I am in Brussels today where Article 50 is being triggered and formal negotiations between the UK and EU will now start. There is a huge amount of work to be done in the months ahead if we are to achieve an amicable new relationship with the EU and give certainty to people and businesses.
Over the past few months, many colleagues across Europe have told me they wish to achieve a positive and forward looking deal, as outlined by the Prime Minster in January. However, some politicians will seek to cause disruptions for their own political gain. It is important not to get distracted by those creating drama.
In the past few weeks I have met David Davis MP, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU; Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Chief Negotiator; and Guy Verhofstadt MEP, who is coordinating in the European Parliament.
I have been looking at issues related to long-term trade including market access and customs. Some of my thoughts are published here.
Role of MEPs
The final outcome of Article 50 negotiations needs to be agreed by the European Parliament. MEPs are preparing an initial resolution on key principals to be voted in Strasbourg next week. I have been pressing for this to include detailed work done by the Parliament specialist Committees. This has been coordinated and approved across a broad majority of political groups and helps to bring focus to many of the longer term considerations. You can see the comments of the Internal Market Committee here.
Both UK and EU negotiators have stated that a first priority is to resolve issues relating to citizens' rights. Michel Barnier's speech in Brussels last week mentioned the need to address matters affecting British citizens living across the EU as well as EU citizens in the UK. I am hopeful that this can be agreed in principal at an early stage, with the lawyers then working on the details.
It is important to understand the practical concerns of those affected and I am very grateful to the HR team at Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge, who have done considerable work with their EU staff to identify key questions. I attended a workshop with over 50 staff members.
Business views on Brexit
I have continued to work with representatives from a variety of UK and EU Industrial Sectors including manufacturing, digital, pharmaceutical, creative and financial services (especially banking). It is important for many industries that a deep and broad long term trade partnership between the UK and EU is achieved. Recently, I hosted a hearing in the Parliament with techUK and their sister organisations from France and Germany looking at the importance of cooperation on digital policy post Britain’s exit.
I am also working closely with the EEF, which represents British manufacturing. You can read their latest thoughts here.
Consumer views on Brexit
British consumers expect high quality product and safety standards as well as consumer rights. Much of the law governing this is covered by European legislation. If we want to have a deep trading relationship with EU countries then it is important that Britain reassures others that we do not intend to drop product standards. I have written to the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU about this. The consumer organisation "Which?" is working with partners across the EU to make sure consumer voices are heard in the negotiations.
Visiting East of England businesses
I was very impressed by a recent visit to three local engineering firms in King's Lynn, Norfolk with local MP Sir Henry Bellingham. These companies all build on East Anglia’s proud heritage of excellence in agricultural engineering and one was exporting as far as Egypt.
It was very good to hear success stories from local apprenticeships, see how the Local Enterprise Partnership’s innovation grants have helped deliver new products and to understand how strong product safety standards have contributed to sales growth. It is important that we negotiate good trade deals to enable companies like this to continue to thrive.
Weed killer news
I was pleased to read that glyphosate has been classified as non-carcinogenic by the European Chemicals Agency. This is an important chemical for many of our regions farmers, many hundreds of whom have written to me explaining how the targeted use of this product enables improvements in environmental management. This news potentially paves the way to the licence being renewed.
Firearms legislation update
You may remember that I have been leading the reforms on European gun laws in the aftermath of various attacks on European cities. These were voted through the Parliament this month by a large majority.
It has been a great honour to work with organisations like the Imperial War Museum, the Royal Armouries and The British Association of Shooting and Conservation. Here is what the Countryside Alliance wrote about the outcome.
Thank you to everyone who wrote to me after the Westminster attack. I was in the Palace of Westminster last Wednesday and joined the thousands of people who were held in the building for long hours whilst the police secured the surroundings.
I was also in the European Parliament on the same date last year when we were also in lock down following the Brussels attacks. The police and security staff on both occasions were outstanding; firm, calm and brave. My thoughts are with those who have lost family members and friends and with the injured.
I would also like to say a big thank you to the many young staff members working in our Parliament offices whose contribution to the work of parliamentarians is irreplaceable.
MEP for the East of England and Chairman of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee in the European Parliament
Vicky Ford MEP
149-151 St Neots Road
01954 211 722