House of Commons
Wednesday 1 February 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Middle Level Bill
Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Bill to be read a Second time on Wednesday 8 February.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Common Travel Area
Before I answer, I would remind the House that this is the final Northern Ireland questions before the Assembly election on 2 March. These are critical elections for the future of Northern Ireland, and I would urge the parties to conduct the campaign in a manner that allows for the speediest return to partnership government. Only power-sharing government will deliver the political stability that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see, and which remains the priority for this Government to secure.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, maintaining the common travel area is one of the Government’s 12 priorities in negotiating exit from the EU. It is the Government’s intention to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the common travel area while protecting the integrity of the UK’s immigration system.
A hard border would be disastrous for communities that live along that border, especially in economic terms. What assurances can the Secretary of State offer that the common travel area will be top of the agenda in any Brexit negotiations? Will it be more important than restricting the freedom of movement elsewhere in the UK, for instance? Will Ministers assure us that the common travel area is part of any trade deal done with the European Union?
I have already indicated the priority that is given to securing the common travel area. This is a very strong commitment that this Government have given, and a point that I have underlined on many occasions. It is also a shared intent with ourselves, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. It is therefore with that approach, and with that shared will, that we look to the negotiations ahead, getting the common travel area secured and seeing that frictionless border that is equally important to the politics and life of Northern Ireland.
As I have said, the priority, as set out in the 12 points that the Prime Minister made in her speech, was securing the common travel area. That has served us over so many years, dating back to the 1920s. We believe that it is really important that we seek to attain that, as well as getting frictionless trade in goods, which is also a key priority.
I welcome the Government’s determination to maintain the common travel area across our islands. Does the Secretary of State agree that the friendly relations it symbolises could only be strengthened by the Republic joining the Commonwealth as an associate member, as suggested by Senator Frank Feighan during his visit to the House yesterday?
Obviously that is a matter for the Irish Government, but the point that my hon. Friend makes about strong, friendly relationships between ourselves and the Irish Government is well made. It was with that intent, and with that theme, that the Prime Minister met the Taoiseach earlier this week and underlined the importance of continuing to work together to get the best outcome for Northern Ireland and for the island of Ireland.
The European Union and member states recognise the significance of Northern Ireland, and the significance of the politics on the island of Ireland. Indeed, we have seen investment and political engagement from within the European Union. We will continue to underline that in the negotiations ahead, and that is why I remain positive that we can secure a good deal for Northern Ireland within the UK but outside the EU.
There is broad alignment of policy in relation to the Republic of Ireland and the UK. That has been part of the bedrock of the common travel area and its existence over many years. Indeed, it is an aspect of how we have sought to create new visa issues in relation to China that have allowed travel to Ireland and also to the United Kingdom, and how co-operation between ourselves and the Irish Government is very good.
As I have indicated to the House this morning, we are committed to securing the common travel area and, yes, we are also committed to dealing with issues of immigration, which were at the forefront of the campaign. The Home Office is working on the detail of a new immigration policy that I am sure will be a matter of debate in the House in future.
The Government have rightly sought to identify the issues that affect different regions and sectors of the economy and to build those into their negotiating position. Regardless of the common travel area, can the Secretary of State assure us that all parts of the United Kingdom will leave the EU on an equal basis and that no special arrangements, different conditions or special circumstances will be afforded to Northern Ireland that would weaken our position within the United Kingdom and treat us differently from other parts of it?
As a Government, we are very clear about the strengths of the Union and how that matters to us all. The approach that we take is based on getting the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom. Yes, there will be some specific factors in Northern Ireland of which the hon. Gentleman is well aware––we have talked about the border and there are other issues as well––but our approach is with that intent and focus. Therefore concepts of special status are the wrong approach. It is rather about looking at special factors and special circumstances and dealing with them effectively.
May I agree with the Secretary of State in that we are very impressed with the strength of the Union, too––that is, the European Union? Beyond the common travel area, there appears to be a significant gap between the wishful thinking and the reality of movement of goods. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect of exiting the customs union on the movement of goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic?
As the hon. Gentleman will have seen, the Prime Minister’s speech underlined the clear desire of the Government in the negotiations ahead to get the best possible trading arrangements with the European Union and therefore we are reflecting on how we do that, whether that is some form of membership of a customs union or a bespoke customs agreement. He should be intent on our desire to get that deal and to see a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
I welcome the comments of the Secretary of State on having an election that produces parties that want to work together, because that is exactly what we want. When it comes to the common travel area, have we looked at the legal implications, not just within other Departments but in how it is respected by Europe itself? Does it really exist there? Do they see it as a law that stands in place?
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the ability for the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom to make arrangements in relation to the common travel area has been recognised in previous EU agreements. It is therefore that approach that we take in securing the future of the common travel area and underlining its importance to our European partners. I am positive that we can do that.
The economy in Northern Ireland continues to grow. Since 2010, there are 54,000 more people in work and, over the year, the employment rate has increased and the claimant count has now fallen for the ninth consecutive month. The Government are committed to working with the Northern Ireland parties to bring about political stability. This is key to bringing further growth and investment to Northern Ireland.
Some 33.4% of all exports from Northern Ireland go south across the border and 54.7% go to the EU. Leaving the EU will affect Northern Ireland more than any other region in the UK. The previous answer was pretty vague, so what specific steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that those exports are protected in order to protect inward investment?
Does the Minister agree that news from Northern Ireland is seen, read and heard across the world? Is it not important, therefore, that the institutions get up and running again straight after the forthcoming elections to give confidence to potential investors right across the world that Northern Ireland is, indeed, a great place to invest?
My hon. Friend, who is very wise on Northern Ireland issues and makes a massive contribution, is right. We can do much from Westminster, but it is the parties in Northern Ireland that need to take responsibility, come together and guide the economic growth that is so needed in Northern Ireland.
As the Secretary of State noted, there is an Assembly election that will be followed by negotiations on ministerial responsibilities, all in uncertain times. Can the Minister offer any assurances that austerity will not be the rock upon which peace founders? Will the funding for legacy issues be guaranteed in the new Assembly, and will funding for other policy imperatives be eased? Will he ensure that the Assembly can function properly in financial terms?
The Government are committed to developing an economy that works for everybody in the United Kingdom. We are implementing an industrial strategy, which has a massive part to play in Northern Ireland. I welcome the consultation that has been launched, which includes Northern Ireland. The economy in Northern Ireland is strong. There is a desire between the UK Government and the Republic of Ireland to ensure that we have a constructive and positive relationship in the future.
The Government believe that reducing the rate of corporation tax to 12.5% in Northern Ireland could bring significant benefits for jobs, investment and growth. I hope that we can return to the wider progress we have proposed on this issue following the Assembly election and the formation of a new Executive.
Does the Minister accept that, with unemployment in Northern Ireland at its lowest level since 2008 and Northern Ireland posting the highest increase in exports of any region of the United Kingdom last year, the Executive were making substantial progress in improving the economy of Northern Ireland over the previous two years?
I recognise all those statistics. It is important that we constantly reiterate the positive position that Northern Ireland is in. Like me, Members of this House and the people of Northern Ireland want the Assembly to come back together and offer guidance and leadership to make sure that we grow the economy.
Those of us on the Democratic Unionist Benches certainly share that aspiration. We want to see devolution up and running, and we want to see jobs and investment. The Minister will understand our frustration and the frustration—and, indeed, anger—of the people of Northern Ireland that the good progress we were making has been put in peril, as have jobs and investment, as a result of Sinn Féin’s decision to collapse the Executive and cause an unnecessary election. Will he commit to work, over the coming weeks and months, with those of us who are in this House to improve the situation for people’s jobs and investment into Northern Ireland?
I am not going to get involved in the politics of Northern Ireland and why the Executive fell down. What is important is that the people of Northern Ireland want leadership from their politicians in Northern Ireland. What I can promise the right hon. Gentleman is that the Secretary of State and I will do everything to make sure that we have a strong Assembly that offers leadership in Northern Ireland.
May I start by asking the House to accept the Labour leader’s heartfelt apologies for his mistaken statement last week, when he said that a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland had been killed? I am sure the House will agree that we all want to see the officer make good progress. We wish him and his family well.
There is no doubt that political instability worries businesses, but a much bigger day-to-day threat is the burden placed on business by the crushing cost of energy in Northern Ireland. Electricity generators are charging customers 58% more than the EU average, while pulling in gross profits of €900 million a year. Will the Secretary of State meet the energy regulator urgently to impress on it the need to rein in these fat cat profiteers?
Article 50: Northern Ireland Assembly
We are determined that Northern Ireland’s voice will be heard. All the devolved Administrations will be fully engaged in the process of preparing to leave the European Union. We will continue to consult the devolved Administrations, including through the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations).
Membership of the single market is obviously critical to Northern Ireland. Given the commitment to the common travel area, will the Minister tell us what blockages, apart from political ones, remain to Scotland and Northern Ireland remaining part of the single market?
I agree that Northern Ireland is a great place to do business. There are some amazing companies, entrepreneurs and businesses there. That is why we want to see Northern Ireland continue to grow and flourish and have an Executive in place at the earliest opportunity.
We continue to have meetings with our community sector roundtable, and only last week I met representatives of the business community through my business advisory group. I am very clear about continuing to listen intently to views across Northern Ireland to help inform our approach as we look to the negotiations ahead with the EU.
Sinn Féin’s decision unilaterally to collapse the Northern Ireland Executive means that they have excluded themselves from any discussions on article 50. Will the Secretary of State, along with the Brexit Secretary, continue to work closely with members of the Northern Ireland parties that attend this House, to ensure that our voice is heard deeply and fully in that important matter?
The Joint Ministerial Committee met earlier this week in plenary session, and I was pleased to see representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive. We want that to continue. Obviously, in the House, I will continue to listen to the views of right hon. and hon. Members to ensure that we carefully reflect Northern Ireland’s voice.
Although the foul, mephitic fug of Brexit has cast the land into shadow, life must go on. Further to the Secretary of State’s comments, he will accept that the JMC is currently the main body for consultation with the devolved institutions. Yet this body has no authority, no Standing Orders and no fixed rules. Will the Secretary of State commit to formalising the role of the JMC, the crucial body during the negotiations in these dark days?
