Costa says issue with EU now is 'the Northern Ireland Protocol'
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Alberto Costa also lamented the bickering and ill-feeling which is threatening to overshadow the forthcoming leadership contest following Boris Johnson’s resignation. The Prime Minister confirmed his decision on Thursday after multiple resignations, including those of Health Secretary Said Javid and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. In addition, Michael Gove was unceremoniously sacked after telling Mr Johnson he should resign, with an unnamed Number 10 official subsequently branding the erstwhile Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities a “snake”.
Politicians including former ERG chairman Mark Francois MP have suggested the next leader has to be a Brexiteer – but Mr Costa, the Tory MP for South Leicestershire, who has consistently tried to bridge the divide over the years, does not concur.
He said: “In 2016, as somebody who voted Remain, I was very proud to have given the British electorate that choice. I said throughout the campaign that I would respect the outcome, and I did.
“And I was very vocal in 2016, arguing that given the political revolution that happened, somebody from the Vote Leave campaign should really have become Prime Minister and taken responsibility for the decision that the British people had made, and so I fully backed Michael Gove in 2016.
“In 2019, I was very consistent. Again, I fully backed Michael Gove for the leadership. My own career has obviously suffered because I was so visibly seen to be associated with a very strong Vote Leaver, who did not succeed in becoming the leader of my party, but I think Mark Francois was right then.”
Fast-forwarding three years, Mr Costa, 50, who also sits on the influential Parliamentary committees on Standards and Privileges, said the situation had changed.
He said: “I don’t think that’s the case now. We left the European Union two years ago. We’re no longer members of the European Union. The question about the European Union is what we do with the Northern Ireland protocol, that’s the issue.
“We’ve left the single market, we’re not part of the Customs Union. We do have a withdrawal agreement and for me, the most important element of that was part two, the protection of EU rights for EU citizens here, and equally importantly, UK citizens in the EU and I fought very hard.
“In February 2018, I was the MP that passed the only unanimous motion in the House of Commons upholding Part Two should there be no deal. So I was prepared for the worst in terms of the relationship as long as part two was upheld and I got that passed unanimously in the House of Commons.”
I am not fussed in terms of whether somebody put a cross on the Leave side or the Remain side, I think we’ve got beyond that
While Mr Francois’s point was valid, the nation had “moved on”, Mr Costa stressed.
He said: “We’ve left the European Union. I work well with Mark, I think we should see each other as part of the Conservative family, there are no Brexiteers and Remainers.
“There’s no ‘them and us’, there is only one Conservative family. We are in Government and we’ve got to give the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland a person that can strengthen not just cabinet Government but restore the United Kingdom as one properly functioning, sovereign country.
“I am not fussed in terms of whether somebody put a cross on the Leave side or the Remain side, I think we’ve got beyond that.”
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Turning his attention to Mr Gove, Mr Costa said: “I think it’s fair to say that Michael Gove is highly regarded in the parliamentary party.
“He is head and shoulders one of the best MPs that we have in terms of policy, in terms of developing policy within departments and seeing it through, in terms of performance in the chamber, at the dispatch box, in terms of how he deals with the SNP, how he sees as a figure that’s robust enough to understand the whole of the United Kingdom and not just parts of the United Kingdom.
“And I think credit where credit’s due, you know, I think most of my colleagues will still think very highly of him.”
Mr Costa emphasised that he was not privy to what had or had not been said about Mr Gove by Downing Street officials but said: “I think it’s unfortunate to use language like that. Colleagues in the Conservative Party, particularly elected colleagues, should bear mind that whoever becomes our next leader, we need to unify around them.
“There is no mileage in using terms like snakes to describe any member of the Conservative family.”
Mr Costa also had some words of advice for fellow Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns, caught on camera raising her middle finger to demonstrators shortly before Mr Johnson’s resignation – since when she has been appointed as a junior education minister.
He said: “Insofar as a code of conduct of MPs is concerned, which I have a leading role in, in the Committee on Standards. I can’t comment on specifics, because if the parliamentary commissioner for standards investigates an MP on an alleged breach of that code, that could end up before my committee.
“But what I would say generally, and I can only speak for myself, is as an MP is I have been faced with situations where I have received abusive emails, I have had to walk past people that have said very abusive comments.”
All elected officials had the choice of reporting behaviour to the police if it amounted to a breach of the peace or any other criminal act, Mr Costa pointed out.
He said: “If somebody is doing something short of committing a crime, but puts an individual under a great deal of pressure, the way I deal with it is smile, head down, move along.
“Part of the skill set of being an elected individual whether you’re a counsellor or an MP is sometimes to separate the wheat from the chaff and focus on what’s important.
“We are elected individuals and behaviour and comportment is part of the code of conduct and it’s essential that MPs understand that and abide by the code of conduct.”
In a statement tweeted after the incident, Ms Jenkyns, Tory MP for Morley and Outwood said: “On Thursday morning I went to Downing Street to watch the prime minister’s resignation speech. A baying mob outside the gates were insulting MPs on their way in as is sadly all too common,” she said.
“After receiving huge amounts of abuse from some of the people who were there over the years, and I have also had seven death threats over the last four years. Two of which have been in recent weeks and are currently being investigated by police, I had reached the end of my tether.
“I responded and stood up for myself. Just why should anyone have to put up with this sort of treatment. I should have shown more composure but am only human.”
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