Brexit

Please find all updates on Brexit below: 

20th March - Statement on Article 50 date

Sir Tim Barrow has this morning informed the office of European Council President Donald Tusk of the UK’s intention to invoke Article 50.

The UK’s Permanent Representative to the European Union, Sir Tim Barrow, has this morning informed the office of European Council President, Donald Tusk, of the UK’s intention to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29, 2017.

This meets the UK’s longstanding commitment to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017.

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis said:

Last June, the people of the UK made the historic decision to leave the EU. Next Wednesday, the Government will deliver on that decision and formally start the process by triggering Article 50.

We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation.

The Government is clear in its aims: a deal that works for every nation and region of the UK and indeed for all of Europe – a new, positive partnership between the UK and our friends and allies in the European Union.

16th March - Statement on Royal Assent of EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

A statement by David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis said:

The Queen has today given Royal Assent to the Article 50 Bill, giving the government the formal power to trigger Article 50 and deliver on the will of the British people.

By the end of the month we will invoke Article 50, allowing us to start our negotiations to build a positive new partnership with our friends and neighbours in the European Union, as well as taking a step out into the world as a truly Global Britain.

14th March - Ben Howlett MP abstains against Government on European Union Bill

Ben Howlett, the Member of Parliament for Bath, who alongside colleagues has been calling for the Government to give MP’s a meaningful vote on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, last night abstained against the Government on a Lords Amendment guaranteeing MP’s a vote on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.

The Lords Amendment required the Government to seek Parliamentary approval for the outcome of negotiations with the European Union before the approval from the European Parliament. The amendment also required Parliamentary approval in the event of no agreement being reached with the European Union.

At the previous debate Conservative MP’s won an assurance from the Brexit Minister David Jones that ‘the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement’ and was repeated by the Secretary of State at the dispatch box in the House of Commons.

Commenting on his decision Ben said:

“Unfortunately we did not get the assurance from Government on whether MP’s would get a vote on the final deal, nor did we get a commitment on whether MP’s would get a vote in the event of no deal being reached

“If there is no deal Parliament should decide what the next steps are, this is the sovereign, constitutional responsibility and right of Parliament. This is not about trying to derail the Brexit process but ensuring we do this in the right way. I was therefore unable to support the Government”

14th March - The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

Parliament has passed the bill authorising the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50.

Government Update:

"Parliament has backed the Government in its determination to get on with the job of leaving the EU and negotiating a positive new partnership with its remaining member states. We are now on the threshold of the most important negotiation for our country in a generation. We have a plan to build a Global Britain, and take advantage of its new place in the world by forging new trading links. So we will trigger Article 50 by the end of this month as planned and deliver an outcome that works in the interests of the whole of the UK."

13th March - The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is due to return to the House of Commons today (13th March) for consideration of Lords Amendments. I will be keeping this page updated with the latest progress and developments of the Bill in the coming days. 

9th March - Question to the Department for Exiting the European Union

I asked a question to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Brexit and its impact for Universities. 

Ben Howlett

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the priority for future funding for UK universities during negotiations on the UK leaving the EU.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Mr Robin Walker)

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who is always a champion for the universities and students in his patch. The UK is already a leading destination for science and innovation, with some of the world’s best universities, three of which are in the world’s top 10. We intend to secure the best possible outcome for UK research and innovation as we exit the European Union.

Ben Howlett

I thank the Minister for his response. International collaboration and access to European research funding drive the efficiency, excellence and impact of UK research, and our country’s university sector is renowned for its high levels of international and European collaboration. Will he confirm that continued research collaboration will be a priority for the Government, particularly in relation to the Erasmus+ scheme, as we negotiate our exit from the European Union?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Mr Robin Walker)

The Prime Minister has been clear that Britain will remain truly global—a best friend and neighbour to our European partners—but reach beyond the borders of Europe as well. We recognise the value of international exchange and collaboration in education and training as part of our vision for the UK to be a truly global nation.

8th March - The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – Returns to the Commons

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill will now return to the House of Commons following amendments from the House of Lords. I will be keeping this page updated with all developments and my views on the passage of this Bill through Parliament in the coming weeks. Due to the enormous volume of correspondence on this subject, I am unable to reply to each piece individually. However, please be assured that I listen and consider all the points raised.

22nd February - The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – House of Lords

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is now in the House of Lords for consideration. It completed second reading on Tuesday 21st February after more than 20 hours of debate.

The Bill will pass to committee stage next week.

You can view the debate here:

https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2017-02-20/debates/30224DBB-4C77-4D65-A591-699EB7F99981/EuropeanUnion(NotificationOfWithdrawal) Bill

9th February - Status of EU Nationals in the UK and UK Nationals in the EU

A number of residents have been writing to me about the status of EU Nationals in the UK and UK Nationals living in the EU.

I have received the following letter from the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and would like to reassure the public that I along with the Government are firmly committed to this being a priority as soon as formal negotiations begin. 

AR

Securing the status of EU citizens, as well as that of British nationals in the EU, is a priority as soon as Article 50 is triggered and the negotiations have begun. It goes without saying that EU nationals make an invaluable contribution to our economy, our society and our daily lives. I can assure you that there has been no change in their status in the UK.

The discussions that the Government has with the European Union to agree the arrangements for the UK’s exit will undoubtedly reflect the immense contribution made by EU citizens to our economy, our NHS and our schools, and in so many other ways.

I understand you may be concerned about how long this is taking to resolve, but the Government remains committed to providing reassurance to EU nationals here and UK nationals in the EU as a priority once Article 50 has been triggered. Some EU countries have insisted that there can be 'no negotiation before notification', and therefore that nothing can be settled until Article 50 is triggered.

