I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the EU exit analysis which was referred to in his response to an Urgent Question in the House on 30 January by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union be provided to the Exiting the European Union Committee and made available to all Members on a confidential basis as a matter of urgency.
The saga of the Brexit impact assessment rolls on. This all started back in December 2016, when the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union first told the Brexit Committee that the Government were working on “sectoral impact analysis” in 57 areas—later, one was added to make it 58. In October last year, he got rather carried away with the idea and elaborated, saying that the analyses were “excruciating detail”, throwing in for good measure that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet had read the summaries. When various right hon. and hon. Members sought disclosure of the impact assessments, they were met with a flat refusal.
Things moved on. In November last year, we presented and won a Humble Address requiring the Government to disclose the impact assessments arising from the Government’s analysis—an important statement of principle. So far, so good. Some documents were made available, and I was one of those who went to the Treasury to see them. I was escorted to a room, where I had to pass over my phone and sign a document on confidentiality. I sat down, and two files were solemnly brought to me; I was allowed to read them and take some notes. We now know that those documents contained a description of the sector that could have been found in any House of Lords or Select Committee report, a summary of the EU law and policy—surprising that I had to give up my phone to read that—and then a very generalised view from the sector. I went through the footnotes to that third section and struggled to find one that did not relate to open-source material. Press releases and evidence given to Select Committees were there, all of which I solemnly noted before I handed the files back, got my phone back and left the premises. Those documents are now available online, minus the sector analysis and therefore the open-source material.
In September, when questioned by the Exiting the European Union Committee about the rest of the documents, the Secretary of State said that the Department had not done any impact assessments on any sector of the British economy. He made the point that the use of the word “impact” did not mean that an impact assessment had been done within the formal definition used by the civil service. As a former defence lawyer, I was struck by that defence. It was technically right that someone cannot be censured for contempt for failing to hand over impact assessments because they have not done any, but I was never sure which was worse: relying on that technical defence, or not doing the impact assessments in the first place.
Roll on one month, and in the past two days it was leaked that an assessment called the “EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing” does in fact exist. It is reported that that document looks at three of the most plausible Brexit scenarios based on current EU arrangements with the range of predictions. Consistent with the principle established back in November 2017, the Opposition yesterday called on the Government to release that analysis. In true groundhog fashion, the Government said no, as they did last year.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman had a distinguished career in law before he came to this place. Does he condemn the leak of a Government document? To what extent are any Government documents to be regarded as confidential? Will he condemn the leak?
Before I was in this place, I held the post of Director of Public Prosecutions. We took leaks from our department or any other civil service department very seriously. I can only assume that an inquiry is in place in relation to this leak, and in the circumstances we should say nothing more about it.
I have repeatedly raised concerns that the north-east and other regions will be hard hit by the very obvious risks of Brexit. It seems from the leak that the Government share that view. Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my view that it is completely unacceptable that the Government think it is okay to keep businesses and people in regions such as mine in the dark?
My hon. Friend demonstrates that hon. Members have been trying on behalf of their constituencies and regions to get a proper analysis of the impact of Brexit on the individuals, businesses and communities they represent. That is why it is so important to have that information. It will mean that we can have an informed debate and hold the Government properly to account.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman described his experience of dealing with leaks. Does he accept that we have a curious cult of secrecy across Government today and have had for some years? A leak is a serious matter and I deplore leaks when documents are revealed whose contents compromise the national interest or are loaded with party political or other significance, but it is impossible to see how an objective analysis of the economic consequences of the various options that the Government are considering compromises the national interest. A properly open Government should make such information freely available to all those who have a legitimate interest in the subject, including MPs.
I agree. It is significant that the original documents that were requested last year were initially refused on freedom of information grounds, only then to be made available in the form I described, and then to be put in the public domain in any event, which demonstrates the point that many Governments—this Government are doing the same—put their arms around information that ought to be in the public domain to inform the debate. It is the wrong way of doing business.
If the Government are eventually forced to release the impact assessments, as I suspect they will be—I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman suspects the same—and if they confirm that any deal the Government strike will be worse than the one we have with the European Union, will he and the leader of the Labour party change their position and campaign much more vigorously to keep us in the European Union?
I have taken a number of interventions and will make progress. I will allow interventions later, otherwise I will not get very far.
Yesterday, standing at the Dispatch Box, I asked the Government to release the documents referred to in the leak. As I have said, the Government said no. The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who is in his place, advanced three defences for that position, none of which withstand scrutiny. His first defence—that the analysis is rubbish—was astonishing. He was asked whether he could name a single civil service forecast that was accurate. He glibly replied: “They are always wrong”. He may have forgotten that he is now part of the Government, and yesterday transposed himself back to being spokesperson for Vote Leave. Ministers and the Government commissioned those papers, and it is frankly ridiculous to attempt to rubbish them as an excuse for not publishing them.
I will complete this point and then give way.
There is a serious point. Is it seriously Government policy that impact assessments are so inherently unreliable that it is better to proceed without them? That is the logic of the position described yesterday. Is it not better to adopt the approach tweeted last night by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who said:
“The next phase of Brexit has to be all about the evidence. We can’t just dismiss this and move on. If there is evidence to the contrary, we need to see and consider that too”?
Before I give way, I will make one further point about the line of defence of rubbishing the analysis. It is deeply discourteous and disrespectful to the civil servants who have worked on those papers and are presumably continuing to work on them, often in difficult circumstances. In my experience, having been a civil servant, and having had civil servants as staff, they do a very good job whether or not they agree with the instructions given to them. To glibly answer that they are always wrong was deeply disrespectful to them. I hope the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who will speak for the Government today, will take the opportunity formally to apologise to the civil servants who prepared those papers in good faith, and assure them of the support we all have for the work they are trying to do.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes the good point that, yesterday, we saw a pretty grim approach to economic forecasting, which was full of jokes and did not address the seriousness of the situation. Does he agree that an opportunity presents itself? The Conservative Government created the Office for Budget Responsibility—independent forecasters who could do the job of providing the public with the facts if only the Government would tell them what their policy is.
I do agree, and that is a very important point. Essentially, the OBR is saying that it cannot do its job because it does not have the information to do it. That is why it is far better to proceed on the basis of assessments of risk and impact, and to allow the OBR to do its job.
I will give way in one minute, but may I just finish this point?
Having been a civil servant for five years and having engaged in risk assessments, I can say that the purpose of the exercise is to identify the risk, the size of the risk, and the likelihood of the risk. The fourth column, which is always the really important one, is what the Government will do to mitigate the risk. That is why these risk assessments are so important.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for giving way. I agree with him on the important work of the civil service. Many real stakeholders, including the digital industry, the banking industry and the legal services industry, have come to me this week to say what a good job our civil service is doing in preparing for the Brexit negotiations. My understanding of this paper is that it suggests that the no-deal scenario is not very attractive and that cutting and pasting the Canada or the Norway deal is also not very attractive, but that is not what the Government are proposing. Does he not agree that it would be better if our Ministers got out of this House and on with their work to deliver a better deal?
I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Lady will remember that one question I asked of the Minister yesterday was whether the model that the Government are pursuing has also been subjected to an impact assessment. I did not actually get any of the questions that I asked—about six—answered or even addressed by the Minister yesterday. I hope that some of them might be addressed later on today.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. Can he help us with this: has he established the status of these documents? From what I gather, these were not some loosely put together drafts of a document. Has he been able to establish whether these are the documents that were to be made available to members of the Cabinet—next week, I think, if not this week—under lock and key and subject to them not making notes? This is really important. Are these documents the ones that were deemed to be of such importance that the Cabinet should see them?
I am grateful for that intervention. I will answer it, and make a second point as I do so. This is a really important point. The second line of defence that was deployed yesterday for not releasing these documents was that they are not complete, they are at an early stage, and they are just evolving. As I recall it, that was exactly what was said about the first set of documents that we were trying to have released last year. We have heard that one before. I have not yet ascertained the status of the documents, but, as I understand it, they were being shown to key Ministers ahead of an important Cabinet Brexit Sub-Committee meeting next week. No doubt, the Minister will be able to confirm that. If those documents are in such a form that they can be shown to Ministers to brief them for an important meeting next week, they are certainly way past the stage of an early script that has not been approved.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Is he aware that, this morning at Welsh questions, the Wales Office Minister, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), said “We have many assessments as we go through this process”, so it is not just the one, but many? Will it not be essential that the Government release those assessments when they become available as we go through the process?
The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) makes an important point on where the devolved Administrations have already done their work on the assessments. Therefore, is it what the Minister said yesterday at the Dispatch Box that the Government will not assist them with that work, because many of these areas are partly devolved and partly retained?
I am grateful for that intervention, because it is consistent with the point that was made earlier about the regions. Each of the regions and nations needs to understand the risk that it faces, so that it can then, if necessary, put the various mitigations in place. We need to press on these issues, so that is vital.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the Government had at their disposal any economic evidence or forecast that backed up their chosen approach, it would already be in the public domain; it would not be called a leak?
I am grateful for that intervention, and I agree that it would be highly likely that such material would be put into the public domain.
I come back to this serious point: the choice now to be made is how we leave the EU and what the future relationship might be. That is a profoundly important question. There are many different choices, and we absolutely need—and there should be—a robust impact assessment that we can all see and all discuss.
Mr Speaker, I rather thought that the point of interventions was to engage in the debate that was going on, rather than to make a completely different point. Our position on the customs union has been made clear very, very many times, and I do not see that that is an intervention on the point that I am making, so I will press on.
The third line of defence that was advanced by the Minister, who now seeks instructions from the civil servants he disparaged yesterday, was that any disclosure might harm or undermine the negotiations. Again, we have heard that one before. We have always accepted that anything that genuinely undermines the negotiations should not be put into the public domain, but there is a difference between that and something that is simply embarrassing to the Government, a point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) yesterday afternoon. This motion provides for confidentiality. That defence was immediately undermined by the Minister himself yesterday. When there is a leak, Governments usually say that they will not comment on the leak, and that they do not rely on the information in the leak, because if it is not to be in the public domain, nobody should rely on it. But the Minister not only commented on it, but sought to rely on the leak to advance his own case. When challenged by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) about the customs union, he prayed in aid the figures, saying that
“there is economic growth under all the scenarios in the economic assessment.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 683.]
One cannot simply say, “I will rely on the figures to advance my own case, but I won’t publish the full figures so that anyone can question me properly on what I am saying.” We now need to go back to first principles.
I will press on, but I will give way again in a minute.
As I have said, only question was asked on 23 June 2016, which was whether we should leave the EU—not how and not what the future relationship should be. These are incredibly important questions. We need an informed debate, including on the likely economic impact of different approaches. Publication is needed in the name of transparency; publication is needed in the name of scrutiny. There has been an indication that the Government will accept this motion, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister. When he does so, may I caution him, because his fellow Minister, the hon. Member for Wycombe, yesterday found himself saying, at the beginning of his answer that
“this economic analysis is not what is formally known as an impact assessment.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 680.]
Let us not go there again—where a motion is accepted only for later there to be a quibble as to whether the precise wording was sufficient to release the documents. If the motion is being accepted, it needs to be accepted in spirit, in form and in full. Secondly, let there be no confusion about editing or redacting. That is not provided for in this motion, just as it was not provided for last time.
Finally I ask the Minister, if the motion is to be accepted, when do the Government intend to release the documents? I remind the Minister that when this question arose at the end of our first Humble Address, Mr Speaker was asked what he considered to be a reasonable timeframe for the Government to respond. On that occasion, Mr Speaker said:
“One can take a view about this, one can consult “Erskine May” and one should reflect in a sober and considered fashion, but if the hon. Lady is asking me whether I envisage this being something that needs to be deliberated on over a period of several days, the answer is no.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 932.]
The Opposition anticipate and expect the same sort of timeframe to be kept to in this case.
The Government will not be opposing this motion. As the motion is therefore expected to pass, I will focus my remarks on three important points: first, how we plan to comply with the terms of the motion; secondly, an explanation of exactly what the analysis to which the motion refers is and the significant caveats to the status of the analysis, so that all Members fully understand the preliminary nature of the analysis and the challenges around this type of modelling more broadly; and, thirdly, the fact that there are parts of the analysis that remain negotiation-sensitive and should not be put into the public domain. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), who speaks for the Opposition, has recognised the latter point in his motion, which refers to confidentiality. A key part of this is about the importance for Government of being able to conduct internal thinking when it comes to preparing policy.
Let me start with the terms of the motion. We will provide the analysis to the Exiting the European Union Committee and to all Members on a strictly confidential basis. This means that we will provide a hard copy of the analysis to the Chair of the Committee. A confidential reading room will be available to all Members and peers to see a copy of the analysis, once those arrangements can be made. This will be under the same terms as previous arrangements in similar circumstances, under this and previous Governments.
