The Cleethorpes constituency that I represent, and neighbouring Grimsby, were badly hit by the decline of the deep sea fishing industry in the 1970s and ‘80s, and have never fully recovered. However, the recent revival of the offshore renewables sector, and the town deal that we managed to negotiate with the Government, provide reasons for optimism. Those who operate the Grimsby and Immingham port complex—by tonnage, the largest in the UK—are optimistic about the future, and only recently announced a £36 million investment to deal with increased container traffic.
Exit, or Brexit, will allow the establishment of free ports in the UK. Yes, they could be established if we remained in the EU, but the complexities, rules and regulations militate against that. Free ports would be a major boost to my area. The benefits to investors are those of duties, tariffs and tax incentives, but they would also be a magnet for investment in the area. By definition, the many coastal areas that lend themselves to free port status are in deprived areas of high unemployment. The Grimsby and Immingham area ranks in the bottom quartile for deprivation, and high-skilled jobs would be a major benefit. Together, ports in the north of England handle more than 10 million tonnes of goods each year, and contribute £5 billion to the economy of our country. The north-south divide would be narrowed by the establishment of northern “supercharged” ports, as a recent report referred to them.
In the Humber, there has been particular focus on energy, and investments by ABP, Able UK, Ørsted and the like are providing enormous benefits. However, 70% of people voted to leave the EU, and it would be wrong of me to go against that both for personal reasons and as a true representative. In 1975 I voted and campaigned for a “no” vote as it was then, because I believed that the sovereignty of our country was being taken away. How could I now vote for a deal that puts us into a backstop that we can get out of only with the approval of a foreign agency?
Sovereignty means sovereignty. It cannot be dissolved in any way. Culturally and historically the UK has been different. We have been semi-detached members of the EU and not fully signed up—that is why we wanted opt-outs, rebates and the like. Prime Ministers from successive Governments have struggled with the fact that they were pushing people in a direction in which they did not want to go. The talk we repeatedly hear of a second referendum is unacceptable. What if the result was narrower than the first? What if only 50.1% voted leave? The debate would continue interminably.
I firmly believe that we should reject the deal. Under no circumstances could I support it, although I recognise that at some point we will have to coalesce around yet more compromises. That is regrettable, but inevitable.