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Leaving the EU

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 25 October 2018

2. What steps his Department is taking to protect the integrity of the UK after the UK leaves the EU. (907259)

We are negotiating to secure a strong deal that works for the whole United Kingdom, and our White Paper proposals will deliver on that.

I do not believe in a second referendum, and I have grave doubts about referendums in general. We had the vote, and the people voted to leave. I voted to remain. Now, after all this time and division, what are we going to do to heal the scars left by the referendum?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; a second referendum would create far more uncertainty than it would resolve, and would erode public trust in our democracy. We will heal the divisions created by the campaign and the politics of Brexit by delivering on the outcome of the referendum, and by making sure that we deliver jobs for working families and build homes for the next generation beyond the Brexit negotiations.

Now that we know that the referendum that delivered this entire process was conducted illegally, surely that is another reason to give us all a people’s vote at the end of the process. The Secretary of State can have his Bill endorsed, and we can have the option to remain, because we know what that looks like.

I always listen to the hon. Lady, who is thoughtful and passionate in her views. However, I think that a second referendum would create a huge amount of uncertainty, returning us to square one and eroding public trust in the system.

Has my right hon. Friend been able respectfully to persuade our negotiating partners that Northern Ireland is not some enclave of the character of those around the area of the Bodensee, for example, but an integral part of the United Kingdom that is not, in any circumstances, to be split off from our country?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have made the point that we would never accept any proposals that would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom, whether constitutional or economic. We have also made the point that a lot of the proposals that we have seen would not be acceptable to many on the EU side, given the separatist pressures in places such as Corsica, Catalonia and other parts of Europe.

Does the Secretary of State agree that Brexit represents a real opportunity to become a global United Kingdom, free to make vital trade deals with countries across the world? Does he feel that increasing the backstop would be unhelpful because it would only hamper our ability to negotiate trade deals and would not help to resolve any outstanding issues?

I certainly agree that we must secure the right deal that strikes the right balance between preserving the frictionless trade that we want with our EU partners and taking advantage of the global opportunities of the future, from Latin America to Asia. We have committed ourselves to providing a backstop in case there is a gap between the end of the implementation period and the coming into effect of the future relationship, but we will do nothing to threaten—and will not accept anything that does threaten—the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Every nation in our Union exports more to the rest of the UK than it does to the EU27, and the UK internal market accounts for 61% of Scotland’s exports. Can the Secretary of State assure me that he will do what makes sense for the Union and for the Scottish economy?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is true that we have a large export relationship with our EU partners, but equally, as the EU itself recognises, the vast majority—the lion’s share—of future growth opportunities will lie with the growth markets of the future, from Latin America to Asia, as I said earlier.

Last Sunday, when the Secretary of State was asked on “The Andrew Marr Show” how long the proposed UK-wide customs backstop might last, he said:

“It could be time-limited, there could be another mechanism.”

Whichever of the two it turns out to be, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the backstop—if needed—would not be terminated before the conclusion of our negotiations on the future partnership? If he is not able to give that assurance, will he tell the House what would replace it to ensure that the border in Northern Ireland remained open?

The Chair of the Select Committee is right to say that we need to respect our commitment to provide a bridge between the end of the implementation period and the future relationship. That does need to be something we are not locked into indefinitely, and, of course, the EU side cannot agree anything under article 50—which provides only for the winding down of the EU arrangements—that would allow something to be indefinite, so this ought to be a matter that there is mutual interest in and agreement on resolving.