I personally have not yet seen such requests. We do intend to make this information available to the devolved Administrations, as we did with the previous reports that we made available to this House. It is then a matter for the devolved Administrations to ensure that such documents are handled with appropriate confidentiality; we have no objection in principle to their being shared with Members of the devolved legislatures on the same basis of confidentiality.
I will give way in one moment.
The document is preliminary, unfinished and has only very recently been presented to Ministers in any form at all. It contains a large number of caveats, and sets out on every single page that this is
“draft analytical thinking with preliminary results”.
The analysis has not been led by my Department or, for that matter, by any single Department. This next stage of analysis has been a cross-Whitehall effort to support our negotiating priorities. It is not yet anywhere near being approved by Ministers, and it has only been brought together in a draft paper for them to review this month. Even the ministerial team in my Department have only just been consulted on this particular paper in recent days, and have made it clear that it requires significant further work. It does not yet reflect this Government’s policy approaches and does not represent an accurate reflection of the expected outcome of the negotiations.
It would not be right to describe the figures as Government numbers, as they have not had formal Government approval or sign-off as most analysis or policy would. The primary purpose of analysis at this stage was a preliminary attempt to improve on the much criticised analysis published around the time of the EU referendum. It is there to test ideas and to design a viable framework for the analysis of our exit from the European Union.
Since the Conservative party governs with the support of the 10 Democratic Unionist party Members—of whom I am not one—I am very curious to know whether any Member of the DUP will have advance notice of this economic analysis ahead of the Select Committee or, indeed, in addition to the Select Committee.
If the hon. Lady will give me one moment, I will give way. I just want to complete my point about the caveats to the analysis.
At this very early stage, the analysis only considers the off-the-shelf arrangements that currently exist, and we have been clear these are not what we are seeking in the negotiations. It does not consider our desired outcome, which is the most ambitious relationship possible with the European Union, as set out by the Prime Minister in her Florence speech—such an agreement is in the interests of both the UK and the EU—and, to be crystal clear, it does not consider a comprehensive free trade agreement scenario as some reports have suggested, but simply an average FTA. We believe that we can do much better, given our unique starting point and shared history. Therefore, the scenarios in this analysis continue to suffer from the flaws that we have seen in previous analyses of this type.
I will give way to the hon. and learned Lady after I have given way to the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire).
Yesterday, a number of Members of this House spoke eloquently about the challenges of modelling uncertain outcomes over an extended period. The analysis presented by many organisations prior to the referendum is a clear example of those challenges. To date, we have seen outcomes that are quite different from some of those that were set out.
I find this conspiracy theory so absurd. The Treasury published very clear and totally wrong short-term forecasts for the referendum debate, and it published very clear and, I think, equally wrong long-term forecasts before the referendum debate, so that the whole nation could engage with these wrong forecasts. The latest lot of leaks looks very much like the wrong long-term forecasts that the Treasury previously published. I look forward to the Minister getting some more common sense into the thing, because there is absolutely no reason at all to suppose that leaving the EU will cause any hit to the long-term growth rate of the UK.
I am so grateful to the Minister for being very patient and giving way to me, but I must press him on this point. It is curious to think that the Government are at this moment planning their negotiating strategy without having considered adequate impact assessments. I went to the so-called reading room in December. It was laughable that I had to sign a piece of paper, a copy of which I was not allowed to remove, in order to promise that I would not reveal what was in the documents. If there is going to be another reading room, I will do exactly what I did last time and reveal what is not in them, which is quite a lot. When will the Government work out that they need these impact assessments to have a decent negotiating strategy?
I will give way to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) in a little while. I just want to finish my point about the nature of the analysis and the caveats that are contained in the document, as Members will see when they view it. Economies of all sorts face an uncertain future in the face of new technologies and the next phase of globalisation, which presents both challenges and opportunities.
Not right now.
Of course, there is a specific role for this sort of modelling, but it must be deployed carefully and appropriately alongside a full range of policy work in our EU exit plans. On its own, no model or analysis will be sufficient to provide us with the full picture of the various benefits and costs of different versions of Britain’s future relationship with the EU. Such models cannot predict the future. It is the Government’s job to use these sorts of models appropriately and to develop them as best they can. Despite this—and, in many cases, because of it—the analysis remains extremely sensitive.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Surely the million dollar question is this: if the Government have not yet assessed the model agreement that they want, when are they going to tell the British people what it is that they want, cost it and publish the results?
The Prime Minister has set out a very clear strategy for developing an FTA between the UK and the EU that goes much further than previous models. As I am explaining, the analysis under discussion looks at the existing models and compares some of them, which is not the same as what the hon. and learned Lady sets out.
I thank my hon. Friend for announcing that the common-sense decision has been made overnight to stop trying to withhold these documents. I accept what he says about the caveats attached to all forecasts, although the idea that they are all rubbish is a new and sensational claim made by some of his colleagues.
Just to be clear about the status, is it not the case that the perfectly responsible Government Departments that produced these papers have reached the stage of briefing and informing Cabinet Ministers as they go to the next stage of discussions to try to create a policy for where we are going in the negotiations with the European Union? That status is the same as that for forecasts put to a Chancellor before making a Budget. Does my hon. Friend therefore accept that, although his words about caveats in economic forecasts are wise, we should not be tempted to drift into the rubbishing of the whole thing, which his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), rather unwisely embarked on yesterday?
My right hon. and learned Friend knows a lot from his own experience as Chancellor about the confidential information presented to Ministers ahead of Budgets, but that process has to go through a number of stages. As I have said, this information, which is preliminary and not yet finished, was presented to Ministers for the first time in recent days. It is, therefore, not in a form that is approved to go forward in the way he describes.
Despite, and in many cases because of, the points I have made, the analysis remains sensitive. Let me stress that the only reason we do not oppose the Opposition motion is that it makes clear that the analysis is to be shared with the Select Committee and Members on a confidential basis. We are about to embark on exploratory talks with the European Union regarding our future relationship and will be in formal negotiations over the coming months. Having an incomplete analysis such as this in the public domain would not serve the national interest in the upcoming negotiations. I cannot imagine that any reasonable Member of this House genuinely believes that it is in the national interest for the Government to have to publish at the start of the negotiation unfinished, developing analysis of scenarios that we are clear we do not want.
There is, however, another equally important reason why this analysis should not be put in the public domain, and it is simple: the functioning of Government—by which I mean any Government—about which my right hon. and learned Friend knows a great deal. I ask hon. Members who have been Ministers, who aspire to be Ministers or who have ever held a position of responsibility how they would feel about having to publish their team’s work in progress partway through a project. I am sure they would agree that publishing unfinished initial findings can be extremely misleading, and I am confident that they would join me in ensuring that that does not happen on a routine basis.
There is another reason why this set of analyses is peculiar and quite different. I listened carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), but he is wrong on this count. This is not like advice to a Chancellor. This analysis, as I understand it, comes out of the back of the reality that all the previous forecasts, heavily reliant as they were on a gravity model of economics, have proved so wildly wrong that a variety of ways are being looked at to try to rectify that. There is, therefore, an experimental nature even to the economics, not just to the straight analysis, and that is why it does not have a massive bearing on the Government’s negotiating strategy at this point—because they themselves are questioning whether it is feasible to make a serious analysis or forecast that may be even slightly correct.
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point and I will leave it to Members to consider it when they see the actual information under discussion.
Throughout this process I have been impressed—and the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) has been clear repeatedly that he has been very impressed—by officials across Departments and the way in which they are rising to the challenge of delivery of our exit from the European Union. To do that, however, we need to have the space to undertake internal work and to challenge preconceptions.
I thank the Minister for giving way and for saying that the information will be made available to all Members in a confidential room. I remember making that suggestion when speaking about the sector-by-sector reports, which I have been to see and some of which are extremely useful. How many Members of this House have actually been to see them? I believe that the figure is probably fewer than one in 10, and I sometimes wonder whether Opposition Members are having a huge fight but not bothering to follow up on the real details that matter to real jobs in this country.
Returning to the hard work of our officials, if every time any element of their work leaked we were forced to present unfinished work for the scrutiny of Parliament, the public and the press, there would be a very real chance that the quality of that work would suffer. It is simply not conducive to an open, honest and iterative process of policy making in government. That is as true for all the Government’s work as it is for EU exit. I do not believe that a single Member of this House believes that that would be in the national interest, so I urge the Select Committee, whose Chairman is here, to provide some assurances, in good faith, that, for those reasons and reflecting on the words of the motion, which recognise the confidential nature of the document, this preliminary analysis will not be made public.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I have to say that, of all the Ministers, I think he does an outstanding job in exceptionally difficult circumstances. I thank him for the work he does. However, with bucket loads of respect, the Government cannot have it both ways. Either these are rather meaningless analysis documents that have not been done on any proper modelling and cannot be relied on and all the rest of it—in which case, publish the wretched things, because they are not of any value to right hon. and hon. Members—or they are indeed of great value and must be kept secret and highly confidential. Which one is it, because at the moment we do not know?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, as always, for her kind praise, but I think I have already answered the challenge she sets as to the reasons why some of the information in the report should be kept confidential. That is something on which the two Front-Bench teams clearly agree, because it is in the Opposition motion. I also just want to emphasise that the misrepresentation in some of the press reporting of this leak makes this an exceptional request that the Government agree to on an exceptional basis. They do not accept a precedent for future action.
Finally, it is also for those reasons that I believe that forcing the release of partial and preliminary analysis risks undermining the functioning of Government at a vital moment.
Not now. The public have voted through a referendum to leave the European Union. We must deliver on that result, in the national interest. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras that we should work together to ensure that, and that must include scrutiny.
Only yesterday the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe committed to ensuring that Parliament has the appropriate analysis on the terms of our exit from the European Union ahead of the vote on the final deal we agree with the European Union. That is entirely right and we will deliver on it. However, delivering on the referendum result, in the national interest, does mean being able to have a stable and secure policy-making process inside Government. It means Government taking seriously their obligation to preserve the security of our analysis and the work underpinning our negotiations, and receiving that analysis means Parliament sharing in that responsibility and obligation. As all Members of this House come together to deliver for the people the best possible outcome of the referendum result, it is with that sentiment that we will comply with the motion.
I am grateful for the chance to speak in this debate and I commend the main Opposition party for securing it.
I am wondering why we are here because, yesterday, the Minister’s colleague beside him on the Front Bench, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), spent over an hour valiantly, loyally and completely unsuccessfully trying to persuade the House that the sky would fall down if this information were shared with anybody. Now we are being told that it can be shared at the very least with 650 people.
Incidentally, part of the reason why relatively few MPs—certainly those in the Scottish National party—went along to the “Kremlin” reading room to look at the sectoral analysis is that, having seen part of the papers, I told a lot of my colleagues not to bother. It simply was not worth their time to go through the security checks to read stuff that they could get by looking online.
Again, we are seeing a symptom of the fact that, despite all the assurances we get that Brexit will restore “sovereignty” to Parliament, this is really about trying to restore the alleged sovereignty of a minority Government over the will of Parliament. Parliament is supposed to tell Government what to do, but every time it looks as if Parliament is going to tell the Government to do something they do not want to do, it causes absolute panic on the Government Front Bench. It also causes a headache for civil servants, as one of their main responsibilities is supposed to be to prevent Ministers from doing anything that causes political embarrassment to the Government—good luck to them. If they can achieve that, they must be quite remarkable people.
At this point, the answer is no: I neither condone nor condemn because I do not know what the circumstances were.
I walked away from a potentially successful career in NHS financial management. I wrestled for six months with my own conscience, seeing things that I knew had to be brought to public attention but knowing there was no way I could do that, and knowing that the public were being deliberately misled about what was going on in the health board that I worked in. The only way I could bring it to public attention was to resign and walk away from the job. So I will never, ever condemn anyone who believes they are acting in the public interest by doing something that they are not supposed to do.
I would be very surprised if there is a single Member in the Chamber today who is not at this very moment considering an important constituency case that has been brought to them by someone who technically was breaking the rules by raising it with a Member of Parliament. There are times when the public interest has to outweigh all other considerations, and until I have seen the full circumstances of why this information was disclosed, I am not going to condone or condemn, and I do not think anyone else should prejudice the case by commenting on it now.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a distinction between a leak and whistleblowing? Whistleblowing is in the public interest. The provisional evaluation of the economic impacts, be it incomplete or imperfect, and given that good is not the enemy of perfect, should be in the public arena. This is a whistle blow, not a leak.
I am grateful for that intervention. We have to be careful about language. There is whistleblowing as defined in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and it is not clear whether this incident would comply with that.
As a council leader, I sometimes found myself having to respond to information that technically should not have been disclosed. I always took the view that, if the motivation was clearly public interest, we should seek to protect those who did that, even if they had not technically done it in the correct way. The question today should not be about the motivation or principles of whoever disclosed this information into the public domain. The question should be first about what the information tells us, and secondly about what the Government’s determination to hide this information from the people tells us about the Government’s handling of Brexit.
