I beg to move,
That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; notes the resolution on parliamentary scrutiny of the UK leaving the EU agreed by the House on 12 October 2016; recognises that it is Parliament’s responsibility to properly scrutinise the Government while respecting the decision of the British people to leave the European Union; confirms that there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations to depart from the European Union after Article 50 has been triggered; and calls on the Prime Minister to commit to publishing the Government’s plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked.
For months, Labour has been pressing the Prime Minister and the Government to set out their plan for Brexit. For months, the Prime Minister and a succession of Ministers have refused to do so, either in writing or from the Dispatch Box. Facing defeat on today’s motion, the Government have now caved in—last-minute amendments tell their own story and everybody knows it. This is a victory for common sense. I thank those from various Opposition parties who backed putting pressure on the Government to disclose their plan, and I thank the Conservative Members who, rightly, want to see far more detail about the approach their Front Benchers are intending to take.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that, by accepting the Government’s amendment to his otherwise very good motion, he is falling into a Tory trap of binding his party to supporting the invoking of article 50 by March, which is an unrealistic and increasingly arbitrary date?
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman responds, may I politely say that the intervention is absolutely legitimate but this is a helpful guide: if Members who are hoping to speak intervene more than once, in accordance with very long-standing practice they will be relegated on the list? That is only fair if I am to try to secure equal opportunities for all Members.
I am grateful for that intervention, and I assure the hon. Lady that I shall come to that important point in due course.
I have seen the overnight briefings, which will no doubt be repeated today from the Dispatch Box, that the Government always intended to publish their plan, but an eleventh-hour concession is an eleventh-hour concession. I have faced the Secretary of State on many occasions and asked for a plan, and he has refused on every occasion, so nobody is going to fall for that.
I am going to make some progress, if I may. The focus is now where it ought to be: on the substance, not the process. The terms upon which we leave the EU will define us and our country for many years, and this House and the public are entitled to know the approach the Government are intending to take.
I will make a bit of progress and get to dealing with the amendment.
Today’s victory is important, and so is the timing. As we debate this motion, the Government’s appeal is being heard in the Supreme Court. We need to remind ourselves that the Government are arguing that this House should have no say on the question of invoking article 50—that is the argument they are presenting in the Supreme Court; through that argument, they want to remove the prospect of a vote granted by the High Court a few weeks ago. That is the core of their argument and the purpose of their appeal: to remove that vote from us. That is what they are seeking to achieve, but that would be to avoid scrutiny and avoid accountability. If the Government succeed in that appeal, this motion will be very important, because it puts grip into a process that would otherwise have none. We will only have a plan to discuss because we will not be getting a vote.
I am going to get to the amendment, so that I can make my position clear on that, and then I will take interventions.
A plan will now have to be prepared, debated and subjected to scrutiny, whether or not we have a vote. That is a good thing for anybody who believes in parliamentary scrutiny. If, however, the Government lose their appeal, there will need to be article 50 legislation in the new year; a motion of this House will not suffice.
I pause here to deal with the Government amendment, on which I want to make this clear to all Members: today we are not voting to trigger article 50 or to give authority to the Prime Minister to do so. It is most certainly not a vote for article 50. Unless the Supreme Court overrules the High Court, only legislation can do that.
Nor does today’s motion preclude Labour or any other party tabling amendments to the article 50 legislation and having them voted on. The motion, as amended, would be an indication that the purpose of calling for a plan is not to frustrate the process or delay the Prime Minister’s timetable. That is what is made clear by the motion and the amendment taken together. Labour has repeatedly said it will not frustrate the process, and I stick by that. That is why the Government should prepare their plan and publish it in time for this House to consider it when it debates and votes on the article 50 legislation. The timetable in the amendment is in fact there to put pressure on the Government, because a late plan would clearly frustrate the purposes and intentions of this motion. I put the Government on notice that I will not be slow to call them out if they do not produce a timely plan.
I do not want the shadow Secretary of State to inadvertently mislead the House. We already have legislation before this House—the Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50) Bill—which has had its First Reading and will get its Second Reading on 16 December, unless someone objects.
I am grateful for that intervention and understand the point, but let us see what happens on 16 December. The Secretary of State has made it clear on a number of occasions, understandably, that in addition to the main point of the appeal so far as the Government are concerned, which is to take away any right to vote on invoking article 50, there is a secondary intention, which is to get greater clarity on the type of legislation that may be needed in the new year. I anticipate that it is that Minister legislation that we will address before too long, but I do, of course, acknowledge the private Member’s Bill.
I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend has made it clear that it is not our intention to frustrate the article 50 process, because the Government and their supporters have been putting it around that we are somehow trying to sabotage any decision on it.
I am grateful for that intervention, because what we have seen is the characterising of anyone who questions the Government’s approach as frustration. That is the wrong characterisation and it is to be avoided. Having accepted today’s amendment, I hope that I will not be intervened on the whole time by Members saying that this is an attempt to frustrate. The plan needs to be produced in good time and with sufficient detail for us to debate it, but the purpose is not to frustrate the overall process or to delay the timetable that the Prime Minister set out some time ago.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman accepts the Government’s amendment, is he not effectively giving unilateral support to whatever plan they decide to present, which means that Opposition Members will not be able to perform their parliamentary role of scrutinising the Executive?
Does the shadow Secretary of State agree that, if the Opposition support, or at least do not oppose, the Government’s amendment, it would be completely unacceptable and totally inconsistent for them to do anything in the new year to delay the triggering of article 50 beyond 31 March?
I have made it absolutely clear that nothing in today’s motion precludes any party, including my own, from tabling an amendment to proposed legislation, if there is proposed legislation, and voting on it. I am astonished that some Members are willing to pass up the opportunity to have a vote in the first place and to restrict our ability to debate amendments.
I do not want to break the hon. and learned Gentleman’s flow, but I want to make a factual point. Will he please answer the question that has just been put to him? Given that he supports the amendment, does he think it reasonable that some want to frustrate and slow down the article 50 process?
I have made it absolutely clear—and I will make it absolutely clear again—that the purpose of the motion calling for a plan is not to frustrate or delay the process. That is not why we are calling for a plan. This presents a challenge for the Government, because they now need to produce a plan in good time to allow the proper formalities and processes to be gone through. The timetable is more of a challenge for the Government than it is for the Opposition.
I am going to make some progress. I have taken a lot of interventions.
The Government must now prepare their plan and publish it. I put the Government on notice that, if they fail to produce a plan by the time we debate proposed legislation on article 50—assuming that we do debate it and that the Government do not win their appeal—amendments will be tabled by the Opposition and, possibly, Government Members, setting out the minimum requirements of a plan. In other words, we are not going to have a situation where the Government seek a vote in a vacuum or produce a late, vague plan.
I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he is playing on a very difficult wicket. The motion states
“that there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK”.
Does he therefore believe that this plan should be a series of hints, an explanation of principle or specific priorities? It would be helpful to know what he means by a plan.
I think it is pretty straightforward and I have said this on a number of occasions. I fully accept that the Government will enter into confidential negotiations for a number of months and that producing a plan should not undermine that process. This is not the first time that I have said that; I have said it repeatedly. Some argue that we should not produce a plan because saying anything might undermine the negotiations, but I do not accept that. I do, however, accept that there is a level of detail and of confidential issues and tactics that should not be disclosed, and I have never said otherwise.
I want to put the contrary proposition, to see how comfortable Members really are with it. Absent of a plan and of our knowing the objectives and starting position, the Government would then negotiate for two years without telling us any of that detail. Are any Members of this House content not to know any of that between now and March 2019? Hands up who does not want to know that and is happy to say, “I don’t need to know. Whatever you are negotiating is fine by me.”
The hon. and learned Gentleman is an experienced lawyer, so I am sure that putting up Aunt Sallies is old hat to him. Given that he thinks that the alternative is telling the House nothing, I ask him what he thinks of these comments, which I have made eight times to this House:
“As I have said several times in debates that the hon. Gentleman has attended”—
this was in response to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown)—
“I will make as much information public as possible without prejudicing our negotiating position.”—[Official Report, 20 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 952.]
I heard that point being made and I understand and respect the Secretary of State’s position on this issue and his history on issues of scrutiny and accountability. I also understand why he feels uncomfortable not disclosing the information that can be disclosed, but the motion moves the issue on and makes it clear that there will be a plan, while, of course, preserving that which needs to remain confidential.
I acknowledge that the Secretary of State made those comments and that he has said on more than one occasion that, when the Government have reached a judgment on the customs union—I assume that he also means when they have reached a judgment on the single market—they will make that position public. I therefore anticipate that the Secretary of State has no difficulty with a plan that sets out the position on the single market, the customs union, transitional measures and the like, because that is the direction of travel that I have understood him to be going in. The plan commits him to it and puts it in the framework of scrutiny and accountability that will come with proposed legislation on article 50, but I do acknowledge what he has said.
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for that acknowledgment, but let me pick up on the issues that he has raised. There may be circumstances in which the criteria and aims are clear, but the individual policy is not. There may be several options and it might be in our negotiating interests to keep more than one of them open. Surely that does not necessarily require that we specify in detail any individual line of pursuit.
I understand the Secretary of State’s point. To some extent, we will probably return to this debate as and when the plan materialises, but it is important there is no mischaracterisation. Asking for a plan setting out the objectives is not to seek to undermine the UK’s negotiating hand, nor is it to seek a running commentary. It is, in fact, to seek to have clarity, scrutiny and accountability.
I am going to make progress.
The minimum requirements of a plan are fivefold. The first—I have begun to touch on this—is the need for enough detail and clarity to end the circus of uncertainty that has been going on in recent weeks on issues such as the single market, paying for access to the single market, the customs union and transitional arrangements. The pattern and rhythm of those exchanges over the past few days and weeks is clear for all to see. One member of the Cabinet says one thing one day; another member of the Cabinet says something else on a different day; then a spokesperson says that no decision has been made. We have seen that pattern over and over in the past few weeks. That uncertainty causes anxiety across the UK, in businesses, among working people, and in our nations and regions. It has to end, as it causes more damage to the process than anything else at the moment. The House, the public, businesses, working people, the media and our communities are entitled to know the basis on which the Government intend to negotiate their future.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the alternative to having a plan was no information until 2019. Does he accept that in the debate on 12 October he asked the Secretary of State whether we would have the same information as the European Parliament, where there is a mandatory obligation to inform the European Parliament of the negotiations? My right hon. Friend said very clearly that the answer was yes.
Yes; good. We are working with our European colleagues on that issue, but that is after article 50 has been triggered. We are discussing what comes before. Of course, there are stages in the process. The plan is important because it is the start of the process: it sets the scene and the direction of travel. Once article 50 has been triggered, MEPs will be involved in the process, because they have a vote at the end of the exercise. I acknowledge that the Secretary of State has said on a number of occasions that whatever information they have, we will have. I should jolly well hope so. The idea that MEPs would be provided with more information about the negotiations than us would be wrong in the eyes of everyone in the House. The Secretary of State made that commitment early on, and it was the right commitment to make. He will not be surprised to learn that I intend to hold him to that every step of the way. I am sure that we will meet at the Dispatch Box to discuss precisely that.
I have not finished dealing with the intervention from the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer). This is about what happens before the negotiations in the run-up to article 50. There will then be a two-year tunnel of negotiations. Then there is what happens at the end. MEPs will have a vote, and if they vote down the deal there will be no deal. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will concede that we will have a vote in the House, because the idea of MEPs voting, but not the House, on the final deal is wrong in principle. He might be able to indicate now that there will be a vote at the end of the process on the deal, in the same way that MEPs will have a vote, as that would be helpful for this side of the House.
I apologise for intervening again, but we have said that procedures under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 will apply. That is straightforward. I have said that at least three times to the House.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has asserted that there is no vote between whatever happens as a result of the court case and the ratification process. The great repeal Bill will be presented to the House during that two-year period, and after that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.
I acknowledge that, but my response is exactly the same as my previous response. The timetable for the great repeal Bill applies after article 50 has been invoked, so that does not help us with the plan and the starting position. That is why this part of the process has to be gripped now, because what happens between now and 31 March really matters to the starting position. I accept that after that the great repeal Bill will be introduced and debated, and no doubt there will be votes on its provisions, but essentially it is a Bill that indicates what will happen at the end of the process, rather than a Bill that deals with the plan—the starting position—or the process.
I understand why the shadow Minister is pressing the Government for their plans and I understand why he is setting out his red lines. I do not understand why he wants to enshrine that in legislation. The only reason for doing that is so that the Labour party can set up the Government to be sued later. Is that not the truth—will he come clean? It is wrecking tactics by any other name.
