A British Conservative MP known for his support for Britons abroad says the British prime minister should step down if he cannot secure a Brexit deal.
MP for North Thanet (Kent) Sir Roger Gale has told The Connexion of his fears for the UK’s future and for rights of second home owners and Britons moving to France, if the country leaves with no deal in just over two weeks’ time.
He says the prime minister would have “failed the British people” if this is the case.
It comes as the talks were extended again into this week after a phone call between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a bid to find a last-minute solution for remaining differences. However time is now very short for any deal to be ratified and in force by January 1.
Sir Roger, known to Connexion readers for championing issues such as lifetime voting for Britons abroad or Britons’ right to receive disability benefits in France, said he is giving a personal opinion and not speaking for any campaign. However he said he fears a hard-right minority in the party, who are happy to leave with no deal, has too much influence over the prime minister.
He said: “My view is that if the prime minister is not able to obtain an acceptable deal then he would have failed the British people and not kept the promise he made. Before the election he was saying it will be easy and we’ll get a deal with no trouble.
“His position would be untenable so he should step aside and make way for someone else.
“Various people have tried to spin the ‘oven-ready deal’ statements, saying it only referred to the Withdrawal Agreement (WA), which we have done, but it was clear before the election that he expected and intended to deliver a trade and future relationship deal before the end of the transition period.”
Impacts of no-deal on Britons in France are likely to include no agreement on pension uprating for future Britons moving to France, and no continuation of Ehic health forms for second home owners.
Sir Roger said pension uprating is a “very tricky issue” – he is in contact with Britons in countries like Canada, South Africa and Australia “where there are people living on pitiful pensions that were frozen a very long time ago”.
Outside the EU, the UK’s current policy is to only uprate (annually increase) pensions for Britons living in countries with a bilateral social security agreement including this point. Continuation for existing Britons in France is part of the Brexit WA deal, but continuation for future newcomers is part of the current ‘future relationship’ talks.
Speaking as a French second home owner himself, he added that healthcare is also a major concern.
“If I were to go and live in France part of the year, I would have no health cover. Like many people I have pre-existing conditions and I could get insurance, but not to cover any of the things I want to be insured for.”
If matters like these are not dealt with in the deal, they might then be considered country by country, for example, in a UK-France social security deal.
“But that’s 27 agreements potentially, and no guarantee," he said.
Former British ambassador to France Lord Ricketts told The Connexion this week that possible bilateral mini-deals with EU countries after a no-deal exit in January would be difficult and may take a long time due to the probable acrimonious atmosphere and the fact that they are being discouraged by the European Union.
Sir Roger said he believes there is a “perfectly achievable deal to be done”, though some compromises are needed.
“It’s not a question of surrendering sovereignty. Any trade deal that anyone does involves conditions, and at the moment we are starting from a level playing-field with the European Union because we have been members of it and for practical purposes we still are until December 31.
“And, I believe I am right in saying, that the Japanese deal actually involves far more impositions than the European one.”
The fact of “starting from the same place” is also a key reason why a deal could potentially be done in just nine months – the time-limit set by the UK – as opposed, for example, to six years for the EU-Canada deal.
Fishing was the main sticking point, Sir Roger said, “but it’s in the interest of British fishermen to have a deal, because we sell most of our fish into France and we don’t want that market killed”.
“It may be that not everybody will be completely happy, but with trade deals you can’t always have that,” he said.
“Some will accuse me of trying to stop us leaving. I’m getting quite a lot of hate mail now. But we’ve already left. What is at stake now is what kind of terms we are on with the rest of Europe.”
He added: “My real fear is that I am seriously concerned that Johnson could become the prime minister responsible for the break-up of the United Kingdom. It’s a racing certainty that if the Scots get a referendum they will vote to leave the Union.
“And in Northern Ireland a majority voted to remain. If the people of Northern Ireland vote in a referendum to leave the UK, then they have the right to do so and unite with the Irish Republic and stay in the European Union.
“Two things could happen then – there could be another bloodbath, but Northern Ireland could become part of the Irish Republic so we end up with about as much political and diplomatic clout as Alderney. A little island in the middle of the North Sea.”