come into effect on 26 January 2020. Thank you to everyone who got in touch with Stagecoach as part of that consultation and who raised their concerns, issues and comments.

Like so many changes to bus services in recent years, the majority of the proposals are sadly for service reductions as a result of continuing decline in demand in bus usage across Derbyshire (and which is happening in most places across the country also).

During the period of the consultation, and since it closed in November, I have been in regular communication with Stagecoach to highlight the community’s concerns about these proposed changes. This included meeting with Stagecoach along with a number of local Councillors from Killamarsh and Eckington, liaising with them to highlight residents’ concerns, monitoring the status of the proposals and, just in the last few days, raising further concerns about the proposals that they have come forward with, particularly on the Killamarsh service.

Stagecoach have now published their intended changes and, as is expected (and is extremely disappointing), there are a number of changes which will negatively impact on local communities in North East Derbyshire.

Firstly, there is a little bit of good news, with a couple of the proposed changes now being dropped. The proposal to reduce the frequency of the 51 service will not go ahead. Likewise, the proposed change to the 43 service to extend to Newbold in Chesterfield has also been dropped which will not elongate the time to get from Chesterfield to Dronfield. These are positive wins and ones which are welcome for all of the communities who were going to be impacted.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the proposed changes are happening which is extremely disappointing. Whilst I am grateful that we’ve had a couple of small wins on this, I am disappointed as a whole with Stagecoach’s decision to go ahead with most of the reductions. The proposed changes to the 70, 70A, 71 and 72 services have received a particularly large amount of concern from residents in Killamarsh and Eckington. I have queried Stagecoach’s reasoning for these changes and have been informed that both services have lost around 10% usage over the last two years alone.

In the last few days, when the changes were announced, I went back to Stagecoach and asked them to reconsider on the drop off points in Sheffield too for the Killamarsh and Eckington services. Unfortunately, they have already registered the new service changes, so further changes are not now possible.

Bus services have also been a difficult subject and there is no easy answer on the matter. Bus companies like Stagecoach are clear that the networks are not sustainable in their previous forms because demand for the services continues to decline. On the other side, reductions in services mean that large villages and towns across North East Derbyshire are left with no, or minimal, services. And there is a ‘chicken and egg’ element to this which often creates a spiral – if there isn’t a functioning bus service throughout the day then that encourages more and more people to get cars or change how they get about, reducing demand for buses further. Whilst we have been able to get some wins on stopping reductions over the last couple of years – we had success in Holymoorside earlier in the year and Stagecoach’s abandonment of the proposals to reduce the 51 are very positive – we still see service reductions on a fairly regular basis.

As a community, we are going to have to think more about how we try and improve the situation here. Stopping service reductions like Holymoorside or the 51 are small and very important wins but the wider, and likely continuing, challenge regarding demand decline needs more thought. I would be keen to hear from residents with interests in this who want to get together to talk more about what we do in the future. As an MP I don’t have the power to direct companies to run services (nor is it sustainable for local authorities to simply throw lots of money at services where demand is low) but I will keep trying to find a way through this and, along with your local Councillors, to get involved where I am able.

In the meantime, I encourage residents to take a look at the information below to browse the new timetables for specifics, available here:

Thank you North East Derbyshire!

It is a privilege to be re-elected as the Member of Parliament for North East Derbyshire and thank you to everyone who voted in the election a few weeks ago.  It is great to be able to get back to work and to continue to try to make our area better.

As ever, if you need any help or assistance, or just want to highlight your views on an issue, just drop me a line at 439222 or

General Election 2019

On 12th December, the United Kingdom will go to the polls to elect a new Parliament in a General Election.  I will be standing in that General Election as the Conservative Party candidate and hope to be re-elected to continue the work that I have done since 2017 on behalf of North East Derbyshire.

In accordance with guidance issued by the House of Commons, during the period between 6th November and 12th December Parliament is formally dissolved and there are no MPs.  As such, former MPs are requested not to use websites which suggest they may still be in post.  Consequently, this blog ( will be frozen for that period.  If I am re-elected, I will continue to post here in the future.

Instead, you can find out more about what I am doing elsewhere on the web:


Stagecoach Proposed Bus Changes – Consultation Open

A couple of weeks ago, Stagecoach announced that they are consulting on proposed changes to some local bus services across North Derbyshire. If you use the buses in or around Killamarsh, Eckington, Renishaw, Dronfield, Unstone, Clay Cross, Danesmoor, Tupton, Wingerworth, Staveley or Mastin Moor, please do take a look at the proposed changes below to see if they will affect you. The proposals are in their early stages so specific timetable information hasn’t been released yet but we do know what services Stagecoach are proposing to reduce, merge or amend.

