[5th Allotted Day]
Debate resumed (Order, this day).
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’.
Before Christmas, the Government presented to Parliament a comprehensive deal for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. We continue to believe that this is the best deal to honour the referendum result and deliver certainty for our businesses, our citizens and our security. It was clear that there was much that Members agreed with, but we listened to the views of the House, which in particular expressed concerns in relation to the backstop. We therefore paused the debate to enable those concerns to be discussed with EU leaders.
In the intervening month from when the meaningful vote was delayed to the debate restarting just now, not very much has changed. On Monday, I asked the Secretary of State whether he had brought forward any plan B contingency work, and he ignored that question. In the light of the motion and the amendment that have just been passed, it is rather more contingent on the Government to have a plan B —and rather urgently. Will he explain to us now what work has been going on?
We have a very good early illustration in this debate of the attitude of Scottish National party Members, because even before I get into my statement setting out what measures have been taken since the pause in the debate, they have already decided that they have reached their judgment on those measures.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
The hon. Gentleman has already had one go. Let me enlighten him on some of the developments that have happened since the pause in the debate.
Today, we have published a document entitled “UK Government commitments to Northern Ireland and its integral place in the United Kingdom”, which sets out the domestic reassurances we can provide. As the Prime Minister has said, these are one aspect of our strategy to reassure the House.
I will take interventions in a moment.
Another aspect of our strategy is our commitment to work in a more targeted way and more closely with Parliament in the next phase of negotiations. I will return to that later. I reassure colleagues that, whatever the outcome of this debate, we will respond rapidly, recognising that we must provide Parliament with as much security as possible.
Amendment (n) deals with what further information the Government might put before the House to ensure that, should we need to use the backstop, this House can decide alone to leave it, without Europe deciding it with us. I had a quick word with the Attorney General, because the amendment involves him. It states that he should report to the House should the Government say that they have new arrangements whereby sovereignty resides in this House in respect of whether we should leave the backstop. Might the Government accept that amendment, please?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important question: what will the role of this House be in the event that the backstop has to be triggered? As he knows, there are safeguards that will mitigate the need for the backstop. It is in neither side’s interest to have the backstop, not least because it breaks the four freedoms that the EU has always rigorously sought. I will come on in my speech to some of the safeguards that apply.
The Secretary of State says that he was listening to the debate, which is why he paused it and came back with answers on the backstop. If he did listen to the debate, he will know that concerns relating to importing, manufacturing and security were mentioned as many times as, if not more than, the backstop. What reassurances and changes has he delivered on those things?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are concerns about issues such as security. That is the very essence of why we need the deal. It will provide confidence on issues such as security and it will secure the implementation period so that things such as security measures will remain in place.
It was clear in the debate before Christmas that there were many views in the House about what trade deal we should enter into with the EU. The possible trade deals included no deal, no deal plus, Norway, Norway plus, Canada, Canada plus, Norway for now and Norway forever. There is a whole spectrum of deals that different Members cling to, but the reality is that whatever deal is to be put in place, it requires the winding down of our 45-year relationship with the European Union. Therefore, whatever deal is put in place requires a withdrawal agreement, and that withdrawal agreement requires a backstop.
The Secretary of State made a comment about working more closely with Parliament. I ask him to reflect on the fact that this place is grossly out of touch with the public on the fundamental issue of whether we are a member of the European Union. This House is not representative of the people. The Executive are a legitimate branch of government, so can we be assured that in whatever way they increasingly work with Parliament, the Executive will not give up their responsibility to implement the will of the people, which is a much greater body of sovereignty than this place?
I think it is fair to say that there is a range of views in this House, and that those views are held sincerely by Members of Parliament. As I just alluded to, those views cover a vast range of different deals. I think the point of substance my hon. Friend is referring to is that the clear majority of the House voted to give the public the decision on whether we stayed in or left the European Union, and indeed the majority of the House voted to trigger article 50. It is therefore incumbent on Members of the House not simply to say what they are against, but to be clear what they are for.
I will make a little more progress, then I will happily take further interventions.
The withdrawal agreement addresses many of the key issues that Members, including Opposition Members, have spoken about. For example, it protects citizens’ rights: it protects the 3 million EU citizens in the UK and the 1 million UK citizens in the EU. It provides a financial settlement that honours our legal obligations. Not to do so, as Opposition Members have often pointed out, would undermine our international position. It guarantees an implementation period that means that businesses will have one change to make as we enter a new trade deal, as opposed to two. Most importantly—this is an issue on which the Opposition rightly have a proud record, because they played a key part in the peace process in Northern Ireland—the withdrawal agreement enables us to preserve that hard-won peace and ensure that the commitments that were made in the Belfast agreement are honoured.
Does the Secretary of State realise that the withdrawal agreement and especially the backstop arrangement, which would forcibly remove Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom because laws would be made in Brussels rather than in Westminster and the Northern Ireland economy would be cut off from trade deals that the United Kingdom entered into with the rest of the world, have put in jeopardy the fine balance in the Belfast agreement? That is not helped by the Secretary of State’s reported comments to the Cabinet yesterday that a refusal to vote for the withdrawal agreement would be likely to lead to a referendum on a united Ireland.
I recognise the genuine concerns the right hon. Gentleman has about the backstop. I will come on to address some of those concerns, although I readily concede that I do not expect to address all of them with the areas of movement I cover today.
This is about assessing the balance of risk. The backstop does not cover 80% of our economy, as the services economy is outside it. Many in the business community in Northern Ireland see huge benefits in the certainty that is offered through the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, it is not our intention to enter into the backstop, not least because many businesses in Northern Ireland will have access to both the EU and UK markets. That is one of the attractions, and it is actually one of the reasons why Labour’s sister parties in the north of Ireland—the Social Democratic and Labour party—and in the south actually support the withdrawal agreement, as well as because it will secure the commitments on peace, as I mentioned.
The Scottish Government have for quite some time made known a number of concerns they have about the agreement. Since December, when the UK Government cancelled the debate to go away and listen, what has changed in the agreement to make the Scottish Government support it?
Again, I will come on to that. As we move from dealing with the winding-down arrangements to the trade negotiation—that will be the second phase of the negotiations, because leaving the European Union is not a single event but a process—there will be a significant opportunity to recognise the fact that Scotland voted differently, as did other parts of the United Kingdom, and to engage with Parliament, as the Prime Minister referred to in her interview on “The Andrew Marr Show” at the weekend. We will be looking to work with Parliament in different ways, and particularly in a targeted way with the Select Committees, and to work more closely with the devolved Administrations, because there are different interests. The trade negotiation phase will allow us to explore that.
I think that “show not tell” is important in politics. My very first meeting in this role—I prioritised this—was with the lead Ministers in the Scottish and Welsh Governments to discuss their concerns, so that we could move from having regular meetings to making them more effective and more targeted.
We know that there is no future trade agreement and no implementation period without a withdrawal agreement, as that agreement contains the guarantee on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the backstop, but let us just look at the Opposition’s position. The Leader of the Opposition rejects that on the basis that he can first trigger a general election and then negotiate a new deal that secures things the EU has consistently ruled out, such as a third party having a say over its trade policy. He is then going to secure that new deal and pass the legislation to enact it, and he is going to do all of that before 29 March. So we are going to have a general election, a new trade agreement—even though the EU itself ruled that out and says this is the only deal on offer, he is going to uniquely secure a new deal—and he is going to pass the legislation to ratify that, all within the next 78 days. Yet Labour’s sister parties actually support the withdrawal agreement, not least to recognise one of the proudest achievements of the Labour party, the peace process.
I obviously agree with the Minister’s point about the fantasy policies of the Labour party, but I am afraid the Government themselves are indulging in fantasies. Is it not time that the Government set out a realistic basis for this debate? As the former permanent secretary to the Treasury, Sir Nick Macpherson, said the other day, there is no chance at all of us concluding a trade deal with the EU by 2020 and very little chance of doing so by 2022. A far more realistic prospect is that we might do so in the mid-2020s. Can we not conduct this debate on the basis of reality, rather than continued fantasy?
I pay heed to my hon. Friend, because he is one of the most serious thinkers in our party and I know he engages very seriously on these issues. Of course, the former permanent secretary to the Treasury is also someone we all listen to intently. The point is that there are a number of things that are different in this instance. First, on trade deals, a significant amount of time is often taken up by the first phase of understanding the regulatory positions of both sides. Well, after 45 years of being part of the European Union that regulatory understanding is already there. Secondly, there is a difference because often there are six-week time lags in trade rounds. If people are flying back from Canada or the US, the physical geographical issues can constitute a delay. Clearly, our geographical relationship with Europe will allow us to inject much more pace into those trade rounds and accelerate them. Thirdly, the fact is that we have a political declaration that sets a framework for those trade discussions to take place.
Fourthly, there is also the issue of the incentives that the UK offers—I was going to come on to this point—including the position on security, which is obviously of interest to many member states in Europe, and the fact that the backstop is uncomfortable for the EU. On day one of the backstop fishing rights are lost, which is why President Macron may not be keen on entering into the backstop. There is also the fact that the backstop breaks the four freedoms, which have always been safely guarded by the European Union. The backstop is not a desirable place for the Europeans to enter, which is why there is an incentive for them to get momentum into the trade agreements.
I will of course give way. May I also take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his recent honour?
I thank the Secretary of State. Will he now, as a matter of good contingency planning, urgently publish our schedule of tariffs for trading as an independent country? Can they please be lower tariffs than the EU schedule, and will there be zero tariffs for all imported manufactured components?
My right hon. Friend will know, because he has often spoken in warm and glowing terms about trading on a no-deal WTO basis, that tariffs are just one aspect of our relationships, particularly given the UK economy’s interest in services. Issues such as data adequacy are actually much more significant to our economy. The political debate often focuses on tariffs, but as a service economy issues such as data are much more serious to us. The WTO, which my right hon. Friend often advocates, actually does not address such issues. That is one reason why the WTO is not the land of milk and honey that some pretend.
The problems with the withdrawal agreement extend far beyond the backstop. The Secretary of State talks about services. The fact is that the withdrawal agreement will substantially not help services in this country, which make up approximately 80% of our economy. He talks about certainty. At the end of the day, can he not agree that this political declaration is a declaration of aspiration? We have absolutely no idea where we will be at the end of the trade negotiations, which EU officials will have told him will take at least three to four years.
The hon. Gentleman has not been able to convince his own Front Benchers. Senior Opposition Front Benchers, such as the shadow Business Secretary, have spoken of the huge damage there would be to our democracy if we did what he advocates, which is to end the uncertainty by calling a second referendum. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We hear the cheers from the Labour Benches. The policy in the manifesto on which Labour Members were elected was to honour the referendum, yet they cheer. It is on page 24 of the Labour manifesto on which the hon. Gentleman stood.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a fundamental fallacy at the heart of the Opposition’s position? On the one hand they say that there is zero appetite on behalf of the European Union to renegotiate the Government’s deal, yet they claim there is somehow a huge appetite to negotiate another deal as yet unspecified. The reality is that unless they vote for this deal they will become the handmaiden of hard Brexit.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He alludes to the 78-day plan being put forward by the Opposition, which the EU has made clear is not credible, their sister parties have made clear is not desirable, and which I suspect many on their own Back Benches recognise is not doable. Yet they persist with it.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will make some progress and come back to my fellow Cambridge colleague very shortly.
The more material issue raised in the House on the backstop related to whether it damages the European Union or would be used in trade negotiations. It is for that reason that we have published the paper on Northern Ireland in respect of that. I recognise that that alone will not be sufficient for all the concerns colleagues may have, but I think it is a welcome step forward.
In the event that a subsequent agreement that meets the objectives of the backstop will not be ready by the end of 2020, we will face a choice of whether to seek to extend the implementation period or to bring the backstop into effect. We will provide in law for a mandatory process of consultation with the Northern Ireland Assembly in that scenario. Before any decision is taken on whether to seek to extend the implementation period, the Assembly would be given an opportunity, ahead of any parliamentary scrutiny, to express its view. Those views would then be brought before Parliament prior to a vote at Westminster. This procedure places a clear obligation on the UK Government, guaranteeing a strong voice for Northern Ireland. We will consult the parties in Northern Ireland on the details of those proposals and how best to provide for them.
I will just make progress on this section and then I will happily take further interventions.
Secondly, the protocol provides for alignment in Northern Ireland with a small fraction of EU single market rules. Where there is a proposal for a new EU law which is within the scope of the backstop but concerns a new area of regulation, that addition needs the consent of the United Kingdom. The EU cannot mandate the UK to accept that such a regulation must apply in Northern Ireland. We recognise that accepting new regulations for Northern Ireland under the backstop would be significant. Therefore, we plan to legislate in domestic law to ensure that a UK Minister will be required to seek the agreement of the Northern Ireland Assembly before reaching any agreement in the UK-EU joint committee to add additional rules to the scope of the protocol.
With reference to the possibility of trading on WTO rules, does my right hon. Friend agree with what was said this morning on the “Today” programme by the president of the Port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau:
“The trucks will be passing as they are doing today…there will not be a queue in Dover because there will not be control, so where is the problem?”?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that rather than scaremongering from the comfort of these green Benches, we should take note of the person who is actually in charge of the Port of Calais and who knows what he is talking about?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Of course those representing a port will want to talk up the benefits of that port. The issue will be what legal obligations apply, not just what commercially they would want to do. I think he was talking more in terms of what flows into the UK than necessarily what is flowing back into France. In my remarks in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), I referred to the fact that we have a political debate that tends to focus very heavily on goods, yet we have an economy that is predicated on services. On issues such as data and professional qualifications, there are many other issues that would not be addressed in a WTO scenario. That is the issue. Many Members are raising various different deals to which they feel most closely aligned, but the issue is that those deals would all require a withdrawal agreement and they would all need to address, as the EU has made clear, issues such as citizens, the financial settlement and a backstop, which is needed as a safeguard. It is not enough for the House to say what it is against; we have to say what is the deal, with a withdrawal agreement and a backstop, that we in this House can unite behind.
Clearly, the whole point of the backstop is to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, so will the Secretary of State outline the Government’s timeframe for the invention, trial and deployment of the new technology needed for an invisible border with absolutely no infrastructure?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the political declaration reflected the Prime Minister’s negotiation success—this point has been raised by a number of my hon. Friends—in terms of using technology to mitigate the issue of a hard border. In the interim, the issue is whether we can do that to the timescale required to avoid a backstop. The political declaration allows us to explore that, but this is about having insurance to protect the very peace that so many on the Opposition Benches worked for and quite rightly should take pride in.
I strongly support the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, which also has considerable support in Northern Ireland among businesses, farmers’ organisations, community leaders and fishermen. I want the Secretary of State to take a few moments to explain to this House the very serious consequences that Northern Ireland could face in the event of the UK coming out of the EU on 29 March this year—it is a very short time away—without a deal. Sinn Féin’s seven MPs, who do not take their seats in this House, are sitting back thinking that all their Christmases have come at once. Will the Secretary of State confirm that they will use a hard border to agitate for a border poll, which could undermine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland? I think that is the issue he may have raised in Cabinet this morning. Will he elaborate on that?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, first for her support for the Prime Minister’s deal, and secondly for the way in which she engages with such seriousness with issues of substance in Northern Ireland. I am conscious that there are genuine concerns among other Members in Northern Ireland, and we are seeking to address that. She is right to draw the House’s attention to the level of uncertainty that would flow from there not being a deal in place. The Prime Minister’s deal allows us to guarantee the hard-won progress of the peace process and, as the hon. Lady rightly says, many businesses and farming groups in Northern Ireland are very supportive of the deal.
I will just make a little progress, and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
On the backstop, some have asked whether the terms of the withdrawal agreement raise questions for the Union, but Members also need to consider the consequences to the Union of inaction. As the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has said, if there is no deal, that in itself would pose a risk to the Union, and not just in Northern Ireland, but, as a number of my hon. Friends will know, in Scotland, because SNP Members will seek to exploit a no-deal situation in order to have a further independence referendum. Similarly, inaction that results in a second European referendum would carry risk for the Union, because SNP Members would say, “Well, if we can have a second European referendum so quickly after the first one, we can have a second referendum on independence.” I accept that Members across the House have concerns about the terms of the withdrawal agreement and the backstop—we are trying to mitigate those—but this is not a purity test. This is about balancing those risks with the risk to the Union of inaction and a second referendum being exploited by Opposition Members.
I hope that the Secretary of State understands that the issue for some Opposition Members is that there is no legal certainty in the next stage. For instance, the Home Secretary has repeatedly said that we are going to have the best security arrangements that any third country has ever had with the European Union, but that does not mean anything. It does not mean that we will be in the European arrest warrant or that we will be able to secure proper extradition of paedophiles, murderers and terrorists from other countries to this country—or the other way around—to face justice. That is why some of us think that the Government are completely selling us a pup here. The evidence of the fact that nothing has changed since they pulled the debate is that we have exactly the same motion today and exactly the same deal—nothing has changed.
I am in the process of setting out what has changed, and as I go through my speech, I hope I will have an opportunity to do so. The point is that this is a process, not a single event. The framework signals areas related to the trade negotiation, as I touched on in my remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson).
I will just make some progress, and then I will happily take further interventions.
On the backstop, let me address colleagues’ concerns about being trapped, which was raised in a previous debate. The Government are not shying away from the fact that the backstop is an uncomfortable situation for the United Kingdom, but it is also an uncomfortable situation for the EU, in terms of the break in the four freedoms and the fact that we have a mutual interest in avoiding entering into it.
Indeed, since the previous debate, progress was made in the December Council on the confirmation of its commitment to use best endeavours to negotiate and conclude a subsequent agreement. Indeed, the EU27 gave me a new assurance in relation to the future partnership with the UK, by stating that the EU
“stands ready to embark on preparations immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the UK’s withdrawal.”
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is busy checking his phone, but that relates to his point. Both sides intend to make early progress on the issues he raised.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the risks to the 96-year-old United Kingdom. I see this as an opportunity for independence, as underlined by the fact that this Government have shown more respect to, and have engaged more with, the Government of Ireland than they have to and with the Government of Scotland. That shows that independence gives you power, a voice and respect—something that the UK does not show the Scottish Government but that it does show in spades to the Government of Ireland, an independent country. The Celts who are independent are in a far better situation than the ones who are stuck with Westminster.
There is a legitimate point as to how we engage with the House as a whole—with Members on both sides—as we move into the next phase. I have already touched on my desire, and the Prime Minister’s commitment, to look at how we do that with the devolved Administrations in a more targeted way. If we look at the first phase, we will see that a huge amount of hours have been spent on engagement. The Prime Minister has spent a huge number of hours at this Dispatch Box. There are opportunities for us to work in a much more targeted way, to listen to Members’ concerns about issues such as citizens’ rights and employment, and to look at how, through the Select Committees in particular, we can work in a much more targeted way. I think that the next phase lends itself to that approach. I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that that also requires a dialogue both ways. If Members are going to jump in, before we have even responded, with a judgment on the withdrawal agreement or on measures that have been taken, that suggests a lack of engagement on their part to work in a collaborative way.
I had my first consultation with the Prime Minister last night—two years into the process. The Secretary of State is talking about the backstop, but the DUP, which has a confidence and supply agreement with the Government, is vehemently opposed to what he is laying out. How did the Government get themselves into this position? The answer is that they did not consult. If they had taken on the view of this House earlier in the process, they could have negotiated with Europe something that could have been acceptable to this House. The Government have put themselves in this position.
First, as we move into the next phase, there is an opportunity to operate in a much more targeted way with the House. Secondly, on the pause—[Interruption.] I am trying genuinely to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. The pause was about listening to the House’s concerns about the backstop. Look at the comments yesterday by the Taoiseach, who said:
“We don’t want to trap the UK into anything—we want to get on to the talks about the future relationship right away.”
That is because the Prime Minister has been listening to the House and relaying that. As we move from a phase that was about implementing the result into a phase that is about trade negotiations and how they align with the sectoral interests of both the different nation state economies and the Select Committees, there is scope for a different dialogue, and I am very keen to signal that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that by definition, if a backstop is to work, it has to be mutually uncomfortable, because there needs to be an incentive for both sides to get out of it? If not this backstop, then another backstop will be necessary. That, too, would have uncomfortable elements. We are not hearing any viable, practical alternatives.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This comes back to the point that businesses and our citizens want the certainty of a deal and want one set of changes in the implementation period. It is clear that that requires, after 45 years, a winding down of our relationship, and that involves a backstop, regardless of which deal—it is almost like cinema pick ‘n’ mix—is on offer. It is almost like there is a deal with “plus” attached for every variant, but he is absolutely right that they all require a backstop.
Is it not a fact that the Republic of Ireland Government, this Government and the European Union have spent years rejecting all and any suggested alternatives to the backstop? What confidence should we have that the European Union, the Republic of Ireland or this Government will, two years after the commencement of this process, start seriously to consider alternatives? The reality is that the backstop will be the European Union’s and the Republic of Ireland’s Northern Ireland solution in a substantive deal.
The answer is that we have already seen a signal of that in the political declaration—on the technology that a number of Members have highlighted, for example. There is a shared desire to avoid going into the backstop, for reasons I have already alluded to, such as the breaking of the four freedoms and the fact that under article 50, there is no legal underpinning for any permanence in the backstop.
Members also need to address the reality of this. Some say, “Well, we’ll pay for an implementation period.” That is another of the myriad deals that people suggest. The reality is that the legal underpinning of the implementation period is article 50, which requires it to be temporary, not permanent. We sought that clarification, and there was a reflection of that in the December Council. Of course I recognise that there are ongoing concerns, and I am very keen to work with colleagues on those.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the way he is taking us through the developments that have taken place. One of the things that a lot of us cannot understand is why, if everybody is so reluctant to go into the backstop—we are told the UK and the European Union are reluctant, and the DUP certainly is—it is not possible to get a legal undertaking about when it will end.
My right hon. Friend brings me on perfectly to the next phase of my speech, which is about the role of Parliament, how we look at the decision on extending the implementation period, and how we avoid that. We will continue to work closely with Stormont, Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly, especially on the future frameworks, which will strengthen decision-making abilities and allow for decisions previously made at EU level to be made locally. Indeed, as I said, we want to learn from this and engage with Parliament in a much more targeted way. As the Prime Minister has made clear, the Government’s intention is to ensure a greater and more formal role for Parliament in the next stage of negotiations.
The withdrawal agreement provides that if the future relationship or alternative arrangements to supersede the backstop were not going to be ready by the end of 2020, either the Northern Ireland protocol would apply or the United Kingdom could seek to extend the implementation period for up to one or two years from the start of 2021, with any extension needing to be agreed by 1 July 2020. Should that situation arise, the view of Parliament would be crucial. I am pleased to say that we will accept the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire), which will cement Parliament’s role in that process by requiring a vote on whether to seek to extend the implementation period or bring the backstop into effect. On the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) makes, by accepting that amendment, we give Parliament much more of a say on this issue of concern about the triggering of the backstop.
I will happily take interventions from two former Ministers, both of whom served with distinction in the Department for Exiting the European Union.
Does my right hon. Friend not accept that extending the transitional period would merely amount to kicking the can down the road, and that to solve the problem of the Irish backstop, which it is generally agreed across the House is the most repugnant element of this withdrawal agreement, what is needed is a rewording of the withdrawal agreement? Has he agreed a rewording of that agreement?
