Nearly four years after the historic referendum, we will finally get Brexit done and deliver what Sunday Express readers voted for. As a huge rugby fan I often see parallels between my political life and the sport I love. Securing the Withdrawal Agreement was the PM’s diplomatic equivalent of Jonny Wilkinson’s last minute drop goal to win England the 2003 World Cup.
We had to lock into the scrum and make the hard yards to get far enough up the field for our key players to make the difference. And at times it felt like we may never get there. But we finally gained a major victory for Britain and for our democracy.
The Prime Minister has now signed the Withdrawal Agreement, marking a hugely important moment in the Brexit process which confirms our departure from the EU on 31 January.
This success means that the Department I lead will no longer exist on 31 January having fulfilled its mandate. And so it is natural to reflect on what we achieved together, as a team.
During my time as Brexit Secretary I’ve spent more than 100 hours at the despatch box in Parliament discussing our exit from the EU. I travelled across the EU, from Cyprus to Sweden, making the case for an orderly withdrawal and have been to Brussels many times.
Ministers in DExEU oversaw the drafting of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) and its passage through Parliament, the crowning achievement being that it finally received Royal Assent this week.
It’s not always been a smooth ride, but I’m immensely proud of the work done by the Brexit Department to make good on our promise to the British people to deliver our departure.
The Brexit naysayers have always wanted people to believe leaving the EU means pulling up the drawbridge. This just isn’t true.
We look for friendly cooperation with our European partners, as sovereign equals. It is the EU’s red tape and rigid view of how things should be done that we have chosen to unleash ourselves from.
Leaving the EU will open up exciting new opportunities for trade as we’ll be able to strike our own deals with countries around the world, forming partnerships with old allies and new friends.
And of course we look to agree a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, like the one the EU already has with Canada, as soon as possible after 31 January. We are also ready to work together on security, tackling the threats that do not respect borders.
Our new freedom will allow us to encourage new technology and innovation to boost regions across the whole of the UK.
31 January is just the start of a bright future for our country. We are taking back control of our borders, laws, money, farming and fisheries, allowing us to focus on issues that matter to the British people, like climate change and workers’ rights. We will finally be able to deliver the change people want to see in their daily lives.
And this work has already started. Our new agriculture laws will release British farmers from the EU’s inefficient and overly bureaucratic rules. That means they will have stewardship over their own land, and can farm in a fairer way that allows them to do the things that matter to them, like protecting the environment.
With Brexit done we’ll also be able to deliver on the vital mission of levelling up the country.
It will mean we can focus on the priorities of the British people, like funding the NHS, investing in infrastructure, supporting workers and families and strengthening our great union.
With certainty over Brexit, it’s time for us to come together as a country. As we maximise all the freedoms that the British people voted for, we must now work to heal divisions that have developed over the past three years, and bring our communities together again.
The only question remaining is how we will mark this momentous day? I will be in my constituency, raising a pint of British beer from my local brewer, Elgood’s Brewery. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing let’s take this chance to look forward with optimism.
Now is the time for us to come together and look forward to a bright future. Because exit day doesn’t just mark the end of our time in the EU. It marks the start of a new chapter in the history of the UK.
By: STEPHEN BARCLAY, BREXIT SECRETARY
First published on Express UK