It is in the best interests of all for this issue to be reconciled as quickly as possible.  Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain

7th February - Committee state of the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Bill

Lots of Bath residents have been calling and e-mailing regarding amendments to the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Bill - you can view the official transcript of the first day of debating amendments by clicking here

6th February - Ben Howlett MP launches comprehensive EU Survey on Government White Paper

Following the publication of a Government White Paper outlining the 12 negotiating objectives for exiting the European Union Ben Howlett, Member of Parliament for Bath has launched a comprehensive survey for Bath residents, organisations and businesses to submit their views on all aspects of the negotiations.

Over the past few weeks since the Supreme Court ruling, Bath MP Ben Howlett has been a consistent advocate for the publication of a White Paper to ensure that constituents and businesses could have their views heard at the highest level.

Ben said:

“I am pleased the Government has listened to calls from myself and others and published a White Paper detailing the key negotiating principles as we prepare to start formal negotiations regarding our withdrawal from the European union”

“The White Paper will give Parliament the opportunity to debate the detail, give the public more certainty and hold the Government to account throughout this process. I am calling on as many Bath residents, organisations and businesses to go online and complete my survey so I can adequately represent your views in forthcoming debates and make representations to the Government”

“It is important that Bath residents have the opportunity to feed in their views and this will allow me to gather as much information as possible to do just that”

Ben’s survey can be completed by clicking here.

2nd February - Letter to constituents regarding Article 50 Vote

I am writing to everyone who has contacted me about the EU referendum or the result, in light of last night's vote in the House of Commons, to explain the reasoning for my vote.

As you are probably aware, there have been two days of debate on a Bill which will give the Prime Minister the power to formally trigger Article 50 and start the process of negotiating our exit from the European Union. I had the chance to contribute last night and you can read the full debate here and my speech here.

I campaigned passionately throughout the referendum campaign to remain in the European Union, and I appreciate that the majority in Bath who voted agreed with me. My vote last night did not come easily and I read through the thousands of emails and letters I received on the subject, arguing for both sides of the argument. However I did say during the campaign that I would respect the result.

Ultimately, if the result had been in reverse, I would have hoped that the Leave campaign would have respected the democratic decision of the British public. I therefore had to respect the will of the UK population as a whole and vote to allow the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50. To do anything else would have had unpalatable ramifications.

It is crucial that we come together as one-nation and seek the best possible deal. Last night's vote was merely the beginning of a long process and I am promising everyone in Bath that I will continue to press the Government throughout to ensure we get the best possible deal for Bath.

Before the debate in Parliament, I repeatedly called on the Government to publish a White Paper, setting out key principals heading in to the negotiation. I am delighted that the Government has agreed to do this and that it will be published later today.

I will be keeping this page updated with all developments and my views on the Brexit process so far and I will continue to use it to keep you all updated with the progress of the negotiations. 

Due to the enormous volume of correspondence on this subject, I am unable to reply to each piece individually. However, please be assured that I listen and consider all the points raised.

2nd February - Speech in the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill Debate

"It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), who is a passionate advocate of Scottish issues. It is a pleasure also to see that you have recovered from the curried nut incident last night, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am afraid that this is a speech I never wanted to give and a Bill I never wanted to see, but I feel compelled to speak in this historic debate. Having listened to the debate over the last two days, and harking back in particular to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and his quote from Edmund Burke, I know that the decision I take must be in the interests of my country—for us to do anything else would lead to unimaginable consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) was also quite right that we have to put country first, constituency second and party last. That is why I have come to the decision I have on the Bill.

Hon. Members will know that I campaigned passionately on behalf of the remain campaign, and the majority of Bath residents—70%—voted, like me, to remain inside the EU. I have not changed my views, and rest assured I will continue to advocate them. Like other hon. Members, I have received thousands of emails and letters, from those on both sides of the debate, on whether I should vote to trigger article 50 and allow the Government to begin the formal negotiations. However, the referendum campaign was fought, the vote was held, the turnout was high and the public gave their verdict. The country voted to leave the EU, and it is the democratic duty of this sovereign Parliament and Government to ensure we do just that.

Had the result been in reverse, I would have hoped that the leave campaign respected the democratic decision of the British people in exactly the same way. It is incumbent on us all to come together as one nation to seek the best possible deal with the EU—a new partnership between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU. I have called consistently for a White Paper, which I am pleased will be published tomorrow, as I want to ensure that my constituents and, in particular, my businesses, which have been somewhat ignored in our debates, can more systematically feed in their views.​

If we are to leave the EU, we must not delay any further. To do so would frustrate our European friends and allies and probably weaken our negotiating hand. I would like clarity soon from the Government about the final vote. Given that the Supreme Court ruled to ensure the introduction of this Bill, I wonder how it would rule if the Government used the prerogative to approve no deal.

I will vote to trigger article 50 tonight, and I implore all Members to do the same".

26th January - Introduction of the Bill to the House of Commons

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has been introduced to the House of Commons today, by Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis.

The straightforward Bill, which gives the Prime Minister the power to formally trigger Article 50, is expected to move through both the House of Commons and House of Lords before gaining Royal Assent prior to the March 31st deadline.

The Bill comes ahead of the introduction of the Great Repeal Bill, that will transpose EU law into UK law to ensure the maximum stability on exit, with changes to the law requiring the full consent of Parliament.

The Bill is being introduced following the judgement handed down by the Supreme Court earlier this week. It can be found here.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is below:

Bill

24th January 2017 - Ben Howlett MP calls on the Government to publish a White Paper outlining the details of Brexit

Ben Howlett used the Supreme Court Judgement statement in the House of Commons today by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, to call on the Government to publish a White Paper detailing the proposals for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

Speaking in the Commons Ben said:

“While I welcome the Prime Minister’s speech last week focussing on a comprehensive free trade agreement, I have received thousands of correspondence from constituents all wanting to have their say – in Bath 70% voted to Remain inside the European Union. Does the Minister agree that the best way to make sure constituents views are heard are via the use of a White Paper?”