No, because, as I have said on a number of occasions, whichever deal we have will need the elements we have talked about in respect of the withdrawal agreement, including a backstop. Let us not forget what that is about. It is about asking, because of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland—because it is the only part of the United Kingdom with a land border, and because of its history in terms of the peace process—how we provide a guarantee. It is like insurance; one does not want to have to call on it, but how do we ensure that there is a guarantee to address the concerns that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) set out?
I applaud the Secretary of State and his excellent ministerial team in the Department for Exiting the European Union for all their efforts at this challenging time for the Government. In December, the Attorney General published his legal advice, which contains a statement on the backstop. He wrote that
“despite statements in the Protocol that it is not intended to be permanent…in international law the Protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place, in whole or in part”.
Is it the Secretary of State’s position that that legal position is unchanged, notwithstanding the reassurances that have been garnered to date, and does he agree that that means that in international law, we still risk being trapped indefinitely in the backstop?
With characteristic aplomb, my hon. Friend alludes to one of the key issues in this debate: how one assesses the balance of risk. The Attorney General said in his statement to the House on 3 December, when these issues were explored in great detail, that how one assesses that balance ultimately is a political decision. In a way, the same point can be made about the concerns Members have expressed about the Union. There is a balance of risk in terms of concerns about the backstop, including the issue of that small section in the backstop where EU competence will continue. What is the risk of that? I have alluded to the safeguards. How does that risk elide with other risks, such as the risk of inaction?
The same is true of the assessment of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), whom I hold in the highest regard. The difference there is an issue not of understanding—he understands these issues in great depth—but of how one assesses the balance of risk. The Attorney General dealt with that in some detail in his comments to the House.
I support the backstop. What concerns me is our future trade relations. We are essentially renegotiating access to our biggest market as a third-party country. Does that not leave the British state in an extremely vulnerable position?
It is a statement of the legal position to say that to enter into a permanent arrangement, we need to be a third party. That reality is part of the difficulty of this situation. That is why we need an implementation period. We have in the political declaration a framework and in the business statements of the December Council a commitment. In “best endeavours”, we have something that gives legal force to ensuring momentum. It is a shared endeavour, too, because it is in neither side’s interests to trigger the backstop. There is, then, a mechanism, a framework and a process for addressing these concerns. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, however, that there is further significant work to be done, and that will be the job of this House.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is somewhat inconsistent for Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru MPs to suggest that Britain would not be in a position to draw up a trade treaty with the rest of the EU as a third-party country, when both believe that an independent Wales and Scotland would be in a position to draw up trade agreements with the rest of the United Kingdom if, God forbid, they ever got independence?
My hon. Friend is quite right to draw the House’s attention to the inconsistency that many of us are familiar with in the SNP’s position, particularly given that Scotland’s biggest market is the United Kingdom. It seems strange that it wants to sever itself from its largest market in that way—and strange also that it appears to want to remain within the remit of the European common fisheries policy.
We are spending a lot of time talking about the risks of the backstop, but my constituents are concerned about the risks to their jobs, if they work in sectors not covered by the World Trade Organisation; to citizens’ rights, if they are married to an EU citizen; and to security. All these issues are covered by the implementation period and the breathing space of the withdrawal agreement. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important to focus on the benefits of the agreement in front of us, as well as the risks?
My hon. Friend, as a former Member of the European Parliament, always speaks with great authority on these issues, and she is absolutely right. After 45 years, we are winding down a complex relationship with the EU, and certain things are incumbent on us in that process, including safeguarding citizens’ rights and honouring our legal obligations. As a Brexiteer who supported leaving on the basis that we should be trading with the rest of the world, I find it a strange idea that our first measure on leaving would be to walk away from our legal obligations. I do not think that other countries around the globe would find that persuasive.
I know that my hon. Friend is a huge champion of business in her constituency; it is important that we respond to the fact that businesses do not want a series of changes; they want one set of changes, and they want transitional arrangements in place to give them certainty as they go through that process. This is the challenge for the House. It is not enough for it simply to say what it is against, or to suggest that under WTO rules these risks could be mitigated.
Is not the reality that the so-called implementation period will essentially keep us in the EU—in the single market and the customs union—so that we do not harm our economy and have more time to sort out what on earth we are going to do, and that the so-called backstop is about aligning Northern Ireland with the EU, so that there does not have to be a hard border and we do not threaten peace in Northern Ireland? The Secretary of State talks about the House having to make up its mind. Why is he not more honest? Why does he not admit that this is essentially about keeping us in until we can make up our minds what on earth we are going to do? If that is the case, what is the point?
No, I do not accept that, not least because 80% of the economy is outside the backstop. The political declaration is quite clear that the country will get control of its trade policy. That is one of the inconsistencies in the position of the Leader of the Opposition, who seeks both to be in a customs union and to have an independent trade policy. The shadow Business Secretary is on record as saying that is not a tenable position—[Interruption.] Sorry, the shadow International Trade Secretary.
The point is—this goes to the heart of the hon. Lady’s question—that we need to honour the result of the referendum, which was the biggest democratic vote in our history, in a way that gives us control over immigration through a skills-based system, and over agriculture and fishing, and in a way that allows us to put an end to sending vast sums of money to the EU. These were the key issues on which the British people voted. I recognise that some, in particular the Father of the House, did not vote for a referendum, but the vast majority of the House did, and the vast majority voted to trigger article 50. We need to honour that, but accept that we leave either with a deal or—by default, if the House does not support the deal—with no deal. We cannot run away from that reality.
As the Secretary of State will be aware, there are reports in the newspapers that Jaguar Land Rover will imminently implement a transformation plan. What that says to me is very simple. Parts for an average Land Rover cross between the UK and the EU 37 times, so it says to me that we need the withdrawal agreement to maintain that just-in-time movement of parts in a way that protects jobs in my constituency and the wider supply chain. This is a matter of urgency. Hon. Members need to think about that when deciding how to vote on the withdrawal agreement.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right both to draw the House’s attention to the urgency of this issue—we have 78 days before we leave the EU—and in his sectoral understanding of the flow of goods and how that impacts the key industries in his constituency. That is why so many business groups support the deal. They want that certainty.
Further to the question from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Father of the House, to the Prime Minister earlier, and in the context of the House having voted against the Government twice over its concerns about the possibility of no deal, does the Secretary of State accept that it would be the Government’s responsibility, if they were defeated next Tuesday, to bring forward legislation to suspend article 50?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that many hon. Members have raised, but it does not address the legal position. The position of the courts is that we cannot unilaterally extend article 50. That requires the consent of the other 27 member states, and we do not know what conditionality would be attached, if it were sought. In particular, the courts were clear that the only way would be to revoke on the basis of a permanent decision. Given that more than 80% of the electorate voted for one of the two main parties, and that both parties’ manifestos backed the decision to leave—that commitment is on page 24 of the Labour manifesto—I feel it would be divisive for our country to proceed in that way.
As somebody who did not vote to trigger article 50, I would ask the Secretary of State to consider this very carefully: if he genuinely does not want a no deal, as many Cabinet members do not, when the Government are defeated next week, should they not come forward with a specific proposal—he has made clear the difficulties of extending the process—either for a people’s vote, so that the public can choose between staying in the EU and the Government’s proposals, or for revoking article 50, so that we can have a national consultation, as they did in Ireland on abortion, and get this right?
I respect the principled position that the hon. Gentleman took in his vote on article 50, but if one recognises the majority opinion of the House, which is what he says we should do next week, it would be only consistent to recognise also that the majority decision of the House was to trigger article 50, and that set a timetable. For the sake of consistency, he needs to accept that. The consequence of triggering article 50 is that we either leave with a deal—the EU has made it clear that the Prime Minister’s deal is the only deal, so it is not logical for Labour to say it could negotiate another deal in the time remaining—
The hon. Gentleman nods. I think many other Labour Members would agree. Members have to accept the risk of a no deal, therefore, and as a Government, we have to be responsible. We certainly do not want a no deal; I join him in not wanting that. Some Members are very relaxed about a no deal; I do not agree that we should be relaxed about it, because of issues such as data and qualifications, which I think they need to address.
I will take one more intervention, and then I will wind up my speech.
Yesterday, outside the House, the Secretary of State said that he was beginning to get used to being a punch bag in the House, so I shall try not to metaphorically punch him.
The Secretary of State has said that no deal would be irresponsible. In the light of the recent votes, I hope that he can rule it out, because it would be catastrophic. The Bank of England’s analysis shows that, in a worst-case scenario, the economy would be 8% worse off and unemployment would be 6.5% higher, and the current deal—the Government’s deal—would make our economy nearly 4% worse off. Neither of those are good prospects for our country. Can the Secretary of State at least keep an open mind about a public vote if all else fails?
I respect the concern that the hon. Lady feels, but it is not in the power of an individual Minister to say that that will not happen, because the House has to decide what it is for; it is very good at saying what it is against. The reality is that having triggered article 50, we either leave with a deal or we do not. I do not think it is credible to say that we can negotiate another deal in 78 days, as Opposition Front Benchers have suggested. I think that the alternative would pose a risk to the peace process, which is a fine achievement that should be cherished, but it cannot be ruled out. That is why the deal on the table is the right deal, and one that we should support.
I must draw my speech to a close.
With just 78 days before we leave the European Union, the House should now give citizens and businesses the certainty that they seek, and the way in which to do so is to back the deal that, after two years of hard-fought negotiation, the Prime Minister has secured. It is for that reason that I commend the deal to the House, and I hope that all Members, mindful of the risks of uncertainty that will otherwise flow, will respond by backing it.
It is a pleasure finally to be able to resume this debate.
Thirty days ago, on 10 December, the Prime Minister told the House that the meaningful vote would be deferred. She did, of course, do so without consulting the House on the issue. The ground that she laid out on 10 December was that if the Government
“went ahead and held the vote”,
which was due to take place the next day,
“the deal would be rejected by a significant margin.” —[Official Report, 10 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 23.]
That was her judgment call. She said that she would do everything possible “to secure further assurances”, particularly over the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.
The Leader of the House went further, saying:
“going back to the EU and seeking reassurances, in the form of legally binding reassurances”
“absolutely doing the right thing”.
The implication was that this was a pause to allow further assurances—legally binding reassurances, according to the Leader of the House. The International Trade Secretary, with his usual foresight, said:
“It is very difficult to support the deal if we don’t get changes to the backstop.
I am not even sure the Cabinet will agree for it to be put to the House of Commons.”
That was his assessment.
Those were senior members of the Cabinet, indicating to Parliament and to the country that the deal, the proposition before the House, needed to be changed if it were to be voted on and not defeated by a substantial majority. They were, of course, challenged. They were challenged on the basis that this was just a way of delaying and avoiding a humiliating defeat, and they were running down the clock. Now, 30 days on, those rebuttals ring hollow.
The Prime Minister is often mocked for saying that nothing has changed, but this time nothing has changed. The proposition before the House today is the same proposition as the one that the Prime Minister put before the House on 5 December, when she opened the initial debate. I have my own copies of these two documents, but the two copies that I have here were laid on the Table at the beginning of the debate. They are the proposition that is before the House, and, as everyone in the House knows, they are precisely the same two documents that were put before the House on 5 December. When we go through the Lobby next Tuesday, we will be voting for or against these two unchanged documents.
Given that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just picked up the withdrawal deal, I am sure that, being the learned gentleman he is, he has read, on page 307, the guarantee and the protection for the Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement—and the consent principle. Twenty years ago, his party, the Labour party, was the architect—thank the Lord—of that agreement, which put an end to the appalling violence of more than 30 years in Northern Ireland, when 302 police officers lost their lives and thousands of innocent people lost theirs in the terrorist campaign. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain to the House, and to the Irish diaspora in Labour constituencies, how it is that the Labour party is voting down a deal that guarantees the agreement?
Let me take that point head on, because it is very important. Our party—both parties—played an important part in the peace process, and I genuinely think that there is a consensus, or a near-consensus, across the House on the importance of that agreement. We have been very proud of upholding it. Even in the course of these debates over the last two years, every time it has come up there has been a reiteration of the principles. I myself worked in Northern Ireland for five years, with the Policing Board, implementing some of the recommendations of the Good Friday agreement, and I therefore have first-hand knowledge of how both communities see it, what the impact was before change, and what it is now. However, I do not think it fair to characterise anyone who says that these two documents are not the right deal for our country as undermining the Good Friday agreement. That simply means that there can be no criticism, no issue, no challenge to the Government, which cannot be right.
In addition, I have stood at this Dispatch Box and moved amendment after amendment whose objective was a customs union and a single market deal, which I genuinely believe constitute the only way of securing no hard border in Northern Ireland. On every occasion, the Government voted those amendments down. To say at this stage that we have tried to do nothing to protect the position is simply not right. [Interruption.] I will come to the issue of the need for a backstop—I will tackle that issue—but I wanted to deal with the intervention.
I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has answered the key question asked by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). I cannot understand why the Labour party is joining in the criticisms of the Irish backstop. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has repeated his commitment to a permanently open border. He has also repeated—and I agree with him about this—that there can only be a permanently open border if there is a customs union and regulatory alignment. If they are to be permanent, that must be kept permanently.
What the critics on this side of the House are saying about the backstop agreement is “We are not allowed to cancel it unilaterally.” If they are given that power, it is no longer a permanently open border. With the greatest respect, it does smack of opportunism that the Labour party is joining opponents of the backstop with whom it has no agreement whatever politically. The answer is to have the same open border for the whole United Kingdom and for the United Kingdom to be in a single market and regulatory alignment, and that is not inconsistent with the referendum.
That suggests that the customs arrangements under the backstop are the same as customs arrangements that we have currently, but they are not. I have read the document in detail several times, and I know what the customs union that we are in looks like and I know that the one under the backstop is fundamentally different. It is fundamentally different from the amendments that we have been faithfully tabling for 12 or 18 months. It is therefore unfair to say that because it is called a “customs arrangement” or a “customs union” that it is all the same; it obviously is not. The arrangements for Northern Ireland are different from those for England, Wales and Scotland, and even the arrangements for England, Wales and Scotland are not the same as the customs union that we are in now.
Among the deficiencies is that we would not have any say over future trade agreements during any period in the backstop, which has not been built in because the Government are pretending that any period would not last long. I will address the point about having a say, but we would not be able to strike our own agreements and would take no advantages from trade agreements struck by the EU. That is a fundamental deficiency of being in the backstop. It is not right or fair to pretend that such issues do not exist, that we cannot seriously engage with them, or that the importance that the Labour party puts in the Good Friday agreement is somehow undermined. That just removes the ability to challenge. The withdrawal agreement is a serious document, and it is what the Government have put before us to analyse and vote on, so we are entitled to say that it is not good enough. However, that does not mean in the next breath that we do not stick by the commitments in the Good Friday agreement.
I will make some progress and then take further interventions.
The withdrawal agreement is the same document that was before the House when the Prime Minister announced that she was postponing the vote. It is the proposition that she said she thought would be defeated by a significant margin. No changes have been made either to the 585-page, legally binding withdrawal agreement or to the incredibly vague political declaration. There is no new text for this House to consider.
Some of us expected the Prime Minister to make a statement on Monday to tell the House what had happened while we were in recess, to update us on any meetings or discussions that she may have had—we read about them in the press—and to say whether anything had changed. She did not come to make a statement. The Brexit Secretary handled an urgent question, the central thrust of which was about what progress had been made and what changes there had been. The Brexit Secretary defended his position with a smile, attacking the Opposition, as he always does, by asking, “What’s your proposition?” while ignoring the fact that we are voting on the withdrawal agreement, not on what anyone else is saying. He smiled, attacked the Opposition and swerved challenges, but he did not answer the question, and the reason why is that there has been no meaningful change.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
I will just make this point and then give way.
I was here for Prime Minister’s questions today, and I carefully noted what the Prime Minister said in answer to the first question from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. First, she said that the changes that she is now relying on are the results of the December European Council summit, at which the EU agreed that it would use “its best endeavours” to secure the future relationship as quickly as possible. What else could it say? Of course, we would hope that it would do that. However, the EU also said at the same summit that the withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated, so that does not take us very far.
Secondly, the Prime Minister said that further clarifications might be “possible” by Tuesday, so we are in exactly the same position as we were on 10 December, with a hope for possible assurances—there may be something coming.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister referred to the paper on Northern Ireland published this morning, and the Brexit Secretary referred to it, too. Members may not have had the chance to read this 13-page document, but I have read it. I do not dismiss anything that marks a step towards ensuring that the concerns in Northern Ireland and across the whole United Kingdom are addressed, whatever they are, so I am not dismissing this document. However, on my reading—if I am wrong, I will correct this or be corrected—I think I am right in saying that the document does not contain any new commitments. It brings together the unilateral commitments made in other places at other times into one document. I have been going through the document as I have been in the Chamber, so if I am wrong, I will be challenged but, as far as I can see, it just builds on the unilateral commitments in paragraph 50 of the phase 1 joint report document from December 2017 and adds the commitments that the Prime Minister has made in Belfast and other places. I am not saying that those commitments are not important or are without significance. I do not dismiss them, but we need to see the document for what it is, which is a bringing together of existing commitments. The position has not changed between 10 December and today.
The fourth thing that has been relied upon as a change that the House needs to take into account is that it is now said that Parliament will have a role in July 2020 when we must choose whether to apply for an extension of the transition or to go on to the backstop. There are several points about that, one of which is that it does not change the options, and I will develop why I think that those options will have to be exercised. Arguably, it is the logic of the article 50 case in the Supreme Court, certainly if we go on to the backstop, because the whole argument in the Supreme Court was that if we change the rights of individuals in this country as a matter of international law then we have to have a vote in this House, so I am not sure that this is much of a gift or concession from the Government.
The other point is the practical reality, which we have seen today and yesterday: the idea that the Prime Minister or anybody else was going to get away with freezing Parliament out of that decision in July 2020 is misconceived. We were always going to have a say on that, because it is such an important position. So the proposition on the table is not altered. The Brexit Secretary did not answer substantively on Monday because the December summit does not really take us anywhere: further clarifications may be possible but they are still long awaited, the Northern Ireland paper is a bringing together of existing commitments that does not change anything, and Parliament was always going to find a way of having a say in July 2020 as to which option we take.
I promised earlier to take an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), so I will give way to him first.
I concur with my right hon. and learned Friend that nothing has changed. Does he therefore agree that the Prime Minister’s decision to delay was not only wrong, but irresponsible, because on every single day that has gone by during that time we have seen the Treasury spending more and more taxpayers’ money to prepare for a no deal that it says it does not want, businesses cancelling investment plans, and jobs being put at risk? All of that is deeply irresponsible, particularly when nothing has changed.
I agree with that, because if the Prime Minister’s own judgment is right that this deal as it was on 10 December is likely to go down by a significant margin, that brings into sharp focus the role of this House in debating and deciding what happens next, and the more time we have for that, the better. We have just been deprived of 30 days of that because we will not now get on to it, probably, until next week.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has listed a series of things that have not changed. One thing that I note has not changed are the terms of his and the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment in calling for
“a permanent UK-EU customs union”,
a perfectly clear phrase that we all understand completely, and a “strong single market deal”. I am one of those in this House who would like in some way or another at some point or another in the not too distant days to arrive at some cross-party agreement about something we could actually go forward with, and therefore I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to explain to the House what kind of “strong single market deal” would need to be delivered in order to get an agreement.
I can deal with that because, as Members know, I have been talking to the EU and the EU27 for quite a long time now, not to undermine the Government’s position—it was actually facilitated by the first Brexit Secretary of State in some respects—but to explore what other options are possible. At present the customs union operates on the basis that the Council sets the mandate for the Commission, the Commission does the negotiating, and Parliament then has a role. So if we want a customs union that replicates the benefits of the current customs union and we want the UK to have a say in that we must find something that is similar to that, but obviously not the same as it, and the central question I have been addressing is whether the EU would be interested in a discussion about what that sort of working customs union would look like. [Interruption.] I actually had the discussion. [Interruption.] It is very easy for Members on the Treasury Bench to chunter, but I have been responsible and actually gone and had the conversation asking whether there is a basis for a discussion about a customs union that would work in that way. I have been very clear that if it ended up as something akin to the Turkey customs union—which works for Turkey—that really would not be good enough.
As for a single market deal, my own view is that there are advantages in what we call the Norway model but that there are also disadvantages in that, and therefore it must be possible—again, I have had discussions—to explore a close economic relationship that keeps alignment, with, of course, oversight and enforcement mechanisms to go with it, but which is not simply the EEA.
I say all that in some detail in order to reassure the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) that when we talk about a close economic relationship, a customs union with a say, and a close single market deal, we are talking about concepts that I have surfaced only after I have had discussions with EU27 countries and the EU about their possibility. I am not going to stand here and pretend that that will be easy; rather, I am standing here saying that we have been pressing for at least 12 or 18 months to have that. One of the major problems—this is at the heart of the debate and the fractiousness about it—is that the Prime Minister and the Government have pushed Parliament away. They had a choice—
I will give way in a moment, but I want to make this point because it is very important.
I campaigned to remain; I wanted to remain.
I agonised over whether we should trigger article 50, but I worked out that, having accepted the result of the referendum, it was not open to me to stop the Prime Minister starting the negotiations. What I wanted is for this House to have a proper role—by consensus, or at least by majority, if possible—in finding a way forward.
It was obvious that the sorts of arguments that are happening in the House, particularly among Conservative Members, if I may say so—I do not think that is controversial—would break out. It was obvious because for 30 years there has been a discussion, for want of a better word, in the Conservative party about not just the relationship with Europe but the vision for our country. That argument was always going to break out, and it was always going to divide Conservative Members. That is obvious, and it is not just an Opposition point. In those circumstances, a different Prime Minister might have said, “I can see what is going to happen down the line, and I need to bring Parliament into this.” That has been refused at every twist and turn.
Let us be honest that we are having a vote on Tuesday only because we fought to have it. I coined the phrase “meaningful vote”, and, working across parties, we got the amendment, which was resisted by the Government. They went through the Lobby to say no. We said, “You have to publish a plan,” and the only reason we got a plan was that we won an Opposition day motion—the Government were going to oppose that motion. We said that we wanted to know what the impact would be, and the Government said, “You can’t.” We had to get it via a Humble Address. We have seen the Supreme Court and the idea of even voting on article 50 in the first place, and then the Attorney General’s advice. The Government have persistently voted down every motion. The one thing I remember the first Brexit Secretary saying to me, over and again, on the article 50 Bill was that he wanted a clean Bill: “I want a clean Bill, and I will make sure that every amendment is voted down.” That was his avowed aim.
I completely accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s central point, which is that there is space for completely honourable debate within and between political parties in this House about the outcome of the negotiations on the future permanent relationship between this country and the EU27, and the various options, from Norway to Canada and every variation in between, have their champions in this place. But from his conversations with the EU institutions and with members of the 27 Governments, surely he will have accepted that the essential and unavoidable gateway to any such destination of a final agreement has to be the withdrawal agreement, which covers citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the financial settlement, which is the key document that we are being asked to endorse and ratify. What is his objection to that document?