The Joint Ministerial Committee operates between each of the different nations of the UK and regulates those arrangements. We see it playing an important role, not only now, but in the future, with European negotiations being part of that, in seeking to ensure that the voice of the devolved Administrations is heard loud and clear and to get the best arrangements for all parts of the UK.
I know that the House will join me in condemning the despicable shooting of a police officer in north Belfast on Sunday 22 January. Our thoughts are with the injured officer, who remains in hospital, his family and colleagues.
My officials and I have regular discussions with the Justice Minister, the Chief Constable, and partners as we work to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure.
My right hon. Friend will have the support of the whole House when he speaks so warmly of the police officer who was so brutally attacked only recently. I know the Secretary of State is working closely with the intelligence services, the military and the police to ensure security in the region. Will he please tell me a little more about what he is doing to take forward the security of an important part of the United Kingdom?
I commend the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Security Service and other agencies to keep Northern Ireland safe. The level of threat in Northern Ireland is severe, as that appalling incident underlines. I will continue to work with all partners to secure the safe Northern Ireland we want. I spoke to the Chief Constable on that issue only this morning. [Interruption.]
I agree entirely with a number of the points the hon. Gentleman has made. This was an utterly despicable act and an attack on the whole community, and should be seen as such. The Chief Constable has made those points about people feeling confident in coming forward. There is an ongoing investigation—it is very live—and we are looking through our approach to confronting paramilitarism to see that people have confidence to come forward to give evidence. That is clearly work that needs to continue.
My hon. Friend will wish to know that we have a severe level of threat in Northern Ireland from terrorism. The appalling attack we saw on a young, brave police officer just in the past fortnight underlines the nature of that threat and the fact that there are those in Northern Ireland who would wish to commit acts of violence against the police, members of our armed forces and prison officers. We must be vigilant against that threat.
May I join in the condemnation of the deplorable attack on the police officer? May I also use this occasion to pay a quick tribute to my constituent and opponent, and now fellow former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, for the calibre and tenure of his service in our democratic institutions? I wish him well in his personal battle.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that, in meeting Executive Ministers, he would be meeting Ministers who have taken a pledge to uphold the rule of law, based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability, including support for policing and the courts? Will he meet that same benchmark and remove the comments he has previously made—
I am very clear on upholding the rule of law and seeing that we support our agencies, which have that independence to pursue evidence where they see it. Indeed, there is a very live ongoing investigation to get to the bottom of that appalling act and hold those responsible to account—it was an appalling act against a brave PSNI officer who was doing his duty, upholding the law and protecting the community.
There are important issues that need to be examined and addressed in relation to the criminal justice system. Bail is one part of that, as are sentencing and the time it takes for cases to proceed. We will continue to work with the Executive to see that progress can be made.
Thank you; that is very kind of you, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful indeed.
In dealing with the security situation in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State will recognise how important it is that the Northern Ireland Office sends a very clear message that the rule of law prevails in Northern Ireland, so will he kindly take this opportunity to put on the record his full confidence in the independence and integrity of the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, and indeed the Director of Public Prosecutions?
I am very happy to do so in very clear and unequivocal terms: it is essential that we uphold the rule of law without fear or favour, and I absolutely support the work of the police and all those who are responsible for taking that forward and seeing that those who are committing the acts that we are discussing this morning are held to account and brought to justice.
On Monday, I met a woman whose mother was killed 46 years ago and who asked me to ask the Secretary of State whether he understood that there can be no real peace unless we deal with the past. To that end and as a start, will the right hon. Gentleman commit to raise with the Irish Government the need to ensure the fullest possible public access to the papers relating to the Kingsmill murders and to deliver an effective route by which the families of those who lost loved ones at Ballymurphy can reach some form of closure?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and his message about the raw pain and emotion that continue to be felt by so many of those who were affected by the troubles is one that I equally recognise. It is important that we can make progress in relation to the Stormont House legacy bodies. We will continue to make representations to the Irish Government on a range of issues, and I note the specific point that he raises with me this morning.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering our condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives and were injured in the gun attack in Quebec City on Sunday, and in paying tribute to our former colleague Tam Dalyell, who died last Friday. He was an outstanding parliamentarian, and I am sure that all our thoughts are with his friends and family.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I associate myself with the remarks made by the Prime Minister and the tribute paid to the victims in Canada and to the family of Tam Dalyell.
North Devon is quite rightly concerned that the current review of health services across the county may result in the loss of some acute services at our hospital in Barnstaple. For some residents, the nearest alternative could be three hours away. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will listen carefully to those concerns, because I want to be able to say to North Devon that we are the party of the NHS?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I can reassure him that this Government are absolutely committed to ensuring the best possible healthcare for patients right across the country. I recognise that concerns have been expressed locally about the North Devon district hospital. I understand that there are no specific proposals at the moment, but I know that the input of local communities will remain crucial throughout the process, and I can assure him that of course it is this party in government that is putting the extra funding into the NHS and showing how we value it.
I join the Prime Minister in offering condolences to all those who died in the horrific attack, fuelled by hate, in Quebec, and we should send our solidarity to everyone in Canada on this sad occasion.
May I also associate myself with the Prime Minister’s tribute to the former Member for West Lothian, and later Linlithgow, Tam Dalyell? A Labour MP and former Father of the House, he doggedly fought to expose official wrongdoing and cover-ups, from the miners strike to Iraq. I am sure the Prime Minister would agree that Tam’s scrutiny and contributions made this House a better place, and may I recommend to all Members his autobiography “The Importance of Being Awkward”? [Interruption.] And I am quite happy to offer my copy to the Secretary of State for Brexit to have a good read of it. I am sure that he has probably already read it.
At last week’s Prime Minister Question Time, the Prime Minister told the House:
“I am not afraid to speak frankly to a President of the United States”.—[Official Report, 25 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 288.]
First, let me say that I was not aware of Tam Dalyell’s book “The Importance of Being Awkward”, but given the number of resignations that the right hon. Gentleman has had from his Front Bench, I suspect that some of his colleagues have indeed read it.
I am pleased to say to the right hon. Gentleman that when I visited the United States, I was able to build on the relationship that we have with our most important ally and get some very significant commitments from President Trump. Crucial among those was a 100% commitment to NATO—NATO which keeps us safe and keeps Europe safe too.
Downing Street has not denied that the Prime Minister was told by the White House that the Executive order on travel to the US was imminent, so let us be clear: was the Prime Minister told about the ban during her visit, and did she try to persuade President Trump otherwise?
On the policy that President Trump has introduced, this Government are clear that it is wrong. We would not do it. In six years as Home Secretary, I never introduced such a policy. We believe it is divisive and wrong. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking me whether I had advance notice of the ban on refugees, the answer is no. If he is asking me if I had advance notice that the Executive order could affect British citizens, the answer is no. If he is asking if I had advance notice of the travel restrictions, the answer is, we all did, because President Trump said in his election campaign that he was going to do this. The question is how to respond. The job of Government is not to chase the headlines; the job of Government is not to take to the streets in protest; the job of Government is to protect the interests of British citizens, and that is exactly what we did.
I have made it very clear that we believe that this policy is divisive and wrong, and that it is not a policy that we would introduce. I have also made it very clear when asked about this that this Government have a very different approach to these issues. On refugees, this Government have a proud record of the support that we have given to them, and long may it continue.
The Prime Minister said:
“The United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees.”
But surely it is the responsibility of all of us to defend the 1951 refugee convention, which commits this country, the United States and 142 other states to accept refugees without regard to their
“race, religion or country of origin.”
President Trump has breached that convention. Why did she not speak out?
First, I have made absolutely clear what the Government’s view on this policy is. Secondly, as I have just said, this Government and this country have a proud record on how we welcome refugees. In recent years, we have introduced a very particular scheme to ensure that particularly vulnerable refugees in Syria can be brought to this country, and something like 10,000 Syrian refugees have come to this country since the conflict began. We are also the second biggest bilateral donor, helping and supporting refugees in the region. That is what we are doing. I have said that the US policy is wrong. We will take a different view, and we will continue to welcome refugees to this country.
I also wrote to the Prime Minister on this issue and received her reply this morning. I hold in my hand her piece of paper. She makes no mention of the refugee convention and does not condemn US action in that respect.
Last week, I asked the Prime Minister to assure the House that she would not offer up our national health service as a “bargaining chip” in any US trade deal. She gave no answer. She also refused to rule it out when asked in the US, so let me ask her a third time: will she rule out opening up our national health service to private US healthcare companies—yes or no?
I hope that that includes not having US healthcare companies coming in to run any part of our national health service.
President Trump has torn up international agreements on refugees. He has threatened to dump international agreements on climate change. He has praised the use of torture. He has incited hatred against Muslims. He has directly attacked women’s rights. Just what more does he have to do before the Prime Minister will listen to the 1.8 million people who have already called for his state visit invitation to be withdrawn?
The right hon. Gentleman’s foreign policy is to object to and insult the democratically elected Head of State of our most important ally. Let us see what he would have achieved in the last week. Would he have been able to protect British citizens from the impact of the Executive order? No. Would he have been able to lay the foundations of a trade deal? No. Would he have got a 100% commitment to NATO? No. That is what Labour has to offer this country—less protection for British citizens, less prosperity, less safety. He can lead a protest; I am leading a country.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming an extremely important change in the law. We committed to it in our manifesto and have now delivered on it. Passing Turing’s law has been a long-standing commitment for the Government. It is momentous and takes action to right the wrongs of the past. Like my hon. Friend, I certainly encourage those still alive to apply to the Home Office to have their offences disregarded.
We on the SNP Benches associate ourselves with all the comments thus far about the tragic deaths in Quebec City and about the passing of Tam Dalyell. Respect for him was held across the political parties and he served with great distinction for more than 40 years.
The Prime Minister had a successful international visit this last week—to Ireland. She spoke publicly about her commitment—this is important—not to have a hard border on these islands, to the continuation of free movement of peoples on these islands and to protect and enhance trade. Given that people will be watching this not just in Britain but in Ireland, will she take this opportunity to explain how she will deliver those sensible, important outcomes?
