[2nd Allotted Day]
Debate resumed (Order, 4 December).
Question again proposed,
That this House approves for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’ and the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom’.
Just before I ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to open the continuation of the debate on behalf of the Government, I feel that it is important that Members are aware of the correct protocol for today and for each of the remaining subsequent days in this overarching debate on the Government’s proposed deal.
It is true that it is a debate essentially revolving around one subject. However, I should remind colleagues that there are wind-up speeches each day from the Opposition and Treasury Benches, and the implication of that should be blindingly obvious to colleagues: if you speak in the debate it is incumbent on you to turn up at whatever hour the debate is concluded to hear the wind-up speeches. Yesterday, I am sorry to say, there were a number of examples of Members who spoke, in some cases at considerable length, in the debate, but who, on account no doubt of being very busy with many commitments and very full diaries, felt that they had to be elsewhere for the wind-up speeches. I know and I think that it may well be widely accepted that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition did not come for the wind-up of the debate, and, personally, I take no exception to that at all—it would have been marvellous to welcome them, but I quite understand why they could not be here—but in every other case, if you speak in the debate, please then do me the courtesy, or do the House the courtesy, of turning up for the wind-ups. With that little homily duly completed, I invite the Secretary of State for the Home Department to continue the debate.
It is a great pleasure for me to open this debate. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate my 49th birthday.
The coming weeks will be one of the most defining political periods not just of this Parliament or of our time as MPs, but since the second world war. I know that all hon. and right hon. Members will have the national interest at the very forefront of their minds. Next Tuesday, we will be asked whether we will support the Brexit deal of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Each one of us will have to make that decision. It is my belief that the deal on the table is the best option available in ensuring a smooth exit from the European Union. It will ensure that we leave the EU, as planned, on 29 March next year, that we take back control of our borders, that we end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK and that we stop sending vast sums of money to Brussels. The deal will have a significant impact on two major areas of Home Office policy—security and immigration.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary. He has just mentioned taking back control and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I presume that he has seen the legal advice, published today, from the Attorney General, which makes it clear that, in fact, that is not the case in terms of the backstop, which he also says is indefinite. The advice says:
“NI remains in the EU’s Customs Union”—
not in some kind of customs arrangement—
“and will apply the whole of the EU’s customs acquis, and the Commission and CJEU will continue to have jurisdiction over its compliance with those rules”.
Northern Ireland will treat Great Britain as a third country. How can he possibly stand here and recommend this deal and say that it brings to an end the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice and takes back control?
I very much respect what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. He has shared it with the House on a few occasions, and I absolutely understand what he says. Let me just say from the outset: no one can pretend that this deal is perfect in every sense. Inevitably, there will be some compromises with this deal and with a number of objectives, including, as we have just heard from the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s questions, a need to ensure that the commitments in the Good Friday agreement are upheld. What he is referring to is if—and it is an if—the backstop arrangement kicks in. He is right to point to the legal advice, but it is worth keeping in mind the fact that that situation does not necessarily arise, even if there is no final deal on the future arrangement by December 2020, because there is an opportunity for alternative arrangements, including extending the implementation period. Even if the backstop arrangement kicked in, he referred to, it is, at a minimum—legally from the European Union’s perspective—not sustainable because it is done under article 50 of the European Union’s own rules.
Does my right hon. Friend not accept that, if we are maintaining an open border where there is a land border, it can only be done in a modern economy by having some form of customs union applying to both sides of the border? Unless and until someone else comes forward with an alternative way of timelessly guaranteeing an open border, the arrangement proposed is the only conceivable one that is possible for the foreseeable future, until something better comes along. This was quite obvious months ago, and it is quite futile to start protesting about it now.
I always listen carefully to what my right hon. and learned Friend has to say on all matters. It is correct that this is one way to ensure, in that all-important border, completely frictionless trade, but I do not accept that it is the only way to do that. Although it is recognised in the agreement, under the backstop arrangement, that this is a way that clearly has been foreseen by this agreement, there are, as I said a moment ago, potentially other ways that that can be achieved, and it is right that we properly explore all possible alternative arrangements.
Rather than listen to the advice of the Father of the House, will the Secretary of State listen to the advice of the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, Mr Juncker and Michel Barnier in the EU and his own Government, all of whom have said that, in the event of a no deal or of any kind of deal, they would not impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, so, quite clearly, it must be possible to do this, despite the comments of the Father of the House.
What the right hon. Gentleman highlights is that it is important to listen to all voices. Again, it points to the fact that, although this is one arrangement, it is right that we look and continue to explore to see whether there are other arrangements that can lead to a more permanent and more easily acceptable outcome.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. The legal advice released this morning makes it clear that the protocol does not provide for a mechanism that is likely to enable the UK lawfully to exit the UK-wide customs union without a subsequent agreement. It goes on to say:
“This remains the case even if parties are still negotiating many years later, and if the parties believe that talks have clearly broken down and there is no prospect of a future relationship agreement.”
Does that not undermine the point that he made a moment ago when he argued that this arrangement was not sustainable in the long term because of the limitations of article 50? The advice of the Attorney General is that it is going to last.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. No doubt he has had some time to digest the legal opinion, but he might also note that it is perfectly consistent with what the Attorney General said at this Dispatch Box earlier this week. He made it clear then that, naturally, what he is providing is legal analysis, but this should also been seen in the context of the politics of such a situation, and he set that out quite clearly as well on the day. I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the remarks that the Attorney General made on that point earlier this week.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that if we approve the withdrawal agreement, the UK will have to pay a lot of money for many years after we have left the European Union, although there are no cash limits or numbers in the documents, and very general heads? Will he also confirm that the EU will have preponderant power in deciding just how vast this open-ended commitment will be, and that it will be massively more than £39 billion?
I will come back to the hon. and learned Lady in a moment.
The Home Office is affected by this deal in two significant areas: security and immigration. Today I will set out what is on offer in these two important areas and why the deal is in the interests of the United Kingdom. Let me start with security. The Brexit deal negotiated by the Prime Minister delivers the solid foundation that we need for future security co-operation with our European partners. It avoids a cliff edge by providing for an implementation period, ensuring a smooth transition from current arrangements to a new, strong partnership.
An unplanned no-deal Brexit would mean an immediate and probably indefinite loss of some security capability, which, despite our best efforts, would likely cause some operational disruption when we leave. As Home Secretary, I know which option I would prefer. I have seen at first hand how important it is to have a strong security partnership with our European allies. I have seen the potential dangers that such co-operation prevents, and the security and safety that it ensures.
Of course, what the Home Secretary says about no deal is right, but the Chancellor has earned some respect for showing a level of candour this week by saying that there will be an economic trade-off with any form of Brexit. Will the Home Secretary be similarly open with the House and the public that there will be some form of security trade-off over Brexit in order to achieve the aims of the Brexiteers?
I point the hon. Gentleman to the assessment of the security arrangements in the deal that we published in quite some detail last week. I accept that, with this deal, security arrangements will inevitably be different because we will be a third country outside the EU, but I think we can safely say that it is the most comprehensive security agreement that the EU has with any third country.
The Home Secretary has spent some time giving evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs recently on the subject of database access. Yesterday, the Prime Minister was questioned by a fellow member of the Committee, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), on the question of whether Schengen Information System II is included in the agreement. The Prime Minister stated that it is referred to in the political declaration, but paragraph 86 of the declaration only refers to passenger name record data and Prüm, not to SIS II, which is a vital database. Will the Home Secretary now put the House straight as to the exact situation with those databases?
I will happily do so, although I do not have the exact paragraph before me. In terms of the SIS II database, the document refers to the wanted and missing persons database. It also refers to another database—on European criminal records—in a similar vein. The declaration says that we will consider co-operation on those databases, but it does not guarantee that.
Could the Secretary of State point me to the pages in the document that he has published that give guarantees on our continued membership of Europol, Eurojust and the European arrest warrant? As a former Home Office Minister, I can tell him that they are critical to the safety of our citizens, but they are absent from the document.
The agreement clearly refers to the mutual exchange of data on passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints, vehicle registrations and fast-track for extradition—which I will cover later in my speech—as well as continued co-operation with Europol and Eurojust.
I just want the Home Secretary to clarify his answer. I cannot find any reference to SIS II anywhere in the political declaration. I am very happy to give him my copy if he does not have one with him. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who is also a member of the Home Affairs Committee, said, paragraph 86 refers only to passenger name record data and the Prüm database. It does not refer to SIS II. Will he clarify for the House that there is no reference to SIS II in the declaration?
I thank the right hon. Lady for the focus that her Select Committee has brought to this issue, including recently. Just to be clear, there is no claim that the document itself refers to the database as SIS II or to the European Criminal Records Information System database, for that matter. The document talks about considering continued co-operation on the kind of information that is in those databases. We will properly consider the matters to see whether there is a way to continue that type of co-operation.
Paragraph 87 refers to considering further arrangements and arrangements that might
“approximate those enabled by relevant Union mechanisms.”
The SIS II database contains 76 million pieces of information. There is no sign that anybody is going to create another alternative database that contains just as much information, so what on earth does it mean to talk about approximating access to the SIS II database? Either we get access to it or we do not.
It means exactly what it says in paragraph 87, which is that we will “consider further arrangements” that will help the
“exchange of information on wanted or missing persons…and of criminal records”.
Give the right hon. Lady’s interest in these matters, she will be more aware than most Members of this House that we did not join this database until 2015. Before that, we were using other databases on wanted and missing persons, including the Interpol database, so there are other pieces of data that we can use for this type of information. However, it is good that we have an outcome whereby we will consider further co-operation on exactly this kind of important information.
For all the concern that is being expressed by colleagues on both sides of the House, is the Home Secretary aware of a single Interior Minister or security agency chief around the whole EU who actually wants to reduce the level of co-operation that the UK currently has with the EU and the countries within it?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. In all my discussions with Interior Ministers on security co-operation, I have not come across a single one who wants to reduce security co-operation. Every single one understands the mutual benefit that comes about through continued co-operation and information exchange.
The deal that the UK has reached with the EU will provide for the broadest and most comprehensive security relationship that the EU has ever had with another country. This agreement allows for our relationship to include various important areas of co-operation: continuing to work closely together on law enforcement and criminal justice; keeping people safe in the UK, across Europe and around the world through exchanging information on criminals and tackling terrorism; ensuring that we can investigate and prosecute those suspected of serious crime and terrorism; supporting international efforts to prevent money laundering and counter-terrorist financing; and combating new and evolving threats such as cyber-security. It also allows for joint working on wider security issues including asylum and illegal migration.
The declaration sets out that we should carry on sharing significant data and processes such as passenger name records, so that we can continue disrupting criminal networks involved in terrorism, serious crime and modern slavery; DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data, ensuring that law enforcement agencies can quickly investigate and prosecute criminals and terrorists; fast-track extradition to bring criminals to justice quickly where they have committed a crime; and continued co-operation with Europol and Eurojust.
The thing is that that is completely a wish list. It is all in the political declaration, but it is no more deliverable than a letter to Santa Claus—it really isn’t—because there is no settled policy on extradition, and no settled policy on a legal definition that could be delivered through the law courts on any of these elements. The proof of this is that the Government do not even have an immigration policy. It is all very well having a wish list, but how on earth could a serious Member of Parliament vote for nothing more than a wish list?
With regard to leaving the EU, the only wish list I am aware of that is worth nothing is Labour’s so-called six principles. That is the wish list that the hon. Gentleman has continually supported again and again. In this deal, specifically on security co-operation, there is, for example, an agreement on mutual exchange of data on passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints, vehicle registrations and fast-track extradition. He should go and explain to his constituents how important that is to them.
Can the Home Secretary confirm that if we are out of the European arrest warrant and unable to put any identical arrangement in place, a number of countries will be unable in future, under their own constitution, to extradite their nationals to this country?
We are not going to have an identical way of extradition in future because there is no need for an identical way. We will be outside the European Union, no longer a member, so it is not appropriate that we are members of exactly the current mechanism—the European arrest warrant. However, that does not mean that we cannot continue to co-operate through an agreement with the EU on fast and expeditious extradition procedures and fast-track extradition. That is in the agreement; it has been agreed.
No, I will not—I have to make some progress.
When it comes to external threats, we will be able to have an ambitious partnership on foreign policy, security and defence that will enable both sides to combine efforts for the greatest impact. It allows for ongoing co-operation on other important cross-cutting issues, including countering violent extremism and the spread of infectious diseases.
Of course, there is some further work to be done to ensure that we build on the foundation that this deal provides. This is not about wanting to stay close to the EU and its security arrangements just for the sake of it. We are leaving, and our relationship must change. This is about a hard-headed, pragmatic, evidence-based decision on what is the best security interest of the UK.
Can the Home Secretary confirm that because we will not be participating in the PESCO—permanent structured co-operation—arrangements, we will have no seat in the room, no voice and no vote or veto within any of the foreign policy defence and security arrangements; we will not be in the European Defence Agency; and we will not, unless we have a special arrangement, be in the European Defence Fund? What is the point of that in terms of increasing our security?
I would say gently to the hon. Gentleman that of course when we have left the EU we will not be participating as direct members in those kinds of foreign security tools. We will have our own independent foreign and defence policy, and we will have the ability, if we choose, to align ourselves with the EU. He should also remember, and it is worth recalling in this House, that our security is underpinned across Europe by our membership of NATO, not membership of the European Union. Ultimately, I believe that this deal strikes the right balance on security, and we will keep Britain one of the safest countries in the world.
I turn now to the consequences for security of no deal. An unco-operative no deal would have an impact on protecting the public. There will be no implementation period smoothing our transition into these new arrangements. The UK would have to stop using EU security tools and data platforms from March next year. There will be unhelpful implications for our law enforcement agencies and border guards. There would be disruption and they would have less information available to do their jobs, including identifying and arresting people who could threaten the security of some of our citizens. They would have fewer options for pursuing criminals across borders as we would lose the ability to pool our efforts through Europol and Eurojust. It would take longer to track, arrest and bring to justice those who commit crimes internationally. I have established and I chair a weekly Cobra-style planning meeting within the Home Office to plan for this eventuality properly in case it comes about. But no matter how effectively we prepare for no deal, setting aside the capabilities we have developed with our EU partners will of course have some consequences.
The hon. Gentleman says that he has been listening very carefully. I doubt that, because I think I have given him and hon. Members an assurance about the security implications of this deal, and what the security situation may look like if there is no deal. It is clear to me: we are lucky to live in one of the safest countries in the world, and with this deal, we will continue to be one of the safest countries. Of course, even if there is no deal, there are some mitigants. There is no perfect mitigant. We will lose certain tools that certainly would have been helpful from a security perspective. But whatever happens, Britain will continue to be one of the safest countries in the world.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the problems with the withdrawal agreement, whatever he has said, is that state aid provisions would prevent the Government from subsidising or supporting our defence industries in the same way that the EU can, and as we currently can under the EU treaties? Is that not a serious risk to our national security that the Government have failed to take into account?
I have listened to my hon. Friend carefully. So far, in terms of how those EU state aid rules apply to the UK at the moment, and will indeed apply through the implementation period, I have yet to see how that has a detrimental impact on our security apparatus and supply. However, given that he has raised this issue, it is worth looking at it more closely. If he will allow me, I will do so and get back to him.
Is not the Home Secretary giving us a completely false choice by saying that it is either this deal or no deal, particularly given the decision that we made yesterday in this House that clearly allows us, as a House, to choose different options than just this deal or no deal? Is he not giving us a false choice?
No, I am not.
I would now like to turn to the other big issue for the Home Office regarding this deal, which is immigration. Concerns over immigration were a key factor in how people voted in the referendum in 2016. People wanted control over immigration. They wanted future decisions on UK immigration policy to be taken in this country and by this Parliament. That is what this deal delivers. The deal will allow us to create an immigration system that is not constrained by EU laws and that works only in the national interest. Free movement will end. In future, the decision on who comes to the UK will rest with the UK itself, and not with individual migrants. The UK will continue to be an open and welcoming country that attracts the best talent from across the world.
Can I impress on the Home Secretary again the acute problems that there have been in fishing on the west coast of Scotland and, indeed, in Northern Ireland? I do not know how many numerous meetings I have had with various Government Ministers—they come and they go all the time—but will he look at this next year to make sure that it does not happen again? Will he make sure that we are getting crews on boats and that non-European economic area labour is coming in? The problem is going to get worse with the situation we have at the moment. The Home Secretary has this in his gift; it is not Europe that is stopping him. He can lift the pen and this will happen. He will be thanked and appreciated across the west coast of Scotland if he does that.
I am always happy to listen to Members. Indeed, I have met many Conservative Scottish Members of this House, who have made that point powerfully. We are listening. The hon. Gentleman refers to current issues, whereas I want to focus in this debate on the future immigration system.
The Home Secretary is absolutely right to say that concerns about immigration were at the forefront of many reasons that people cited for voting to leave. Is it not therefore extraordinary that ultimately we do not know what the immigration policy and stance of this country would be after March? It necessarily will be interrelated with the future economic relationship. We have no certainty on that—we do not know what it will be—and he has not published his immigration Bill, so how can anyone know before this vote what they will be getting on immigration in the withdrawal agreement?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that immigration was a big issue in the referendum debate and that the type of immigration system we have in the future will have an impact on our economic performance. I know he will be listening carefully to the rest of the debate, and I will give more information on what that system might look like. We are setting out the broad principles of the new system and will be publishing a White Paper, which will have much more—[Interruption.] We will be publishing a White Paper soon. [Hon. Members: “Soon!”] Yes, we will publish it soon.
I will give way in a moment.