Since the announcement, I have met with Stagecoach to talk through the proposals and raise concerns that I have already received from local residents. Like many people, I am disappointed in Stagecoach’s proposals and I would prefer that they didn’t implement them.

I do accept that bus usage is changing and services will not stay the same forever but it is regrettable that a large number of services could be changing in our area.

Some services could see significant reductions in frequencies or changes to routes, whilst others will revert to previous frequencies for services from a few years ago.  With that in mind, if you are affected by the proposals below it is important that you make your voice heard in the consultation.  The consultation closes on 1st November so please do make sure you have your say soon.

You can find the consultation and more information below or by visiting the Stagecoach website here:

Changes affecting Killamarsh, Eckington, Renishaw, Mastin Moor and Staveley

Service 70
Changes: Stagecoach is proposing to remove this service which currently runs from Chesterfield to Killamarsh via Staveley, Eckington and Renishaw. This service currently runs every hour.
Areas affected: Killamarsh, Eckington, Renishaw, Mastin Moor, Staveley
Alternative routes: The newly proposed 80 service (see below) would connect Killamarsh, Renishaw, Mastin Moor and Staveley with Chesterfield, Sheffield and the Chesterfield Royal Hospital, providing new links. The route in Sheffield City Centre is revised to provide better access to shopping and employment areas.  A newly proposed hourly 74a service will connect Chesterfield and Mastin Moor, maintaining the current two buses an hour between Mastin Moor and Chesterfield.  The 50, 50a, 50b services will still run between Chesterfield and Sheffield via Eckington.  The 53 service will still link Eckington and Renishaw at a frequency of approximately one service every two hours.

Service 72
Changes: The current 72 service which connects Chesterfield and Sheffield via Killamarsh, Renishaw, Mastin Moor and Staveley will be replaced with an extended 80 service route.  The new 80 service route will connect Chesterfield and Sheffield via Chesterfield Royal Hospital, Brimington, Staveley, Mastin Moor, Renishaw, Killamarsh and Crystal Peaks, providing new links. The new 80 service will run once an hour for Killamarsh, Eckington, Renishaw, Mastin Moor, Staveley.
Areas affected: Killamarsh, Eckington, Renishaw, Mastin Moor, Staveley
Alternative routes: The 53 service will still run between Mansfield and Sheffield via Eckington and Renishaw at a frequency of approximately every two hours.

Service 80
Changes: The 80 service currently runs from Chesterfield to Brimington via Chesterfield Royal Hospital, approximately twice an hour. Stagecoach is proposing to extend one of the hourly 80 service routes to Sheffield via Staveley, Mastin Moor, Renishaw, Killamarsh and Crystal Peaks, providing new links, in place of the current 72 service.
Areas affected: Killamarsh, Eckington, Renishaw, Mastin Moor, Staveley

Service 74
Changes: The 74 service currently runs from Chesterfield to Duckmanton via Staveley twice an hour. The new proposals would reduce the service between Staveley to Duckmanton to hourly. But, a new 74a service from Chesterfield to Mastin Moor would be introduced, thus maintaining two buses an hour between Chesterfield and Staveley via Inkersall.
Areas affected: Staveley, Mastin Moor

Changes affecting Dronfield, Dronfield Woodhouse, Gosforth Valley and Unstone

Service 43
Changes: The current 43 service runs from Sheffield to Chesterfield via Dronfield, Dronfield Woodhouse, Gosforth Valley and Unstone. Stagecoach want to reroute a small section of the 43 route to serve residents in Newbold rather than Sheffield Road in Chesterfield.  The service will still begin and end at Chesterfield, New Beetwell Street. Residents in Dronfield, Dronfield Woodhouse, Gosforth Valley and Unstone will still be able to use the 43 to travel to and from central Chesterfield.  Timetable information has not yet been released but the 43 will run twice an hour during Monday to Saturday daytime over the full route, with an extra bus per hour between Dronfield and Sheffield on Mondays to Fridays. When combined with service 44, there will be a bus every 15 minutes (every 20 minutes on Saturdays) between Meadowhead, Woodseats and Sheffield.
Areas affected: Dronfield, Dronfield Woodhouse, Gosforth Valley, Unstone
Alternative routes: For some Dronfield and Unstone residents, the 44 service (Chesterfield to Sheffield) will still provide a link with Sheffield Road in Chesterfield.

Service 44
Changes: A revised timetable will be introduced to coordinate with the new 43 service but will still run every hour during the daytime.
Areas affected: Coal Aston, Dronfield, Unstone
Alternative routes: Dronfield and Unstone residents will still be able to use the 44 service to travel to Sheffield and Chesterfield.