I accept that there has to be a withdrawal agreement, and I accept that it has to cover citizens’ rights and that there are payments. I have on more than one occasion stood here and said that the progress on citizens’ rights under the withdrawal agreement is a step in the right direction, although it does not go far enough—we have quibbled about that, but there will always be an argument about whether we have gone far enough.
I have also stood here and said that we will have to fulfil our financial obligations, for the very reason the Brexit Secretary said, which is that we will not get very far in trying to reach trade agreements, or any agreements, with anybody else on the international plane if, at the same time, we are walking away from the international agreements or obligations that we have.
That does not mean I do not have concerns about the withdrawal agreement, and about the backstop in particular. The backstop has become the central issue for two reasons: first, the lack of progress on the future relationship, and I will develop that point in just a moment; and, secondly, the avowed aim of some Conservative Members to diverge as far as possible from EU alignment. It is that fear that has driven the debate on the backstop, and it could have been avoided months ago.
I am doubly grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way again. It is helpful to address this point after the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman take this one stage further? If there were a cross-party agreement on the terms of an EU-UK customs union of the kind he describes, and if there were some variant of a “strong single market deal”—whether Norwegian or otherwise—is he saying it is the position of the Labour party that it would then co-operate with Her Majesty’s Government to arrive at an agreement about how to reshape the political declaration in such a way as to enable the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration to go forward so that we can exit on 29 March?
There is the customs union point and the single market deal point, and there are other issues relating to rights and protections, whether they are workplace rights or environmental rights and so on. Obviously, at some stage, if we are to leave other than without a deal, there has to be a consensus in this House for something. That is why the wasting of the past 30 days has been so regrettable, because that is where we need to get to. At no point have the Government reached out across the House at all, even after the snap election. I actually personally thought that at some stage somebody might give me a ring and ask what would be the main features that we could at least begin to discuss, or whether it was worth even having a discussion about them.
The second point gives meat to this. Time and again we have tabled amendments along the lines I have been talking about, and time and again the Government have just blindly whipped against them, without any regard to whether they were good, bad or indifferent; they were just Opposition amendments, so they were going down.
We know from the author of article 50 that it was drafted with the intention that it should never be used, so 29 March is an arbitrary date. It is only now that the Government have started to reach out and indicate that they might be willing to discuss Brexit with other parties in this House in order to get consensus, but we have run out of time. Surely the Government now have to listen and consider the fact that we may have to suspend article 50, or even to seek its revocation.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I do accuse the Government of running down the clock, and it is a serious allegation. The article 50 window is two years—it is very short. The Government started the two years by having a snap general election, and lost two or three months. They then went through to the end of the phase 1 agreement, but it was not until June last year that we even had a Chequers plan, so the two-year window has in effect been run down. There is a question of the extension of article 50, which may well be inevitable now, given the position that we are in, but of course we can only seek it, because the other 27 have to agree.
The other serious question with which I have been engaging is about the appetite of the EU, after the negotiations have gone the way they have, to start again and to fundamentally change what is on the table. I have to say, with regret, that I genuinely think that the way the Government have gone about the negotiations, particularly in respect of the red lines that the Prime Minister laid down in the first place, has undermined a lot of the good will that would otherwise have been there.
I will give way once more and then I really am going to get on, because I have been giving way for around half an hour.
This is my last intervention. To go back to the intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), which was pertinent to the situation we are all in, he asked whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman was saying on behalf of the Labour party that, if there were a cross-party agreement on a form of customs union, sufficient regulatory alignment and so on, his party would join in that positively, with a view to reaching a solution and moving on to the serious negotiations. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has turned that question into an attack on the Government, and I agree with him. I share his criticism that the Government should have made serious overtures to the Opposition long, long ago; but as we are now so short of time and we are all in danger of going towards a no-deal exit, which only a small minority in the House positively wants, is it not time for him to answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset? Is the Labour party available for discussions with a positive view to reaching a conclusion on a customs union and sufficient regulatory alignment to keep open borders?
I have been available for discussions for the whole time I have been in this post. I have spoken to Members on all Benches about amendments, some of which have had cross-party support. We are going to have to have a discussion—I think starting after Tuesday—about where we go next. We will all have to enter that in the right spirit, because I genuinely think that leaving with no deal would be catastrophic. I also genuinely think that we cannot do it on 29 March this year; it is simply not viable for so many practical reasons. We are going to have to look at what available options are realistically still on the table and what now are the merits of each of them. There are different options; we are just discussing one of them. There are other options that I know members in my own party feel very strongly about, such as a public vote. But we are going to have to sit down and consider credibly what are the options and how Parliament takes control of what happens next. We will enter that in the right spirit, but we will all have to acknowledge, I am afraid, that some of the options that may have been there a year or two ago are not there in the same shape and form as they would have been at the time of the manifestos.
No, I really am going to make some progress now because I have been giving in—hopefully, I have been giving way, though I may have been giving in as well!
I have made the point about this being the same proposition on the table, but let me just go to the heart of the problem of why we are so stuck on this question of the backstop on which I have been challenged. At the heart of the problem is the future relationship document. The truth is that there has been barely any progress on the future relationship. It is a flimsy 26-page document. In truth, it is an options paper—a 26-page options paper—which could and should have been written two years ago. Paragraph 28—I know that everyone has marked it up, but it is worth having another look at—covers the implications for checks and controls. This is the future relationship. It says:
“The Parties envisage that the extent of the United Kingdom’s commitments on customs and regulatory cooperation, including with regard to alignment of rules, would be taken into account in the application of related checks and controls, considering this as a factor in reducing risk.”
It then goes on to say that there is a “spectrum of different outcomes”. What it is saying is that we do not know yet what the commitments on customs and co-operation will be. We do not know what the alignment will be. If it is close it might lead to one result; if it is not close it might lead to another result—a spectrum of different outcomes.
The document has 26 pages, at the heart of which is a “spectrum of different outcomes”. We keep calling it a deal, but this is not a deal; it is an options paper. It is an options paper that has been written by others. We have all mocked up an options paper, as have various academics. Let me contrast this with what the previous Brexit Secretary, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), said. We were challenging him over the summer about the future relationship and trying to get an assurance from him that we would have a precise and detailed document that we could vote on so we know where we are going. He said this:
“What is important is that it is clear and specific enough”—
the future relationship document—
“that we are not talking about options for negotiations”—
that is what it would not be—
“but we are clear on the choice of model”—
so it is a clear model that he said we would have—
“and therefore that it reads as a direction for the UK and the EU to get on with it—that we are really implementing heads of terms for an agreement.”
This is miles away from that. This is not a deal, and that is the cause of the problem.
The cause of the problem is this: whatever the Secretary of State says, nobody but nobody who is serious about this thinks for one moment that this document will turn into the future relationship and come into force on 1 January 2021. Nobody credible thinks that. It is a complete myth. It is precisely the same as the myth that this would all have been negotiated by now, which is why there is such anxiety about the backstop. The backstop should never have been the driving force—the focus. We should have been so far advanced in this part of the negotiation that the backstop would have been a bit of a non-issue.
I just want to make this point. We need to understand why this document is so flimsy. It is not just an accident. It is not just that people were not working hard. It is not just that the civil servants, who have worked really hard in all this, were not doing their job. It is for two primary reasons.
The first was that the Prime Minister laid down her red lines in autumn 2016 without consulting the House and, I think, without consulting the Cabinet. She said that those red lines were: outside the customs union, outside the single market and no role for the European Court of Justice. She added the suggestion that
“if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”
That was an interpretation of the referendum—we can argue whether it was a good or bad one—by a small team of, I think, three of four people. That was not even the interpretation of the Cabinet, and certainly not of this House. We only have 26 pages on the future relationship, because that got us off to the worst possible start to the negotiations. Those were political choices, not necessities. They were the Prime Minister’s choices, which set her on a path, and this is where it ended.
Add to that the fact that we only got the Chequers proposal in June last year. Anybody who visited Brussels between the triggering of article 50 and June 2018 will have heard the same complaint that I heard: “We don’t know what the UK is actually asking for, and therefore we can’t really advance the negotiations.” When we first got the Chequers proposal in June last year, those in Brussels acknowledged that at least there was now a plan on the table. Of course, Chequers did not unlock the problem, because it was a plan that led immediately to Cabinet resignations, that MPs were quick to say they opposed and would not agree to in any circumstances, and that the EU rejected. That is why there are only 26 pages, which expose the thinness of the proposals.
I will just crack on.
What we see from this document is that the envisaged future relationship will not deliver frictionless trade; it does not aspire to any more. There is no plan for a permanent customs union and no certainty for financial services. In fact, there is almost nothing for financial services. On workplace rights and environmental protections, there is nothing to ensure that standards do not fall behind over time. No wonder the general secretary of the TUC said:
“This is a bad deal for working people: bad for jobs and bad for rights.”
It also places us outside a whole raft of common EU programmes and agencies. Again, much of that flows directly from the Prime Minister’s insistence that there should be no role whatever for the European Court. She put that red line down, and once she had done so, any meaningful participation in those bodies became very difficult.
For five years, I was the representative of the UK in Eurojust, which, as the House will know, plays an important part in the investigation and prosecution of very serious offences across Europe, as do other agencies. In order to have the full participation that makes sense, we have to accept the oversight and enforcement mechanisms that go with it, but the red line made it impossible and led to such a thin document as this.
I have heard colleagues ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman repeatedly about the Labour party’s proposals and whether it would work on a cross-party basis. He indicated at the Dispatch Box that he would enter into cross-party discussions. Is he speaking for the Labour party or as an individual, and what proposals does he have?
I have to say that I love this. We are voting on the Government’s deal, but Members are attacking the Labour party’s plan. Well, that makes a lot of sense. Whatever else we are going to do next Tuesday, we are not going to vote on our plan. Let us be serious.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
The hon. Gentleman asked me a question and I am answering him. Whether we like it or not, the Government’s deal is what we are voting on. We are not voting on what any one of us may think, say or do. Having not made any attempt to engage seriously with the Opposition on amendments and proposals, it is a bit rich for Government Members to now say that it is somehow the Opposition’s fault that the Government are in a mess and cannot get their deal through. I gently say that there is huge interest in what the Opposition think. Why? Because, in an ordinary set of proceedings and absent the snap general election, there would be a majority on the Government Benches for the Government’s own proposition. This challenge needs to be put in its proper context: it is because Conservative Members know full well that they are not all going into the same Lobby.
If anyone wants to intervene on me and say that the Conservatives are all going into the same Lobby, they can, but I do not think that is the case. The point is that the Government are so divided that they cannot get their own deal through. That is the truth of the matter.
I am going to make some progress.
Order. I am well aware that the hon. Lady is a former chair of the Internal Market Committee of the European Parliament. In case there are people present who were not aware of that, among the litany of achievements that she can proclaim, I have done a public service in advertising that important fact. However, it does not give her an automatic right to intervene. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) will decide whether he wishes to give way to the hon. Lady, and at the moment he is not giving way.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I am not going to give way.
It is no good us pretending about this. I have said in recent weeks and months that the future relationship document is 26 pages long and that it is thin and flimsy, and the answer that now comes back occasionally is, “It was always going to be that way. What did you expect? It’s a future relationship.” Well, I will tell Members what the Prime Minister expected. I see nods from Conservative Members, but the Prime Minister was very clear about what she expected, and she set it out in her Lancaster House speech on 17 January 2017:
“I want us to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year Article Fifty process has concluded.”
“I want us to have reached an agreement.”
“From that point onwards, we believe a phased process of implementation, in which both Britain and the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements”.
At the time, I was proposing that that was a transition period, and the Prime Minister and various Secretaries of State for Brexit kept insisting it was not a transition period, because that would imply that we were negotiating in it; instead it was an implementation period, because—[Interruption.] No, this is what they argued. They said that the agreement would have been reached and all we would need to do was implement it—to phase it in—during the two-year period. So the idea that this is as it was always going to be—that a blind Brexit was inevitable or an inherent part of the process—is completely contradicted by the Prime Minister’s own words when she said what was going to be achieved.
There are very serious consequences to having such a flimsy document on the future relationship. First, it invites this House to vote on a blind Brexit. I and other Labour Members have very strong views on what the future relationship should look like. Given a document that does not set out whether it might end up as a distant Canada-style model of some sort, or a closed Norway-style model, how can one expect any responsible Member of this House to say, “I don’t know where this is going to end, I don’t know what it’s going to look like, it could actually turn out to be an agreement I fundamentally disagree with, but I shall vote for it”? That just cannot be right. That is the problem—it is a blind Brexit. Secondly, as I have said, because the document is so thin, nobody serious, either here or in Brussels, is suggesting for one moment that the agreement is actually going to be ready by January 2021.
That means that we are going on to either an extended transition or the backstop. That is going to happen. If anybody is intending to vote next week on the pretence or understanding that we are not going to be here arguing about this in July 2020, I genuinely think they are labouring under a misconception—they are wrong. We will either be going on to the transition or going on to the backstop if the deal goes through in this form. We cannot escape that and simply pretend it is not going to happen.
I have said a few words about the backstop. As the Secretary of State rightly said, it provides for citizens’ rights and financial obligations. I do not shy away from the commitments made under the Good Friday agreement. I certainly have no truck with those who play down the importance of the Good Friday agreement—it is not the Secretary of State, the Government or the Prime Minister—or even say that their version of hard Brexit somehow overrides it. Those commitments are serious, and they have to be kept.
I also accept that, given the lack of progress in the 26-page document that we have, at this stage, sadly, some sort of backstop is inevitable. Having got to this stage of the article 50 exercise, it is now inevitable that we cannot finish the exercise within the transition period. There are risks under the backstop, and the Attorney General’s advice, which we fought to uncover last year, set them out pretty starkly. There is the fraught question of whether the backstop would, in truth, be indefinite or temporary. We can have views on that, but we cannot avoid the fact that it is a live dispute, and the Attorney General gave his view on that.
It is also indisputable that once we are in the backstop, if that is what happens in January 2021, it will introduce barriers to trade between England, Wales and Scotland and the EU. That is spelled out in the document. We are putting up barriers to trade in January 2021 if we go into the backstop. I have already touched on the inadequacy of the proposed customs arrangements.
I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have seen the article written over the weekend by Peter Hain and Paul Murphy—both former distinguished Members of this House and Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland who played an important part in the peace process—in which they made the case that the backstop is an important element that we must honour. Has he had an opportunity to reflect on that?
I have read the article, and I reflect on it. I used my words carefully; I said that there are risks in the backstop, which the Attorney General’s advice set out, and they are real risks.
There is a risk that we should not be blind to. The Attorney General spelled out in his advice that the backstop, as a matter of international law, may well be indefinite—he said that it is arguable either way—and that we therefore cannot get out of it unilaterally. We know that, and we have had a discussion about it. However, he went on to say that we cannot get out of it even if the negotiations completely break down and an allegation of bad faith is found. That is not just—
He did say that. I flushed that advice out, and I have read it over and over again. It is absolutely clear. The Attorney General says that if an allegation of bad faith is found, the only remedy is to ask the parties to act in good faith. That is spelled out in the advice. I know that the Minister is an honourable man and will concede that. I am not suggesting for a moment that there is bad faith—of course I am not. I do not think that the negotiations have been or will be negotiated in bad faith, but a country ought to pause before it simply says that an international agreement with those sorts of arrangements is to be waved through because we have used so much time up that we cannot do anything else.
The point I was making—I apologise for making it from a sedentary position—is that the Attorney General said that, on the balance of probabilities, the backstop would not be entered into. He also pointed out that it could be challenged legally under European law were it ever to be entered into.
I understand the argument that article 50 can only be a vehicle for a temporary arrangement and not a permanent one. The Attorney General addressed that, and it is obvious to anybody who has read and understood article 50 rightly. However, the point the Attorney General was addressing was the circumstances in which we could bring the backstop to an end once we were in it, as a matter of international law. Whether article 50 permits it or not, or what the Court would do if it were challenged, is an open question.
The Attorney General said that the backstop may be indefinite—he did not say it was indefinite—but he called into question the argument that it will be temporary. I have noticed that the Prime Minister is very careful in the way she puts it: she always says that the backstop is intended to be temporary. I do not think she has ever used any other phrase, presumably because she is bearing in mind what the Attorney General has advised. I am not saying that there does not need to be a backstop or arrangements to protect the Northern Ireland situation, but we cannot simply and casually say that these are matters to which we should not have too much regard. I honestly cannot think of another treaty that the UK has ever entered into that it could not exit in such circumstances. We might say that that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a very unusual thing to be doing.
I want to address the notion that rejecting the deal somehow leads to no deal. I have never accepted that, and it is deeply irresponsible of the Government to pretend that this is a binary choice. No Prime Minister has the right to plunge the country into the chaos of no deal simply because the deal has been rejected, or to run down the negotiations. I believe that that view is shared across the House. There is no majority for no deal. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and others for the amendment to the Finance Bill that the House passed yesterday. It will not formally prevent no deal, but it will give consequences to a non-endorsed deal.
The amendment is also symbolic, in that it shows that the House will not simply sit by and allow a no-deal exit. I do not think that the Prime Minister would attempt that, because I think she understands that a no-deal exit in March this year is not practically viable. I have been to Dover several times to look at the customs arrangements, and it would be impossible to get from the arrangements as they are today to those that would need to be in place on 29 March in the time available. Whatever anyone else says, it would be impossible to do that. There are plenty of other examples. However, if the Prime Minister attempts a no-deal Brexit, we will fight her tooth and nail every inch of the way.
Every Member of this House has a solemn duty to consider the deal before us—not the deal that the Prime Minister pretends to have negotiated or the deal that she promises to change between now and when we go through the Lobby, but the text before us. Labour is clear that the deal is not in the national interest. It does not come anywhere near to meeting our tests, it will make the country poorer and more divided and it will not protect jobs and the economy. I say that with sadness, because I have shadowed three different Brexit Secretaries, and the fact that we now have a deal that is so demonstrably not uniting the country and not able to command the support of this House is a tragic waste of the two years that have been available for negotiations and a miserable end to this part of the process. We will have to vote on the deal next Tuesday. After that, it will be time for this House to decide what happens next.
Order. The House is now embarking on the resumption of the debate started on 4 December and interrupted. A lot of Members put in to speak on 9 and 10 December, and the order just agreed allows those who have already spoken the possibility of a second speech. I must tell hon. and right hon. Members that if they wish to speak on any of the next four days of debate, they should put their names in to my office, and that they cannot rely on notification that was given a month ago. Apart from anything else, the days have changed and my team cannot be expected to anticipate the thought processes of hon. and right hon. Members, so if people would notify my office, that would be greatly appreciated.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. We have just heard two heavyweight and extremely important speeches from the two Front Benches. I congratulate the new—he is not really new anymore—Brexit Secretary on his grip on the extraordinary complexity of detail that he so evidently demonstrated at the Dispatch Box. I have only rarely troubled the House with my views on Brexit— I think this is only the second time I have done so— and I have approached the whole process on the basis that as Government Back Benchers, it is our job to try to assist the Government in reaching a satisfactory deal. Our job is to support and assist.
We have some special issues in the west midlands. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) has made it clear that the issue of just-in-time supply is important to us there, but this is not just about cars. It is also about food. Much of the food in this country is not stored in a warehouse, but is on a motorway, so just-in-time supply is a very important matter for us.
I also think the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and the Father of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), and indeed the response from the shadow Brexit Secretary, are a very important start to this resumed debate and need to inform our discussions.
It has always been quite clear that it is the Government’s job to propose and Parliament’s job to dispose. Let me be clear: I have great sympathy for the Prime Minister. I served with her in Cabinet and shadow Cabinet for seven and a half years, and I believe that she has a steadfast determination and integrity. No Prime Minister could have given so much time to the House at the Dispatch Box on this issue. However, I have to say that I have been astonished that she would bring back to the House of Commons a deal that she knows she has absolutely no chance whatsoever of getting through, and apparently with no plan B. I think this is a matter of very great concern.
The Government are accountable to Parliament. We have had the beginnings of a new constitutional strategy: that it should be the other way around, and somehow the House of Commons should be accountable to the Government. That is not the way we do things. While I was unable to support the amendment last night, because I thought it fettered the Government’s ability for Executive action too much, I did support the amendment to the Business of the House motion this afternoon, because I think the House of Commons now has to be very clear that if the deal does not go through next week, this House of Commons has got to reach some conclusions and, if I may coin a phrase, take back control. It seems to be that it should do so on the basis of what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and my right hon. and learned Friend the Father of the House were saying.
As of today, I cannot understand what the Government’s strategy is or has been. It has all the appearances of drawing on the strategy pursued by Lord Cardigan at the charge of the Light Brigade in Crimea. Indeed, it does not seem to be a strategy at all. As Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese general, said:
“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
The danger with the tactics being pursued was set out very eloquently by the first Brexit Secretary, and they of course relate to the issue of the backstop and of sequencing.
In summary, with the greatest of regret, I am unable to support the Prime Minister in the Lobby next week. Briefly, that is for three reasons. The first is to do with the backstop. The backstop issues have been very well rehearsed. In the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, we had the pleasure of welcoming Arlene Foster to speak, and it was very clear to me that her reservations about the treatment of Northern Ireland on the backstop were extremely difficult.
I would make this point in addition to what has been said already about the position of Northern Ireland. Having now been in this House for nearly 30 years, on and off, I have sat through heartbreaking statements about the situation there, with the violence that so dreadfully afflicted Northern Ireland for so very long and, indeed, that went wider than Northern Ireland. The fact is that there was a hard-won, hard-fought treaty—lodged at the United Nations—which says there shall be no border in Northern Ireland. For me, that is the beginning and the end of the matter.
I do not want to question the sincerity of the comments that the right hon. Gentleman has just made. There are very few references to the border at all in the Belfast agreement, but where there are references, they do not in any way suggest that this decision cannot take place. There is no commitment to open the hard border. There is a commitment to co-operation among our nations—between Northern Ireland and the Republic. There is a commitment to relationships on a north-south basis.
One of the things that is in the Belfast agreement, which is completely absent from this discussion, is that it says in paragraph 12 of strand 2 that any future relationship—or impediment—or regulation or rule can be implemented only when it is agreed by the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas in the south. That is completely absent from the considerations on or indeed the text of the withdrawal agreement.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but the point I am making is that the absolute importance of an open border in Northern Ireland—indeed, it is enshrined in an internationally lodged treaty—seems to me to be completely unexceptional.
The second reason I cannot support the deal is that, far from settling matters, it enshrines or embeds the conflicts and divisions that have so convulsed our country. It perpetuates, not heals, the deep divisions that have engulfed our country. It leaves us as a rule taker, which will antagonise and inflame both sides. Those who voted remain will campaign to become rule makers once again, and those who voted to leave will feel that we have not done so and that the result of the referendum has not been fully respected.
The Government present the deal as the compromise that should bind us together; it is, in my view, the worst possible common denominator. It perpetuates the toxic, radioactive afterlife of the referendum. We need look no further than what is said about the deal by the leading proponents and opponents of Brexit on the Government Benches. Consider the eloquent arguments put by my hon. Friends the Members for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) and for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and the equally eloquent and passionate arguments put by my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). Listening to their eloquent, well-argued points against the deal before us, one can see that it will perpetuate the deep divisions.