I know that Opposition Members in particular are very eager for this White Paper. They do not have to wait long. It is worth keeping in mind that when the White Paper is published, that is not the end of the conversation. Like all White Papers, it is essentially the start of a broad consultation that will last for many weeks, where we will speak to many businesses and others, including right hon. and hon. Members. That will be a moment when we can set it out in much more detail.
Speaking as a Brexiteer and somebody who campaigned for Brexit, I know that the most important determinant was sovereignty of this place, part of which was sovereignty to decide our own immigration policy and control our borders. We are not against immigration; we want controlled immigration. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the immigration policy will be non-discriminatory as far as the world is concerned?
The Home Secretary and I both served in the Cabinet of the previous Prime Minister, and he will recall that the previous Prime Minister tried, without success, to get from the European Union a limitation on access to welfare payments for those who have just arrived here. Now we are leaving, and we say we want to take back control. The political declaration is very vague; it talks about social security co-operation. Is it our ambition to ensure that businesses cannot bring people over, pay them very cheap wages and expect them to claim benefits and live in squalid conditions? Will we now rule out access to many of those benefits, which cost a lot of money, for people who come over from the EU?
I agree very much with the sentiment of what my right hon. Friend said. I think it is fair to say that once we have left the EU, we will have a lot more flexibility in that area. To return to the previous question, the rules that we apply will be non-discriminatory. The broad intention is to apply the same rules to anyone, regardless of their nationality. It will be focused on an individual’s skills—what they have to offer and the contribution they have to make—and we will not want welfare or any other type of social security payment to be part of someone’s decision to come and work in this country. The White Paper will set out more detail on that.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way, and I want to put in a word for my fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), who is hoping to catch his eye. The Home Secretary told us just eight days ago that the immigration White Paper would “certainly” be published in December. Is that still true?
The Home Secretary said at the Home Affairs Committee that
“the meaningful vote is on the 11th. I hope it”—
the immigration White Paper—
“will come before that”.
That was just last week, yet on Monday he said on the radio that it was “very unlikely” that the White Paper would be published before the vote. What happened in those four or five days to change his mind? Does he think it is acceptable for the House to vote on the withdrawal deal without the information in the White Paper?
I will say two things to my hon. Friend, who makes a fair point. First, he asks what has happened. It is worth reminding him and the House that this is the most significant change in our immigration system in 45 years. Rather than rush the White Paper, it is important that we focus on the detail, get it right and get it out as soon as possible. Secondly, of course we should think of our new immigration system as part of our deal as we exit the European Union, but it is also clear that if we have no deal, there will still be a new immigration system. It is worth keeping that in mind.
I just want to disturb the slightly cosy consensus arising between those on the Government Front Bench and some on the Labour Back Benches. The view on immigration in Scotland is different. Voters in Scotland do not want to reduce immigration. Business, the universities, the financial sector, the FinTech sector and the cyber-security sector in my constituency are very keen not to reduce migration to Scotland. Is he aware of that, and will he take that on board in his White Paper?
I think the hon. and learned Lady will agree with what I have to say next, which is that immigration has been good for Britain. It has made us a good hub for culture, business and travel, and it has boosted our economy and society in countless ways. That is as true for Scotland as it is for other parts of the United Kingdom. That is why, from the very start of this process, my first priority has been to safeguard the position of more than 3 million EU citizens currently living in the UK and almost 1 million UK nationals living in the EU. The withdrawal agreement guarantees the rights of EU citizens and their family members living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU.
My message on this has been very clear. EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and our way of life. They are our friends, our colleagues and our neighbours, and we need and want them to stay, regardless of whether there is a deal. I can confirm that, even in the event of no deal, EU citizens and their families living here in the UK before we leave will be able to apply to the EU settlement scheme and stay. We will be setting out more details on that shortly.
I hope the Home Secretary will also think about the fact that it is not necessarily a win for British citizens to lose the right to travel, study and work elsewhere in the European Union, which has been vital to a whole generation of people in this country. More importantly, he says that he is going to change the immigration system, but is he still going to stick to this ludicrous proposal of getting net migration down to the tens of thousands? Even migration from other parts of the world outside the EU, over which the Government have had full control, runs at more than 200,000 a year. Will he say that they will get rid of that nonsense?
The hon. Gentleman mentioned students. I welcome student exchanges, and I want to see more students, whether from the EU or from outside the EU, choosing Britain as a place to study. We have been very clear. When it comes to students, for example, there is no cap on student numbers. In the past year, we have seen a significant increase in student numbers from across the world. That is just the type of country we want to remain—welcoming people, especially students and others, from across the world who want to study here or come here as tourists or those who can contribute skills that we actually need.
Of course, we do not just want the students to come here; particularly in Scotland, we want them to stay here and contribute to our economy. Will the Home Secretary look at reinstating the post-study work visa, so that we are not educating young people from across the world simply for them to take their skills elsewhere and feed other countries’ economies?
I actually have some sympathy with what the hon. Lady says. Interestingly, a report that I will mention in a moment—the independent Migration Advisory Committee report—talks about looking at some of the post-study work rights, and I am actively doing so. We have to be careful, however, that those post-study work rights do not in themselves become the reason for someone to choose to study in Britain. They must choose to study in Britain because of what our fantastic universities and other educational establishments have to offer. However, it is also sensible, when people choose to study in Britain and take qualifications in the skills needed in our own economy, that we have a sensible approach that allows them to stay and to continue to contribute, if that makes sense for us.
I am struggling to understand what the Home Secretary is saying about post-study work visas. Is he saying that we should not deliberately try to attract talent to the nations of these islands? Is his position that we should not deliberately try to attract talent to the nations of these islands? Is that the Government’s position?
That is the complete opposite of what I was saying, so either the hon. and learned Lady misheard me or that is what she would have liked me to say so that she can open it up as some sort of attack line in a press release. That is exactly what I did not say.
No. I am happy to make it clear that I welcome students who choose Britain, and I think we should take a fresh look at how we can retain talent, with people who have chosen to study in Britain continuing to work in Britain if that meets our economic needs.
On the point about universities more broadly, they obviously rely on attracting the best academic talent to teach our students and international students. Will the Home Secretary briefly explain whether his immigration White Paper will make sure that we do not close the doors to that, reflecting on the fact that many of these professionals are not highly paid, and that salaries are often taken to translate to skill levels although in this case—it is the same with the performing arts—that does not hold?
My right hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of experience in this area, and she is absolutely right to point that out. Our universities do rely on academic talent, much of which comes from abroad, and that is to be welcomed. We must have an immigration system that continues to allow that, and we must take a careful look at the salary levels she has mentioned.
Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), will the Home Secretary commit to looking at the extra costs and the bureaucracy that will fall on our health service and our care sector? As she has said, because of the salary threshold that applies, many of the key staff who enable our health service and care sector to function will fall below that salary threshold, and the extra costs that will fall on the care sector in particular are quite extraordinary. Will he commit to reducing bureaucracy and tackling that cost?
Again, a very important point has been raised by one of my colleagues. I absolutely make that commitment. My hon. Friend is quite right to raise it, because we have to recognise that as we move from the current system of freedom of movement, in which there is virtually no bureaucracy to speak of, to a system under which we will require visas for every worker, we must keep an eye on the paperwork and bureaucratic requirements and keep the system as simple and light-touch as possible. That applies not just to larger employers, such as hospitals or NHS trusts, but to the smaller employers that may be looking for skills but perhaps taking only one or two people a year, and we should keep that in our minds as well.
This is not just about doctors and nurses of course; in my constituency, an awful lot of those involved in agriculture and tourism are concerned to ensure that a seasonal workforce continues to be readily available. Will the Home Secretary reassure us that there is a mechanism in his plans to allow that sort of migration so that the needs of those very important industries in Somerset can be met?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He will know that we have announced a pilot for the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which we are starting early next year, working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The purpose of the pilot is to make sure that we look carefully at how we can continue to meet the needs of that very important sector.
I am sure the Home Secretary realises that 800,000 people in this country work in the automobile industry, and it is therefore very important that we get the specialist labour that facilitates research and development. That involves the universities, and not very much has been said in relation to Brexit about the plight of the universities if it is not handled properly.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to highlight the importance of our automobile industry and the need for skills, particularly in areas such as engineering. I can give an assurance that we will want to make sure that the new immigration system allows for these vital skills where they are needed.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that in the case of a no deal, there will be an immediate hard border in Northern Ireland to stop the passage of people and products, and that in the event of a deal, people will just be able to fly into Dublin and walk into the UK via Northern Ireland?
No one wants a no deal, but I can confirm that in the event of a no deal, the UK Government would not do anything to create a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Unrestricted immigration has caused some people some concerns. As I have said, I will shortly introduce a White Paper, which will set out proposals for the future immigration system. I understand hon. Members’ frustrations about the timing of the White Paper, but I say again that it is an entirely new system—the most significant change to our immigration rules in 45 years—and we need to take the time to get the details right. We have made it clear that it will be a system based on skills, not on someone’s nationality.
The design of the future system has to be based on evidence about the needs of our economy. This is why we have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to report on the economic impact of EU workers and to ensure that the new system benefits Britain. In addition, we have been listening and engaging with businesses up and down the country to hear their views, concerns and ideas. I am grateful to all those who have taken the trouble to give us their views and have submitted evidence to the MAC. We have considered that advice, and we will be setting it out and taking it into account when we publish our White Paper.
Our future system will be flexible, so that the trade deals we agree with the EU and with others can allow businesses to provide services and move existing staff between offices in different countries, supporting our dynamic economy. The agreement we have reached with the EU will enable us to do this through visa-free travel for tourists and business travellers, and arrangements for service providers and for researchers and students.
The Home Secretary has been very generous in giving way. He did not actually answer the question from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), but is it not time that we stopped demonising immigration and came clean about the fact that immigration is actually dictated by the job market, not by wishful thinking about how much immigration we would actually like? In fact, the figures that have come out showing immigration from the EU is down but immigration from outside the EU is up clearly demonstrate that we need immigration.
I feel that I have been very clear on that point. I just said a moment ago that immigration is good for our country and that we need a system that welcomes people and the talent we all want to see in this country. That will help this country, particularly our economy and our needs.
How does the Home Secretary feel that the immigration section of the Home Office will cope in the new regime when it cannot even run an effective, efficient and fair immigration service at the moment? It is already damaging Britain’s reputation overseas in non-EU countries.
I am confident that the Home Office can cope with a big change in our approach to immigration. That is not to say that there are not lessons to learn from mistakes that have been made in the past, but it is important to ensure that when things go wrong—they do go wrong; that happens in any large organisation and it has happened under successive Governments—there is independent analysis and the proper lessons are drawn. That is exactly what we are doing in the Home Office. I am confident that with that, and with the talent we have in the Home Office, we can deliver the new immigration system.
Our immigration system must be tailored to support and give preferential treatment to highly skilled workers. Of course, there are sectors and businesses that have come to rely on low-skilled workers and continued access to migrant labour—I understand that—but in controlling migration, we should always look to those in our own workforce first. We will need to work with businesses, so that they can adapt and play their part in increasing the skills of British people. We are also committed to ensuring that our world-class education sector can continue to grow and prosper, with no limit on the number of international students who come here to study.
We currently have no plans to change that arrangement, but it is one of the areas I would like to review.
Let me be very clear: the White Paper is intended to be the start of a new conversation on immigration. It is not the last word, but the start of an ongoing dialogue with employers, businesses and others who use our immigration system. The Home Affairs Committee has said we should aim for a greater consensus on immigration; I agree. Basing our policy on evidence and extensive discussion with those affected will help us to achieve that.
We plan to introduce new immigration rules from 2021, after the end of the implementation period. For the first time in over 45 years, the UK will have complete control over its immigration arrangements. We will ensure that we have a system that ends free movement, is fair and fast, and works in the interests of all parts of the UK.
Let me conclude by reminding right hon. and hon. Members that the British people were given a choice and were told that their choice would be honoured. This deal involves taking back control of our money, our borders and our laws, while also protecting jobs, security and our precious Union. For the first time in a generation, we will be able to build an immigration system that is designed in Britain, made in Britain, and serves only our national interest. The deal protects not only EU citizens living in the UK, but UK nationals living in the EU. It also upholds the first duty of any Government: keeping our citizens as safe as possible. I urge hon. Members to join me in supporting it.
In many ways, migration and security are at the heart of the debate around Brexit, so I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to it from the Labour Front Bench. I think, however, that after the events of yesterday evening there can be little doubt that this is indeed a botched Brexit. Ministers should be ashamed that they had to be forced to comply with a motion of this House. We heard a lot, when they were trying to argue that they should not have to comply, about the national interest. But we have read the legal advice. There is nothing in it that compromises the national interest. It may be embarrassing for the Government, but it does not compromise the national interest. As the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) pointed out, it is not actually the full legal advice. It may be that he wants to return to that matter.
I voted to remain and the Labour party campaigned to remain and reform, but my party has said from the beginning that we respect the referendum result. It is true that there were substantive reasons to vote for Brexit. Above all, there were the long-standing concerns about sovereignty, which were so well articulated over his entire lifetime by my late colleague, the former Member for Chesterfield, Tony Benn. Nobody would deny, however, that concerns about migration were not far from the minds of some, if not all, leave voters.
The hon. Gentleman will know that when we leave the single market, freedom of movement falls. We said that in our manifesto and we are saying it now.
The available research confirms the salience of migration to leave voters. In June 2017, a report collated from the British social attitudes survey revealed that the most significant factor in the leave vote was anxiety about the number of people coming to the UK. A comprehensive study published by Nuffield College drew similar conclusions.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that since 2010 the Conservatives have made the poor poorer and then told them that foreigners were the reason they were poor, and that that is why they voted for Brexit? In fact, migration helps us. This is about not allowing right-wing propaganda to lead our country, and it is about staying in the EU and having a public vote on the deal.
All I can say is that the Labour party, whether in opposition or in government, will never scapegoat migrants. It does not help society, and it is not a constructive way to go forward politically. Who can forget Nigel Farage in the referendum campaign posing in front of the poster which showed floods of brown people surging into this country?
The right hon. Lady mentioned a moment ago that one of the main reasons people voted to leave was a concern about sovereignty, and she referred to the views of the late and very well respected former Member for Chesterfield. May I ask her to speculate on this? Why is it that the Irish, the French, the Germans, the Spanish, the Dutch, the Swedish, the Danes—I could go on—do not share the same concerns that the English, not the Scots, have about sovereignty and the EU? Will she answer that question, because it is a question that genuinely puzzles me?
I do not think it is entirely true to say that those countries do not share those concerns. I think we would have to look to our very different national stories to understand that concern.
Migration is at the heart of this Brexit debate, and I am glad to have the opportunity to address it this afternoon. Before I turn to immigration, however, I want to speak about the other theme to today’s debate: security. Ministers have been trying to drum up support for the Prime Minister’s deal by saying that the alternative is no deal, which would be disastrous for security. But the Prime Minister’s deal would be almost as bad. At best, we can say that it is a blindfold Brexit on security. At worst, it may be leading us off a cliff on security matters.
Ministers insist that the deal that is being put before this House will offer us better arrangements than any other third country. I put it to Ministers that that is not the point. The point is not whether there are better arrangements in other third countries. The point is whether these arrangements will give us the same assurances on security and fighting crime that we currently have. If we go through the deal, we can see that there appears to be a trade-off on security, because in order to achieve a seamless transition on a range of security, policing and justice matters and have the current level of co-operation, it would require a new security treaty between the UK and the EU, yet there is no expressed aim in the exit document to move towards a security treaty.
Ministers cannot say that they are unaware of the need for a new security treaty. In Brussels, the stakeholders and commissioners who are concerned about these matters have been talking for two years about the importance of moving forward with a security treaty. Without a security treaty, we may run the risk of losing a number of tools that are vital to cross-border security, policing and justice, while other tools will be hampered or severely compromised.
The right hon. Lady appears to be putting all the blame for this on the United Kingdom. Is she not aware that when Rob Wainwright, the very distinguished British former head of Europol, appeared in front of the Home Affairs Committee, he said that all the current arrangements and data sharing from which we and our European allies benefit could be continued, and that that is what their security forces want? Those things are not being continued purely because of politics.
They could be continued—my point is that there is nothing definite in the deal that we are being presented with in the House that would make sure that they were continued. On the question of security, assertions, aspirations and a wishlist are not enough—we need a treaty.
The critical point that my right hon. Friend needs to be aware of is that the European arrest warrant is subject to the ECJ for other European countries, and the Government have specifically said that we should not be a member of the ECJ, so we would have to have individual relationships with each country and would therefore be less safe under the Government’s proposal.
I will come to that point, but I will say now that the Prime Minister’s red lines, one of which was the ECJ, may well prove to have been reckless. The EU insists on treaty arrangements governing key aspects of international security, justice and policing, as do we. Without a treaty, courts have no legal basis to implement arrest or extradition warrants and cannot allow third countries access to criminal and other databases. We are on course to become a third country in our relationship with the EU. Because there is no security treaty planned or even aimed for in the exit documents, the level of co-operation between the UK and the EU post Brexit could be severely and unavoidably downgraded.
Ministers will be aware that neither France nor Germany will automatically extradite to non-EU countries—their constitutions say that. There will be a mutual loss of the use of the European arrest warrant, and the UK will no longer be able to access the Europol database in real time. In addition, as a third country, the UK’s access to databases of criminal records, fingerprints, DNA and missing and wanted persons will be compromised. Ministers promise a future security partnership between this country and the EU. However, the assurance on access to SIS II and the European criminal records information system is only that
“the UK and the EU have agreed to consider further how to deliver capabilities that, as far as technically and legally possible, approximate those enabled by EU mechanisms”.
