Having been re-appointed as one of the British members of the Council of Europe, the first meeting I am attending comes at a critical juncture, as all attention is focused on the detail of how Britain will fulfil the process of leaving the European Union.
The Council of Europe is a body whose members are not drawn only from countries which are members of the European Union. It is therefore one of those bodies on which the United Kingdom will continue to be represented and a forum for debate about the future direction of Europe. I am also returning to serve on the Political Affairs and Democracy Committee.
We have also had a clear indication now of the Government’s 12 negotiating objectives for leaving the European Union, with the Prime Minister making a keynote speech on 17 January. One of the main premises was that we are leaving the EU, not Europe. The new relationship will be one between an independent, self-governing United Kingdom and Europe, re-drawing this country’s global partnerships.
Right at the top of the 12-point list was the assurance that both Houses of Parliament will have a vote about the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU. That is an important development as it shows that the PM is determined to return the power to our own Parliament.
Control of our own laws is vital, as is strengthening the Union within the United Kingdom. In this country we have built a different model of devolution, as against the centralised version within the European Union, where decisions are made by unelected officials without transparency or accountability.
The referendum vote made clear that UK residents are concerned about control of the number of people who can come to Britain from Europe. The rights of EU citizens living here and our citizens living in Europe, along with workers’ rights, are something which we would wish to guarantee during the negotiations. I have raised issues about the security of UK citizens and there will be co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism.
On free trade, the goal is the freest possible trade in goods and services, but not membership of the Single Market. There is opportunity to expand our trade across the globe.
With many innovative companies in Chesham & Amersham based on science and technology, I was pleased the Prime Minister emphasised how this country will continue to work with European partners in research and other initiatives.