Thirdly, all of those points are before we start on the political declaration, about which we have heard some astute comments today. We will be out, we will have paid the £39 billion and we will be saddled with the backstop. We can already see how difficult it will be to negotiate and agree the trade and commercial deals with our 27 European neighbours in the European Union. We have heard what the French have said about fisheries. We have heard what the Spanish have said about Gibraltar. We have heard what Greece and Cyprus have said about any precedents set in respect of Turkey. Alas, I cannot support the deal.
So what is to be done? It seems to me that we almost certainly need more time, although the amendment that we passed today makes it clear that the House of Commons expects the Government to address these matters with great urgency. The former Brexit Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden, makes the good point that deals in the European Union are normally done up against the clock. I recognise the validity of that point. The much bigger role for Parliament to take, which was set out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, is clearly extremely important.
The Government, as the servant of Parliament—not the other way round—need to go back to Brussels, Paris and Berlin and spell out clearly to our friends in the European Union why the deal is unacceptable, in particular the backstop. They should explain that if the Commission persists in this vein, it will sour relations between the European Union and the UK for generations, to our huge mutual disadvantage.
The Government have rightly stepped up planning for no deal, but given the will of the House on this matter, even talk of cliff edges and no deals seems unduly alarmist. It will clearly be in everyone’s interests for a series of deals and preparations to be put in place, however temporary. We must use any extra time to look again at the available options. The shadow Brexit Secretary talked about this. What are the pluses of Norway and Canada—both deals that the EU offered us earlier? Clearly, no money that is not legally, contractually due should be handed over at this point.
If the Prime Minister’s deal is rejected, it will be for Parliament to reach a conclusion on how to proceed. I profoundly hope that we can, because if we are unable to do so and this House cannot reach a resolution on these matters, the possibility of a further referendum will undoubtedly arise—something I believe profoundly to be most undesirable. A large cohort of our constituents will feel that a second referendum tramples on their democratic rights and is an attempt by a complacent establishment to make off with the referendum result. As a matter of fact, I do not think the result would be likely to change in the event of a second referendum.
Parliament must now seek to reach an agreement on how best to proceed. Only if we find ourselves incapable of reaching any agreement should we consider the option of going back to our constituents to seek their further guidance.
Mr Speaker, it feels like déjà vu all over again. We seem to be back to where we started just before Christmas. As the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) rightly pointed out, it seems that nothing has changed, but we hope that we will have a vote, and that it will be meaningful, so that we can get on with finding solutions to the problems with which Parliament is faced.
I think the point was made earlier that part of the problem for MPs, businesses and others is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to believe anything the Government tell us will definitely happen. We have to feel for those who have had to negotiate their way through this, and for the officials who have had to negotiate on behalf of the UK Parliament. I sincerely hope that Monsieur Barnier is enjoying his birthday today; he deserves to, after two and a half years of “nebulous” arguments, as some might put it. Indeed, the Prime Minister got off very, very lightly when Jean-Claude Juncker referred to her proposals in that way. I think he was just trying to be helpful to the Government.
Those of us on the Scottish National party Benches cannot vote for a deal that will make us poorer, less secure and more isolated, and which will deliver worse public services and a worse future for young people, depriving them of the rights and opportunities that we have enjoyed and taken advantage of. It is timeous that during the biggest crisis in modern times, with a weak and unstable Government in place who are clearly the most incompetent in living memory, “The Scream” is to come soon to the United Kingdom.
We have a Government who are spending money on food and medicine shortages in peacetime, because they have lost control of the situation in this place and beyond. With every day that passes, they show us just what a disaster this is. This disaster is entirely of the Government’s making. This Brexit mess was left to them by the grossly irresponsible Brexiteers, who have had a political lifetime to prepare for this moment, but when the moment came, we found out just how ill-prepared they were. In many ways, those who proposed this in the first place do an utter disservice to cowboys and snake oil salesmen.
This situation will make us poorer. What kind of Government proactively pursue a policy that they know—because their economic analysis tells us—will make us poorer? A hard Brexit will cost £1,600 for every person in Scotland. We know that because the Scottish Government had the decency to produce independent analysis, something the UK Government have pointedly refused to do—and we know why: because they are deeply embarrassed by the situation, as they should be.
There is a tendency among those who favour Brexit to think that maybe it would be good for us to tighten our belts, and that a little reduction in income is something we can get over. However, I represent the furthest away part of mainland Britain. I have businesses that will go bust if we have a hard, no-deal Brexit. Their owners will lose their livelihood, as will all the people who work in those businesses. To take forward the hon. Gentleman’s point, surely the ultimate role of Government is to protect those people and protect those businesses? Without enterprise—the little acorns from which mighty oaks grow—this country is going nowhere.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. He represents a rural area with many similarities to my constituency. He will be aware that the Bank of England warned that crashing out would be worse than the 2008 crisis. We know how devastating years of austerity have been for our public services and household incomes. The University of St Andrews found that small businesses will be particularly hard hit, so he is right to make that point. Even the Chancellor recognises that remaining in the European Union is better. We are all paying the penalty for the Tories’ folly and, frankly, extremism in this regard. The EU single market is the world’s largest economic bloc, with half a billion consumers. It is eight times bigger than the United Kingdom, and 40% of Scottish exports go there. It has become very expensive indeed to leave the EU, and the question has to be asked: is it now unaffordable to remain in the United Kingdom?
Other industries will be badly hit as well. The UK, and Scotland in particular, does well out of education and research. Since 2014—we have had no answers about what will come next—Scottish universities and other research institutions have drawn down about £500 million of EU funding, and the UK has done particularly well competitively. I represent some universities; research conducted by those such as St Andrews, Dundee and Abertay through EU funding—I see this daily, as do colleagues elsewhere in the House—will benefit each and every one of us for years to come, and that is before we even start on the financial benefits of membership.
What have the UK Government said in response to the biggest employer in my constituency? Absolutely nothing. That is an abrogation of their responsibility to people who own small businesses, and who work in research, which makes our lives better and improves our healthcare. The same goes for other industries. The Secretary of State mentioned the food and drink sector and talked about having a no-deal Brexit if the agreement was rejected. Extraordinarily, some of his colleagues have actively said that they would like a no-deal Brexit, but the National Farmers Union of Scotland has said:
“It would be nothing short of catastrophic and could have a devastating impact”.
On access to markets and much-needed labour, it said:
“It is becoming clear to NFU Scotland that there is misleading and damaging rhetoric coming from the UK Government…on where the gaps in skills and labour are.”
I hope that the Secretary of State will not mind me saying—I am sure that others will not—that the NFU is not renowned for coming out with strong words. It does so sparingly, not often, so I certainly hope that he will heed those words.
On fishing, which the Secretary of State mentioned, we have consistently argued for being taken out of the common fisheries policy. For years, Conservatives have consistently voted against that proposal in this place: they voted against the Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill, and against our proposed amendments to previous treaties. Now that we are being taken out of the EU, however, with the impact that will have on the markets to which we need access, all of a sudden they are all in favour of a hard Brexit.
If the backstop is enacted, tariffs will be applied to Scottish fishing exports, but Northern Ireland will be protected by tariff-free access to both the EU and the UK. The Scottish Secretary said that he would resign if special provisions were given to Northern Ireland. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Scottish Secretary is not only still in the job, but urging his colleagues to back a deal that disadvantages Scotland?
My hon. Friend is right. It is truly remarkable that the Secretary of State for Scotland is still in a job. He is pursuing a policy that he knows will not only make us poorer, but put Scotland at a competitive disadvantage. I say to our friends from Northern Ireland that we want them to thrive. This has nothing to do with the state of Northern Ireland; it is simply about having a level playing field across these islands. Having a level playing field means that under the agreement, we have access to the markets that Northern Ireland has access to, and it means having EU vessels—
If the hon. Gentleman can answer the point about why the Secretary of State for Scotland is still in post, or can say whether we will cede waters to EU vessels and place barriers on trade for customers, I would love to hear from him.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned a number of sectors; it is only right to put on the record that NFU Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Association and every other trade body in Scotland is imploring this House to support the Prime Minister’s agreement with the European Union. That is what our constituents and the businesses that employ them expect of all Scottish MPs.
It is good to hear the hon. Gentleman’s point, which he makes well and honestly, but it is extraordinary, and a shame, that many of his colleagues—some of whom are in the Chamber—were not listening to him. If he cannot even win over his colleagues, what hope does he have of winning over everybody else? There is almost nobody on his entire half of the Government Benches—extraordinary stuff—but I have the greatest respect for the courage and indefatigability he demonstrates.
This Government’s disrespect agenda has turned the constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom upside down. The UK Government have imposed legislation on the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly against overwhelming opposition from across the parties—from not just the Labour party but the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. The Scottish Parliament rejected the deal by 92 votes to 29, leaving the Conservative party in utter isolation in Scotland, as it has been for decades.
As the Government turn the constitutional settlement upside down, without reference to this place and ignoring the Scotland Act 1998, let me paraphrase the great Winnie Ewing—Madame Ecosse—who said that it was claimed once upon a time that Britannia ruled the waves; now, Britannia simply waives the rules. We heard howls of protest in this place today when Parliament took back control, but Parliament did the Government a favour. The Government have wasted all this time, but now they will be forced to come back within three days, not because of something they did, but because Parliament reasserted itself, and you, Mr Speaker, did the right thing today in allowing the vote. That is incredibly important as we reach this crunch time. One cannot do this kind of thing in the European Union.
I have found utterly baffling and really quite depressing the lack of knowledge about the European institutions in this place. The EU is made up of independent and sovereign states, which reach agreement and compromise in what is truly a partnership of equals. There is democratic oversight from the European Parliament—Ministers here have attempted to stifle democratic oversight—and there is a Court, not to impose anything on anybody but to resolve disagreements, which will arise in any democracy with 28 independent and sovereign member states.
I am not entirely sure what future arbitration mechanism the Government propose. I see from their agreement that they propose a role for the European Court of Justice. I welcome that, but it is a bit too little, too late, and it has been met by a wall of opposition from their own Members, who do not seem to understand what the Government are arguing for.
As I set out what the European Union is all about, it strikes me that despite all those who try to compare it with the United Kingdom and ask whether, if Scotland becomes independent, we want to be in the EU, no one can tell me in what way they are similar. Can anybody compare the EU with the UK? Silence. It is not possible to compare them. To do so would be to disregard every treaty, and the fact that the EU is a club for independent and sovereign states. I am astonished, since Government Members persistently make that argument, that nobody can tell me what the difference is. That argument is almost as dead and defunct as the Prime Minister’s deal.
Let me move on to a human element. The way EU nationals have been treated is a disgrace. No Member should be complicit in what is being done in our name. That is nowhere clearer than in the appalling treatment of our friends and neighbours who happen to hold passports from a different European country. They contribute so much to our homes and our NHS, and they contribute financially so much more than they take away.
On a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry)—as well as, to be fair, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) during Prime Minister’s questions today—does the Minister agree that it is deeply offensive to be asking those who already pay their taxes and so much in contributions to pay £65 each to remain in their homes? Would anybody on the Government Benches like to defend that? Anybody? I didn’t think so. Would anyone want to defend the disgrace of charging people £65 to remain in their homes?
Since the Government cannot stand up to defend themselves, I will give way to my hon. Friend instead.
Does it not offend natural justice that people are being made to pay that fee to maintain rights that they already have and enjoy, yet they were excluded from the vote itself and have played no part in the democratic mechanisms that have brought us to this point? The Government have done everything to isolate them and are doing everything to isolate them further. Would it not show an element of good will, at least, if they cancelled the £65 fee?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is the very least the Government could do.
My hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. Is the situation not even worse, because these people—our friends and neighbours, our colleagues, people we depend on in our communities and throughout Scotland, have been asked—even when they have been here for decades, to apply to pay to stay in their own homes?
As usual, my hon. Friend makes a powerful point about EU citizens on behalf of his constituents. Truly there is shame on this Government for the way they treat our neighbours and fellow citizens. They are whipping up a frenzy over immigration and those seen as outsiders. The Government have disgraced themselves, and, following the vote of no confidence, are no longer fit for office.
If the hon. Member can defend the Government’s position, which they themselves seem incapable of defending, I will give way to him, although he could not do so when I challenged him earlier.
Can the hon. Gentleman defend the SNP’s policy? In July 2014, in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon spoke about her “common sense position” on this issue. She said:
“There are 160,000 EU nationals…living in Scotland… If Scotland was outside Europe, they would lose the right to stay here.”
Does he defend that?
It is extraordinary that the hon. Member cannot engage with any of the arguments or defend his own Government. Indeed, he cannot even vote for his own Government. The way the First Minister came out the day after the referendum to give that reassurance to EU nationals and the way the Scottish Government have said they will waive the fees of public sector workers which as yet the UK Government have not had the decency to do—I hope they will change their mind—should put each and every Government Member to shame. In the independence referendum, as in Scottish Parliament and local authority elections, those EU citizens—our friends and neighbours—have the franchise, they have the vote, and they are treated with decency, which is a lot more than can be said here.
Everyone will know by now that my husband is German and that we have many friends who are EU citizens. With many EU citizens who have been here for decades being refused permanent right to remain and they or their children being refused citizenship, does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just about the money? There should not be an application. Even a registration would suggest something different. An application implies that someone can be refused.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. She frequently makes very good points on that very matter. This goes to the heart of what kind of society we want to build and how we treat our friends and neighbours. Do we want that isolationism, or do we have the decency to treat our friends and neighbours appropriately?
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech touching on the human elements and our responsibility to our friends and neighbours, but there is also the fundamental point about our rights as EU citizens. Could anyone defend the current position? He worked in Europe for many years. We today have the opportunity to work in 28 member states. How is it right that if the Government get their way UK citizens will have the right to work in only one state and will be excluded from the opportunity to work in Europe which he, I and many others had? It is a disgrace that that right is being taken away from our young people.
That is an excellent point. I spent years benefiting from freedom of movement on the Erasmus programme. I know that many other Members who are present did as well, and that it has benefited our friends, our relatives and many of our constituents. Who are we to deprive the next generations of the benefits that we have had—the rights and opportunities that we have had? It is utterly shameful to be depriving our young people of freedom of movement, from which many of us across the House have benefited, and which benefits everyone without fear or favour. That is yet another failure.
Then there is security, which is a basic priority of the UK Government and of any Government anywhere in the world. This is a Government who are, proactively and consciously, making us less safe, isolating us from key partners elsewhere in Europe and drawing away from key planks such as the European arrest warrant. According to the Royal United Services Institute,
“the full benefits of membership—combining both shared decision-making and operational effectiveness—cannot be replicated”
by the deal that we are seeing today.
Nowhere has the disregard for security—and for the peace process—been seen more clearly than in Northern Ireland. There has been an utter disregard for it throughout the debate, although that is not the Government’s fault, and it is not the fault of one or two Ministers who argued for remain. The disregard shown during the EU referendum and subsequently was appalling as well, especially given that the European Union has been a key partner for peace in Northern Ireland for decades.
Let me now, briefly and finally, say a little something about the Labour party. We have the weakest and the least stable Government in living memory. They cannot even defend their own record. They cannot even defend the basics. They are actively making us poorer and less secure—proactively—and at great cost as well. All that the Government have going for them—and I say this with great respect to the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras, who was very good today and always is, as are many other Labour Members—is an exceptionally weak Opposition Front Bench.
I want to work with the Opposition Front Bench, and we work together very well. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras has been a champion for his cause. However, the Leader of the Opposition appears to have washed his hands of any kind of leadership when it comes to this issue—the biggest issue to have faced his party. There is no such thing as a “jobs first” Brexit, but there is such a thing as a jobs-destroying Brexit.
We want to work with Labour, and the House should not just take my word for it. Last night, as I was preparing for today’s debate, I was contacted by a member of the Labour party who lives in Crail, in my constituency. She sent me a letter which she has sent today to the Labour party’s international policy committee. I know that all Labour Members will have read it, but I will read some of it out for the benefit of the House. She wrote that
“if there is a general election, or a second referendum, the Labour Party should make it clear that being in the EU is in the UK’s best interests, and that it is Parliament’s duty to ensure that we stay.”
That did not come from the Scottish National party, or from my friends among the local Liberal Democrats, or even from the Conservatives or the Green party, but from my own local Labour party. I always like to say that there is a great deal of sense in North East Fife, but apparently there is even a great deal of sense in the North East Fife Labour party, and I hope that its members are listening.
What my hon. Friend may not know is that a Labour spokesperson said after Prime Minister’s Question Time that in theory Labour could change its mind and be against Brexit in any future snap election. Does he agree that a Schrödinger's Brexit is not exactly a step forward for the official Opposition?
As usual, my hon. Friend has made an excellent point.
I appeal to the Labour party. We have a weak Government, and an absolute crisis is facing us. I have worked with many Labour Members, and I know that many of them are pained by the position that has been taken by the Leader of the Opposition in particular. They behave honestly and decently, and they make a fine contribution, as has been evident today. I appeal to them to join with the SNP in the short time that we have left, because there are alternatives, and other Members and Ministers have made that point. As the shadow Secretary of State and others made clear, we must revoke article 50 or seek an extension. That is the only sensible course of action left to us, because the current situation will not play out sensibly. Although helpful, no amount of motions requiring a response within three days can help us beyond that point. It will be embarrassing for the Prime Minister, but it is a small price to pay.
Over two years ago, the Scottish Government set out a compromise that they devised with members of other parties, with experts—we still like to listen to experts—and others, but that compromise was rejected by the UK Government without them considering it or coming back on anything. This Government have comprehensively failed on the biggest issue to face a post-war Government, so this Parliament must take back control of the situation. It also means that we are now in a place, after almost three years, whereby when we get some kind of final solution such is the huge impact that we must put it back to the people in another referendum to let them sign it off. I know that that certainly has support across the SNP Benches and, increasingly, among those on the Government Benches as well. Given the time that the Government have wasted since 2016, that is our only reasonable option. No deal must be ruled out. Billions of pounds have been totally unnecessarily wasted. We have not struggled for metaphors for the Government’s failures over the recent past, but a ferry company without any boats is up there with the best of them.
Brexit has no redeeming features—none. We are almost three years on from the referendum, and I believe now even more than I did then—I was strong for remain—that Brexit is the wrong thing to do and that nothing good whatsoever will come out of it. I want everyone across these islands to thrive, but what underlines the current set-up is that the UK is broken and that we probably need to move on to a new relationship. Every one of Scotland’s neighbours—similar-sized countries—is more successful, fairer and has a more equal and respectful relationship with the UK Government than Scotland does. Our close neighbours in Scandinavia have a healthy and respectful economic and political relationship, even though not all those independent states are members of the EU. That is a healthier and better state to be in. I note that none of the 50 states that have gained independence from the UK since the second world war has made as much of a mess as the UK Government have made of this situation, because they had a much more straightforward way through.
Right now, however, we must focus on sorting out the almighty mess that the Tories have left us in. The Government have had their chance, but they have blown it over the past two and a half years. All that they have achieved is to drive up support for the EU across the other member states. Support for the EU in Ireland is at 92%, meaning that those of our near neighbours who believe in leaving the EU are giving the flat-earthers a wee run for their money, and they are even giving those who believe that the Prime Minister still runs a strong and stable Government a bit of a run for their money. We have been sold this nonsense for far too long. We are stuck on a sinking ship, and this Parliament must take back control. We need a common-sense solution, and this deal is not it.
In May last year, when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary, I believe that I was the first person on the payroll to resign to fight for Brexit. I had deep concerns about how Brexit was being handled, and I felt compelled to resign for the Brexit that I believed in and the Brexit that my constituents and our country voted for. I was the first to step down, but I was not the last. We have seen talented, committed and hard-working colleagues on both sides of the Brexit debate resign because of numerous concerns.
Our reasons for standing down may vary, but one thing that we all have in common is our belief that this deal is a bad deal for our country. Be they remain or leave, I respect all those colleagues who bravely stood by their convictions and made the principled decision to fight for what they believe in, but the fight is not yet over. The Prime Minister speaks of a deal that will unite our country, a goal that no doubt we all desire, but the division we have seen is of the Prime Minister’s own making. Her desire to get a deal at any cost, prolonging “Project Fear”, and her decision to postpone last month’s withdrawal agreement vote were mistakes—and that decision has only led to more division at a time when our country should be uniting behind the democratic decision to leave the EU.
On 23 June 2016 the question was clear: should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU? The British people spoke and decided overwhelmingly to leave.
Well, I think 1 million more people is quite a big clue, actually.
It was never supposed to be this way. At the referendum there was no third option: the choice was either leave or remain. The referendum did not mention a half in, half out or worst of both worlds choice for our country’s future. The referendum question said nothing about giving the EU £39 billion of taxpayers’ money and getting nothing in return, the referendum question said nothing about a continued role for the European Court of Justice after 2019, and the referendum question said nothing about an Irish backstop and restricting our ability to sign new trade deals. This deal is a sell-out of those who voted to leave. It is therefore impossible for the House to unite around this deal, and it is impossible for our country to unite around a bad deal.
At the referendum two years ago the British people spoke and our objective was clear: as elected Members of Parliament we were tasked with delivering Brexit. Some Members thought the British people would deliver a different result and would vote remain in the referendum, but they did not, and this is the problem: some Members do not accept the result of the referendum and are using every opportunity to thwart the will of the British people.
It is a sad period in our great Parliament’s history when MPs try to overturn the democratic mandate; that is completely unacceptable, After all, it was Parliament that gave the British people the opportunity to have the referendum in the first place. Our great British parliamentary model has been a beacon that has been used as a template in parliamentary democracies across the globe for centuries. Let us not insult our greatest institution, or forget that we were elected by the British electorate. We are all democrats, so let us respect the result: our British people have spoken and it is time for us now to deliver. Our people decided to take back control and said we should leave. [Interruption.] They are still British citizens.
This was a vote dictated not by fear, but by hope: hope of a different tomorrow and a new path; hope of a new system not restricted by the EU’s institutions; and hope that once again our people will feel that they have a true stake in our country’s future. The chance of a global Britain was promised, but that promise has now been broken.
We must leave, and we need a clean Brexit and to trade under WTO rules if necessary. The US and China sell billions of pounds’ worth of exports each year to the EU using WTO rules; the UK can do the same if necessary. As the EU’s largest trading partner and with a deficit of £95 billion in trade in goods, we should have been negotiating from a position of strength, but the Prime Minister’s determination to get a deal at any cost gave the EU the upper hand. The Prime Minister showed her hand too soon, and now the EU has called her bluff.
I say that it is time we put the ball firmly in our court and take the upper hand in these negotiations. The EU fears our leaving on WTO terms as it will give Britain the competitive advantage if we do, so let us fully embrace a clean Brexit; I have no doubt that the EU will come running back to us at the eleventh hour. But besides being a good negotiating tool, leaving on WTO terms is not something we should fear.
My hon. Friend talks about the potential advantages of our leaving on WTO rules. Can she explain why, if WTO rules are just fine for trading with our largest trading partner, it is so necessary that we are able to do trade deals on our own terms with other, much smaller economies?
I believe in a global Britain, as the Prime Minister said in her statement several times, and it is important that, in trading with both smaller nations and larger nations, Britain is free to chart its own path in the world and to forge new trade deals with whoever.