That is not the same as assuring us of the same level of co-operation that we have today. In relation to the European arrest warrant, there is not even that promise. On passenger name records and the exchange of DNA, fingerprints, and vehicle registration, the agreement says:
“The UK and the EU have agreed to establish reciprocal arrangements”.
It does not say that they have established reciprocal arrangements; it is a wish for the future. However, without appeal and oversight by a court—that role is currently played by the ECJ—all these things could be subject to legal challenge in practice.
No, I need to make progress.
In addition, on the EU agencies Europol and Eurojust, about which Members have made interventions, the deal says:
“The UK and the EU have agreed, as part of the FSP, to work together to identify the terms for the UK’s cooperation via Europol and Eurojust.”
Working together to identify the terms is not the same as a guarantee of the same access and co-operation that we have today. As these are EU agencies, they are not in principle open to non-member states. Again, if that were to change, the legal basis for that would require a treaty.
I need to make progress.
The practical effects would be severe. Last year, the UK law enforcement agencies accessed SIS II checks 500 million times. UK authorities requested access to criminal records 3,000 times a week. The danger is that extradition arrangements would fall back on the 1957 European convention on extradition, which proved extremely time-consuming and cumbersome. Most members of the Council of Europe have reserved rights or derogations under the convention, limiting its effect. At worst, the gaps and loopholes created under this exit agreement could create a situation in which organised criminals and terrorists in the EU might come to regard the UK as a relative safe haven from justice. Under this agreement, absent any significant change to the issues I have enumerated, ongoing co-operation in cases and investigations may ultimately be compromised. On the basis of security concerns alone, no Member of the House should be signing off this deal.
The right hon. Lady gives a very accurate list of consequences that follow from leaving the European Union, which is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary deftly avoided the question, “Is it not inevitable that the arrangements of this country for security and the fight against international crime will be weaker once we have left the European Union than when we were in it?” As the right hon. Lady has committed her party to leaving, will she explain how Labour believes that it can negotiate anything other than this between now and next March? The Labour party has no remedy for this, unless it is thinking of reopening the question of our membership of the European Union.
I have to make progress.
Let me first deal with the status of EU nationals. I begin by saying how distasteful it was to many of us that the Prime Minister referred to “queue jumpers”. She seemed to be implying that there was some unfairness or illegitimacy in their role in British society, whereas EU nationals play a vital role in business, academia, agriculture and public services such as health and social care. EU citizens and their dependants living here cannot be reassured by the terms of the deal. The Home Secretary has given general assurances, but the deal says almost nothing in detail about their rights, including work, residency and access to services. No one on either side of the House who has ever had anything to do with the immigration and nationality directorate can have confidence in the Home Office’s ability to process the approximately 5 million applications that are required to process settled status applications. I am aware that the Home Secretary sets great store by his app, but he knows perfectly well that it cannot be used on iPhones, and although it has been trialled, the trials involved volunteers and only the simpler cases.
We have all seen the shameful chaos around the Windrush scandal. Today’s National Audit Office report on Windrush is comprehensively negative. It criticises the Home Office for its poor-quality data; the risky use of deportation targets; poor value for money; and a failure to respond to numerous warnings that its policies would hurt people living in the UK legally. It is a damning report, and Ministers should be ashamed. EU citizens can only await with trepidation their further and deeper engagement with the Home Office.
My right hon. Friend and I represent very different constituencies, but they are both among the poorest in the land. One of the ironies of the present immigration situation is that my constituency now has the lowest percentage of people living in it who were not born in it for 120 years. One of the many benefits that my constituents have enjoyed in recent years has been the ability to live, work and study elsewhere. I understand all the arguments about wanting to limit the number of people coming into this country, though I personally find it quite distressing, but should we not make sure that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater? We need to make sure that our citizens have the right to study, work and prosper, whether they come from the poorest or the richest background in this country.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. If Members talk to younger people, they will hear that one of their biggest doubts about Brexit is that they do not welcome the idea that they will not be able to travel, work and study in the way they have done under our membership of the EU.
Then there is the question of the missing immigration White Paper. The Home Secretary said he did not want to rush to produce it. I remind the House that we were originally promised it in summer 2017, then the Government were going to produce it this February, then it was to be published in March, before the recess, then in July, and then after the Migration Advisory Committee report in October; now the Home Secretary assures us it will be published “soon”. What confidence can anyone have in post-Brexit immigration policy when Ministers still do not seem to know what they want—or, more to the point, cannot agree on what they want? How can the House be expected to vote on this deal without detail on proposed immigration policy?
We know that the Tories are stealing some of Labour’s terminology about a rational immigration system based on our economic needs, but I suspect that Ministers mean something very different. On this issue, Government rhetoric sounding like Labour is a very insincere form of flattery. The suspicion must be that the Government’s actual policy is to begin to treat EU migrants as badly as they have treated non-EU migrants over many years.
There is one other factor, which my right hon. Friend may be coming to. Does she agree that it would be quite possible for the Government to apply free movement in a more restrictive way, particularly regarding the world of work, as other countries, such as France, have done? Would she like to speculate on whether one reason why the Government have not done that is that the Home Office is so overwhelmed and has been so greatly cut that it does not have the capacity to enforce such a tighter policy?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. The cuts have unquestionably had an impact on the Home Office.
The Government have suggested that they will distinguish between high and low-skilled migrants and discriminate in favour of the former. On the face of it, that is a logical position, yet all indications are that their real distinction will be between high and low-paid migrant workers, which will leave a range of sectors struggling with skills and labour shortages, including among nurses, social care workers, agricultural workers and others in the private sector. This artificial distinction between high and low-skilled migrants, which is really about income, is both unfair and potentially damaging to the economy,
The Government have long been promising a new immigration Bill for a post-Brexit environment, but it seems that there is a split in the Government—I know it sounds shocking—between adjusting the immigration system towards supporting our economic needs and a constant campaign against migrants and migration. They will probably try to do both—“have cake and eat it” politics. There is also no indication that they will drop their unworkable net migration target, which has never once been met but which allows a continuing negative narrative campaign against migration and migrants. The level of non-EU migration alone is currently running close to 250,000 a year, and that is migration over which the Government have absolute control. There is no indication either that they intend to end the hostile environment policy—rename it yes, but end it no—yet we know that it led directly to the Windrush scandal.
The spurious distinction between high and low-skilled migrants, which is really discrimination against the lower-paid, will have negative consequences for a range of sectors. We await with interest the publication of the immigration Bill to see how the internal differences within the Government are resolved, but the Government are asking all of us to vote for their deal without telling us what their new immigration policy will be. This is a blindfold Brexit deal. As I said at the beginning, the Opposition honour and respect the referendum vote, but how can it be that Ministers are asking the House to vote for a deal that neither leavers nor remainers are happy with; asking us to vote for a deal when so many crucial issues, notably on security, are not yet clear; and asking us to vote for a deal that could endanger not just our economy but our security? The more we examine the deal, the more it becomes clear that the House cannot vote for it.
It is with a sense of trepidation that I stand to speak from the Back Benches for the first time in six years and for the first time since I resigned last Friday in order to vote against this withdrawal agreement. I loved my job. Innovation, scientific endeavour and our universities represent the best of Britain, and they underpin our future and our place in the world, so I did not take the decision lightly. At this point, I would like to say congratulations and good luck to my successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), and wish him all the best in that job.
I carefully considered the deal, which has been described as having a remain flavour. Even as a remainer, it became clear to me that it was not politically or practically deliverable, and that it would make us poorer and risk the Union. I encourage everyone to look at the deal and come to their own decision. I believe that whether we are leavers or remainers we are all first of all British and that it is the national interest we care most about, but the political declaration is not a deal; it is a deal in name only. It is a framework for negotiation with a lot of aspirations. Yes, it has all been hard fought for and hard won—I give the Prime Minister and her team the credit for that—but, now that it is in front of us in Parliament, we have to look at it as parliamentarians. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary admitted at the Dispatch Box that the deal might not be perfect, almost implying that this was like trying on a pair of shoes that were not the right colour and perhaps a bit tight, but getting on with it and life would be fine. However, this deal is like a pair of shoes with holes in the soles. It is fatally flawed.
There are three big reasons for that. The first is that all the big issues, whether they relate to security, home affairs, agriculture, fishing, our independent trading policy or frictionless trade, have been kicked into the long grass. While the public are being told that this is almost like the end of the process, we are actually just finishing one process and about to begin on another long and arduous process. We will be doing that at a time when we will have given up our vote, our veto and our voice, and will have no leverage whatsoever.
The ultimate fall-back position in this deal is the Northern Ireland backstop. We will be negotiating with the clock against us, with a fall-back position that is existential for us and not existential for the EU, and we will be expected to get the best deal for Britain. I doubt very much that we will. I believe that, in voting for this deal, we will be losing and not taking control of our destiny. We must be clear-eyed as we go into these negotiations because they have been set up for failure. The EU will manage the timetable, it will manage the sequencing of the negotiations, it will set the hurdles and it will tell us when we can progress to the next stage. That is what happened in the first phase of the negotiations and that is what will happen in the second phase. We will always be in a position in which we have to walk away or fold, and I know what will happen: we will always fold because the clock will be ticking.
The EU elections next year will pose a big problem for us. In 2019, everyone in the EU will be focused on those elections, so I doubt that much progress will be made during the first year of our initial two-year implementation period. At the end of that year there will be a new Commission and a new Parliament, which will not be party to the political declaration on which we will vote in the House. A new Trade Commissioner will be appointed. We will then have one year, as part of the first implementation period, in which to negotiate or go for an extension. In all likelihood we will go for the extension in June-July that year, so we will trip into the second implementation period and pay a significant amount of money for the privilege. We will go into the second period with a general election on the horizon, a Northern Ireland backstop that no one in the House wants, and yes, whatever assurances we are given, in all likelihood we will pay any price that the EU asks of us in order to get out of that backstop. So what do we have? We have “best endeavours” to rely on.
In my previous job as science and innovation Minister, I was involved in the Galileo negotiations. The EU stacked the deck against us time and again. Before the ink was dry on the transition deal, we were served notice that we could not participate in the security aspects, although when we were negotiating the deal we were led to believe that we could. We were then served notice that British industrial interests could not bid for contracts, even though British companies had built the encryption and security elements of Galileo—or, rather, they could do that, but they would have to move to countries within the EU in order to do so. We threatened to use our veto. The date of the vote was moved, and during the interregnum the EU changed the rules to involve simple majority voting, so our veto did not apply. Galileo is a foretaste of what is to come in these negotiations. We are setting ourselves up for failure by going down this route.
The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that the concerns about Galileo were raised as long ago as the summer of 2016. It is simply not the case that the potential problems of access were not known during the negotiations. Many articles were written about it and many representatives of industry raised their concerns with us.
The concerns were raised and were discussed. We signed a transition deal on the basis of best endeavours, only to realise that that was not the basis on which the other side was operating.
I bear no grudge against the EU for putting the EU first. I bear no grudge against the EU for aggressively prosecuting its interests. What does concern me is that, given the political declaration that we have before us, we do not have much leverage. The unique relationship that we are being told we can negotiate is unlikely to happen. What is most likely to happen is that we will be given a free trade agreement dictated to us by the EU.
We should level with the public. This deal does not bring closure. It is not a case of “Sign here, let us have a compromise and all the discord and disharmony that we have experienced over the last few years will suddenly disappear.” We will see Brexit Secretaries resign next year because so many of the issues have still not been thrashed out. The deal will not heal the divisions that we see in our country. Ultimately, we are at the foothills of a long and arduous process. Brexit will not be over as a result of the vote next week.
The Home Secretary said that there was no alternative, but I believe that that is a false choice. There are many options. What we have is a deal that has been engineered to put maximum pressure on all the other options in favour of the options that the Government are putting before us. We could list some of those options, and I will list them without prejudice initially. First, there is the Government’s deal. Secondly, there is the revocation of article 50. Thirdly, there is no deal. The important thing about those things is that all are within our control and do not require negotiation with the EU. If we want to negotiate with the EU, we can negotiate to extend article 50 in order to look at the backstop again. We can negotiate with the EU to extend article 50 in order to hold another referendum. We can negotiate with the EU to extend article 50 in order to look at the Norway option, in which I know a number of colleagues are interested. The Government may box themselves in with their own red lines, but that is no reason for Parliament to accept being boxed in by those same red lines.
There is, however a constraint. The ultimate constraint seems to me that there is no majority for any option in this Parliament. There may be plenty of options, but I doubt that there will be a majority for them. I have said that we should not rule out, if need be, going back to the people. When I say that, everyone says that it will be corrosive of our politics, it will be destructive of our politics and it will be hugely divisive. We should not be presumptive about where the electorate are, but I believe that that is not a reason to vote for the withdrawal agreement. If we vote for the agreement, we will give the public the impression that this is the best compromise and there are no problems further down the line: this is Brexit done. Waking up and seeing that Britain is being hobbled and crippled in those negotiations would also disappoint voters and that would also be corrosive of our politics.
I resigned because I thought, “This is probably the biggest vote in which I will take part during my political career.” It is for each Member in the House to decide what to do but, for me, the national interest is not served by voting for the Government’s motion.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), and I applaud his courage in resigning as a result of his concerns about the deal.
There is much I could say about the detail of this agreement: red lines breached, for example, and the Court of Justice of the European Union articles 87, 89, 158 and 174 and article 14 of the protocol in relation to Northern Ireland make it very clear that the Prime Minister has had to make some pretty major concessions on her red line on the Court of Justice. We have heard in the Chamber—and have now seen it clearly in writing in the legal advice—that as a matter of law we could be trapped in the Northern Ireland backstop permanently and unable to get out of it, as I sought to clarify with the Attorney General earlier this week. The Northern Ireland backstop also means that the catch of fishing vessels registered in Northern Ireland will have preferential treatment through tariff-free access to the market in a way that fishing vessels registered elsewhere in the UK, including Scotland, will not have. I look forward—but do not hold my breath—to hearing the Scottish Conservatives making a fuss about that.
Today and the next few days should be about the bigger picture. I am looking forward to having an in-depth debate about immigration in due course, if we ever do see that much-promised White Paper, but I do want to make a few remarks about it now before moving on to the bigger picture. As I said earlier, it is a matter of record, because Scotland voted to remain, that the Scots did not hold the same concerns about sovereignty or immigration as held elsewhere in these islands, yet the political declaration confirms the UK Government’s intention to end freedom of movement. That will see people across these islands, but in particular the Scots who did not vote for it, lose the rights they have as EU citizens.
This is a deal that will see us made poorer not just economically, but also, equally importantly, socially. Even the Migration Advisory Committee has acknowledged that inward migration has made an overwhelmingly positive contribution to the economy of these islands, and particularly Scotland. The MAC, while failing to acknowledge the need for regional and national variations in immigration policy across the UK, did knock on the head many of the myths about immigration that drove the sort of xenophobia that led to the poster the Labour spokesperson, the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), described earlier.
Scotland in particular has benefited from inward migration because at the start of this century we had a dwindling population and that EU migration has built our population and brought many young and economically active people into Scotland. Any Scottish MP who holds regular surgeries will confirm that that is a fact. There are two major universities in my constituency and all the academics tell me it is a fact that the process of Brexit and the rhetoric around immigration in this country is discouraging people from coming to live and work and study in Scotland. Scots did not vote for that, and that is one of the many reasons why we will not be supporting this deal.
Freedom of movement has been vital to fill gaps in the employment market in Scotland, and indeed across the UK. We have a big crisis across the UK in how we look after our ageing population. A lot of the people who look after our ageing population at present come from elsewhere in the EU and it will be a real shame if we discourage them from coming here in the future.
I agree with the hon. and learned Lady about students coming to the UK and that they should be able to work for a period as part of the payback; I think that is important. But does she accept that many people who voted for Brexit are not saying no to immigration? This is just about controlling immigration and that it should be this Parliament and the Government of this country that decide immigration levels.
No one is saying we should not have an immigration policy; of course we must have an immigration policy. The point I am making is that the immigration policy should be evidence-based and take account of the needs of the economy and the different regions and nations of these islands, and this Government’s policy does not do that. If the Government have such a great idea about future immigration policy across the UK, why is it taking them so long to publish the White Paper? And if they are so keen to throw their arms open to people from all across the world and have everyone come here on an equal basis, why does the Prime Minister—the Prime Minister of those on the Conservative Benches—persist in her ridiculous net migration target? It is just nonsense that the Conservatives want to throw the doors open; for so long as the Prime Minister is in place and that ridiculous migration target is in place, that simply will not happen.
The Government will try to ramp up the rhetoric around EU migrants, but the reality is that in order to get some of their trade deals through, they will have to bend the visa rules for India and elsewhere, so what they take with one hand they will give with the other anyway.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is crystal clear that if we ever get to the stage of being able to enter into third-party trade deals, which looks pretty unlikely at the moment, in return for access to the markets of countries outside the EU, those countries are going to want access to the UK for people who want to migrate from their country to here.
I agree, and part of the reason why the language has been so toxic is that we have been talking not about the reality of the situation but about a perceived reality.
A Labour Member who is no longer in his place made a point earlier that I entirely agree with: the Conservatives have through their policies created a great deal of poverty across the UK. Wales and Scotland have to an extent been protected from that because we have had different devolved Governments, but I notice as I travel around provincial England that the infrastructure is not in as good condition as it is in Scotland. No social housing has been built here for years, too; in contrast we are building a lot of social housing in Scotland. Many working-class people in England have been led to believe that the cause of their woes, such as the fact that they cannot get a house or a well-paid job—they can get a job, but not a properly paid job—is the immigrants, when it is the fault of this toxic Conservative Government.