Upon leaving the Chamber Ben commented:

“I have said that I will vote to trigger Article 50 in a Parliamentary vote and allow the Government to start the formal process of negotiations, however it is important that Parliament is given sufficient time and a process to debate the terms of that departure. Following meetings with the Government they are aware that this vote will come with conditions which will be in the interests of the people of Bath”

“The Prime Minister’s speech last week gave us more detail but by publishing a White Paper the Government would allow a thorough and comprehensive debate to take place, ensuring the views of residents in Bath and Britain are fully represented – regardless of which way they voted in the referendum”

Ben Howlett MP - 24th January 2017 - Statement on the Supreme Court Judgement

The EU referendum result last year was an historic moment for the people of Britain and for Bath. The Prime Minister has said that the Government will trigger Article 50 and begin the process of formal negotiations with the European Union no later than March this year.

Bath Residents will no doubt be aware The Supreme Court today ruled that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 without Parliament authorising them to do so. Therefore, Parliament must vote on whether the Government can start the Brexit process.

A number of residents have written to me regarding how I would vote in the event Parliament was given a vote to trigger Article 50. I have considered each and every one of these submissions closely and have concluded that I will vote to trigger Article 50 and allow formal negotiations regarding our departure from the European Union to begin. However, following meetings with the Government they are aware that this vote will come with conditions which will be in the interests of the people of Bath.  I will continue to work with Parliamentary colleagues to ensure they are enacted.

Whilst significant that a majority of Bath residents voted, like me, to Remain in the European Union. The referendum campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high, and the public gave their verdict. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the democratic duty of the Government to make sure we do just that.

If the result had been in reverse, I would have hoped that the leave campaign would respect the democratic decision of the British public in the same way.  I will not throw away my long-held beliefs on the basis of this vote. I will continue to champion the benefits of single market terms as well as co-operation with our closest economic and geographical neighbours.  Today's ruling has strengthened my resolve to do so.

It is incumbent upon all of us to come together now as one-nation, seeking to get the best possible deal with the European Union.  A new partnership – between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU.

I have repeatedly called for the Government to detail the plans as to what we hope to achieve as we depart the European Union, I am therefore encouraged by the Prime Minister’s speech last week. I have also consistently called for Parliament to have a say on all aspects of the negotiation.  I will continue to do so in the coming weeks so that I can raise issues that matter to the people of Bath in Parliament.

Triggering Article 50 is not the end of the journey, it is only the start of one of the most important negotiations in British history.  I encourage all those who campaigned alongside me in Bath to continue to do so.  Their guidance is as important now as it always has been and I will continue to engage with them in the coming days and months.

17th January 2017 - Statement on the Prime Minister’s Global Britain Speech

“The EU referendum result last year was an historic moment for the people of Britain and for Bath. The Prime Minister has said that the Government will trigger Article 50 and begin the process of formal negotiations with the European Union no later than March this year.

I have consistently called for the Government to outline more detail of what they would like to see from the forthcoming negotiations and I welcome the Prime Minister’s speech today giving more detail towards a plan for our future relationship.

I have been clear that the Government should be seeking to ensure we maintain the closest possible trading relationship with our European Partners.  Just as the Prime Minister said in her speech I also want us to be a truly Global Britain – the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, to build relationships with old friends and new ones alike.

If we are to be the best friend and neighbour to our European Partners we must build on our existing trading relationships with Europe - which means maintaining access to the single market. Even if we do not call this new relationship “British membership of the single market” we must have an equal relationship in practice to what we have currently.

The Prime Minister has pointed out that we should seek a new partnership – between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU. We are not seeking to duplicate an existing model, this needs to be a new arrangement.

This new partnership must give us a free trading relationship with the European Union but also allow us to manage our borders in a more effective way and look outward – developing new trade deals with the rest of the world.

A new partnership will be good for the European Union as well, we want to see a strong, successful European Union. The German Chancellor has said that the European Union must not allow Britain to ‘cherry pick’ elements of the single market we would like to keep – therefore it is in the long term interest of the European Union to ensure we have a bespoke deal - one which allows us to have the closest possible trading relationship - but not one in which the European Union has to alter the conditions of single market access as we know it today.

I fear that if we do not come up with this kind of settlement that there will be negative ramifications across the continent.

The approach adopted by the Prime Minister satisfies those calling for a “hard Brexit” in that it would be a clean break from the European Union, but crucially it would satisfy the others, like me, who believe in strong EU relations and who want to see a stronger, more co-operative trading relationship with the European Union without being too hung up on the name ‘single market membership’.

Ultimately we are not seeking to replicate a model already enjoyed by others. The Prime Minister has set out just how complicated the customs union currently looks and we need to deliver the best result for Britain in a relationship that allows us to trade with Europe but also looks outward to the rest of the world. To do anything else would make the people of Bath and Britain poorer.

The Prime Minister is right when she says that as we negotiate a new partnership we must take this opportunity to make Britain stronger, to make Britain fairer, and to build a more Global Britain and seize the opportunities available to us.”

The full text of the Prime Minister's speech can be found here.

Tuesday 17th January - Letter from Theresa May - Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party
The following letter was circulated from the Prime Minister. 

Dear colleague,

Today I set out the Government’s 12 negotiating objectives for Brexit, part of our Plan for Britain, which aims to get the right deal abroad while ensuring a better deal for ordinary working people here at home.
The referendum vote last June was about something more than simply leaving the European Union. It was a vote for change: to make Britain stronger and fairer – restoring national self-determination while becoming even more global and international in action and spirit. And while it was a vote to leave the EU, it was not a vote to leave Europe – we want to continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with European countries.