Changes affecting Clay Cross, Danesmoor, Tupton, Old Tupton, Wingerworth and Derby Road residents

Service 51
Changes: The 51 service from Danesmoor to Chesterfield via Tupton will be reduced from three to two buses per hour. They will also no longer call at Chesterfield rail station.
Areas affected: Danesmoor, Clay Cross, Old Tupton, Tupton, Wingerworth, Derby Road
Alternative routes: Hourly service X1 Chesterfield – Clay Cross – Alfreton – East Midlands Outlet – Nottingham provides an hourly service between Clay Cross and Chesterfield along the A61.

Sometimes we have successes with bus consultations. I worked with a local councillor and residents in Holymoorside to protect a local bus service from being reduced this year. Of course, we can’t ensure the same outcome for these new proposals but this just highlights how important it is to complete the consultation – so have your say if these changes affect you!

The consultation closes on 1st November so please do make sure you complete the consultation soon. If you would like to discuss these changes with my office, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on 01246 439222 or email

You can find the consultation and more information here:

Voting for a new leader

This morning I voted in the first round of the Conservative Party leadership contest just before getting on the train to come home. This is the first leadership ballot that I have participated in since becoming your MP and I wanted to set out my thoughts on the choice I have made.

Firstly, thank you to everyone who has been in touch over the last few days to let me know their views on this issue and who they think best equipped to take the country forward. We have had hundreds and hundreds of messages and I have managed to respond to about half so far – everyone else will get a response in the coming days!

It’s fair to say that the views of the constituency have been the full range – from “don’t vote for anyone” all the way to suggestions of colleagues who aren’t standing, along with all of the candidates in between. Throughout all of the emails remains a constant thread; that politics has not worked in recent months, that people want politicians to do as they promised and, for the majority, that they want us to get on with leaving the European Union. Given the range of diverse opinions, I know I cannot satisfy everyone with my choice (!) – but all of your feedback has been invaluable nonetheless.

On a broader level, I remain sad that it has come to this at all. Although my differences with the Prime Minister have been known for a number of months, on a personal level there is no doubt that she has tried very hard under very difficult circumstances. In another world, we might be in a different place – not least we might have left the EU. On balance and with regret, I do think the country needed a fresh start and so I think the Prime Minister has done the right thing in stepping down. Whatever our own views on the last few months, however, we should respect and thank Mrs May for her service to the United Kingdom.

The convention in contests like this is that MPs declare their preferred candidate early on. I chose not to do that and I did not immediately jump to support a particular candidate when the leadership contest first began. I wanted to hear what residents were saying and, bluntly, I wanted to see how the contest unfolded. I also tried to meet almost all the candidates themselves (sometimes several times) so I could understand their platforms better, to ask them questions and to see if they were the right person to improve both North East Derbyshire and the country. I’m grateful to them all for being willing to take the time to talk to me. One of the issues last time, in 2016, was that the party came to a decision very abruptly and, in my view, we need to go through this contest and ‘road test’ those who are seeking to be the Prime Minister to the best extent.

Part of the decision I have made on this subject has been the situation (or mess) we are in. As residents know, I support Brexit and have consistently voted for it to happen – with an acceptable deal (if one could be found – which it hasn’t yet) or without one. It was my judgement, therefore, that the best choice of leader needed to be someone who was committed to both Brexit and to holding firm on the 31st October deadline.

However, whilst we need to find a leader who can take us forward on Brexit we also need to realise that there are a whole suite of other policies which we need to do better on. North East Derbyshire is interested in Brexit but it is more interested in jobs, schools, hospitals and roads – and I want us to rebalance the conversation back on to policies which improve the day-to-day lives of everyone working hard in places like Dronfield or Clay Cross.

Having read all of the messages from residents in recent days, I made my decision yesterday and, accordingly, voted for Boris Johnson today as the positive choice for taking our country forward. I hope he is successful in the coming weeks.

Now, I know some people will very much like the decision I have made and some will not. Boris is someone who elicits strong emotions in people and that was reflected in the feedback I received from the constituency. Overall, however, the clear message from those in the constituency who got in touch was to vote for Boris. It is fair to say I have been on a journey myself to get to today. Yet, for what it is worth, in multiple conversations with Boris in recent weeks, I have seen someone who is serious, prepared and wants to do the right thing for the country. He isn’t perfect (and he would accept that) and he knows that he has a job to do to convince some people. But, as he has convinced me over time, I hope he can convince you in the coming weeks too.