Under the withdrawal agreement, EU citizens who are already here will not continue to enjoy the same rights that they enjoy now; they will continue to enjoy some rights, but not the same rights. They will lose their lifelong right of return, they will not have the same family reunification rights, and they will get no protection from inadvertently becoming undocumented illegal citizens—and, my goodness, the Windrush scandal has taught us what happens to undocumented citizens who are lawful citizens in this country. God help EU citizens who find themselves undocumented illegal citizens. Do not take my word for it; take the word of the National Audit Office and reports of various Committees in this House. And in order to hang on to the rights they already have—not to get a passport, but to get the digital identity that means they can hang on to the rights they already have—fees will be imposed on EU citizens. In Scotland, the Scottish Government have said they will pay those fees for those working in the public sector, but now it appears that there might be a bit of a tax-catch in relation to that, and I am looking forward to the Conservative Government addressing that properly, and perhaps extending the same largesse that the Scottish Government have to people working in the public sector south of the border.
I am going to touch briefly on the security, justice and law enforcement issues. As other Members have said, it is simply impossible for us as a third country to have the same degree of security, justice and law co-operation that we previously had, and, in fairness, the Home Secretary recognised that. But one of the things that has concerned those of us who represent Scottish constituencies—or some of us, at least—and the Scottish Government and commentators in Scotland most about this process has been the abject failure of the British Government to recognise that Scotland has a separate civil and criminal justice system. This is not about devolution; this is about the Act of Union. Scotland has had a separate legal system forever, and it is protected by the Act of Union. Yet our separate criminal justice system, our separate civil law system, and our separate Law Officers have not been consulted properly on the impact of these matters on the Scottish legal system. As we know, there is no mention whatsoever of Scotland in the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration. A lot of other much smaller regions get a mention, but not Scotland. This is not fanciful; I know, because I used to work in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, that co-operation across Europe has made a huge difference to law enforcement in Scotland, and if we lose that, we will be worse off as a result.
As I said earlier, today is a day for looking at the bigger picture. Speaking as someone who represents a Scottish constituency and as someone of Irish parentage, I see the bigger picture of the whole Brexit process as a tale of two Unions: the Union that is the United Kingdom and the Union that is the European Union. There are extremely stark differences between the ways in which the members of those Unions treat one another. So far as Ireland, north and south, is concerned, British politicians largely overlooked the threat that Brexit posed to the Good Friday agreement until after the referendum, and even then, many of them—particularly on the Conservative Benches—were and still are unable to accept the reality of the legal obligations that the United Kingdom undertook in that agreement. That old anti-Irish xenophobia that people like my mother remember so well has raised its head again, even to the extent of some on the Conservative Benches talking about the Irish tail wagging the British dog, and other such insulting metaphors. However, because the EU27 got behind the Irish Government’s legitimate concerns, they became central to the Brexit process. Conservative politicians—not all of them, but some—and indeed a few on the Benches behind me, waited in vain for the EU27 to crack and throw Ireland under the bus. That did not happen, and it is not going to happen.
I was at an event recently where the distinguished professor of modern history at University College Dublin, Mary Daly, remarked that the current situation in this House had uncanny echoes of what happened here 100 years ago when the electric politics of Ulster determined what happened at Westminster. It is quite ironic that that should be so, given that we are shortly to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the election of the first female MP to this Parliament. She was of course the distinguished Irish nationalist, the Countess Markievicz, who went on to be the first woman Cabinet Minister in western Europe. The truth is that the problems that arose as a result of partition have come back to haunt this House as a result of the Brexit process, but I believe that something that unites us all is that we want to see peace being kept in Northern Ireland.
Does the hon. and learned Lady accept that the Republic of Ireland actually has been thrown under the bus but does not realise that the wheels are running over it? If this agreement goes through, a border down the Irish sea will affect not only Northern Ireland but the Republic of Ireland, whose main market is GB and which takes its goods across GB, using it as a land bridge. It will find checks not just at Holyhead but at Dover.
No, I do not accept that. I speak regularly with politicians from all parties in the Republic of Ireland and that is certainly not how they see matters. In fact, politicians, businesses and the wider community in the Republic are broadly very happy with the way in which the European Union has dealt with this. It is sometimes conveniently forgotten in this House that Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. It is forgotten partly because Northern Ireland has not had the democratic voice of its Assembly during this time. It is only the voice of the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) that has been heard here in relation to Northern Ireland, but his party, the Democratic Unionist party, does not represent the majority of people in Northern Ireland, who voted to remain. The Prime Minister has refused to meet the Greens, the Social Democratic and Labour party, Sinn Féin or the Alliance, which is quite disgraceful.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the people voted to remain in the EU by an even more substantial margin than that of Northern Ireland. It was 62%, and polls show that if a vote were held tomorrow, the figure would be nearer to 70%. Despite that, the Scottish Government have concerns. They are a democratically elected Government, although I know that those on the Conservative Benches like to call them the SNP Government and pretend that they have no legitimacy. They were elected democratically, and their legitimate concerns, which are often supported by other parties in the Scottish Parliament—as they will be today when the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Labour will vote with the SNP to try to protect Scotland from the consequences of Brexit—have been wholly ignored. We can only look on with envy as the concerns of the Irish Government are placed centre stage in Brussels. Unlike Northern Ireland, Scotland has had a strong and functioning Government and Parliament during this process that have been well able to express their views, but that has not protected us. This Brexit process has highlighted the limits of devolved—as opposed to independent—government.
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. We fully expect the Scottish Parliament this evening to endorse a cross-party motion rejecting the withdrawal agreement, just as the Welsh Assembly did last night. The Scottish Conservatives are describing that debate as needless. They suggest that Scotland does not need to talk about Brexit, that the big Parliament in Westminster will make that decision for us and that we should know our place. That exemplifies just how they want to undermine devolution and use Brexit to do so.
Of course, of the Scottish Conservatives do not represent the majority of Scottish opinion in relation to anything, let alone Brexit. It is often forgotten, after the hullabaloo when they won seats here last year, that they are still very much in the minority in Scottish politics and the Scottish Parliament.
Let us look at what has happened to Scotland in the past two years. The UK Government cut the Scottish Government out of the Brexit negotiations completely. The Scottish Government put forward the idea for a differentiated deal or a compromise for the whole of the United Kingdom at an early stage, but that was completely ignored. The Scottish Parliament voted—with the cross-party support of everyone apart from the Tories and one Lib Dem—to withhold consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but that, too, was ignored. When the Scottish Parliament tried to pass its own legal continuity Bill, it was challenged by the British Government in the UK Supreme Court, and we are still waiting for that decision. When amendments to the withdrawal Bill came back from the House of Lords to the Floor of this House, Scottish MPs got 19 minutes to debate the implications of those amendments, with the rest of the time being taken up by the Government Minister. Scotland is not mentioned in the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration, while little Gibraltar—important though it is—was afforded advance sight of the agreement. The Scottish Government saw it only when the rest of us did.
My point is that Scotland’s marginalisation and its very weak bargaining position within the Union that is the United Kingdom have been very exposed by Brexit. After our failure in the independence referendum of 2014, 56 Scottish National party MPs were elected to this House, yet not one of our amendments to the Scotland Bill at that time got passed, despite the fact that we had 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland and 50% of the vote at that time. We were told that the wonderful Scotland Act was going to give us huge amounts of power and that we would have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. I would like to ask any fair-minded person in this Chamber, and anyone watching, whether they think the sequence of events I have just described really makes it sound as though we have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. Of course it does not, because devolution’s constitutional fragility has been revealed by Westminster’s assertion of control and attempts to repatriate powers here from Brussels, and by the disregard shown for Scotland’s preferences in the negotiations in Brussels.
The Brexit process has told Scottish voters a lot about the reality of devolution. It has told them that power devolved is indeed power retained, and that the United Kingdom is not the Union of equals that we were told it was before 2014 but a unitary state where devolved power is retrieved to the centre when convenient and where no one but the Conservative party, which represents only a minority of voters in Scotland, gets a say on major decisions over trade and foreign policy.
The experience of Ireland and Scotland during the Brexit process shows a significant contrast between the way in which nations that are member states of the European Union and nations that are members of this Union are treated. I heard the distinguished former Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, John Bruton, speak recently. When he was asked about this by a member of the audience, he said that Scotland’s marginalisation within the United Kingdom would not happen in the European Union, and that if the European Union were taking a decision as drastic as Brexit and it had only four nations in it, all four nations would need to agree. In the UK, however, it does not matter what Scotland and Northern Ireland say. They can always be overridden by the English vote. That is not an anti-English comment; it is a comment on the constitution of the United Kingdom. If Scotland were a member state of the EU, even though we are a country of only 5.5 million people, we would have the same veto as Ireland over such a major decision, in the same way that the big countries have.
There is still a little bit of hope for Scotland, and it comes from the cross-party working that we have seen there, both in the Scottish Parliament today and from the group of politicians, of which I am proud to have been a member, who took a case to the Court of Justice of the European Union. We found out yesterday that the advocate general says that proceedings under article 50 can be unilaterally revoked. I was interested to hear the Prime Minister acknowledge earlier today, in response to a question of mine, that it is highly likely that the grand chamber of the Court will follow the advocate general’s opinion. It seems that Scotland, Scottish politicians and the Scottish courts are throwing this Parliament a lifeline that would enable it to get out of the madness of Brexit.
Even if we do throw that lifeline, the United Kingdom Parliament takes it, there is a second referendum, and the whole UK is smart enough, having been put in possession of the full facts, to vote to remain part of the European Union, do not think that that will be the Scottish question closed, because the Brexit process has wholly revealed our inferior status within the Union, and people will not forget that. The last two years have shown us that across the United Kingdom, the leave vote was won on the back of promises that have proved undeliverable. Many people say that those promises were lies, but whether they were or not, they have proved undeliverable.
It is hard for me to be fair to the Prime Minister because of the scorn that she has shown for Scottish democracy, but I will try: I do not think that it is because the Prime Minister is a bad negotiator that the deal is bad. The truth is that there is no better deal than the one the United Kingdom currently enjoys from within the European Union.
The Prime Minister at least tried to negotiate a deal. Others who led the leave movement have totally and utterly abdicated their responsibility. I watched with interest yesterday while the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) attempted and struggled to explain what he wants. I was none the wiser at the end of his speech. Let us not forget his partner in crime in the leave movement, who has now left the Treasury Bench: the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Why did he not take the job of Brexit Secretary when it was offered to him a couple of weeks ago? If someone desires something so much, why not take responsibility for delivering it? I think we all know the answer to that question.
Then, of course, there is the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). His insouciant appearances at the Exiting the European Union Committee were highly entertaining, but also deeply shocking. Now where is he? We have not seen him in the Chamber much in the last few days, but he is certainly not proposing any firm alternative to the deal.
The much maligned Court of Justice of the European Union, with the assistance of Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts, has opened up new vistas of possibility for this Chamber. There is a chance of reversing the madness, but I accept that there will need to be a second vote. To achieve that, we will have to work cross-party in this Chamber. There is a lot of that going on already. May I respectfully suggest that parliamentarians in this Chamber look north to what is happening in Edinburgh this afternoon? They would see that it is possible for at least the Scottish National party, the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the Greens to work together. We know from this House that it is also possible for those parties to work with some Members on the Government Benches.
I want to make something crystal clear. Make no mistake about what would happen if there was a second vote across the UK, and England, in possession of the full facts on the reality of Brexit, again voted to leave—I am quite sure that Scotland would vote to remain. Scotland would not stand for that, and there would have to be a second independence referendum. This time, we know that we would have a far more sympathetic ear in Europe, even from the Spanish, supposedly Scotland’s great enemies. Their Foreign Minister said recently that if Scotland secedes from the UK constitutionally, he will not veto Scotland’s membership of the European Union.
As I said yesterday, I very much hope that when an independent Scotland tries to seek membership of the European Union, it will be remembered that it was Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts who attempted to give the UK Parliament an escape route from Brexit. Even if the United Kingdom takes that escape route, the Brexit process has shown that the United Kingdom in its present form is not a Union in which Scotland can continue to function properly.
No, I am coming to the end of my speech.
We have seen writ large during this process the difference between what it means to be a member of the United Kingdom and a member of the European Union. In the European Union, even small countries such as Ireland are equal partners with big countries such as Germany and France. In the United Kingdom, a small country such as Scotland is not an equal partner with England. A power devolved is a power retained, and Scottish democracy is always at the whim of the majority in this House. That is not tolerable.
Regardless of what happens with Brexit, which I very much hope is reversed for the whole United Kingdom, I hope that the Scots will soon take the opportunity to say that Scotland’s position in the UK Union is not tolerable. We want to take our seat at the top table in the European Union, where I very much hope we will eventually be an equal partner with England, because I hope England stays, too.
I have always been a pragmatist on Europe and our membership of the EU, so my community and I wanted a practical way forward found following the referendum, but the Prime Minister’s negotiated deal, which we are being asked to vote on, while well intentioned, is not a practical way forward for Britain. It means rules without say. Instead of us taking back control, it gives away control. We will have less say over the rules that shape our lives. Worse, we will not be at the table when rules are set that will matter to Britain strategically—rules that might disadvantage the City or British industry if designed the wrong way. We are not taking back control; we are giving it away.
From my perspective, that sovereignty giveaway alone makes the deal unacceptable for Britain. In fact, I find it impossible to see any future Parliament ever updating fresh rules set at EU level that we have had to commit to, whether we liked them or not, so this deal will in the end be shown to be inoperable, most likely when we have a Government with a low or no majority, as at present. This fragile and unstable withdrawal agreement and political declaration will double up political instability, and translate it into economic instability, making things worse.
The PM’s deal is inoperable. I might welcome the Government’s assurances on EU workers—there are many in my community—but the detail is limited to the very short term. My constituents and people running businesses who come to my surgery want more than that; they want to know what happens beyond the so-called transition period. As others have said, it is disappointing that the Government have not yet set out their immigration plans for the House to take into consideration during today’s debate and at next week’s vote. This really matters to the very mixed community that I represent; it needs clarity.
On the Union, and Northern Ireland in particular, I am greatly concerned about the deal undermining the Good Friday agreement, and the Government’s weak approach to the backstop. I am concerned about the prospects for the re-emergence of a hard border in Northern Ireland, and about that becoming more of a challenge the more we diverge on product standards and regulations. I am concerned about the prospects of a Northern Ireland that risks being increasingly decoupled from the United Kingdom, and about how that could undermine the Union that is at the heart of the United Kingdom.
I am sure that others will talk about the economic projections. The effect on our economy and jobs is also of huge concern. The open-ended and uncertain period covered by the withdrawal agreement leaves this country utterly exposed as a rule taker, at a time when we face global economic uncertainty and an increased push for protectionism. During this period, the EU can decide whether we are breaking rules on state aid or have complied with them, and whether and how much we can be fined. It will be judge and jury. That is what we are being asked to support in the withdrawal agreement, and I cannot accept it.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) compellingly set out, the timescale covered is hugely likely to be extended.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about rule-taking and sovereignty. Does she agree that the reason we have got into this position is that the whole Brexit debate has defined sovereignty as being purely about immigration and the movement of people, and not at all about the rules that govern our economy?
I think people are now much more familiar with the trade-offs involved in Brexit. I will come back to that point later.
This thing is called a transition period or an implementation period, but a transition to what? The bottom line is that all we have on our destination is 26 pages of something called a political agreement. It is not binding, there is no detail and there are no guarantees or timescales. For anything that is comparable, such as a big infrastructure project, we would have a national policy statement, with perhaps 1,000 pages of detail for the House to consider. Here, we have just 26 pages.
A proposed deal on leaving the European Union is perhaps the ultimate national policy statement, yet we have virtually nothing. It is the political equivalent of being asked to jump out of a plane without knowing if your parachute is attached. It is like agreeing to move out of your house without knowing where you are going to live next, or not having agreed the sale price, but signing the contract anyway. None of us would do this in our own lives, yet the withdrawal agreement and political declaration ask us to do it on behalf of our country.
Overwhelmingly, my community does not support the deal. I will not, therefore, be able to back it. There are practical problems and there are problems of sovereignty, but there are democratic problems too, because this Brexit deal is not the Brexit that leave campaigners campaigned for or that leave voters voted for. It does not deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum. Leavers in my community reject it—I have had hundreds of emails and letters about that. Remainers reject it: they are left thinking, “What’s the point if leavers are not happy with the outcome of the referendum that they won? What is the point of leaving, simply to have all the same EU rules anyway?”
Forcing the Prime Minister’s deal through when it is universally unpopular will do nothing to heal the divisions in our country. In fact, it will be worse: it will kick the can down the road, which is exactly what the public expect politicians to do. It is a short-term political fix at the very time when we desperately need a long-term plan. People deserve better. That is why they are so frustrated.
Brexit has turned into a pantomime, it feels like groundhog day, and there is gridlock in Parliament. We have been talking about Brexit for years, and we all need to recognise that Ministers, Front Benchers and MPs will of course vote the way they think is right. I hope the Government do consider a free vote for Government Members, because we all represent very different communities with very different views. However, free vote or no free vote, I believe it is clear that there will be no majority in this House for any Brexit route forward—not for the Prime Minister’s deal; not for Labour’s ever-opaque deal, whatever it may be; not for no deal. There is no majority for anything, yet we have to bring this to a resolution. We cannot keep going round in circles forever. We have to solve Brexit so that we can get on to solving some of the issues that lie behind Brexit. Parliament now needs to take the steps that will allow us to get back on to a domestic agenda, which is what the public want.