My hon. Friend will not be aware of it, but, in evidence to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs today, Ryan Scatterty of Thistle Seafoods in the north-east of Scotland, representing seafood processors, said that the growing market for his industry is in places like Australia. The industry currently trades on WTO rules, as he confirmed to the Committee. If the industry can do that with Australia, surely it can do it with the EU.
I was in Kenya with some of our colleagues back in July. Kenya sells us lots of flowers, which have a short shelf-life, and it currently trades with us on WTO rules. We have no problems there, so I agree with my hon. Friend.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will give way to my hon. Friend, and then I will continue.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we would desire a free trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union?
As I said earlier, we have seen how the EU negotiates—look at how it negotiated with Greece—and it usually comes back at the eleventh hour. It would be great to have a deal with the EU, but I do not agree with having a bad deal. The Prime Minister’s mantra is that no deal is better than a bad deal, and in that case I would rather leave on WTO rules.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No. I need to make some progress.
It is time that we put the ball firmly in our court and take the upper hand in these negotiations. The EU fears our leaving on WTO terms, as it would give Britain a competitive advantage, so let us fully embrace a clean Brexit. Leaving on WTO terms is not something we should fear.
There has been some concern about engineering firms being disproportionately affected by a clean WTO Brexit. However, the heads of firms such as Dyson, JCB and Northern Ireland’s Wrightbus support Brexit. Car companies can withstand a 10% tariff on sales into the EU and a 4.5% tariff on components from the EU because they have benefited from a 15% depreciation in sterling. Border checks on components from the EU will be unnecessary, counterproductive for EU exporters and illegal under WTO rules, which prohibit unnecessary checks.
A better deal was available and is still available. The Brexit deal was never only a choice between the Prime Minister’s deal and reverting to WTO rules, but if that is the choice, let us go on WTO rules.
This place is often divided by its very nature, but one thing that unites us is our belief that the British people are remarkable and can succeed, no matter the obstacle. Our great history shows that we can overcome any hurdle and that we always triumph. This deal is a submission, and the British people should never accept a bad deal. This deal is remain masquerading as leave, and it is time that entrenched leave Members started believing in Britain and respected the result of the referendum.
Instead of fear, we need to see forward planning and a vision for the future—a future away from the EU—that the whole country can get behind. I am hugely optimistic about our country’s future. There may be difficult times ahead, so we need a leader who can take this great country out into the world and start trading freely around the globe, and this deal simply does not allow us to do that.
In her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister said:
“A Global Britain must be free to strike trade agreements with countries from outside the European Union too… the great prize for this country—the opportunity ahead—is to use this moment to build a truly Global Britain. A country that reaches out to old friends and new allies alike. A great, global, trading nation. And one of the firmest advocates for free trade anywhere in the world.”
That was a vision for Brexit that many of us had, but the Prime Minister’s deal will not allow it to happen. I therefore urge colleagues on both sides of the House to reject her deal. Let us stand up for democracy, let us restore faith among our electorate and let us now deliver on our promises to our great British public.
It is nearly two months since the 585 pages of the withdrawal agreement were published, and it is already gathering a little bit of dust. As we have already heard, despite deferring the vote and pretending otherwise over Christmas, and ringing up Mr Barnier or Mr Juncker on Christmas eve or new year’s eve saying “Please can we have a negotiation?”, the Prime Minister has found that, in that famous phrase, nothing has changed. So here we are yet again facing a Government who are determined to prevaricate and kick the can further down the road.
Earlier today, having seen the Government defer this issue previously, Members realised that once the Prime Minister’s plan was defeated there would potentially be 21 days, and then perhaps another seven days, before the Commons would be allowed to determine what happens next. We had the ridiculous spectacle of the Government objecting to that and saying, “No, Members must not be allowed to vote on moving things forward.” That prevarication is extremely dangerous. It is dangerous to put political calculations above the country’s best interests when we could crash out with no deal on 29 March.
I am glad, Mr Speaker, that you withstood the attempts by a loud and vociferous minority in this place to thwart Members and prevent them from having a say. You have in the past made decisions and rulings with which I have disagreed, but on this occasion allowing parliamentarians to express their views was the right thing to do. Indeed, that proved to be the case, because a majority of MPs said, “No, we don’t wish to wait 21 or 28 days, till the middle of February; we want to get on with things.” The time has now come to decide. The House has instructed Ministers, if the Prime Minister’s deal is rejected on Tuesday, to come forward with a motion three sitting days later, which would be Monday 21 January. We could then make some decisions.
By the way, I do not address my remarks on prevarication only to Ministers. I gently say to those on the Labour Front Bench that they, too, should stop prevaricating on the question of Brexit. The time has come for the Labour party to make some decisions and stop this notion of constructive ambiguity. I know that this complex sequenceology has been constructed to try to avoid having to confront these issues, but the politics should come second to the national interest. We cannot afford to gamble at this stage, given how close we are to 29 March.
The withdrawal agreement is wrong for the country, as is the political declaration that accompanies it. The withdrawal agreement ignores 80% of our economy, the service sector. It might not necessarily provide good pictures for the television cameras, unlike queuing ferries at Dover and so forth, but the service sector is very much where the UK excels, whether in legal, professional, media, creative or financial services. Not only do many of our constituents work in those services, but they provide the engine for the revenues needed for our public services—for our NHS, schools, local authorities and social care. If we ignore the risk of diminished prospects for those sectors in our economy, we will be facilitating a further decade of austerity to come. That is why I say to all Members, across all parties, that we cannot just kick the can down the road and pretend that this will not matter.
The problem with the withdrawal agreement is that it is full of warm promises about what might be agreed, but it does not actually agree many, many things. It contains no agreement on data or energy policy. It says that we will establish a process on transport policy, and that we will talk about the Erasmus programme to allow students to study throughout Europe. It does not resolve the security situation or the question of Euratom. It fudges the question of the Northern Ireland border still further. The withdrawal agreement does not actually settle many of these things.
What is worse is that the political declaration is non-binding on the parties involved, which means that it amounts to little more than warm words. The Government got themselves into this ridiculous situation by embarking on the article 50 process without a commitment that, by the end of it, we would have not just the divorce arrangement settled, but, in particular, a settled plan for an EU-UK trade deal. That should have been part of the negotiation framework.
For us now to be asked to leave on 29 March without having settled our future relationship with Europe is highly irresponsible. Ministers may say, “Well, we intend to do it this way”. European officials may also say that they intend to do it that way, but, of course, they are here today and gone tomorrow, and commitments that are made by those particular individuals will not necessarily bind us on what happens to the UK. Therefore, we will not have the EU-UK arrangement settled down by the time that we are asked to leave, and anything could happen in that process.
There are many difficulties with that, because of course if we do not have the EU-UK trade deal buttoned down, our prospects of doing deals with the rest of the world will have to wait. Other countries, such as Japan, Singapore, Canada, America and others, will say, “We may be interested in doing a trade deal with you, but we would like to see what your relationship is with the EU first. Will you be allowed to reduce tariffs or not?” That arrangement could take two, three, four or five years—an ever unknown amount of time. The Canada trade deal with the EU took seven years.
The idea that the poor old Secretary of State for International Trade is raring to go with all these new deals across the world is, of course, fantasy. That is the delusion of Brexit that so many people are operating under, but the real world is beginning to bite. Businesses know it, and increasingly our constituents see it, and they want the right to determine their own future.
The withdrawal agreement and this settlement would end the free movement of people across Europe. I regard that as a great tragedy. It is a shame that we have not stood up and spoken out for the benefits of free movement. We should remember that free movement is reciprocal, so just as we restrict European movement into the UK, we will potentially be sacrificing UK citizens’ right of movement to the rest of Europe. Let us think of the future generations, their work opportunities, their study opportunities, the freedom we enjoy, the 2 million British people who already reside across the rest of Europe, and the uncertainties that this will create—and for what? What is this great harm? It is a ridiculous proposition, and that alone would be a reason to reject the withdrawal agreement.
There is also the notion that the agreement will allow us to control taxpayers’ money, but we know that we will lose a great deal of money because of the effect on the economy. Members do not need to take my word for that; the Treasury, the Government and the Prime Minister herself have articulated how we will be worse off by going down this pathway. We will be controlling a diminished amount of money. We will be paying out £39 billion, and possibly even more during the transition arrangement, in exchange for what? There is no commitment on a trade with the EU deal going forward, which I regard as a fundamental failure.
The Prime Minister has made a number of strategic errors all the way along this process, such as setting down red lines and interpreting the outcome of the referendum in her own way—for instance, on whether it was to do with the single market or the customs union, when, of course, none of that was on the ballot paper. She has also failed to take the temperature of Parliament. She did not exactly read the runes of the House of Commons from the beginning, and now she faces this situation. Under this arrangement the UK could be left in limbo in this situation for the next four years, and we would not even have a seat around the table to shape the rules to which we would be subject—it is a nonsense. Britain has had a fantastic ability to shape the rule-making arrangements of an entire continent—the whole European Union—for many years, and many of the rules and regulations that we have chosen to adopt have been generated by the United Kingdom. Some of the best ideas that we have had have shaped EU policies, and it is a great shame that we will be moving away from that.
Whether it is because of the failures of the withdrawal agreement or the wishlist presented in the form of the political declaration, which is an almost meaningless document, this House has to reject the Prime Minister’s proposal when it comes to the vote next Tuesday. The House must quickly realise that we have to extend article 50 at the very least, if not suspend or revoke the article 50 process, while we put this question back to the British public so that they can decide, in the full knowledge of the facts and the economic and social impact.
A people’s vote is a solution whose time has come, and increasing numbers of Members on both sides of this House are realising that it is the way ahead. I strongly hope that the Labour Front Benchers will also realise that the people’s vote has the support and is the preference of the vast majority not just of Labour party members, but of Labour supporters and voters. Now is the time to decide. We cannot afford to prevaricate any longer.
If the referendum were rerun today, everything that I have seen over the last two years—not least as a member of the Brexit Select Committee—would still lead me to vote to stay within the European Union. Having said that, I do respect the result of the referendum as a valid expression of the will of the people, but to me this means leaving the EU in a way that secures the best economic deal available with the EU and that maximises the potential for retaining the close cultural, educational, justice and security relationships that we have developed with our closest partners and allies. The referendum was “in or out”, but it did not, as some wrongly insist, dictate the terms of our leaving, nor the terms of our future relationship with the EU once out. Both of those questions were left for Parliament to resolve, and that is what MPs must now do. It is for this primary reason that I would oppose a second referendum, which would be indeterminate, complicated to implement and very divisive.
The hon. Gentleman will probably be aware that the Prime Minister spoke to 200 MPs in one of the rooms in Portcullis House last night. Again, she ruled out a second referendum, but she said that if the deal does not get through, there are two options left: a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all with the revocation of article 50. Businesses up and down the country are going to have to start thinking about how they react once the deal is voted down. Will the hon. Gentleman venture his view on what he would do in that scenario?
I was at that meeting, which I thought was a good expression of joint interests from all parties to the Prime Minister. I hope that we saw within that meeting the start of what could become a consensus, moving forward after what might be a defeat next week. Having said that, I do not discount a second referendum, as the Prime Minister did not. I am simply saying that I think it would be a very poor second best and a sign that this place had failed, but I do not dismiss the possibility.
As for the Prime Minister’s deal, on balance I find it to be a fair one and practical in the overall circumstances of the hand that we had to play; it has my support. To criticise the deal as not being as good as what we have with the EU now is a facile argument, if only because the EU was never, ever going to allow us to leave on the same or better terms than apply to the remaining 27 countries, no matter how many German cars we bought. The deal was always going to have to represent a compromise of views within the Conservative party, within Parliament and certainly with the EU. The deal reached does not represent my optimum position, but no one was ever going to get everything they wanted.
That is not to say that I do not share some of the criticisms of the deal, including many that can be found in the Brexit Committee’s report on the deal. For instance, despite assurances from two Secretaries of State, the financial settlement has not been included in the withdrawal agreement as being wholly or even partially conditional on securing a binding future relationship. To my mind, this has been a failure of negotiation that will undoubtedly reduce our leverage in future relationship negotiations due to start in March 2019 if we have a deal. Furthermore, the lack of detail in the future relationship political declaration means that there will still be another cliff edge as we reach July 2020, when we will need to decide either to head towards the backstop or to extend the implementation period, and there will still be a level of uncertainty for business as to the final form of the deal, although much less so than if we crash out with no deal.
So, on balance, we should take the deal on offer. The mess and upset that would be caused by a hard Brexit is unacceptable. Yes, the legalities can be brought to the fore on things like the backstop, but the legal cart should not be leading the commercial horse.
I suspect that the hon. Gentleman might agree with me that the deal is very different from what people were promised during the referendum by those leading the Brexit campaign. If he does agree, is there not a case for thinking that it is undemocratic not to allow the people to have a say now, given that what is on offer is so different from what they were promised?
I would not argue with the right hon. Gentleman about promises being made during the referendum campaign that could now be disputed, but the same could be said for a lot of general elections that we have had in the past. To say that elections or referendums are discounted because of what people maintained during the course of them would not, I am afraid, be a line that I would take.
Furthermore, if the deal is rejected by this House, from my point of view I will do everything I can to ensure that we do not leave the EU without a deal, and, to my mind, the next best thing after the Prime Minister’s option would be the Norway-plus alternative. If the Government’s deal fails to pass this House, and assuming that the Opposition’s no-confidence motion fails, I hope that we shall then start to find a new tone of cross-party working. We shall need a degree more honesty in how we describe Brexit issues, where in reality no one is going to win—not us and not the EU. We have the Labour Front Bench changing its position; we have the Brexiteers shouting, “Sell-out”, at every initiative while offering nothing as an alternative; and we have a Government who have frequently made soothing hard Brexit noises to Brexiteers while lining up a deal that clearly has a trajectory of close regulatory alignment to the single market and some form of customs arrangement. I do hope that the Government get their deal, but if not, it will surely be because they have unsuccessfully attempted to be all things to all men.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the deal does not pass this House next Tuesday, agreement to extend article 50 will be an urgent priority for the Government to bring forward a measure on?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. If the deal is rejected and we start looking at other possibilities—on a more consensual cross-party basis, I hope—then clearly whatever route we take leads to the deadline, and an answer to that may well have to be to extend the article 50 period. I am very pleased, looking back over a year ago now, that some of us in this place decided to ensure that the Government were not able to restrict the timing of the article 50 period, and so that will be a possibility.
Rather than add to the fudge, let me explain why and how, if this deal fails, Members of all parties should coalesce around a Norway-plus option, and why the “plus” element—being in a customs union with the EU—is a good thing. First, most business wants a customs union because it allows free movement of almost half our exports between Union members without tariffs and checks and paperwork. Opponents say that this would stop the UK forging its own trade agreements, but, to my mind, the benefits of the EU customs union are far greater. We must keep in mind that the EU has some 250 FTAs with some 70 countries, and the UK plan is to “roll over” those deals, meaning that, at best, we would have the same—not better—terms as the EU with one third of the world’s countries. There would be no advantage of being outside the EU. That is, of course, assuming that we are able to make those deals happen, which we know is proving somewhat elusive, as the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) explained.
Secondly, the chances of negotiating better FTAs as a country of 50 million, rather than a bloc of 500 million, is realistically and simply not how it normally works. Thirdly, there will be significant costs of going it alone on FTAs, from being forced to take US genetically modified crops to issuing visas to countries, as currently requested by Australia and India. Fourthly, FTAs take a long time to negotiate—an average of seven years.
Fifthly, the claim that Commonwealth countries will prioritise us over the EU is unrealistic, not least considering that the Czech Republic currently has four times the trade with New Zealand than we do and that the Swiss do much more trade with India than we do. Sixthly, “most favoured nation” clauses in our rolled-over EU agreements and the integrated nature of world trade will significantly reduce our ability to get commercial advantage. Finally, high levels of foreign input into our manufactured goods will create huge problems under the so-called rules of origin.
In conclusion, my view is that we shall be better off with a customs union arrangement with the EU, and the deal on offer presents the best opportunity of securing future prosperity for our companies and employment for our people. We should support it.
One problem of having extended debate and resumption of debate is that we are getting a lot of repetition and recycling of arguments that we have heard many times before. For that reason, I want to focus on one specific issue, which is the idea of World Trade Organisation rules and exactly what they mean. The term “WTO rules” is used casually in every pub, and in every radio interview I encounter, but I suspect that many of the people who use it are not at all clear what it means.
Before getting into the detail of that, I will make one general point about no deal, which was brought out rather brilliantly by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), who got to the heart of this very well. He exposed the fact that no deal is actually a choice. It is not just something that happens; it is the conscious choice of a Government who could choose to revoke article 50, as the Father of the House keeps reminding us. That may be a difficult decision and a very unpopular one, but article 50 could be revoked, and by choosing not to revoke it, the Government will be choosing to have no deal, with all its catastrophic—or so they tell us—consequences.
Let me narrow down to the specific issue of what the WTO rules would be if we found ourselves in a no-deal world. The basis on which I speak is that many years ago, long before I came into the House, I was part of a small community of international trade specialists and got involved in negotiating the so-called Uruguay round and then the Doha round as part of the World Trade Organisation—or, as it was then called, the general agreement on tariffs and trade. I saw at first hand the way in which the WTO system operates. I realise that there is no longer just a small community of anoraks, which is what we were. A large number of people now consider themselves experts on trade policy, but the glibness with which the term “WTO rules” is applied leads me to believe that there are probably not too many anoraks, because there are some very real difficulties in applying WTO rules.
The World Trade Organisation is to trade what the United Nations is to peace. It has some admirable principles, but I think most Members, and certainly those on the Government Benches, would consider it seriously negligent of us to make our national defence dependent solely on the rules of the United Nations. Rules have to be enforced, and they have to be effective.
We need to look back on what the World Trade Organisation is and what it is trying to achieve. In the post-war world, it has established one central principle, and actually it is not free trade; it is something called the most favoured nation—MFN—rule. It is about non-discrimination. It has one big waiver, which is to allow common markets and customs unions such as the European Union to function on the basis of total free trade within themselves, but its whole objective is to stop the proliferation of bilateral agreements.
Such agreements were common in the inter-war period, and they are becoming fashionable again. Many people who are in favour of Brexit say that they are the whole purpose of trade policy. Those people want deals with numerous countries, but the whole purpose of the WTO was to stop this happening. It was supposed to be a multilateral organisation. In that capacity, the WTO achieved a great deal. It cut tariffs to single digits on most manufactures except agriculture, and it got rid of quantitative restrictions, except for the quotas that still exist for agriculture and textiles. It also began to establish a set of rules around intellectual property and various other intangible non-tariff barriers regarding, for example, government procurement.
The problem is that the WTO reached the zenith of its authority about 10 years ago, when the Doha negotiations collapsed and multilateral trade negotiations ceased to make any progress. This was largely due to the obstruction of India, Brazil and, to some extent, the United States. The European Union was actually the main liberalising force, but anyway, the negotiations collapsed and the WTO’s authority is now much less strong. Where does that leave us in terms of what the WTO rules now mean? If they mean anything, it is the application of the rule of law. In the WTO, the rule of law operates through dispute panels, which in theory have the same force as the European Court of Justice in settling disputes. It baffles me that Conservative Members are so affronted by the intrusiveness of the European Court of Justice, because it was designed to achieve precisely what the dispute panels of the WTO were designed to do.
However, like the United Nations, the WTO is not a desperately effective body, and many of its rulings are not carried through. Because it is a weak organisation, it is possible for big countries to bully weak ones. A celebrated case some years ago involved a trade dispute between the United States and Costa Rica—over men’s underpants, as it happens—and Costa Rica won the dispute. The United States felt deeply humiliated and refused to comply. A face-saving compromise was eventually reached, but that dispute sowed the ill feeling that in due course led to President Trump, who has made it absolutely clear that he does not believe in the World Trade Organisation. He does not want it to work, and he is doing everything he possibly can to stop it working, including not sending judges to sit on the dispute panels. It is now a very weak organisation. If we were to crash out of the EU under WTO rules and found ourselves in a dispute with the United States—or, indeed, with the European Union, which we had left—we would not be able to rely on the WTO dispute panels to settle the dispute in an orderly manner.
That is one of the WTO’s central weaknesses. Another is that, throughout its history, it has been overwhelmingly concerned with getting rid of tariffs. The main problem in international trade these days is the divergence of standards, which is of course why we originally entered the single market under Lord Cockfield and Mrs Thatcher. That was perfectly logical. If we are trying to liberalise trade, we attack the non-tariff practices that obstruct trade, hence the harmonisation of rules on mutual recognition. However, the WTO does not do that. It has very weak rules covering government procurement and all the barriers that are dealt with in the European Union through the rules on state aid, competition and the like. That, in turn, means that there is very little in the WTO that covers the services sector, which, as we have been reminded, accounts for 80% of our economy. We have a fair degree of liberalisation in the services trade in the European Union, which benefits our high-tech industries, financial services and so on. No such arrangement exists in the WTO. Those sectors are completely unprotected.
Finally, and not least, the fact is that some tariffs remain, and they are on agriculture. We have the problem that if we leave the European Union with no deal, on WTO terms, the European Union’s tariffs on dairy products, lamb and various other items, which are quite high, immediately kick in. The problem with that, as we discovered when we had the foot and mouth epidemic, is that if we cannot export, prices crash. The only logical response from the farming industry, in order to maintain the value of the stock, is to slaughter large herds. This will happen. We know there is a paper at the moment in the agriculture Department—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—setting out a plan for slaughtering a third of all British sheep in order to maintain the integrity of the market. That is an inevitable consequence of a high tariff obstructing British exports.
That is not all; I had only 30 seconds in the House yesterday, but I mentioned the particular problem associated with exports through the port of Portsmouth. It is actually the lifeline to the Channel Islands; that is the main route. The Channel Islands are not otherwise affected by Brexit of course, but they will be in this case. If trade is obstructed at the port because of the need to comply with veterinary requirements, phytosanitary requirements and things of that kind, lorries will be obstructed and fresh produce will not be able to get through. Quite apart from the disruption to traffic, the whole system of agricultural trade and the supply of food to the Channel Islands will simply dry up. We have an enormous practical problem resulting from this.
The right hon. Gentleman is giving an excellent speech, which is very helpful indeed. Did he see that the Financial Times reported yesterday that the Department for Transport commissioned research that says that just a 70-second delay in authorising a vehicle at the border could mean a six-day queue to get on a ferry?
Yes. Indeed, if I have made a contribution to this argument, it is in pointing out that this is not just a problem in Dover; this problem exists in all the ports around the country. There is going to be serious disruption of supply chains—of the supply of fresh food and many other items. Those people who trivialise the issue by simply saying, “WTO rules—nothing to worry about”, are completely disregarding these consequences.
The conclusion I come to—I think many Conservative Members share it, publicly or privately—is that no deal is just not a viable, acceptable option under any circumstances. We will therefore, within the next few weeks, be brought to the point at which the Government will have to revoke article 50. That would be a major step; it would be overturning the result of the referendum. I feel uncomfortable about Parliament, through Government, doing that. That is why I and other people who are not enthusiasts for referendums believe that the only way of dealing with this properly and of reasserting democratic legitimacy is to go back to the public and seek their approval for doing just that.