So in that spirit, we are not seeking partial membership of the EU, associate membership, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out. We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries or hold on to bits of membership as we leave.

We seek a new and equal partnership – between an independent, self-governing, Global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU. It remains firmly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed after we have left.

Principles

As we negotiate that partnership, we will be driven by some simple principles: we will provide as much certainty and clarity as we can at every stage. And we will take this opportunity to make Britain stronger, to make Britain fairer, and to build a more Global Britain too.

Objectives

The 12 objectives amount to one big goal: a new, positive and constructive partnership between Britain and the European Union.

1. Certainty: whenever we can, we will provide it. And we can confirm today that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament.

2. Control of our own laws: we will bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Because we will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.

3. Strengthen the Union: we must strengthen the precious Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom. We will work very carefully to ensure that – as powers are repatriated back to Britain – the right powers are returned to Westminster and the right powers are passed to the devolved administrations. We will make sure that no new barriers to living and doing business within our Union are created.

4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland: we will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system.

5. Control of immigration: the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain but there must be control.

6. Rights for EU nationals in Britain, and British nationals in the EU: we want to guarantee these rights as early as we can. We have told other EU leaders that we can offer EU nationals here this certainty, as long as this is reciprocated for British citizens in EU countries.

7. Protect workers’ rights: as we translate the body of European law into our domestic regulations, we will ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained.

8. Free trade with European markets: as a priority we will pursue a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and EU member states. It cannot though mean membership of the EU’s Single Market. That would mean complying with European Court of Justice rulings, free movement and other EU rules and regulations without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. And because we will no longer be members of the Single Market, we will not be required to contribute huge sums to the EU budget. If we contribute to some specific EU programmes that we wish to participate in, it will be for us to decide.

9. New trade agreements with other countries: it is time for Britain to become a global trading nation, striking trade agreements around the world. Through the Common Commercial Policy and the Common External Tariff, full Customs Union membership prevents us from doing this – but we do want to have a customs agreement with the EU and have an open mind on how we achieve this end.

10. The best place for science and innovation: we will continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.

11. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism: we want our future relationship with the EU to include practical arrangements on matters of law enforcement and intelligence.

12. A smooth, orderly Brexit: we want to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded. From that point onwards, we expect a phased process of implementation. We will work to avoid a disruptive cliff-edge.

While Britain wants to remain a good friend and neighbour to Europe, we know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal. However, we are clear that getting no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.
This is because we would still be able to trade with Europe. We would be free to strike trade deals across the world. And we would have the freedom to set the competitive tax rates and embrace the policies that would attract the world’s best companies and biggest investors to Britain. And – if we were excluded from accessing the Single Market – we would be free to change the basis of Britain’s economic model. But for the EU, it would mean new barriers to trade with one of the biggest economies in the world.

We are confident though that this scenario never need arise and are sure that positive agreement can be reached. We are confident that we will follow a better path because of the shared values and spirit of goodwill that exists on both sides; because it is the economically rational thing for both Britain and the EU; and because co-operation is needed not just when it comes to trade but when it comes to security too.

With best wishes,
The Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party

Friday 13th January - I asked the Leader of the House of Commons The Rt Hon David Lidington MP a question in the chamber about the opportunities for the House of Commons to scrutinise the plan for Brexit:

12/01/17 - Ben Howlett

“Late last year, the Government confirmed that this House would be presented with a plan on how the Government will begin their process of exiting the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend outline the potential processes by which this House will be engaged on that plan?”

12/01/17 - Mr Lidington

“I am sure that there will be opportunities for that plan to be debated here. I am sure, too, that when that is published, the relevant Select Committees will probably want to take a look at it. I do not think my hon. Friend will be disappointed regarding parliamentary scrutiny.”

Thursday 12th January - "For Brexit to succeed, the government must consider process as well as policy"

This article was originally published in Prospect Magazine on Wednesday 11th January. 

The Prime Minister has instructed the government to quietly consider what the UK’s position should be as we approach Brexit negotiations, and there are some merits to this approach. To exhaustion we all understand that Brexit means Brexit - we are leaving the European Union. But for this phrase to have any meaning, the government must provide further detail.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that she will flesh out the government’s vision for Brexit later in the month, but for our exit to be successful, the government must consider process as well as policy. And all of us must stop seeing ourselves as the 48 per cent who (like me) voted to remain and the 52 per cent who voted to leave, as remainers and leavers. Now is the time to come together as one nation—and ambitiously strive towards a better vision for our relationship with the EU.

There will be big policy questions to answer as we enter negotiations; will we retain membership of/access to the single market? Will we be members of the customs union? How do we control immigration? Will we fall back on World Trade Organisation or European Free Trade Area/European Economic Area rules? Will there be transitional controls? What impact will this have on jobs and economic growth?

To find answers to these difficult questions the government must carefully consider which parts of our membership of the EU have been successful and which have been a burden. We must get our own deal, not a template used by another country—a deal that works not only for the United Kingdom but for the other 27 nations. One that is tailored to our individual needs, and which benefits both businesses and the consumer. One that keeps our economy strong but addresses the legitimate concerns of people across Britain.

For my part, I would like to see the closest possible trading relationship with the European Union, one where we retain the benefits of the customs union and the sensibilities of the single market.

The Prime Minister is right to keep her cards close to her chest when it comes to her ideas of the best possible scenario. Nobody is seriously asking the Prime Minister to put every single detail of the government’s negotiating strategy in the public domain—that would hamper the negotiations. However, the government should detail the range of options on the table to allow an informed debate to proceed on one of the most important issues of our time. This is where process needs to be taken into account and communication needs to be enhanced.