Some Opposition Members might say, “Let’s have a general election,” but that would solve nothing, because Brexit is not about party politics. That is why the House has had so many challenges in grappling with Brexit-related legislation. This place is gridlocked. Giving a party political choice to people on a question that is not about party politics will not work. Labour is putting its own narrow party political interests ahead of the country’s vital need to resolve the path forward on Brexit.
I know that the route forward that is left might be unpalatable to many, including Labour and Conservative Front Benchers, but it may be the only viable route out of Parliament’s gridlock, and that is to do what we always end up doing in a democracy: ask the people. A referendum can be held in 22 weeks. We could hold one on 30 May.
I do not think we can heal divisions by pretending that they are not there. I certainly do not think that it is democratically justifiable for the Government to ram through a version of Brexit that is not what people who voted for Brexit want. That, we have to agree, cannot be acceptable. Combine that with the fact that this House will be gridlocked on all the options—that is just the practical reality—and it is clear that we have to find another route forward.
I, for one, argue that a referendum is one way in which we can enable millions of leave voters who do not think the Government are delivering on the verdict of the referendum to have their say, in a way that they do not think is happening in this Parliament. We now have some clear-cut practical choices, and we should put them on the table for the people to decide.
I will make some progress, given the time.
These are the options on offer for Britain: the Prime Minister’s deal; staying in on our existing terms; and, of course, having a cleaner break and leaving on World Trade Organisation terms, but then having a free trade agreement afterwards. This House should have the confidence to put the clear practical options that we now face back to the people. That is why I believe we should have a people’s vote.
This deal has united people in opposition to it. Nobody gets what they want. That is not compromise. Opposition to the Prime Minister’s deal on all fronts is not a virtue; it is the opposite. It goes in exactly the wrong direction and it will take us back to square one. Given that this deal is irreversible if we vote it through, this House owes it to future generations to make sure that we do not just hope that we are taking the right route forward on Brexit, but we know we are taking the right route forward on Brexit, and that means asking people for their view.
The Prime Minister’s deal is not really a deal at all; it is a stopgap. Parliament is being asked today to vote with a massive blindfold around our heads. We know not what our immigration arrangements will be, because the Government have not published the White Paper; we know not what our trade arrangements will be, because the political declaration is unclear; and we know not what our security co-operation will be, because the declaration is just too vague.
Last month—only last month—the Prime Minister told us that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. In fact, most things have not been agreed at all. The Prime Minister is asking us to walk out the door, slamming it behind us, without any idea where we are heading or even where we will rest our heads tonight. I think that that is irresponsible, because it is not just that we are blindfolded about where we are heading; as the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) said in a very thoughtful speech, it weakens our negotiating hand in sorting out the future and establishing where it is we will end up.
The chief executive of Haribo in my constituency said in response to the transition proposals:
“Two years is significant to our supply chain decisions so this would be very welcome, but the uncertainty would just be delayed… Everything that is an extension of the delay is only useful if it is clear what will happen at the end of the extension, so we can prepare for it.”
The problem with the political declaration is that, as paragraph 28 admits, there is a whole “spectrum” of checks and controls. Depending on which paragraph one reads, there could be rules of origin checks or alignment with the common tariff, and the hit to our national income could be as bad as 7%. Depending on which paragraph one reads, it could be nearly Norway, it could be back to Chequers, it could be off to Canada or it could be far beyond—we simply do not know.
On security, things are not much clearer. The continued access that is promised to the Prüm fingerprints database and to shared passenger name records is welcome, but the absence of any reference to the crucial Schengen Information System II European criminal database, which our Border Force and police currently check more than 500 million times a year, is deeply troubling, as is the absence of any reference to the European criminal records information system, or ECRIS. Those tools are used to catch criminals, stop terrorists, monitor sex offenders, find dangerous weapons and stop serious criminals entering the country. The police have been clear that our country is less safe without those measures, and I do not think that this House should be voting for things that could make our country less safe.
The Government also need to be clear with us about the impact of all that, because the EU’s resistance to committing to allowing us access to SIS II is frankly reprehensible. However, that is the EU’s current position, and I fear that this deal weakens our ability to sort this problem out in future and to get the commitment that we need, which will be in all our interests. The Home Secretary said, “Well, we didn’t have these measures a few years ago, so this won’t cause a huge problem,” but the truth is that the security and cross-border criminal threats that we face now are much greater than they were a few years ago, and our police and agencies are running to catch up. Our job here should be to support them in that work, not to make it harder for them or to hold them back.
Does my right hon. Friend know why SIS II and ECRIS are not referred to in the political declaration? Is it because the Government did not try to get them included, or is it that they asked and the EU refused? If the EU refused, does that not reinforce her point?
That is right, because my understanding is that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary did ask to have those measures included, because they understand how important they are, but the EU continues to resist. I think that that is wrong and irresponsible, but if we are going to have an ongoing negotiation on this, we should do that from a position of strength and not by weakening our position, which I am afraid that this deal does.
What are we going to say to victims of crime in the weeks after we lose access to the SIS II database if the police or Border Force fail to stop a dangerous offender who is on the SIS II database and known to other countries? What happens if we do not let the police have that information and then the offender commits another crime? Perhaps the most troubling thing of all is that there is no security backstop in this deal. Unlike for Northern Ireland and for trade, there is no backstop to continue security co-operation until a future security treaty or overarching treaty is agreed. If the transition period runs out and we have not agreed such things, we will lose vital capabilities. Given how long it takes to negotiate complex arrangements around extradition and how long it will take to ratify a full treaty, that is another irresponsible decision for us to take.
On immigration, the proposals that we still need to see will affect not just EU citizens wanting to live and work here, but UK citizens wanting to live and work in the EU and, obviously, the arrangements for business recruitment. If the Home Office does genuinely have an immigration White Paper all ready to go that it is planning to publish later in December after the vote, it must realise what a signal of contempt denying Parliament the chance to see it before this vote would be. If the Home Office has that White Paper, it should publish it this week so that Members have time to see it before the vote.
I support amendment (c), in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), because it opposes not only the Prime Minister’s deal, but no deal. I agreed with the Home Secretary when he said earlier that there are significant security risks from no deal. There are clearly economic risks. One local factory told me that the cost of its imports will double in price if we go to WTO tariffs and another said that its European parent company would be under pressure to move production to continental factories instead. On security, however, the threats are even greater, because the police and Border Force would immediately lose access to crucial information that they use to keep us safe, including legal agreements that underpin ongoing investigations and trials, all of which could immediately be put at risk, and the European arrest warrants that we have out on the Skripal suspects. Even if hon. Members do not care about stockpiling medicines or lorry parks on Kent’s motorways or the Bank of England’s warnings about recessions, I hope that they will take seriously the warnings from the National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs’ Council about the risk that no deal will make us less safe.
The Prime Minister also has a responsibility to be ready if and when this vote goes down, given the strong views against it. She must be ready to take the opportunity to go immediately to Brussels and to request an extension of article 50 so that everyone has time to draw breath. I know that extending the process would be painful for all sides and that no one wants to be the person calling for it, but we must be honest that the process will carry on regardless. We have to start behaving like grownups and actually recognise the serious things that we are going to have to do.
We will need time to build a consensus around any possible way forward. I think that is possible to do, but I recognise the hugely different views in this place and across the country. This deal is flawed and makes us weaker, but we need to take the time to build a consensus on the way forward. In the end, that is why we are here. The Prime Minister has tried to find compromise, but she has done so without reaching out, without trying to build consensus, without trying to consult, and without even giving this House the chance to vote on what the objectives of the negotiations might be. We cannot do something this big and this hard with this many long-lasting consequences without building some consensus. That is the task for us now. It is going to be hard, but that is the test of our politics. I believe we are up to it, but we are going to have to prove it.
Order. On account of the level of interest and the fact of interventions taking time, the time limit will have to be reduced to seven minutes per Back Bencher immediately after the next speaker. Mr Shapps will be the last to have the opportunity of eight minutes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Broadly speaking I believe in international co-operation—whether the United Nations, NATO or, indeed, the European Union—because a rules-based world is a safer world. However, I also recognise that being a member of a club has advantages and disadvantages, because members must compromise over some sovereignty and pool some resources. While in Cabinet, I led a number of trade missions to south-east Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, but it was in Hanoi that the compromise struck me most. Having negotiated over some communist paperwork preventing British beer being landed at the port, we then got down to the further 20 items on the agenda, and the only thing that I could say to the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister was, “These are all very interesting issues, and I’ll take them back to the European Trade Commissioner,” from whom some Members may not be surprised to hear we never heard again.
When it came to the 2016 referendum, I could see both sides of the argument, and it took me right up to the ballot box itself to decide that I would vote remain, which I did. My decision is not dissimilar to that of many other citizens in our country—certainly my Welwyn Hatfield constituents—who also voted along national lines. The argument could be said almost to reveal the fact that the division was 52:48—half and half—with lots of people seeing both sides. That has led to the idea that we should leave the EU to honour the result but that we should perhaps not leave too much lest we fail to represent the 48% who were for remain. I fear that this Government’s anxiety to do just that is, in the end, in danger of pleasing no one—certainly not our fishermen, who face another two years in an EU-wide catch zone, nor our colleagues in Northern Ireland, who fear separate treatment, nor those in other parts of the UK, who either see what the Northern Ireland exemption is going to bring and want it or fear that the differences will help to carve up the country.
We have therefore agreed a backstop designed to protect against the construction of a physical border on the island of Ireland that nobody wants and nobody says that they will build. However, that backstop has become the real deal breaker for this withdrawal agreement, and I will explain why. As MPs, we understand that there is a simple principle that no Parliament can bind its successors. Unlike other countries, we have never attempted to codify our constitution in a single written document that is later nigh on impossible to change, so not for us an unbreakable second amendment made in 1791 that now means guns kill 33,000 people a year in the United States. I would argue that our unwritten constitution has served us well in providing flexibility, which occurs all the time. There is one exception, which arises when we sign international treaties.
Treaties have a special status. These are laws that, when we pass them, we essentially agree we will never change without first coming to an international agreement to do so. They tend to be about human rights or chemical weapons, so the United Kingdom does not usually have a way in which it can walk away unilaterally, but we will leave a series of treaties made with the EU next March. Even then, it will only be because another treaty, the Lisbon treaty, gives us permission to do so through article 50.
That brings us to the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which is, in effect, a new treaty, complete with a backstop lacking a unilateral exit clause. “But don’t worry,” some say, “we will never fall into that backstop.” My question is what happens if we do? Our history suggests that the chances of our unilaterally walking away are about on a level with America changing its second amendment, so the backstop is really something that we will never unilaterally leave.
Some people say, “But we will use best endeavours on both sides, and we will make sure that we never end up in that backstop in the first place.” Yet, as every businessperson knows, we should never sign a contract if we do not know what the termination clause will be. I find the issue troubling, so I have been mugging up on “best endeavours” over quite a few mugs of coffee, and I can tell the House that the phrase has an official meaning:
“‘Best endeavours’ places upon a party the obligation to use all efforts necessary to fulfil a contract. It is a stricter obligation than the lesser ‘reasonable endeavours.’”
That may sound promising but, alas, no, because best endeavours is by no means an absolute obligation. The concept of reasonableness still applies.
For example, satisfying best endeavours would not necessarily require the EU to put itself in a detrimental position. To take a real-life example, if a construction firm were asked to complete an office block by Christmas but things did not go to plan during the contract, it could do what was reasonable—it could even put more people on site—but if it could not reach the conclusion of building the office block before Christmas, it may none the less be said to have used all best endeavours, even though the outcome was not what anyone had expected.
In other words, we could end up in this backstop for ever, and that would be that. Our country’s entire trading future would instead be decided by five people—two from the EU, two from this country and one individual whom we do not know and whom we have never met. That individual, who certainly is not democratically elected to this place, would make the final decision, so our country’s future would be determined by that individual.
I find it difficult to support legislation that effectively removes power from this House and from this country, so for the first time as a Member of Parliament I find myself at odds with my own Government. With no sign of a solution, and certainly not in the Attorney General’s legal advice that was finally released today, I am afraid that I am left contemplating my vote on the withdrawal agreement next Tuesday. I am currently minded to vote against it.
Sixty per cent. of people in my Blyth Valley constituency voted to leave Europe in the referendum. I have been voting against Europe for all of the 31 years I have been in this place, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). We do not like the idea of Europe because it is not a socialist Europe as far as we are concerned, and of course it is bureaucratic and undemocratic. These commissioners are unelected and they have all the power, and we disagree with that. We also disagree with the united states of Europe, which would be disastrous for this country if it ever happened. My opinion on joining the euro goes without saying. Some on my side would join the euro, because Tony Blair said on television the other day that he may have wanted to join the euro. If not for Gordon Brown, perhaps we would now be in the euro.
This new treaty is now on our plate. We have heard this afternoon about immigration, and we have heard about the White Paper. It was supposed to be coming in March 2017, and then it was supposed to be coming later. It was supposed to be coming this week, before the vote. Now we are told that we might get it at the end of December. I have a funny feeling we will not see it at the end of this year, although we might see it at the beginning of next year.
All that immigration has been in this country is cheap labour. We have to be honest about that. People have been brought in, especially on the farms, as cheap labour. I remember, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover will remember, when the Poles came in and came down the pit just after the war.
It was different. It is the only occasion I can remember in my life when people came from abroad and were not here to make money for their masters. When the Poles and Lithuanians —they were really called displaced persons—came over to Britain, a lot of them worked in the pits. We had 700 pits then, and they were up north as well as in Derbyshire and elsewhere.
The reason why it was different is that they were paid the same money as the miners who were indigenous to Clay Cross, Parkhouse and Glapwell, and all the rest. Not only that, they had to join the trade union, which is why it is different today. When Mike Ashley comes along and gets 300 Poles to work at his factory in Shirebrook, they are there to make money for Mike Ashley, and only him. That is the difference.
How can I follow that? That is exactly what I was going to say.
Coming back to reality, when I first saw this treaty I knew what I was going to do. I was going to vote against it, and obviously I have not changed my mind. A lot of people who were perhaps going to vote for it have changed their mind and are now not going to vote for it. We have a treaty here that the Government will try to pass on Tuesday—I do not think they will pass it—and they have all the negotiations to do afterwards. They have to negotiate on the fisheries, but I am not sure about the fisheries because we have sacked all the fishermen. We are going to get all this water, but we have no fishermen to fish it, because they have all gone. We have made them all redundant, and we have got rid of their boats.
As we have heard, it is imperative that we have a deal with the EU on the law and the security of this country. We have not got one, yet we are expected to vote on Tuesday. No wonder nobody is going to vote for this deal. What is going to happen after the deal? What will happen when we turn it down? Where will we go from there? I am not going to vote for a no deal, as it would be criminal if we came out of the EU without any sort of deal. There is no chance of me voting for a no deal if that comes on to the Floor of the House. So where do we go from there? What happens if this House cannot make its mind up and decide? I do not like referendums, because everybody then wants another one, as we have seen in Holland, France and Germany, and with the Scots. They all wanted another one. It is hard for me to say, “Well, if this House cannot agree and make a decision, we are going to have to ask the people.” I do not want a referendum, because I do not believe in them, but we did have one. There is something about referendums, because people did vote in this one—they voted to leave. Of course the Tories keep telling me that, and they are right to say that. What happens if we have a referendum and the result is the same percentage voting to remain after that? Do the leavers march the streets, with banners, and say, “We want another one”?
We have had democracy, and democracy said that we were leaving. Yet again, it appears that democracy is only where we have two referendums, and that is just not on. We must take the result of the first referendum and stick by it.
Turning back to the treaty, which is not very good, we will be in the backstop for donkey’s years. Do we think the EU is going to let us out of the backstop? Of course it will not. As for the negotiators in Europe on the matters that have not been negotiated, I would not trust them as far as I could throw them. If we did accept this deal on Tuesday, they would just throw it all away and say, “There you are. We’ve got ’em. Leave it the way it is.” That is the situation Parliament is in. [Interruption.] Of course I want a general election, but I know that turkeys do not like an early Christmas, so we are not going to have one. We have to get two thirds and we will never get two thirds out of that side—we will get it from these Benches; we will get a two-thirds vote, but they will not, and so we will never get it. As I say, these are interesting times. One Prime Minister said that a week in politics is a long time, but two days is now a long time.
We would not be having this debate today if Parliament had not asserted, earlier this year, its right to express its views clearly on the deal that has been brought back to us. It does not, however, follow from that that Parliament should have to take on the responsibility of designing or redesigning the deal. I do not believe Parliament should overreach itself in that respect. What Parliament can do is set the boundaries for a deal and express its view on the deal, and I hope we will be able to do that on Tuesday.
Equally, because of the amendment that I supported yesterday, tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), it should be very clear what is not acceptable. In my view, no deal is not acceptable. It is my judgment that no deal would be highly irresponsible. Having no agreement on trade and security would be damaging to our business interests, and we must have a deal properly in place before we leave. So I do not support no deal. I also have to say to some of my hon. Friends that I am not convinced by the arguments for having another referendum. Of course referendums are divisive, but that is not the problem. The problem is that I do not see how a referendum could be decisive and could secure a sufficient consensus to put this issue to bed for a decent period of time.
If we are to respect the referendum that we did have, and if, as my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), said in an excellent and powerful speech, we are to surrender our vote, our voice and our veto straightaway and immediately pay over this huge sum of £39 billion, we need a deal that is worth all the risks of not knowing how it is going to work out. We do not have that at the moment. Instead, we are confronted with a completely vacuous political declaration. In my view, we need something much better and much firmer if we are to take that decisive step at the end of March.