I hope that, when the Under-Secretary of State responds, he will do what the Minister did not do earlier, and tell us when the Government started to prepare this analysis. Is this the homework that the Secretary of State had to confess to a Select Committee he had not done yet when the House asked for it? It looks suspiciously like this is not only the Secretary of State’s late homework but that he copied it off his new pal Big Mike in the high school up the road in Scotland. The similarities between the Scottish Government’s analysis that the Government rubbished two weeks ago and the Government’s own analysis are so striking that it would be a remarkable coincidence if the people who prepared those analyses had not been copying from each other.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is clearly important to get this information out into the public domain or in controlled circumstances. Is he as worried as I am that, despite having information out in the public domain that tells us that Brexit, whatever version we go for, is going to cause us huge damage, not only the Government but, it seems, those on the Labour Front Bench are still going to proceed none the less?
Again, this may not be the time for that debate. My position is perfectly clear. We have the results of four national votes and we have to seek to respect those as far as possible. We cannot respect them all because two of us want to leave and two of us want to stay, and the European Union does not allow bits of nation states to stay or go. However, on the Government Front Bench and, to a lesser extent, on the main Opposition Front Bench, there has been a failure to distinguish between leaving the European Union and leaving the single market, the customs union and various other European institutions, which is where the real damage exposed by these analyses lies. It is possible to leave the European Union, to comply with the referendum result, and not to bring down on ourselves, for example, the potential 8% reduction in Scottish GDP as a result. That can only be done if the Government admit that they got it wrong and step back from the red line on single market and customs union membership. There was no referendum about the single market or the customs union. At the moment, we only have unilateral political dogma from the Government, telling us that we have to leave.
The real reason why these analyses were never done and they were kept secret for as long as possible after they had been done is that they show that, in deciding to take us out of the customs union and the single market, the Government got it badly wrong. All we need is for the Government to admit they got it wrong and this whole debate then becomes an irrelevance.
The Government’s behaviour demonstrates again the fallacy of the argument that Parliament holds the Government to account. In effect, we do not have an electoral system that is designed to produce a proper Parliament. We have an electoral system for this place that is designed to produce one winner and one loser, and it does not like it if there is more than one party on the alleged losing side, because the system cannot cope with having more than one big Opposition party. It does not like it if it is unclear who the overall winner is. This place is always in turmoil if a coalition has to be formed and there is a minority Government. The whole procedure of Parliament—the way that Bills are produced, the way that time is allocated and so on—is based on the assumption that the Government decide and just every once in a while Parliament tries to tell the Government that they should have decided something different.
In the discussion we had about the first batch of Brexit papers before Christmas—there have been elements of it again today—we heard that it is disloyal to the country and to our constituents for any Member of Parliament to suggest that the Government have got it wrong and should be doing something different. Whether it is in relation to publishing or not publishing the papers, to handing them over in secret to a Committee or not, to the decision to take us out of the customs union in the first place or to any other decision that the Government take and announce without having the full mandate of the people, it must be open to any Member of Parliament to criticise and seek to change it.
When I keep hearing Members—not so much those on my Benches, because we have a clear mandate from our constituents—on either the Government Benches or other Opposition Benches being denounced as traitors and enemies of the people simply for standing up in this place for what they believe in, we have to ask ourselves what is going on with democracy in these four nations. In some ways, that is even more fundamental than our membership of the EU and its related institutions. We have to get a grip.
It was disappointing to hear comments yesterday from Government Back Benchers about London-based elite remoaners. No one on the Government Front Bench picked up on that and said that that kind of language is not acceptable. There should never be any need to question the integrity or motivation of anybody in the Chamber simply because we disagree, however passionately, with what they are saying.
I listened to what the hon. Gentleman said earlier about the sector-by-sector reports and I think I heard him say that he had told other colleagues not to bother to go and read them. My understanding is that we need a trade deal that works for all sectors of the economy and especially for areas such as food, agriculture and farming. My memory of those sector-by-sector reports is that that is an area that is enormously detailed, so perhaps he will think again about encouraging other Members to go and look at this detailed information.
May I deal with the first intervention first, please?
What I said was that the reason I had told my colleagues that it was not really worth while for them to hand over their phones, make appointments and so on to go and see the documents, was that there was nothing in there that they could not have got quite easily on the internet. Is it really a good use of a Member’s time to go through a security check more severe than at an airport, in order to read in a classified document that Airbus and Boeing make aeroplanes? To read in a classified document that gambling legislation in Northern Ireland is devolved but not elsewhere? These are all things that were in the documents that the Government said they could not disclose. To read in the sectoral report on the electricity industry that lots of people in the United Kingdom rely on electricity for domestic and commercial purposes?
Come on, Madam Deputy Speaker: there may well be information in the latest batch of documents that there is good reason for wanting to keep classified and confidential, but the Government’s attitude is that they tell the people and Parliament as little as they can possibly get away with. We all know that the reason for the change of heart from yesterday to today is nothing to do with the Government’s having decided that, because part of the documents had been published, they might as well give Parliament everything. The Government are not opposing the motion today because they know they would go down badly if they forced it to a Division. They do not have the support of their own Back Benchers; I doubt if they even have the support of their own Front Benchers. Their culture of excessive secrecy no longer has the support of their own people. They are not forcing the matter to a vote today because they know they would not only lose, but lose so badly that it would call into question the continuation of the Government in its entirety.
As usual, my hon. Friend is being modest. He is not explaining to the House that he is a member of the Exiting the European Union Committee and has been part of the project to produce detailed reports of sectoral analysis, so he knows, like anyone who has bothered to read the reports—I see the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) is still sitting beside the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr)—that all the information in these top-secret documents is already in the public domain.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his gracious approach to my intervention. It is just that he is contradicting himself. He says that the Government are not responsive to Parliament—that Parliament is some kind of constitutional eunuch—and in the next breath he says that the reason there will not be a vote today is that the Government cannot control their own side. He cannot have it both ways. This Parliament is very successfully holding the Government to account and is being very thorough in its scrutiny. In defence of the honour of this Parliament, I needed to intervene to say that.
The reason why Conservative Back Benchers will abstain in this debate is that the Government Whips have told them to abstain. The reason why the earlier motion on the main Brexit sectoral analysis was not opposed was that the Government told their Back Benchers not to oppose it. Since then a number of Back Benchers, sitting in this Chamber, have said that they would have been quite happy to lead a move against that Humble Address before Christmas but the Government Whips told them not to. The fact of the matter is that all too often the Government hold Parliament to account, not the other way around.
We shall not fix that today, but if we appreciate that that is the background against which this fiasco has developed, it is easier to understand how it is that, as soon as there is a Government who do not command a substantial majority in the House, there are problems. The British electoral system has a phobia against minority Governments or coalition Governments, despite the fact that in numerous other places—some of them not too far north of here—there are examples of Governments operating very successfully indeed, either in coalition or as a minority Government.
The Minister, as part of his argument to try to discredit his own Government’s analysis, points out that it is based on average free trade agreements, as opposed to the all-singing, all-dancing with bells and whistles free trade agreement that the Government keep telling us they will achieve within the next year or two. What is that assurance based on? What grounds does this Parliament have to believe that the Government have a snowball in hell’s chance of finding anyone to give the United Kingdom on its own a better trade agreement than they are willing to give to the 500 million people of the European Union single market? Have the Government done an analysis to tell them that they are going to get better trade deals? I hope not, because if they have done such an analysis, that analysis is quite clearly rubbish as well.
Given that analyses that come out of Her Majesty’s Treasury are no longer to be trusted, may we now take it as the Government’s official position that we can no longer believe what was said in the 16 analyses that were done by Government Departments in 2013-14, showing what a disaster a yes result in the Scottish referendum would be? And can we just cut to the chase, and save everybody a lot of time, by getting the Government to admit now that the bucketsful of analysis that they are going to produce next time around are also worthless and incomplete and selective, so they can just not bother producing them and save us all a lot of time?
Madam Deputy Speaker, when you get a Government who have to defend their own excessive secrecy by telling the people of these islands that they cannot rely on information that comes out from the Government, whether it was meant to come out or not—when the Government tell us we cannot rely on information that the Government themselves are producing—that is what undermines Britain’s negotiating position with the European Union. It is not the fact that information might be published that the EU could have put together itself quite easily; it is that the Government’s action in attempting to conceal that information and then seeking to discredit it demonstrates to our EU partners what they probably knew—that they are negotiating with a disorganised, disunited, shambolic and incompetent Government. That weakens Britain’s negotiating position more than any release of Brexit analysis papers could ever do.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), although obviously I did not agree with much of what he said at the end of his speech.
I am delighted that the Government have had the good sense to agree to the motion. I am concerned about the circumstances in which these documents will now be made available, in some sort of secrecy, despite the fact that they can clearly be read on the internet. Why we are going through that farce, I do not know.
May I gently say to my Government, this madness has to stop. If we were in the middle of the summer, I might say that it was overexposure to a hot sun that seems to have caused a collective outbreak in the Government of a form of madness. Their inability to grasp Brexit and do the right thing, frankly, is now at a point where, as I say, it has got to stop. We have to start to do the right thing; and the right thing is to get this Brexit sorted out, to form a consensus in this place and within the country, and deliver—deliver not just on the referendum result, but on the hopes and aspirations of our people that we will have an economic future out of the European Union that will be safe and secure for generations to come.
In a moment.
The reality of these documents, of course, is that finally it seems that our Government have decided they are actually going to make some choices; they are actually going to form a view in Cabinet. It has only taken 19 months since the referendum to work out what they want from Brexit.
The Prime Minister told us, in her Lancaster House speech, what she did not want, but what nobody in the Government—in the Cabinet—has told us is what this Government do want by way of Brexit. And if I am agitated—and I am—I can assure the Front Bench that whilst I think most of the people of this country are just fed up to the back teeth, the people of this country are also agitated, because they are worried and they are nervous. And being blunt, there are millions and millions of people in this country who do not believe that either of the two political parties in this country represent their views, and indeed will forward their views.
I see it in these terms. I think there is a group of people—the hard Brexiteers—and you are not going to change them. In my party, my Government believe that somehow they can “manage” the 35 hard Brexiteers, who for decades have been banging on about Europe in a way that I think is not, at times, particularly good for their mental health—and they think they can “manage” them. They cannot be managed. Even if they were given what they wanted today, they would complain that it had not been done yesterday. For many of them it is a battle to the death, and they will not hesitate to destroy this party or our Prime Minister to get what they want. They can see the prize and they will be damned if anybody is going to get in their way. The Government need to wake up to that reality. So we have that problem to cope with, and that is the way to deal with it: see it off, build a consensus, and jump into the middle ground and put this country’s interests before anything else. As the CBI said, “Goodbye ideology; wake up to the interests of our country.”
Over on the other side is a group of people who still want to fight the battle of the referendum—they are remainers, they are angry and they cannot and will not accept that we are leaving the European Union—but here in the middle is the majority of people. They are like corks, bobbing around in a sea. They feel queasy and uneasy, and they are worried about their own futures and their children and grandchildren’s futures, yet there is nobody for them—no thing, no vehicle coming along upon which they can jump; a big, warm ship that says to them, “Come on board. You’ve got a great captain at the wheel and we can see the land of our destination over there.” It might be Norway; it could be the European Free Trade Association—actually, I would like it to be the single market and the customs union, but hell, I will compromise. I will take EFTA. Why? Because I want to form a consensus to get the best thing for our country.
That is there, but at the moment there is nothing for people to get into that will save them from what, unless this madness stops, will undoubtedly be a catastrophe. Call it what you will—“walking off a plank” is how I think a noble Lord quite properly described it yesterday. Others have described it as “sleepwalking to a Brexit disaster” or “jumping over the cliff”. Whatever metaphor one wants to use, if this Government—and it can only be this Government—do not get a grip on the situation at the top, we will indeed walk into a Brexit nightmare.
My right hon. Friend said that the Prime Minister had not set out what she wanted. I contend that she has done precisely that. Of course it is arguable whether she will get it, but as for the boat that my right hon. Friend wants to welcome everybody on to, the Prime Minister has set that out.
With great respect to my right hon. Friend, that is absolute nonsense, and the good people of this country now require honesty and transparency. Some of us have been over to Brussels. Many people—right hon. and hon. Members, some of whom I can see on the Opposition Benches—have spoken to people at all levels of the 27 nations and to ambassadors from other countries. They have been over to Brussels and spoken to all manner of people, and no, we are not pleased. Don’t patronise; we are not stupid; we know when we are getting a line. We have spoken to disparate people, and every single one of them says, “Wake up, Britain. You’re not going to get a bespoke deal. You’re probably going to get Canada.”
