On Monday I travelled with other members of the European Scrutiny Committee to Brussels for a day of meetings with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator and also officials from EFTA, the European Free Trade Association. Firstly I should say that although M. Barnier is sometimes portrayed as the enemy he was actually very helpful to our committee, especially those of us who respected the realities of the situation. He will have been briefed to know that there are those of us who aren’t supportive of the EU but my sense was that he is now keen to focus on practicalities and to get as mutually beneficial a set of arrangements as can be made.
I asked M. Barnier about his views on what would be an acceptable way of respecting the sovereignty of the EU and our country when it comes to regulations. The closer our regulatory worlds are the more frictionless trade can be but we cannot simply follow EU directives to achieve this. I thought he expanded on the issue very well, saying that where alignment was not possible then certainly methods of cooperation should be found and acknowledging that the right level of engagement on this issue now needs to be a priority.
As a member of some relevant committees, I have found there is no shortage of opportunities to engage in useful and constructive ways to influence EU / UK policy making and Somerset issues are always top of the agenda. This week though I have been exposed to a new development in social media which concerns me. A group called Best for Britain, which seeks to overturn the result of the referendum, has issued guidance on aggressive campaigning against MPs which includes making appointments in others’ names and coordinating times at which to bombard our offices with calls. I have seen coordinated activity on my twitter account, much of which could not be reprinted in a respectable newspaper such as this, and concerted efforts to develop ‘fake news’. I sincerely hope that political parties and other groups will distance themselves from this sort of activity designed to intimidate particularly as it can close down a useful method of communication. Instead I have written articles for the Telegraph recently in which I detail why the Government’s Brexit impact assessments aren’t as authoritative as they might be, and suggested a more realistic and optimistic approach.
The alarming use of a nerve agent in Salisbury is the latest in a line of reasons why we must start to spend more on our military and security. I made the case for more defence spending leading a debate in Westminster back in October and since then calls have grown. We are currently having a modernisation review and have just received good news from the Office of Budget Responsibility about growth and debt figures. Now is the time to invest significantly in our Armed Forces.
As always, if you would like to get in touch about any of these issues or if I can help with a local issue or to make an appointment at one of my regular advice surgeries, please do email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01935314321.