I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I continue.
I would like to see the deal improved in four crucial and already well-known respects. First, on the backstop, a sovereign country cannot be placed in a position in which we are denied, in the end, a unilateral right of exit. That is all the more important because the protocol acknowledges that the backstop might remain under “alternative arrangements”, even in part. Others have already made the case as to why a backstop should remain, and I find that argument rather odd. We have been told this week that the European Union does not like the backstop any more than we do and that Ministers in other countries do not actually want the backstop to remain. If that is the case, why should they not agree that it is in everybody’s interests—theirs and ours—to set a date by which the backstop at least falls away? I am not encouraged by all this lawyerly talk of “good faith”, “best endeavours” and endless arbitration. If we are going to have a backstop, which I do not like, let us have a date and set the clock ticking.
Secondly, the absence in the political declaration of any commitment whatsoever to the frictionless trade that the Prime Minister promised us is not acceptable, unless we have some clearer idea of the extent to which some freedom of movement will be required and of the extent to which there will be areas beyond state aid and procurement where we will have to respect European Union competition policy. The Attorney General told us on Monday that this is one of the “outer boundaries” that will have to be considered, but he did not attempt to set those boundaries. We need to be much clearer about exactly what the European Union is likely to accept, in respect of both the skills cap that we are contemplating and the competition policy that we will have to accept.
Thirdly, on the extent to which we will be allowed an independent trade policy, the political declaration is at least clear on this point: our future economic relationship must
“be consistent with the Union’s principles, in particular with respect to the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union”.
That does not leave us any clarity on whether we will be allowed to reduce much or even part of our common external tariff. Indeed, the Attorney General told us that we cannot have an independent trade policy and belong to a conventional customs union. Again, that commits us to complying with one boundary set by the European Union without any clear understanding of where the other might be set.
Finally, there is Northern Ireland. If a different regulatory framework is to continue—there are currently some elements of difference—it is clear to me that, inside our own single market, that can be done only with the continuing consent of the Province itself, or in other words of the Executive and the Assembly. The agreement should have been explicit in that regard. There may well be further checks that would enhance the protection of the whole island, but they can be put in place only with the agreement of all communities in Northern Ireland.
Without those improvements, this so-called deal is a gamble: we put all our cards on the table and all our money, and we wait for another two years for the European Union to set the rules of the game. That is a risk too far.
In this crisis, there are many temptations to find someone other than ourselves to blame, to say “I told you so”, to exploit the situation for personal ambition, or to cry betrayal. We need to resist those temptations. Indeed, we need to act in the national interest. We are on a short 100-day journey to no deal, but there are turnings that we could take off this dangerous road, which would otherwise lead us to doing a Thelma and Louise on 29 March.
I admire the Prime Minister for many things. She and I coped well together as we toured the working men’s clubs of North West Durham in 1992, on our way to being crushed by Baroness Hilary Armstrong. Then, as now, I was impressed by the Prime Minister’s fortitude in the face of certain defeat. The one thing that I do not really admire her for is her attempt to hoodwink the British people into thinking that the only choice that we have in this vote is between a bad deal and no deal. She knows that that is not true, and to keep repeating it is beneath her.
We have six options. None of them is great, but some are better than others. First, we can accept the PM’s deal, which kicks the can down the road and keeps us thinking and talking about Brexit for many years to come.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The damage that it would do to our economy would be utterly immense.
If the Prime Minister’s deal is passed, it kicks the can down the road for a number of years, and we carry on talking about Brexit into the foreseeable future. It traps the UK into EU rules, but with no say over what those rules are. It is the absolute opposite, then, of taking back control. Millions of those who voted leave would feel that they had been betrayed. Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland backstop seriously threatens the future of the Union, and every family and every business in this country will be hit by our exit from the single market. If Members think that we should honour the wishes of the British people, they cannot vote for this deal. If they think that we should protect the interests of the British people, they cannot vote for this deal.
Option two, which we have already covered, is that we leave with no deal. The upside of that is that we would—to use the vernacular—take back control. We would not be bound by EU rules or judgments, but the hit to our economy would mean that what sovereignty we would regain from the EU, we would lose immediately to the international financial markets, with all the impact that that would have on my constituents and the constituents of every other Member. There are already 2,200 children living below the poverty line in my community. I will not vote for any course of action that puts even one more child or one more family, let alone thousands more, in poverty. That is why I will vote against no deal.
A third option is that the Prime Minister has the courage of her convictions and puts the deal to the country in a referendum. Let us not kid ourselves: like most referendums, a referendum on the deal—a people’s vote—has the capacity to be divisive. However, I disagree with the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), as I believe that it would be decisive. Whichever option was chosen by the people would come into effect without further debate or delay.
Option four might be an early general election. There are 2,700 hours until Brexit. The country will not forgive us if we waste 1,000 of those hours on a self-indulgent general election. The same applies to option five, which is that the Prime Minister is sacked as the leader of her party. Again, that would be seen as the actions of the self-indulgent, the vain and the personally ambitious—the very antithesis of the national interest.
A sixth option is to withdraw article 50 and to renegotiate. As the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) said earlier, we leapt from the aircraft when we triggered article 50 without checking whether we had a parachute, and we are now within a few metres of hitting the ground with a great big splat. There is now a miraculous option to get back in the plane. We could withdraw article 50 and allow the Prime Minister to renegotiate a better deal, which she certainly could do if she changed her red lines. She could, for instance, seek membership of the single market, which is not dissimilar to the arrangement that Norway enjoys. The Prime Minister’s decision to rule out the single market was an entirely arbitrary and self-imposed choice made not to reflect the will of the people, but to placate the European Research Group in her own party. It should now be crystal clear to her that those folks are unplacatable, so she should instead seek to find a consensus with people who might be a little more reasonable.
I am a reasonable man. I am no EU flag-waving federalist, no apologist for all that emanates from Brussels, I do not have “Ode to Joy” as my ringtone, I do not know a single word of Esperanto, and, in 2008, I resigned from the Front Bench over the Lisbon treaty, but I have never been more convinced that Britain’s future must lie in Europe and that to leave would be a tragic, tragic mistake. I do not have time to go into all the reasons, but given that the focus of today’s debate is security, let us remember that 11 of the countries in the European Union today were once behind the iron curtain. Six of those countries had nuclear weapons on their soil pointed right at this city. Just as the nations that fought two bloody wars in the 20th century sit together, so do those from either side of the cold war divide. If that was the only reason for staying in the European Union, that would do for me. How short must memory be to cast that away?
I spend a lot more time in Westmorland than I do in Westminster, so last night I listened to my constituents and did my sums to find out how people in my communities think we should vote in this debate. Here are the votes of the Westmorland jury: 3.5% want us to leave with no deal; 10% want us to leave with the Prime Minister’s deal; 17% want us to remain in the EU without a people’s vote; and 68% want a people’s vote.
After taking the time to listen to people’s motives, it is clear to me that many of those who want a people’s vote hold a similar view to me—that referendums are poisonous and dangerous. If we did not see another referendum for the rest of our lives, it would be far too soon. Nevertheless, we cannot let what began with democracy end with a Whitehall-Westminster-Brussels stich-up. If the people voted for our departure, they must also have the right to vote for our destination, and to choose a better destination than the one that the Prime Minister presents to them, if they consider it not to be good enough.
This deal fails all its own internal tests. It would mean that we were run by European rules but without any ability to have a say over them, which would make us poorer, weaker and less safe. It would divide our Union, so it would make us less British. I love my country, so I will reject any deal that harms it. I reject no deal and this bad deal. There are better options; the Prime Minister should take them.
I am grateful to be called in this important and serious debate, ahead of what I think most people expect to be the defeat of the proposed EU withdrawal agreement next Tuesday night.
Like so many of my colleagues, I am currently receiving hundreds of emails from constituents urging us to vote down this deal, for all kinds of different and contradictory reasons: to kill Brexit altogether; to get a second referendum; to get a softer Brexit through some kind of Norway-style deal; to get a harder Brexit or a real Brexit; to get a Canada-style deal or the WTO option; or to get rid of the Prime Minister and get somebody else in charge who genuinely believes in the Brexit project. There are so many different reasons to vote it down that we would cover all our bases by going through the No Lobby next Tuesday night. But the message I would like to give to the House, particularly to my colleagues, is that voting this deal down next Tuesday will resolve nothing at all. It might be the easiest thing to do. It might even be the smart political thing to do. But it will not take us further forward and it will resolve nothing at all.
One of the consistent themes of the negotiating process over the last 18 months has been how the sheer complexity and, at times, difficulty of the Brexit negotiations have increasingly jarred against the perfect theory and almost beautiful and optimistic simplicity of some of the leave campaign slogans that we heard during the referendum campaign in 2016. There was a beautiful and optimistic simplicity about the message of taking back control by being out rather than in. Yet as we have seen during these negotiations, the real world is much more complicated. One thing I have learned during the 14 months that I have been a member of the Exiting the European Union Committee is that there is nothing simple or straightforward about the business of withdrawing the UK from the EU after 40 years of membership.
The former New York governor Mario Cuomo used to like saying:
“You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”
That was not an acceptance of duplicity in politics, but a recognition that, when it comes to serious and responsible government, the outcomes are always less elegant and less attractive than some of the easy campaign slogans.
As the increasing realisation has set in that Brexit is a more challenging and difficult process than many would have liked to have believed at the start, so the blame game sets in. We hear people lashing out so easily against the Prime Minister, saying things like, “It’s all her fault. This is due to her personality. She’s not tough enough. She should have been stronger. She should have been a real believer and had real faith in Brexit.” And we hear accusations against Olly Robbins and the senior civil servants: “If only we had senior civil servants who weren’t part of the metropolitan elite and who shared the general views of the real British public, we would have a more perfect Brexit option on the table in front of us.”
The truth is that we have a less than perfect Brexit deal in front of us because that was always going to be the case. I say to my Conservative colleagues that the deal on the table is not the Prime Minister’s deal—it is our deal. It already has all of our names attached to it. That is because it has been shaped, fundamentally, not by the Prime Minister’s personality and not by Olly Robbins, but by decisions that we all took as a governing party. We all agreed to the timetable of the article 50 process with its hard deadline; we signed up to that. We all stood on a manifesto last year that included the contradictory red lines that perpetuated the complete fiction that we could have all the same benefits of membership of the single market and the customs union but none of the obligations that come from that. That manifesto embodied those red lines. We are responsible for the way that this deal has been shaped, so we will share in the responsibility for what happens next.
If this deal gets voted down next week, we know—it is already clear from the first day or so of debate that we have had—that no one is sure what happens next, other than a further period of political uncertainty and turmoil, and that cannot be in our nation’s interests.
I will wrap up by saying something about my own constituency, Preseli Pembrokeshire, which voted 55:45 to leave the European Union. On the night of the referendum result, I promised, even though I had been a remain campaigner, that I would respect the outcome of the referendum, and that I would campaign and work towards the outcome being implemented, but in a way that was responsible and that sought to protect key economic interests that affect the lives of the communities in my constituency. My constituency is one of the peripheral areas of the United Kingdom. We are closer to Ireland than we are to England. We have ferry ports that connect to Ireland. We have oil refining, gas imports, farming and fishing—so many economic interests—and how we leave the EU really matters to the livelihoods of people in those sectors.
One particular sector that I want to draw attention to is oil refining. The Valero oil refinery in Pembroke is probably our largest employer—it employs 1,000 people directly and indirectly through contractors. Having sat down with the general manager of that plant a few weeks ago, I can say to the House that there are very serious and specific reasons why a no deal outcome would be very bad news indeed for that major employer in my constituency. No serious Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire could vote for something that could lead to a no deal outcome and look their constituents in the eye again. In my time as MP, I have been through one refinery closure four years ago when the Murco refinery closed, and it was horrible. I have friends who lost their jobs; I have staff members whose family members who lost their jobs. I do not want to see that again.
How we leave the EU really matters. Yes, this is an imperfect deal; it could have been so much better if we had used our time much better as a Government and a party over the past two years. But I am going to vote for it because I believe in doing Brexit in a responsible way that protects the interests of my constituents and abides by the outcome of the referendum in 2016.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb). I agree with him on at least one thing—there is nothing simple or straightforward about what we are confronted with here.
I want to spend the time available to me talking about Brexit and Knowsley. People might say, “Why Knowsley?” Why do I have to talk about Knowsley in connection with Brexit? The reason is that in the 2016 referendum the people of Knowsley voted in exactly the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom—52:48—to leave the European Union, so, in a way, it is a microcosm of the rest of the United Kingdom. Why did the people of Knowsley vote in the way they did? When I was out on the street campaigning to remain, three reasons came up continually. The first was immigration; I will say a little more about that in a moment. The second was sovereignty, or taking back control. The third was that they wanted us to control our own finances properly. I want to deal with each of those in turn.
First, on immigration, some of it—not all of it—was xenophobic in nature, with people addressing it as, “We don’t want to be that country. We don’t like multiculturalism” and that kind of thing. People also gave other reasons, one of which was a feeling that immigration was putting too much pressure on public services. In Knowsley, we have the lowest level of immigration in the country, and although we have pressures on public services, immigration has nothing to do with those pressures. But that was one of the reasons they gave.
Another reason people gave—my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), as so often, touched on it—was a feeling that those coming from eastern Europe in particular were undercutting wages in some of the industries that operate in my constituency. Whether that is right or wrong, that is what people felt at the time. As it happens, I think we need to have a more intelligent debate about immigration than we have had so far, so that people really understand the nature of it, but we have not had that debate, and we certainly had not had it at that point.
Secondly, I will not labour the point on sovereignty, because it has been made repeatedly by others, but the reality is that we are ceding more control than we are gaining, so the deal does not meet that requirement. Thirdly, on the issue of repatriating the money we spend in Europe and economic control, frankly, all the evidence is that it will go in the opposite direction. The reality is that everything the people in my constituency voted for when they voted to leave is not going to happen with this deal. This deal does not meet the requirements they set, and I think most Members are conscious of that.
Before I conclude, I want to talk about what I know of opinion in my constituency at the moment. Like every other Member of this House, I have had hundreds of people contact me in the last few weeks, and they fall into three distinct categories. The first is people who, like me, voted to remain, and they want us to have a second referendum, so that they can have a go at determining a different outcome. The second category is people who voted to leave, are still convinced of that and are willing for us to come out at any cost, with no deal at all. The third category, which is really interesting, is people—some of them remainers, some of them leavers—who are saying, “We’ve already had a referendum. We should get on with it.” The Prime Minister has been using that mantra over the last few weeks. The problem, given that the deal does not represent any of the things that those people voted for, is that getting on with it means getting on with something that virtually everyone in the House concedes is an unsatisfactory outcome.
I think we would all concede that those who contact MPs to tell them what they think are not necessarily typical of opinion in any given constituency. Nevertheless, that is one signal I have to go by. I got another signal when I went to speak on this issue at the All Saints sixth-form in Kirkby in my constituency six weeks ago. In the middle of it, for some reason, I decided to take a straw poll. Although Kirkby is a traditional white working-class area, the students overwhelmingly voted to remain. They wanted some means by which they could remain in the European Union, and that highlights the generational difficulty we have.
I also attended an event over the summer that I organised with the help of the local chamber of commerce, for local businesses that trade with Europe. From big companies like Jaguar Land Rover, down to a small company that deals in precious metal, they wanted a deal that assured their future trading relationship with the European Union. I do not think this deal provides that.
I am left with the view that this can only be sorted in one of two ways. The first is a general election. That does not seem likely to happen, but it is one way of doing it. The second option is another referendum. I believe that one or both of those, or even a combination of the two, is the only way forward, because there is no majority in the House for anything else.
One of the things we are seeking to do as we leave the European Union is to make sure that we do not have a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The way I think we should solve that—I think this is the Government’s position—is to have a free trade agreement. The problem I have is the backstop in the withdrawal agreement.
The Prime Minister was clear that a backstop that treated Northern Ireland differently and put a border in the Irish sea was unacceptable and not something any British Prime Minister could sign off. I am afraid to say that she has done exactly that. I was not 100% convinced of that, based on my own analysis of the withdrawal agreement. I am just a humble accountant, not an expert lawyer. This morning, however, I read the legal advice—the letter from the Attorney General to the Prime Minister about the legal effect of the protocol. Paragraph 7 is plain and clear:
“NI remains in the EU’s Customs Union, and will apply the whole of the EU’s customs acquis, and the Commission and the CJEU will continue to have jurisdiction”
over it, and:
“Goods passing from GB to NI will be subject to a declaration process.”
That means that, if a company in my constituency wins an order with a business in Northern Ireland—in our own country—it will have to have the deal signed off by a British bureaucrat, and if our rules in Great Britain have deviated from those in Northern Ireland, it may be told that it cannot ship that order to a part of our own country. I do not find that acceptable. I think the Prime Minister was right when she said that no UK Prime Minister should sign off such a deal. I still stick to that, which is why I will not be able to support the withdrawal agreement as it is currently set out. This is the first time in my 13 years in this House that I will not be able to support my party. I regret that. I also regret being put in a position where, in order to hold to the promises that we made in our general election manifesto to the people of our country last year, I am forced to vote against a proposition put before this House by my Prime Minister. But I think it is important in politics that we keep our promises because that is how we maintain the trust of the British people. Breaking our promises is not something we should do.
Furthermore, the backstop is also of concern for those who may not be concerned about Northern Ireland because of the indefinite nature of it. The Attorney General set out earlier this week the indefinite nature of the customs union if the backstop is triggered. I fear that that will critically weaken our negotiating position as we negotiate the future trade relationship, which I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) is the thing that is really important. But if we cripple our negotiating position, we will end up with a very bad future relationship, which will stick with us not just for years, but potentially for decades.