I am going to make progress—I have taken a lot of interventions.
The second requirement of a plan is that it must have enough detail to allow the relevant parliamentary bodies and Committees, including the Exiting the European Union Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), to scrutinise the plan effectively. The Committee’s terms of reference include examining the Government’s objectives, so the plan must have sufficient detail to allow parliamentary bodies to conduct scrutiny effectively.
I am going to press on. Thirdly, the plan must provide enough detail to enable the Office for Budget Responsibility to do its job properly. As Members across the House know, the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011 sets out the role of the OBR: it is the duty of the OBR to examine and report on the sustainability of the public finances. Its charter states:
“The OBR’s published forecasts shall be based on all government decisions and all other circumstances that may have a material impact on the fiscal outlook.”
The Government are responsible for all policy decisions and policy costings, but it is for the OBR to provide independent scrutiny and certification of the Government’s policy costings. It states whether it agrees or disagrees with the Government’s costings, or whether it has been given insufficient time or information to reach a judgment. It is an important check and balance in the system on the spending of public money and on costings.
In its response to the autumn statement this year, the OBR made the following comment on assumptions about the cost of Brexit. In the foreword to the response, it said that it asked the Government for
“a formal statement of Government policy as regards its desired trade regime and system of migration control, as a basis for our projections”
“The Government directed us to two public statements by the Prime Minister that it stated were relevant”.
The OBR was trying to do its job and obtain sufficient information to carry out its statutory functions, and has asked the Government for the relevant information. It has been directed to two public statements by the Prime Minister. In its report this year, the OBR said:
“Perhaps understandably, the Government’s response leaves us little the wiser as regards the choices and trade-offs that the Government might make during the negotiations”.
It is perhaps understandable in the early stages why that may be the case—I concede that, and this is not intended to be a cheap shot based on the OBR report—but it is important that the OBR should be able to do its job properly over the next two years or more. Unless it has sufficiently clear objectives, it cannot do so. It is wrong in principle for the OBR to be disabled from discharging its functions properly. There should be enough detail for that scrutiny to be carried out.
Fourthly, the plan must have enough detail to enable the relevant authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be assured that their particular and specific concerns are addressed. Other Members will speak about those concerns far more authoritatively than I can, but they include concerns about the single market and, in Northern Ireland, concerns about the border and related issues. The detail must be sufficient for those authorities to be assured that their concerns are understood and are being addressed. Over the past few weeks, I have visited Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland to speak to the devolved Governments as well as to businesses, trade unions and the public in meetings. I can assure the House that “Brexit means Brexit” does not come close to answering the concerns I heard or to addressing the huge, complex challenges that Brexit will pose across the UK.
Fifthly, the plan must have enough detail to build genuine consensus. That is an important point, because the future of this country is bound up with the negotiations, and it is wrong in principle for the Government to act solely for the 52%—to base its approach on the 52% or a group within the 52%. The vote on 23 June was not a vote to write those that voted to remain out of their own history. They have a right and an interest in these negotiations and they have a right to have a Government who give weight to their interests as well as the interests of the 52%. I have said this before and I will say it again: the Government must act not for the 52% or the 48% but for the 100%, acting in the national interest. That can be achieved only if we have a national consensus.
I am fascinated by the focus on the plan and the amount of work that the hon. and learned Gentleman will invite the OBR to do. He does understand, surely, that no plan survives engagement with the enemy. [Interruption.] That is a military metaphor from assaults. Our negotiating hand is clear, and it is clear that it is not compatible with the position taken by our 27 partners. This will all change in the course of the negotiations, and we will have to leave it to the Government to make those decisions.
On reflection, the hon. Gentleman may think that he did not use the right word in describing our partners as “the enemy”.
That brings me to a footnote, but an important footnote. Some of the language and tone that has been adopted by the Government and their Front Bench is not helping the prospects for a good outcome. [Interruption.] I hear the comment that that is disingenuous. I have been to Brussels. I have spoken on a number of occasions to those who will be involved in the exit, and they are not particularly amused by jokes about Prosecco; they are not particularly interested or amused by references to “cake and eat it”. They want a professional, constructive set of negotiations, and some of the comments that are being made about them and their real purposes are not helping the prospect. We have a shared interest across this House in getting these very difficult negotiations off to the best possible start, and comments along the way that are unhelpful or disparaging of our EU partners are simply not helping.
I will press on.
Until now, the Prime Minister’s two mantras that “Brexit means Brexit” and that there will be “no running commentary” on negotiations tell us nothing about the type of Brexit that the Government propose. I am not sure that the recently coined “red, white and blue” Brexit takes us any further forward. The question that everybody wants answered is, will it be the hard Brexit suggested in the Prime Minister’s party conference speech, or the vaguer form suggested by Cabinet Ministers when they speak of possible payments into the EU budget and provide welcome guarantees to Nissan about the prospect of arrangements that are free of tariffs or bureaucratic impediments? These are two different versions of our future that will be negotiated over the next few years, and we need to know which version we are running with, and we need a consensus.
My hon. and learned Friend is right to insist on a plan. It is important that we do not stand in the way of the will of the British people in the referendum, but does he accept that there are many people in all parts of the House who have some doubts and misgivings about the timing of the invoking of article 50? Many people think that 31 March is simply too soon—that we are rushing into it—and that as we will not start negotiations until after the German elections, we may get only a year of negotiations. Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that there is risk in that timetable?
I am grateful for that intervention. I do understand the concerns about the timetable and I think they are shared across the House. It is a tight timetable. I accept that the purpose of the plan, or the motion, is not to frustrate or delay the process. I know that the Secretary of State equally wants to keep to that timetable, but it is an exacting timetable and it is incumbent on the Government to make sure that the deadline is met by ensuring that the plan is available as soon as possible in January 2017.
I shall press on, if I may.
The question on everybody’s lips is, is it the hard Brexit sketched out at the party conference, which was read by those in Brussels as meaning outside the single market, outside the customs union and an arm’s length relationship with our EU partners, or is it a more co-operative, collaborative approach with our partners? I understand, and I can hear from the statements, that there is disagreement on the other party Benches about this, but we cannot go into the negotiations with that disagreement still raging. We need to go in with consensus.
I will say this loud and clear: there is no mandate for hard Brexit; there is no consensus for hard Brexit.
No. I have given way a number of times.
In the past few months I have travelled across the UK to hold meetings with a wide range of interested parties, such as businesses large and small, different nations and regions, trade unions, working people and local communities on the question of the terms on which the UK should exit the EU. I know that the Secretary of State and his team have been engaged in the same exercise. We have been to some of the same places and regions and spoken to some of the same people. The overwhelming evidence is that they do not want hard Brexit. There is not a consensus out there for hard Brexit. If we are to reach a consensus, it must be genuine consensus that works for everybody.
The ball is now in the Government’s court to produce a timely plan that meets these requirements. That will be the start of scrutiny and accountability, not the end. If the Government fail to produce a timely and sufficiently detailed plan, they should expect further challenge from the Opposition, and I put the Secretary of State on notice that that is what we will do. Only legislation, not today’s motion, can allow the Prime Minister to trigger article 50. That will have to be debated and subject to the full and proper procedures in this House, as the Secretary of State accepts. The motion makes it clear that although Labour will not frustrate the article 50 process, it does intend to shape the debate and head off hard Brexit.
I beg to move an amendment, at end add:
“, consistently with the principles agreed without division by this House on 12 October; recognises that this House should respect the wishes of the United Kingdom as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March 2017.”
Before I speak to the amendment, let me make a few factual remarks to the Labour spokesman, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). He ended by saying that there is no mandate for hard Brexit. To be honest, I do not know what hard Brexit means. The mandate was to leave the European Union. We should keep that in mind. He quite properly raised the issue of Northern Ireland. It is simply because I am standing at the Dispatch Box today that I am not chairing a joint ministerial committee of the devolved Administrations on exactly these issues. There has been considerable progress on that; I can brief him on that, if he does not know about it. Some of it, almost by definition, is confidential. He should take it as read that the process has been going on for some time and is quite well advanced.
The hon. and learned Gentleman raised the issue of the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011. He may remember that I was a Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and I am reasonably familiar with National Audit Office and OBR operations. The condition that applies to any information that we put in the public domain—that it will not bias or undermine the negotiation—applies equally here; if we were to give information to the OBR, there would be the same telegraphing of what we are doing. It would be very inappropriate for another reason as well. This is a negotiation, not a policy statement, so where we are aiming for—I think we may be on the same page on this—may not be the exact place we end up, and I think he would understand that.
To be clear, I was not making the argument that the OBR required confidential information, the disclosure of which would undermine negotiations; my point was simply that the plan must be sufficiently detailed to let the OBR do its job in a way that lets it provide the scrutiny it is supposed to.
I take that point. As I make progress through what I have to say, I will explain why, in some respects, that is not practical.
This debate is very similar to the last Opposition day debate Labour chose to have on Brexit, and it really is the last clause of the motion that extends beyond that. The Government and I certainly can accept the motion with the amendment that whatever plan we set out is consistent
“with the principles agreed without division by this House on 12 October”,
and that the House
“recognises that this House should respect the wishes of the United Kingdom as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March 2017.”
No, I am going to make a bit of progress. I will give way later. I normally like the badinage with the Opposition, but I have to make some progress on quite an important argument.
Dance on a pin as the shadow spokesman may, that is what the Opposition are signing up to: the Government invoking article 50 by 31 March 2017. Let us be clear about that. It has always been our intention, as I said in my intervention on him, to lay out the strategy in more detail when possible, provided it does not undermine the UK’s negotiating position.
If my right hon. and learned Friend will wait a little while, I will, of course, give way to him.
In fact, I have said that categorically in front of this House and the other House on a number of occasions, including just last week, and I am happy to confirm it again today. Our amendment also lays out an important challenge to those on the Benches opposite who say that they respect the result of the referendum, but whose actions suggest that they are looking for every opportunity to thwart and delay this. We will see today if they are willing to back the Government in getting on with implementing the decision made by the people of the United Kingdom. However, before I address the motion in terms, I will give way to my right hon. and learned Friend.
May I emphasise to my right hon. Friend that the motion must require Parliament to support the triggering of article 50 by means known to the law? He will doubtless agree that, as the law stands, that requires primary legislation. While it is possible for private Members’ Bills to be introduced, in reality it will be the Government’s duty to introduce legislation if they wish to proceed, and to do that in a timely fashion that enables proper debate on it.
My right hon. and learned Friend, the ex-Attorney General, should know better than to tempt me to comment on a court case that is taking place as we stand here, so I will not do that, but as he well knows, we will obey the rule of law; we will obey what the Court finds. We will ensure that we do the right thing. As the spokesman for the Opposition said, one of the reasons we are waiting on the outcome is to get precisely right what it is this House has to do.
On the timing set out in the amendment, does the Secretary of State not accept that, given that the French election is in May and the German election is in October, nothing will be achieved in that timeframe? If we trigger in March, there will be negotiating time lost in the two-year window. Article 50 should therefore be triggered in the autumn, in November, with time for a referendum on the exit package, so that people can decide on the final deal.
No, I do not accept that. Between now and the possible end of the negotiating process, if it goes the full distance, there are 15 elections, and of course we have already had two events this weekend: a referendum and another election. There is no point in the period when there is no election under way, so it is simply not possible to meet the hon. Gentleman’s requirement.
Is the crucial issue here not that, whatever the caveats entered by the shadow Minister, anyone voting for this amendment tonight will find it impossible to justify to the public any reneging, any going back or any procrastination—anything after 31 March that seeks to delay the triggering of article 50? That is the reality of the situation.
Quite apart from the legalities of the situation, we have to address the political question of the Government’s accountability to this House for their important policies. This word “plan” is being used in an extremely vague way, and could cover some of the vague assertions that Ministers have been making for the last few weeks. Will the Secretary of State accept that the House requires a description—published in a White Paper, preferably—of the strategic objectives that the Government will pursue and that the Government should submit that strategy to a vote of the House? Once it has the House’s approval, they can move to invoke article 50.
My right hon. and learned Friend is at least straightforward in what he says; he does not really agree with the outcome of the referendum. My view on this—I agree with him to some extent—is very clear. He has said that the word “plan” is vague; I think that what I have said already to this House, in terms of giving all possible information, subject to it not undermining negotiations, is actually more comprehensive. But it is not that we are not going to allow the House votes. First, we cannot do that as a Government, even if we wanted to. Secondly, as I have said, there will be a considerable amount of legislation during the negotiation, which will, in some respects, confine us.
You make my point, Mr Speaker.