Last year the High Court ruled that the government should consult parliament on the timing of Article 50. We now await the impending announcement of the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court. Regardless of whether the government is legally obliged, to carry the confidence of parliament it should give the House the opportunity to scrutinise all aspects of the plan.

I welcome the fact the government has held a series of debates in parliament on exiting the European Union. However, these debates are sometimes too niche and do not give MPs a real opportunity to debate what Brexit Britain should look like in relation to the big issues—like the single market or the customs union. Parliamentary debates discussing these subjects would be welcomed by all sides in the coming weeks.

This is a negotiation that will have profound constitutional consequences for our country. It should also be remembered that parliament, including the House of Lords, has a wealth of experience within it. We must make use of some of the brightest minds and knowledge our country has to offer. If the government does not want to have open, public scrutiny, then other vehicles are needed to allow parliamentarians to share this knowledge and this could seriously help our negotiating strategy. 

The stakes could not be higher. If the renegotiation is to be successful the Prime Minister must consider how to better inform and engage with the public and Parliament.

Tuesday 10th January - We mustn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater of the customs union

This article was originally published in The Times Redbox: Comment 

2017 will be the year when we start to see what Brexit will look like for Britain. As the government commences formal negotiations they will need to consider what our relationship with the customs union will be, an unenviable task which must reflect the realities of the vote to leave the European Union but also the need to ensure that there is continued job creation and economic growth.

Before Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973 my grandfather, who was a haulier for decades, told me that it was routine for him to have to sign over 70 forms just to transport a container of steel spoons from Sheffield to Italy.

Not only did this drive him to distraction due to the delays and the queues, it also cost his business a substantial amount of money.

The customs union, coupled with free movement, completely changed this, opening up the possibility of exporting goods to businesses who previously just couldn’t afford it.

I am in no doubt that 21st century technology will ease some of the problems my grandfather faced and that the UK-EU trade surplus will be an incentive for the European Commission to ensure that it does.

However the negotiation needs to consider the importance that the ease of the customs union gave to businesses trying to expand by exporting. A relationship that those proposing a “hard exit” from the customs union fail to recognise.

The negotiation also needs to take into account that any increase in cost to businesses will likely be passed to the consumer on the shop floor. If we want Brexit to make Britain more prosperous, then the relationship we strike must be a good one for the consumer.

I want to be clear – I understand the customs union is not a perfect framework. British membership of the customs union has in many ways prevented the UK from trading with other nations across the world in a timely fashion.

It has caused delays for British access to some of the fastest growing economies in the world. Nevertheless its benefits to businesses cannot be denied, and to leave the customs union and walk away from its benefits completely could prejudice our excellent businesses’ success in the future.

The customs union has several components that benefit the United Kingdom. These negotiations provide us with the opportunity to work alongside the European Commission to determine which aspects benefit both British and European businesses and how we can continue this arrangement once Brexit has occurred.

This is not a plea to stay in the customs union at all costs, just a desire to see a relationship formed between the UK and the EU which does not throw away the positive changes seen since 1973.

To draw parallels between the UK and EU with the US and Canada misunderstands the complexities of how the European Union operates. A relationship of mutual understanding must be our own and one that benefits both the EU and the UK.

We need our own deal, a new relationship that will not slow down the transport of spoons to Italy, a new agreement which benefits UK and EU citizens.

We need our own deal, which allows holiday makers to travel abroad without huge delay, hassle and costs and allows citizens from Switzerland, Estonia and Portugal to be able to explore the UK with such ease, a new agreement which benefits UK and EU citizens.

We need our own deal to ensure that farmers in Britain and across the EU are able to export and import agricultural products with ease, a new agreement which benefits UK and EU citizens.

The practicalities of this new deal and the technology systems needed to support it pose significant challenges. New IT systems almost always face hiccups; just think back to the fallout of the NHS Connecting for Health programme. This new system, and the technology that comes with it, will need to span 28 countries and to my mind it is therefore sensible that Liam Fox is considering transitional arrangements when changing our relationship with the customs union – the new system could take far longer than two years to integrate.

The government is absolutely right to spend time analysing the pros and cons of all aspects of the customs union and plan the right strategy to make Britain more prosperous as a result of a new deal. Either the EU or the UK taking a hard line on the customs union deal risks hardship on both sides of the channel.

The stakes could not be higher and that is why realism rather than idealism is fundamental to the final UK-EU customs union deal. The government should not jump to a decision without careful consideration and evidence – we must get this new deal right.

Wednesday 23rd November - Exiting the EU and Transport

I recently contributed to a debate in the House of Commons discussing Brexit and it's implications on the transport sector. You can read my full speech below:

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the effect of leaving the European Union on our transport sector. Like many colleagues, I would have preferred to have had a debate on the effect of exiting the EU on the single market or the free movement of labour. Nevertheless, this is still an important issue for a number of residents in my constituency and in the United Kingdom as a whole. I note the irony that the House of Commons Library briefing paper on this subject suggests that

“transport post-Brexit may not look wildly different to how it looks now”.

However, given that much remains unclear as we head towards the negotiations, I would like to outline a number of priorities the Government should consider.

The European Union’s common transport policy is focused on a number of policy areas, most notably economic and social matters, environmental improvements and infrastructure investment. There has been a long-running debate on whether the benefits of European Union membership and access to a single market for transport services outweigh the relative burdens of regulation. It is my belief that the development of the common transport policy has benefited the United Kingdom by improving the health of our population and boosting economic growth, while ensuring we have the long-term infrastructure to compete in a global environment. We need to ensure that the UK continues to feel these benefits once we have left the European Union.