I do not want us to be like Canada. That is not what people in my constituency voted for. They did not vote to be poorer—and they would be poorer, God help us if we got a Canadian deal. People have a right to know what the consequences of the various options are. The problem with the Prime Minister’s position is that she has told us what she does not want—the customs union, the single market and the European Court of Justice—and that has seriously reduced the options available to our country. By drawing those red lines and refusing to move, she puts the EU in a position whereby it is limited in what it can offer us. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) that we are deluding people if we continue to peddle this nonsense.
The right hon. Lady is giving a passionate speech. The one thing that the Prime Minister has said she wants is to keep frictionless trade in Northern Ireland. The problem is that that is utterly irreconcilable with what she said she does not want, which is the single market and customs union. Therein lies the fundamental confusion that is causing so much difficulty in the country right now.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman—I nearly called him my Friend, although on this he is, because he is absolutely right. The agreement made in December between the European Union and ourselves is such a fudge that it is impossible to put it into a text that could become a treaty. It is a superb fudge, and it has delivered the political outcome, but the reality, which has been accepted by this Government, is that in order to solve the problem in Ireland we are staying in the—not “a”, but “the”—customs union and single market. That is what the Government basically agreed to do in December.
The right hon. Lady has hit on the heart of the problem, which is that the Government will not say what they want. However, turning to this issue, does she agree that the reason why the public are in the dark is that we have excellent independent economic forecasters in the Office for Budget Responsibility who say that they simply cannot do their job because we are all in the dark about what the Government actually want? Ought they not to rectify that?
The hon. Lady is quite right—she can be my Friend in this debate, because she makes an important point. What responsible Governments do, quite properly, is to say to impartial, objective officials, “Right, these are the options. Cost them out, or assess them, and so on and so forth,” and yet bizarrely the Government did not put forward their own preferred option. What on earth does that say about our Government’s position? What further evidence does anybody want that they have not worked out their position? They have got to do that, because at the end of March the European Union will publish what its position is going to be, and there is every chance that our Government will still be messing about, fighting off hard Brexiteers and not grasping the nettle and doing their duty by the country.
I have huge respect for the right hon. Lady on this issue. Does she agree that we would not be hearing any of this stuff about the reports being negotiation-sensitive if the Government could lay their hands on a single report that said there would be economic benefits to Brexit, rather than economic costs?
This is an astonishing idea. The right hon. Gentleman—he is definitely my Friend today—seems to be saying that if there was a report saying that going off the cliff or some other madness would be beneficial to our economy, the Government might publish it, because it would help in their dealings with the hard Brexiteers. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.
What the Government have done, to their credit, is to ask the objective analysts to go away and look at the options, albeit apparently not their preferred option—although we have made that point, so I will move swiftly on—and they have come back, having no doubt done their job, as they always do, thoroughly, openly, honestly and exceptionally well. We now know that these reports were prepared, and apparently some Ministers have already seen them. According to reports, I think in The Times, Cabinet Ministers were to go and see them under lock and key. They were to read them, they were not to take in their phones and most certainly not to make any notes, and they were to inform themselves, so that finally our Cabinet could perhaps come to a conclusion about what we want from Brexit. Yet apparently these very same reports are so useless and flawed—they are based on weird modelling and cannot be trusted—that they have to remain top secret. They were not good enough—or were they?—to inform Cabinet members. It is nonsense.
The Minister said that these analyses are provisional, incomplete and not fit for purpose, so is the right hon. Lady as amazed as I am that the Prime Minister should conduct phase 1 of the negotiations with no economic analysis? No wonder we are the laughing stock of Europe.
Well, no, because I thought the conclusion to phase 1 was actually quite good, so I am certainly not going to undermine it, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point.
Many hon. Members sat through the many hours of debate during the Committee stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and, at the end of it, one thing on which those of us who take a sensible approach to this all agreed was that we had had some terrific debates. The dreadful irony was this: if only we had had those bloomin’ debates before the European Union referendum. What is undoubtedly happening is that people are becoming better informed. They understand now the huge complexity that Brexit is. They realise that there are serious consequences to our decision to leave the European Union, and that is why they are darned worried, not just for themselves but for their children and their grandchildren. People have a right to know. My constituents who work at Boots have a right to know the consequences for them and the pharmaceutical sector, based on the different models and choices that are still available to our country. The people who own and run Freshcut Foods have a right to know about the consequences of, say, duties on imported fruit and vegetables from European countries and what those will mean to them, in the real world, doing the job that they do.
That is at the heart of all that is happening now. People want to know, because they are finding out about the promises they were made. The £350 million for the NHS is all gone; they were lied to—they were conned—on that. They were told this was going to be the quickest trade deal—I think I am right in saying they were told it would take a day and a half to do a trade deal.
We are nowhere near doing that trade deal, and we will be nowhere near doing it, because the other Brexit reality is this: we are not going to have a meaningful vote in this place—we are not—because there will not be anything meaningful to vote on. What is going to happen, unless the Government get into the right place, is that, yes, we will have an agreement on the divorce—that will be there in the withdrawal agreement—but in terms of the actual relationship we will have with the European Union once we have left, we will have a few woolly heads of agreement. That will mean pretty much nothing—not even to those of us who have spent what feels like a lifetime now looking at these options. We will have a series of heads of agreement. That is not meaningful; that does not give us the ability to decide whether this is in the interests of our constituents and our country. It will have no meaning whatever. Again, people—my Government and everybody else—have to wake up to the reality of what we are going to get in October.
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way, and I am hoping that she might say that I can be her Friend as well, but maybe the question I am about to ask will not allow that to happen. Does she think that we can have a meaningful vote in this House if that does not include the option of voting to stay in the European Union?
The right hon. Gentleman and I used to be Friends, because we used to be in coalition, so he can be my Friend today. [Interruption.] Actually, I am very proud to have served in the coalition, because it was one of the best Governments we ever had, but in any event, we will move swiftly on.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a really good point, because the other danger is that we sleepwalk into some trap that will be set—that if we do not vote for this woolly agreement, the alternative will be “off the cliff”, and, of course, there are alternatives. It would be wrong to say to the European Union, “Can we come back and negotiate?”—the EU is amazing in the way it has put up with so much nonsense and with still not knowing what our country wants—but I do not think we will be in that position. However, the EU has already made it clear that if we want to remain in the European Union, that option is still open to this country; indeed, if we want to remain a member of the single market or the customs union, that option, too, is available to our country. So, in that sense, it should be a meaningful vote.
However, let me just say this. Such is my concern as events have developed that I have come round to the very firm view that it is not just in this place that we should have a meaningful vote; the people of this country, too, are entitled to a meaningful vote. We had a referendum, and I have always respected the result and will continue so to do. However, as this Brexit reality unwinds, and as people and even Members of this House—we know that some did not even know what the customs union was—[Interruption.] Oh, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure I speak on behalf of everybody when I say it is wonderful to have you back. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We know your pain, and we all love and have great affection for you and, indeed, your family. We wish you all well.
That is the view I have come to. It is not for us to undo this EU referendum result, and we cannot; it has to be the people, and this has to be led by the people. The people are entitled not just to know the facts about Brexit but to have a say. I am forming the view, based on conversations I have had with my constituents, that many of them are now saying, “I did not realise how complex this was. I did not realise and appreciate how many cons and tricks had been played on me and how many untruths had been told. As I think about my future and my children’s future, I now want a real, meaningful say in this.”
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. She is making a truly outstanding speech, and I really commend her for it. On the point she made earlier about the ability of the United Kingdom to change its mind, does she agree that the olive branch extended by Donald Tusk and Emmanuel Macron means that it is open to this country unilaterally to change its mind and revoke the article 50 notice?
The hon. and learned Lady is right—she, too, could become my Friend for the day. In all seriousness, she is absolutely right. I am sure that it was a pure coincidence that, the day after certain members of the all-party parliamentary group on EU relations went over to Brussels, Tusk and Juncker—I am not sure whether it was Juncker, but, anyway, Members know who I mean—tweeted in the way that they did. They made it very clear that if the people—and it has to come from the people—want to change their mind, we can stay in the European Union, and if the people want to retain membership of the single market and the customs union, that option, too, will be open to us in October.
We are starting to have that very important discussion about the fact that, as I put it, the people must finish what the people have started. That is by no means a disrespectful way of looking at the first decision; the two decisions are separate, and we are talking about a review and an update or a confirmation. This is by no means about talking down to people who voted one way or the other; it is about being very mature about the fact that we have all learned a great deal in the last 18 months.
I agree with most of what the hon. Lady says. The point in all of this is that this has to come from the people. Arguably, we—as politicians and Members of Parliament—are one of the reasons why the 52% who voted to leave voted in the way they did, because they feel so disconnected from us and feel that we do not represent them. Actually, they always think their own MP is rather good; it is just that all the others are not, which is always interesting. It does not quite make sense, does it?
It is really, really important that we get this right. This has to come from the people. As the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said, they started this. We gave them the power, and we must let them still have that power and exercise it. However, as I say, my real message today is to my Government and my Prime Minister: get a grip, and let us start leading on this. They should see off those people who do not run this country and who do not represent Conservative voters or the people of this country. They should park them to one side and build a consensus, never forgetting that, if there was a free vote in this House tomorrow or next week, I believe that the majority of hon. and right hon. Members would vote certainly for EFTA, and also for the customs union. So let us now be big and brave and do the right thing by the people of this country and the generations to come.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), and I echo what she said to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on behalf of all of us in the Chamber about seeing you back in your place. We feel for you enormously.
Such is the interest in our debate today that we have been joined by a robin—[Interruption.] Not that Robin—I was thinking of the other one, which has been hopping around the Gallery.
Well, well, well, this is all rather familiar. However, as well as the despair expressed by the right hon. Lady, I feel a growing sense of puzzlement. Let me give Members just a little history. We were led to believe in the first instance that the Government had been carrying out assessments of the impact of Brexit on different sectors of the economy. Then we were assured by the Secretary of State that they had not. Now we discover that, in fact, they have, although clearly those are not the same assessments we had mistakenly been asking for before. If I understand it correctly, they are now the assessments that will be shown to Cabinet Ministers in the locked room over the next week or so.
I want to say something about what the Minister’s hon. Friend—the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker)—said yesterday. We on the remain side need to be honest and acknowledge that forecasts have been made that have proved to be spectacularly wrong. The right hon. Member for Broxtowe just referred to a forecast by the International Trade Secretary, whose precise words were that a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU should be the “easiest in human history”. In 2016, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union forecast that by September this year, the UK
“can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU.”
Well, that forecast was wrong too, and then there has been the repeated assertion by many Ministers, including the Prime Minister, that no deal is better than a bad deal. All of us know that is nonsense, because no deal is the worst possible deal of all, which merely proves that when it comes to talking about inaccurate forecasts, some Ministers live in very, very vulnerable greenhouses.
If Ministers in the Department do not trust any of the forecasts, it prompts the question: why did they bother to commission them in the first place? I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe, has tried today to soothe the no doubt ruffled feathers of his civil servants with a tweet—I do not habitually follow his tweets, but they were drawn to my attention—saying that
“I still love them and my critique is of economic method, not individuals”.
I am sure that will be of great reassurance to hard-working and professional civil servants.
Then there is the very perplexing question that it would be good to hear an answer to. What confidence should we have when the Minister said yesterday from the Dispatch Box that we do not need to worry about the gloomy forecasts, because the very same analysis shows that under every one of them, the British economy would continue to grow? How do we know that that forecast is true if it is being produced by the same people whom the Minister said from the Dispatch Box always get their forecasts wrong? It is a farce—it is a Whitehall farce.
My right hon. Friend just pointed to the extraordinary circumstance whereby we see Ministers against civil servants, and I have never seen that situation in my lifetime. Does he not agree that at the heart of this is honesty and transparency for Parliament and the public in the most important debate that we will have for generations?
I agree absolutely. Indeed, I made the point yesterday about the importance of transparency and about a lack of transparency not being in the national interest. I gently say to Ministers that trying to have a go at people who are asking questions about what analysis has been done and what it shows, and attempting to suggest that all of them are trying to undo the referendum result, is an unwise approach. I think it reveals a great defensiveness and a lack of confidence on the part of Ministers about the position that they have put the Government in.
I bring the right hon. Gentleman back to the issue of growth. Yesterday, the Minister said that all the forecasts suggest there would be some growth. Does he remember, as I do, how keen the Government were to claim that the UK was until recently the fastest-growing economy? Now, Ministers are clearly saying that if there is some growth—however small that is—it is excellent news for the United Kingdom economy.
Indeed, that is the case. Ministers have made those arguments and, of course, when the growth is better than that in any other countries, they would. However, what the analysis appears to show cannot be avoided: in all the options that it looked at, the country would be less well off than we would otherwise be.
