Peterborough unimpressed by Prime Minister’s Brexit deal

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It has been a tumultuous week in British politics with the long-awaited EU withdrawal agreement igniting fierce condemnation - and that’s just from the cabinet.

Closer to home saw the surprise resignation of one of Peterborough’s two MPs - Shailesh Vara - from his role as Northern Ireland minister complete with a withering assessment of the Prime Minister’s deal, alongside the elevation of Fenland MP Stephen Barclay who has moved from City minister to health minister, then on to Brexit Secretary all in 2018.

The referendum count at KingsGate. Stewart Jackson, Wayne Fitzgerald and John Peach  - from the Leave campaign EMN-160623-231342009

The referendum count at KingsGate. Stewart Jackson, Wayne Fitzgerald and John Peach - from the Leave campaign EMN-160623-231342009

But, amid the turmoil one staunch Peterborough Leaver is hopeful that the Brexit he campaigned for in 2016 (resulting in a 61 per cent Leave vote in the city) will still be delivered despite disappointment at the agreement which Theresa May has produced.

John Peach, who was one of the Brexiteers famously pictured celebrating on the front page of the Daily Mail on the morning of the result, is against any deal which keeps the UK tied into the EU for years to come.

He said: “I just hope it can be tweaked so it does not restrict us from getting out.

“People talk about a people’s vote - we have had the people’s vote and it was a decisive result, particularly in Peterborough. Now we have to go on and implement the result.

Shailesh Vara MP

Shailesh Vara MP

“I have not changed my mind, and even people that have voted Remain are absolutely fed up with it, and say let’s get on with it.”

The withdrawal agreement was revealed on Wednesday last week, and one of the quickest readers of the 585 pages was Mr Vara who became the first minister to resign the next day after concluding that it would leave the UK “in a half-way house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign nation”.

North West Cambridgeshire MP Mr Vara, who voted Remain, said the UK would be locked into a customs arrangement which it could not leave unilaterally.

He also defied calls for a second referendum and hit out at “scaremongering” over what could happen if there is no deal.

Steve Barclay

Steve Barclay

He added: “The British public have made up their minds in terms of what they want Parliament to decide.

“I’m in favour of even at this late stage trying to get the proposals changed. I accept if you leave without a deal there would be short-term difficulties, but you would not be passing billions of pounds to the EU because we would have left. Those billions of pounds could be spent on cushioning the economy. We as a country can then pursue our own destiny as a sovereign nation for decades to come.

“People are forgetting the huge opportunities we have.”

Leave voter Mr Barclay took over as Brexit Secretary after Dominic Raab resigned, but the role has been downgraded with Mrs May taking on sole control of negotiations on EU withdrawal.

Peterborough on the front page of the Daily Mail following the referendum result

Peterborough on the front page of the Daily Mail following the referendum result

A “delighted” Mr Barclay, the MP for North East Cambridgeshire, said momentum needed to be kept up to “deliver a Brexit that works for the whole UK”.

PT reader reaction to Brexit deal

Reaction on Twitter: @dfogg78: “The people have had their vote and it was to leave and it would be again! The biggest traitor is @theresa_may who is selling the country out!”

@craigare: “Just cancel the whole thing. It’s always been a stupid idea and that’s become obvious to everyone now that it’s been written down.”

@nonecksomesense: “Is there anyone who doesn’t think it’s a complete and utter cluttermuck (I feel like swearing but thought I’d better not).

Andrew Hensley (pictured), who did not vote in the referendum, wrote to the PT saying: “Now in my view is the time for a public vote and make it four way: agree to this deal, delay leaving and reopen talks, leave with no deal, remain. Drop the one with the least votes and repeat until left with the winner.” He added that current deal is unacceptable as the UK would have to follow EU rules.

Carl Harper from the Peterborough Socialist Party wrote: “A real ‘people’s vote’ would undeniably be a general election, in which we would hopefully see Corbyn come to power. If he were to implement his anti-austerity agenda, the fog would soon be lifted and a very different clash with EU would open up due to its fundamental principles in protecting free market economics and neoliberalism which create many of the concerns of those who voted Leave.”

Mixed reaction to the Brexit deal among city politicians

Liberal Democrat group leader on Peterborough City Council Cllr Nick Sandford, and Green councillor Julie Howell, have both called for another referendum.

Cllr Sandford said: “Ask people do they want the PM’s Brexit deal or to remain in the EU?” Cllr Howell said: “We worry dreadfully about the erosion of environmental protections and human rights legislation as we appreciate how hard won these protections were.”

Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz called for a new government to take on negotiations. He said: “The Brexit deal seems to have united unions and business, left and right, north and south, in dislike of what it proposes.”

Chairman of UKIP Peterborough Graham Whitehead said: “Mrs May’s long-awaited withdrawal agreement is a complete betrayal of the referendum decision.”

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer said: “I feel on balance that this deal should be delivered and government can then work on getting the best possible trade deal during the transition period.”

Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Peterborough Paul Bristow said: “I still hope and fully expect any final deal after ongoing negotiations will respect the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto.

“That means leaving the single market, the customs union, the jurisdiction of the ECJ and ending free movement of people - whilst preserving the union of the UK.”

Neither Cllr John Holdich, leader of Peterborough City Council, nor Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya, commented.

Reaction in the business world

John Bridge, chief executive of Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are already starting to see businesses delay investment decisions.

“There is a lot of dismay at the way politicians are handling Brexit.”

Mark Fenyes, chairman of Omega-Sinto in Woodston, said: “Politicians need to get on with it. If Mrs May’s deal is it I think we are better staying in the European Union.”

Ben Atkins, chairman of engineering company Vogal Group in Fletton, said: “The decision to leave the EU hasn’t affected the business so far, and I don’t anticipate that it will over the next year or so.

“The country voted to leave and we need to get on with it, and we have to make the best of it.”