It is widely accepted that the negotiation of our departure from the European Union is the most important and most complex negotiation in modern times, and it is overwhelmingly important that we get it right; I think that is common ground. It is normal even for basic trade negotiations to be carried out with a degree of secrecy. Indeed, the European Commission recognises this in its own approach to transparency in such negotiations, in which it says:
“A certain level of confidentiality is necessary to protect EU interests and to keep chances for a satisfactory outcome high. When entering into a game, no-one starts by revealing his entire strategy to his counterpart from the outset: this is also the case for the EU.”
The reason for this is to retain room for manoeuvre, including the ability to give and take, to trade off different interests, to maximise the value of concessions, and to do so without always giving the other side advance notice. We must retain the ability to negotiate with a high degree of agility and speed; the more complex the negotiation, the more parties to it, and the more time-pressured it is, the more important that is.
Any trade negotiation—and this is more than a trade negotiation—is difficult and complex. This negotiation will be another step up beyond that, for a number of reasons. First, it is about more than just trade. While that is an incredibly important part of it, our new relationship with the EU will also encompass our continued co-operation in areas such as security, justice and home affairs. Secondly, it is not merely a bilateral negotiation, but one involving about 30 different parties with a number of different interests. Thirdly, while considering our exit, Europe must also consider its own future. We have been clear that we want a stable and secure European Union—a vital partner for the UK at a time of very serious global challenges. Finally, the political scene in Europe is not set, but is changing—the point I was making. During the period of our negotiations, there are at least 15 elections and other political events that could change the backdrop to our exit process. The combination of these factors and their interplay will mean a changing climate for what are already complicated talks.
In a moment.
We will need to find a way through a vast number of competing interests to manage our exit from the Union, so that our people benefit from it—that is the aim of this exercise: for our people to benefit from it.
To do that, the Government must have the flexibility to adjust during negotiations. It is like threading the eye of a needle: if you have a good eye and a steady hand, it is easy enough, but if somebody jogs your elbow, it is harder. If 650 people jog your elbow, it is very much harder.
The Secretary of State has just read out a list of reasons not to disclose the Government’s plan and negotiating objectives, but the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) called—rightly in my view—for a White Paper on the Government’s intentions. If the Secretary of State does not agree with him, will he at least agree with himself, because he called for the same thing before he was appointed to the job? Why was a White Paper the right thing to do in July, but not now?
I really ought to make the people who raise this point, which has been made about five times in this House, read out what I actually said, which was that this is one negotiating option among several. The right hon. Gentleman says that I have just been giving reasons for not outlining negotiating objectives, but that is not true—I will come back to why in a minute. There is a reason not to lay out in detail some of the trade-offs and some of the options that we do have to keep to ourselves until we are in the negotiating chamber. I make this point more generally to the House. During the course of the Amsterdam treaty, we had difficult negotiations to carry out, and I kept the House up to date with every bit of that, but that was done at the right time—the appropriate time—and not when it undermined the national interest, which is the problem here.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that one can be an honest Brexiteer who wants to get this through, while still wanting to proclaim parliamentary sovereignty? That is a perfectly logical point of view. I happen to agree that we want to get article 50 through without any wrecking amendments that unduly tie the Government’s hands, but can he give a commitment that in addition to votes on the great repeal Bill, when we have a final deal, the matter will come to this House for ratification?
This is important, so can the Secretary of State say in terms that there will be a vote on the final deal in this House? I understand what he says about the underpinning statutes, but can he say simply, for the record, that there will be a vote on the final deal in this House?
The 2010 Act says that a Government cannot ratify a treaty until such time as they have laid the treaty before the House and 21 sitting days have passed. It does not guarantee a vote. In fact, since 2010 the Government have on several occasions refused to allow a vote on treaties even when they have been asked for by the Opposition. Is the Secretary of State now specifically saying that the Government will guarantee a vote at such a point?
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will make a bit more progress for a few moments and keep him in mind.
All this does not mean that parliamentary scrutiny is not very important—of course it is. I, of all people, would be last to argue that. That is why I have already given three oral statements to this House and answered more than 350 parliamentary questions. It is why Ministers from my Department and I have already appeared before Select Committees on 10 occasions—I will be appearing in front of the Brexit Committee in a week. It is why the Government announced a series of themed debates, with workers’ rights and transport already discussed, and another debate coming up before Christmas. There have also been more than 15 debates about this in the other House.
However, there is no doubt that the way in which we handle and disclose information is important to the negotiating process. Needless to say, I have given a great deal of thought to how we achieve accountability at the same time as preserving the national interest. That was why at the first parliamentary Committee hearing I appeared before—I think it was the House of Lords Select Committee—I volunteered an undertaking that British parliamentarians would be at least as well served, in terms of information, as the European Parliament. As I said to the Opposition spokesman, I have said on several other occasions that we will provide as much information as possible—subject, again, to that not undermining the national interest. This is a substantive undertaking, but it must be done in a way that will not compromise the negotiation.
The Secretary of State repeats that what he is doing is—he thinks—in the national interest, but he must have heard from industrialists, as Labour Members have, that the uncertainty and lack of clarity from Ministers means that people are putting back projects and not investing. That is why the growth rate is down and the public finances are in such a mess.
We heard during the campaign about how the economy was going to collapse, but I seem to have noticed in the past few months that really it is doing very well indeed, thank you very much. This nay-saying—this talking down the country—is, frankly, the least desirable part of the Opposition’s behaviour.
May I say how strongly I support my right hon. Friend? My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who is of course a very great national treasure, called for us to set out our strategic vision, but surely this Government have set out that strategic vision with great clarity: we want to recover control of our borders, make our own laws, keep our own money, engage in free trade, and leave the European Union. What could be more strategic than that?
My hon. Friend is, of course, exactly right, and that brings me rather neatly to the next thing I want to say.
Opposition Members have tried to pretend that we have told them nothing, but that simply demonstrates the old adage that none are so deaf as those who will not hear. We have also been clear that we will set out more as we approach the negotiations.
I will give way in a moment.
As the Prime Minister said in October, although we will not be giving a running commentary—Opposition Members love that phrase—we will give clarity whenever possible and as quickly as possible. As she told the House earlier this month,
“Our plan is to deliver control of the movement of people from the European Union into the United Kingdom.”—[Official Report, 16 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 230.]
That was the first point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). I have also been clear about what this involves. Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge. We will operate the immigration system in our national interest, with a view to winning the global battle for talent. Labour Members do not like this, partly because they cannot agree on their own policy. In the past few weeks, we have heard at least three different positions on the future of free movement from shadow Front Benchers—[Interruption.] The Opposition spokesman probably thinks there are more, as he is challenging me. It is therefore no surprise that they do not want to talk about it, but this is an important, substantive decision that reflects the will of the British people.
Similarly, the Prime Minister has said that we intend to remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That is part of the promise to recover control of our own laws. Some Labour Members do not like this because they suggest that the ECJ is the principal guarantor of basic British rights and freedoms. I have to say that that shows an astonishing lack of knowledge of our own history, in which British people fought to create and preserve those freedoms. I suppose it is unsurprising that the party that attempted to impose on Britain the most draconian piece of law in modern times—90 days’ detention without charge—has little understanding of the proper origins of freedom and the rule of law.
As part of our determination to find out some knowledge from Ministers, it was asked several times at today’s Prime Minister’s questions whether the UK would want to be in the customs union or not. Can the Secretary of State for Brexit let us know what his policy is? Can he give us something substantive? Is it a case of in the customs union or not in the customs union, because this was not on the ballot paper? The people did not vote to leave the customs union.
What was on the ballot paper, and what I think a million Scots voted for, was leaving the European Union—[Interruption.] I will come back, do not worry. I am not going to sidestep the question; I never do.
The simple truth is that, as the Prime Minister said—I am a Minister of the Government, remember—this is not a binary option. There are about four different possibilities, and we are still assessing them. I have given an undertaking to the Opposition spokesman that I will notify the House in detail when we come to that decision.
I will make some progress and then I will give way again in a moment. There are some among the Labour party who think that leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ will undermine employment law. Again, that shows a sorry ignorance—employment protection in the UK does not derive principally from the ECJ.
Nevertheless, to prevent any misrepresentation or misunderstanding, the Government have announced that they will not erode employment protections, so there can be no doubt about the situation. Labour talks about employment rights, but the Government have made clear guarantees and are bringing forward the great repeal Bill to ensure that the rights that are currently enjoyed are maintained.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. On the customs union matter, did I hear him correctly? Is he saying that the Government will decide whether we will seek to remain in it or out of it, and that then the House, or rather the Opposition, will be told what the Government’s decision is, but we in this place will have no say in it?
My right hon. Friend was not listening; she probably made up her question before she heard the last paragraph. I said that there would be no law changed in this country without the approval of the House of Commons.
Let me come back to the issue of customs union, since it is important. There are several options on customs union. One is shown by Norway, which is in the single market but not in the customs union. One is shown by Switzerland, which is neither in the customs union nor in the single market, but has a customs agreement. A whole series of options exists, and we will come back to the House about that when we are ready.
On my right hon. Friend’s other point, she intimated that because I gave the undertaking to the Opposition spokesman, it was somehow to the Opposition, not the House of Commons. Any undertaking made from this Dispatch Box is to the whole House of Commons, and she should understand that.
A further area in which our aims have been made very clear is justice and home affairs. As I said in the House last week, our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can, consistent with our broader aims. That clearly extends to areas such as security and law enforcement. Even after we leave the EU, the UK and the EU will face common threats, from terrorism to organised crime. As such, I believe that there is a clear mutual interest in continued co-operation in these areas. The security of Europe will remain of paramount importance to us, meaning that we will continue to co-operate as we do now with our European partners to help to maintain it.
As for the area that has dominated the debate so far—trade and the European market—the Government have been as clear as is sensible at this stage. We have said that we seek the freest possible trading arrangements, in respect of both tariffs and non-tariff barriers. The Government’s view is that the best deal is most likely to be achieved by a negotiated outcome.
One moment. There is a range of means of arriving at a deal and there is a range of outcomes, and it does not make sense to box ourselves in. I am a believer in free trade, and I want to see the freest trade possible with the European Union and also with the rest of the world. We will be a global and outward-looking nation and a leading advocate for free trade. We want to be able to embrace the opportunities of Brexit—I know that the shadow Chancellor agrees with that, although it apparently makes my opposite number “furious”—but we want to maintain the best relationship possible with the European Union.
Not at the moment. We have made our aims clear on immigration, on the ECJ, on workers’ rights and, in fact, on European Union legislation more broadly. We have clear aims on justice and home affairs, on security and, finally, on trade. It is important that the House understands what we are aiming for, but it is also important that we do not close off options before we absolutely have to. Just this weekend the leader of the Opposition suggested that he would seek to tie the hands of the Government regarding certain outcomes, such as a particular status in terms of the European market. To do so would seriously undermine the national interest, because it would undermine our ability to negotiate freely.
As I said at my first appearance at the Dispatch Box in this role, Parliament will be regularly updated and engaged. Keeping in mind those strategic aims and the fact that to reveal our position in detail or prejudge the negotiations cannot be in the national interest, we will set out our strategic plans ahead of the triggering of article 50. It is well documented that when we have decided to trigger article 50, the Government will notify the European Council. As I have said on several occasions, the House was always going to be informed in advance of the process. We are happy to support the spirit of today’s motion, with the vital caveat that nothing we say should jeopardise our negotiating position.
The Government amendment underlines the timetable for our departure, affirming the Prime Minister’s intention to notify by 31 March. Many Opposition Members pay lip service to respecting the result of the referendum, while at the same time trying to find new ways to thwart and delay. The shadow Cabinet cannot even decide whether it respects the will of the people. We are well aware of the desire of my opposite number to keep his “options open” with regard to a second referendum—the most destructive thing we could do for our negotiating position at the moment.
Today we will see whether the Opposition are prepared to back Britain and support our plan to follow the instruction of the British people and leave the European Union. The Government are absolutely determined to honour the decision made by the British people on 23 June.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his speech and for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject today. As we have said, we are keen to continue to work with him and his colleagues, and indeed with Members from across the House, where that is possible. We appreciate the remarks that he made about devolved Administrations, but, given where we are and given the Government’s comments, that is not enough for us, and neither is what has been set out.
It is 167 days—almost six months—since the referendum. We have 113 days to go until the 31 March deadline that the Government have set themselves, so we are almost two thirds of the way there. To talk about a glacial pace of progress might be something of an overstatement. So far, the Government have told us nothing. We have been told about soft Brexit, hard Brexit, grey Brexit, and, earlier today, a red, white and blue Brexit. Perhaps we will be getting a continental Brexit, to keep our European partners on side, or even a deep-fried Brexit. We are not entirely sure. Given the timetable, it will not be a Christmassy Brexit for whoever is trying to plug the gaps in the Government’s plans.