The United Kingdom has got itself into a hole in the last year. We are an outward-looking, modern, tolerant, successful and brilliant place to live. We have much going for us and are, still, looked up to around the world. We should be proud of what we have achieved and we have a great future ahead, whatever happens. Yet, Brexit and the difficulties of the last few years, have weighed heavily on us and created tensions in our communities. Getting out of this hole is going to be very difficult – indeed, there is a chance we may struggle to do that in the next few months – but we have to try. And, in my view, the best person to do that is someone with a vision, someone who can convince the country to go forward and who make a fresh start after the difficulties of the last year. For me, that man is Boris.

Brexit: Thoughts on where we are

The last few weeks in Westminster have been extremely challenging and ones which, rightly, hundreds of residents have been in touch about. Just before we break for the Christmas period, I wanted to set out in more detail where I see the issue right now and some of the reasons for the decisions I have made recently.

As many constituents are aware, I have had profound concerns about the direction of Government policy on Brexit since the Chequers proposals came out in July. At the election I made a commitment to leave the European Union, leave the single market and leave the customs union – and I remain committed to doing all of those. Just as importantly, the manifesto also said “We believe the UK must seize the unique opportunities it has to forge a new set of trade and investment relationships around the world, building a global, outward-looking Britain” (page 28). For me, and however you voted, I have always wanted to approach Brexit as an opportunity to forge a new path and to take advantage of future global growth – 95%+ of which will be outside the European Union in the coming decades. If we are to do that, the decisions we make now must put us in a position to take up some of those opportunities. And that was my issue with Chequers; it was proposing tying us in to an overly prescriptive trade and legal arrangement which would proscribe our long-term flexibility. I wrote an article in the Telegraph at the time outlining my concerns ( and I have included a copy of it below.

In November, the Government concluded a deal with the European Union and presented it to the Houses of Parliament and the country. 585 pages of legal text were dropped on all of us with just a few days’ notice and, having studied it closely along with other colleagues, it soon became clear that we were repeating many of the mistakes from Chequers. Whilst there are elements of the deal which appear acceptable (including, for example, on immigration), there are a number of fundamental problems which mean I cannot support it. I strongly believe it will not allow the UK to take advantage of the opportunities we have in the coming decades and will not prepare us for the challenges we are likely to face in the future. The Prime Minister is effectively proposing a deal which will retain many of the frustrations that we have had with the EU for 40 years and give us few of the benefits we hoped for with Brexit. The country I want to see is one where we have the flexibility and ability to really thrive in the coming decades for our children and grandchildren.

So, what are my issues with the deal?

  • Trade: If we are to truly thrive in the coming years, we need the ability to strike meaningful trade deals with the rest of the world. It is the word “meaningful” that is key here. The Prime Minister is right that trade deals can technically be struck in the future if we accept her proposals. Yet, it is whether they will properly open up new markets and give us new opportunities which are the real questions. In my view, there is no meaningful possibility of an independent trade policy if we consent to this deal. For example, the deal means that if we wish to trade with New Zealand, Australia or any country outside of the European Union, we must trade on the rules set by the EU – even though the goods that we exchange will likely never go anywhere near Europe. It is not for the EU to set the standards and regulations on the terms of our trade with other countries forever – we are quite capable of doing that ourselves. These proposals are both fundamentally unnecessary and will mean that we outsource future decisions on standards and regulations to the EU; reducing our ability to strike agreements with others.
  • The Irish backstop: this is the issue that many people are currently focusing upon. The Prime Minister has described the Irish backstop as an insurance policy – something we shouldn’t have to use but there in case we can’t agree a future relationship with the EU after we leave. Yet, the backstop itself is a horrible insurance policy; guaranteeing, in the event we can’t agree a future relationship, that the UK will remain in a customs union and that a constituent part of the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) will remain aligned to the rules of the EU single market – effectively separating Ulster from the rest of the UK from a policy perspective. It also is an insurance policy without a time-limit; if the future relationship never gets agreed, then we stay in the backstop forever – and we have no way of independently deciding to leave. I just cannot agree to this – the UK must have control over its own destiny. The Prime Minister tells us that we shouldn’t be too concerned about the backstop – that the intention is for it not to be used and no-one wants us to do so. Well, for me, that isn’t good enough; we can’t make policy on the basis that we cross our fingers and hope it won’t happen. Secondly, consent to the backstop takes away all of our leverage in the discussion about the future relationship; the EU know that they don’t need to agree to any of the things we as a country want because, in the event we don’t come to agreement, the UK will fall into the backstop anyway. Thirdly, and most frustratingly, many commentators have highlighted how the core issue which created the need for a backstop (the need to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland) can be solved via other means. We already have different VAT regimes between Northern Ireland and the Republic – and no need for a hard border. We can do the same with different customs regimes in the future. A combination of spot checks, assessments at source or destination, trusted trader and technology can all manage flow of goods across the border without infrastructure. The backstop is, quite simply, a terrible, sub-standard solution to a problem which doesn’t really exist.
  • The money: To top it all, we pay a huge sum to the EU and we are given nothing but an assurance we can talk about a future partnership with no firm confirmation of what that will look like. I absolutely recognise that we have obligations and I support paying them. However, the important thing we need to resolve with the European Union is how we are going to work with them in the future. Whilst this deal forces us to sign up to many things which we don’t like, the key part of the discussion about our future relationship is deferred to a future date. We are signing away our leverage and negotiating position for the promise of a future discussion rather than real, concrete outcomes which will benefit our country.

