For my whole life, whether I have been aware of it or not, one issue, over all others, has dominated the political debate in this country. Our relationship with Europe.
It is the issue that has ended the career of three Conservative Prime Ministers, which led in part to Conservative defeat in 1997 and thirteen long years of opposition. And of course it led to the decision by David Cameron to hold the referendum on British membership of the European Union in 2016.
It was a decision taken, not in the narrow party interest as many have it, but in the national interest. Mr Cameron wanted to put the issue of our membership to bed, one way or another, so that we could forge our path in the world- member of the EU or not, at peace with our decision and comfortable with who we were as a nation.
The British people voted, by a margin of 51.9% to 48.1% on a turn out of 72% to leave the EU. As David Cameron said on the morning after the poll, “The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected…it is an instruction that must be delivered.”
That is what we, as a Government, are now doing. We are leaving the European Union.
I know many of you hold different views on this. Many of you will have voted to remain. Many of you would like a clean break. Some might want a ‘no deal’. Others will be in favour of the plan announced this week by the Government. More, I suspect, will be completely fed up with the debate and long for a time when we can move on from it.
I respect each and every one of those opinions. Those of you that are members of the Conservative Party will know it is a broad Church and we have room on our pews for everyone who believes in freedom, responsibility, the rule of law, small government, low taxes and is proud of our United Kingdom and each constituent part of it. It is incumbent on me as a Conservative MP to listen to all of these views when coming to my decision on the best way ahead for our constituency and our country.
I must also bear in mind that I represent a Scottish constituency that voted to remain in the EU, that many of the people of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine remain sceptical about leaving and that since the election, businesses across the region have been in contact with me, ensuring that I understand, however we leave Europe, the possible effects, on local business and the local economy.
Edmund Burke, probably the father of modern Conservatism, said in 1774 that, “To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider.” However, he goes on, “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.”
It is my considered opinion, having thought about this at length, that the plan outlined this week by the Government on the Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is in the general good; in the best interests of our one nation.
It is a pragmatic, sensible, and measured plan that delivers on our manifesto promise to leave the EU and respect the referendum result. It returns accountability over the laws that we in this country live by to Westminster whilst making the Scottish Parliament the most powerful devolved legislature in the world. The ECJ will not have jurisdiction in the UK.
It preserves frictionless trade, avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the ‘just in time’ models that have developed over time and that, particularly in the subsea industry in the north east, are vital.
It maintains the close defence and security partnerships that we have established with our allies and that keep us all safe.
It enables co-operation to continue in science and international development and aims to ensure that the partnerships between our academic institutions- including our membership of Erasmus+, continues.
Freed from the outdated CAP, Britain will be free, and within Britain, Scotland will be free to design and implement a farming support model that works for our farmers with their unique challenges. And we will be out of the hated Common Fisheries Policy- a policy that has devastated our fishing communities in the north east of Scotland. We will once again be an independent coastal state with our own seat at the negotiating table ensuring that access to our waters and quotas are determined fairly and on a scientific basis. This is a position supported by all the major fish producer organisations in Scotland.
I can understand that many of you, on either side of the debate, will have reservations about the Government’s plan. Many of my closest friends and colleagues in Parliament share those reservations. And I have huge respect for them and their views. They are principled individuals standing up for what they believe is in the best interests of this country.
However, we are engaged in a negotiation and there has got to be give and take. It is my opinion that this plan is a plan that works for Britain and would work for the EU.
The threat of a ‘no-deal’ scenario is real and the Government is right to step up preparations in the event of this happening. But a no-deal will be just as bad for the EU as it would be for the UK- as was made clear to me this week when I met representatives of the French Parliament.
So it is now incumbent on the European Commission, and the other institutions of the EU, to treat this proposal sensibly. To recognise that the UK Government is determined to leave the European Union and that this offer is made in good faith.
The worst thing that could happen now would be for the Conservative Party, as it has done too often in the past, to turn in on itself, to obsess itself with arguments about who would best lead the party and to ignore what is clearly in the national interest- to unite behind the Prime Minister and fight for a deal that works for the whole country.
I feel that only a strong and united Conservative Party can deliver and govern for this whole country. A Corbyn Government would be a disaster economically and for our position on the world stage. And the SNP, obsessing about independence, don’t want to make a success of Brexit. They want to wreck Brexit and wreck our United Kingdom.
Not all of you reading this will be members of the Conservative Party- but some of you will be. I hope that those of you that are recognise why I hope the party comes together behind the Prime Minister and this plan, for the local and the national interest.
For those of you that aren’t, I aim to represent everyone in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine equally- whether they voted for me or not. I hope I have demonstrated this over the thirteen months I have been proud to serve as your MP. I hope I am doing that now by backing a plan that respects the referendum decision, respects the manifesto that I was elected on- leaving the EU, but doing so in a way that causes the least disruption for business and the economy.