There has been an impact, and a significant number of questions remain unanswered. They are not just questions that float out there; they go to the very heart of the Government’s negotiating position. What exactly are the Government telling their negotiating partners, if anything? Are the Government telling them that the single market is important and that we need to maintain membership of it? Have the Government listened to their Scottish leader, who said of the single market that
“the over-riding priority is to retain access to it”?
Do the Government agree with her on that? What about the rights of EU nationals? European nationals call this country their home. They call Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland their home, and I hope that they will continue to do so. What a huge contribution they have made and continue to make. They deserve better than this continued uncertainty.
We all benefit from freedom of movement, and I hope that we will all continue to benefit from it. A large number of our industries also benefit from it, not least the food and drink industry. Scotland has suffered over the years from emigration; we have benefited more than most from freedom of movement, as I know the Secretary of State is well aware. We want to keep it. It benefits us and it will continue to benefit us. It benefits us not only financially but culturally, by enriching our communities and bringing in the people who enrich our society.
The hon. Gentleman and I do not differ on many of these points, but allowing people access to any part of the United Kingdom, and access to work in particular, is not achieved only by an absolute rule on freedom of movement. Control of our borders by our Government would presumably be operated in the UK national interest. Why does he expect that to punish Scotland? It would not do so.
The Secretary of State makes the point. Why not give Scotland—it needs the powers—some of the responsibility for immigration?
On that very point, the Vote Leave campaign, of which the Secretary of State was a member—a full and active member—did not promise much. It is good to see that the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) is in his place, for was it not he who said that Scotland could have control over immigration if we voted to leave the European Union? I would be delighted to hear about their plans when the Under-Secretary winds up.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is nodding still, and I look forward to his joining us in the Lobby at some point. He can come home to his roots, and we will welcome him on this issue.
Let us not forget the impact this is having elsewhere in the United Kingdom. On jobs and the economy, Nissan has been given reassurances, but what about other industries? What about the food and drink industry? What about our fishermen and farmers, a lot of whose rules and regulations come from the European Union? What will happen to the common agricultural policy, or to the coastal communities fund, which is so important to our fishing communities? [Interruption.] What happens, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) points out from a sedentary position, about Horizon 2020? What will happen to universities, which particularly benefit from freedom of movement? What will happen to workers’ rights, which will come back to this House, which has not always been the best place to guarantee those rights in the past? What will happen to the environment, which has also benefited from Europe?
In many other areas, such as parental and other rights, we relied on European Union rulings. I tell the hon. Gentleman right now that I would trust the European Union a lot more than I trust this Government when it comes to workers’ rights and other rights.
We need more details. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, has said:
“it is important to have clarity over the negotiation process as soon as possible in order to reduce uncertainty”.
The Secretary of State’s speech has not reduced that uncertainty in the slightest.
The Secretary of State made the point that no law will be changed without the say of Parliament, so let me ask him a question. He is in the Chamber, but not in his place, although his colleague the Under-Secretary is on the Front Bench. Will no law that is a responsibility of the Scottish Parliament be changed without the say-so and consent of that Parliament? That is critical, because the motion fails to take on board the impact of devolved Administrations, and a huge array of the questions lie unanswered about matters that are the direct responsibility of not just Edinburgh, but of Belfast and Cardiff.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, which is well worthy of the award he won last night as an MP to watch. The Government talk about respect, but the people of Scotland voted to remain within the single market. Why do the UK Government not respect the wishes of the Scottish people and support our bid to make sure that we retain the benefits of European membership?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point.
I have another point—I hope the Under-Secretary has his notepad ready so that he can respond to it. We were told by the Secretary of State for Scotland just on 27 November that Scotland would be gaining “significant powers”. Will the Under-Secretary outline what those significant powers are and, to come back to the point I made earlier, whether they will include powers over immigration among others?
Scotland is a European Nation, and we are proud to be a European nation. We benefit, as we see every day in our interactions with the food and drink industry, universities, businesses and the financial sector among many other sectors. The EU benefits us in many different ways—financially, socially and even politically, because there are so many areas, such as energy and climate change, on which we agree so much more with the European consensus than we do with the Westminster consensus.
The relationship with the European Union is important and will be important in the future, but for the record it is important for us to bear it in mind that Scotland has always been a European nation. In the town of St Andrews in my constituency, there stands a statue of General Sikorski, who led the free Polish troops. We remember the sacrifice that they made, and the contribution that the Polish community has made to Scotland and to other parts of the United Kingdom. I remember the interaction between universities in Scotland and those across Europe for hundreds of years, such as the interaction between Scottish universities and those in the Netherlands and elsewhere. I also remember the Lübeck letter: just after the battle of Stirling Bridge—we are going back a bit—the first thing that William Wallace did was to tell the Hanseatic League that Scotland was open for business again. This relationship goes back a long time, and the lack of preparations for Brexit is irresponsible.
There is the Court case across the road today. I do not want to go into it too much, but the Scottish Lord Advocate will be making the arguments for the Scottish Government, and he will do so much better than I possibly could. However, I do not understand why the Government are scared of parliamentary scrutiny. What concerns them about trying to undertake what is, as the Secretary of State himself conceded, an enormous undertaking? Is it not the case that the Government governs, or so the theory goes, and that the legislature scrutinises its work—never has that been more important—while, despite what some people have said, the judiciary does not decide the laws, but carries out the task of assessing whether the rules are being adhered to? All of us in the Chamber must respect that. Similarly, it is for the devolved Administrations to have a say over areas under their responsibility.
In the case currently going through the Supreme Court, the Lord Advocate for Scotland described the Sewell convention yesterday as
“a political restriction upon Parliament’s ability to act, no more and no less than that”.
However, has not that convention been put on a statutory footing as part of the Scotland Act 2016? Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the lack of clarity from Brexit Ministers on that point?
The Minister makes—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend—he is not yet a Minister, but let’s give it time—makes an excellent point. There is chaos, pure and simple. The chaos is the fault not of the judges but of the Government who have carried on the irresponsibility of the Vote Leave campaign by continuing to give us no details.
We are well aware that the Secretary of State does not like the use of the prerogative, but this could all have been avoided. Let us give credit where it is due: I give credit to David Cameron—hon. Members will not hear this often from SNP Members, and, frankly, they will not hear it often from Conservative Members either—who sat down with the then First Minister of Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), and hammered out the Edinburgh agreement to give the Scottish independence referendum a legal footing to remove any uncertainty. I will read a little of agreement, which was agreed by the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government—and full credit goes to everybody, particularly the officials who worked so hard on it. It states:
“The governments are agreed that the referendum should…have a clear legal base”—
just imagine if the Government had done that—
“be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament;…be conducted so as to command the confidence of parliaments, governments and people; and…deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people…and a result that everyone will respect.”
It went on:
“The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.”
The question is: why was there so little preparation? Was it negligence, breath-taking complacency, or did they think that everyone would be okay regardless and they did not need to bother?
If my hon. Friend has been following the Supreme Court case as closely as I have, he will be aware that it was pointed out by senior counsel for the respondents yesterday that the Government had the opportunity to give legal force to this referendum, as a result of the amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), but they specifically said that they did not want to do so. The now Leader of the House, who was then the Minister for Europe, said:
“The legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory”.—[Official Report, 16 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 231.]
It was said quite clearly by the Government that it was their intention to make no provision for what would follow.
My hon. and learned Friend makes a very fine point, as always.
Let me make another comparison. We are here to scrutinise the work of the Government. They put forward manifestos before elections, and we scrutinise those. No one questions the idea that the Government should try to prepare a manifesto. Before elections, officials pore over the manifestos of the parties standing, including even the no-hopers—some poor soul in the civil service has to go through the Labour party manifesto!
Whatever happened, the Government got it wrong and need to change course. That is the responsibility of the Members who campaigned for out. It is not just us asking these questions: Manfred Weber, president of the European People’s party group in the European Parliament, has said:
“I haven’t really heard how the British government want to tackle Brexit or what Brexit really means.”
The Foreign Secretary has some responsibility, and has a job on his hands. I hope everyone on the Government Benches is taking him terribly seriously nowadays, as they have been told to do so. He is determined to make a “titanic success” of this process, but he has been telling everyone a different story. I wonder if that goes beyond the Brexit process. What about when he decides what Christmas card he should give his Foreign Secretary counterparts? Will it be a Christmas tree, or is that perhaps a bit too German? Will it be the flight into Egypt, or is that a bit too soft on refugees? Will he go for Santa on his way from Lapland with his elves, or does that give him freedom of movement problems? Perhaps everyone will just get two and be done with it.
Look at the chaos at the heart of this Government and compare and contrast it with the Scottish Government. Ireland is a hugely important partner and key nation—a partner nation and our sister nation. Charlie Flanagan told his Government’s Brexit Committee that he had no idea how the UK would approach Brexit. The Irish Minister for Jobs described the International Trade Secretary as like a husband
“who wants a divorce, but “
“keep all the assets and the family home.”
Compare that with the reception that the First Minister got in Dublin just last week. Compare it with the partnership that we are building. [Interruption.] Members call getting a positive response grandstanding! The Government wish they could get a positive response from a European partner. Even James Reilly, the deputy leader of Fine Gael, said:
“We are very much heartened by the fact that Scotland voted to stay in the EU. We would be very supportive of ensuring that Scotland’s voice is heard during the UK negotiations, as well as the voices of our fellow Celts north of the Border, who also voted to stay within the EU.”
The Government are in chaos, pure and simple. That chaos is affecting our day-to-day lives and will continue to do so. This is too important to let the Government off the hook about it. It is too important not to have full scrutiny, and it is too important to the powers of the devolved Administrations for it to be left purely to this place. That is why we cannot back the Secretary of State’s amendment today.
Order. On account of the number of would-be participants in the debate, it is necessary to impose a time limit. We will start with a time limit of eight minutes on Back-Bench speeches, but I give due notice that that is not likely to endure for very long. Members can help each other, however.
I will, I hope, be brief. I support the Government’s amendment, and wish to make it clear that I believe that making great pace in getting ourselves through the process and into the negotiations is the key for whatever the Government do now.
Most people, including the Opposition, fail to define what leaving the European Union actually means. They keep saying that they will not and do not want to frustrate the will of the British people and that that means they do not want to delay the triggering of article 50. But in the same breath—with respect to the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)—they go on to qualify what leaving actually means. When listening to him, the definition I heard was that he wants to be a member of everything that we are in as members of the EU now, with one or two small changes—so he does not actually want to leave. In that sense, the purpose behind what the Opposition are doing speaks more of their own problems than of the negotiations that the Government will embark on once we activate article 50. I will say more on that in a moment.
I make no bones about the fact that I voted and campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union. I believe that it is necessary for us to understand what we mean by that—to define it, and then to act on that, as some of my colleagues have already said. Leaving the European Union at its most basic will mean that we will no longer be subject to European law. From that flow the other elements that were debated during the campaign. The public most clearly want to take back control of their borders with the European Union and to take back control of the money raised from them in taxation. Those things cannot happen if we are subject to European law. This, then, is the key element: leaving the European Union means that we are no longer subject to the jurisprudence of European law. That is really quite important. The failure of the Opposition to accept that means that they are not really in favour of leaving, and have not even accepted that we are leaving; they are debating how we stay in with modifications.
On that principle, I remind the House that the Centre for Social Justice published a report about why people voted to leave, called “48:52”. That report made it very clear—even many remainers have said the same—that the public wanted control of migration and they wanted sovereignty returned. I was quite surprised by their using and agreeing with the word “sovereignty”. We are always being told in this House that no one out there cares about sovereignty and that it is an esoteric issue debated only here by obsessed politicians who cannot get away from the fact that no one talks about it out in the country. In fact, sovereignty was the key element that the people spoken to for the report all agreed that they wanted—to take back control, the phrase that we use endlessly when debating this matter.
We are therefore clear about what people wanted. When people say we do not know what the public wanted, that is simply not true. They do a disservice to the general public if they cannot understand what they meant when they voted to leave the European Union. The public were very clear on that. I have heard the Liberals go on about how people voted to leave but did not vote for a destination. Leaving is a destination. It means we are in control of ourselves. This country is not moving. It is staying where it is, but we will no longer be subject to European law. Playing silly games does not help anyone to believe that, fundamentally, politicians understand what they are going through.