I rise briefly to explain why I feel I have to vote against the draft withdrawal agreement that we are debating over the next few days.
Before doing that, however, I want to welcome warmly the statement made very clearly by the Prime Minister after the Salzburg summit that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom would be protected. I think that was a hugely important promise to give. I urge the Government to make sure that their settled status scheme operates smoothly so that we ensure that those rights are fully and properly protected, because it is vital that we do so. EU citizens are our friends, our colleagues and our neighbours. We want them to stay, and we want to ensure that their rights are appropriately protected.
Turning to the draft withdrawal agreement, I regret that I have to diverge from the Government on this crucial question but I cannot support an agreement that I do not think is in the national interest and that I do not believe respects the result of the referendum in 2016. Of course, I fully recognise the need for compromise as we settle a new relationship with our European neighbours. I strongly believe that we need to listen to the views of people on all sides, whichever way they voted in the referendum, but right across the spectrum of views on Brexit there are many who believe that this draft agreement is not the right one for our country.
A legal obligation to pay £38 billion to the EU, without any certainty on our future trading relationship, would significantly undermine our negotiating position. We would be giving up a key advantage in the negotiations for little in return.
The so-called backstop would do even greater harm. It is not acceptable for the United Kingdom to become a regulatory satellite of the EU, locked permanently into its regulatory and customs orbit, without a vote, a voice or even an exit door. Northern Ireland would have an even greater proportion of its laws determined by institutions in which it has no say than the rest of the United Kingdom under the terms of the deal. Even listing the titles of those regulations takes up more than 60 pages in the draft agreement. As the Attorney General’s legal advice confirmed, Northern Ireland would be required to treat Great Britain as a third country in relation to goods crossing the Irish sea.
According to Martin Howe, QC, the backstop arguably contradicts the articles of the Acts of Union of 1800, one of the fundamental founding statutes of this Parliament. The articles state that
“in all treaties…with any foreign power, his Majesty’s subjects of Ireland shall have the same privileges and be on the same footing as his Majesty’s subjects of Great Britain.”
The articles also stipulate that all prohibitions on the export of products from Great Britain to Ireland, or vice versa, should cease from 1 January 1801.
Even if the backstop were removed, I am afraid there would still be unacceptable flaws in the draft agreement. In particular, the significant continuing role for the European Court of Justice would prevent us from restoring democratic control over the making of our laws. Of similar concern is the statement in the political declaration that the backstop and the withdrawal treaty will be the starting point for the negotiations on the future relationship.
I want to emphasise that none of the amendments that have been tabled to the motion can fix the defects that I have referred to in the withdrawal agreement. If we ratify the treaty, it will be legally binding and it will apply regardless of encouraging statements and amendments about parliamentary locks or other warm words.
There is a better option: we should table a draft in the EU negotiations that sets out a wide-ranging free trade agreement based on the Canada plus model. That is in line with proposals that Donald Tusk put forward in March. It should include a protocol in which all parties commit that no new physical infrastructure will be installed on the Northern Ireland border. Instead, we should use existing flexibilities in the EU’s customs code to ensure that customs formalities and checks take place away from the border, as was set out in the paper produced by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) in September last year.
More people voted leave in June 2016 than have ever voted for anything else in the long history of British democracy. That was a legitimate expression of the natural desire to be an independent self-governing democracy—the basis on which most countries around the world operate their systems of government. EU membership means vesting supreme law-making power in people we do not elect and cannot remove—people who in this negotiation process have shown clearly that they do not have our best interests at heart and that they are prepared to inflict punishment on us for the democratic choices we have made.
Brexit is an issue that has divided my constituency and the whole country. I will continue to work to bridge the divisions that the referendum has painfully exposed, but I do not believe that the draft withdrawal agreement is the right way forward either for my constituents or for the nation as a whole, and I urge the House to vote against it next week.
Britain in the European Union has been at the heart of building peace, security and prosperity. We have played a critical role in promoting the ideals of democracy, human rights, equality and freedom. We have worked with our European partners to fight extremism and terrorism, to protect the environment, to improve labour standards for our citizens and to contribute to tackling global poverty, conflict and inequality.
Since the referendum, the Government have failed to build coalitions and consensus. They have failed to prioritise economic reality over fanciful ideology. They have failed to put aside party interest in favour of the national interest. That failure is reflected in the dreadful deal secured, after two years, by the Prime Minister. It leaves us as rule takers at the mercy of the EU, when we were once equal partners setting the agenda and making the rules. It leaves us fundamentally worse off, costing billions of pounds that could have been spent on tackling the appalling social problems caused by the programme of austerity implemented by the Government: crime, child poverty, inadequate social care, rising homelessness and the housing crisis. There have been cuts to education, early years funding and much else.
The deal leaves businesses facing years of uncertainty and without clarity on our future trading relationship with the European Union. It gives little clarity on what protections there will be for workers’ rights and the environment after the implementation period. It leaves us in a much weaker position to negotiate trade deals with non-EU countries, whenever it is that we might be free to do so. We have heard from many knowledgeable Members about how long that might be. It is not likely to be done in two years; it is more likely to be in five, six or seven years. The EU has been successful in negotiating over 50 trade agreements with third countries. Britain is stronger negotiating as part of an EU bloc with big emerging economic powers. It leaves us worse off, and the golden promises made by the leave campaign have so far failed to materialise. They were totally unrealistic. They were incredibly misleading and untruthful. They were unfair on the British people, because they were so untrue and misleading.
Since 2016, the uncertainty due to the result of the referendum has already cost the UK more than 2% of GDP. Households are £900 a year worse off and investment has gone down dramatically. The Prime Minister has said that the impact of leaving the EU does not show that we will be poorer, but that is exactly what the Government’s own analysis of leaving the EU shows. Under the Government’s deal, the economy will be 3.9% smaller. That is the equivalent of over £100 billion a year. The average person will be over £1,000 worse off and real wages will be 2.7% lower. Trade barriers would be 10% of the value of the services trade. The Government are also asking us to spend £39 billion to make people poorer.
How can I vote for a deal that makes us even more worse off, when thousands of people in my constituency rely on jobs in financial services, the tech industry and other companies that trade with the European Union? They desperately need access to the single market and the customs union. Even before we leave the EU, half of all children in my constituency live in poverty thanks to the appalling policies of this heartless Government. The Government’s austerity programme has led to schools facing millions of pounds of cuts, homelessness doubling, and crime, including violent crime and knife crime, soaring because 200 police officers have been laid off—nationally, the figure is 21,000. I cannot understand how the Government can claim that this is the best they can do, when Britain stands to lose so much. The provisions and the cost of Brexit will result in less money for investment in our public services because of the tens of billions of pounds we will have to spend under the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal, which is the choice she is threatening us with.
In the future trading relationship—the political declaration, which many colleagues have already mentioned—the Government no longer promise frictionless trade, only the possibility of co-operation. A future customs arrangement could consist of technology solutions that do not even yet exist and are likely to cost tens of billions of pounds. Financial services—which contribute 6.5% of total economic output, more than £27 billion of tax annually, and employ more than 2 million people around our country—get just three paragraphs.
I refer to financial services because my constituency sits between the City of London and Canary Wharf, which power our economy. Too often this Government fail to prioritise or think about the long-term impact of our leaving the single market and customs union on those sectors that provide so much tax revenue and so many jobs in our country. As many hon. Members have mentioned, the services sector accounts for 80% of the economy, yet the future trading relationship lacks clarity on the kind of access we will have to the single market. The relationship for UK firms in the sector will be based on equivalence, which is much worse and more limited than what we have now. That means the loss of passporting rights and 16 million people facing uncertainty about their insurance policies. There also remains no clarity about how about £28 trillion-worth of derivatives—the infrastructure that allows banks and their clients to manage risk, cash flow and capital positions—could be affected.
When the Prime Minister decided, hastily and irresponsibly, to start the clock by triggering article 50—which some of us voted against—she had no strategy. She did not have a plan and put our country in a terrible position and at the mercy of EU negotiators, who had the upper hand. In 2017, the UK’s former ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, told the Treasury Select Committee:
“If you wanted to avoid being screwed in the negotiations…say: ‘I will invoke Article 50, but only under circumstances where I know exactly how it’s going to operate’.”
That is not what happened. The Prime Minister did not heed that advice and the country is paying the price for her mistake.
The Prime Minister has failed to listen to concerns relayed to her by Members from across the House, including at a meeting she held yesterday, rather belatedly—nearly two years after triggering article 50—with Members of different parties. She missed the opportunity to bring the House together from the beginning, as others have pointed out. She has been beholden to managing divisions in her party, which has been ripping itself apart, making a mockery of our country in the rest of the world. Let us not forget that the rest of the world, which historically has seen us as an important ally, is looking at us in dismay. When Conservative Members talk about global Britain, they should remember how their behaviour in tearing themselves apart, and how their divisions tearing the country apart, look across the world. They are far from presenting an image of the inclusive, mature, global Britain required in the face of the huge challenge we have to address.
By giving us a false choice between her deal and no deal, the Prime Minister is holding a metaphorical gun to our heads. That is utterly irresponsible and she and her Ministers need to stop doing that. We will not accept that false choice. The no-deal scenario is utterly catastrophic. The Bank of England’s worst-case scenario points out that no deal could shrink our economy by 8%, and unemployment could increase dramatically, with inflation spiralling out of control. Many constituencies will suffer job losses in a no-deal situation, but mine will be among the worst off—according to the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, thousands of residents in Bethnal Green and Bow will lose their jobs.
Yesterday’s amendment to the Finance Bill demonstrates that there is no majority for crashing out of the EU with no deal. I believe there is a majority for seeking to secure permanent customs union and single market access, and the Government should do so. As they are running down the clock, article 50 must be revoked. But of course the best deal on offer is membership of the EU. The Government promised the exact same benefits, but they now offer something that will damage our economy.
I cannot support this deal, because I believe it will make our country and my constituents worse off. The Government’s own analysis points to that. We should allow the public a final say, with a choice between the Government’s deal and remaining in the European Union. I and many of my constituents joined more than 700,000 people to march in the streets of London for a people’s vote. I believe that is the only way to settle this matter, and I hope the Government will consider that option when this deal is voted down, as I believe it will be; otherwise, they will destroy livelihoods, cause job losses, damage our economy and diminish our place in the world. Nobody wants to see that happen to our country.
My constituency voted to leave the European Union, and I promised my constituents before, during and after the referendum that I would respect the result. I also told them that I believe in a smooth and orderly Brexit. Although the Prime Minister’s deal is imperfect, I believe it will provide that smooth and orderly Brexit.
The Prime Minister has worked very hard on the deal, and my constituents have given me the message loud and clear, whatever their view on the European Union, that she has been sincere about respecting the referendum result. She has been extremely hard-working and is absolutely determined to see this through. I think all of us in the House, and most of our constituents, recognise that the Prime Minister is trying to do what is in the best interests of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I would like to touch on a couple of aspects of the deal that I think will help Members come to the same conclusion I came to and support this compromise. I have received many emails from constituents telling me to vote against the deal or for the deal. Even those who asked me to vote against it did so for different reasons. Some did so because they want no deal, and others because they want a second referendum or another outcome—perhaps no Brexit at all. Those who email to ask me to support the deal do so in a calm, rational and logical manner, whether they voted leave or remain. They explain that this deal, imperfect though it is, is a compromise that will allow the country to have a smooth and orderly exit.
Mr Speaker, you will know that for the last two and a half years I have been championing the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and British citizens living in the EU27. I think I am one of the MPs most personally affected by the decision to leave the EU and its impact on citizens’ rights, because my mother, father and sister are EU nationals. I think everyone in the House believes that we should protect the rights of EU nationals living in Britain and British citizens living in the EU, and the only way of doing that in a smooth and orderly manner is with the Prime Minister’s proposed deal. It is the only deal that offers an absolute guarantee to my parents, to the more than 3 million EU nationals in Britain and to the more than 1 million British nationals in the EU.
Does the hon. Gentleman support the £65 fee that these EU nationals have to pay?
I would say two things about that. In 2014 the SNP—[Interruption.] I promise to answer directly. In 2014 the SNP argued that Scotland should leave the EU and then reapply for admission as a third party. That was, in effect, what was on the ballot paper for Scottish independence, so it is a bit rich today for the SNP to talk about citizens’ rights. It put them in danger back in 2014.
I said that I would answer the hon. Lady’s question, and my answer is this: as a member of the Government—as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Scotland—I support the Government, but I am uneasy about the fees for settled status. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) asked the Prime Minister about the fees earlier today, and I can say this to the hon. Lady: it is a matter that I am pursuing and will continue to pursue to ensure absolute fairness for innocent EU nationals in this country, who did not have the right to vote in the referendum, who in many instances have lived in this country for decades, and who might be asked to pay a sum of money—albeit a modest sum of money—to remain in the country. I personally think we have to look at that very carefully. I promised her an answer, and I hope she is satisfied with that one.
The deal on citizens’ rights gives certainty not just to citizens but to businesses that rely on EU nationals for their workforce. If a further reason is required, that is a second and connected reason to support the deal. It would allow businesses to continue to employ EU nationals, not just those resident in this country today but those who come to the UK during the implementation period. The implementation period would give certainty to EU nationals who in the future might wish to live and work here—and exercise their withdrawal agreement rights, if that agreement is passed—and to businesses in South Leicestershire that have been lobbying me and asking me what the situation will be for the people they employ.
The implementation period would also give certainty to British businesses that do business in the EU27 and need UK nationals not only to work in member states but to have the ability to move between member states. The deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated allows for that, and I say this to Opposition Members, particularly Labour Members and the shadow Brexit spokesman: if they are sincere, as I hope they are, I urge them to see that as an overriding reason to support the Prime Minister’s deal, given that they have not come up with any plan of their own that would give EU and UK nationals the rights that her deal would give them.
I come now to the second issue, which is the so-called backstop. Let me declare an interest and refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am dually qualified as a Scottish and an English solicitor, and I still practise as an English solicitor. We have heard a lot of talk from people who have, let us say, new-found Unionism in their blood, and I welcome that greatly. I felt that I was a lonely voice in the 2015 Parliament when I intervened to oppose nationalists’ comments about the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) has an intervention to make, she should feel free to make it.
I think that all we would argue about is where the lines are drawn. The hon. Gentleman obviously feels that he is British, and we feel that we are Scottish. Both of us are happy to show pride in our nations, as we see them.
I am proud to say that I am Scottish, British and with Italian heritage, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We are the wonderful, fantastic United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I urge the hon. Lady to start reflecting on her own party’s policies, which are divisive. I am not a nationalist; I am a British patriot. There is a difference between the narrow-mindedness of nationalism and being a good patriot.
I was talking about the issue of the so-called backstop. Let me make a simple analogy. There is one area about which, as a dually qualified solicitor, I am able to speak with some knowledge, and that is legal services. There is a lot of talk about creating a border down the Irish sea, but there is already a border down the Irish sea when it comes to legal services regulation.
In fact, the United Kingdom is blessed with three legal systems: distinct, proud, global and fair systems. We have the English and Welsh system, the Scottish system and the Northern Irish system. As fellow lawyers will know, each of those systems regards the others as foreign legal systems. England and Wales regards Northern Ireland’s system as a foreign legal system, and Scotland regards England and Wales’s system as a foreign legal system. A qualified Scottish solicitor does not have automatic regulatory rights to practise in Northern Ireland, because there is already a border down the Irish sea in respect of legal services regulation. Each jurisdiction has its own regulatory body when it comes to the profession of lawyers.
As a member of the Northern Irish Bar, and as someone who had the opportunity to study English or Scottish law, I know that there are two substantive forms of law in this land. We have devolution, and there are respected regulatory bodies in every field and every facet in this country. In this place, however, we have one sovereign Parliament. The withdrawal agreement would allow rules and regulations to be set for Northern Ireland in another sovereign Parliament.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but my point is simply this. He does not have an automatic right to practise as a barrister in England and Wales unless the regulatory body in England and Wales permits a Northern Irish barrister to do so, because there is a border down the Irish sea. Under European Union law as it stands, the Law Society of Northern Ireland is, at least for solicitors, the regulatory body that is recognised as a competent authority. I speak as a Unionist—I have the scars on my back from fighting for the integrity of the United Kingdom when I stood against the SNP candidate in Angus—but there are already instances of different regulatory practices between the different constituent parts of the United Kingdom.
I am afraid that I am going to wind up my speech now. Others want to speak.
There is nothing unique in the principle of having slightly different regulatory regimes when it comes to services or goods. I do not want to see the backstop, and I believe that the Prime Minister is right: it is an insurance policy, and I hope that she will bring something back from the EU in the next few days. However, I do not think that that alone should negate a Member’s duty to vote for this deal in the interests of the United Kingdom.
In conclusion, if the deal does not go through next week, the people out there are watching us. We are the sovereign Parliament—sovereignty is in our hands—and we must make a decision that calms the febrile atmosphere that still exists out there, and one that allows us to respect the referendum result in a smooth and orderly manner. I believe that the Prime Minister’s deal, compromise though it is, allows us to do that.
Order. There is no formal time limit on Back-Bench speeches at present, but it would be helpful for colleagues to know that speeches of approximately 10 minutes each, and preferably no more, will happily enable everyone who wishes to contribute to do so.
I was actively involved in the “Get Britain Out” campaign in the referendum in 1975. I was on the wrong side of that referendum when I voted to leave, and I was on the wrong side of the next one, 41 years later, when I voted to remain. In the meantime, the British people changed their minds in one direction, and I changed my mind in the other. At the same time, mainstream politics, and much of the media, changed its mind as well as the common market evolved into the European Union. In the 1970s, many Conservatives who supported the common market, which many in Labour saw as a big businessman’s club, started to get nervous when the European Union started properly to deliver workers’ rights. At the same time, the Labour movement and the trade unions came round to the view that there were advantages in cross-European standards on equal pay, decent working conditions and, most importantly, good standards of health and safety.
The referendums of 1975 and 2016 have much in common. Ted Heath, the then Prime Minister, had taken us into the common market in 1972 without a people’s vote, so Harold Wilson promised a referendum after he delivered renegotiated terms. The British people went for it, and he won the 1974 election and the remain result in the consequential referendum. Fast forward to 2015, David Cameron, who was becoming terrified of the threat posed by Nigel Farage and UKIP, must have looked back in history and thought it would be a good idea to imitate Harold Wilson by promising a referendum in the forthcoming election. To be fair, David Cameron was successful in that his policy secured a Conservative majority for the first time since 1992. The first part of Mr Cameron’s cunning plan worked, but the difference was that it all went wrong for Mr Cameron because he was no Harold Wilson and was completely unable to persuade the British people to do what was in Britain’s best interest.
When critics say that there should be no second referendum, the fact is that we have already had two. In advance of the second vote in 2016, those who wanted to leave the EU claimed that the public did not understand the consequences of the common market when we first voted in 1975 so, as was their right, they argued for another referendum. Now, the same group who want to leave argue that another referendum—a third one—would be an insult to those who voted three years ago, because it would be tantamount to saying that those who voted to leave did not know what they were doing. The truth is that nobody knew what they were doing in 2016—if indeed they did in 1975. Only a few anoraks, mainly in this place, actually thought they knew what they were doing, and I have to say that some of them—unfortunately, scarily—still think they know what they are doing.
If there has been a mistake in this sad saga it is that we should never have had either referendum in the first place, and that is the fault of nobody but us politicians. We are responsible for this self-inflicted chaos, not the electorate, and we have a duty to resolve it.
If I have learned anything from all of this it is that yes/no referendums are not the right way, not even the honest way, to make complex policy in the interests of our country. They have been deviously misused by politicians to win general elections: the promise of a 1975 referendum won the election for Labour, just as the proposed 2016 referendum won the election for the Tories. What we should honourably do in the future is make it clear in our manifestos what we stand for and then put that to the public in a general election. I reluctantly have to say that Ted Heath was right in 1970 when he put in the Conservative manifesto that he would negotiate to take us into the common market and did so. That is what we should resolve to do in the future.
Where do we go from here? In crisis, we should stay calm and do the sensible thing, not the emotional thing: when in a hole, stop digging. As we stand, we have clear choices: a no-deal Brexit, the Prime Minister’s no-point Brexit, or no Brexit at all. The choices might well look unpleasant and humiliating, but this is where we are as a country.
For my part, I am not a fan of our present-day EU and its institutions, and there is much that we should change: the common agricultural policy is a disgrace; our fishing communities are treated unfairly; the free movement of labour was introduced too quickly without thought or consideration for low-paid workers; and as for the unelected bureaucrats and their unaccountable budgets, they drive me crazy. But to leave in panic with the Prime Minister’s proposed deal while remaining under the yoke of the unelected control of foreign powers is madness; it would be a betrayal, and it in no way honours the will of the British people, even in what was a flawed referendum vote in the first place. We would do better to stay in the EU and give the rest of them hell, particularly the unelected bureaucrats.
To stay where we are is my conclusion to this humiliatingly unsolvable problem, because the fact is that what was promised by the leave campaign in 2016 is not and never was deliverable. We just have to accept in life that there are some things that we cannot do. For my part I always wanted to score the winning goal in a World cup final in the last minute for England at Wembley after extra time, but I have reluctantly come round to the view that it is not going to happen. Likewise to be the first nation to leave the EU in opposition to 27 other countries and get a good deal for Britain at the same time was always, to say the very least, naive.
Some say that the Prime Minister has done her very best and she deserves a measure of sympathy; sorry, but I have none, because my concern lies with the fate of the British people, who have been led by this Government—her Government—into extremely dangerous waters.
The fact is that the Prime Minister has been centrally involved in this circus, all the way through, from the point when David Cameron and his Ministers opportunistically started the process. The Prime Minister should go back to Brussels and make it clear that we will not be bullied. We should leave, if we must, in our own time and on our own terms. And if we need to take up the option to delay or revoke article 50, of course we should do that. We should do whatever is in the interests of the British people, and if that creates uncertainty for our markets and an embarrassment for the Government, so be it.
My dad did not fight his way through the second world war to be humiliated, and I will not be voting for this cap-in-hand deal or any other remotely like it.
My views on Brexit are well known. As a prominent campaigner for Scottish Vote Leave, my views were well known by my constituents before I was elected to this House. I respect the fact that colleagues and other MPs have very different views, often genuinely and passionately held, but I hope that, regardless of those deeply held views, we can all agree that we all want what is best for this country.
Did Members know that the number of people who voted leave in Scotland is similar to the populations of Glasgow and Edinburgh—Scotland’s two largest cities—combined? Over 1 million Scots voted to leave the EU, yet they are wholly under-represented both in this place and in the Scottish Parliament. There is growing frustration and anger among Scottish leave voters about their being airbrushed out of Scotland’s story by the narrative of some that Scotland voted to remain, and that that is Scotland’s voice. Well, I will not be airbrushed out of here. The National can attack me and bully me as much as it wants, and people can vandalise my office or protest outside it as much as they want, but I will never give up speaking up for the 1 million Scots who voted to leave the European Union.
I am not just a Brexiteer. I am a committed, dedicated and most passionate Unionist first. Our United Kingdom is something that we have built together, and the ties that bind us go beyond the nations to individuals. For over 300 years we have traded together, fought for freedom and peace together, and built our lives together. That is why in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum I campaigned with my head, heart, body and soul to keep this United Kingdom together.
