Robert’s Weekly Column – Wednesday 21st November 2018

As part of Parliament Week 2018, I paid another visit to staff and pupils at Drove Primary School last Friday. UK Parliament Week is a UK-wide festival which took place from 12-18 November, which involves people, especially young people, from different backgrounds and communities, with our Parliament and encourages them to get involved.

Drove Primary School is situated close to our town centre and with just under 700 pupils attending, it is one of the biggest primary schools in South Swindon. Drove also has its own Nursery for children from ages 2–4 years.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in a special school assembly, where I spoke to pupils about my role as MP and also as Solicitor General. I was very impressed with both the behaviour of the children during the assembly and the many excellent questions that I was asked. Following a question and answer session, I hosted a lively debate on the motion “This House Would Abolish Homework”.  After a lively but respectful debate, the motion was defeated, much to my surprise!   I also enjoyed meeting members of the debating group who regularly voice their opinions and ideas whilst learning how to communicate effectively.  This is an increasingly important skill that will equip them well as they grow to adulthood.

Following the announcement by our Prime Minister, Theresa May that she has agreed the provisional terms of our exit from the European Union set out in the Draft Withdrawal Agreement, the news has been dominated with Brexit stories. Several of my constituents have been in touch with me regarding this issue, which I firmly believe is not about party politics, but what matters for our Country and is in the national interest.

I support the proposed withdrawal agreement, which is a decisive step forward that will provide stability and certainty for our Swindon and national economy as we leave the UK in March. I am also fully supportive of the Prime Minister who is showing the sort of toughness and resilience that we need at this unprecedented moment. This is the best solution for a smooth and orderly Brexit and will protect jobs, growth and crucially, locally the free-flowing supply chain for firms such as Honda and BMW and our smaller and medium-sized companies that do business in other EU countries.

The EU wanted the whole Withdrawal Agreement overseen by the European Union’s Court of Justice. Instead, we have a political Joint Committee and an independent arbitration panel, with the panel to ask the EU’s Court of Justice if it decides that a relevant point of EU law needs to be clarified.

The EU firstly said that we could not preserve the invisible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland without splitting the United Kingdom’s customs territory. They have now given way on this.  The proposed deal maintains the unity of the United Kingdom’s customs territory: the EU’s initial proposal for a Northern Ireland-only customs ‘backstop to the backstop’ has been dropped and replaced by a new UK-wide solution, that respects the constitutional integrity of our country.

The “backstop” is there as an insurance policy to be used if we cannot get agreement on our future relationship within the next few years.  I think it is unlikely that it will be used and there is a review mechanism for us to use if we want it to end.

It is crucial that the Government honours the result of the referendum and gets the right Brexit deal, taking back control of our money, laws and borders, promoting jobs, and protecting both security and our Union.  This proposal is the first firm step on the way to a Brexit that will work for our economy.