Over the course of the last year, I have supported the Government and the Prime Minister for many months recognising the difficulty and the problems that she has in trying to find a way forward on this. Yet, the UK is allowing the EU’s intransigence to force us to accept a sub-standard deal which will be damaging to us in the long-run. That can’t be right. We must aim higher than this. Along with six other colleagues, I outlined my concerns in more detail a few weeks ago in this article: and then wrote an individual piece a few days after ( I have reprinted them both below.

Some residents have been in touch over the last week to raise other points. Some tell me they just want to get Brexit done. Others that we simply must compromise. Still more tell me that the Prime Minister’s deal is probably the right one because she has worked so hard on it over recent months. I completely understand all of these sentiments but I wanted just to say a couple of things on each.

Firstly on those who want to get Brexit done: I completely agree – and I want to do the same. We have so much more that we need to move onto and so many domestic issues which need greater attention. Yet, I fear I may say something disappointing; it is becoming increasingly clear that Brexit won’t get “done” in the next few months. We are going to be grappling with it for a number of years – not because we want to but because we need to. Secondly, the one way, in my view, to store up pain is to agree the deal in its current form. We do have to start moving on from Brexit – but the deal won’t do that.

Secondly, on compromise: again, I agree. Of course, I want to compromise and I will happily do that. It cannot be any compromise, however; splitting the difference is not an end in itself. And having studied the 600 pages of this document, this is the wrong compromise and I genuinely believe that it is not in the interest of the United Kingdom to agree this deal. Nor do I think it is viable to allow the deal to go ahead and then work for changes in future – we are about to codify these proposals in an international treaty which are notoriously difficult to change. Worse than that, we are agreeing an international treaty which looks as though it will have no meaningful mechanism for exit. We are locked in forever – and material changes won’t be possible. In all good conscience, I simply can’t support the deal in its current form.

Finally, people have said how much they respect and admire the Prime Minister for all the work that she has done. I do too. I have always, and will continue to, have great admiration for the Prime Minister’s resilience and resolve. She has shown great strength in dealing with the last two years and picking up an incredibly difficult situation. My respect for her, on a personal level, remains undiminished – and I told her that a few days ago. It is my job, however, to separate the detail of the deal from the obvious hard work and commitment that has gone into getting to where we are. And the deal itself doesn’t work – and I cannot consent to it because someone, however laudably, has worked extremely hard on it. We have to get this deal right.

Obviously, events have moved quickly in recent days including a leadership contest and, belatedly (and after several weeks of insisting that nothing could be changed), the Prime Minister saying she will go back to Brussels to try to do something on the backstop. For me, it was a tragedy that it came to a contest last week – it shouldn’t have been necessary and many of us, including myself, had hoped it could be avoided. Yet, we had been telling the Government for months that the deal wouldn’t work and no-one had been listening. I fully understand that people may not agree with my decision around a confidence vote – but I took it on policy, not personal, grounds. If the policy doesn’t work, and the person ties themselves so closely to that policy that they won’t change it, then there becomes little alternative to get a change of strategy.

So, where are we as Christmas arrives? Arguably, not particularly further forward than we were a few weeks ago. I still think the Government was wrong to not allow a vote on the Brexit deal a few days ago. I still think the Brexit deal is extremely flawed. And I am unconvinced that the Government is having the right conversations to try to fix many of the issues within it.

Nonetheless, I realise that we are where we are. Following the last few days, the Prime Minister has committed to going back to Brussels to try to improve the deal. I welcome that and I think it is right to give the Prime Minister some space on this. I still have grave reservations about where we are going on Brexit, and cannot support it in its current form, but we must see what she returns with. If it doesn’t address at least the backstop and trade, however, I will still be unable to support it.

Throughout all of this extremely complicated and charged debate, I try to go back to a few core principles. We must leave the European Union. We must honour the result of the referendum. We must stay true to the commitments we gave on Europe at the election. And, most vitally, we must leave the EU in a way that allows us to take advantage of the opportunities we will have as a country in the future. If we honour those, we can be hugely successful in the future. If we don’t, we risk a catastrophic loss of trust in the democratic system as a way to change things. However you voted in 2016 and whatever you think now, the key issues are one of trust and opportunity. Get those right and we have a great future ahead of us. Get them wrong and we are going to store up problems in the coming decades.