The legal advice we have now seen—published this morning—is, again, clear. The Attorney General makes it clear that
“despite statements in the Protocol that it is not intended to be permanent, and the clear intention of the parties that it should be replaced by alternative, permanent arrangements, in international law the Protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place”.
He also makes it clear that there is no mechanism that will enable us to leave the UK-wide customs union “without a subsequent agreement” and that
“remains the case even if parties are still negotiating many years later, and even if the parties believe that talks have…broken down and there is no prospect of a future relationship agreement.”
If in this country somebody had a contract of employment where only one of the parties could end the agreement, or if they had a business contract where only one party could end the agreement, it would be indenture and would be struck down by the British courts, yet we are contemplating an international treaty where that is the case.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. That is not a contract I would be willing to sign and I am afraid that is why I cannot sign up to this withdrawal agreement. It is also the case that the withdrawal agreement will hand over about £39 billion in an unconditional way. I think that most people who carry out negotiations generally do not hand over all the money until they have a deal. We should make the money conditional on both getting a good deal and getting a good deal on a timely basis. If we were to do that, we would get a good deal on a timely basis.
There may be before the House amendments to the motions and extra words may be added to the political declaration, but what we are being asked to vote on is a legally binding treaty—the withdrawal agreement. Unless that is changed, words added to the political declaration and any extra words on the motions before this House are legally meaningless. I do not think they are capable of persuading colleagues who are concerned about the withdrawal agreement that they have significantly changed the position.
My right hon. Friend is making a clear and compelling speech. Given that it has been pretty clear for 12 months that the withdrawal agreement would include a Northern Irish backstop and that that would have some teeth to it, and that there was no way that the EU or the Irish Government were going to agree to a backstop with an end date because then it would not be a backstop, how does he propose that we overcome that problem? What does voting down the deal next Tuesday do to make a solution to the problem he sets out any more likely?
First, there were two aspects to the joint report that was signed. We have delivered one of them in the withdrawal agreement. The other one was about ensuring that unfettered access to the United Kingdom market remained in place. That may well be true for Northern Ireland businesses, but it is not true for businesses in Great Britain. So we have not delivered, according to the Attorney General’s advice, on that joint report in this withdrawal agreement.
The Irish Government, the British Government and the EU have all said that they do not want to see a hard border or infrastructure—we are all committed to that and we are all supposed to be committed to reaching a deal on a future relationship—so I do not see any need to have the backstop in this deal. It is clear to me that, if the backstop remains in the deal, the Prime Minister will not be able to get it through the House. If the Cabinet’s deal is defeated—this is the Cabinet’s agreement, not just the Prime Minister’s—the Prime Minister should go to the European Council at the end of next week and say that any deal with the backstop will not be passed by this House and that they should think again. I think they will reflect on the fact that, if the fifth largest economy in the world and a close defence and security partner is leaving the EU, they have a choice: do we leave with a good, positive relationship on which we can build in the months and years to come, or do we leave with a spirit of rancour and discord? That is something our European partners will have to reflect on. I hope that, if they reflect on that, they will reach a wise and sensible decision and we can reach a sensible agreement.
My final point is aimed more at my Conservative colleagues. Because of the importance of Northern Ireland, my colleagues need to reflect on the fact that, if the deal were voted through next week, it is my belief, having listened carefully to what they have said, that the relationship between our Democratic Unionist party allies and the Prime Minister would be fractured beyond repair and what we saw yesterday, when we were defeated three times in this House, will be a state of affairs repeated on a number of occasions day after day after day. I think we would be in office but unable to govern our country effectively. Colleagues need to think about that.
It is not too late for the Prime Minister to think again, to come before the House before the vote on Tuesday and to say that she is going to change the withdrawal agreement and deliver that message to our European partners. If she does that and the withdrawal agreement is changed, I for one will happily support the Government, and I believe that the majority of MPs in this House will do so. It will unify our party and bring our DUP allies back with us. If she does that, she will have my support. If she does not, I regret that, for the first time in my 13 years in Parliament, I will be unable to support the leader of my party and the Prime Minister of my country.
We are asked to approve the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. I will vote against them because they are not in our national interest. I do not believe that they represent the will of this House or the will of our country, which is why we have to give this issue back to the people with the option to keep our current deal—a far superior arrangement. Some will say that that is unsurprising; I represent the area that scored the highest remain vote in the country. It is almost as if what my constituents think does not count, because ever since 2016, there has been a deliberate attempt to dismiss areas such as mine that voted remain and to divide them off from areas that voted leave.
Despite the multifaceted nature of the result and the fact that it was evenly balanced—17.4 million to 16.1 million—areas such as mine are sometimes treated like a small minority and airily referred to as being liberal, metropolitan and elite. In Lambeth, we are proud to be metropolitan and we are proud of our liberal values, but we are anything but an elite. We are the eighth most deprived local authority area in England. One third of the children living in our borough live in poverty. We have higher rates of unemployment and we have more acute social problems than many of the areas that voted to leave, so my constituents have grievances, too. No one side of this debate has a monopoly on grievance. The only difference is that in Lambeth, we did not believe that leaving the European Union would do anything to help us or solve the problems that I just referred to, and nothing in the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration gives us any reason to think otherwise.
As for those who did vote to leave, what were they promised and have the withdrawal agreement and declaration delivered it? The right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who spoke before me, is absolutely right: it is important that these promises are kept. Vote Leave—I note that the Environment Secretary was the co-leader of that campaign—said that the Government would negotiate new trade deals that would immediately take effect on exit day. Where are those trade deals? I will give way to him if he wants to tell us where they are. We know that they are nowhere to be seen and that we will not see any of them in March 2019. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman chunters from a sedentary position. Not one trade deal will be in place in March 2019. I am happy to give way to him if he wants to disabuse the House of that fact, but he knows that it is not going to happen.
Vote Leave also promised that trade with the EU would not be harmed. The Prime Minister acknowledged in her Mansion House speech that we will have less market access and trade will be harmed. The Government’s own economic impact assessments are telling us that we will be poorer as a result. Then, of course, there was that ridiculous promise of the £350 million extra per week that we were told would go to the NHS—a straightforward lie, which I will not dignify with any further attention.
I want to address what is sometimes the elephant in the room: immigration. If one factor above all else was driving the vote, it was that and the issue of EU free movement. It was exploited in the most disgusting way. Remember Vote Leave’s claim that millions of Turkish people would be coming to our country, bringing criminality and threatening our security—it was an absolute disgrace and those involved in making those claims should hang their heads in shame.
There is, of course, concern about the levels of EU immigration. Let us be honest: views are stronger in respect of non-EU immigration, and there are parallels between the discontent in some leave-voting areas about EU immigration and the discontent regarding the immigration that we have had in this country from the 1950s. There was, after all, a form of free movement from the Commonwealth up until 1971; my father was part of that. I do not deny that immigration poses economic and cultural challenges in parts of our country, but if we implement the right policies, it need not do so.
I turn then to the underlying causes of concern about immigration: not enough well-paid and decent jobs; not enough decent, affordable housing; a shortage of school places; an NHS in crisis. These problems will not disappear or be mitigated if we exit, be it with this withdrawal agreement and declaration or in any other way. As the Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee has said, immigration has no or little impact on the overall employment conditions or outcomes of UK-born citizens; immigration is not a major determinant of the wages of UK-born workers; immigrants make up a small fraction of those in social housing; and, above all, EU immigrants contribute so much more to the health service and the provision of social care and financial resources, and through work, than they consume in services.
It is absolutely clear, therefore, that ending free movement will not solve the problems facing the country. We have to treat our constituents—everyone in this country—like adults and be honest. I am fed up with hearing people say, “People expressed concerns about immigration.” Of course we should engage with that, but let us not lie and say that we agree that they are caused by all these EU immigrants that people refer to. Governments from both sides of the House have not delivered enough for people, and that is the problem, not immigration.
Where does that leave us? We have absolutely no idea because we do not know the proposed post-Brexit immigration arrangements or our future economic relationship with the EU; we just have this declaration of aspiration. This is the point. Beyond immigration and security, we do not know the final Brexit destination, and let us be honest about this too: the House cannot agree what that destination should be either. For all those reasons and more, I cannot see how we can resolve this issue if we do not refer it back to the people to determine. Let us have the people’s vote we need.
Almost two and a half years have now passed since the people spoke in that big democratic referendum. The people voted in very large numbers to take back control of our laws, our money and our borders, and to reclaim the lost sovereignty of the United Kingdom electorate, and they did so in the teeth of enormous hostility and propaganda from many elements of the political and big business establishment.
The people were told they were too stupid to understand the arguments and that there were huge dangers if they dared to vote to leave the EU. They were told by both campaigns, and by the Government in a formal leaflet, that we would be leaving the single market and the customs union, because rightly we were told that the EU would not allow us to cherry-pick bits of the single market and customs union and that those were an integral part of the whole. They were given a set of entirely bogus and dishonest forecasts about what would happen in the short term after the vote, and practically every one of those forecasts was wildly too pessimistic, which has led to the distrust between the vote leave majority and the establishment that pushed out those forecasts.
I urge the House to move on from “Project Fear”, to move on from gloom and doom, and to understand that many millions of decent, honest voters made a careful and considered decision, and they do not believe those who tell them it will all go wrong, that it must be reversed or that they must be told to think again and vote again because they did not do their homework. It is deeply insulting to the electors, and I am sure that this Parliament is worthy of a much better performance than that.
The people were saying something wonderful for this Parliament. They were saying, “We believe in you, Parliament. We believe you can make wise laws. We believe you can make even wiser laws than the EU. We believe you can make better judgments about how to spend the taxes we send you than the EU, which spends so much of the money on our behalf in ways of which we do not approve. We believe, O Parliament, that if you help us to take back control of our laws and democracy, we will get better answers. Or, of course, Parliament, if you do not give us a better answer, we the people will have our sovereignty back, and we will dismiss you.”
One of the things that most annoys people about the EU among the leave-voting majority is that we cannot sack them. Whatever they do, however bad they are, however much money they waste, however irritating their laws, we have to put up with them. We cannot sack them; we cannot have a general election. [Interruption.] Scottish National party Members say that they feel the same about the Union of the United Kingdom, but we gave them the democratic opportunity, and their people say that they like our system of government, because this is their democracy too. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) should understand that her colleagues in Scotland, and her voters in Scotland, believe in UK democracy, and they have exactly the same rights of voice and vote and redress as all the rest of us.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. Ever since the referendum, the narrative has been to find explanations for why the people voted as they did—any explanation other than the fact that they wanted to leave the European Union. Does he consider that the majority in favour of the amendment in the name of our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) shows that the game is up, and that there is now a majority in the House against leaving the European Union? The game for us must be to find some orderly way around that, irrespective of the majority who are now against us.
I do not prejudge the evil intents of other Members. I hope that all Members will agree that we must implement the referendum result. We had a general election in the summer of last year, and I remember that in that general election Labour and the Conservatives got rather more than 80% of the vote in Great Britain, the Democratic Unionist party did extremely well in Northern Ireland, and all three parties said that they would faithfully implement the referendum decision of United Kingdom voters on leaving the European Union. I trust that they will want to operate in good faith in the votes that may be to come.
My advice to Ministers, as well as to the rest of the House, is that what we should now be doing is celebrating the opportunities and the advantages that we will gain after March, when we have left the European Union. We should be having debates about how we will spend all the extra money on improving our public services instead of giving it to the EU. We should be having a debate about all the tax cuts that we need to boost our economy, so that instead of growth slowing after we leave, we speed it up by deliberate acts of policy which we would be empowered in this place to take if only Members would lift their gloom and their obstinate denial of opportunity, and see that if we spent some more money and had some tax cuts, it would provide a very welcome boost to our economy in its current situation.
I want to see us publish a schedule of tariffs for trading with the whole world that are lower than the tariffs that the EU currently makes us impose on perfectly good exporters, particularly of food products, from elsewhere in the world. Why do we have to impose high tariffs on food that we cannot grow for ourselves? I want us to have a debate on urgently taking back control of our fishing industry so that we can land perhaps twice as many fish in the UK and not let them all be landed somewhere else, and build a much bigger fish processing industry on the back of domestic landings from our very rich fishing grounds.
I wish to see us get rid of VAT on, for instance, green products and domestic fuel, which we are not allowed to do because we are an impotent puppet Parliament that does not even control its own tax system for as long as we remain in the European Union. I wish to see us take back control of our borders, so that we can have a migration policy that is right for our economic needs and fair to people from wherever they may come all around the world, rather than having an inbuilt European Union preference. I wish us to be a global leader for world trade. Now that the United States of America has a President who says that he rather likes tariffs, there is a role for a leading great power and economic force in the world like the United Kingdom to provide global leadership for free trade.
We will do none of that if we sign this miserable agreement with which the Government have presented us, because we will be locked into their customs arrangements for many months or years. We will not be free to negotiate those free trade deals, let alone provide the international leadership which I yearn for us to provide. I want us to have our seat back at the high tables of the world in the big institutions like the World Trade Organisation, so that with vote and voice and purpose, we can offer something positive, and have a more liberal free-trading democratic world than the one that we currently have. That is something that we are not allowed to do for as long as we remain members of the European Union.
I say this to Members. Lift the gloom. Stop “Project Fear”. Stop selling the electors short. Stop treating the electors as if they were unable to make an adult decision. Understand that they made a great decision—a decision I am mightily proud of—to take back sovereign control to the people, to take back the delegated sovereign control to this Parliament. It is high time that this Parliament rose to the challenge, instead of falling at every opportunity, and high time we did something positive for our constituents, instead of moaning and grumbling and spending every day—groundhog day—complaining about the vote of the British people.
Many hon. Members have spoken in this debate on one of the most important pieces of legislation that this House has considered, and I am grateful that we have as much time as we do to debate this nation’s next steps. I do not believe it is hyperbole to say that we are charged with setting this nation’s future.
I campaigned for our country to remain in the EU. I believe we are stronger when we work with our neighbours, not when we turn our backs on them. The majority of this House said that leaving the EU would be bad for business, strip protections from workers and leave us isolated in the world. We were not heeded. Many of us here counselled that article 50 should not have been triggered and that rushing to this momentous step was foolhardy. We were not heeded. We stood in this House and the Prime Minister paid lip service to the requests of hon. Members to negotiate to protect key sectors of the economy. We were not heeded
The Prime Minister and her Government have carried on regardless, with the small clique running things the same way that they always have. In this country’s greatest leap into the unknown, she has chosen not to bring people together, not to create consensus, and not to work openly. But she has used every scintilla of strategy and guile she could muster to block this place from scrutinising her deal. Now it is too late; I am sure other Members will respond to that later on. Behind her sits looming the largest rebellion of this century, because she thought she alone could design the deal this country needs. Leadership may take self-belief, but it needs self-awareness, too.
The deal that we will vote on is not a deal for growth, it is not a deal for an outward-looking Britain, and it certainly is not a deal for the future. We abandon allies and friends in Europe, and we put into question our own security, and so I do not vote against this deal lightly. If we vote this deal down, the risk only rises of a no-deal Brexit—a no-deal Brexit that will destroy jobs and livelihoods, drive teachers, doctors and nurses out of the UK, and create another generation scarred by a self-inflicted recession.
This country was built on immigration. I myself came here more than 50 years ago, made a family and a life here, served as a local councillor for over 25 years, and have become a Member of Parliament. But the Prime Minister’s plan for Brexit will denude this nation of who it needs most, so I cannot in good faith vote for a deal that leaves my constituents, young and old, without a brighter looking future. Are my grandchildren and all their generation going to look back at this moment and at the Prime Minister’s deal, and remember it as the moment we snuffed out their hope?
The misjudgment, the mishandling and the sheer incompetence of our so-called pivot to the world is staggering, I cannot believe this is what anyone voted for on 23 June 2016. We owe it to everyone in this country, from Ealing Southall to Edinburgh and across the Irish sea, to end this madness. This House should vote down the Prime Minister’s deal, and the Government should take a stand for our country and withdraw our notice under article 50. They should show some leadership. If the Prime Minister cannot summon the courage even to hand the decision back to the people in a new referendum, then this is the appropriate time for her to stand aside and let others show some real leadership.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), and I agree with him that we are stronger when we work with our neighbours. No one doubts the commitment of the Prime Minister to try to deliver on the wishes of the 52%. The trouble is that no one really knows which version of Brexit she was mandated to deliver. There are so many possible alternatives, with everything from Norway, the European Economic Area, the European Free Trade Association and Norway plus a customs union through to a Canada-style free trade agreement and Canada plus plus plus. There are so many options, but after two years of hard slog, we now know what this looks like. We know what the withdrawal agreement looks like, for example. It is a legally binding agreement with more than 500 pages, but worryingly, it has only 26 pages describing what will actually happen after the transition period. That is nothing more than a wish list of asks and it is very sketchy. We are heading for a blindfold Brexit.
I also fear that we are being forced into a binary false choice in which we accept either a bad deal or something even worse: no deal. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has set down red lines all around herself for the various options. The one area in which she has not put down a red line is the worst deal of all, which is no deal. I am afraid that I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) when he talks about “Project Fear”. I think that very shortly, possibly in as little as 114 days, we will be up against “Project Reality”. In the context of no deal, “Project Reality” would be very serious indeed for patients who use our national health service. We are talking about major interruptions in the supply chain of vital medicines and medical supplies. We are talking about insecurity in the supply of vital diagnostic test materials such as medical radioisotopes, which cannot be stockpiled. We are talking about supply chain issues for complex biological drugs, including those that we use to stop transplant rejection and to treat cancers.
