[Continued from Part I of the speech here]
I do indeed intend to explore all the options for leaving and to avail myself of the expertise of those individuals and organisations who have spent considerable amounts of time producing detailed exit plans. To repeat, it is not my preferred option to leave without some sort of trading arrangement in place, but the withdrawal agreement negotiated by my predecessor now has to be consigned to the history books. Jean-Claude Juncker has insisted that the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened. Well, we shall see. When Greenland was presented with an unsatisfactory deal during its negotiations to leave the EEC in the 1980s, it threated to order all their fishing boats out of its waters on the day it reclaimed independence. Guess what? Brussels quickly changed its tune. May I point out that Greenland managed to force them onto the back foot even though its overall population is only that of a mid-sized English market town. If we show sufficient resolve, I am absolutely sure that the EU will have a change of heart and we stand a good chance of leaving the EU on terms that will not disadvantage our business community.
But let me be clear. Fishing is not up for negotiation. Our fishermen, along with our coastal communities, have suffered greatly through the Common Fisheries Policy and we owe it to them to take back control of our waters. What is more, by abandoning the quota system which is so unsuitable for the mixed fisheries in the seas around the UK and replacing it with an effort-based system such as that in use in the Faeroe Islands, we can become a world leader in fisheries management.
I will also make it clear that once the treaties no longer apply – in other words, 31st October 2019 – our involvement with the EU’s military integration agenda will come to a complete end. As a member state, we consistently opposed to this, regarding it as an unnecessary duplication of NATO, and I therefore see no reason to be part of it once we become a free country again. This will enable us to maintain close cooperation with the other members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence network (Ourselves, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) which has done more than any other group of countries to keep the UK and the west in general safe from terrorism. Were we to have stayed linked to military EU, the other countries would have been reluctant to treat us as a full member due to the unreliability of some EU member states.
I also have no intention of becoming bogged down in discussions about the Irish backstop. We will NOT, repeat, NOT, remain in a customs union with the EU after we leave. The only country which has such an arrangement is Turkey and the Turks don’t like it because it doesn’t work. If you care to travel to the Turkish-Bulgarian border – in other words, its frontier with the EU – you will find that the crossing can take several hours – hardly the seamless border which we would ideally like on the island of Ireland. We will wish to avail ourselves of the freedom to set our own import and export duties as soon as we become independent. If the EU is so determined to stick to its guns and erect customs posts in Ireland, well we will make the Irish people very aware that the resultant problems have been caused by their masters in Brussels and not by us.
Of course, I am under no illusions about leaving without a deal. It won’t be a walk in the park. It will create problems for some people. It may cause our economy to go through a short wobble, but we have the resources and resilience to pull through and I will be stepping up preparations to minimise the disruption if we are forced down this route by the EU’s intransigence. At least we would be leaving with our heads held high rather than in craven submission as would have been the case with my predecessor’s withdrawal deal.
May I remind the honourable members that some economists and indeed some members of this house were predicting a meltdown in 2016 even if we merely voted to leave. They were proved wrong and I am equally sure that those who are predicting Armageddon when we do finally leave will also be proven wrong. Moreover, we can also dismiss those dismal economic forecasts suggesting we will still be poorer 10 or 20 years after leaving the EU whichever exit route we take. Who knows what will happen in the next decade or two? Having said that, I am very clear that there is no rainbow with a pot of gold at the end of the Brexit road, but we will nonetheless have the fundamentals in place not only to survive but to thrive as an independent, sovereign country.
Finally, I am very aware that our party has much for which to atone when it comes to Europe. It was a Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who took us into the Common Market 46 years ago and in doing so, created the problem which has bedevilled UK politics ever since. It was the Conservatives who gave away our fishing industry. It was a Conservative Prime Minister who signed the Maastricht Treaty. Our party has paid a huge penalty. The issue of our relationship to the European Union has brought down three of my predecessors as Conservative Prime Minister and severely damaged a fourth, putting us in opposition for 13 years. Now is the time to draw a line under this issue once and for all. It is true that it will take us a while to catch up with our friends in Switzerland where, in the words of Councillor Thomas Minder from Schaffhausen, “only a few lunatics” wish to join the EU, but I am convinced that once we leave and the more nervous remainers realise that the sky hasn’t fallen in, the issue of rejoining the EU will fade away.
The majority of the population are fed up with the whole subject of Brexit. Many of us have received letters from our constituents telling us to “get on with it”. That is what I intend to do – to see it done and dusted with no more hold-ups. Even if there are still rumblings that we should rejoin the EU in a few years’ time, I predict that they will come to nothing simply because of events the other side of the channel. It’s not just Brexiteers like me who have doubts about the long-term viability of the European Project. Margrethe Vestager, Denmark’s EU Commissioner no less, said only a week or so before the European elections that many young people are telling her they believe that the EU will cease to exist in the next 20 years. They are probably right. All across the continent, people are falling out of love with the European project, which has set north against south and east against west. We are doing well to be leaving before the whole thing goes belly-up.
So I hope you will give me your full support as we leave behind 46 years as an uncomfortable member of a club where our face never fitted and instead, move towards this new and exciting period in our country’s history.”