Those are absolutely the outcomes that we want to see. I was very pleased to meet the Taoiseach and to discuss with him the joint intent that both his Government and mine have to ensure that we do not see a return to the borders of the past in Northern Ireland. We focus on the land border that is between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Of course, the issue of movements from Ireland affects other places as well; it affects ports in Wales and Stranraer. Therefore, it is an important issue for us and we have agreed the work that we are going to do together to deliver what I believe will be as frictionless a border as possible. Also, one of the objectives that I set out in my plan for our negotiating objectives is to retain the common travel area.
We on the SNP Benches very much welcome what the Prime Minister has just said on all those issues. Of course, we also welcome the intensifying of negotiations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations ahead of triggering article 50. The Prime Minister has very helpfully explained that it is perfectly possible for parts of these islands to be in the single market, without hard borders, with free movement of people, while at the same time protecting and enhancing trade with one another. That is very, very welcome, so will she give a commitment to work with the Irish Government and a commitment to work with the Scottish Government to deliver all those things—or will we just have to get on with it ourselves?
First, the right hon. Gentleman is right that following the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee plenary on Monday morning, we agreed to intensify discussion on issues related to the bringing back of powers from Brussels and where those powers should lie within the UK—to intensify that in the run-up to the triggering of article 50 and beyond the triggering of article 50.
On the other question, the right hon. Gentleman really should listen to the answers that are given, because he is trying to imply something that is not there. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Yes. We are very clear that we want to see a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but I am also clear that one of the objectives of our negotiation is to see as frictionless a border as possible between the UK and the rest of the European Union. Of course, if he is so worried about having a frictionless border between Scotland and countries in the EU, he should not want to take Scotland out of the EU by wanting to see it independent. [Interruption.]
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about EU nationals. I would like to confirm my intention and expectation that we will be able to offer that reassurance to EU nationals living in the UK, but I also want to see reassurance offered to UK nationals living in the EU. I hope and will be working to try to ensure that this is an issue we can deal with at a very early stage in the negotiations. It was one of the objectives I set out in the plan. It will be referenced in the White Paper and I can inform my right hon. Friend and the House that that White Paper will be published tomorrow.
I will tell you what standing up for British values is. I and this Government introduced the first Modern Slavery Act in this country. I have ensured that stop and search has reduced, because I do not believe that anyone on the streets of this country should be stopped and searched because of the colour of their skin, and I ensured justice for the families of Hillsborough.
I thank my right hon. Friend for pointing that out. It is absolutely right that the House should be aware of the discrimination around the world and of that ban, particularly for those who are Israeli citizens. We are consistent: we do not agree with that approach and it is not one that we will take. I wait for the day when the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) stands up and condemns it too.
On the issue of those who are known as the WASPI campaign, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that, as I am sure he knows, we committed more than £1 billion to lessen the impact on those worst affected, so no one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months. There is a wider point: we need to be realistic when considering pension ages about the fact that people are living longer. If we want to carry on having an affordable and sustainable pension system, we need to equalise the state pension age for men and women faster and to bring forward the rise.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of transport links for economic growth. I understand that digital signalling could increase capacity on commuter trains by up to 40%, hence the investment of £450 million for trials over the coming years to which he rightly refers. I know that the Department for Transport is considering where those trials should take place, but we certainly recognise that the great eastern main line is one area that could benefit from those improvements.
The hon. Gentleman says that they are not doing it. In this Chamber today my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and I have both encouraged people to come forward and make that application, and that is a message that we should all put out.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should never forget that America is our most important ally. Our relationship is long standing and American men and women served and died alongside UK men and women in two world wars to protect our security and the security of Europe. If we were not able to have that relationship and to see that commitment to NATO, in particular, we would leave this country and Europe less safe.
First, the hon. Lady should recognise that Turkey is an important country in relation both to our security and the issue of migration into Turkey and potentially into Europe. She will also recognise that Turkey has, and continues to host, 3 million refugees from Syria, and I commended the Turkish Government on the welcome they have given them. I suggest that she should just have looked at the press conference I gave after my discussions with President Erdogan and Prime Minister Yildirim, in which I made it clear that we had condemned the coup but expected the Turkish Government to support their democratic institutions, international human rights and the rule of law.
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he does on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I know he is fully engaged with that. He is right that commitments were made at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014, when all our NATO allies committed to spending 2% of their GDP on defence within a decade. We have seen progress, but I agree with President Trump that many allies need to go further. I can assure my hon. Friend that I and other Ministers across Government raise the issue regularly with our allies and partners and will continue to do so.
I can assure the hon. Lady that this Government take the issue of air quality very seriously. A lot of work has been done. Since 2011 more than £2 billion has been committed to enable, for example, bus operators to upgrade their fleets, and to ensure that changes are made to reduce pollution from vehicles such as refuse trucks and fire engines. We do recognise, however, that more needs to be done. We have seen a reduction in nitrous oxide from some 17% in recent years, but we will bring forward proposals to ensure that we can maintain the air quality that we all want to see.
Will my right hon. Friend show her support for “Brighter Berkshire”, the campaign as part of the 2017 year of mental health? Will she give her continued commitment to ensuring that we have parity between mental health and physical health in this country?
I am very happy to endorse the campaign to which my hon. Friend refers. It is important that we continue to raise awareness of the issues around mental health. The fact the Government have committed to the parity of esteem between mental and physical health is important. There is more for us to do on mental health, and I have already set out some steps that we want to take. I commend all those, however, who are working to raise the issue of mental health and provide support to those with mental health problems.
The Government have taken a number of steps to increase the funding available for local authorities to provide for social care. It is also important that we ensure that best practice is developed and put into place across the country. In some parts of the country the record on social care and the interaction with hospitals is better than in others, but the longer-term issue is for us to ensure that we have a sustainable system for delivering social care for people in this country. The Labour party ducked that issue for 13 years. We are addressing it.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the whole team at Morley Academy on receiving the award, which I think shows the work that the GORSE Academies Trust is doing to drive up excellence and improve outcomes for pupils. We are determined to drive up standards in schools to ensure that more children have good school places—a good school place for every child—so that they can all reach the sort of level we see at Morley Academy.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Many Members of this House have expressed concern about what happened at BHS and the attitude and approach taken by Philip Green. Whether a knighthood should be taken away from someone is a matter for the relevant committee—I have forgotten the name—which will be examining the case; I understand that it is waiting for the investigations to be completed. This is a matter for an independent committee and it is up to the committee how it looks into it.
Tonight, there will be an historic vote in this place, a vote that I thought I would not see in my political lifetime: the British Parliament voting to withdraw from the European Union under the excellent leadership of the Prime Minister. Is my right hon. Friend surprised that Opposition Members who demand time to discuss the matter and debate it—namely, the Liberal Democrats—did not even bother to turn up last night? The Government Benches were packed, the Scottish National party Benches were packed, the Democratic Unionist party Members were here, and there were some Labour Members. Is that not surprising?
Throughout my political career I have fought Liberal Democrats, and nothing that they do ever surprises me, but I join my hon. Friend in commending the Bill before the House. This House has a very simple decision to take. We gave the right of judgment on this matter to the British people, and they made their choice: they want to leave the EU. The question every Member must ask themselves as they go through the Lobby tonight is: do they trust the people?
Where were you?
The Prime Minister will return at some point with a deal with Europe that our people will have to live with for decades to come, especially our young people, 73% of whom voted to remain. Nobody knows what that deal will look like, but someone will get to agree it. Should it be her Government, should it be this Parliament, or should it be—as I believe it should—the British people?
It is quite difficult to follow that, Mr Speaker, but back in the real world—[Laughter.]
In December 2015, my constituency suffered terrible flooding, especially in the town of Tadcaster. The damage became worse when the bridge collapsed, separating the town. Thankfully, the bridge will be reopened, hopefully this week. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all those who were involved in the restoration of the bridge and, most importantly, the residents of Tadcaster, who have had a terrible year?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in commending and thanking not only all those who worked so hard to restore the bridge at Tadcaster, but the people of Tadcaster, who have had to put up with disruption and inconvenience for such a long time. I am sure that those people will all welcome the return of the bridge, and we commend all those who have ensured that that has happened.
The news revealed yesterday that Toshiba is reviewing its investment in the Moorside nuclear power plant, which puts a huge question mark over not only 21,000 jobs in Cumbria but the future of our nation’s energy security. What will the Prime Minister do personally to ensure that the deal stays on track?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that both the Business Secretary and I have involvement in a number of deals and possible deals around the nuclear industry. We are keen to ensure that those jobs are brought to the United Kingdom and that such deals are kept on track. I assure him of the Government’s commitment.
This week the Danish drug firm Novo Nordisk invested £115 million in the UK to further research into type 2 diabetes. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming that investment as well as the academics and scientists involved, many of whom are from the EU and around the world and will appreciate the assurance she gave earlier? Will she also work with me to ensure that any innovations and new treatments get to patients as quickly as possible?
As my hon. Friend will probably understand, I recognise this issue particularly personally, although I am a type 1 diabetic rather than type 2. Any investment in diabetes research is to be welcomed, and when new solutions and support for diabetics are found, it is important that they get to people as quickly as possible. A significant number of people in this country suffer from type 2 diabetes, and the figures show that there is a great risk that the number will increase significantly in the coming years. We need to do all that we can not only to prevent people from becoming type 2 diabetics in the first place, but to support those who have that condition so that people suffer from fewer complications and are able to manage their lives.
Today is World Hijab Day. Will the Prime Minister join me in recognising the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab if they wish, without fear, and indeed the right of all women everywhere to wear what they want, when they want? Will she also commit to standing up for the right to refuge for men, women and children wherever they may be, regardless of their religion?
On the hon. Lady’s second point, it is absolutely the case that this country welcomes refuges to the United Kingdom, and we do so regardless of their religion—there is no question of discriminating on religion.
I am absolutely in line with the hon. Lady on her point about wearing the hijab. I believe that what a woman wears is a woman’s choice.
Russian armed forces regularly carry out large-scale exercises, including with nuclear-capable equipment, on the borders of eastern Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the American commitment to NATO is absolutely pivotal to protect the countries of eastern Europe from going the same way as eastern Ukraine?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The 100% commitment to NATO that President Trump has given is crucial to ensuring that we can provide for the security of this country and others in Europe, especially those in eastern Europe on the border with Russia. I noted that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) referred to the fact that the Governments of the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania had welcomed that 100% commitment. I am pleased to say that we are playing our part, as about 800 troops will be going to Poland and Estonia this year as a sign of NATO’s strength and our belief in keeping those countries free and democratic.