We are also talking about products that cannot easily be switched from one brand to another in cases of shortage, such as medication for epilepsy. We are talking about difficulty in guaranteeing sufficient refrigeration capacity for stockpiling. Nobody voted in the referendum because they wanted to see the stockpiling of medicines and the extra costs involved, or the difficulties that the NHS and our care services will face in providing the workforce that we need. The truth is that there is no version of Brexit that would be positive for our NHS, for our care services, for science and research or for public health, and we need to be honest with people about that.
We also need to be honest and have a reality check about what is happening in this place. It seems to me that even the dogs in the street know that the Prime Minister’s deal is not going to pass this House next week. That is the truth of it. We should now be thinking about plan B, and we need to be honest about that. To my mind, plan B must not involve no deal. No responsible Government could inflict no deal on the United Kingdom in 114 days’ time. We are absolutely not prepared for that. So what is the alternative? There is no majority in this House for any of the other options, so the alternative is to look at going back to the British people and saying to them, “This is what Brexit looks like. This is the best that could be negotiated. Is this the Brexit you voted for, or do you want to stick with the deal that we have?” I would say that there was no consent to being dragged into Brexit without asking the people.
Before coming to this place, I was privileged to work in the health service for 24 years, and to teach junior doctors and medical students. In medicine, there is the really important principle of informed consent. We should apply it to Brexit, because Brexit is major constitutional, economic and social surgery. To give informed consent, one has to know what the operation involves. Two years ago, there were many possible versions of that operation, but now that we know what the surgery involves, it is time for proper discussion about the risks and benefits, and to allow people to weigh them up for themselves.
My hon. Friend knows that I respect her enormously. I agree that being very candid with the electorate is the right thing to do right now. Should we also be candid with them about the mechanism for delivering a second referendum—about the fact that it would require an Act of Parliament; about the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill taking 348 days to get through the Houses of Parliament; and about there being absolutely no expectation that a Bill as controversial as a second referendum Bill would be able to progress through this place any quicker?
I ask my hon. Friend to have a look at the work of the Constitution Unit and others, who estimate that we could get a referendum Bill through the House in 22 weeks. We would first need to extend article 50. That is what I hope that the Prime Minister does. I hope that she looks at the reality of the situation, extends article 50, and asks the British people, “Is this the Brexit you voted for, or do you want to stay with the deal we have?”—the one that has served us well for decades. That question has to go back to the British people.
None of us in this House should be forced into a false choice—into choosing a bad deal because we are told that the only alternative is no deal. That is simply not the case, and I believe that the House will reject the deal. That is why I support the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) rejecting no deal, and urge colleagues to do the same. The House should ask to extend article 50, so that we have the time to consider where we go from here. Otherwise, in 114 days, we run out of road and fall off a cliff. What is needed now—this message is for the Opposition Front Benchers as well as ours—is a BFO: a blinding flash of the obvious. We need to think again. Delivering on a people’s vote will require the Opposition Front Benchers not to cling to the idea that they will force a general election; we know that will not happen, either.
We do not have any time to waste. We need Members on both Front Benches to give a free vote, or deliver support for a people’s vote. That is the way forward. This House would decide the exact question. I believe that the choice should be between this deal and remain; I know others feel that the question should be more complex. We do not have to decide that now—it is something that the House could decide later—but we must not run out of road; we must extend article 50.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). I will vote against the withdrawal agreement, because I want to help and support my constituents in Motherwell and Wishaw, and because I believe the UN rapporteur and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation when they talk about increasing poverty; I have seen it in my constituency. I spent last Saturday helping a wonderful woman, Martine Nolan, with her great toy giveaway to children in my constituency and constituencies close by who will not have a Christmas because of the poverty that they are suffering. Those children’s parents are in work. In this country, being in work no longer means that someone earns enough to support their family adequately. I will not listen again to those Front Benchers who tell me that the only way out of poverty is work, when people in my constituency work in a gig economy, earn very little money and have no job security.
Within weeks of setting up my office in Motherwell, the people in my office helped me to establish the Poverty Action Network. I pay tribute to the members of that network, which include people from North Lanarkshire Council, organisations across Motherwell and Wishaw, and organisations right across North Lanarkshire. They want the best for people, I want the best for people, and this deal most certainly is not that.
As I said in my maiden speech, my constituency has always welcomed immigrants, starting with Lithuanians after the first world war. We have had Congolese refugees and Syrian refugees, and huge numbers of Polish people have contributed enormously to the culture, health and wealth of my constituency. I do not want to see barriers go up to prevent that.
At the moment, EU nationals are choosing not to come to Motherwell and Wishaw. For example, last month’s Nursing and Midwifery Council figures showed that EEA applications for registration in this country were down 87% last year, and they are still dropping. The people who look after our most vulnerable mostly come from EU countries.
When my husband was dying, I was relieved that he would not need more radiotherapy, because I was so worried about what might happen if he had needed it and there were queues at Dover, we were no longer in Euratom and he could not get the vital services he needed. He was lucky that he did not have to wait, and he is out of that kind of pain now.
Turning to businesses in my constituency, small businesses rely on there being higher numbers of EU nationals in Scotland. That is especially true in the highlands and islands, but even the factory in my constituency that makes kilts for the UK Army employs EU nationals. It needs those people and the support they provide.
The UK chair of the Federation of Small Businesses said that if small businesses are
“lumbered with complex paperwork to bring in EU staff post-Brexit that will cause a significant drag on the billions they contribute to the economy each year.”
We cannot have that; it does not help our businesses. How will the economy grow when we do not have the right people in the right jobs because of paperwork?
The fact that Northern Ireland has secured a separate Brexit deal—and for very good reason—will affect competition between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, companies will start to move. It is just a short hop across the water from Stranraer—or, rather, below Stranraer—to Belfast.
Cairnryan—I thank the hon. Gentleman. It is only a short hop. That will affect Scotland’s business community in a way that has not even been thought about.
I do not want people in my surgeries, whether they are EU nationals or others, to feel that they are not welcome in my country. I do not want immigrants to be treated differently from how they are treated now. I do not want them to have to pay any more. Thank goodness the Scottish Government are going to pay for the paperwork that may be necessary.
Workers in my constituency will suffer a loss in rights if this Government have anything to do with it. The Government have shown that they would prefer businesses to have rights than the workers who create their profits.
My constituents voted yes in the first independence referendum and remain in the 2016 referendum. I want them to continue to be members of the single market and the customs union, and I want to continue to welcome migrants to Scotland. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said, Scotland has seen how the United Kingdom Government treat its Parliament, its people and its industries.
With complete contempt. This Scotland will not put up with that much longer. In view of that, I have no faith in this Government, I do not want Scotland to remain part of the UK, and I am confident that my constituents will vote yes in the next independence referendum.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). I rise to speak in a debate in the Chamber for the first time for some months, but this takes me back to my maiden speech during a debate on the European Union back in 2005, because the topic has continued to be discussed in the House every year since.
Those looking at this debate from outside—I am sure that other Members are getting the same evidence that I am receiving in my postbag and via email—are encouraging the House to settle the issue and to get on with it. Since the referendum, and while the Prime Minister has been seeking to negotiate a deal, we have been living with a degree of uncertainty that we cannot, in all conscience, allow the country to continue to endure for years to come. Many of the alternative options to the deal that is on the table that have been referenced by other Members in this debate today and yesterday all require actions to be taken by parties other than the people in this House. In almost every case, they require either a continuing negotiation with the EU on matters that it has already indicated it does not intend to engage with us on, or they require both Houses of Parliament to enact further legislation, as we just heard in response to the question to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) regarding a second referendum. Each option would involve months, if not years, of continuing uncertainty with no certainty whatsoever about the outcome, so I hope that hon. Members will take that into account when voting next week.
I want to talk about a couple of specific aspects of the deal that is on the table to try to explain why I intend to support the Government. I am looking for a pragmatic Brexit. I am looking for a negotiated deal that allows for as frictionless trade to continue as is possible, and not because that would be in the best interests simply of big business. I find it extraordinary that colleagues across the House refer to “Project Fear” or scaremongering when any business raises its head and says, “This is going to be damaging for my business. This is going to lead to job losses in my sector.” I sit on the Environmental Audit Committee, which heard yesterday from the chemicals industry, and the reality is that many Members have heard evidence given to multiple Select Committees that the complexities of seeking to continue to trade in a no-deal environment are such that many businesses in the chemicals sector, the pharmaceutical industry, the automotive industry and the financial services industry—many of the sectors that we rely on for the large majority of jobs in this country—would come under significant pressure in the event that we crash out with no deal. That would happen whatever colleagues might think.
I am thinking in particular of the largest employers in my constituency that I know best. My constituency is in the west midlands, so many are heavily involved in the automotive and manufacturing sectors. Grainger & Worrall is the largest employer in Bridgnorth alongside Bridgnorth Aluminium. The McConnel agricultural machinery business is the largest employer in Ludlow. Britpart, which is a motor manufacturer, is the largest employer in Craven Arms. There are companies engaged in food production and agri-products, such as Euro Quality Lambs in Craven Arms. All those companies are worried about what would happen to their business in the event of no deal and all are pressing us to negotiate a deal to allow frictionless trade.
In my time as a Minister, I was involved in two sectors in particular: defence and health. Some material has been put out regarding the impact of this deal on our defence relationships, and from the protocol I have seen for the future framework on security, there is nothing to be concerned about in relation to the Government’s intent on defence.
There is an opportunity for us to continue to have an associate relationship with, for example, the European Defence Agency, which has been characterised as a very damaging thing. We have been contributing the princely sum of £2 million a year to the European Defence Agency for the last 10 years, and we choose to take up very few opportunities to engage with its procurement arrangements because we think we can do it better on our own or through bilateral relations with many other countries across Europe. That is a canard, or a boil that needs to be lanced.
Similarly, we are not going to be engaged in a European army. In this country we rightly regard NATO as the foundation of our defence. If the European Union wishes to go ahead with a European army, we will have no part of it. On many occasions when operations take place around the world—some of those operations are EU initiatives—we choose whether we wish to participate. We should continue to be able to do that, but it will be our choice whether we participate.
On procurement, it has been suggested that we will lose the current exemption from article 346 and will therefore be bound by EU procurement arrangements for warlike stores. That is specifically ruled out by annex 2 of the protocol on the transition period, and it will undoubtedly be negotiated out of the eventual agreement.
On health, I am reassured that, in his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he intends to provide the unilateral right of residency to EU citizens and their families for the future, and I look forward to seeing that in the migration policy. That should provide considerable reassurance to the EU citizens who work in our health service and in our social care sector that they will continue to be welcome here, which I know concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee.
I am concerned about having continuing access to medicines, which can only be achieved in a straightforward way through a negotiated deal. That is another reason why I will support the deal next week.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), although I do not agree with his analysis of this agreement, nor will I be voting in the same manner as him next Tuesday. He talks about the importance of supporting this deal because we have to get on with delivering on the view of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the EU, but this deal does not do that. It does not deliver on the referendum result, nor does it deliver on the promises and the manifestos on which his party, my party and the Labour party stood at the last election, when people gave a second endorsement to the belief that we are better off out of the EU. This deal, because of its concentration on a mythical problem that will exist between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic when we leave the EU, has tied the United Kingdom into a range of measures that will damage the economy and damage the Union.
I will go through the reasons why they are wrong. This deal emphasises a mythical problem on the border—a problem that does not exist. The current practice means that trade can go across the Irish border, with taxes being collected, with goods being checked for conformity with regulations and with animal health being protected, yet we do not need a hard border. Indeed, all the parties to this agreement have said that they will not, in any circumstances, have a hard border. Only a couple of weeks ago, the EU and the Irish Government were assuring us that even if there is no deal, a hard border will not be imposed, because a hard border is not necessary. What we have in this withdrawal agreement, with the Northern Ireland protocol and the UK protocol, is designed to do only one thing: thwart the wishes of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the EU.
That is because we have only a number of options. The UK as a whole could stay in the single market and the customs union. If the Government wish to free themselves from that, Northern Ireland has to stay within the single market and the customs union. I defy any Member of this House to say that they could go back to their constituents, tell them what the Attorney General told the Cabinet was going to happen to their constituents and find that they would not be chased. First, their constituency would have to regard the rest of the UK as a third country, with the implication that they could not trade freely with the rest of the UK. They would have barriers placed between their part of the UK and the rest of it, and businessmen would face all the impediments. Indeed, the legal opinion makes it clear that there would be friction in trade—in other words, there would be additional costs, delays and barriers, and there would be distortions to trade, yet that is what this agreement entails for Northern Ireland.
We can get out of that only by doing one of two things. First, we could reach a future trade arrangement that the EU says is sufficient to allow us to be out of that arrangement completely. It could even insist that if we reach a free trade arrangement, we still have partly to stay within those restrictions, including more than 300 EU regulations which would be applied to Northern Ireland. Just in case the EU has missed any, it says, “Any future new ones that fall within the scope of this would also have to apply”, so we would have different laws from the rest of the UK.
This is a surprising thing. If the Ulster Farmers Union read this agreement, it would see that article 12 of the Northern Ireland protocol makes it clear that because state aid rules would apply to Northern Ireland, even if this UK Government decided to subsidise agriculture, the EU could cap any subsidy. The subsidy could apply differently in the rest of the UK from how it could apply in Northern Ireland. I could take Members through a range of other things in this agreement that the UFU conveniently has just dismissed but that will have an impact on its members. That is one reason why many farmers in my constituency are raging with the UFU.
One way of getting ourselves out of this is by having a free trade arrangement, which the EU may or may not deem as allowing us to get away from these shackles. The Attorney General makes it clear that although best endeavours to reach a free trade agreement are required, the EU could still argue, “We have done our best but it is still not in our interests.” Sixteen years later it could still be arguing, “We are doing our best” and still not be in breach of the obligations in this agreement. We know—Scottish Members should be aware of this—that the French Government have already said that they will use this as a cudgel to get further concessions from the UK Government on fishing, aviation and other things. Every other EU country will be doing the same and using the same tactic, so that is not an easy way out and we could still be negotiating this.
Significantly, the other method of getting out is for us to extend the transition period. There is great ambition shown in the withdrawal agreement about extending the transition period. Many people think that when we talk about extending the transition period we are talking about a few months. Well, according to the document it could be extended to “20XX”—we could still be at this in 100 years. This place could be refurbished, or even rebuilt, by the time we have got a free trade arrangement to replace the backstop.
The impact of this agreement on the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom is that Northern Ireland would be treated differently from other parts of the United Kingdom, which is something the Prime Minister promised would never happen. Northern Ireland industries are more export-oriented than any other region of the UK, because we have a small local market. We produce a third of the world’s aircraft seats. If someone has sat in row C or F, they have probably sat in a seat made in Kilkeel. We produce 40% of the world’s stone-crushing equipment. All that goes to markets mostly outside the EU, yet we would be excluded from participating in any trade deals that our Government might arrange with the rest of the world because we would be permanently part of the customs union unless the backstop were lifted. The backstop can be lifted only if and when the EU decides it is time to lift it.
I say to those on the Government Front Bench that we had an arrangement to keep the Government in power and working between now and the end of this fixed-term Parliament. Promises were made. In December, we sat with the Prime Minister in Downing Street and she said, “I will make sure that Northern Ireland has the final say in this because the Assembly will be the final arbiter as to whether or not these arrangements are put in place.” Those promises were taken out of the agreement. There has been bad faith. The agreement and understanding that we had has been broken. As the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) said in his speech, that has caused tensions. Going down this road will create tensions. We want to see our agreement honoured because we want to see the United Kingdom preserved.
It is great to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and his siren warnings about what could happen over the coming weeks and months if we do not listen. I understand that people are talking to the DUP; it is about time that people started listening to the DUP. There is a huge difference.
I am not one of the MPs who has stood up and waxed lyrical on this issue over the past two years, as some Members in this Chamber have done. Barely a debate has gone by without certain Members sharing what they believe is right. I have heard a lot of talk today about honesty, transparency and treating people like adults. That is a good idea, because in 2016 we had a people’s vote. For anybody even to suggest that another referendum would be the people’s vote because the last one was not is totally and wholly fraudulent. It is ridiculous.
A people’s vote was held in 2016. We MPs in this Parliament allowed it to be held, and it was held. Surprise, surprise: it was not what people in the main thought was going to happen. I remember watching the result. There was no exit poll. The pound was up, shares were up, and Nigel Farage conceded defeat. Then, of course, the results started to come in. People who lived in the bubble of London could be forgiven for thinking that remain was going to win, but what happened was that there were swathes of people in the north-east, the north-west, and the south-west who felt as if nobody was listening to them—that they were the invisible people. Thanks to David Cameron, though, they were given a voice, they used that voice, and the voice said leave. Now, all of a sudden, those people are facing this Parliament, which is saying, “Not only don’t we see you; we have now decided not to listen to you.” That is wholly dangerous indeed.
When we agree to a referendum, we really do need to respect the result. In 1997, when I was a shadow Minister, Wales had a referendum on devolution. The result was 50.3% in favour and 49.7% against, on a 50.1% turnout. What did we do? We conceded. The difference between yes and no was under 7,000, but we conceded that that was what should happen, and devolution was given to the people of Wales. It would have been wholly wrong had we not done that.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that one of the reasons why people voted to leave is that, when a country has a referendum and comes up with a result that the EU does not like, it is the practice of the EU to pat it on the head patronisingly and to tell it to go away and come up with a different result—one that the EU agrees with. Is that not what certain people are now telling us that we should be doing, which is why we wanted to get out of the EU in the first place?