It is because I am a Scottish Unionist that I cannot in good conscience support this withdrawal agreement. I share the concerns of other colleagues and Democratic Unionist party Members that the backstop arrangement would mean hiving off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, with Northern Ireland being kept in a separate regulatory regime. Northern Ireland would be left in the single market for goods and agrifoods, while Great Britain leaves, an arrangement that would give Brussels more say over the rules in Northern Ireland than our own United Kingdom Parliament.
The backstop would require that Northern Ireland follows around 300 EU regulations, and if the UK were to diverge from one of them, it would mean a border down the Irish sea. If the EU were to change any regulation and the rest of the UK did not follow, despite having no say over those changes, it would impose a border down the Irish sea. Northern Ireland would be left in full harmonisation with the EU.
I have heard the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and other Ministers say that, to avoid a border down the Irish sea, Great Britain would align with Northern Ireland, but what does that mean in practice? It means that the UK would be tied to EU rules that it would be voiceless to change or oppose. That would not be taking back control. It is the opposite of what people voted for and worse than the current arrangement.
The prosperity of our Union is dependent on our own internal market and the thousands of jobs that depend on it, so any barriers that are put in the way of that and that affect our ability to trade within the United Kingdom are hugely damaging. I therefore struggle to comprehend how anyone who believes in the integrity of the UK can support a deal that would keep Northern Ireland in the single market. How could anyone want to see new burdens and regulations put in place on trade going east to west across the Irish sea? That would mean that goods manufactured in my constituency of Aberdeen South that move to Belfast would be subject to new customs declarations and the issuing of certificates—new barriers to trade within our own country.
I recognise that the Government have attempted to address these real concerns, and that they have brought forward new measures, but it is with regret that I feel that those measures do not go far enough. What I read today seemed more like a public relations exercise than a real remedy to the problems. The backstop arrangement will be part of an internationally binding treaty, which means that by its very nature it will supersede any domestic legal provisions. Furthermore, the arrangement fails to hold true to what was agreed in the joint report of December 2017. So, to coin a phrase, nothing has changed. The withdrawal agreement does protect the Union—the European Union. Sadly, it does not protect our own.
There are wider concerns about the withdrawal agreement. The backstop means that we could be trapped in the EU indefinitely, with the EU27 having a veto. We would be unable to strike our own trade deal. The advice from the House of Commons EU legislation team is that the backstop customs arrangement would be
“a practical barrier to the UK entering separate trade agreements on goods with third countries”.
As a Scot, I know that one of our greatest exports is Scottish whisky. Its global reputation for quality is absolutely unmatched. The industry has been optimistic about the opportunities presented by Brexit to sell its product into the exciting new and growing markets in the world. The withdrawal agreement recognises and protects more than 3,000 geographical indications. The agreement is not a trade deal—in fact, we cannot even talk trade—but under it, the UK will protect EU GIs, such as Parma ham and feta cheese. That has the potential to prevent us from reaching free trade agreements with the US or India, which are the big markets for Scottish whisky. In trade deals, we need to protect our own GIs, not the EU’s. Furthermore, US ambassador Woody Johnson has clearly stated that if the withdrawal agreement is passed, it does not look like it would be possible to agree a bilateral UK-US trade deal.
Finally, we will have to pay £39 billion to the EU. That is £1,400 per family in the UK. Ordinary taxpayers should rightly feel that they are not getting very much for that amount of money. I recognise that in a negotiation one side does not get everything that it wants and the other side nothing. However, nowhere in the agreement can I see a significant concession that the UK has achieved. Unbelievably, the EU appears to have got everything that it wants. It is therefore little wonder that the EU Commission is claiming that the power lies with it—that its mission is to prove that leaving the EU does not work.
In conclusion, yes, Brexit is an unprecedented challenge for our country, and it requires a national effort to meet that challenge, but Brexit is not an existential threat to our Union. That is why I am horrified that before us is a deal that leaves Northern Ireland behind and treats it like a foreign territory. I will not stand by and allow our United Kingdom to be broken up by the back door. No Unionist can ever accept that. The Conservative and Unionist party cannot accept that. The UK Parliament cannot accept that, which is why MPs must vote down this deal.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East (Sir David Crausby).
After a month’s delay, we have to begin by asking: what exactly has been gained by putting this vote off from its scheduled date in December? What has the Prime Minister achieved by her tour of European capitals and her pleas to fellow EU leaders? There may well be some kind of letter, or statement, or clarification issued between now and the vote next Tuesday. No doubt the Government will try to make the most of that if it comes, but after a month’s delay, it does not feel as though anything of substance has changed in the proposals before us.
All of us are conscious of our responsibilities. We are conscious of the stakes before us, and also conscious that this issue, almost like no other, cuts across party political lines. After two years of debate on Brexit, we find our country deeply divided, sentiments unleashed that we thought we would not see again in Britain, our politics paralysed by irreconcilable red lines, issues that would normally be top of the political agenda neglected and downgraded because of the huge political energy sucked up—and all the while, the rest of the world look at the UK and wonder what has happened to us.
The Brexit vote in many parts of the country, including in the Black Country, which I have the honour of representing, was driven by a deep sense of loss—a loss of an industrial past that had brought good jobs and prosperity, a loss of a sense of pride and purpose for some of our towns and cities contrasted with a present where, far too often, the jobs are low-paid and insecure and where people and areas feel ignored and abandoned. Any attempt to understand how we got here has to appreciate that sense of loss. The question is how we respond to that sense of loss with leadership that offers some actual answers rather than simply giving people someone or something to blame.
Once the Brexit vote happened, the country had a choice: a complete break with the European Union with the consequence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and huge economic and industrial disruption, or a rule-taking Brexit where we left legally speaking but still obeyed most of the same rules. It was a choice between a Brexit that raised the question of what is the price, and a Brexit that raised the question of what is the point. What was never on the cards was to pretend that we could keep all the current advantages of EU membership and have all the new freedoms promised by the Brexiteers. The failure to be candid about that is the root cause of the disillusionment with the draft agreement put before us. Even more damning, the failure to be candid about this had nothing to do with putting the national interest first. As always with this issue, year after year, it had far more to do with fear of being candid because of the internal politics of the Conservative party.
The flaws in this agreement are about far more than the Northern Ireland backstop. Let us be clear: the backstop is an insurance policy in case a trade agreement that does the same thing as the backstop is not reached, and that same thing is such a degree of alignment with EU rules that there is no need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. That requirement has not been imposed on us; it is reiterated and supported by the Government and signed up to explicitly in the agreement of December 2017. No one has done this to us. It is a commitment that we have made.
Brexit also promised to give the UK control over borders, laws and money, yet the agreement before us does the opposite. In fact, it crystallises the disempowerment of the United Kingdom. We will still be paying in for years to come, but we will no longer have any say over the laws we obey. That does not enhance sovereignty or control. It simply leaves us paying tens of billions of pounds for a worse deal than we have at present. And remember: this is only the withdrawal agreement. Negotiations on the future have not really begun, but we know a couple of things about them. We know that service industries, which form 80% of our economy, are to be thrown under a bus, and we know that the degree of access that we have to EU markets in the future will be closely related to the degree of alignment with the rules that we are prepared to make, even though we will no longer have a say over them.
On the economics, the Government have not even tried to deny that the proposal will make the country poorer compared to our current arrangements. Every study of every scenario, including the Government’s own, has admitted that. Never before—certainly not in peacetime—have a Government brought forth a proposition that they admit will make the country poorer and then said that we must proceed at all costs. Perhaps that is why this deal seems to satisfy neither leavers nor remainers.
This deal has done one great service to us. It has shown us how much worse the proposed arrangement is compared with the deal that we have now—whereby we are rule makers, not rule takers, usually to the significant advantage of our world-leading industries; there is no backstop or hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic; and there is no interference in the multinational supply chains on which our industries depend.
The Government’s argument does not really dispute that.They know that is true, and they have stopped really arguing for the withdrawal agreement on its merits. Instead, they are really desperate for the transition period, the singular advantage of which is that it is not really Brexit; it is staying in the European Union, except for the singular disadvantage of it, which is that we are absenting ourselves from the decision-making forums where the rules that we will obey are decided. The only argument that Ministers have left is that this agreement is better than the total chaos of no deal, but that is a humiliating choice for the country.
My right hon. Friend is making an eloquent speech, and he has made the excellent point that the deal we have now is the best deal available. but if we are to take leadership on this, and if we are to remain in the European family, should we not look at reforming the European Union? The message from the British people is clearly that the European Union is not perfect as it is now, otherwise we would not have had the result that we did, and we should be striding forward to try to reform the European Union if we are to remain.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is significant that a number of other countries would agree with us on that, even in the two years since the vote took place.
As I said, this is a humiliating choice for our country. We are the fifth biggest economy in the world, a major defence and security power, and one of the few countries in the world with global cultural reach, but we are being told by our Government that we have to accept a deal that they admit and know makes us weaker and poorer, because the only alternative to it is economic carnage. That is no choice for the country to have to make. We are also told that we have to vote for the deal because people are fed up talking about Brexit. The argument goes, “Just get on with it. Get it over with”, but that is both irresponsible and an illusion. It is irresponsible, because boredom is no basis on which to take a decision as serious as this about the future of the country. We should not be told that we have to resign ourselves to the disempowerment of the United Kingdom under the illusion that if we do so we can then simply change the subject.
My right hon. Friend made reference to the history of the internal politics of the Tory party leading this agenda. Is he also clear that we are not sure what type of Brexit we would actually end up with? The potential is that we will now have several years of just more of the Tory infighting that we have had over the past decades.
It is more than a potential—it is a racing certainty. It is an illusion to think that this argument is finished on 30 March if we agree this withdrawal agreement—that is simply not the case. That is precisely because, as my hon. Friend indicated, the political declaration leaves the fundamental questions unanswered. The only thing it makes clear is that our market access will depend on the extent to which we agree to common rules. The issues of economics and the border that create the dilemma between a “what’s the point Brexit?” and a “what’s the price Brexit?” go on and on into the future. They are unresolved, and that will continue. That is not the fault of the civil service or because of some establishment plot—it is the fault of Brexit itself and the failure to level with the country about the choices it would involve. What we have learned, in the end, is that we could not have our cake and eat it—not because someone was mean to us or conspired to steal our prize, but because this was always a false promise.
I am clear that the sense of loss that drove the Brexit vote is real. The need for a new plan to offer a better chance in life to working-class communities is urgent, but endorsing a plan that makes our country poorer and weaker makes it more difficult, not less, to answer the genuine grievances felt in parts of our country. The first step to forming a new plan that offers real answers is to cast off the absurd victim complex that tries to portray our country as some kind of colony of the European Union. That is not true, it never was true, and we have wielded far more influence, with far more success, than that nationalist myth would ever allow for.
It is within our power to address many of the causes of Brexit without endorsing the self-harm contained in the proposals before us—or, indeed, participating in the dishonesty that tells working-class communities that their problems would all be resolved if only we could reduce immigration. Far too much of the debate about immigration has treated it as a danger to be feared rather than a fact of the modern world. Of course we should have a system with rules, but there is no rewind button to a country and a world that is not coming back. Every developed economy, including ours, will be more diverse in the future than in the past.
If the Government win the vote next week, we proceed on that basis, but if not, what then? In recent days, Parliament has exerted its will to take more control over this process. I simply say to Ministers that it is unacceptable to say that if we do not endorse this proposal, the only proposal is to drive the country towards no deal. Parliament must be allowed to express its view on the alternatives that are there, including extending article 50, the legal judgment that has shown that we can revoke article 50 if we wish, and the option of going back to the people themselves. These options must be allowed to be put before Parliament, they must be allowed to be voted on, and the Government must stop trying to drive Parliament into a choice between the proposals before us and the disaster that leaving without a deal would represent.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), who is as erudite as ever.
Like many colleagues—perhaps I am being a little glib here to a certain extent—I did not actually come into politics to bang on about Europe. I am a social liberal and economically of the right—dry as a bone, in many respects. I wanted my political life to be, effectively, advancing that twin track of social liberalism and economic free marketarianism. However, we are where we are.
Before I was first elected in 2015, I knocked on about 30,000 doors during the two and a half years of the campaign, and I have to say that in most instances I found that Europe was probably about No. 10 on the list of issues raised on the doorstep. Much higher on the list was immigration and its conflation with Europe, which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East spoke about. During the referendum campaign I visited Solihull College, and I was struck by the fact that many of the young students talked about wages and the lack of housing, and they equated that with EU migration in effect. That is one of the key reasons why so many people—a uniquely high number—in the council estates in the north of Solihull came out to vote.
Serving as an elected representative comes with acute responsibilities. I fundamentally believe that we have a duty to honour the clear commitments made by this House before the vote and after it and to deliver Britain’s departure from the European Union. I am especially wary of any effort to put the question to a second referendum. Not only would there be serious practical difficulties in any such effort—not least deciding on the question and simply completing the legislative work needed even to hold one—but it would pose a real problem for our democracy. There is no avoiding the fact that it would stand in a dishonourable tradition of Brussels taking questions back to the voters until it gets the answers it wants, nor that the Government and both the major parties have been quite clear that they would deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum. It may be tempting at this moment in the spotlight to clasp tight the political comfort blanket of a second referendum, but it is a fool’s path for this democracy and this country. It sends us further down the rabbit hole.
We should remember that the EU has evolved since we voted leave. The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) mentioned the need for change from within, and I argued about that at the time of the referendum. In Britain’s absence, the push towards a full federalist agenda has accelerated and is very notable. That may well be a good thing for the EU in the long run, but it highlights that we want increasingly different things. We have held it together over many years, but those fissures are now widening. Even if we were to somehow get back into the EU by a second referendum or at a later stage, the proposition would be very different from today. Backtracking on the referendum would not sell the British people on the euro or the rest of the federal project, and the tensions that led to the referendum would not only continue but deepen further in the years ahead.
As for the withdrawal agreement, I share the view of the Attorney General that while it might not be perfect, it is temporary. I am deeply concerned by the backstop, both because of its implications for our practical sovereignty and because of its special treatment of Northern Ireland. However, on reflection, I believe that it is sufficiently uncomfortable for the EU that the EU will not wish to trap us in it indefinitely, and article 50 cannot be taken as a basis for a lasting future relationship.
I also need to think about what is best for my constituency. Solihull is a proud exporting town with a real global footprint, home to not only great British brands such as Jaguar Land Rover but numerous manufacturers and service providers that rely on frictionless access to European markets. As the MP for a town that enjoys a visible goods trade surplus with the EU, it is my responsibility to support a Brexit that meets the needs of Solihull’s employers and exporters. This deal, while not perfect, does at least smooth our departure and avoid severe economic disruption in March.
Some Members are convinced by the warnings of so-called “Project Fear”, and it is true that some of the wilder predictions about the consequences of a leave vote have proven far too pessimistic over the last couple of years. However, it would be rash to simply disregard the expertise of the likes of the Bank of England. Those models have a logical basis, and as someone who has been involved in economics and economic theory in the past, I think it is foolhardy to go on this adventure on a wing and a prayer without understanding or at least taking account of the experts whom we fund to supply us with this information. Even if those models are not a certain outcome, they are a real risk to jobs and businesses across the country owing to the inevitable economic dislocation that may last only a few weeks or months but could last years.
I aspire to a future relationship based on a free trade deal with the EU and an ambitious drive to grow our links with the rising economies of Africa, Asia and Latin America, but if we have to take a little longer to get there in order to protect the livelihoods of my constituents, I am prepared to do that. Of course, Labour Members insist that such compromise is unnecessary, and that if only they were in power, they would deliver a deal that avoided all the difficult trade-offs that feature in real negotiations. Their so-called six tests are a mere wishlist. It is extremely reckless for self-styled moderates to risk Britain crashing out of the EU by voting against a deal on the orders of leaders who see only an opportunity for political gain in the chaos that that would unleash.
The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) made a notable and wide-ranging speech earlier. It was incredibly thoughtful, and a prime example of the lawyer’s art. It was also a history lesson, and he danced on the head of a pin. Unfortunately, he did not take an intervention from me, despite my requests. Had he done so, I would have told him that the 9,000 car workers in my constituency—as well as those in the west midlands manufacturing supply chain, which has delivered the second biggest growth of anywhere in the UK over the past five years—and even the unions in those companies all want a withdrawal agreement. They want an orderly exit from the EU, and that should be front and centre in our minds. It should also be on the minds of Labour Members, and I know that it is for many of them.
I want to address my final comments to my own colleagues. Let us deliver Brexit. Let us leave the EU. Let us not, like Samson, bring the temple crashing down around us. Purity is never a fully achieved state beyond the womb, so let us compromise and work together right now to deliver on the referendum promise. Let us protect jobs and let us move forward, because if we do not, we are in serious danger of creating fissures in this country so deep that we will never be able to close them.
I am in no doubt that this is the most serious matter I am ever likely to vote on while serving in this House. It is crystal clear from the speeches that we have heard from hon. and right hon. Members right across the House, before and after the Christmas break, that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal does not command a majority in the House. Furthermore, I do not believe that it commands a majority of support in the country. Today I want to lay out exactly why I cannot in all good conscience vote for this deal. The bottom line is this: I will not vote for my constituents to become poorer. I became an MP—as I am sure the majority of Members did—to improve the lives of all those living and working in my constituency. To vote for a proposal that would fundamentally undermine that notion would be a dereliction of my duty to my constituents as their Member of Parliament.
I fully appreciate that the Prime Minister has an incredibly difficult task to fulfil. There is no easy way to reconcile the 52% with the 48% while also reaching an agreement that the EU27 and this House can agree on. Sadly, however, the Prime Minister has left us facing the worst of both worlds. We would be outside the European Union and economically weakened, but having to accept EU rules on which we would have little or no say. This deal does not please the 52% or the 48%. In truth, it seems to please no one at all.
There is little point in revisiting the events of the past three years, but I feel it is important to outline how I came to this position. I was not a Member of this House when the decision was taken to hold the referendum in 2016. Indeed, I was first elected only 49 days before the referendum took place. It goes without saying that I think David Cameron’s decision to gamble the future of our country and the stability of our Union to settle an age-old row within the Conservative party was an act that was as shameful as it was reckless. Following the referendum, I respected the result of the vote by going through the Division Lobby to trigger article 50. For me, that was a turning point. At that point, the Government could have sought real cross-party consensus among Members from all parts of the United Kingdom on negotiating a way forward. Instead, they have sought to subvert this House and the views of the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland at every turn.
Then of course we had the 2017 general election, when the Prime Minister, now infamously, said to us, “nothing has changed”. That may have been as true of the cruel austerity this Government have inflicted and continue to inflict on our communities as it has been of this Brexit deal. However, something did change at this point, which was that the British public simply said no: “No, we’re not going to give you a majority so you can bulldoze your hard Brexit through. You need to work together in the name of the national interest to find ways forward that will enable our country to prosper.”
The Prime Minister could have worked with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) to ensure the deal answered Labour’s six fundamental tests. These tests were indeed a high bar to set, but that is for a simple reason: Labour Members are not interested in securing a deal at any cost. Instead, we are committed to ensuring that our constituents in every corner of the United Kingdom, including my constituents, will be better off in the future than they are today.
More than 18 months on, in one regard at least clearly nothing has changed. The Prime Minister remains hellbent on selling this botched deal, which neither honours the referendum result nor answers the concerns of the 48% of people who voted to remain. Leading British entrepreneur and star of “Dragons’ Den” Deborah Meaden recently said, and this struck a chord with me:
“How did we end up here? I warn against this when doing deals all the time. Ending up accepting a position you would never have accepted at the start simply because you are intent on completing the deal”.
This comparison is a powerful one.
I would never be one to second-guess the electorate, but Members across the House have to ask themselves: if this deal and all its implications had been presented as the official leave campaign back in 2016, can they be confident we would still have had the same result? I do not think we would have, but that is what we are being asked to vote on. We are being asked to vote for something that supposedly honours the referendum result.
When we delve deeper and take a look at the impact this would have on people across my constituency, it becomes clear that this is not a situation I can accept on their behalf. Let us take manufacturing, which plays a key role in my constituency and across Wales, with 143,000 people employed by the manufacturing industry in Wales alone. Whether it is insulation, toilet paper or parachutes, they are all made in my Ogmore constituency. The automotive sector is another large employer in my constituency. Those involved have repeatedly shared that their operations have already suffered as a result of uncertainty about future trading arrangements. I have also spoken to many farmers in my constituency, and they are worried about the future of their exports, with 90% of Welsh lamb currently being exported to countries in the EU. I fail to see how this withdrawal agreement provides any certainty for people living in Maesteg, Llanharan, Pencoed or for anyone else in my constituency that the industries that provide their income will have the certainty they need.
The political declaration is nothing short of a wishlist, which binds us into years of further wrangling, using resources that we could divert to investing in the Welsh economy. Investing in projects such as the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, the long-awaited rail electrification beyond Cardiff and, indeed, all the thousands of projects across Wales that are supported by EU funding would be a far better use of our time and money and would be of far greater benefit to the people of Wales than the further uncertainty we have now been promised by this Government.
Indeed, we still have not had answers from Ministers about what will happen after 2022 to the £600 million of EU funding that supports businesses and projects across Wales to thrive. I invite Ministers to explain to the House today what will happen to this funding. If they fail to do so, they simply cannot argue that my constituents and Wales as a whole will be better off after Brexit. But, of course, we have not actually had any Ministers stating that the UK will be better off under this deal. The Government of the day are trying to sleepwalk us into a situation where we will be worse off and, to use the famous phrase, we will not be taking back control.
I know that 52% voted leave and 48% voted remain in 2016, but I can tell all Members another certainty about the so-called will of the people: not one of the 52% or the 48% voted for this. In my constituency—whether in relation to the nearby automotive industry, the steel industry, the public sector, the agricultural industry, shop workers, our pensioners or, might I add, our young people, who have had no say in all of this—I have yet to be presented with an argument from any single Government Minister that gives me confidence that this deal will make them better off or improve their lives.
Any Member, including your good self, Mr Speaker, will know that I am one of the Members who is a fan of procedure in this House and, indeed, of our unwritten constitution. I proudly sit, perhaps nerdily, on the Procedure Committee. If the Prime Minister is unable to get this deal through Parliament on Tuesday, it is constitutionally right that there should be a general election to let the country decide how Parliament and the country itself moves forward. If a Government—any Government through history—cannot command a majority in this House on their flagship piece of legislation, they must fall. However, if we are unable to achieve that because of another of David Cameron’s ridiculous legacies, it is only right that with Parliament in deadlock, we put the question back to the people and let them decide. Parliament is sovereign, but we answer to the people. If we are unable to break the logjam, there remains no option but to let the public across all the nations that make up our great United Kingdom have a say.
Throughout this process, the Government have treated this House with contempt, they have treated the devolved Administrations with contempt and, above all, they have treated the communities we all represent across the United Kingdom with contempt. The Prime Minister’s delay before Christmas, which stopped Members like me speaking on the day the withdrawal debate was withdrawn, treated me with contempt. Opposition Members are sick of the nonsense from the Government.