In 2015, my constituent Samia Shahid was lured to her death in Pakistan, where she was brutally raped and murdered. Will the Prime Minister join me in reiterating the commitment of this House and this country that we will not tolerate violence against women, and encourage the Pakistani Government to continue in their efforts to get justice for our British girl, Samia Shahid?
The hon. Lady raises a very tragic case, and our deepest sympathies are with Samia’s husband following her tragic death last year. We do not interfere in the legal processes of another country, but I understand from the Foreign Office that the Pakistani police have arrested two people and charged them with murder. The Foreign Office has provided assistance to Samia’s husband and will continue to do so. I am sure it will keep the hon. Lady informed, and I understand that the Home Secretary will meet the hon. Lady soon to discuss this issue.
Vehicle Fuel (Publication of Tax Information)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No.23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a bill to require the inclusion on vehicle fuel receipts of the amounts of each tax paid; to require all retail fuel pumps to display the amounts of taxes paid when dispensing fuel; and for connected purposes.
This Bill calls for all taxes to be clearly shown on fuel receipts. Its principle is very simple: taxes should be clear to the people who pay them. At the moment, they are not. The Bill provides motorists with far better clarity on what they are paying—a simple breakdown of fuel duty, VAT and VAT on duty. There is no reason why these measures should be unnecessarily burdensome or expensive to businesses.
I understand that the Treasury is advising motorists who contact it in support of the Bill that it would be impractical to introduce it. My response would be that VAT—one of the taxes in question—is already shown on receipts, and that all that is required for fuel duty also to be shown is a simple arithmetic calculation multiplying the number of litres by the duty per litre. The software cost is minimal. With prices at the pumps rising to their highest for over two years and total taxation of fuel bills hovering between 65% and 70%, it is important that Government are open and transparent. Surely it is right that the nation’s 37 million drivers should see the magnitude of the tax they pay every time they fill up their tanks.
The Government must be commended for freezing fuel duty since 2011. However, the UK remains one of the costliest nations in which to fill up with diesel and petrol. This is solely due to the high tax component in pump pricing. The amount of tax remains a huge issue for drivers. This is a tax on a resource that over 70% of people have no choice but to buy to go about their everyday lives. Total fuel duty revenue is approximately £27 billion per annum, with an additional 20% VAT on the duty itself bringing in an extra £5.24 billion. Once drivers find out about VAT on fuel duty—a tax on a tax—it really rankles and perplexes them.
The Bill aims to give motorists what my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) has secured for taxpayers in general as a result of his Statements of Taxation Bill, which he presented on 25 January 2012 and which was subsequently included in the 2012 Budget and introduced in 2014. As a result of his initiative, taxpayers now see how their money is spent, broken down area by area of Government spending.
Council tax payers have the same right. The bills that they will receive this spring itemise what each authority will receive and invariably this bill comes with a letter from council leaders explaining what they will be doing with our money. It is only right that hard-pressed motorists are put on the same level playing field, rather than being continually exploited as a cash cow.
The initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich was an important step along the road to full tax transparency. It is now important to complete this journey, so that motorists are able to hold Government to account. It must always be remembered that it is their money, not the state’s.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who presented a very similar Bill to this on 16 October 2012. He has been a real champion of motorists and it is important that we build on the great work he did in helping to secure successive freezes of fuel duty.
It is also appropriate to pay tribute to the tremendous campaigning work of FairFuelUK, and its founders Quentin Willson and Howard Cox, for standing up for the motorist at every turn in the road. I am grateful for the support that I have been provided by the all-party group on fair fuel for motorists and hauliers chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke). It is appropriate to highlight the pump watch app that FairFuelUK is launching, which shows how much UK drivers would pay for the same number of litres that they have just bought if they had bought them in 23 other countries. I am afraid that the UK does not occupy a good position in this league table.
I will set out four reasons why I believe there is a compelling case for introducing this Bill. First, there is the need for transparency—to be open, up front and honest with motorists, who as taxpayers have been taken for granted for too long. The magnitude of the tax paid every time drivers fill up at the pumps has been hidden from them for decades. UK drivers continue to pay the highest fuel duty in the world for diesel and the fifth highest for petrol. There is a need for transparency, so that the country’s 37 million drivers can see how much they contribute to public services and our economy.
The traditional VAT-only fuel receipts that are given to us at petrol stations, which we invariably file in the glove compartment, must end now and be replaced by open and complete tax information. Every time a driver fills up their vehicle, they will be able to see where their hard-earned cash is going in the Treasury, and in what form—VAT, fuel duty and VAT on duty. When prices at the pumps fell to around £1 per litre in 2016, the tax that the Government took from drivers reached 75%. What other huge tax contribution is kept hidden from those who pay it? I believe that there is an obligation on the Government to be open with UK drivers regarding the taxes they pay. If drivers feel that they are being taken for granted, we are driving down a very dangerous road. There is a need to be completely up front and to show motorists what they are paying.
It is also important to highlight the regressive nature of fuel duty. In particular, it hits hard-working families and those who are just about managing—the JAMs whose challenges have been highlighted recently. We know that 90% of all journeys are by road, and 70% of drivers have no choice but to use their vehicles to get to work, to drive their children to school, to take their elderly parents to hospital or to go out for the day with their families. I see the problem for myself in my Waveney constituency, where wages are below the national average and many people have no choice but to use their cars to get to work, often travelling long distances to places such as Norwich, Ipswich and Felixstowe. There is also a limited number of petrol stations from which to buy fuel. Waveney motorists, like so many in similar areas around the country, are hit hard by this triple whammy.
It is important to highlight the impact that fuel duty has on the economy. Since 2011, the Treasury has listened to the carefully researched and evidence-based FairFuelUK campaign to freeze fuel duty, which has objectively proved that the level of fuel duty directly impacts on the success of the economy, the creation of new jobs, the level of inflation, investment by small and medium-sized businesses and consumer spending.
Mr Deputy Speaker, it is important to highlight the enormous groundswell of support for the measures in the Bill across the country and around the Chamber. The Bill is targeted at the nation’s 37 million drivers and at all our constituents, so that they can see how much they are contributing to the public purse, to our public services and to promoting economic growth. The clandestine fuel tax receipt must end, and it must be replaced by straightforward and complete tax information for all drivers to see every time they fill up their vehicles.
This is a straightforward Bill that will provide straightforward transparency on fuel duty, on what people pay and on where their money goes. It will make the taxation system more honest. It will spark a debate on whether the motorist should continue to be used as the nation’s tax cow and on how their money is spent. Mr Speaker, I have strained your patience, but I hope that the whole House will support the Bill.
I apologise for that, Mr Speaker.
Question put and agreed to.
That Peter Aldous, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil, Martin Vickers, Danny Kinahan, Charlie Elphicke, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Maria Caulfield, Drew Hendry, Rishi Sunak, Jim Fitzpatrick and James Cartlidge present the Bill.
Peter Aldous accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 February, and to be printed (Bill 133).
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill
[Relevant document: First Report from the Committee on Exiting the European Union, The process for exiting the European Union and the Government’s negotiating objectives, HC 815.]
Debate resumed (Order, 31 January).
Question proposed (31 January), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Amendment proposed (31 January): to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add
“this House declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill as the Government has set out no provision for effective consultation with the devolved administrations on implementing Article 50, has yet to publish a White Paper detailing the Government's policy proposals, has refused to give a guarantee on the position of EU nationals in the UK, has left unanswered a range of detailed questions covering many policy areas about the full implications of withdrawal from the single market and has provided no assurance that a future parliamentary vote will be anything other than irrelevant, as withdrawal from the European Union follows two years after the invoking of Article 50 if agreement is not reached in the forthcoming negotiations, unless they are prolonged by unanimity.”—(Stephen Gethins.)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
I want to say at the outset that this is clearly a fateful moment in this country’s history, and the excellent speeches on day one of the debate reflected the gravity of the moment. We should all respect the way in which colleagues on both sides of the House are wrestling with their consciences as they decide how to vote on the Bill. No one should pretend that this is easy. For me, the actions I will take tonight were determined by the result on 23 June.
In case the House needs reminding, I did not want the referendum. I made a strong case to my colleagues before deciding that my party would not support David Cameron’s decision in the last Parliament. I believed that, with the many other problems the country faced, the referendum would become as much about the state of the country as about Britain’s place in Europe. Indeed, I believe that that is, in part, what happened. However, that is water under the bridge. I took part in the referendum campaign and I said that I would accept the result, which I do. That is why I will be voting for the Bill’s Second Reading tonight, not least because I feel that the referendum stemmed in part from the sense of disaffection and deep frustration about politics that exists in the country. A heightened reason for saying that the process must begin is that we do not want to give the people who voted for Brexit a sense that they are being ignored once again.
Like my right hon. Friend, I accept the result in the country and in my constituency. Does he agree, however, that no one, whether they voted to remain or to leave, voted to become poorer, and that the test for the Government now is to produce a prosperous, post-Brexit Britain and a deal that is in the country’s best interests?
My hon. Friend makes his point very well, and I shall come on to that in a moment.
Our responsibilities do not end here tonight or with the passing of this Bill. It is deeply problematic that the Government are embarking upon this process without any objective economic analysis of its implications, without clarity on key issues such as the customs union and without any sense of what transitional arrangements might look like, on the basis of what I believe is the fanciful proposition that all the future arrangements can be tied up within 18 months.
On day one of the debate, a number of speakers powerfully made the point that, given the paucity of information we have been given before article 50 is to be triggered, it is even more important that there should be proper parliamentary scrutiny, including a meaningful vote in this House, before the end of the process. The Prime Minister’s apparent wish that our choice will be to accept her deal or face a hard Brexit on World Trade Organisation terms is quite wrong. Such a take-it-or-leave-it option would fly in the face of the central proposition that won the referendum—namely, that we want to take back control and restore parliamentary sovereignty. So I hope that Members—particularly Conservative Members—however they voted in the referendum, will support the amendments that seek to ensure proper parliamentary sovereignty throughout the process. I believe that parliamentary scrutiny will help the Government. It will improve any deal, it will strengthen their hand with the European Union and it will make it more likely that the Prime Minister will end up with a deal that has the support it needs in the country.