I have no time for vitriol and games in politics and I have tried to avoid doing any of that since my election. Yet, I will say no to something if I think it is wrong. And this deal won’t work unless it has substantial change. And there are times, whatever criticism is levelled at you, when you have to do what you think is right. I felt we were heading in a direction which was going to be extremely problematic and I felt I had a duty to stand up, respectfully, and say that I couldn’t support a course of action which is wrong. I don’t regret it and, although I hope I don’t have to, I will do it again in January if the deal isn’t changed.

For the first time in years, Brexit has given people hope. If it fails they won’t forgive us, Daily Telegraph, 18 August 2018
“Harold Wilson once said a week was a long-time in politics. At the moment, weeks feel like eternities. Since early July, I appear to have morphed, against my will and without actually changing my views, from a moderate member of my party on Brexit, to a rebel. From a supporter of the Government’s approach to one who now has real concerns about its direction. All in a few short weeks.

If we are honest, for politicians, a week shouldn’t be that important at all. Nor should a month and even, to some extent, a year. The key conversation we should be having – one that has really been absent for too long – is what the next fifteen or twenty years looks like; what we actually should do now, beyond the platitudinous mush, to ensure our children have a better life than we have. And Brexit is the omnipresent, raging fog obscuring that vital discussion.

Deep down, all politicians know that there is something amiss in the body politic today. Populations are restless. People feel left out and ignored. The traditional levers to improve the world are malfunctioning; slower growth, foreign policy chaos and domestic budgetary stricture. The status quo appears brittle and worn. And yet there is no clarity about what to replace it with. The world is turning and, for many, it appears to be turning away from them.

Underneath that sense of foreboding are two existential issues. The first is technology. In my lifetime alone, I have seen the advent of the home computer, the internet and the mobile phone. What is now ubiquitous as I enter middle age was not even an idea in the first flush of my youth. Millions of jobs have been created by a medium which was invisible a generation ago and which, most likely, will have changed beyond recognition in another one.

Yet, even in normal times, politicians’ answer to technology is to either ignore it or grandstand on it. Take the tech giants, for example, and their questionable data practices. The elite have gone to town on them in recent months. Outrage is the order of the day. CEOs have been chastened. Companies run warm adverts saying “we’ve changed” without a proper public consideration of what, over the long-term, we all need to change to. Our focus on Brexit has meant we’ve missed the underlying, hard questions. Are they platforms or publishers? Are they monopolists or innovators? How do individual nation states regulate cross-border activity?

Brexit is, quite simply, the ultimate political distraction technique. The amount of time we spend in legislatures debating the philosophical, economic and social impacts of artificial intelligence, big data and the loss of privacy is inversely proportional to their coming impacts. I am a huge evangelist about technology and its ability to change lives. Yet, we have to ready citizens to take advantage of those opportunities through skills, flexibility and attitude. But why should we do that when we can trot along to yet another debate about the merits of the EEA? We must do better. And, frustratingly, with Chequers destabilising the European debate, our fixation on the short-term will remain as the long-term continues to cry out for proper attention.

The second existential issue of our time is trust. Out there beyond the M25, people feel ignored and patronised, particularly those who have borne the brunt of some of the changes of the last thirty years. Globalisation continues to re-shape our communities and, whatever we think of it, we need to find a way to show people they have security in their lives. The last thirty years have been hard for many and have undermined faith in the system at its core. And then a toxic cacophony of expenses scandals, dodgy dossiers, spin and the obscuring of hard choices has left people feeling that the system is not just untrustworthy but fundamentally rotten too.

Against that imposing backdrop, Brexit was an opportunity to restore that trust with a large section of society. “The Government will implement what you decide” said the booklet dropped through every household letterbox. The decision was close but clear: people voted to leave the European Union. The definition of that result was distilled last year, by both parties, into departure from the single market and the customs union. Eighty-five percent of people agreed.

In the months since Brexit, I have seen a tentative change on the doorstep of the people who I proudly represent. Distrust and disengagement was replaced by curiosity. People tentatively dared to hope that the political class were actually going to do something they requested. Perhaps the duck house could finally fade from a deeply suspicious collective memory.

And then along came Chequers. At a stroke, that emerging engagement with politics has been scrambled. The Government spin proclaims that we are taking back control. The reality is that we are ceding it, at least on trade, in perpetuity. The document is a clever, legalistic, splitting-the-difference tome; the product of a process driven by a civil service never fully reconciled to leaving and, ultimately, not wanting to grasp the nettle.