We are told that the analysis is preliminary. Nineteen months after the referendum, how on earth can it still be preliminary—really? We are told that the people who are meant to be in charge had not seen it until two nights ago, when it is about to be shown in a locked room to members of the Cabinet. We are told, as has been said, that it does not include modelling of the Government’s preferred option. Why on earth not? The answer is a simple one: the Government do not know what their preferred option consists of. Therefore, they cannot model it.
Apart from anything else, the Government said that they really hoped with the Florence speech last October to get the European Council to move on to phase 2 of the negotiations, but we clearly were not ready then, because we now know that they had not done the modelling, and we are still not ready now, in view of what we have been told. As any teacher would understand, there are only so many times that the family dog’s eating habits can be offered as an excuse for not producing homework.
Being told graciously, as we all were yesterday, “We will give it to you eventually, when the deal has been done,” was not on. I very much welcome—I say this to the Minister in all sincerity—the fact that overnight Ministers have had a rethink and will accept the resolution. I say on behalf of the Exiting the European Union Committee—because we are buying some more lever arch files—that we will handle the material when it is given to us in the same, I hope, professional way that we handled the last lot of information, in line with the commitments I gave to the Secretary of State.
This shambles—I use the word deliberately—is a symptom of a fundamental problem that the country faces. First, the Government took decisions early on, such as leaving the customs union, leaving the single market, having nothing to do with the European Court of Justice and no free movement, without having made any assessment of what impact that would have on the British economy—none. The decisions were taken for ideological reasons, without looking at any evidence.
May I take the right hon. Gentleman one step back? Does he now share the view of many right hon. and hon. Members on the Government side that the other mistake was to trigger article 50 too early as well, and that has not helped us in our negotiations either?
In retrospect, there is force in the right hon. Lady’s argument, but since the Government chose the date on which to trigger it, we would have expected them to plan how they would be in a position to be able to negotiate what was required.
The second thing that the Government have done is to demonstrate their complete inability thus far to set out what they would like in phase 2 negotiations—that deep and special partnership. Why? It is an open secret that the Cabinet is in disagreement about the right way forward—that is not just among 35 Government Back Benchers, but inside the Cabinet. Every day we open the newspapers to find the symptoms of that inability to reach agreement spread all over the pages. Heaven knows what the people we are supposed to be negotiating with make of all this. As a result, neither this House nor the 27 other member states are any the wiser about what we or they will be asked to consider when the Government finally reaches a decision.
What is the task now? The Government need to tell us what they will be seeking. Much more importantly, they need to indicate what trade-offs they are prepared to make to achieve the things they say they want, because the choices have consequences that cannot be avoided. It is clear that the Government face, apparently with equanimity, the prospect of going into a negotiation from which, whatever they achieve, we will come away with less than we currently enjoy. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) absolutely hit the nail on the head when she said that if there was any evidence to the contrary, boy, would we have read about it already.
The Government need to face up to the consequences of their own red lines for the border in Northern Ireland. I reinforce the point that has been made, including by my hon. Friend, because the Select Committee was in Dublin last week, and we went to look at the border in December. It is not just a fudge. We could describe it as an attempt at alchemy, because the Government are hoping that they can turn the base metal of full alignment into the gold of an open border, when nobody knows how that extraordinary achievement can be brought about, given the utter contradiction between the two positions that they have set out.
The Government also continue to insist—I hope at some point they will stop, because it does not add to their credibility—that between now and the end of October this year, we can negotiate and reach agreement on all these things: trade in goods and services; security and foreign policy co-operation; policing; information sharing to fight terrorism; the regulation of medicines, aircraft and food safety; the transfer of data; the mutual recognition of qualifications; and our future role in the 30 trade agreements that the EU has negotiated on our behalf—and everything else—the Minister sitting there knows better anyone what a long list it is—and that we are going to get a final agreement by October, and by the way, even if things go well, the negotiations will not even start until March! That is why we do not know—the right hon. Member for Broxtowe was right—what will be on offer by the time we get to the end of the article 50 negotiations.
I conclude with the issue that the House is going to have to confront—and we had better start thinking now about how we are going to deal with it, because the House is going to have the final say: we are going to vote on the draft agreement. Before it does so, however, the House needs to make it clear that we will expect to know what our future relationship, when it comes to trade in goods and services, is going to be. The vague offer, come October, of a possible post-dated cheque for an unspecified agreement simply will not do. Ministers should not rely—I say this with all the force I can offer—on the House of Commons just accepting whatever they come up with, on the grounds that the alternative is no deal at all; it is not the only alternative, and if Ministers do not start exploring those alternatives pretty quickly and doing the analysis to support what the implications of those alternatives will be, they may well find that Parliament ultimately decides it will have to do it for them.
The Speaker got an ambiguous reply from me, and I will explain why in a moment, but first may I add my sympathies to those already expressed in the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, and say how delighted I am to see you back in the Chair?
I will explain why I hesitated when the Speaker asked me if I wanted to speak. First, I think—I will have to check—I agreed with every word that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) just said. I was also hugely impressed by the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). I was not at all sure, therefore, if I would try to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I did not wish to detain the House by simply repeating the arguments they gave, as other people want to speak. By my standards, therefore, I hope I shall make what might be described as a long intervention—I usually intervene for longer than other people anyway.
I want to comment on the status of these economic analyses and how one should use economic analyses, and what has been presented here. Brexiteers make a great deal in their arguments, when they try to dismiss the documents we are all going to see, of the inaccuracy of some of the documents put out at the time of the referendum. There is no doubt that the authorities then put out forecasts, in good faith, in which they overestimated the short-term consequences of the vote. It has to be said that some of those campaigning on the remain side—David Cameron and George Osborne, I am afraid, who are both friends of mine—grossly exaggerated the material they had, such that the arguments on the remain side in the national media, at times, were almost as silly as those on the leave side—on the question of money for the health service or Turks coming to this country. It was a wholly unsatisfactory campaign.
We should not exaggerate how wrong those forecasts were. The vote to leave has already made this country poorer than it would have been. The living standards of many people in this country are lower now than they would have been had we voted to remain. The vote produced an unfortunate devaluation in the pound and a surge in inflation at a time when very many people’s wages could not follow it, and that has had consequences. On the lack of any policy, I would defend my Government’s not having a policy yet on what they are trying to negotiate by pointing out that the Opposition party does not either. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) wisely declined to answer the question of whether the Labour party was in favour of staying in the customs union because he has not a clue what the Labour party’s view will be once it has settled its internal arguments—but that is a diversion.
The fact remains that we have already damaged ourselves. We are experiencing some economic growth, although it is not benefiting every section of the population, but that is because the global economy is, to everybody’s surprise, doing rather better than was expected six months ago. There is global growth. No one is quite certain why. I am certainly not, but it is beginning to look quite strong—it is strong in the United States and the European Union, and it is not too bad out in China—and as always we are benefiting from that. It was unforeseeable when the forecasts were made last summer, but now we have this strong surge, and we do not know how sustained it will be. It all looks a little fragile—there are one or two uncertainties about—but it is lifting the British economy a little, and I am glad that it is. But, because of the impact of the referendum, growth in this country is pretty feeble compared with the rest. We are the laggard in the G7. We are the laggard among the European economies against which we normally match our performance. That is the damaging consequence of the vote cast in the referendum in 2016.
I agree entirely with the hon. Lady. The Governor actually lessened the impact that the Bank forecast by taking very prompt action to minimise the consequences. He would still agree with me, however, and has done publicly, that there has still be damage to the economy already, and he has tried to quantify the effect on GDP as a whole.
I will conclude with one last point—I said I would be short—about these forecasts. I hope we get more full information from the Government as events unfold and some impact assessments of their policy, once they have decided what it is, but it is almost inevitable that the impact will be detrimental to some extent. I know of very few economists who believe in market economics at all who would say that leaving the largest, richest multinational trading agreement in the world can be anything other than, to some degree, detrimental. I look forward to someone such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), with whom I often agree on economic policy, trying to explain to me how leaving the single market and customs union can have anything but a negative impact on the economy. How on earth can tariffs and customs barriers between us and our major market on the continent—the planning permission for those lorry parks, the recruiting of those thousands of staff—have a positive effect? How can regulatory divergence, which will damage trade, particularly in goods and services, have a positive effect? Whatever the best efforts of economists in these and future papers, they will be trying to measure the detrimental effects on the British economy that this step is bound to have. The country will be poorer if it pulls out of its present economic and trading relationships with the EU. It is our duty in this House, on a cross-party basis, to do what we can to minimise the damage.
As ever, Mr Deputy Speaker, it is a pleasure and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship. It is also a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke).
In the referendum, people were asked to decide whether or not we should leave the European Union. They were not asked about the form that Brexit should take; that was not on the ballot paper. However, as was pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the choice now is about how we are to leave the European Union. There are many different options and models. We need to secure the best possible deal to protect people’s jobs and livelihoods, and we therefore need to pursue policies based on evidence, not ideology.
Let me say gently to Ministers that the debate which took place in our country about the EU referendum was one of the most divisive that I can remember. It divided the country pretty much straight down the middle. It divided cities, regions, rural areas and towns. It divided generations, and in some cases it divided families. I will admit that it divided my family: close family members voted to leave the EU, and we had many robust debates about it, although thankfully we did not fall out over it in the end.
Surely the role of the Government in the 19 months since the referendum should have been to try to unite the country again, to bring the country together, and to stand above the fray and do the right thing, rather than getting their hands dirty in the fray and levelling accusations at Members. I say to Ministers—not the thoughtful Minister from whom we heard today, but perhaps the Minister who spoke yesterday, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker)—that they should not question the integrity of Members of this House. I see it as my duty, in representing the people of Wolverhampton North East, to ensure that leaving the European Union does not make them poorer. I will hold to that very firmly, and I will not be cowed by Ministers or any other Members who tell me that I am not acting in the national interest.
Some of the extremists—or Brextremists—on the Conservative Benches advance the same arguments day after day, week after week. If any of us dares to question the mess that the Government are in, we are told that we are acting against the national interest. If we ask what impact a certain model or option for Brexit will have on our constituents, we are told that we are betraying the will of the people. Ah—the other Minister, the hon. Member for Wycombe, has entered the Chamber at a very appropriate time.
If economists, or any other trade experts, warn about the consequences of leaving the customs union or the single market, they are told that they are always wrong and it is rubbish. I am afraid that we are descending into a position in which a Government are making decisions solely on the basis of ideology, and not on the basis of evidence.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful and passionate speech. The report appears to highlight the fact that the biggest negative impact comes from the UK’s decision both to leave the customs union and to leave the single market, neither of which we have to do if we leave the European Union, and the fact is that both decisions were made without proper debate, scrutiny and the presenting of evidence in the House. Is that not interesting?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) said earlier, those options were taken off the table soon after the referendum result. They were not debated very much in the House. There were no impact assessments, or economic analyses, whatever the difference between those may be. There was no discussion about the impact of leaving the customs union and leaving the single market. What will be the impact on the car industry in our country? What will be the impact on Jaguar Land Rover, which employs thousands of people in my constituency, and on Honda, whose representatives gave evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee? They said that if we left the customs union, the delays at the border would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, and could lead to job losses. Why are we not listening to those people?
When the Secretary of State appeared before the Exiting the European Union Committee, we asked him about the automotive sector, and about the evidence presented to us by businesses. He said that
“existing trade associations tend to reflect the existing interests of existing factories, businesses and so on. They tend to be small-c conservative. In other words, they support the existing trade and do not think too much about future trade.”
Wow. Gosh. So we should not even bother to listen to the existing factories and existing businesses that employ tens of thousands of people throughout the country. Ideology will see the position in its own way. That is what we have been reduced to. If we follow the argument to its logical conclusion—my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) made this point—why should we bother to have the Treasury? Why should we bother to have a Budget? Why should we bother to set up the independent Office for Budget Responsibility? If we are going to rubbish all the experts all the time, we do not need to listen to anyone; we can simply follow our own ideology to its logical conclusion. I cannot believe that we have come to this, but we have.
Let me say this to the Government. We need a better analysis from them—a proper analysis—of the impact on the car industry of leaving the customs union. I am also very concerned to read in the leaked reports about the impact on my own constituency and my own region, the west midlands. This is a serious point. I want to know what more is behind the analysis that suggests that the midlands, Northern Ireland and parts of the north will be hardest hit, and I also want to know what exactly is the solution to keeping the border invisible between Northern Ireland and the Republic. When the Select Committee was in Dublin last week, we were told that the Government proposed that regulatory alignment, as agreed in December, would apply to 142 areas, not six, as the Secretary of State told the Committee.