My hon. Friend puts it very well. This is deeply uncertain, and the truth is that the Government have not really levelled with the country about the trade-offs. At the moment, they are saying that they can have everything, and I fear that pretty soon in the negotiations we will discover that that is not the case.
I want to focus not on the economic questions, which were well worn yesterday, but on an equally important issue that has received less attention in this debate but is absolutely crucial: our place in the world and our foreign policy relationships after Brexit. The foundation of our foreign policy for a generation has rested on the combination of a special relationship with the United States and, crucially, our relationship with the European Union.
Enlargement of the EU following the fall of the Berlin wall—as a nation, we advocated for that enlargement; leadership on climate change under the last Government and, I freely say, under this Government; a commitment to the rule of law and human rights; a belief in the importance of multilateral institutions—all of these have been bound up in our relationship with the European Union, and we should not be under any illusion about the real risk that, following our departure, our influence in the world will be weaker, not stronger.
I negotiated on climate change for the last Labour Government, and our strength, our power, our standing on that issue came from our membership of the European Union because we accounted for 10% of global emissions, not just 1%. The House should therefore recognise that the question of what strategic relationships come after Brexit is fundamental to the issue of real sovereignty and our ability to have an effect on the big issues that will affect us.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the important issue of the future not only of ourselves but of the European Union. Is he not concerned that the European External Action Service now has 139 overseas posts and is increasingly asserting the authority of the European Union over the member states? That process will continue and we will not be part of it. We will be reasserting the sovereignty of these islands.
I will not get extra time, so I am not going to indulge in that argument because we are leaving the European Union—the hon. Gentleman and I agree on that. The question is: what comes next? We all need to address ourselves to that question.
Of course the terrible irony is that, with the election of President Trump, our European co-operation is so clearly needed more than ever. I believe in the special relationship with the United States, but it must be based on values. The Foreign Secretary said after President Trump’s election, and I slightly scratched my head at this, that
“he is a guy who believes firmly in values that I believe in too—freedom and democracy.”
I do not agree and I hope that on reflection, after a few days of the Trump presidency, the Foreign Secretary does not agree, either.
My central point is this: I can go along with the Prime Minister that Brexit means Brexit, but I cannot go along with the idea that Brexit means Trump. I do not believe that that is inevitable, nor do l believe that it is what the British people want. The danger is that the Prime Minister feels it is an inevitable consequence of the decision to leave the EU that we are driven into the arms of President Trump.
So what should be done? This is the fundamental point. The Lancaster House speech was no doubt an improvement in tone on what had gone before, but not one of the Prime Minister’s 12 principles concerned foreign policy, defence or climate co-operation. To put that right in the course of the negotiations I sincerely hope that the Government come up with an architecture for foreign and strategic policy co-operation with the European Union, not just ad hoc arrangements. I want to be clear—this relates to the question asked by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth)—that that co-operation would be intergovernmental, but there are many issues, from Russia to refugees, climate and defence, where we will be stronger, not weaker, if we have institutions that continue to mean co-operation between ourselves and the European Union.
We not only need the right institutions, but institutions founded on a strategic orientation that continues to value our role in Europe. We must be willing, even as we leave the EU, to join our European allies, whose values we share, in speaking up for the rule of law and human rights. I ask this of all European countries: where has been the co-ordinated response to the Trump Muslim ban? Why have the Government not been pushing for that response?
I will not give way because I want to get to the end.
As I understand it, the dual citizenship exemption won by the UK will be extended only to New Zealand, Canada and Australia. Of course it is good that we have that exemption, but we should be standing in solidarity with our European allies in calling for the ban to end.
There are other questions for the Government, too. In the wake of President Trump’s election, Foreign Ministers sought to agree a joint statement on the continuing need for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian people, but they were blocked by a few countries, including—shamefully—the United Kingdom. It is no wonder that Europe fears that we are throwing in our lot with President Trump and turning our back on it. No good will come of that. These are the tests of who we are as a nation, of our values and of how we intend to apply them in the years ahead. It matters to whether our world is governed by the rules of international order—rules that we helped to design and promote—or, alternatively, by something far, far worse.
Incidentally, surely there must be no more talk, particularly in the current context when human rights seem so at risk, of our leaving the European convention on human rights. I truly hope that the Government will be prompted by President Trump’s first few days in office to think again about their approach.
I end on this point. History will judge us not just on the decisions we make on this Bill tonight, but on the decisions beyond. The Government have a heavy responsibility, and we expect them to exercise it on behalf of the whole nation, not just the 52%. For that we will hold them to account in the months and years ahead.
The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) speaks, as he always does, with passion for an international Britain and for European solutions to the many problems we face.
Democracy is easy to defend when we agree with the majority. In many other political systems, such as dictatorships, people can get their way, but democracy has the added advantage of legitimacy and popular consent. Democracy is much more difficult when we disagree with the majority. As people know, I argued passionately in the referendum that leaving the European Union would weaken Britain’s trade and commercial links, would diminish Britain on the world stage, would make international approaches to things such as climate change and atomic research more difficult and would weaken a multilateral institution—the European Union—that has been vital to our collective security for many decades.
I made those arguments, and it saddens me that Britain and Brexit are bracketed in the same group as other isolationist and nativist movements across the world. We should strive to be, as the Prime Minister says, a more global Britain. But I lost the case. I made it with passion, and I sacrificed my position in government for it.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will make some progress before taking interventions.
We have to accept that, in a democracy, the majority has spoken. Although I am a passionate believer in an open, internationalist, free-trading Britain, I am also a passionate believer in Britain as a democracy. It is unfashionable in schools these days to teach what I believe to be a true tale of our nation’s history, which stretches from Magna Carta to the Glorious Revolution, the founding fathers of the American constitution, the Great Reform Act, female emancipation and the like, but we have given the modern world a version of democracy that has spread far beyond our shores.
Therefore, to vote against the majority verdict of the largest democratic exercise in British history would risk putting Parliament against people, provoking a deep constitutional crisis in our country and alienating people who already feel alienated. I am not prepared to do that, so I will be voting for the Bill tonight.
I wish to make some progress, and I want others to have a chance to speak, so I will not take interventions.
There is a mandate to leave the European Union, but that was the only question asked of the British people in the referendum. We cannot assume that the British public gave a set of answers to the questions we now face as a Parliament. Indeed, those questions are now entrusted to us as we approach the negotiations.
I call them negotiations but I do not think they are going to resemble the negotiations that we currently read about in the media. The truth is that although Britain is seeking the maximum possible access to the single market for goods and for services, and we hope that the fact we have a trade deficit and a very important financial centre will count in our favour, the Government have chosen—and I respect this decision—not to make the economy the priority in this negotiation. They have prioritised immigration control, which was a clear message from the referendum campaign, and removing European Court of Justice jurisdiction from the UK and, in that sense, asserting parliamentary sovereignty, although I would point out that Parliament can choose to leave the EU, as indeed we are choosing to do in the coming days.
So we are not prioritising the economy, although we hope for the best possible arrangement, and the European Union is not prioritising it either in these negotiations. Having spent the past couple of weeks in Berlin and in Paris talking to some French and German political leaders, it is clear to me that although they understand that Britain is a very important market for their businesses, their priority is to maintain the integrity of the remaining 27 members of the European Union; they are not interested in a long and complex hybrid agreement with the UK. Therefore, both sides are heading for a clean break from the EU for the UK.
The only thing I think the negotiation will come down to in the end is how that break is achieved. The Prime Minister, in her speech of a couple of weeks ago, made it clear that Britain is seeking a transition agreement, and that is obvious because it is simply not possible for this Parliament to introduce all the domestic legislation that is going to be required to replicate the arrangements we currently have with the EU, even with the great repeal Act. We will also need to have some kind of bridge to the free trade agreement that we seek with the EU. At the same time, the EU needs from us financial commitments that it believes we entered into to pay for European projects that were undertaken while we were a member. In practice, that means the negotiation will be a trade-off, as all divorces are, between access and money. We will try to scale down our payments to the EU, while scaling down our commitment to EU rules and access, until we reach that free trade agreement which we hope to negotiate.
I will just finish my speech and then others can speak.
That is what the negotiation is going to be like. I suspect it will be rather bitter. I spent four years negotiating with Michel Barnier, and I advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to be well briefed, as he always is, and to pack a packet of Pro Plus, because there will be many long nights ahead.
It is very important that in the bitterness of that discussion we do not forget that there are some fundamental reasons why Britain wanted to be part of a European Common Market in the first place; nor should we allow the Europeans to forget that there was a fundamental reason why they created a European Community, which was to bring the nations of Europe together. We must try to keep those thoughts and hopes alive as we exit the EU.
The final thing I want to say is this: we have made a decision to leave the EU and, as the successful leave campaign put it, to take back control, but that means a series of issues are going to come to this Parliament that completely divide Brexiteers from each other, remainers from each other, Conservatives from each other and members of other parties from each other. We are going to have very lively debates about free trade, as we are beginning to see at Prime Minister’s questions; these are debates about what kind of agricultural produce we want to allow into this country or the kind of public procurement contracts we want. We are going to have a very lively debate about immigration, how many people we want to let into this country, how we welcome skilled people into this country, and how we support our universities and scientific research institutions. We are going to have an argument about agricultural subsidies and whether we are happy for the poorest people in this country to pay taxes to support subsidies to some of the richest. We are also going to have an argument about state aid and whether we should be able to bail out failing commercial enterprises. I will be in those fights in the couple of years ahead.
May I start by congratulating the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), on his speech, which was a good deal shorter and a great deal less lucrative than the ones he is used to giving these days? [Interruption.] As is being pointed out to Tory Members, he is anything but cheap these days. He may have argued the case with passion during the campaign, but his tendency to take perfectly reasonable Treasury forecasts on the long-term damage that would be done to the GDP and wealth of this country as a result of withdrawal from the single market and turn them into apocalyptic, emergency Budget, day of judgment scaremongering was one reason why the remain side lost the campaign. Campaigns have to be built on more than fear.