I would like to take this opportunity to change tack somewhat from the long conversations we have had about ports and to focus on two key areas: environmental improvements and infrastructure investment. I sympathise with the Government’s position that while Brexit negotiations are ongoing it is important not to make guarantees but, like many sectors, transport is an area that needs certainty. I am sure that we all agree about that.

First, I would like to concentrate on the environmental impact. Bath has a huge problem with air pollution. As colleagues will know, Bath is full of buildings constructed out of the famous Bath stone, which absorbs vehicle emissions. Sadly, high air pollution levels across the city mean many buildings are slowly blackening—hon. Members will be pleased to know that my home has been rendered, so it is not blackening at the moment. In some parts of Bath, air pollution levels far exceed the legal limit and cause problems to my constituents’ health and wellbeing. Of course, this is not a problem for just my constituency; it affects many constituencies of Members here today.

Ensuring that the transport system works in a way that does not have a negative impact on the environment—reducing the impact of noise, pollution, harmful emissions and greenhouse gases—is vital to the long-term health of our population. The transport sector accounts for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union, making it the sector with the second highest level of greenhouse gas emissions, just behind the energy sector. Moreover, transport is the only sector in the EU whose emissions have risen since 1990—by a staggering 22% in total. The Transport Committee has been doing some work on this issue over a number of years.

Alongside our EU colleagues, we have committed to reducing emissions in our transport sector and meeting European emissions standards. It was the UK that pushed hardest on this very issue, so it would be a shame if Britain were to draw back now. It is crucial that such work continues after Brexit. This issue is not isolated in the UK—we share our air with the EU and the rest of the world—yet many are concerned that we will lose the collaborative approach that is critical to solving these pan-national problems when we leave the EU.

I recently visited the low-emissions vehicle research centre at the university in my constituency. Incidentally, it has benefitted from £3.6 million of research funding and contracts from EU government bodies.

Bath University’s prize-winning research centres are having a hugely positive impact on the measurement and understanding of air quality in not just the UK, but the EU. The Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems, which is run and spearheaded by my university, will, I hope, receive some of the funding that the Chancellor announced earlier via the expansion of the local growth fund. This subject is obviously quite topical, given the recent Volkswagen scandal. Britain might end up with an opportunity to bring businesses such as BMW over to the UK to measure its air pollution levels, as Ford and other major international motor vehicle companies have been doing. It is important that, as we set out our position on exiting the EU, we remain committed to meeting our obligations on European emissions standards across the transport sector so that we improve the lives, and the health and wellbeing, of all our residents. I am sure the Government have that at the forefront of their mind as they consider transport policy after we leave the EU.

My second point relates to infrastructure investment. I would like to focus on the importance of maintaining adequate investment in our transport system and particularly in road, rail and aviation, many of which have already been mentioned. I welcome the Government’s commitment to completing the incredibly important HS2 project and their recent announcement on Heathrow airport expansion. Both are vital to the long-term development of our country. In 2014, the European Investment Bank provided lending of more than £6 billion to support long-term investment for a broad range of infrastructure projects across the UK, some 26% of which were in transport and the telecommunications sector, so it is an important funding source for such projects.

While we have been instrumental in the creation of the trans-European transport policy and the fourth railway package, which aims to remove the remaining barriers to the creation of a single European rail area, I hope that conversations will take place as we leave the EU to ensure that Britain still has adequate train links with the EU. By removing bottlenecks, building cross-border connections and promoting integration and inter-operability between different modes of transport, we can ensure that the UK benefits from an infrastructure plan that promotes economic growth and job creation.

Now is not the time to slow down any investment in our transport sector, as we heard today from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. With finance still needed for projects in my constituency such as the A36/46 link road and the completion of the electrification of the great western main line, the Government must commit to continuing any lost investment that currently flows from our membership of the European Union.

I hope that today’s debate will give the Government an opportunity to increase transport investment across the south-west as a whole. While there was welcome news in the autumn statement, there is a real opportunity over the next few years to address the imbalance. It was disappointing that a recent Institute for Public Policy Research report concluded that the south-west had the second lowest transport investment per capita and per commuter of anywhere in England. Without wishing to give too much credibility to counter-factual history, I question whether greater investment by the EU in transport infrastructure in the south-west would have led to more residents voting to remain part of the EU.

Transport is one of the EU’s most strategic common policies, and on many occasions we have been the driver for change in this area. Following our exit from the European Union, I hope that the Government will continue to invest heavily in the transport sector while maintaining our commitments to air quality and the environment.​

Monday 21st November - Prime Minister Theresa May - CBI Speech (Extract from European Union Section) 

"I know that leaving the European Union creates uncertainty for business. I know that some are unsure about the road ahead or what your future operating environment will look like. And there will certainly be challenges – a negotiation like the one on which we are about to embark cannot be done quickly, or without give and take on both sides.

But there are opportunities too. Opportunities to get out into the world and do new business with old allies and new partners. To use the freedoms that come from negotiating with partners directly, to be flexible, to set our own rules and forge new and dynamic trading agreements that work for the whole UK. Opportunities to become the true global champion of free trade.

And opportunities to demonstrate how a free, flexible, ambitious country like Britain can trade freely with others according to what’s in their own best interests and those of their people.

That is our aim and our ambition. And I am ambitious for Britain.

I believe that if we approach the difficult negotiations to come in the right way, with the right spirit, we can strike a deal that’s right for Britain and right for the rest of Europe too.

And the right approach is not to rush ahead without doing the ground work, but to take the time to get our negotiating position clear before we proceed. It’s not to seek to replicate the deal that any other country has, but to craft a new arrangement that’s right for us and right for Europe – recognising that a strong EU is good for Britain. It’s not to provide a running commentary on every twist and turn, but to acknowledge that businesses and others need some clarity – so where I can set out our plans without prejudicing the negotiation to come, I will.

