Open Letter from Richard Harrington MP

Dear Resident of Watford

I write ahead of one of the most important, and arguably most contentious, votes that the House of Commons will hold for a generation. As the Member of Parliament for Watford, it is a privilege to be able to have a say on a vote of such historical significance, and of course I have given this a lot of thought. After carefully reading all of your letters and emails, I have decided to vote in support of the Prime Minister’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement tonight, and I wanted to take this opportunity to explain why.

As the MP, it’s my job to listen to my constituents and try to balance your views. As such, I have held several public meetings and nearly 100 surgery appointments, specifically on Brexit. I have also responded to thousands of letters, emails, facebook messages and phone calls on the subject. I’m grateful to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch with me on this, and given me their valuable feedback, but in the end, I must make a decision based on what I think is right.

As many of you will know, I campaigned passionately to remain in the EU during the 2016 referendum, however the country and Watford voted differently, and I respect that entirely. But this was a vote to leave, not a vote on how we leave. I have been clear since that day that I would support Brexit, and a deal that means the UK stops being a member of the European Union. I have listened to feedback and I accept that people don’t want to be part of European Political Institutions or the European Court of Justice; that they want to strike up new trade deals across the globe and want a controlled immigration system. I am prepared to support a deal based on those principles. But all of this should not be at the expense of our growing economy. 

I could not, in good conscience, condone crashing out without a deal, putting people’s jobs and livelihoods at risk. That’s why I have publicly said that I would resign as a Minister, if the Government were pursuing a ‘no-deal’.

I want to address the fallacy of a so-called ‘managed no deal’. There are those that claim it will cut the UK’s exit bill in half, while delivering the two-year transition period that our businesses desperately need to protect the economy and jobs and pave the way for negotiations on our future economic relationship with the EU.

But this is based on a series of fanciful and, frankly, implausible assumptions. Firstly, they claim that the EU would be willing to negotiate on this basis with the UK, in a scenario where we had not only reneged on the Withdrawal Agreement, but also on our financial commitments which form an integral part of it. Secondly, they assume that significant disruption could be avoided. And, finally, that such deals could be delivered in the time available.

Furthermore, something that is continuously quoted is that we could trade on WTO terms alone, but it just isn’t that straight forward. No member trades on ‘WTO terms’ alone. All 164 members have negotiated better access to at least one market through some kind of bilateral agreement in addition to their WTO relationship. For example, our trade with the US is currently regulated by over 100 sectoral agreements that go well beyond WTO provisions!

As well as representing Watford for the last 8 years, I am the Minister for Business and Industry, and have over 25 years of business experience. This is something that I have drawn on throughout this process, and I’ve been very clear that my top priorities for any deal we reach with the EU would be for it to protect jobs and the economy. I believe the Prime Minister's deal does just that. It gives us clarity and stability, and that's why I have decided to support it. It isn't perfect but it presents a fair compromise reflecting the close nature of the vote. It keeps us closely connected to our European neighbours, but removed from the institutions that people wanted to leave, recognising our unique position. We will soon be able to make our own trade deals for the first time in over 40 years and the European Commission has predicted that 90 per cent of future world growth will come from outside of Europe.

The decision to leave is one that has divided our town and our country, but I hope that we can now all come together to ensure we get the best deal for Britain and respect the result of the referendum.

Thank you for reading this, I do hope it helps to explain my thoughts and why I have decided to support the Prime Minister’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement. I do think it’s worth mentioning that, as I write, its looks like the House of Commons will not support the deal. If this is the case, then I promise to work with Ministers and MPs across the house, to find a deal which fulfils the criteria I have set out above. As always, I encourage you to contact me if you’d like to discuss this or anything else further.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Harrington MP

Member of Parliament for Watford