I want to talk about the politics, the economics and the procedure, and about Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) asked me yesterday whether I could remember, in the last 30 years in this place, a time when the House was gripped by collective madness. Obviously, that time was Iraq, when this House was mesmerised by a strong Prime Minister into the blood and disaster of the Iraqi war, but it is certainly not mesmerising rhetoric that is responsible for mad MP disease in this case. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) yesterday made a comparison with “Alice in Wonderland”, but Alice only took herself into the hole; this Prime Minister is taking virtually all the Tory party, half the Labour party and the entire country into the hole. What is being done is politically crazy.
In 1962, Dean Acheson said:
“Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.”
After listening to the speeches of some Tory Back Benchers yesterday, I am not so sure that they are reconciled to the empire bit. Successive Governments and Prime Ministers found a solution by pursuing a role as a leading country in Europe, and balancing that with a special relationship with the United States of America. A German Chancellor once said that the relationship was special because only one side knew about it, and that is certainly true, but none the less, it was a rational policy. Some Prime Ministers took that far too far, into the desert of Iraq, but none the less it was a rational, logical policy.
We cannot, having pursued that policy of having influence in Europe and the good things that come from it, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) reminded us, cut that off and then pursue the special relationship with the USA. That leaves us caught in the headlights, as the Prime Minister was earlier this week. When asked to condemn the obvious thing that any human being would have condemned, she refused to do so three times, in case she offended her new bestie in the White House—and incidentally, if she had said it, she would have offended her new best friend in the White House. So she goes headlong into the arms of a United States President who is, at best, unpredictable. This is going to get worse and more embarrassing because of the imbalance in the relationship.
Then we must consider the economic damage—
Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) mentioned climate change and the American President, who said he will tear up the agreements on that subject. Where will Britain stand then? What support will it get?
That is an excellent example of the embarrassments to come. As for the economic damage, there was nothing wrong with the Treasury medium-term forecasts on coming out of the single marketplace; even if there is a bespoke deal, it will result in a 6% loss in GDP.
The Tory 2015 manifesto is not my bedtime reading, but as I recall, page 72 said:
“We say: yes to the Single Market”.
The Tories were right to say yes. It was funny that yesterday all the Conservative speakers remembered the commitment to a referendum, but not one of them remembered their commitment to the single marketplace. Of course it was not the case that a withdrawal from the European Community meant a withdrawal from the single marketplace. During the campaign, I had the pleasure of debating with Daniel Hannan MEP, who said:
“Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market”.
Of course it is possible to honour the result of the referendum and stay in the single marketplace, and even if people think there will be an exit from the single marketplace, it is madness, in diplomatic negotiating terms, to abandon that position now. The UK should keep its place in the single marketplace and allow the other European countries to negotiate it out of it, not give it away before the first word is spoken in the negotiations.
I come next to the procedures of this House. I have here the list of amendments tabled to the Bill, stretching to 103 pages; we are told that they are to be debated in three days. Eighteen months ago, the Scotland Bill, which was not the greatest constitutional change in history, got six days of debate. I say to Labour Members such as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North, who listed all the things wrong with the Government’s approach, that if they believe that now, they should vote against the Government; if they cannot do that, they should at least vote against a programme motion that will make it impossible to debate the sensible changes that the right hon. Gentleman outlined.
As was well pointed out yesterday, the process is procedurally deficient, not only in terms of the time given, but in terms of the question that will eventually be put to the House. The final vote will be on the deal that comes back from a Prime Minister who said that
“no deal…is better than a bad deal”,
so the choice the House will likely get is a bad deal or no deal. It is therefore crucial that when the House debates it and comes to a decision, there is a meaningful vote—a vote that can make a difference—as opposed to Hobson’s choice, made with a metaphorical gun to the House’s head.
If we end up in a situation in which the only deal on the table is a bad deal, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the responsibility for that will lie with the Prime Minister? It is not as if she can deny responsibility for that being a problem.
Yes, I would agree, but of course if we are all in the soup, finding out that it was the Prime Minister’s responsibility will avail this country very little. It is far better to try to ensure by our votes that we get a realistic choice that can actually make a difference.
Finally, I come to the situation in Scotland. Scotland has a 1,000-year history as a European nation. There is a plaque to Sir William Wallace in great Westminster Hall, the site of his unjust trial—for which, presumably, he will get a pardon at some point soon. After his greatest victory in the battle of Stirling bridge, which was akin to Leicester City winning the premier league last season, in terms of upset and surprise, his first act was not to hold a cèilidh, but to write to the Hanseatic League in Lübeck and elsewhere to secure Scotland’s trading concessions throughout Europe. The importance of Scotland’s European connections stretches back a millennium, and we are not going to allow this non-vision—this act of madness from this House—to take Scotland out of those connections.
The Scottish Government have put forward the proposition, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which offers the Prime Minister a way for Scotland to stay in the single marketplace, regardless of what she wants to do to this country. She said today that a frictionless border in Ireland was quite possible under the circumstances, without realising that if it is possible in Ireland, it is of course possible in Scotland. I see the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) nodding; in the early hours of this morning, I think I saw him, or perhaps it was one of his hon. Friends, say much the same thing on the BBC’s “HARDtalk”—a sad case, watching “HARDtalk” at 1 o’clock in the morning—and it was an important admission. Actually, it was the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). It is important to understand that there are examples in Europe at present.
The Prime Minister has it within her power and capacity to accept the Scottish Government’s compromise proposals and allow Scotland as a nation to retain its trading place in the European context. If that is not to happen; if the House says, “We will go ahead with a hard, Tory Brexit,” or a full English Brexit, as we are now calling it in Scotland, and says, “We’re going to sweep aside concerns from across the House about the economic and political damage, and we will not accept the proposals from Scotland to follow the votes of the people in the nation of Scotland and retain their European connection. We are not interested in preserving Scottish jobs and investment”; if those are the criteria and that is the attitude of the Government; if that is what the Prime Minister wants to do with Scotland, and she is determined to throw down that gauntlet, she can be absolutely sure that Nicola Sturgeon, as First Minister, will pick it up.
Sleaford and North Hykeham is not only the constituency that I am proud to represent; it is my home, and I feel a personal responsibility to nurture it. It is a thriving, predominantly agricultural area, with pockets of industry and a strong military tradition.
The town of North Hykeham is built directly on top of the old Roman road, the Fosse Way. To the south is Sleaford, where one is welcomed by the Handley monument, a large, ornate stone structure, within which is a statue of Henry Handley, who was the MP for South Lincolnshire from 1832 to 1841. He was such a popular MP that the townspeople created the memorial in his honour. It is not clear now whether he was so popular for his innovative ideas regarding science, technology and farming, or because of his strong opposition to the taxation of malt. Nevertheless, it is clear that I have a lot to live up to.
My predecessor was Stephen Phillips, who, like his predecessor, Douglas Hogg, is a silk. They brought great intellect and legal acumen to the House, and Stephen is particularly to be commended for his work on the Public Accounts Committee. Probably his greatest virtue, though, is his sense of timing: he resigned at exactly the right time for me to be able to stand for the seat. I thank Stephen for the personal encouragement he has given to me in this endeavour. I also thank the many Members of this House who have given me wonderful support, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick), for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), and for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), to whom I am very grateful. In these challenging times, Mr Speaker, I promise to uphold the fine traditions of the House and serve my constituents to the best of my ability, ensuring that their voices are heard.
As a new MP, it is right for me to explain briefly who I am. I am a mother of three, a farmer’s wife and the product of a loving family. I am a consultant paediatrician and therefore have particular interests in the health, education and general wellbeing of children. I am a committed Brexiteer, and I am also interested in farming, infrastructure and defence. I am not a silk, or even a lawyer, but I have firm principles based on what I believe to be morally right, and on the ideal of democracy under the rule of law.
I have spent all my working life as a doctor in the NHS, and care passionately about it. The NHS is not perfect; in fact, I doubt any organisation as large and so dependent on human judgment ever could be. However, although there are areas that could be improved, I feel many are too quick to decry the faults in the NHS without adequately recognising the brilliant work done, day in and day out, in helping more people than ever before. I look forward to contributing my knowledge and experience to help to ensure that the NHS goes from strength to strength.
Improving the wellbeing of children remains a topic close to my heart, and I am delighted with the Government’s commitment to young people’s mental health. We must ensure that young people with mental health issues have access to the right treatment; however, as with physical health, we must also focus on prevention. That should include improvements in children’s social care and helping to foster resilience. Resilience is very important. I feel we let down children with the “all must have prizes” culture. Young people should understand their strengths and weaknesses by being allowed to compete and take controlled risks; to win, but also to lose; and to learn from that experience, which better prepares them for the challenges they face in life ahead.
It is truly a privilege to give my maiden speech today in this historic debate. As someone new to the world of Westminster, the greatest surprise to me was that so many seemed surprised by the result of the EU referendum. I was brought up to believe that a good democracy is ruled by the majority, with protection for minorities. As I talk to my constituents, however, I increasingly understand that they perceive that we have rule by a vocal minority elite who are disregarding the views of the majority, and they are angry. Why is that important? Well, because so many people seem to have been surprised by the Brexit vote, having failed to understand the genuine concerns of the majority. This disconnect with the electorate has been seen not just here, but in the results of the US presidential election, and in the rise of far-right parties throughout Europe. There can be no democracy without an understanding of the views of the majority, and those views must be respected, heard and responded to by Members of this House.
There has been much debate recently over whether the referendum was mandatory or advisory, and over the relative authorities of the Government, the legislature and the judiciary. As I said earlier, I am not a lawyer, but I fail to understand how one can ask the electorate a question and then even consider disregarding the result. The referendum is not advice, but an instruction to us. We asked the people, and the people said “Out”, so out we must go.
Order. More than 80 right hon. and hon. Members still wish to contribute to the debate over the ensuing five hours, in consequence of which it is necessary, with immediate effect, to impose a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of four minutes. I am trying to ensure that everybody has a chance, on top of those who have already had their opportunity. It would be helpful if those who have already spoken were to refrain from intervening, because such self-restraint might increase opportunities for others. I am sure that all colleagues are concerned about others. I call Yvette Cooper.
May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) on an excellent maiden speech? She will do her constituents proud if her speech is anything to go by.