Given all that, there is no point during any of the negotiations in our trying to ask the European Union for something that it simply cannot and will not give us. This is the main point. There is no point going to the EU and saying, as a point of special pleading, “We want to be out of the European Union and are going to be free to make our own laws, but will you let us stay in the single market, and can we stay in the customs union?” I fully understand the position of those of my colleagues who want to stay in those elements. That is a wholly reasonable position, but if we are leaving the European Union, staying in those two things does not stand. More importantly, I would not want to, because that would again bring us under the control of the acquis communautaire, and not being so is one of the main reasons for leaving. The Opposition asked for enough detail. The strategic aim is on those points—that is enough detail.
On the customs union, I come back to this simple point. Why would the United Kingdom want to stay in the customs union when one of the key elements behind making the important decision to leave the European Union was getting back the opportunity to make our own trade arrangements with other countries? I would rather we stayed in than stay in the customs union. It seems completely pointless to embroil ourselves in the customs union—to go through all the rigmarole, arguments, debates and rows, only to find that at the end of the day we do not have the jewel in the crown of our making free trade arrangements.
On that point, I have something interesting to say to the House. I discovered the other day that there are now no fewer than five elements of legislation—three Bills, I think, and two amendments to Bills—going through both the House of Representatives and the Senate that pave the way for a free trade agreement between the US and the United Kingdom. So much for the current President’s view that we will be at the back of the queue. It appears that the legislators in Congress see us wholly at the front of it. They know the reason why: we are the great free trading nation of the world. We believe in free trade, and that is the direction in which we want to take ourselves, and, I hope, many others. For us, the rest of the debate, once we get through that and understand its relevance, is about process.
I listened very carefully to the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras as he spoke for the Opposition, and I understand deeply the problem the Opposition have right now. The Conservatives were in opposition for a number of years and we were often divided. I was a Leader of the Opposition and I remember it very well. Leading the Opposition is like herding cats and there are a lot of cats sitting on the Benches behind him. They are divided about what they want. They are exposed in a simple position of not really wanting to leave, but recognising that 70% of them now sit in constituencies that voted overwhelmingly to leave. They are focusing on the fact that they run the risk, politically, of being in danger when the next election in called.
I understand fully Labour Members’ need to somehow try to confuse the issue with this particular agreement in relation to the amendment. However, the Government amendment is very clear. It sets a date by which article 50 has to be invoked. By not voting against the amendment, the Labour party will be giving the Government a blank cheque to go forward and invoke article 50 without any real caveats. I am wholly in favour of that, I have to say, because I support the Government, but I did not think Labour Members were supporting the Government. I welcome them to that position, although some of my hon. Friends absolutely deplore them for doing so. I see from the shaking of heads that many on their own Benches deplore the weakness they seem to have shown, but I congratulate them—
I want to begin by expressing my concern about the continuing tone of some of the debate on the UK’s exit from the European Union. I also want to express the hope, which may be vain, that today will mark the end of the phony war.
The decision has been made. We all campaigned on one side or the other and we accept the result. Parliament will vote in favour of triggering article 50. The deal—this is the importance of the motion tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)—is that in return the Government will come forward with, and get on with producing, a plan. It is entirely reasonable that the House and the British public should expect the Government to publish a plan well in advance of that vote. I welcome the fact that belatedly—nearly six months on—the Government have finally done so today.
So please, can we have an end to talk about “democracy deniers” and “remoaners”? One headline yesterday read:
“Forty pro-EU Conservative MPs defy the will of the people to ‘side with Labour’”,
and the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said:
“While others have seemingly made clear they want to frustrate the will of the British people, the Government is pressing on with it.”
May we have an end to that? It does a profound disservice to the scale of the task our country faces, to the seriousness of that task and the importance of the outcome to every single person who lives in the United Kingdom. I say to the Secretary of State that the Government and the Prime Minister should be trying to unite our country as they go about their task—we all agree that we should try to achieve the best possible deal—and to recognise their responsibilities to the 48% as well as the 52%. Maybe today will mark the day when they begin to do that.
Of course there are different views about the future of our relationship with the EU. Leaving the EU is not in doubt, but the nature of that new relationship—here I disagree with the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith)—is up for debate.
We accept that Labour is going to vote for article 50 and we all want the plan, but does the right hon. Gentleman believe that Labour should not put forward an amendment on the article 50 vote that lays down a specific future, for instance, staying in the single market?
No, I do not. First, we have no idea what the legislation will look like. I would just make the point that, when I last checked, Norway is not a member of the European Union. Unless any hon. Members wish to contradict me, it is not a member. It is outside the EU and it is a member of the single market. What that demonstrates is that there are choices to be made about our future relationship with the EU.
All any unreasonable delay in bringing forward the plan will do is create further uncertainty. The hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) is no longer in his place, but he said that it might consist of hints. I merely remind the House that when Moses came down from the mountain bearing the tablets, they did not contain the 10 hints. He was pretty clear about what he was telling people to do. I remind the House that the Secretary of State has got up eight times to enlighten us not a great deal about the Government’s objectives, and I have never heard Parliament described as “elbow joggers” before, although I did like the analogy. We are not elbow joggers, but participants in the process and we intend to scrutinise the Government as they undertake it. Apart from anything else, it would have been quite unacceptable for the Government to have told the 27 member states what their objectives were before they told Parliament and the British people. It is therefore really important that we get the plan and that the Government publish one with substance.
To be fair to the Government, in some areas, we know what the plan is. That has been set out very clearly for the car industry. We know what the Government want: no tariffs and no bureaucratic impediments. Those were the words of the Business Secretary. They do not want anything to happen that would make it more difficult to trade. I am sure the rest of the manufacturing sector says, in all the meetings the Secretary of State is having, “Okay, that’s great for cars, but what about us?” Is it unreasonable for the Government then to say what their objectives are for the rest of manufacturing industry? I think that is perfectly reasonable.
There is then the curious case of the customs union, which got even curiouser during the Secretary of State’s speech. The Prime Minister has now told us twice that it is not a binary choice. Now we understand it is a four- way choice. The Secretary of State said there are four different models. The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who unfortunately is no longer in her place, asked a perfectly reasonable question: whether he could at least tell us what the four different options are, so that we can all join in the conversation on which of the four the Government might eventually decide to choose.
Presumably, we are going to seek maximum access to the single market. For financial services, and the jobs and the tax revenue that depend on it, it is really important that we are able to keep access to the single market. I am sure that causes the Chancellor to lie awake at night, worrying about it. How will those controls on free movement, which the Secretary of State reminded us of, work in practice? How will they affect lecturers at universities, doctors and nurses, people picking and processing vegetables, chefs, care workers, highly skilled engineers, technicians and IT specialists? Will companies—this is a question we have heard a lot in the Select Committee—continue to be able to move their staff within their companies to another base elsewhere in Europe to repair a product, solve a problem or create a new business opportunity? When will we be able to offer clarity to EU citizens about their position here? We now know from the Home Secretary that they will all have to be documented. It is a fair question: how many civil servants will that take, how much will it cost and when will it be completed?
What about our universities? Young people from the rest of Europe will be asking themselves whether they are still going to apply to come to Britain, and when will they stop being treated as a home student and become an overseas student? They need to know and the universities need to be able to plan. Will we continue to participate in the Erasmus programme that allows young people in Britain from low-income backgrounds to study elsewhere in Europe? Will we continue to be a part of Horizon 2020?
What about the whole range of agencies? I will pick one: the European Medicines Agency. Now, one could say that wanting to remain a member of the EMA is cherry-picking. However, working with our European neighbours to agree on how quickly and safely we can bring new medicines to market is good for patients in Britain as well as patients in Europe. I plead with the Government to be just a bit more enthusiastic—I do not say this so much about the Secretary of State—and clear that they are determined to find a way of continuing to co-operate on foreign policy, defence, security and the fight against terrorism, because that is so important to us all.
Finally, on transitional arrangements, the cliff edge and the negotiating plan, previous Governments, in respect of a whole host of treaties, including the Lisbon treaty, the constitutional treaty, the Nice treaty, and the Amsterdam treaty, and even when we sought to join the common market in 1967, all set out what they were trying to achieve. George Brown talked about the need for considerable adaptations and an adequate period. If it was sensible to admit the need for transitional arrangements when joining the common market, which was a much simpler organisation, is it not sensible for the Government to admit now that, if they cannot negotiate everything within 18 months—listen to what Michel Barnier said yesterday—they will be prepared, if necessary—
My right hon. Friend is very generous. Does he agree that businesses have expressed concern about the uncertainty created by the cliff edge in March 2019, about how we might fall back on WTO rules and tariffs and about how bad that would be not only for businesses but for jobs, our constituents and the broader economy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have heard a lot of evidence before the Select Committee, of which she is a valued member, saying precisely that. As she said, we have heard much about bureaucracy, rules of origin, delays and so on. Whole businesses have been created on the basis of goods moving back and forth four, five, six times before finally being added to the product being sold. People need to understand that the way business works in the Europe of which we have been a part creates and sustains jobs. To say, “We will walk away. It doesn’t matter. We can cope,” really misses the point about why business is worried about the implications.
The last point I want to make to the Secretary of State concerns the question of a vote on the final deal. I heard him say today, “I expect there will be a vote”. Well, I expect that the District line will turn up within five minutes, but today there were longer delays. He said, as I understood it, that it was inconceivable that there would not be a vote. Well, some people would have said it was inconceivable that Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States. It does not fill me with a great deal of confidence. I gently say to him that the simple response to the question, “Will there be a vote when the deal comes before us after the negotiation?”, is to stand up, look the House direct in the eye, and say, “Yes, there will be a vote.”
It gives me pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). It shows the odd situation we are in that I can say I agreed with every word he uttered. It might be a long time before either of us finds ourselves in that situation on any other subject, but then this is unlike any decision that has come to the House for many years.
We all know that when we leave the EU and begin the several-years process of deciding our future political and economic relationships with Europe and the rest of the world, we will be embarking on some of the most complicated and epoch-making decisions that the House will have faced for a century. Although those debates will come later—and I will not argue today my well-known views on the merits of EU membership—I think that the decisions we are taking today on the parliamentary procedure that should apply to a Government engaged in policy making and acting on behalf of the UK, including future citizens, not just present citizens, are equally important. If we carelessly agree to things today, we might create precedents that will be quoted in future to the detriment of both Houses of Parliament and of the system of checks, balances and accountability that is crucial to our constitution. Of course, today, I speak politically not legally—we all await the outcome of the serious issues before the Supreme Court.
I do not understand why the Government indicated that today’s Opposition day motion posed some sort of threat. With great respect to the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), who leads for the Opposition—he is working very subtly, and I have high regard for how he conducts himself—it is a harmless motion, a plain and simple motion, setting out what one would expect to happen in any similar circumstances and what one would certainly expect to have happened at any time in the past 100 to 150 years—certainly in every Parliament I have sat in.
No—only the last few decades can I recall directly. In any previous Parliament—certainly the ones I sat in—the process to be followed would have been regarded as self-evident: the Government would produce a policy statement, a White Paper, setting out their strategic objectives, their vision, for the role they were seeking for the United Kingdom; the House of Commons would be invited to vote on that strategy and to approve or deny it; then, with the approval of the House, the Government would go forward, again with the consent of the House, and invoke article 50; then they would start the negotiations. It is a quite unnecessary performance to try to modify that, but I am extremely worried that people are trying to do so.
I would echo the comments of the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins). I do not think that scrutiny and debate are a threat to a Government or to the quality of decision making. It is my opinion that we should return to proper Cabinet government in this country. If a Minister comes forward with controversial proposals, it is useful to have them tested by colleagues and improved in discussion, before they are sent to the House. Every Minister has taken part in debates in the House of Commons, and of course they maintain their course, but every now and then they will have a sinking feeling that their opponent is actually making rather a strong point. In such cases, one goes away and makes improvements. In strengthening their negotiating position, the Government could benefit from such a fit and proper process, particularly given that at the moment it is sadly clear from the constant remarks to the newspapers and the occasional leaks that Ministers have no idea what the strategy is and do not agree with each other anyway.
The Government have two or three arguments against this. The point about the royal prerogative is a matter for the Supreme Court. The excellent Treasury Devil, James Eadie, for whom I have the highest respect, has apparently argued that the royal prerogative still applies to making war as well as to making treaties. I will wait for the legal judgment but, politically, had Tony Blair decided when invading Iraq to tell the House of Commons that it was not a matter for the House of Commons and that he was invoking the royal prerogative rather than seeking a vote, he would have had even more trouble than he had in any case as a result of the strange way he went about the vote.