That’s why I have been able to set out the timetable for triggering Article 50 – before the end of March next year. Why I want an early agreement on the status of UK nationals in Europe and EU nationals here, so that you and they can plan with certainty. And why we have been engaging heavily with businesses over the past few months to understand your priorities and concerns, and why we will continue to do so."

You can read the full speech here

Thursday 10th November - Statement from Ben Howlett

"Residents will no doubt be aware that the high court ruled last Thursday (3rd November) that Parliament should have a say on the timing of invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The government have said that they will appeal this judgement to the Supreme Court and it is important that while legal proceedings are ongoing we do not reach a hurried conclusion. Instead, we must listen to the debate and understand the complexity of the situation the government, parliament and the courts find themselves in.

Even as someone who voted to remain I appreciate the government has been clear, that Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it. The referendum campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high, and the public gave their verdict. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it the duty of the Government to make sure we do just that.

However, consideration must also be given to the legal position and how parliament should be consulted if the Supreme Court appeal fails. I will be following developments closely and would urge any residents to get in touch if you have views on this issue."
 

Tuesday 1st November - Letter from Richard Harrington MP

Ben recently wrote to Richard Harrington MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Pensions, on behalf of a constituent, regarding European Pensions. 

You can read the response from the Minister here

Tuesday 25th October - Ben writes for the Telegraph about International Students and Immigration.  

Ben put his views forward today, in a well detailed piece for the Telegraph, outlining why international students should be removed from national immigration figures. 

Splitting the immigration figures would have the result of; better informing the public of the outcomes of controlled immigration, and presenting Britain as an immigration friendly nation that welcomes skilled workers, and students from abroad. 

You can read the full article here

 

EU Workers

I have received a number of emails from constituents concerned about the future of EU workers, and students in the UK. Many EU Nationals make positive contributions to the Bath economy, and I am pleased that the Government are doing all they can to protect the interests of EU Citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU. However, leaving the EU does provide the opportunity to control the number of people entering the country, allowing those who will make a positive contribution to our society to do so.

 

Vote on Article 50

Until the court decision is resolved, it is not clear if there will be a vote in Parliament on triggering Article 50.

 

Monday 24th October - Statement from Ben Howlett

“There are two critical reasons why I decided to vote against the SNP motion made before the commons.

Firstly, surprisingly there was no mention of British Nationals living overseas. All parties agree that we must ensure that British Nationals receive the same guarantees that EU Nationals get in the UK.

Secondly, the motion terminology was phrased ‘should we leave the EU’. As democrats we have to respect the democratic will of the British people. It is unfortunate that the Liberal Democrats do not seem to respect this.

As I said in the debate, I would have voted in favour of the motion, but I, like the Government, want to see the same protections achieved for UK nationals in the EU. I am shocked that the SNP and Lib Dems failed to offer the same protections to UK nationals in the EU as EU nationals in the UK in their motion.  Therefore, I make no apology for voting against the motion.

I will continue to work with the Government as we proceed with these challenging negotiations to ensure the best outcome for Britain, Europe and the people of Bath.”

Monday 10th October - Commons Debate

Ben pressed The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, on the Parliamentary involvement in the plans for Brexit.  

Ben Howlett:

As a remainer, let me gently say this to the remainers on the Opposition Benches: scupper or delay triggering article 50 at your peril. Workers will not respect you for it; nor will businesses. We must respect the democratic will of the British people. I appreciate the pragmatism surrounding the decision not to involve Parliament in every single minute detail. However, does the Secretary of State agree that Parliament must, constitutionally, be involved in setting out the principles of negotiation—that is, on single market membership and free movement rules—to ensure that when things like the great repeal Bill are put before this House, they receive full support?

David Davis:

I always pay a lot of attention to the people who voted remain, and take seriously the responsibility we have to the people of this country to make this work. My hon. Friend laid down a couple of criteria that are very tight in one sense. I am saying, in terms, that we want the best outcome, but what is the best outcome? The best outcome is open market access; that is the point. How we do it may come down to what the negotiations are about, but I cannot go into great detail. However, I would say to my hon. Friend that the process, from now until roughly two to two and a half years’ time, or whenever it is, will be absolutely full of parliamentary events—unless the Opposition are not doing their job, but they will do their job; unless the Select Committee is not doing its job, but it will do its job; and unless we try to block things we are obviously not going to block. We take parliamentary accountability very responsibly and very seriously, and we will keep Parliament as well informed as we can.

Monday 10th October

On Monday the Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, confirmed that companies in the UK will not have to provide a list of foreign workers who they employ. This confirmation comes in response to the comments made by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, which caused controversy.

This clarification is welcomed, as confusion may have arisen over the attempts to gather employment data for companies in the UK. Whilst this confusion is understandable, foreign workers in the UK should not be concerned by this announcement.

The full story can be viewed on the BBC News here.

Tuesday 4th October 

On Sunday, Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a speech at the Conservative conference outlining her timeline for triggering article 50 and taking Britain out of the EU. She clarified the process by which the Government will take action to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017 and initiate the formal proceedings for withdrawal.

The full speech can be read on the Independent, here

It is clear that we must take steps to deliver a considered and reasoned exit from the European Union, whilst maintaining the strength of our relationships with our international neighbours. It is of utmost importance that we are clear on what must happen, and we work to make it a success for everyone. 

Friday 30th September 

In a recent article for the Telegraph, Ben outlines why it is imperative that Britain remains part of the single market. In the interest of stability, confidence and competitiveness, there is a need for Britain to continue to be part of this economic community with over 500 million customers. 