Whatever you think about the referendum, and whatever your own personal view on Chequers is, the key measure is one of trust. Does this proposal properly embody the decision of the British people in 2016? Can you sell it to the disengaged of Dronfield or the exasperated of Eckington? And, when this offer is inevitably salami-sliced away into irrelevance by the EU, what should we tell our electors then? That we gave it our best effort but came up short? That Brussels is right? That our masters know best?

We are privileged to live in a time when we see the world going through one of the biggest transformations ever. We should be optimistic about those changes. Yet, shadows stalk our landscape. Technology will only be tamed by a proper legislative focus on the long-term. Trust will only be restored by delivering what we promised. The political elite decided it was going to hang its credibility on the question of Brexit in 2014 and the people gave them their orders two years later. And now we need to deliver them.

I became an MP last year, for my home area, and the truth is that I ran for Parliament for a much wider set of reasons than Brexit. I am not madly obsessed by the intricate nuances of the acquis or think everything that comes out of Europe is bad. And I’m willing to compromise on money and timelines if necessary. Yet, my bottom line is this: I need to be able to go back to my constituents – the people who I grew up with and call my friends – and say we did what they asked us to do.

So, my message to the Government is this: you have a decision to make. Chequers is about to undermine the underlying mission I thought we were all trying to deliver – restoring the belief that the disengaged had in democracy to deliver. And, in doing so, it will create an anger out there, and an angst so great in Westminster, that there is no chance we can give existential issues like technology the focus they deserve. Drop Chequers and deliver what the people voted for. “

Brexit is a moment of tremendous opportunity and Britain deserves better than the PM’s deal, Daily Telegraph (with Julia Lopez MP, Suella Braverman MP, Simon Clarke MP, Ranil Jayawardena MP, Ross Thomson MP, Ben Bradley MP), 30 November 2018
“Brexit presents a profound and complex challenge for our country and our politics. Yet seeing parliament reduce it (at best) to a problem to be mitigated and (at worst) to an existential threat that needs to be blocked, has been frustrating and dispiriting in equal measure. That is precisely the wrong outlook to take at this time. For all the policy conundrums it presents, Brexit is a moment of tremendous creative opportunity and renewal for our United Kingdom – an opportunity we do not want to miss.

As younger Conservative MPs, we are ambitious for our constituencies and the country we serve. Anchored by our faith in Conservatism as a force for good, we believe in hard work, individual responsibility, empathy, the power of people and a hand up where it is needed. We want to build a nation that is at ease with itself, whose pride comes from our values and achievements as a dynamic, twenty-first century democracy that is underpinned by a rich history, not defined by faded glory. None of us entered politics to obsess about Brexit. But we also understand the once-in-a-generation chance it gives us to fulfil the hopes we have for our nation, to reshape politics and to rebuild faith in the system that is at such a dangerously low ebb.

The Prime Minister is absolutely right when she says that we all want to move on from divisive Brexiteer and Remainer labels and start focusing on the broader challenges facing our nation. However, we have come together in our belief that the Withdrawal Agreement will not help us do that. Instead, we fear we are poised to sign up to a deal that leaves us with many of the frustrations of 40 years of EU membership and few of the gains from the bold decision that the British people took at the ballot box.

Compromise is an important part of any negotiation. We empathise with the instinct towards caution and continuity. But we are concerned that the continuity presented by the Withdrawal Agreement is illusory and comes at the cost of meaningful change. Entreaties to “just get on with it” ring hollow given the challenges that will be stored up for our nation from being placed into a state of indefinite limbo. Parliamentarians have a difficult choice to make in the next two weeks. We must be careful not to block off the opportunities of tomorrow because we are scared of the decisions of today.

We are not challenging many of the sensible provisions and details in the Withdrawal Agreement that seek to give citizens certainty and confidence in their daily lives. We believe in close cooperation with our European partners, and see a valued and close relationship with them as vital to building a global future. But this deal will store up new animosities, and create fresh frustrations from the limits it places upon our country and our future.

First, it will constrain our flexibility in a world that demands faster responses to global challenges. We will not meaningfully be able to set our trade policies or our laws, nor build a society and country which responds better to the needs and aspirations of its citizens.

Second, it reduces our control. Most obviously, we run the risk of being trapped in the European Union’s regulatory system for years without the chance to influence it or the unilateral ability to leave. We risk treating one part of our United Kingdom differently from another, and leaving one part of our nation behind the rest. And, fundamentally, for millions of people at the referendum, Brexit was seen as an opportunity to take more control over our country’s future. If that doesn’t happen, we risk a catastrophic loss of trust by the communities we represent in the power of democracy to change things.