I am afraid that the Government need to take this issue much more seriously. I am sick of the blunder. I am sick of the arrogance that tells us that everything will be okay. Where is the evidence that the trade agreements that the Government want to forge with other countries around the world will replace the jobs and the other benefits of the trade that we already have with our nearest neighbours in the European Union?
Let me begin, Mr Deputy Speaker, by associating myself with what has been said by Members in all parts of the House. We are so glad to see you back in your place.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House and agreeing to publish the statements. I think that, on the whole, transparency is a good thing. I also join in the praise that has been given to the civil servants. In my experience, they are fantastic. My daughter is a civil servant and I know how hard they work.
It is a shame that the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), who has just left the Chamber, was unable to say, when pressed: whatever the results of those statements were, what would be the position of the official Opposition? I think we all accept that forecasts vary: they have a range of outcomes and a considerable degree of uncertainty is built into them. However, the official Opposition have been unable to say today what their position would be on the basis of the figures that appeared in any statement, whether the implications for the country were negative or positive. They are unable to tell the millions of people who voted for their party, including those in their constituencies, whether they would change their position. Would they, as a Liberal Democrat asked earlier, call for a second referendum? Would they call for us to go back into the European Union? They have been unable to say. I think that they are letting down their voters and I think that that is a shame.
I am a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. We have spent considerable time looking in detail at economic analysis covering a range of sectors. Let me say at the outset that I am not an ideologue. Indeed, I do not think that there is a label that describes me. I am definitely not a Brexiteer. I did not campaign on either side of the referendum and I was not in the House then. I ran a small business for more than 20 years before I came here. I spent my entire career working with other small businesses in Birmingham and the west midlands. I can say to Members in all parts of the House that, when running a business, there is no such thing as certainty. Certainty in business is an illusory concept. We are trying to get certainty from economic forecasts for the Government to set out a negotiating position. That is an inherently impossible position. There is no such thing as certainty—as any entrepreneur or small businessperson will say, if asked.
When my business went bust and we had to start it all over again, I did not expect the Government to give me certainty to start my business again. I just got on and did it because I had to pay the mortgage and feed my children. That is what businesses up and down this country do. They deal with ambiguity and make contingency plans.
The hon. Gentleman is right that businesses create forecasts, but they also understand and accept that in any forecast and in any market there is uncertainty and they have to develop contingency plans—alternative plans in order to make their business successful. If he were doing business with the United States under Donald Trump and wanted to export, does the hon. Gentleman think there would be certainty in that? I would argue that there is not, but many successful businesses trade with the United States.
The one thing businesses want—this is the message I and others have received for a very long time now—is certainty. Of course they know that things can change. Does my hon. Friend not accept that we are in a situation at the moment where British business is going to want to know absolutely that the transition arrangements are firm and will be met to give them that certainty by March? It is in March that they start to make their plans.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Absolutely: when we have spoken to businesses in the Select Committee hearings, of course they want certainty, but the point I am making is that it cannot be provided, whether it is Brexit or not, in any economic situation to the extent that some people seem to want.
I agree that there are various areas where uncertainty can exist, but there is legal uncertainty when a business enters any new market or develops any new product. That always exists and businesses need to take that into account. The debate today seems to be about the need to provide certainty for businesses. It would be very desirable to provide certainty, but it cannot ever be done in quite the way suggested by forecasts and economic analysis.
I think it is agreed across the Chamber that we cannot create absolute certainty for absolutely every situation. This is why we have modelling, where uncertainties are already built in, and that is what we are talking about: different scenarios with different built-in possibilities and uncertainties. But that at least needs to be done, with the work published.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I think the Government and the Minister have agreed to publish this, so businesses can look at it and form their own view. However, I am certain that every single business I know—small growing businesses—will look at that but not take it as being handed down on tablets of stone. They will seek a range of outcomes and make their plans based on that.
We clearly have a difficult task in these negotiations. It is a negotiation—it depends on both sides. There are calls in this House for the Government to set out exactly what is going to be achieved. Again, that cannot be done because so much depends on what the other side will do. It is a negotiation that involves two parties—two sides.
I started by saying that there is no label that comfortably sits on me. I am not driven by ideology. What I am driven by is, genuinely, the wisdom of our voters and constituents—the wisdom of crowds and the wisdom of democracy. We might not like it. It might make it very difficult for our Prime Minister and Government. They definitely have a difficult and extremely challenging task to deliver in the best interests of this country. My personal view is that I would like to back them to get on with it and deliver in the best interests of our constituents.
First, may I add to the earlier comments about how good it is to see you back in your place, Mr Deputy Speaker? It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean).
The debate has been conducted in a cordial and respectful manner. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of previous debates about the impact assessments and many of our Brexit debates, when Members on the Government Benches have repeatedly impugned the motives and questioned the patriotism of Members not only on my side of the House, but on their own Back Benches. This kind of conduct has to stop because debate in this Chamber cannot function on that basis.
When we take our Oath of Allegiance of office, we swear to act in the national interest, in faithful service to those who elected us, and we do so on the understanding that everyone else in this place does the same. Although I may believe that other Members err in what they hold to be in the best interests of our country, I would never for one moment doubt or question the sincerity with which they hold those views, I would never question their patriotism and I would never impugn their motives.
The contest of ideas that illuminates and enlivens this Chamber is one of different solutions, predicated on a common understanding that we all place the interests of our country first, even if we differ over what best serves those interests. Without that common understanding, our democracy breaks down.
That is just one part of a worrying shift in our political culture, however: one where parliamentarians simply trying to do our job are dismissed as traitors or saboteurs; and where the civil service is told, “We’ve had enough of experts,” because they do not give Ministers the answers they want. The job of civil servants is not to tell Ministers what they want to hear. It is to tell them what they need to hear—to speak truth to power.
Parliamentarians requesting information are not betraying our country. We are simply trying to do our job and stand up for our constituents. So when we call for the release of these documents, it is not about undermining the process; it is about improving the process. Parliamentary government requires an informed legislature. That means we must have access to this information. It is not good enough to tell us to wait until October, because by then it will be too late, as we are entering a crunch-point in the negotiations right now.
Earlier this week, we saw the EU agree its transition negotiating guidelines in just two minutes and, as we have seen, once Mr Barnier gets his marching orders he does not deviate from them. In about six weeks the EU will agree the negotiating directives for the final trade deal phase of the withdrawal talks. We should let that sink in for a moment: in six weeks, we will be asked to make the most important choice in our post-war history.
We talk of the fantasy Canada plus plus plus, but these leaked reports give the game away. They do not have anything on a Canada plus plus plus scenario, because such a scenario does not exist. It cannot exist. The “plus plus plus” is presumably supposed to mean the services sector, which accounts for over 80% of the British economy, but just two weeks ago at the Brexit Committee we heard from Christophe Bondy, the lead Canadian negotiator on CETA—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—who said there is no way for services to be part of a CETA-type deal. The fact is that a Canada-style deal would be about as much use to this country as a chocolate teapot.
It is crystal-clear that the most seamless and secure Brexit—the Brexit that is best for Britain—is an EFTA-a EEA-based Brexit. That is the only Brexit that protects jobs and opportunities, while also delivering control and influence. An EEA-EFTA Brexit ensures maximal access to the single market, being an internal market with the majority of the single market. It therefore protects jobs and investment, strengthens our hand in taking on multinationals such as Google and Amazon when they fail to pay their fair share, and protects vital workplace rights.
One of the key issues in the referendum was the free movement of labour and, as I shall go on to explain, there is an important provision in the EEA agreement that enables the application of an emergency brake on free movement. That is an important distinction between the EEA and the single market and it is one that we should look at seriously.
An EEA-EFTA-based Brexit would let us take back more control. It would end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and direct effect, ensuring that British courts had sovereignty. It would also allow us to shape the rules of the internal market through the EEA joint committees and veto those that did not work, with the right of reservation as enshrined in the EEA agreement. An EEA-EFTA Brexit would allow us to reform free movement by triggering articles 112 and 113, following the protocol 15 precedent, potentially allowing us to introduce a quota-based system to manage the inward flow of labour.
Above all else, an EEA-EFTA Brexit would allow us to reunite our deeply divided country. The Brexit referendum was won on a narrow margin, but the result was clear, and that was why I voted to trigger article 50. The Prime Minister then called an election, hoping to secure a mandate for a hard Brexit, but she had her majority cut substantially. The country said no to a hard Brexit. Any rational Government would accept that decision and commit to a sensible Brexit, rather than ploughing on through this fantasy hard Brexit land of rainbows and unicorns. The country said no to a hard Brexit. It said yes to a Brexit that bridges the divide. Our future relationship with our most important commercial, diplomatic and political partner is on a burning platform, and we have only until the end of March to put out those fires. I therefore urge the Prime Minister and her Cabinet to show some leadership, get off the fence and commit unequivocally to an EEA-EFTA Brexit.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I also welcome you back to your place? You are much loved in this Chamber, and you have been deeply missed.
The best thing to do with these forecasts is not to hand them to the Brexit Committee but to put them in the nearest waste bin. I will explain why. I backed remain in the referendum, partly on account of the Treasury’s forecasts in April 2016 setting out what it thought would happen in the case of a vote to leave the European Union. It provided two scenarios: “shock” and “severe shock”. There were no categories entitled “success” or “continued economic brilliance for our country”. The “shock” scenario predicted recession and a sharp rise in unemployment. It also predicted that GDP would be 3.6% lower and that unemployment would be 500,000 higher, with 74,000 jobs being lost in the south-east alone. It wanted to ensure that everyone understood how badly every single region of the country would fare.
My hon. Friend is making a great point. We all remember “Project Fear”. Will he confirm beyond doubt that those Treasury predictions related not to effects that would happen after Brexit but to what would happen immediately after we voted to leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am looking at the forecast of 500,000 more unemployed, and it relates to the beginning of 2018. The Treasury produced a little chart showing just how bad it would be, how joblessness would rise and how if people did not vote the right way they would lose their jobs and be visited by recession.
Under the second category—“severe shock”—it was forecast that GDP would be 6% lower and that unemployment would increase by 800,000. Those forecasts made me think that there was a big risk involved, and that we ought to back remain. I advised my constituents to back remain, but they advised me that they did not agree and that they wanted to leave, by a margin of about two thirds. So I thought, “Well, we will make do, and try to secure the economy as best we can, because things are obviously going to be really dreadful and I am really worried about the employment situation.” But what has actually happened? I have not seen a recession. In fact, growth has continued in this country. There are 32.2 million people in employment, and 1.4 million unemployed. That is an unemployment rate of 4.3%, and unemployment is at a 42-year low. Rather than going up by 500,000 or 800,000, it has in fact fallen by 250,000.
We do not hear about that from Opposition Members, do we? We do not hear them saying, “Well, wasn’t that Treasury forecast completely and utterly wrong?” All we hear them saying is, “Don’t be mean to civil servants who come up with forecasts that are hopelessly wrong.” We do not hear them asking why those forecasts were wrong. There has been no recession, and GDP and employment have continued to grow. It is hard to think of any part of that dossier that was correct. Indeed, it is now notorious as the “Project Fear” dossier.
I have asked questions about this in the Treasury Committee, of which I am a member, and every time I ask a Bank of England official or a Treasury official about it, they shuffle nervously and sometimes give a little cough. Sometimes they say, “The reason we did not have a massive rise in unemployment and a recession was that the Bank of England cut interest rates by 0.25%.” Interest rate cuts can be assimilative, but I am not sure that a 0.25% cut really made that much difference to 500,000 jobs. I think that the Treasury’s predictions in April 2016 were wrong, and if they were wrong before, the chances are that they could well be wrong again.
I, too, was worried about “Project Fear”, and I wrote to the Treasury after the referendum asking it to name and shame the 80% of economists who had claimed that there would be absolute meltdown if we voted to leave the European Union. The Treasury refused to name and shame them. I wanted their names because I wanted to ensure that they never got a job anywhere near government because their predictions were so bad, but the reason that the Treasury would not name and shame them was that they were already working there. They are the architects of this latest report.
Again, my hon. Friend makes a forceful point, and these people are not just in the Treasury.
The shadow Secretary of State—a knight of the realm, I should add—was kind enough to come down from St Pancras to see us in Dover recently. Grandly, he came down to tell the people of Dover that we ought to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union. Everyone understood what he meant. He meant that we should stay in the single market and the customs union, that we should continue to have a trade policy made in Brussels rather than in Britain, and that we should continue to have uncontrolled EU immigration into this country with completely open borders. My constituents are very clear on one thing: they do not want uncontrolled immigration into this country. It has not helped them or their families, and they do not feel that it is helped their prosperity. They do not want trade policy to be made in Brussels. They want it to be made in Britain. That is why this Government are right to be leaving the single market and the customs union.