Whilst the negotiations are ongoing, it is important that people remember the reasons underlying Britain's departure from the EU, but understand why it is important that we remain part of Europe. This is a thriving economic market, worth over £9 trillion, which creates a great opportunity for British businesses to innovate and grow. It will be through the strength of this economic relationship that we get the best outcome for everyone. 

What is most important is that the trade deal Britain manages to secure with Europe, is one that is fair and mutually advantageous. It is clear then, that this should not be rushed. 

To read the full article, click here

Tuesday 16th July

EDM 278

In general, political campaign material in the UK is not formally regulated, and it is a matter for the press and public to decide on the basis of such material whether they consider it reasonable and accurate. While the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK's independent regulator for advertising across all media, political adverts are not within its remit. The ASA suggests that anyone with concerns about a political advert could contact the party responsible, and exercise their democratic right to tell them what they think. The free press also has an important role in holding politicians and campaigners to account.

Of course, the wider law does generally apply to political campaign material, including the law of defamation and public order offences. Electoral law also makes it a criminal offence to publish false statements about a candidate: the courts do enforce this legislation, as illustrated during the April 2015 election court ruling which disqualified the mayor of Tower Hamlets for a litany of illegal practices. Electoral law also requires for parties and other campaigners to include an 'imprint' on their campaign material, identifying its source, to ensure transparency and accountability.

 

Friday 15th July 

The Prime Minister has appointed a new Cabinet, and you can read the full list here. 

 

Wednesday 13th July

Following her appointment as Prime Minister, Theresa May made a short speech outlining her priorities for her time in Government. You can read it in full here.

Tuesday 12th July

The Petitions Committee had decided to schedule a House of Commons debate on the petition for a second referendum. A debate in Westminster Hall does not have the power to change the law, and won’t end with the House of Commons deciding whether or not to have a second referendum.

With over 4 million signatures, this petition received by far the highest number of signatures in the Committee’s history. Given this, it was difficult for the Committee to ignore such a call from the public.

I am yet to be convinced that holding a second referendum will be worthwhile. I am concerned that it will further harm already damaged trust of our political system and prolong an already divisive debate.

However, I do think that the debate presents a valuable opportunity for a thoughtful discussion about issues surrounding the use of referenda and the nature of political campaigning that have been thrown up by this referendum.

I do hope colleagues take the debate in this spirit rather than rehashing well-worn arguments.

 

Monday 11th July

Following the decision of Andrea Leadsom from the Conservative Leadership contest, Theresa May will become the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. I am delighted not just that the right candidate has been elected, but also with the added stability an early result will provide. I am looking forward to working with Theresa in the years ahead. 

Monday 11th July

The Government has responded to the petition calling for a second referendum, you can read this here. 

Thursday 7th July

Due to a computer error, an email in response to an organised writing campaign 'Breentry: Reject the Brexit' was sent to the wrong list of constituents. I do apologise for any inconvenience this has caused. 

Thursday 7th July

Conservative MPs voted in the second round of the leadership contest. The results were as follows:

Theresa May - 199

Andrea Leadsom - 84

Michael Gove - 46

Michael Gove was eliminated and Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom will now face a vote of the Conservative Party membership.

Thursday 7th July

Following lobbying by myself and colleagues, the Government opted to abstain on the opposition motion asking the Government to guarantee EU Nationals that will enjoy their current status as following Britain leaving the EU. 

Wednesday 6th July 

I have received a number of emails asking me to sign various Early Day Motions (EDMS) relating to the EU. I do not sign EDMs as they are costly, hardly ever get debated and I prefer to raise issues of concern directly with the relevant Minister. This way I know the Minister has received a letter regarding the issue. 

Tuesday 5th July

Conservative MPs voted in the first round of the leadership contest. The results were as follows:

Theresa May - 165 (50%)

Andrea Leadsom - 66 (20%)

Justice Secretary Michael Gove - 48 (15%)

Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb - 34 (10%)

Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox - 16 (5%)

Liam Fox was eliminated and Stephen Crabb decided to withdraw from the race, both declaring their support for Theresa May. 

Tuesday 5th July 

The Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire MP has made a statement on the status of EU nationals living in the UK. You can read it in full here.

Friday 1st July 

I am aware of the concern amongst many of my constituents regarding the next steps post the EU Referendum.  At this time, there are no debates or votes planned regarding Article 50, and I do not expect to be formally discussing it until after the new Prime Minister is in situ in September.

Thursday 29th June 

I have also pledged my support for Home Secretary, Theresa May, and her candidacy for the Leadership of the Conservative Party and to be the next Prime Minister. You can read my full statement on this here

Tuesday 28th June 

Thank you to all my constituents who have taken to write to me with their views about the country’s decision to leave the EU last week.  The volume of correspondence received on this matter is unprecedented and I will reply to all emails received, however, I hope you understand this may take some time given both the volume and other matters to which I am now addressing at Westminster.

The Petitions Committee has had preliminary discussions over the Petition for a second referendum. The Committee has decided to defer its decision until all signatures have been verified as genuine by Parliamentary Digital Services as 77,000 have been identified as fraudulent.

It is also important to note that, although it may choose to schedule a debate on this petition in due course, the Committee only has the power to schedule debates in Westminster Hall – the second debating chamber of the House of Commons. Debates in Westminster Hall do not have the power to change the law, and could not trigger a second referendum. 

The Petitions Committee are also keeping their website updated here. 

This page will also be updated with any news or outcomes following the decision made by the British people.

Monday 27th June 

The outcome has caused significant uncertainty for financial markets and the Chancellor has made a statement on the Government's reassurances to ensure economic stability. You can read this here.  

Friday 24th June 

Following the referendum outcome, the Prime Minister announced his resignation and you can read his statement here.