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This week’s column comes from Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling

Over the coming months, Britain is going to be conducting the most complex negotiations we have ever undertaken. They will define our nation for a generation and shape not just our future but that of our grandchildren. These talks matter.

Many different groups are, already, trying to shape the outcome. Large companies, business groups, and charities are explaining to the Government and politicians what the consequences of decisions will be. They are calling for various interests to be safeguarded and ring-fenced. They are trying to create a Britain which will work in their interest.

But they are not alone in having a stake in these talks. The decisions we take regarding our future relationship with the EU will have implications for every business and every family in the country, and it is essential that as many voices as possible are heard. That is why I have been conducting meetings with firms large and small and community groups across our towns and villages to find out what matters.

I’ve heard many answers. For some, like the care providers I met this week, workers from Eastern Europe, South Africa and around the world are vital if they are to continue providing the high quality care in people’s homes that we have become used to. It would not be easy to replace them with others just yet, because our unemployment rate is so low there are too few people looking for work to be able to recruit locally. To train new people would also take time, and in that gap care could suffer. So finding an answer to some form of labour mobility matters.

For others, like the manufacturers operating from barns and industrial estates around the area, tariff-free access to the EU markets is essential, both so they can sell their products and buy raw materials without the cost of extra taxes.

They also need new machines to improve production, and the spare parts that are needed over time, many of which come from abroad.

Others still want better access into the US or Australia, or closer links to India and China. Each of these is going to be thrown into question as we shape our trading relationship with the world.

But whatever your interest, the first thing we all need to do is to get our voice heard. The Government can’t represent us if they don’t know what matters. That’s why I’m urging people to contact their local MP. For the first time in four decades, these talks will not be mediated through anyone except our ministers.

We won’t be asking a trade representative to balance the wishes of other countries as well as our own before taking a decision, we will be asking our own Government to make the case for our country.

Of course, we must be prepared to negotiate, to hear the other side’s perspective, too. But this time it will be different. This time we are all responsible for the result of the talks that we started in the referendum of 23 June.

After all, having discussed the options for the best part of 40 years, in June we voted to chart our own course. It’s now up to us to make it work.


Tom Tugendhat, MBE, left the British Army in July 2013 after a career in which he served on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and as the military assistant to the Chief of the Defence Staff. As a Territorial Army officer he worked on everything from those ops to establishing the Armed Forces Muslim Association. He also worked for the Foreign Office. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in the 2015 General Election. See www.tomtugendhat.org.uk