We are told that the referendum somehow overrides the centuries-old tradition of parliamentary accountability. I will not comment on the pathetically low level of debate, as reported in the national media, on both sides during the referendum campaign. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Brexit no more adopted some of the dafter and dishonest arguments on his side than I think I did on mine, but serious arguments were not reported. More to the point, the public voted by a majority to leave the EU. They did not vote for anything on the subject of replacements for the EU; it was not even raised in debate. These choices that Ministers are now struggling with, and for which they should be accountable to us, would have been a mystery to 99% of the people who listened to the debate and voted in the referendum. The issue of whether we should be in the customs union, and the consequences one way or the other, was not decided by the referendum. Brexiteers in the Government do not even agree with each other on the path they should now follow. We should go back to parliamentary democracy and accountability to this House.
I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend now agrees that this Parliament should be supreme. In fact, Mr Blair did take the country to war on the royal prerogative, because the vote in this House was not law, but purely advisory. Is it not rather odd that we now have a Supreme Court that sees itself as a constitutional court able to direct that this House shall have to do something, which has always previously been our right? We are a supreme Parliament; we can stop Brexit if we want to.
It is not going to direct us at all. The Supreme Court is the authority—I am not, and my hon. Friend is not—for saying what, strictly speaking, the legal constitutional position is. This House then has its own political role in deciding how, within that framework, it is going to operate. The political practice for decades has been that these kinds of decisions are not taken on the basis of telling Parliament that it has nothing to do with it and that Members will not have a vote. On the basis of that argument, the Cameron Government would have proceeded with their intervention in Syria, which we decided that we did not want; they would not even have offered the Commons a vote before they proceeded. In this particular instance, no Government that I can recall would have had the nerve to come along to Parliament and say, “Oh, we are exercising the royal prerogative; we are not going to ask you.”
Finally, let me deal with the nature of accountability. I am not sure that the Government have yet wholly picked up the point, apart from the fact that they have to get out of being defeated on a motion in a Labour Supply day. We are told, “Oh, the Government will make statements.” Well, the Government have been making statements, in which the rather vague language of “a plan” is used. We will probably be told that the plan is to have a red, white and blue Brexit and that we are believers in free trade, whilst we are giving up all the conditions that govern free trade in the single market. Apparently, not only are we going to give up the European Court of Justice, which we have always used very successfully to resolve disputes, but we are going to have trade agreements with everybody else and not abide by the rules of those either, if we feel like it. We need a White Paper, a strategy, votes in this House and clarity on policy.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke).
This debate might appear just to be about this House, and the rights of this House and whether we get a plan. It is not. And it is not about whether we were for leave or for remain. It is about a deeply divided country. The truth is that we are divided between people who voted leave and fear being betrayed, and people who voted remain and fear a deep sense of loss.
In case we have forgotten, after all this is over—I suspect it will take more than two years—leavers and remainers will have to live in the same country. That is why I believe that the way we conduct this debate, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, is absolutely crucial and all of us, however we voted in the referendum, should be seeking to unite the country and not divide it. What does that demand?
First, I believe we need to honour the result of the referendum. It was a referendum that, as the House knows, I did not seek, and it was close, but it was clear and it needs to be respected, in my view. We are leaving the European Union; I could not put it any plainer than that. That is my starting point. But unifying the country takes a lot more than simply saying “Brexit means Brexit” or even “red, white and blue Brexit”.
There are hugely significant and material choices to be made by the Government and our EU partners, which will have implications for our country for decades to come. That is why it is good that the Government have said that they are going to publish a plan. I looked up the “Chambers Dictionary” definition of a plan, and it is this:
“a thought-out arrangement or method for doing something”.
That seems to me to be more than a series of hints, to use the words of the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller). What the Government have committed to—there should be no doubt about this—is the thought-out arrangement that they favour for Brexit, and they have committed to produce that to the House before the negotiations begin.
We know the key questions that need to be answered. Do we remain in the single market or not? Do we remain in the customs union—that has been debated today—or not? If Brexit is outside the customs union, as seems to be the Government’s position—maybe, although there are four different options and we do not know what they are—what is the best estimate of the economic impact of that on our country and every one of our constituencies and constituents? The reason this matters is that these are not nit-picking or procedural questions; they are questions that will affect millions of people and businesses up and down the country. There are not simply matters of procedure.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that this is not nit-picking. A key issue in my constituency is the funding for the South Wales Metro, which was due to come from European funding. The First Minister is going to Europe to see what he can get for the next two years, but this is a huge area of uncertainty, and it will affect hundreds of thousands of people in south Wales.
My hon. Friend puts it very well.
What about the plan on immigration, including for citizens of this country who want to go and work or live abroad in the future? What is the vision? I think the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who is no longer in his place, was nodding and saying that they would produce a plan on our approach to crime and terrorism, foreign policy, climate and energy policy, in respect of which Governments of both parties have taken a leadership role in Europe. What is the future for that? We do not know at the moment, so it must be in the plan.
Our motion is not a request for every dot and comma of the negotiations, to use the Prime Minister’s words, to be included. We are talking about basic and fundamental questions about the Government’s vision of our economy and place in the world, post-Brexit.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) said, the plan must be produced in January—soon enough for Parliament and, crucially, the British people to debate it properly. I had some time on my hands, so I looked up the consultations on which the Government have embarked since the 2015 general election. There were 1,200 in all, and they include everything from consultation on the code for small sea-going passenger ships to one on the regulation of traffic signs. The Government consult a lot. Are we seriously saying that the issue on which they are not going to consult the British people is the post-Brexit arrangements for our country? I would point out that this is less of a niche issue than the regulation of traffic signs—important though that issue is.
Here is the thing. The Government said that they want to bring the country with them. That is really important, and those words were echoed by the leader of the Scottish Conservative party, who said that we have got to listen to the voices of the 48%. But a Government cannot take the country with them if they do not tell the country where they are seeking to go before the negotiations begin.
I have no greater authority to cite on this than the current Prime Minister. In 2007, she wrote a very interesting pamphlet with somebody called Nicholas Timothy, who I believe is her chief of staff. It is called “Restoring Parliamentary Authority: EU Laws and British Scrutiny.” I am told that it has been taken off the relevant website, but fortunately the House of Commons Library has a copy. It says:
“Our feeble system of scrutiny undermines Parliament’s ability to check or restrain the Government’s action in Europe…We therefore need a system that gives Parliament real powers over ministers, enough time to scrutinise, and the transparency to restore public trust in the process.”
I could not have put it better myself.
I believe, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe said, that of course there should be a parliamentary vote—a mandate for the Government. That takes me precisely to further crucial points. The Government think that they will be weaker if they bring a plan to the House and get our support. I think the Government will be stronger in the negotiations, because they will be able to go to our partners in Europe and say that the plan is not just the Government’s, but one endorsed by the British Parliament.
The Government’s excuse relates to secrecy, and I think this needs to be dealt with. I do not think this argument stands up even to the most basic scrutiny. Let us think about how things will unfold. Once the formal negotiations begin, the EU negotiator will obviously have to confer with the 27 other Governments. Our Government’s intention and detailed proposals will remain secret for a few days if they are really lucky, but probably not even for a few days. The Government’s position will inevitably leak. The question before us is not whether the Government’s intentions are kept secret—which is apparently what the Prime Minister wants—but whether those in this Parliament and this country are the last people to know what the Government’s intentions actually are. It seems to me that there is absolutely no chance of the Government’s uniting the country, and taking the country with them, if they adopt that approach.
There is also the question whether the referendum decides the form that Brexit will take. I do not believe that it does, as many other Members have said, but it is not just me who takes that view. Daniel Hannan, one of the leading Leave campaigners, has said:
“Some Leavers claim the result as a mandate for whatever arrangement they happened to want.”
That is the truth about this, and there is no getting away from it. There are many different forms of Brexit, as we see in the numerous other countries that are outside the European Union.
I want to end where I began, with a point about the spirit of the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central quoted some comments that had been made by Downing Street spokespersons on Monday, but they said something else which I find incredibly troubling. They said that those of us who are asking for transparency were not “backing the UK team”. In other words, we are not being patriotic. By my reckoning, that puts Sir John Major, Ruth Davidson and a number of Conservative Members of Parliament in the unpatriotic category. I am used to being called unpatriotic, and my dad has been called unpatriotic as well, but it really is something when Conservative Members are called unpatriotic. We know that things have become desperate for the Government when that starts happening.
We are not seeking proper scrutiny of the plans for Brexit because of our lack of patriotism; we are doing it out of patriotism, because we believe in the unity of the country. We believe that the country must be brought together. We believe that the cohesion of the country must be protected. This is the most complex and treacherous situation that our country has faced for a generation. Candour and transparency are not qualities that the Government should fear, but qualities that they should embrace, because they are the only route to uniting our nation, and we all have a responsibility to seek to unify the country.
I urge the Government not to choose a path of division, excluding the 48%, refusing to share their intentions and vilifying their opponents, including those on their own side. That is not behaviour equal to the moment: it is not behaviour that our country and the world need. We all have a responsibility to rise to the moment, and that is what we must do in the months and years ahead.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I was about to refer to the final remarks made by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North. I think it was Samuel Johnson who said that calling on patriotism was the refuge of the scoundrel. I listened with great care to what the right hon. Gentleman said, as I always do, but I have to say that he dodged a number of issues, not least when he described the dictionary definition of a plan as something that was thought out or a method of doing something. He said that that was not the case for the Government, but in fact, of course, it is.
It is very simple—as simple as this: there was a vote, which was authorised by a sovereign Act of this Parliament. That Act transferred the right to make a decision to the British people, and they made it. The right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that, and he says that he wants to respect it, but the reality is that the decision was about whether to stay in the European Union or to leave it, and the bottom line is that the people of this country decided, by a substantial majority, to leave. The right hon. Gentleman, he tells us, accepts that, but then he sets up a fog, as does the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and as does my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). We are given a whole lot of amorphous details that are intended to make the situation far more complicated than it is.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, not for the first time during these debates. He and I took part in a referendum in the 1970s, when he was no doubt saddened to find himself on the losing side. I seem to remember that he strongly took the constitutional view that the result was purely advisory, and it did not change either his views or his political campaigning one iota afterwards—just as Nigel Farage and many of his supporters made it perfectly clear when they were expecting to lose this referendum that they were waiting for the next chance, and they were going to go on. We must have respect for each other’s opinions, rather than telling each other that we have been ordered by an opinion poll to start abandoning them.
I hate—this pains me—to disappoint my right hon. and learned Friend, but I voted yes in the 1975 referendum—[Interruption.] I accept my right hon. and learned Friend’s apology. It was only when I came to the House and the Whips made what I think was probably a terrible mistake of making me a member of the then Select Committee on European Legislation that I began to see the truth. I discovered that, actually, we were not able to run our own affairs as this whole process continued towards political union. That was what the Maastricht rebellion was all about. There is a very interesting article by Philip Johnston about it in today’s Daily Telegraph.
It is because of the political union with which we are still lumbered—because we have not, as yet, left the European Union—that this is so essential. Back in May I wrote a paper about the question of repeal, entitled “Achieving leaving by repealing”. The laws that we incorporated by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972, as they accumulated, created circumstances in which we were becoming increasingly suborned to an undemocratic system of majority voting, which was combined with the ever-increasing assertiveness of one country in particular, and others in general, congregating around one another. That put us at an incredible disadvantage.
The European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am Chairman, conducted an inquiry into the manner in which the Council of Ministers operated and reached the conclusion that it was not transparent. We took evidence from Simon Hix. The decisions that are made on behalf of the British people and imposed on us by virtue of section 2 of the European Communities Act are neither democratic nor accountable, and they are not transparent. That is why it is so essential that we repeal that legislation. While the Supreme Court is weaving in and out of political issues and trying to avoid article 9 of the Bill of Rights—I do not need to go into that now—the bottom line is that what we are facing is a political imperative towards a greater degree of political union.
I discovered that last week when I went to a conference in Brussels, where Mario Monte said, “Europe needs political integration or there will be war. It is as simple as that.” That is the manner in which this argument is being constructed across the water. Similarly, Chancellor Kohl said that there would be war in Europe if we did not agree to the Maastricht treaty and the whole European integration process. That was why my hon. Friends and I—there are not many of us left in the House now—opposed the treaty. We saw that it was European government. That was the key—for us, it was a question of democracy above all else.
I wanted to intervene on the speech made by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, but unfortunately he would not give way. I rather suspect that I know why, but there we are. I wanted to ask a question that I will ask those on the Opposition Front Bench as well. Will they oppose the Second Reading of the great repeal Bill when it comes before the House? That will be a crucial test. Let us leave aside all that is going on in relation to article 50, which is about one simple question: are we using the prerogative or not? In my opinion, that is largely a very big storm in a very big teacup. The bottom line is that we will agree to article 50. The real question is: are we going to leave the European Union?