Finally, this deal does not give us closure. We will be caught in an interminable, reductive debate about Brexit if we give up all of our leverage before we have nailed down a future relationship that really works for our United Kingdom. If there is one thing that the most fervent Brexiteer and Remainer can agree on, it is the need to start a new chapter as quickly as possible. This deal prevents us from doing so.

Over a series of articles in the lead-up to the vote we will outline how our future prosperity requires us to reject this deal and demand more from us all as a political class. We will then write in more detail about why the deal does not work for our future ambitions on trade, security, the union, the economy, jobs, our communities and the environment.

Put simply, our national debate over Brexit must be about more than simply getting us over the line in March 2019. It must be about the country and continent we are trying to build for March 2029 and beyond. Our future is too important to give away now in haste and pay the price later.

We all want to get back to debating our vision for the UK beyond Brexit – but we can only do that if we make the right decision in the next fourteen days.”

Brexit is an economic prize for the taking if MPs reject this deal and go for independence. Daily Telegraph, 4 December 2018
“It was John Maynard Keynes who once said that economics is a “very dangerous science.” After the life-sapping economic debate on Brexit in recent months, perhaps we should add that it is also a very circular one too. Headlines scream calamity. Economic ruin is promised. GDP estimates have become an unverifiable currency, traded with abandon by those with rabid agendas to pursue.

The economic impact of Brexit should be one of the most important debates to have. Instead it has become one of the most artificial, polarising and facile. It shouldn’t be like this. Reasonable people on both sides can see that Brexit presents both economic opportunities and challenges – both immediately and then, more importantly, for the long-term and the next generation.

To take advantage of those opportunities, we could start by cutting through the current rancid (social) media fog. Economics is not a science. Estimates are not facts. Statistics need to be contextualised. Assumptions need to be understood. The last time economists tried to guess what would happen with Brexit, just before the vote, they weren’t hugely successful. Whilst we should absolutely take heed of what experts are saying, they are not Gods. This is no way to debate leaving the European Union.

Similarly, someone should remind those throwing the statistics around like confetti that economics doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For those who suggest that leaving the EU will wipe huge swathes off our GDP, perhaps they could outline how much our GDP has already been held back by the centralised European regulation of the last twenty years? Or tell us, looking ahead, on what basis they are assuming the EU will approach the few decades to make their claims with such certainty? The idea that the status quo will sustain (one, which by the way, still delivers 35% youth unemployment in Greece) is for the birds. Another twenty years of prioritising the European political project above people’s lives is not a ticket to economic paradise.

And, in Britain, at the same time as preparing properly for the change that is coming in 2019 and 2020, we need to also focus on our vision for 2029 and 2030. If done properly, Brexit is a huge opportunity to pivot our approach, turbo-charge our economy and bring new wealth and prosperity to our communities. The ability to open up new markets around the world mustn’t be lost amongst the noise. The new possibilities emanating from closer collaboration with the global tigers could be transformative for our manufacturing communities. And, taking a new approach to regulation, could see significant productivity and economic gains if we pursue them.

First, we have the opportunity to break free of an economic model which, whilst successful, has constrained our growth and competitiveness. Estimates have put the cost of EU regulation at billions of pounds a year. Our country pays for the CFP and the CAP to inflate cost of living for its citizens. There is a huge opportunity to get to work on these structural issues and strip away forty years of policy which doesn’t work for the UK. That doesn’t mean some kind of unregulated dystopia as those who want to frustrate Brexit would have us believe. It simply means we regain control; control to change regulation over the long-term, to respond to innovation, to reform subsidies that don’t work and to have a reasonable debate in our country about where we are going. Even obtaining a fraction of the benefits quoted is a prize worth aiming for.

Second, the gains that come with being flexible and nimble could be huge. The vast majority of growth in the next twenty years is going to come from outside Europe. We should be desperate to get a share of that. Our independence will give us the opportunity to sign bilateral trade deals around the world quickly. Australia and the US signed one within a couple of years. By contrast, the EU is ten years into negotiations with India and nearly twenty with parts of South America. Every year where tariffs or barriers are lower between the United Kingdom and other countries is a year when more trade is generated and more jobs are created. We should be chomping at the bit to get going.

Third, we have the opportunity of making our money stretch further. We pay billions of pounds to the European Union every year. Taking back control of some of that money is a huge opportunity for our country. Better outcomes for public services. Upfront money for reform and improvement. A further reduction in the deficit. Perhaps even some tax cuts. Spreadsheet Phil, or whoever follows him, might never have had it so good.

So, enough with the Project Fear scare stories on economics. Most people know there are careful considerations needed in the short-term to steer the UK through the next couple of years. If the Government was focusing properly on Brexit, instead of this doomed deal, they would be looking at that. But let’s also look to the future; our future prosperity is in our hands not the European Union. Let’s take it.”