This is not a question of forecasting; it is a question of a mandate. That mandate was handed to us by our electors when they voted to leave the European Union. I understand that there are those on the other side who wanted to remain and who still want that. I respect that. I do not really respect their constantly re-fighting the referendum, but I respect the fact that they feel passionately that we should be back in Europe. However, that is not my mandate from my constituents, and it is not the mandate given to a lot of Opposition Members who represent constituencies in Wales and in the north of this country, who ought to spend a bit more time talking to their electors on the doorstep and a bit less time at grand dinner parties enjoying elite establishment-type conversation about how terrible it is all going to be.
Let me move on from Hampstead to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean). She was absolutely right that we cannot predict the future, so why is it that the EU-funded CBI so passionately wants Britain to stay within the single market and within the customs union and says that businesses do, too? The answer is that it loves the regulation produced by Brussels, which helps to keep things in their place, but we need to become more competitive as a country. If we become more competitive, we will grow more quickly.
I will not give way as I have given way twice already.
The Treasury analysis was wrong in the first place. The Treasury did not predict containerisation or innovations such as the internet. We are about to have an automation revolution, with cars driving themselves, and a revolution in solar power, which will reduce our unit energy bills, and this country is well placed to become much more competitive than any Treasury forecast would predict, but we can all see that that kind of future is coming down the road. To make sure that we embrace that future, this country needs maximum freedom, maximum discretion and the maximum ability to diverge from the policies and laws of the European Union and to embrace the wider world.
In the future, 90% of global economic growth will not come from the European Union, but from the world outside the EU. Over the past 40 years, it is an historical fact that the EU’s share of global GDP has fallen from 30% to just 15%. That is relative decline. We do not need to see relative decline. The future for this nation is global.
It is a pleasure to be in this debate under your chairship, Madam Deputy Speaker. I normally find it a pleasure to debate the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), but being referred to as an “elite” by a representative of the Conservative party sticks in my craw. Coming from an ordinary background and having fought to get here to speak on the behalf of my constituents, who take all kinds of views on the economy, it pains me to be attacked and accused of being part of some kind of elite that is unconnected from my constituents. That is a disgraceful way to conduct this debate.
I want to make two simple points. The idea that all forecasts are wrong and that everything will be all right in the end is a myth. It is the easiest thing in the world to stand up here and say, “Blame the economists. Blame the forecasters. This is all crystal ball stuff,” and the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), gave us an excellent example of that kind of nonsense yesterday. An economic forecast is a set of assumptions and a set of data for the current state of the world and then a long sum that allows us to make some conclusions about what particular circumstances might mean for GDP, employment and a range of other economic variables. It is just maths.
The hon. Gentleman just made my point for me. It is just maths. It is clear and transparent. There is a set of assumptions, a set of data and a set of conclusions. If he thinks that some of those assumptions or some of the data are garbage, it is up to him and those who agree with him to show their working. All that they have to do is do the maths better than the forecasters. We do not have to have a stupid row about whether forecasters get everything wrong all the time, with people saying that we should not believe them anyway. We just have to be transparent and show our working and then we can disagree honourably and openly, rather than making constant ad hominem attacks against people who are not here to defend themselves.
To be frank, I have criticised how economics has been conducted in the past, and I agree with some criticisms of the traditional assumptions made in economics, but this debate is not about that. This is about whether we ought to know about the economic consequences of the various options before the Government, and it is certain that we need Government economists to model various outcomes. The last person to have a massive pop at economic forecasting was our friend George Osborne. I remember well that he loved to tear a strip off the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s economic forecasts, thinking that it was a great old argument to accuse the then Labour Government of fiddling the figures. What did George Osborne do? He set up the Office for Budget Responsibility so that we would have independent forecasts, and I will return to that when I conclude my remarks.
I caution Members against making the kind of remarks that we heard earlier in this debate—that things will somehow be okay in the long run, and that short-term forecasts and estimates of the fall in GDP do not really matter because things will all work out in the end. All that will obviously be true if we wait long enough, but how long will we have to wait? I urge Government Members to consider not just the “it will be all right in the end” point of view, but the damage done in the meantime. The past shows us that we cannot just wait forever. If a regional economy is de-industrialised and damaged, we know how long it takes to recover. Economists call it hysteresis—the act of scarring. If a factory in a town is shut down, that town may never recover economically. That is why this is not just about the long term. Brexit has the capacity to exacerbate inequality severely and significantly, so we cannot accept that things will be all right in the end.
We need proper modelling of not just the global effect on GDP or the effect on employment, but of the effect of the Brexit proposals on each and every town in our country. The OBR has asked the Government on numerous occasions for a statement of policy so that it can make a forecast and model it. The spring statement is coming up, so I say to the Minister, as I said yesterday, that he should do the decent thing—do what George Osborne would have wanted—and give the OBR a statement of policy and let it be modelled. Then we can all see what the Government’s Brexit has in store for our country.
I want to make a few points about the politics of all this and what that says about our politics. I do not need to go over the pantomime of the Government saying that there were economic assessments in excruciating detail, then that there were none at all, and then that there were two lever arch files. That has all been well documented. We then saw this week’s report, and what has the response been? Yesterday, the Minister turned up at the Dispatch Box to rubbish the Government’s own document and to attack the civil service and the Bank of England in tones more hostile than I have ever heard a Minister use. He capped it all by telling us that discussing such things was really not in the national interest and that it would undermine our negotiating position. The first thing that we can learn from this saga is that winging it has become a point of principle for those in charge. I do not know whether we reached this point through carelessness, a tendency to busk or something worse, but the way that things have been handled has been extremely corrosive of trust in the Government and has left people asking not only about what is known, but what is being hidden.
The documents say that in every scenario modelled, the country will be poorer than it would otherwise be, with the effect being felt most keenly in sectors such as chemicals, clothing, manufacturing, food and drink, cars and retail, and felt most deeply in the west midlands, the north-east and Northern Ireland. Those sectors and those parts of the country collectively employ millions of people and generate billions in tax receipts for our public services. If the lower growth depicted in the documents transpired, we would have lower incomes and a lower standard of living than would otherwise be the case.
How should we react to this? My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) is correct. If the Government had a forecast showing economic benefits from Brexit, we would not hear these arguments about negotiation sensitivity. It has been said far too much that those who ask questions are somehow undermining the national interest. Ministers are trying to create a world in which they are the sole owners of information, and in which the public and Parliament are allowed to see that information only when Ministers decide.
This is not just a conventional political argument; it is an attempt to downgrade the role of representative democracy. The irony is not hard to see, because the real danger to the national interest comes not from asking questions about the economics of Brexit but from pursuing a policy that we know will make the country poorer than it otherwise would have been, in order to satisfy the nationalist ideology driving the project. It comes from putting the appeasement of a faction within a political party above the leadership task of securing the greatest prosperity for the greatest number of people. The Government are governed not by the analysis but by those political imperatives, which is the real point.
Those of us who want to see the information do not want to see it because we are necessarily saying that the forecasts are correct to every decimal point. That is not really why Ministers do not want to publish the forecasts or do not want us to see them. The exam question for them is not the economic consequences of Brexit but how to keep the right wing of the Conservative party happy.
The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who is no longer in her place, told us the other day that there are 35 “hard Brexiteers”. The reason why the Government rubbish the economics is that, for them, it is not about the economics. My plea is for honesty and for Ministers to say, and to admit, that they actually do not care, first and foremost, about the economics of Brexit. This is about putting politics above the economics. It is about keeping the Tory party together and, in particular, it is about appeasing the right wing of the Tory party. I cannot think of anything that downgrades the national interest more than that.
This has been an interesting debate, and I appreciate the intent behind it, but we have to be a bit more basic in our expectations. Everybody with any sense of how the world works, or even the tiniest ability to listen to experts, knows that leaving the EU is a disaster in slow motion. It is an omnishambles.
Like a train in a spaghetti western running on to a half-collapsed bridge, we know that the plunge is coming, but the people driving the train are shovelling more coal into the boiler—they have never looked over the side and they are fairly sure the train can make the jump to safety on the other side. Frankly, the blank refusal to look at what is actually happening makes blind faith look like scepticism.
The assertion that we will trade jam with China and scones with Brazil to make up for loss of access to the world’s biggest barrier-free marketplace, and the claim that 27 countries will be crippled without our expertise, is madness, as the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who is no longer in the Chamber, said.
I do not know what is in the tea in Whitehall, but it is pretty strong. If the analysis is anything like as rubbish as the policy position, its value, as has already been said, will be questionable, but I agree with Labour that it should be published. I am happy to hear that we will get to see the analysis, but it should go further. The people who put us here, and who pay for everything that gets done here and in our names elsewhere, are entitled to know just how much ignorance is at the heart of Government strategy and what the Government’s best forecast is of just how much disaster we are facing.
We all know there is a cliff edge, but none of us knows how high the cliff is. We have seen some analysis, most pertinently from the Scottish Government, and no one is predicting benefits. The best that anyone says is that there might be some way to ameliorate the worst effects, some way to make the pain a little less.
Leaving the EU is bad; walking away from the customs union and the single market is worse. Voters had many reasons for voting to leave. I have heard people offer different reasons, but none of them reckoned that we would end up with better trading relations. The people who will have to suffer the blunt trauma of this exit deserve the scant respect of having these forecasts opened up to scrutiny.
Labour’s motion calls for Members to be allowed to see the forecasts, and I acknowledge the Government’s movement, but I regard that movement as only a good first step on the way to everyone having sight of the forecasts. Frankly, I do not understand why the Labour motion is so narrowly drawn. In fact, I cannot for the life of me understand why there is so little opposition to exiting the EU, the single market and the customs union among Labour Members.
I appreciate there was a substantial leave vote in many of the seats that Labour worries about, and that there was a bit of a UKIP vote against a fair number of Labour MPs, but I cannot understand why an entire party would abdicate the responsibility of leading. Contrary to the Tony Blair doctrine, politics is not always about finding out where people are already heading in order to try to lead them there; sometimes we have to stand and say, “It is this way.” Sometimes we have to say that we believe something is the right thing to do, and the right thing to do now is surely to seek to protect, to the greatest extent possible, our membership of the single market and the customs union.
As we are where we are—heading down a track that comes to an abrupt and uncompromising end—the Government should at least have the courtesy of letting us see what they think are the best-case and worst-case scenarios. On courteous behaviour, I ask the Government to confirm that the analysis will be sent to the devolved Administrations at the same time as it goes to the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee.
The public should also be offered the courtesy of a glance at the research. We are told by the Brexit Department that everything is going swimmingly and will be all right if we just have enough faith and patience, so I cannot see why there would be any reluctance to publish the intellectual musings of the Brexit Secretary and the underpinning, in-depth research that I am sure went into those musings.
All might be for the best in the best of all possible Brexits, but we have no way of knowing what kind of Brexit is heading our way, what the great vision of the Government is or what kind of economic disaster zone is heading our way. I have seen nothing plausible to counter those who say that the economic outlook is almost apocalyptic—
Being Welsh, I enjoy a leak, but when does a leaker become a whistleblower? Although we have to take precautions, I would contend that the information is in the public interest and should be in the public arena. The Government say this information is unreliable because they have not finished their economic analysis, so I wonder why we have ended up in a situation in which the Prime Minister appears to be going into a negotiation with no idea of the economic impact of different scenarios even in phase 1, particularly in relation to the Irish border.
It appears that the Government are intent on keeping secret any information that is put together, which reminds us all of what Keynes said: “When the facts change, I change my mind.” The Government want to conceal the facts so that people do not see the awful truth of Brexit and of what it will mean to the economy.
Of course, people can see with their own eyes the damage that has already been done. Every family will have to pay £1,000 for the divorce bill. The London School of Economics has said that inflation is 2.7% instead of 1.7%, because of devaluation, which is costing every worker a week’s pay each year. We are now at the bottom of the G7 for growth, having once been at the top, and we have growth only because there is global growth. What is more, people and businesses know there will be a two-year transition period. People and businesses around the country want to know what the sectoral analysis is. In Wales, where 70% of exports are to the EU and where there are 25,000 jobs in Swansea bay, there is great concern. If we face a cliff edge and no deal, the steel in south Wales will be decimated by the Chinese, and the agricultural industry will be decimated by any trade deal with New Zealand. We therefore need to know the facts and to have a vote in this place in October. People should have the final say on the deal on the table, and the sooner we get this information, the better.
There are benefits and opportunities outlined in this paper, contrary to what people have said. Those opportunities have been identified as the opportunities to deregulate environmental, worker and other standards. People in my constituency and elsewhere are worried about the fact that workers’ rights will be reduced to reduce business costs; that the Government have been taken to court on numerous occasions by the EU for poor air quality; and that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is saying we will have only recycled or reusable plastics in 2042, whereas the date for the EU is 2030.
