The new year is a time to look to the future and set aside the arguments of the past. In 2017, that outlook might be more important than ever.
If you believe what you read in the national papers, the argument about whether or not to leave the EU is still raging. But then we know nothing sells papers like a good row.
Here in Stoke-on-Trent people were clear – we voted to leave. Nationally the result may have been closer, but the truth is we are much less divided than the result might suggest.
When it comes to our country’s future, we have much more in common than we give ourselves credit for. Many of those who voted to remain agree that we need to fix our immigration system, and those who voted to leave want to see our businesses flourish.
Everyone who cast a vote last June wanted Britain to succeed. If we are going to achieve that then we need to begin by recognising that we are on the way out of the EU and start talking properly about what we want our new Britain to look like.
That’s why I voted before Christmas for the exit process to begin by the end of March, and it’s why I’ll be voting to trigger Article 50 if the decision comes to Parliament. We need to stop repeating old arguments and start working together, and we need to have a real conversation about the country we want to build.
My priority in the months ahead is to promote and protect the Potteries and to ensure the UK maintains its place in the world as a force for good with a strong and well-equipped armed forces.
I want a Brexit deal that is going to deliver for the people of Stoke-on-Trent, and I will be fighting every step of the way to ensure that’s what we get.
For the local economy, that means making sure the Government takes steps to protect our ceramics industry from Chinese dumping and getting a framework for international trade deals established as quickly as we can. It was these protections for local industry which persuaded me to vote remain last year, and we must ensure they are kept in place when we leave.
But it also means honouring the key pledge of the Leave campaign and putting the millions we will save into our NHS. Our new, independent Britain should have a healthcare system that is the envy of the world.
And it means rethinking our immigration system from the bottom up and getting control of our borders. Our immigration policy should be based first and foremost on our own needs, focusing on what people can offer our country and the skills we need to grow.
We can’t let Brexit mean closing ourselves off from the world, that’s not what any of us voted for. But we need to understand that the massive low-skill migration we have seen in recent years has simply driven down wages and reduced opportunities for our young people.
We will always need some immigration, but it needs to be based on mutual benefit and mutual respect. And we need to ensure that British residents are being trained to have the skills that we need so we are not reliant on foreign workers to fill skills gaps.
I sometimes hear about people talking about putting the ‘Great’ back in Great Britain, but I don’t believe this country ever stopped being great. Our problems are not those of a country in decline, but of a Government which too often fails to listen.
The UK is a global power and we have always punched above our weight on the world stage. It’s not our membership of the European club that will determine that in the future, it’s the decisions we take together as a country. The course we are on comes with risk, but there are huge opportunities too if we can get it right. And I’m determined we will.
So let’s make 2017 the year of finding common ground. Let’s stop the shouting and start talking to one another about what we all want our country and our city to look like. We are one nation, not two, and we need to work together to get the best deal we can.
This article first appeared in The Sentinel
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