Stay calm during Brexit

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Last year will always be remembered as the year Britain voted to leave the European Union, writes MP for Elmet and Rothwell, Alec Shelbrooke.

The arguments on both sides were deep and passionate and a verdict was delivered on the June 23 2016, with the majority of the rest of that year committed to establishing mechanisms that would eventually trigger Article 50.

Since Article 50 has now been triggered the Government moves onto two distinct negotiations with the remaining 27 nations: how we separate ourselves from the European Union and the task of building trade deals with the EU in an attempt to secure tariff free trade and ease of movement of goods with mainland Europe.

Inevitably this will lead to some lurid and vivid headlines or certain MPs and commentators being quick to jump onto the airwaves to howl about the latest ‘disgrace’ as they see it.

My advice is that everyone should calm down.

At this stage no one has actually got around the table to start negotiating. Indeed the remaining 27 nations do not sit down to discuss withdrawal until the April 29 and this will set the timetable for the face-to-face negotiations with Britain.

For all of the alleged them and us entrenching of positions that are described in the press, the Prime Minister’s opening paragraphs in her letter to the EU described the desire to continue the “deep and special relationship we hope to enjoy – as your closest friend and neighbour- with the European Union once we leave”.

Many people have demanded that we should stay in the Single Market but the Prime Minister made clear to the EU that: “We understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no ‘cherry picking’ so we do not seek membership”.

David Cameron tried to change the issue of free movement of people without work from inside the European Union and it was rejected. This was a major driving factor for people who voted to leave.

It would, therefore, not only be foolish to spend negotiating time around this immovable subject, but it would also not present the air of respect and willingness to negotiating a good deal for Britain that will be vital in these talks.

There is no doubt that Britain’s vote to leave has come as a shock to mainland Europe and the institution itself will have to take a long hard look at itself. When passions run high people tend to say things that in the cold light of day they may reflect upon.

It is these throw away comments that we can avoid by calming down. Comments made so far have not been on reports from actual negotiations and must be seen in context.

As a strong supporter and long standing member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar, I know first-hand the constant pressure that Gibraltarians feel from Spain.

But the headlines regarding Gibraltar last week show the level of hysteria that exists around our withdrawal form Europe.

The truth is that Gibraltar has a run in with Spain almost every week, and despite the centuries old Treaty of Utrecht, Spain constantly hassles Gibraltarians whether it be through invading sovereign waters, arresting Gibraltarian fisherman in our own waters, or constantly closing the border.

With a population of around 32,000, Gibraltar sees over 6,000 people each day crossing the border with Spain and the vast majority of those crossing are indeed Spanish. Spain’s constant bullying at the border post has a greater effect on its own people than Gibraltarians.

It is, therefore, disappointing that this has only had widespread coverage in the press because it got mentioned in the context of the EU negotiations.

Gibraltar will be a key point in our negotiations, as indeed it is in so many discussions and negotiations with Spain, but until face to face talks start sensationalism will win over.

Every day Gibraltar is threatened and no one reacts. Somebody linked in to Brexit and everyone has gone mad.

Leaving the EU will be a long and complicated two years of negotiations, but until we have solid facts to go on we should remain calm.