We are worried that all our standards will fall below EU standards, and that we will give away public health safeguards and food standards in our dealings with the United States. This is not what people voted for. People want to have on the table in front of them precisely what this will mean for their families, regions and countries. The Government are intent on denying us that information. They expect us all to go into closed rooms and not to disclose outside them what they have already said is not reliable data. It is time for them to come clean, and for us to have clarity of where we are going and the data on which we are basing our decisions.
The reality is that the Government do not know where they are going. We are told that in conversations between the Prime Minister and Mrs Merkel the latter asks, “What do you want?” and our Prime Minister says, “What can you offer me?” There is a circular dialogue, with nobody knowing what they want. We know that the EU27 will defend their interests, and defend the integrity of the single market and the customs union. We have a choice before us. It is my considered opinion that as the facts emerge we should think again. This is not what people voted for when they voted to leave; they have a right now to have a look at the deal on the table and they should have the opportunity to have the option of staying in the EU if they do not like what they see. If someone orders a steak in a restaurant and gets a bit of chewed up bacon, which is the best we can hope for from this Government, they should have the right to send it back. People should have the final say and the Government should come clean.
It is a pleasure to wind up this debate. It is one of a series that reflect the historic period this is for our country. In the decisions we are making, we are shaping the future of this country for generations to come. Nobody in this House should underestimate that responsibility. It is unfortunate that today’s debate appears to have been largely boycotted by both the mainstream Conservative party and, unusually, by the ideologues of the European Research Group, with the exception of its two former chairs, who were careful to flank the Minister in his opening remarks.
I guess that we had much of the real debate yesterday, in response to the urgent question tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), so I want to make reference to some of those comments, too. There have been moments during the past couple of days when the debate has risen to meet the responsibility that we have to the country, but too often it has fallen short. Accusing Members of being saboteurs or mutineers, or of thwarting the will of the British people, for wanting information released is as unhelpful as it is dishonest; this is a little ironic coming from people who have spent much of the past 43 years seeking to overturn the will of the British people as expressed even more strongly in 1975. Releasing information is not about whether we leave the EU, as the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) argued yesterday—that was settled when this House voted to trigger article 50. The debate now is about how we leave, and clearly a small minority in this House are so dogmatic in their hostility to the EU that they would crash out at any cost. But they are, as the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) pointed out, a very small minority. So it falls to the majority of us in this House to ensure that that does not happen, and being provided with the information that we need to inform our decisions is crucial.
The Opposition are therefore pleased that the Government have recognised that that majority would have found its voice this afternoon and supported our motion, and they have therefore pre-empted this by accepting the proposal we have put before the House. However, let me seek reassurance on the nature of the release of those papers. The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), set out terms along the lines of those set out on the last occasion—this very much has a sense of déjà vu—but he will know that those documents were rewritten before they were released. So I hope that the Minister who concludes this debate will confirm that the papers to which this motion refers will be released in full and unamended. That should not be a problem because they are already in the public arena.
The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester, in opening the debate, described the papers as “work in progress”. In order that we do not have to keep repeating this farce, will Ministers commit to releasing the final versions of the papers following the discussions with members of the Cabinet, which, apparently, they were prepared for? Will they also commit to releasing future analyses as they are completed, so that this Parliament can fulfil our responsibility to make informed decisions?
In yesterday’s discussion, it was said that we would weaken our negotiating hand by sharing assessments and that the EU27 would never do such a foolish thing. Oddly, the EU does not seem to see it that way: the European Parliament has published dozens of impact assessments, on a range of sectors and areas; and a number of departments of the Commission have made their Brexit readiness documents available. With a quick search, I was able to find on the internet the Swedish Government’s assessment of the impact on borders and trade, the Danish Government’s report on the fishing industry, the German Economic Ministry’s assessment of the impact of a hard Brexit on German GDP and the Irish Finance Minister’s “Getting Ireland Brexit Ready” document. The transparency that other Parliaments and other Governments are giving to their people should therefore be replicated by our Government.
Without wanting to add to the discomfort of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester, at the praise heaped on him by the right hon. Member for Broxtowe, I want to welcome the different approach taken today by him in his opening remarks. It marked a sharp contrast with that adopted by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe yesterday. Denouncing the work of his own civil servants is both unacceptable and dangerous. Does he suggest that the Government should adopt the same approach to all economic assessments? Should we disregard the work of the Department for Transport on infrastructure investment or the modelling done by the Department for Work and Pensions? Should we just reject any economic analysis that suggests there may be post-Brexit options that might not offer the sunny uplands that he promised in a previous life? I have to say that, yesterday, it sometimes looked as if he was not certain whether he was speaking for the Government, or from where his heart is as a former chair of the European Research Group.
The hon. Member for Worcester said today that the end relationship that the Government want has not been modelled. Clearly, that needs to be done, but there is a crucial first step: they need to say where they want to be. As a former DExEU Minister said in another place yesterday,
“there are still no clear answers to those basic, critical questions. All we hear day after day are conflicting, confusing voices.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 1423.]
That option needs to be realistic and honest. In today’s debate and yesterday, there was lots of talk about respecting the British people, and that is absolutely right, but it is about more than respecting the outcome of the referendum. We fulfilled that responsibility by triggering article 50. It is about being honest with the British people about the journey on which we have now embarked, consequent to triggering article 50. It is about setting out the options—realistic options—and sharing the consequences of the different choices available. And there are different choices. There is no evidence that the British people want the extreme Brexit favoured by the European Research Group, and quite a lot of evidence to the contrary.
Those who campaigned so hard for a referendum on our membership of the European Union said that we should trust the people. Now, they should trust them with the information on the consequences of the options before us. They also argued for the importance of parliamentary sovereignty. Now, they should accept that too. The British people have a right to know, and we as their representatives have a duty to know. As the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), said yesterday:
“It’s time for evidence, not dogma, to show the way. We must act for our country’s best interests, not ideology & populism, or history will judge us harshly. Our country deserves no less”.
He is right. The Government need to respond to our motion today not just by accepting it, but by honouring it in full.
This has been a great debate, and I am grateful to all the right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part. I apologise to those whose speeches I was not able to hear today; I know they were listened to closely, and I look forward to reading them in Hansard.
I am sure that we are all proud to be part of one of the world’s oldest parliamentary democracies. It is right that Parliament holds the Government to account for the decisions they make, but Parliament should be careful not to pursue a course of action that would harm Britain’s national interest, or one that would jeopardise the UK’s prospects during this crucial period in her history.
In drafting their motion, hon. Members have highlighted the need for material to be kept strictly confidential and unpublished during the negotiations, and we are grateful for that; but I cannot emphasise enough the importance of maintaining that position, in the national interest. In seeing the analysis, Members of the House will be sharing in the responsibility and obligation that the Government have to ensure the security of negotiation-sensitive materials.
We have reiterated many times that the publication of negotiation-sensitive information would be fundamentally detrimental to the UK’s negotiating position. We would risk undermining the hard work of our tireless officials, seeking to achieve the best deal for the UK in Brussels. The civil service is, quite properly, doing a huge amount of work to support the Government as phase 2 of the negotiations gets under way. As part of that work, analysis is being done as we define the end state. A first draft of that work was being looked at, and Ministers provided comments and asked for further work to be done, and that is the right process.
At this point, I wish to take on some opening remarks in which it was suggested that I had said that this analysis was rubbish. I said no such thing. It was suggested that I had been disrespectful to civil servants. I did no such thing. In fact, I paid tribute to our excellent officials three times in my remarks yesterday, and I am very happy to work with such high-quality, dedicated, intelligent officials, applying themselves to the task at hand irrespective of how they voted at the referendum. To pick up on the themes explored by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) about the conduct of the debate, I wish to state on the record, in the light of today’s press coverage, my admiration both for the Cabinet Secretary and for the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, who I am absolutely sure are carrying forward the Government’s policy diligently and properly. They do not deserve the criticism they have received in the press.
In making the critique I made yesterday, I relied on three things: the caveats that Members will see on the face of the analysis itself, historical experience, and my own long-held beliefs, which I believe are well founded—if I do say so myself. I relied on arguments that I have made in this House throughout my years here, whether in the Chamber or in the Treasury Committee, and I certainly do not resile from what I have said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) picked up on the theme of uncertainty. The point here is not to rubbish all analysis, but to do what I suggested at the end of my remarks yesterday—to ensure that we have a healthy scepticism in this Chamber for reports and for analysis of economics based on the things to which I have referred. Parliament has rightly agreed in this House that Ministers have a duty not to publish anything that could risk exposing our negotiating position. We have an obligation to the people of this country to ensure that we strive to achieve the best possible deal for the UK. Forcing the publication of this analysis would put that at risk. Despite the repeated assertions of Members of this House, this draft document is not an impact assessment or a statement of Government policy; it is a very preliminary draft only seen by DExEU Ministers this week and does not constitute a meaningful commentary on the expected outcome of the negotiations.
As I attested to yesterday, the document has been circulated only to test ideas and design a viable framework for the analysis of our exit from the European Union. As we have said repeatedly, this work is constantly evolving. The report does not consider our desired outcome—the most ambitious relationship possible with the European Union, as set out by the Prime Minister in her Florence speech. All Members must surely agree that the Government cannot be expected to put such analysis into the public domain before it has been completed, particularly when it is sensitive. As I have said before, this Government will not provide a continuing commentary of the analysis we are undertaking. It would be speculative and damaging, especially as the analysis does not reflect the UK’s preferred outcome in the negotiations.
I wish to emphasise that it is the Government’s view that this is an exceptional request today given the misrepresentation in the press of the reporting of this leak. This motion will therefore be agreed to on an exceptional basis, and it does not set any precedent for future action.
The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has just told me that he has already given that assurance, but what I will say is that we will work with the Chair of the Select Committee to ensure that we comply scrupulously with the motion. In particular, we will need to discuss the requirements for confidentiality to which the House will be agreeing today.
I thank my good friend for allowing me to intervene. I take it from what I have heard in the Chamber that this is a sort of evolving document. It is more like an aide-mémoire to help the negotiators. It is not something set in stone and it will change during the negotiation. Is that the sort of document to which we are referring?
As we have said many times, we conduct a wide range of analysis to support our negotiating position as we proceed through this process.
To reply to the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), I reassure him that we will comply scrupulously with the motion, working with the Chair of the Select Committee. We will ensure that we comply with the confidentiality requirements of the motion and that the House is satisfied. He asked me about future analysis and the reassurance that I gave yesterday stands. We will ensure that, at the time of the meaningful vote, the House is appropriately equipped with the analysis that it needs to make a decision.
I just want to be absolutely clear: the papers that we are talking about today are a work in progress and, in discussion with the Chair of the Select Committee, they will be released in full. And given that they are a work in progress and the suggestion is that we should therefore be looking to the final documents as the crucial guidance to this House, will they be released when they are completed?
I heard what the hon. Gentleman said the first time, but the commitments that we are giving are that we will comply scrupulously with this motion and that we will make available to both Houses analysis at the time of the meaningful vote. That is the commitment into which we are entering, but I have heard his request for a continuous evolving analysis. What we have said is that we will not give a continuous rolling commentary on our analysis. We will proceed to ensure that the national interest is protected. We made a commitment to provide Parliament with the appropriate analysis it needs to make a decision on the final deal at the time that we vote, in the way that is set out in the written ministerial statement that we laid.
The Secretary of State has been consistent in stressing the importance of parliamentary scrutiny and oversight of the Brexit process. We have done this willingly to ensure that the parliamentary process is followed. I endorse the actions that we have taken, as I accept collective responsibility regarding the point that was raised earlier.
Finally, as I reiterated yesterday, the people of this country on 23 June 2016 took the decision to leave the European Union. The purpose of the analysis that we have conducted is not to question that decision—which this House voted to respect when it supported triggering article 50—but to ensure that we have the best possible outcome for the British people. We are accepting this motion today on the exceptional basis of the poor reporting of a leak.
The Minister has concluded his oration, and we are grateful to him.
Question put and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the EU exit analysis which was referred to in his response to an Urgent Question in the House on 30 January by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union be provided to the Exiting the European Union Committee and made available to all Members on a confidential basis as a matter of urgency.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Government not having voted against the motion, it is—as I understand it—carried, which is a victory for transparency and accountability. Can I seek your guidance that this motion is, as the previous motion was, considered to be binding on the Government? Further, may I ask your guidance on what you might consider to be a reasonable period of time within which the Government should comply with the motion?
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his point of order. The answer is twofold. First, yes, the motion is binding. I think that the Government are clear about that, and the Minister has indicated the intention of the Government to comply with it. Secondly, if memory serves me correctly, the motion refers to “a matter of urgency.” Therefore, the expectation must be that the report that is the subject of the debate will be released, published or made available to those persons mentioned in the motion as a matter of urgency.
I have now to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. In respect of the Question relating to capital gains tax, the Ayes were 306 and the Noes were 240, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]