Let me say this very simply. We should not be supplicants in these negotiations. We should say no to the single market, no to the customs union and no to the European Court, because we cannot be subject to that European Court in any circumstances. We should say yes to borders, yes to free trade and yes to regaining the democracy for which this House has stood for hundreds of years.
I come to this debate from two positions. First, I am a Scottish National party Member from Scotland, which voted to stay in the EU. We were told that this is a family of nations, and as such we would expect a member of that family to be respected—as, indeed, the EU respects its members. Secondly, I am the Chairman of the newly formed International Trade Committee, and it is to that that I shall direct most of my remarks.
The Prime Minister talks about Brexit meaning Brexit, but I have spoken to a number of economists about that. Indeed, I am indebted to a number of economists of various shades and political persuasions: Angus Armstrong of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research; Patrick Minford; Professor Ian Mitchell; Professor Ian Wooten of Strathclyde; Dr James Scott of King’s; and Dr Jim Rollo of Sussex University, as well as legal experts from Cambridge, University College London and the London School of Economics. Brexit actually means about seven options. It means: do we stay in the European economic area? We can still see the video of Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan saying before the referendum that leaving the EU meant we would be like Norway. The question was: should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU? The seven options include the EEA, EFTA and the currency union. We could not get an answer today at PMQs or from the Secretary of State either.
Another option is to trade at WTO levels. That would mean that we need to have our schedules accepted at the WTO. I see that the Secretary of State for International Trade was in Geneva last week, probably discussing that. If we do not get the schedules agreed, we will be at WTO-minus. That is a possibility because of the difficulties over agriculture. Some 98% of the schedules might well be agreed, but those in the agricultural sector should be very scared. Of course, some people will have voted for Brexit on the basis that they do not want to trade so much as a stone axe ever again with Europe, but they are probably the editors of the Mail, The Sun and the Express.
We find ourselves in great uncertainty. Investors are uncertain. If we go to WTO rules, what will that mean for them? What will it mean for employers, too? We have absolutely no idea where the Government are going. There is great uncertainty for the Irish, too. This morning I met the Irish Foreign Minister, Charles Flanagan. He did not know what the ask from the UK Government is. This is our next-door neighbour, but they do not know where we want to go.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government could show good faith by agreeing to reveal their goals and negotiating strategy with the devolved Administrations under Privy Council rules, which would put aside the whole question that the Government cannot reveal their negotiating hand?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent suggestion; perhaps the Government should explore that further.
We should think of our other neighbours, not just the Irish. What does this mean for the Isle of Man, for Jersey or for Guernsey—for people we have close links to? What, indeed, does it mean for Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians—people I respect greatly and have very close links to myself?
We find ourselves in a very difficult situation here in Parliament. The Government have created a problem of their own making because of the Prime Minister’s naivety in not taking this process forward by putting a simple measure before Parliament. That would have stopped us from needing to go to the courts in the first place. Now the devolved Administrations have woken up to the fact that they can be involved, and maybe—probably—the Supreme Court will rule that the process requires the consent of the Scottish Parliament, in which case Brexit is finished, Brexit is over and Brexit will be blocked.
We see also that Europe is dictating the pace. The Barnier declaration yesterday that the UK will have 18 months to negotiate after triggering article 50 shows that it is dictating the pace. Given the experience of their negotiators, Europe will probably be negotiating the terms, too. That is because I fear there are more experienced negotiators in the tiny Faroe Islands than in the United Kingdom, and the UK negotiators will probably be scalped very quickly.
We need to know where the UK plans to go. The question in June was: should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU? Nobody voted to leave the European economic area. Nobody voted to leave EFTA. Nobody voted to leave the customs union. Arguments afterwards that that question gives a mandate for those subsequent steps are nonsense. There is no mandate to take these next steps. Leaving the European Union can mean being like Norway or like Iceland, as Daniel Hannan, Nigel Farage and a number of Conservative Members said before the referendum, before changing their tune quite markedly afterwards.
We need answers. We need to know what the destination is, because a lack of a strategy is not what people in the UK need for their jobs, investments, industries, employment, families and communities. No answers is not a black Brexit or a white Brexit—or a red, white and blue Brexit. No answers is a yellow Brexit—it is a cowardly Brexit. It is a Brexit that shows that this Government have absolutely no idea where they are going, and it is a Brexit to keep together our ragbag of Brexiteers who each want a different one of the seven options. When the Brexiteers see which of the options the Government choose, they are going to fight like cats in a sack.
That is the difficulty that the UK Government face. They cannot consult the devolved Administrations and they cannot consult their European friends because they cannot consult properly and meaningfully around the Cabinet table as each member of the Government supports something different. There is going to be mighty trouble in the UK Government when they do decide in March.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) and a superb argument against secession from a Scottish nationalist. I thank the right hon. Members for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) because the challenge they put to the House is one to which we should all attempt to rise: how can we ensure not just that we respect the result that 52% of people voted for, but that we involve the 48% who voted remain for a variety of reasons? While I am grateful to them for their speeches, which I thought were for the most part very constructive, I was disappointed in the Front-Bench speech from the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). He spoke for nearly 40 minutes, longer than some Pinter plays and many Haydn symphonies, and he spoke on what he referred to as the “defining issue” facing the UK, but he did not reveal at any point what Labour’s position is on our future relationship with the EU. He did not reveal on behalf of the 48% for whom he professes to speak whether he wants to stay in the single market or the customs union. What we had was 40 minutes of pious vapouring—a hole in the air masquerading as an argument.
One of the reasons why it is so important that we hear from the 48% is that we know what the 52% voted for. Some in the course of this debate have tried to complicate and obfuscate, but it was made perfectly clear not just by the Vote Leave campaign, in which I was privileged to play a role, but by the then Prime Minister and Member for Witney; by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), the then Chancellor of the Exchequer; and by Lord Mandelson. It was made clear by every single one of the leading representatives of the remain campaign that voting to leave the EU meant leaving the single market. There should be no ambiguity about that point. The public were fully informed and they took their decision in full knowledge.
That is one of the reasons why I am glad our Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer—both, it must be said, among the 48% who voted remain—are very clear that the result must be respected, and that means ensuring that the votes of 17.4 million people and their determination to leave the single market alongside leaving the EU should be acknowledged.
I am telling the hon. Gentleman that that was the position taken by the British public, including more than 1 million people in Scotland and including many more people in his constituency than voted for the Scottish National party.
Not only do we need to respect the result and what the 52% wanted, but we need to acknowledge some of the concerns put forward by those who articulated the case for remain. There were two powerful concerns that weighed with me. The first was the prospect of an immediate economic shock, should we leave. That was a view put forward by the Governor of the Bank of England and a number of other distinguished economists, but we can now see that, while their concerns were expressed sincerely, they did not come to fruition. The point was made at the time—[Interruption.] I am grateful for the sedentary intervention from the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), but the point was made at the time that there would be an immediate shock not just to Britain but to the world economy. That shock did not materialise. In fact, since we voted—
Not quite yet.
Since we voted to leave, we have seen increased investment from Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, Amazon and Facebook—from a variety of both traditional manufacturing and new technology investors. Far from there being an economic shock, we are the fastest growing economy in the G7.
It was also a legitimate concern of some who voted remain that voting to leave the EU would damage the United Kingdom. The truth is that since we voted to leave the EU, support for a second independence referendum has fallen, support for Scottish independence has fallen, support for the SNP and its secessionist sermonising has fallen, and the single most popular politician in Scotland is Ruth Davidson, the only leader of any party who wants to embrace the result.
No, I am not giving way.
So on two of the legitimate concerns expressed beforehand—that our economy would be damaged and the Union would be damaged—the evidence is that our economy is stronger and the Union is more popular.
Of course other concerns were expressed by people who voted to remain. Some of them relate to the fate of EU citizens in this country, some relate to future academic and scientific co-operation, and some, naturally, relate to defence and security co-operation. My point is that it is incumbent on everyone—not just the Government but the 48%—to put forward their propositions in this area.
I have made it clear, and I share this view with my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), that I believe that EU citizens in this country should stay and that their role should not be a bargaining chip. I am sure that many of those who voted remain will join me in that call, but where are those who voted to remain, now that power is flowing back to this place for the first time in my life, offering to explain how we can refine regulation and change our laws and rules as we become a self-governing country once more and become freer, more liberal, more prosperous and more creative? I am afraid that, despite some honourable exceptions, most of those people are still looking back in anger, remorse and regret instead of looking forward optimistically. This is a great country. We can achieve great things.
No thank you.
This Parliament has an opportunity to shape an economic policy, an immigration policy and a knowledge policy that can once again make us a world beater, but if we do not take that opportunity and instead concentrate on seeking to dilute the result of the referendum, I am afraid that we will fail the people of this country at this historic moment.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). I was pleased that he called for unity, although I am not sure that he actually achieved it in the House during his speech.
This debate has shown why it is so important that Parliament should be able properly to consider the plan for leaving the European Union. There is no doubt in my mind that we will leave; my constituents voted decisively to do so. I absolutely agree with what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said about article 50. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said, however, this is a time to bring the country together, and it is essential that we work together to get the best deal for our constituents when we leave. This is such an important step to take, and it is inconceivable that as Members of Parliament we should just sit back and let the Government get on with it without telling us, even in broad terms, what discussions they are having. I am therefore pleased that the Government have accepted that they will share with Parliament the broad terms of the negotiations.
Companies in my constituency are suffering because of the uncertainty, and they want to know what analysis is being done of the effect that Brexit will have on them. I have said before that such an analysis should be carried out not only by sector but by region. Ministers have said that they will consult Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about the Brexit negotiations, but what about Yorkshire and the Humber? What about the other regions of the UK? Will the Minister tell us what the process will be for consulting the regions and how companies and others in my constituency will be able to contribute to that process?
Companies will also want to know what the approach to the single market is going to be. They will want to be assured that if the Government intend to give up our current level of access to the biggest marketplace in the world, they have a clear plan to ensure that businesses and jobs will not be adversely affected. Equally, if the Government intend to seek a transitional deal to make the transition smoother, they should be open and up front about it, so that companies and workers can plan accordingly. The Secretary of State said earlier that workers’ rights would be protected. I welcome that, but I hope the Minister will be able to assure me that he is fully consulting the trade unions on how employment rights will be protected in relation to the European Union.
When we talk about employee rights, part of our discussions about the UK workforce will involve discussing how freedom of movement will operate in a post-Brexit world. We know that this was an issue in the referendum; it certainly was in my constituency. We also know that we have to strike a balance between addressing people’s concerns about how freedom of movement has been operating and ensuring that we do not leave our health service, our food and agriculture sectors and many other industries unable to function because of labour shortages.
We also have to address how freedom of movement has led to the exploitation of workers from other parts of the European Union and the undercutting of UK workers’ wages and conditions. I know from my constituency that agencies have too often operated in an unacceptable way, recruiting from outside the UK while not even advertising in this country, with workers from other European countries coming here on short-term contracts and never knowing from week to week what work is going to be available. I know from discussions with colleagues from socialist and social democratic parties across Europe that other countries are aware of such developing problems, and we need to have an honest debate about this. Surely we should be talking about EU citizens moving to the UK to take up secure employment and about employers being made to take responsibility for how workers are treated, so that UK employees are not left at a disadvantage, with all the resentment that follows on from that. These are just a few of the issues that Parliament should be discussing. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some reassurances on the negotiations and that he will address the points that are being made today.
I want to make two main points. The first is that the Government’s position is much clearer than many Opposition Members are willing to believe and that it narrows the range of outcomes very considerably. The second is that what matters as much as, if not more than, the Government’s position is the position of our partners in Europe, yet no one on the Opposition Benches has mentioned that—there seems to be a sort of arrogance in suggesting that we can say, “We want this and we’ll get it.” Or perhaps it is subservience in saying, “We want this and we’ll, give any concession in order to obtain it.”
The Government’s position has ruled out three options. First, we will not be part of the internal market of the European Union. I use the term “internal market” because that is what it is called in European law. There is no such thing in European law as the single market. To be a member of the internal market, we would have to be a member state subject to all the laws of the European Union, and the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State today have said that we will not be subject to the European Court of Justice.
Secondly, we will not be members of the European economic area, because all members of the European economic area have to accept free movement, and the Government have ruled that out. On top of that, we cannot negotiate service deals because we do not have control over the laws governing all our service industries. This was described during the referendum campaign by the current Chancellor of the Exchequer as the worst of all possible worlds, and many others on that side of the argument supported him. Now, however, they suddenly want to be part of that worst of all possible worlds.