We have now a challenge for this whole House—what we do over the next two years and whether what we do strengthens or weakens our democracy. Over the past 40 years, Britain has worked with the EU to achieve some amazing things, but we have done so by sharing sovereignty. We were able to do so, because, when we went into the Common Market in the 1970s, we had popular consent expressed through a referendum. Last summer, we lost that consent, which should be a lesson to all of us who wanted to keep it. Surprisingly, I agreed with some of the things that the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) said, but disagreed with him over whether we should have done more. We could not make the referendum simply about the economy, and we took for granted too many of the things that we needed to argue, particularly about the necessity for politics to come together.
My hon. Friend is right. I, too, will vote for article 50, although I argued against leaving the EU last year. I am worried about the backdrop to all of this, because, across western democracies, democratic values are being undermined. We have seen: attacks on judges as the “enemies of the people”, even though they should be defending the rule of law; attacks on the Human Rights Act and on the protection for minorities against the tyranny of the majority; the steady undermining of democratically elected representatives; the assault on the free press; and the attack on truth itself. The challenge that we face over the next few years in many European countries is how we defend those democratic values. It will be much harder for me to defend that faith in democracy in my constituency if we ignore the results of the ballot box last summer.
Pontefract is the home of the very first secret ballot. We still have the first ballot box, and we see it as a symbol of peaceful democracy—of asking people to be part of that democratic process. That democratic process does not end with the article 50 vote, and that is my concern with the Government’s approach. They are trying to concentrate power in the hands of the Executive, when, in fact, they should be involving all of Parliament and the public in the debate about what kind of country we want to be and about where our future lies. There will be issues on which we will disagree. For example, I feel strongly that we should stay inside the customs union, because that will help our manufacturing in the future. On the rights of EU citizens who already live here, I feel that we should not be leaving them in the lurch while we start the negotiations when we could put them on a sure-footing straight away.
There will be issues about how we balance so many different things, such as how we get our security right, and we will need to debate them here in this House. At the moment, the process that the Government have set out does not give us the secure opportunity to have votes and proper debates and to be sure that we will not be left at the end of this process with what the Prime Minister has described as her way to change the British economic model if we do not get what we like. To the Opposition, that sounds far more like a tax-haven Britain that would undermine people’s rights and the kind of British values that we want to stand up for.
I urge Members from all parts of the House not just to look at the array of amendments and not just to decide how we respect the referendum result last summer and the different and strongly held views of our constituents, but to look at how all of us, from all parts of the House, vote for the kinds of amendments that will ensure that parliamentary sovereignty is strengthened and that Parliament has a say. I urge Government Members to vote for some of those amendments to ensure that we have a real vote on the final outcome and that we can make real choices.
So much of this has been about how we defend democracy by voting for article 50. It should not be about that; it should be about how we strengthen democracy over the next two years. If this was about parliamentary sovereignty for all of us, let us have the strength and the confidence to use it.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). I did not agree with everything that she said, but the one thing with which I most certainly did agree was her congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) who made an excellent first speech in this House. It is probably the case that she will never speak in a more important debate in this House no matter that she has, I am sure, a long career ahead of her here.
My first political act was to take part in the referendum campaign in 1975. I put leaflets through doors calling on people to vote yes in that referendum. I did so because I believed in free trade, and because I believed the assurances that were written on those leaflets that the decision taken would not affect the sovereignty of the UK Parliament.
I was working for Margaret Thatcher when she first delivered the Bruges speech, which highlighted the fact that that assurance was being steadily eroded and that the European Community was heading in the wrong direction. As a result, when I entered this House I opposed the Maastricht treaty, the Amsterdam treaty, the Nice treaty and indeed the Lisbon treaty as it was becoming steadily clearer that, although there may or may not have been economic benefits from our membership, this was a political project that was heading in the one direction of ever closer union.
It was a project on which the British people had not been consulted and which they did not support. I had hoped that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, would negotiate an arrangement that allowed us to opt out from the elements that we did not want. He tried valiantly, but what he came back with was insufficient, which left us with no alternative but to leave and then to seek new arrangements allowing us to co-operate in those areas where there was a benefit. The result of the referendum was clear. In my constituency, it was nearly two to one, and people did understand what they were voting for. It does not matter that a majority of younger people may have voted to remain, that a majority of those with degrees may have voted to remain, or even that some parts of the UK may have voted to remain. This was a nationwide referendum of the British people, and the British people spoke. I agree with the Prime Minister that we have no alternative but to leave the single market, as it is essential that we have control over our borders once more and that we are no longer subject to European Union law.
I really am sorry, but I do not have time.
We have to leave the customs union if the condition of remaining in it is that we are unable to negotiate our own trade agreements. There are precedents, although I would not necessarily want to follow them completely. The new arrangements, for instance, between the European Union and Canada, and between the European Union and Ukraine, offer no application of European law in those countries and no free movement, but do give them access to the internal market and allow them to negotiate their own trade agreements. Ultimately, the European Union is flexible and an arrangement is perfectly possible.
The negotiations will be complicated. I am concerned, for instance, that we must have recognition of the adequacy of our data protection, so that data can continue to flow across borders. I would like us still to be recognised under the country of origin principle. However, it is vital for European businesses still to have access to our markets, so they will be putting pressure on their Governments to reach a sensible deal. The one thing I have found most astonishing is that when Britain voted to leave the European Union, the reaction of other member states has been more to seek to punish Britain than to ask the question why. The European Union is a flawed—
I will be brief and to the point, as many other hon. Members want to take part in the debate. We have heard some remarkable contributions, and I will mention two that were made yesterday. The former Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who has just left the Chamber so will not hear my remarks, challenged everyone who will be voting in favour of this Bill tonight, as I will be, to examine our consciences. They particularly challenged those of us—I strongly count myself among this number—who voted, argued and campaigned for a remain vote. I believe that, as we lost the vote, we have to face the consequences, although the former Deputy Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe feel that we should not.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) also said that this is an issue of conscience. I regret to some extent that we will be voting on a three-line Whip, as it is a deeply moral, conscious decision that we all have to take. However, I would have much more difficultly justifying and coming to terms with my conscience if I were to vote against the Bill and, effectively, in favour of delaying and frustrating the beginning of the negotiations and, therefore, the whole process of leaving the European Union. We have only to re-read the referendum question. It was so simple, asking:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
There were no ifs or buts. It was a simple question understood by everybody who took part in the referendum. It is no good now to say that the referendum was really only advisory and that we should have a second referendum or a confirmatory vote.
I campaigned widely in the west midlands, strongly on the remain ticket. I went out of my way to warn my constituents about the economic consequences, although warnings, particularly from the then Chancellor, may have been overdone throughout the whole campaign, which did not particularly help us. I warned people that the referendum was a one-off, that it was a yes or no question and that there would be no second referendum or further bite at the cherry if we did not like the outcome. Members who are telling us that tonight’s vote is a matter of conscience for those who were on the remain side and who felt strongly about remaining, as I did, believe that we should vote against the Bill. On the contrary, there is not a conceivable material argument for doing so. Indeed, to do so would be to betray the very basis on which we conducted the referendum; that is certainly what I spoke to, and I believe that it is what all Members who actively took part in the referendum spoke to.
We come to the question of how this House can be involved in and influence the negotiations. My experience of negotiations—business and others—tells me that we have to get real about this. The issues and choices will become clearer once we are in negotiations. I agree with the former Chancellor, who brings us great advice from Davos and other centres of learning, that perhaps economics will not be the big issue of the negotiations. However, the outcome on the economic and trading front is the essence of what this is really about for working people. My advice is simply this: soft Brexit and a transition period. Anything else would predict a harsh and uncomfortable future for the working people of this country.
As I said yesterday and perhaps I can be forgiven for repeating today, it would be hugely appreciated if colleagues did not keep coming up to the Chair either asking explicitly when they will be called, or doing so implicitly by inquiring whether it is alright if they go for lunch, repair to the loo, consume a cup of tea or eat a biscuit. It is not necessary. All I would say is, please be patient. I want to accommodate everybody—I am on your side—but it does not help if people keep coming up to the Chair all the time. It is incredibly tedious, especially when one is trying to listen to what colleagues actually have to say.
Having originally been elected on a slender majority of 582, I certainly understand that we have to accept the outcome of democratic elections, however narrow the margin, but I must admit that I was surprised by the leave result in the west midlands, given that the region is in substantial trade surplus with the EU. Of course, I am delighted that the automotive industry has achieved so much success that it exports 82% of all its cars, mostly to the other 27 countries of the EU.
The subject of immigration dominated the conversations I had on the matter, even when standing outside the gates of the car factory. No distinction was made between EU and non-EU migration, which each account for 50% of migrants. I worry that our electors expect that taking back control will mean that very few migrants will arrive here. However, our history as an empire means that there are family obligations to non-EU migrants and an absolute obligation, through the Geneva and The Hague conventions, to provide safe haven for the most vulnerable people, many from countries for which we drew the lines on a map.
I heard mixed motives for voting leave. Some second-generation migrants told me they did not want any more coming in. Article 50 will be triggered and we will be in uncharted waters, trying to negotiate the things that are vital for our success. Access to our principal market is key. The car industry is desperately short of engineers, and its success will be choked if it cannot get the skilled labour it needs. If we are honest, migrants are more willing to do some jobs, such as picking fruit and vegetables. A spring onion producer told me he cannot rely on local labour to get the harvest in. We must ensure that horticulture is not destroyed by taking back control without being able to meet the demand for labour. These are not easy things to say in public, but we are about to make a momentous decision, and, as the Prime Minister says, we have to make a success of it. That will only be achieved if we are honest about some of the problems we face.
I am no starry-eyed Europhile. The political leadership in Europe failed to inspire its citizens about the benefits of working together. Other countries are seeing the rise of extreme right parties that promise to solve their problems. This goes beyond Europe. The leadership of the rich nations around the world are struggling to find answers to the impact of globalisation for the low waged. In America, Obama tried to extend healthcare to the poorest, and here we have the introduction of the living wage, but maybe we need to look to places such as Scandinavia for better models of wage equality and fairness in society. Those are the big questions left when we exit the European Union and we will need to answer them in our own way.
I expect that the EU will change after we have left, because it must collectively try to find answers to the big questions of globalisation, mass migration and robotics. By contrast with the US, we have decided to turn outward, not inward, partly because we have to and because our heritage is one of trade and exploration. I hope the electorate will be patient, but they will judge our efforts on their experience, not on our rhetoric. I hope that all that is great about Britain is not sacrificed in pursuit of an unrealistic ambition to go back to some mythical time when we were in control of all we surveyed.