Thirdly, we cannot be subject to the common external tariff of the EU because we are champions of free trade, according to the Prime Minister. We set up a Department for International Trade that has to be able to negotiate tariffs. We also want to cut the tariffs on products that we do not produce—including food and clothing products on which the EU imposes very high tariffs—because those tariffs are damaging to the just-about-managing people in this country. So those three options are ruled out, which leaves two realistic options.
May I give my right hon. Friend one good example of this? It relates to the import of oranges. Very recently, the customs union has slapped on a tariff increase from 3% to 16%, solely to protect some producers in Spain. That raises the cost of buying the products here in the United Kingdom, so food is now more expensive as a direct result of interventions in the customs union that Opposition Members want to be part of.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, and I would add that we do not easily manufacture oranges at scale in this country.
There are two realistic options. The first is that we continue with roughly the status quo: tariff-free trade and no new barriers to service trade. The EU already has free trade agreements that do not require free movement with 50 countries. The second is that we trade with them on WTO terms and they might try to make trade in our service and financial services industries a bit more difficult. The important thing is that both options are actually very simple to negotiate. Going from zero tariffs to zero tariffs is much easier than negotiating a trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, where each side has 5,000 or 10,000 different tariff lines and must trade them off against each other. We also have exactly the same rules on products and so on as our partners in Europe. The status quo would therefore be simple to negotiate. The WTO option does not even require negotiation; it is what happens if the negotiations have no successful outcome. Both are simple and could be done quickly.
I also believe that both options are acceptable to the UK. In the view of most people, retaining the status quo would obviously be the superior option if we could get it immediately, but if we go to trading on WTO terms, the average tariff would be about 4%—much less than that on average on manufactured products, but the 4% includes agricultural products. We have just experienced a 15% devaluation against the euro, so our exporters will, on balance, be much better off even with those tariffs, whereas exporters to us will have to face a 15% hurdle plus that 4% average tariff, so they will be much worse off.
It is important that we emphasise to our negotiating partners that although we might prefer to continue with the status quo, if they do not want it, we are willing to walk away and trade on WTO terms. Quite a few Opposition Members have been trade unionists and are used to negotiating, but not many people in this House are. We cannot successfully negotiate unless we are prepared to walk away with no deal. Ultimately, however, it will be our partners in Europe—the EU 27—that will choose between whether we continue with roughly the status quo or whether we move to WTO terms and some obstacles.
I am sorry, but I will not.
Our EU partners will choose. If their primary concern is the economic wellbeing of their people, they will choose to continue with free trade. If their overriding primary concern is political and if they want to punish us and be seen to punish us, they will go with WTO terms. In practice, they will punish themselves far more, and we should make that clear. We cannot negotiate our way into making them choose one option over the other. We can perhaps try to persuade them, their industries and their electorates that they will be much better off if they continue to trade with us on roughly the current basis than if they move to WTO terms, under which they will be the principal losers. We are their single biggest market. A fifth of all German cars come here, much French wine comes here, and so on. Let us go to them and say, “It is a simple choice, make that choice”—
The motion before us, moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the shadow Secretary of State, calls for a plan before article 50 is invoked. Since 23 June, the resistance to such calls, for reasons of “no running commentary” or not giving away negotiating positions to what the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), unwisely referred to as our enemy—
We are all responsible for what we say, and I do not believe that our European partners are our enemies.
Behind all that resistance lies one emotion. It is not the confidence of those who won the referendum campaign, but fear about the contradictory statements made during the campaign, about the exposure of divisions within Government and about the enormity of some of the decisions that must be taken. On one level, I sympathise with Ministers, because the dawning realisation of what they are facing and what must be decided is in some ways something to which I can understand a response of fear. However, that does not serve well either democratic debate or our negotiating position.
To pick up on a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), an assumption has been made that, if we say what we want, that weakens us, but that is not necessarily the case. If we say what we want, that can strengthen our hand, which is precisely why the Secretary of State called for a White Paper in the article he wrote back in July. It is important for Ministers to understand that 23 June was not just a decision by the people on whether we stay in the European Union—although it was obviously that—but the passing of political responsibility for the consequences of that decision to those who led the leave campaign, many of whom now occupy senior Government positions. Despite the fear, there is no place to hide. There is a duty to both leave and remain voters to set out the principal negotiating objectives. There is also a responsibility to accept the consequences of post-referendum decisions.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I campaigned to remain, and we do all have a responsibility now to try to get the best deal, but the most basic business lesson shows us not only the point about not playing our hand, but that we should not narrow our options. We want to keep our options as wide as possible, not narrow them, which is the thrust of what the Labour Front-Bench spokesman was getting at, which takes us down a narrow lane when we want to keep things as wide as possible to get the best deal.
I am afraid that I do not agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Responsibility cannot be evaded. The Government have a duty to do more than define success as whatever it is they manage to agree at the end of the day. The public need more than that.
What is it reasonable for such a plan to cover? I do not have an exhaustive list. Other Members have referred to some of the key points, but I want to outline some things that it is completely reasonable for such a plan to include. Will we stay in the single market? Some hon. Members have said that that question has been decided. I do not believe that it has. If the Government’s position is to withdraw from the single market, is it their aim to ensure equivalent access not only for goods, but for services? What is the position on the customs union? The Government have said that they will not accept free movement as it currently stands. Many of us want the way free movement has worked to be reformed, but what reforms do they want? They have rejected the points-based system, so what can we expect in future? Is it, for example, the same visa system that applies to non-EU immigration? It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that that has resulted in higher levels of immigration from outside the EU in recent years than from within the EU.
If agreement is not reached within the two-year period after triggering article 50, are we happy to fall back on WTO rules, with all that that means, or is it Government policy to seek a transitional agreement to avoid that happening? That is a perfectly reasonable question for us to ask and for the public to ask. Will we be able to avoid customs and people controls on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? That is another reasonable question. What are the proposals, beyond the single market, for cross-border co-operation on issues such as terrorism, crime and environmental protection? If we do pay in for future access to trade, as the Secretary of State said he was open to doing last week, how will the Government guarantee the spending promises made to universities and to farmers, the promises on regional spending and of course the £350 million a week extra promised during the campaign to the NHS? Will workers’ rights, many of them underpinned by European directives, be guaranteed in the future—and in what way?
As I have said, that is not an exhaustive list and there will be other questions, but I ask them to illustrate that a plan has to be more than a statement and more than a press release; it has to be comprehensive and to have substance. Fear cannot be an excuse for steamrollering through anything the Government choose to define as “success”. Fear is no excuse for accusing anyone who asks questions of trying to deny the referendum result or, even worse, of not being behind team UK or of being unpatriotic in some way. The truth is that asking questions like this is in the interests of the country and of voters, both those who voted leave and those who voted remain. It is our political duty, as representatives of our constituents, to ask these questions and to insist on a proper plan for the country’s future.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) has made out that the essence of today’s debate is about whether the Government publish a plan and how it is scrutinised, and the shadow Secretary of State echoed that thought. I do not believe that is the debate we are having today; as was made clear in the response to me from the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), the former Leader of the Opposition, the debate we are actually having is congruent with the discussion going on in the Supreme Court, over the road. It is about a great constitutional issue: the old Leninist question of “who, whom?” The question is: should the Government of the UK, following a referendum, be able to conduct negotiations in the style and manner and with the intent that they decide, on behalf of the people of the UK, or should Parliament seek to constrain the negotiation, ultimately by passing a law constraining the activities of the Government in that negotiation? That is the issue we are facing.
I wish briefly to argue, in the time allotted, that if we think about it carefully, it is clear that it is impossible to conduct that negotiation successfully on the basis of a legal mandate given by Parliament. Why? It is because once a law is passed that determines negotiation, the negotiation as a whole, and in every particular and at every moment, is justiciable. We will end up with the Supreme Court and lower courts being called upon to decide, from moment to moment, in judicial review after judicial review, whether the Government have sufficiently transparently made clear every detail of the negotiation to satisfy the Court that the mandate of Parliament in the law is being observed; and whether they have fulfilled the terms of the mandate, once everything is transparent. Any Member of this House who believes this country will have an advantage in the outcome from such a process is severely misguided.
I voted to remain, and I still believe that would have been the right decision for this country. I believe we would be better off inside the customs union than out and better off inside the single market than out; I wanted to be free of the rest of the EU’s jurisprudence, but not of those things. I think we might have achieved that, but that world has passed; the referendum has occurred—we are leaving. If we are leaving, we have to negotiate an exit. The horror and the tragedy of the discussion we are having now is that, if it does lead to Parliament imposing those kinds of constraints on the Government, it will not be possible for the Government to do a trade deal with the remainder of the EU when we have left—by that, I mean left the single market and left the customs union, as we are bound to do by the logic of the situation—and it will not be possible for the Government to negotiate a trade deal to the advantage of our country because it will not necessarily be within the mandate, and that could leave us in the worst of all possible positions. So I urge Opposition Members to remove the cloak, cease to pretend that this is about transparency and plans, as we know perfectly well where the Government are going, admit that this is a constitutional argument and give up the attempt to control the negotiations line by line from Parliament.
When the right hon. Gentleman looks at the way the other European countries conduct their negotiations within the EU at the moment, he will surely acknowledge that, for example, the Chancellor of Germany goes to her Parliament and receives a negotiating mandate, and then goes to Brussels. It is that kind of process that we on the Labour Benches are looking for.
The hon. Lady is an old friend of mine, but she is totally misguided if she thinks that this is an analogous situation. This is the first time in history that a country has sought to remove itself from the EU. We are engaged in the most complicated game of multidimensional chess that any country has ever engaged in. To imagine that that can receive a legally binding negotiating mandate from Parliament, justiciable by the courts, is pure fantasy.
Why is it, then, that the European Parliament can be involved in this process, but this sovereign Parliament, because of the problems that the Government have created for themselves, cannot have any say? That is a democratic outrage.
The reason is that the European Parliament is one of the counterparties to the negotiation. The counterparty in our case is the Government of the United Kingdom. We have had a referendum. The Government have to be able to carry through the effect of that referendum, and the plain choice we face is whether or not to constrain the Government. My argument is that, if we constrain the Government, we will end up with a worse result from the point of view of people such as me who were part of the 48%.
In November 1991, John Major came to the House to seek approval for his negotiating mandate—his plan, we might call it—for the Maastricht negotiations. I do not understand how the right hon. Gentleman can say that this is a terrible breach of our practices when John Major did precisely the same thing.
He did. The outcome was catastrophic. I wrote 100 articles inveighing against the Maastricht treaty. Had we never signed up to the Maastricht treaty, we would not now be in this position. The right hon. Gentleman is not citing a precedent that augurs well for the negotiations that are to come.
The Maastricht treaty and internal negotiations on being in the EU are wholly different from leaving the EU. The strategy for those was about remaining in the EU—all the rest was detail for debate. Here we are debating something strategically quite different: we are departing from the European Union, including the European Court of Justice and various other elements. Too much detail on that will delay the whole process and make it impossible to reach the agreement that my right hon. Friend is talking about.
I happen to agree with my right hon. Friend, but my point goes beyond that. It was never suggested, even during the Maastricht debates, that there should be a justiciable mandate. It has never been the case in the course of our island’s history that the prerogative power of making treaties was constrained by a justiciable mandate, still less in the case of a negotiation of this complexity, as my right hon. Friend has said.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, as ever, for his careful and thoughtful remarks. He says that we are out of the customs union and that we will not be part of it, but people such as me and my constituents are asking whether that is right. Is not it right that we in this place should have a debate to determine whether that is the case?
My answer is no. It is not right that we in this place should decide those things, because ultimately they can be decided only as part of the negotiation. As a matter of fact, I think that the Government will be compelled by the logic of the situation to take us out of the customs union, but whether or not they do that has to be left in the hands of Ministers to negotiate as part of the complex of negotiations.
Let me be absolutely clear. We cannot say this often enough: this debate is not about whether we Brexit but how we Brexit. That is of prime importance. Decisions taken during the withdrawal process could have a huge impact on our economy and the prosperity of the people of this country. I do not accept the comments by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). The future of this country and its prosperity is of prime significance to the Members of this Chamber, and we have a right to discuss, debate and take a vote on it.
The people may have voted for Brexit—we cannot say this often enough, either—but they did not vote to be poorer. I echo the comments made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). The time for digs against and negative comments about those of us who want the best possible deal for the UK is over. It is time to move on and to be responsible and mature in terms of what we are looking for.
It is the responsibility of Parliament to explore what Brexit means, both for our constituents and, importantly, for businesses located in our constituencies. I shall take for an example a key sector of our economy—food and farming, the biggest manufacturing sector in the UK economy, with a value of more than £108 billion, providing 3.9 million jobs. Seventy-five per cent. of our agricultural exports are to the European Union.