She is not in her place now, but I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) for her excellent maiden speech.
Liberal Democrats have always been proud internationalists. It was the Liberals who backed Winston Churchill’s European vision in the 1950s, even when his own party did not do so. Since our foundation, we have been champions of Britain’s role in the European Union and fought for co-operation and openness with our neighbours and with our allies. We have always believed that the challenges that Britain faces in the 21st century—climate change, terrorism and economic instability—are best tackled working together as a member of the European Union.
Being proud Europeans is part of our identity as a party, and it is part of my personal identity too. Personally, I was utterly gutted by the result. Some on the centre left are squeamish about patriotism; I am not. I am very proud of my identity as a northerner, as an Englishman, as a Brit, and as a European—all those things are consistent. My identity did not change on 24 June, and neither did my values, my beliefs, or what I believe is right for this country and for future generations. I respect the outcome of the referendum. The vote was clear—close, but clear—and I accept it.
But voting for departure is not the same as voting for a destination. Yes, a narrow majority voted to leave the EU, but the leave campaign had no plans, no instructions, no prospectus and no vision. No one in this Government, no one in this House and no one in this country has any idea of what the deal the Prime Minister will negotiate with Europe will be—it is completely unknown. How, then, can anyone pretend that this undiscussed, unwritten, un-negotiated deal in any way has the backing of the British people? The deal must be put to the British people for them to have their say. That is the only way to hold the Government to account for the monumental decisions they will have to take over the next two years.
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that his party is partly responsible for the outcome of the referendum, because immigration became a proxy for issues like the pressure on the NHS and the inability to see a doctor, and the inability to get the right class sizes, owing to policies that his party supported which squeezed public services and meant that people looked for someone else to blame?
I am staggered by the hon. Gentleman speaking the language of Nigel Farage—what a terrible disgrace.
The deal must be put to the British people for them to have their say. That is the only way to hold the Government to account for the monumental decision they will have to take over the next two years to ensure that the course they choose serves the interests of all the people, however they voted.
I will not take any more interventions because other people need to get in.
Here is the likelihood: 48% of the people will not like the outcome of the deal, and half of the 52% will feel that they were betrayed by the outcome of the deal. The only way to achieve democracy and closure is for there to be a vote at the end.
The fact is that the Prime Minister is the one making the strongest case for giving people a vote on the deal. She had the choice to pursue a form of Brexit that united our country, reflected the closeness of the vote, and sought to heal the divisions between leave and remain. Instead she chose to pursue the hardest, most divisive form of Brexit, which tears us out of the single market and leaves us isolated against the might of world superpowers. Never mind that six months ago she herself argued the case for remaining in the EU. Never mind that numerous leave campaigners championed the Norway and Swiss models and spent the referendum campaign assuring voters that we would not leave the single market. Never mind that 48% of people—16 million British people—wanted to stay in the EU. Never mind that Britain’s young people, who have more of a stake in our country than most of us here, voted three to one to remain.
The Prime Minister has made her choice—fine; she has chosen hard Brexit—but if she is so confident that what she is planning is what people voted for, she must give them a vote on the final deal. What started with democracy must not end with a Government stitch-up. When all is said and done, the decision on whether the deal the Prime Minister negotiates is good enough will be decided by someone; someone will make that decision. Should it be the Prime Minister, should it be those privileged to be here, or should it be the British people who have to live with that decision? I say that it should be put to the people in a referendum. That is why the Liberal Democrats are fighting for the British people to have the final vote on the deal that this Government negotiates. Democracy means accepting the will of the people, at the beginning of the process and the end of the process. Democracy means respecting the majority, and democracy means not giving up your beliefs when the going gets tough.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), who always speaks with passion. However, let me put it squarely on the table that I will never vote for another referendum while I am in this House, given what we experienced last year.
I agree with those who have said that this is a conscience vote; forget the three-line Whips. We asked the people, “What do you want to do?”, they said, “Leave,” and as far as I am concerned that settled the matter. I will of course be voting for the Bill this evening.
I want to make three very quick points. First, I believe that the Prime Minister deserves personal credit for her leadership on Brexit since she emerged last July. Casting our minds back to the extraordinary events of last summer, we were shell-shocked, not knowing where the public vote would take us. “Brexit means Brexit”, she said,
“and we’re going to make a success of it.”
That phrase, much mocked in some quarters, gave a sufficient sense of direction to steady the ship. It became apparent by January that we then needed a more detailed plan, and at just the right time, the Prime Minister gave her Lancaster House speech, which set out a clear, coherent and credible plan for the way forward. It was one of the most significant speeches I have heard in my 25 years in this House, and it was a game changer for me and for many people.
The plan is ambitious and not without risk. In particular, we will be leaving the single market and turning our backs on free movement, but seeking to negotiate a free trade agreement. That is a high-risk strategy, but I recognise that to remain in the single market would not properly reflect the desire of the majority who voted leave to control immigration. It is, however, vital that putting in place a bespoke free trade agreement is successfully completed as part of the overall deal. The one fear that companies in my constituency have is not so much tariffs, bad though they might be, but non-tariff barriers, which can play havoc with sensible trading arrangements and must be avoided if possible.
One part of the Lancaster House speech has received insufficient attention—the reference to transitional arrangements. I know that there are some, and some in this Chamber think that all this can be done in the blink of an eye, but it cannot. It is complex, it will take years, and we have to exercise patience. Once we start detailed negotiations—once we start to consider which parts of the acquis we want to ditch and which to keep—we are probably looking at a 10-year project. We might well leave the EU in 2019, but we should prepare ourselves for substantial transitional arrangements, and thereafter, I hope, a positive working relationship.
Secondly, we must now be brutally honest with the British people about the likely short-term impact of Brexit, not in an alarmist way, but simply making the point that because of uncertainty—because we have now made it clear that we will not be in the single market—there is likely to be an impact on Government spending for the next few years. We know that tax receipts have fallen against forecast since June, and that trend may well continue. There may well be long-term gains from Brexit—I certainly hope so, and we must strive for that end—but there will most likely be short-term pain, especially now that the phoney war is drawing to an end. International companies will weigh the certain knowledge that we will be leaving the single market against the hope of an equivalent free trade agreement, and some of them who crunch that calculation will decide to invest or expand elsewhere. Some financial institutions are already getting itchy feet, so there might not be as much money available for the NHS and social care and schools as we would like over the next two to five years, and we should prepare the British people for that fact.
Finally, living in these very turbulent times when all kinds of things are going on in our world, I encourage those on the Front Bench—those who are negotiating—thus: we have a clear plan, but let us not be slavish about it; let us be flexible and wise.
It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak in this debate on this historic day for Parliament and for this country. None of us who believed in withdrawal from the European Union believed that we would ever see an Order Paper displaying the words, “European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill: Second Reading”. It is a very historic, landmark occasion.
The Bill implements a decision that this Parliament decided to hand to the people. It would be utterly wrong, therefore, to reject what the people of the United Kingdom decided in a national vote. I utterly respect those who have spoken who campaigned hard, enthusiastically and vigorously to remain but are saying that, as Parliament handed the decision to the people, we must respect the will of the people. I have little time for those who argue that we should now engage in procedural games to thwart the will of the people. That is dishonest and undemocratic. I agree with the Liberal Democrats about believing in democracy and listening to the will of the people, so let us get on and implement what the people have said, not engage in efforts to thwart it. This was a national vote across the United Kingdom and everybody’s vote was equal.
I want to address the issues that affect Northern Ireland in particular. It has been said that, because Northern Ireland voted to remain by 56% to 44%, it should not be part of the withdrawal or it should be given a special status. I can think of nothing that would be more calculated to undermine the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom than for Northern Ireland to be able to thwart the will of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. That would be a deeply anti-Unionist position to take.
It is right and proper that we respect the special needs of Northern Ireland, and we are arguing them vigorously with the Government. We are engaged with this House and with Ministers back home, and that is why I deplore the fact that at this crucial juncture our locally devolved Assembly and Executive have been brought down needlessly. The people who brought it down are the very people who are now making speeches saying, “Brexit undermines the Good Friday agreement.” Thankfully, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has completely demolished that argument and made it clear that nothing in the Good Friday, St Andrews or any other agreement is in any way impaired or imperilled by the decision to leave the European Union. Those who are now complaining the hardest about Northern Ireland have denied themselves a voice by not taking their seats and arguing their case in this House or engaging with Ministers. They have now brought down the elected Government in Northern Ireland, so they do not have any input there, either.
The reality is that of course this presents challenges for Northern Ireland. However, when we kept sterling and the Irish Republic joined the euro along with other European partner nations and states, we were told that it was a massively detrimental act and that it would cause all sorts of major problems on the island of Ireland and lead to all sorts of disruption, both economic and political. None of that happened—people adapted. They were told that we would have to change our currency at the border. Northern Ireland has a different currency from that of the Irish Republic, but trade continues—it is flourishing—and the economy has done extremely well. None of the dire predictions of terrible consequences came to pass.
I am confident that we will see a better future for the United Kingdom and for Northern Ireland. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to maintaining the common travel area. I reject the idea of a special status for Northern Ireland, and I am glad that the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic rejects it too, because it is code for separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom and undermining our—
This is indeed an historic moment in our nation’s history. This is the moment that we begin to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money. Once again we become a sovereign nation state in command of our own destiny, and I am absolutely delighted about that.
I was brought up in post-war Germany. I campaigned to leave in the 1975 referendum and, along with 43 others, I voted against the Single European Act in 1986, so I have form. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and I are the last remaining members of that band. Although Margaret Thatcher pushed for that Act, I have no doubt that, if she were with us today, her response to this Bill would be, “Rejoice!”
I pay tribute to all those, on both sides of the House, who have campaigned over the years for this outcome. I also salute David Cameron for honouring his commitment to give the British people a referendum on membership of the EU. Many said that he would renege on that, but he kept his word.
The referendum was not advisory. It was an instruction to withdraw from the European Union. The Bill simply authorises the giving of notice to leave, without which negotiations cannot begin. It is touching to hear the new-found respect for parliamentary democracy from the Bill’s opponents—the same people who for four decades have been complicit in the relentless campaign to transfer power from this Parliament to Brussels.