I worry about what is happening in this country, because of the division, insecurity and uncertainty that members of the Government and the Prime Minister are placing on the British people. We have seen that just this week. The change in political discourse that we have seen over recent years is, of course, not unique to the United Kingdom. From the election of President Trump to the rise of the far right across Europe and the continuing threats to peace around the world, we are living through extraordinary times. Such times call for extraordinary solutions and a fundamental rethink of how we do things.
I am not for one minute saying that there is a silver bullet answer to the problems we face as a society, but I am 100% confident in saying that this deal does not even provide the first stepping stone towards bringing our country together. I know that members of the Government continue to parrot the line that we still wish to be an outward-looking nation, but as with the line about the “country that works for everyone”, I have a grave fear that the reality behind the rhetoric will be as apparent as the Government’s majority in this House.
If this deal or a similar fudge is allowed to pass through this Parliament, I believe that years from now we will look back and ask ourselves a very simple question: was it worth it? I understand that many Members across the House will have grappled—and still will be grappling—with this question. To those who are still wavering, I say only this: until we can be sure that any deal will make our constituents better off and ensure that the next generation is more prosperous than the one that preceded it, we have a democratic duty to oppose it.
During his first speech to the House, Vernon Hartshorn, Ogmore’s first Labour MP who was elected just over 100 years ago, was told by another Member to “go back to Glamorgan” and talk to the miners he was standing up for in his speech. I am sure that Mr Hartshorn took this somewhat flippant advice on the chin. Indeed, he did just that and throughout his time in office continued to fight for the communities I now proudly represent and for the industries that support them. In voting against this deal more than 100 years on, I simply seek to do the same.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). We have one thing in common, in that I was also due to speak on the day the Government pulled the debate. I welcome the opportunity that all Members now have to put their views on the withdrawal agreement on the record in the House of Commons. I strongly disagreed with the Government’s decision not to proceed with the debate in early December. It seems that the only progress that has been made since is the progress towards the Brexit date. In respect of the deal, sadly nothing has changed.
I approach this debate as someone who voted remain, but I admit that I was a reluctant remainer. I was unsure what the future would hold if we left the European Union, but as someone from a farming background I saw many problems within the farming industry that were caused by the European Union. I did vote remain in 2016, but I am a democrat and I respect the decision taken by the country.
The Moray constituency, which I represent, was split right down the middle. After more than 48,000 votes were cast, just 122 separated leave and remain. I am acutely aware that no matter how I vote in this place, I will be unable to please all my constituents. Indeed, a combination of my strongest supporters and my fiercest critics will, for a combination of reasons, either wholeheartedly agree or disagree with how I ultimately vote. That is a situation that I and many others right hon. and hon. Members are in.
I also want to say at this point that I commend the Prime Minister for everything she has tried to do to achieve the deal. With the work she has put in, no one can question her determination and drive to ensure that there was a deal on the table. At every point in the process challenges were put in place. There are many aspects of the deal that I support, but there are others that I do not. In this debate, I will focus on the two key areas where I still have the most significant concerns.
The first surrounds the future of our fishing industry. While the number of fishing boats and active crews in Moray is just a fraction of what it once was, there are many people and many communities who still feel extremely strongly about this industry and are passionate in their feelings. I promised, at the election that brought me here and since then, that I could not support a deal that did not deliver for our fishing industry. I maintain that point of view.
I would say, however, that I fully understand why many of my Scottish Conservative colleagues feel they can support the deal with regard to fishing. The ambiguity in the wording suggests that we can become an independent coastal state with control over our waters and over who fishes what, where and when. Unfortunately, that same ambiguity in the wording allows many in the EU to feel they have the opportunity to maintain or even increase their access to UK waters going forward. I welcome the political declaration and what it has to say about the future of fishing, and indeed the Prime Minister’s own very strong stance on the issue, but I have to reconcile that with my own belief that if we as MPs vote with the Government next week, we will be rubber-stamping the deal with no guarantee that the promises in the political declaration will ever be achieved or delivered.
At this point, I would like to make mention of the Scottish National party, as we so often do. There are four of its Members here today. I have made my views clear—[Interruption.] I am just saying that I thought four was a good number for the SNP to have in the Chamber. I have made very clear my views on the future of the fishing industry and why I cannot support the deal because of them. It is rank hypocrisy, however, to hear from the SNP that they would stand up for the fishing industry. These are the same SNP Members who say they want Scotland to go back into the common fisheries policy as an independent country. They cannot claim to hate the CFP and then say they will go back in and reform it.
I will definitely give way to the hon. Gentleman in a second, but I will do what he did—he gave way to me earlier on the proviso that I would answer his questions, so perhaps he will answer my question if I give way to him. How would the SNP reform the common fisheries policy, and how successful have any other reforms of the CFP been to date?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I will slightly differ from him in that I will answer his question, while he did not answer mine. I urge him to read the Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill, which would have taken us out of the CFP while retaining our place in the EU and which his party rejected. Now can he tell me: how does our fishing community get the fabulous produce that is produced in his constituency and mine to the markets they need to get to if we are outside the customs union?
Mr Speaker, I have to be very careful with my language. I do not want to accuse the hon. Gentleman of misleading Parliament, but he did say, when he accepted my invitation to intervene on me, that he would answer my question and he has singly failed to do that. How would the SNP reform the common fisheries policy if we were an independent nation away from the United Kingdom trying to get back into the European Union? Yet again, SNP Members cannot answer that question, so they should not go back to fishing communities in Moray and across Scotland and say they would stand up for our fishing industry. It is very clear that they would not. There was a very clear decision in many coastal communities: they voted to leave the European Union because of the common fisheries policy. It is very clear that the only party that would take them back into it is the SNP.
Does my hon. Friend agree that even Scottish Government analysis shows that one of the biggest winners from Brexit will be the Scottish fishing industry? It is the stated policy of the Scottish Government to stop Brexit, which would throw that sea of opportunity away.
I agree with my hon. Friend. That evidence was given to the Scottish Affairs Committee in the House of Commons only today. The Scottish Government produced their own report showing the thousands of jobs that will come to the Scottish fishing industry and the huge boon that that will be to our economy.
The second issue that causes me concern, as a proud Scot in the United Kingdom, is the future of our Union. Many right hon. and hon. Members have passionately outlined their concerns about the backstop, and I echo those fears. We hear that the backstop will be bad for both the UK and the European Union so neither side will want to enter into it. As an alternative, some have suggested extending the implementation period. Indeed, the Prime Minister mentioned that at Prime Minister’s questions today, and the Secretary of State also said in his opening remarks that the Government now support the proposal for MPs to vote on either extending the implementation period or entering the backstop. For me, however, neither of those options is suitable, because extending the implementation period would cause as many problems as the backstop itself. We would remain tied to the European Union and, for example, the common fisheries policy for longer, abiding by their rules while having absolutely no influence over the policies.
On the backstop, I have found ambiguity where I wanted certainty. Article 132 of the withdrawal agreement allows for a one-off extension of the transition period
“for up to one or two years.”
That is very particular wording. Why not a one-off extension for up to a maximum of 24 months? I have sought Government legal advice and the opinion of several Cabinet members, and they are also unable to agree. Some believe “up to” means that it could be a few months, while others believe it means up to one full year or up to two full years because any extension by the EU would have to run for a full year’s budget. We do not have clarity on that important issue, which the Government are now offering as a solution to concerns over the backstop.
I also note what has been said today about a possible veto for Stormont, but that does not address all the issues with the backstop. Today of all days—the second anniversary of the Assembly collapsing in Northern Ireland—the proposal seems to have been rejected by the DUP, the Ulster Unionist party and Sinn Féin, so it seems to be struggling to garner support anywhere.
I assume that the hon. Gentleman understands how seriously my party takes the backstop with regard to Northern Ireland—I am glad he has mentioned it. He said that he was a reluctant remain voter. Has he now had a road to Damascus experience with regard to Brexit?
If the hon. Gentleman listens for another 90 seconds, he will be able to decide whether I have trod that road.
After weeks of wrestling with my concerns about the agreement and seeking assurances over the issues I have highlighted, I have not been able to resolve them. I would like to support the Prime Minister and my Government, but I must also stand up for those who elect me. This is not a decision I have reached quickly or easily, and I am sure that, ultimately, history will judge each and every MP on how we vote and decide whether we got it right or wrong. In doing so, however, history will have the benefit of hindsight—something none of us is blessed with.
My decision comes down to this: my overarching belief that I am elected to this place to be Moray’s voice in Westminster, and not Westminster’s voice in Moray. I have to put my constituents and my constituency ahead of my party and my Government. It is for that reason, Mr Speaker, that when this debate concludes and you call the Division on the withdrawal agreement, it will be with a heavy heart but a clear conscience that I will not be able to support the Government and I will vote against this agreement.
Two and a half years ago the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to tackle society’s burning injustices. I for one was glad to hear that speech, and I hoped that it would mark a real change in direction from this Government.
We could debate endlessly the reasons why people voted to leave the European Union, and of course they were varied. For many, however, there was a feeling that the system is broken, that working hard is no guarantee of getting on, and a fear that their children will end up worse off than they are, earning less, finding it harder to secure a decent home. People, rightly and understandably, feel angry about that. However, instead of the radical changes needed to our economy and society, the energy and attention of our Government have been sucked into the black hole of Brexit. Nothing has changed for those the Prime Minister vowed to help. Those injustices still fuel discontent. We have an underfunded universal credit system bringing misery to thousands. We are in the midst of a housing crisis in which many children are living in heartbreaking conditions and vulnerable people are sleeping on our streets—and dying on them, too. None of that will be resolved by leaving the EU. None of that will be resolved by the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.
The leave campaign said we would take back control, but to many of my constituents—to the mother of two who contacted me because she was worried about her family’s security after the Prime Minister called her husband a “queue jumper”; to the scientist concerned about jobs in Glasgow once the life sciences industry loses vital European funding; and to the businesses that do not even know on what terms they will be able to sell to our biggest trading partner in three months’ time—it feels like we are doing the very opposite.
Five years ago, I fought passionately to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. Together, we are stronger. Our economy is more successful and our influence is greater. We can pool risks. Our businesses benefit from selling to a larger market, without barriers. We share values. We share our history. We share a desire for our loved ones in different parts of the country to be able to live, work and travel where they want with ease. I am certain that Scotland’s best future is in the United Kingdom, and for the same reasons I believe the United Kingdom’s interests are best served within the European Union.
In 2017, the people of East Dunbartonshire elected me to fight for Scotland’s position in the UK and for the United Kingdom’s position in the EU. That is the manifesto I stood on. The Liberal Democrats have led the fight for a people’s vote so we keep the benefits of our EU membership and remain a leading and influential member of the world’s most successful economic and political bloc. I am delighted that so many MPs from all parties are coming together and working beyond party lines for the public to have the final say on a deal, with the option of keeping our EU membership.
At the end of the day, if push came to shove—if we came to a crunch—and there was a choice only between Scotland remaining in the UK and Scotland remaining in Europe, which would the hon. Lady choose?
We are trying to unpick a Union we have been in for 40 years. Look at the chaos that is causing. The last thing we need is the chaos of trying to unpick a Union of 300 years. If this experience tells us anything, it is how disastrous that would be.
We need a people’s vote. Two and a half years on, we know that leaving the European Union will not make us richer. It will not bring in £350 million a week for the NHS, despite what that bus said, and it will not be the
“easiest trade deal in human history,”
despite what the International Trade Secretary said. Those were fantasies of the leave campaign. Brexit has become a national embarrassment. It will make us poorer, it will hurt our NHS and it will weaken our Union.
Perhaps strangely, I have recently found myself agreeing with both the former Brexit Secretary, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), and the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman is right that the Prime Minister’s deal is worse than staying in the EU—we would be bound by the rules but lose our say over them—but the Prime Minister is right that this is the best Brexit on offer.
I despair at the arrogance of those, whether they sit on the Conservative Benches or the Labour Front Bench, who claim that they could negotiate a better deal. They live in the land of make-believe. Here in the real world, there are no magic beans to put food on the table and there are no pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. Even my five-year-old could tell them that unicorns are not real. And, frankly, I am horrified by those who are so cavalier that they countenance no deal as a serious option. How lovely it must be to live in an ivory tower, claiming French residency or setting up investment funds in Dublin as the poorest people in society pay the price for an ideological Brexit.
Quite simply, there is no deal that will ever be as good as being members of the European Union; there is no Brexit that works for the whole United Kingdom; there is no Brexit that keeps our economy strong and jobs safe; there is no Brexit that gives us first-class public services. We need a way out of this mess. We should give people the chance to choose, in full knowledge of the Brexit deal on offer, what future they want for their children. I urge the House to vote down this deal and call for a people’s vote.
It is a pleasure to be called, Mr Speaker. As a Member who was denied the opportunity to speak first time around, I am pleased finally to get the opportunity to speak up and set out my views on this important issue.
On the withdrawal agreement itself, I wish to focus on my main area of concern, which, unsurprisingly, is the backstop. There is no question but that the backstop has the potential to build a regulatory border in the Irish sea beyond that which already exists, although I accept that it would be in areas where divergence is fairly unlikely, such as industrial goods standards. While I am satisfied that the backstop will not create any new material differences between Great Britain and Northern Ireland on day one, it clearly provides a mechanism for those differences to appear and deepen over time. With no guarantee as to how long the backstop will operate, we will be in a constant political battle between loosening ties with the EU—and with it Northern Ireland—and keeping our country aligned and so failing to take back control in a variety of areas. Given that none of us can see into the future, I am concerned that the backstop will not future proof the integrity of the Union in the long term, if we find ourselves using it for more than a couple of years.
All these issues have been long rehearsed, so I will not dwell on them further, but the fact is that without a backstop there is no deal, and if there is no deal, there is no transition period. That is why I strongly welcome the paper the Government released today, which is probably the most explicitly Unionist statement by a UK Government in at least a couple of decades. I was grateful primarily because of the request I have made of numerous Secretaries of State that the Government continue to work at ensuring a role for the Northern Irish Assembly—and Executive, if it is sitting—as was included in paragraph 50 of the December joint report, in order to ensure regulatory divergence has an element of consent. There are areas, of course, where Northern Ireland would wish to follow new EU rules—for example, to protect the single energy market—but there will be an issue if that is imposed over the heads of the politicians and institutions of Northern Ireland, particularly where it creates new barriers or materially increases an existing barrier with Great Britain. I wonder, however, if the commitment to domestic legislation could be strengthened and whether there is some mechanism by which it could be incorporated into the withdrawal agreement to give the greater certainty that the DUP and the Ulster Unionist party are looking for.
Moving on to the political declaration, Opposition Members are right: it is thin and does not provide a clear pathway to what our future relationship will look like. Instead, it provides a spectrum of opportunities for where we could end up. It seems to point in a direction slightly looser than the Chequers deal, which was a proposal I was quite comfortable with when it was settled on. Ultimately, it kicks the can down the road on all the major issues until the middle of 2020.
We have to be prepared for months of further argument on all these points domestically before we even get to the EU negotiating table, and those negotiations will be tough. I hope the Government have learned some lessons from this first phase of negotiations in terms of how they organise themselves and how they construct a negotiating position and work better with the various groupings in this Parliament so that when they properly start negotiating the second phase, they do so with a strong domestic mandate. That is the only way we will get a meaningful and lasting agreement with the EU that works.
I believe that the Prime Minister has reached the best deal that could have been achieved within the parameters set out in the negotiations. It is a compromise. It is not the deal that I wanted, but its acceptance would bring some certainty and allow us to move forward. It achieves many of the things that the EU said were not on the table. It is a bespoke arrangement that maintains industrial tariffs at zero and keeps us closely aligned but without the jurisdiction of the ECJ. Cherries have been picked and cake has certainly been eaten.
I come back to the fundamental point that it is risk to vote down the deal in the hope that something better will materialise. My inbox is full of emails from constituents asking me to vote down the deal but in order to get a range of different outcomes, and they cannot all get what they want. For me, this is not about rolling the dice. It is not about whether I or my constituents who use 38 Degrees can afford for the gamble not to come off and to end up somewhere worse. I have to make this call in the interests of the 90,000 people of East Renfrewshire, where there are wildly different views and personal circumstances. Many of my constituents simply cannot afford for this not to work out. If I were to vote against the deal, and if no other magical solution arrived and we crashed out in March, I would feel wholly responsible for the economic impact on families and communities in my constituency that would result. I fully appreciate the range of views across the House, but I do not personally feel that I could be complicit in that outcome, and I will therefore support the deal on Tuesday.
A vote against the deal is not a vote to stop Brexit—if it were, dozens of my colleagues would not be preparing to bring it down—but, facing all the facts, I think that it seems likely to be rejected. Let me repeat a statement that I have always made, and which, indeed, I made at my selection meeting in 2017: I will not support a no-deal Brexit. In East Renfrewshire, 75% voted to remain in the European Union. Mine is the highest remain-voting seat held by a Conservative. My election was not the result of a promise in our manifesto to deliver Brexit but the result of a promise to protect the Union, and the greatest threat of the Union is a chaotic no-deal Brexit.
If the deal is voted down, I will work with colleagues on both sides of the House to put in place an achievable plan B. I will continue to argue for my preferred alternative of remaining in the European economic area as a member of the European Free Trade Association, with a bespoke customs protocol to protect the position in Northern Ireland. I will argue for a rejection of the political institutions of the EU but a retention of the principles at the heart of why we joined: a Common Market 2.0. We will need the withdrawal agreement for that, but I make a commitment to my constituents to re-evaluate my position with a genuinely open mind.
I urge the Prime Minister, if the deal is defeated, to announce immediately that there will be indicative votes on a series of options, on a free vote, so that we can properly test the mood of the House. In the weeks ahead, I will vote in the manner that secures a sensible and orderly exit from the European Union, and sets us on a pathway to a future relationship that works for East Renfrewshire and every part of our United Kingdom. I will vote—not just on Tuesday, but in every vote thereafter—in the manner that I consider to be in the best interests of this great nation. Ultimately, that is the only way I shall be able to go home from this place and look my constituents, and my children, in the eye, knowing that I did what I felt was right for them and their futures.
There are many Conservative Members who, like me, voted to remain but accept, admittedly reluctantly and with some misgivings, that we are leaving the European Union. We have compromised at every stage of the process to try to find a way to make this work, and the deal before us is as far as I am prepared to go. If some of my colleagues want to blow this up in pursuit of an ideologically purist fantasy, fine—go ahead—but I am done. My patience and good will will be gone, along with the patience and good will of many other Conservative Members.
Would it not be something if, when the history books are written, it emerged that it was owing to the arrogance and belligerence of the hard-line Brexiteers in refusing to compromise that, rather than ending up with this imperfect Brexit, they ended up with no Brexit at all?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), and it is an honour to speak in probably the most important debate that has taken place during my time in the House.
Given that there is less than three months before we leave the European Union, we urgently need a good Brexit deal. What we have seen, however, is the Health Secretary almost boasting about buying thousands of extra fridges in which to store vital medicines in case we crash out of the European Union in March. How on earth has it come to this? We have ended up here because of the Government’s catastrophic failure to negotiate a good deal in good time. This is a Government who had no real idea what they wanted, a Government who have spent more than two years negotiating with their own Back Benchers, and a Government who have tried to sideline Parliament at every turn.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has set out the key failings of this deal at length, so I will restate our Labour view very briefly. The deal does not meet our tests, and it certainly does not work for our country. I have always set one key test for any Brexit deal: does it give people in Blaenau Gwent security about their future after the UK has left the EU? This deal fails to do that, mainly because it is bad for trade and jobs. Crucially, it does not guarantee tariff or barrier-free access to European markets for our businesses.
Our economy has millions of moving parts. Many manufacturing industries rely on just-in-time supply chains, with daily deliveries of key components. A no-deal Brexit would cause chaos, particularly for our automotive, farming and food processing sectors. Around 3 million jobs across the UK depend on trade with the EU—100,000 in Wales. Any disruption to supplies or extra hurdles when exporting goods would have an impact on people’s livelihoods at the other end. The best way to protect livelihoods is through a permanent customs union and strong regulatory alignment with the EU. That is why a permanent customs union is backed not only by Labour, but by the TUC and the CBI. However, the Government have completely ruled out that sensible step that would protect jobs and the economy. Without it, our businesses do not have the guarantees they need, workers and consumers do not have the assurances they deserve, and my constituents do not have the certainty about their jobs that they should have.
When I speak to my leave-voting constituents, many want the same things. Some still want to leave but recognise that it is complicated, some have expressed sympathy for the Prime Minister, and some have even expressed sympathy for me, but we all see a Government at sixes and sevens, with no obvious way through this impasse. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor set out, Labour wants a Brexit that puts jobs first. If the Prime Minister still cannot provide that, we need a general election. If that is not possible, we must consider extending article 50, so that we do not crash out, or a further vote. One thing is for certain, though: I cannot vote for this Prime Minister’s mangled deal.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) and to take part in this debate, which is historic by any definition. I rise to speak in support of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, because my fundamental political belief is in pragmatism. I am no ideologue or absolutist, and the success of the Conservative and Unionist party has been its willingness to adapt to present realities, and to work practically to deliver what is in the national interest.
It is in the national interest for us to leave the European Union in an orderly way, by agreement, and to continue to have close and co-operative relationships with our European neighbours. It is in the national interest for us to achieve a free trade arrangement whereby we can continue to trade freely across borders without the encumbrance of barriers, tariffs and burdensome charges. It is in the best interests of our economy, businesses and jobs for this Parliament to get a grip on the practicalities of our predicament. It is in the interests of our democracy and public confidence in Parliament for this House to deliver on the instruction of the British people that we should leave the European Union. The people’s vote of June 2016 answered the question asked of the people by this House. This House must now honour that answer.
We must be careful to ensure that our opposition to the deal is not simply about waiting for a perfect one. What we have on the table before us is not a perfect deal. It is not an entirely comfortable deal, but it is acceptable. Compared with the risk of leaving the European Union in a disorderly way, without an agreement, this agreement is a good agreement. It secures the rights of citizens and provides for a transition period and an orderly departure from the European Union. I would much prefer no backstop, but I accept that the commitments that we have given to the people of Northern Ireland, which we must honour, make a backstop of some form or another an inevitable element of any agreement of any description.
I respect the hon. Gentleman, as he knows. He talks about the backstop and Northern Ireland; he said he will support this agreement, but does he understand the difficulty that we have with the backstop, and the serious repercussions it will have for the future of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The respect that he describes is reciprocated—to him, and indeed to all his colleagues, whom I recognise as Unionists. I do understand the complexities, and a lot of the emotion as well, around the issue of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, but I have thought long and hard about Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland, and I believe that the backstop does not have to, and must not, represent a threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom, and that those of us who want to honour the decision of the people on 26 June must work together to make Brexit happen. Otherwise, we will have a crisis of political confidence in this country. There are so many people—sadly, on both sides of this House—who do not want to honour the result the people gave us in June 2016. The alternatives on offer are this agreement, no Brexit, or a hard, no-deal Brexit. I will come back to those points, but I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Negotiations are about achieving the acceptable, but very rarely about achieving the perfect. The withdrawal agreement is a predictable compromise that is bearable for both sides—and, crucially, it delivers on the referendum result.
Since shortly after being elected to this House, I have served on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. Its latest report revisited evidence we had received 12 months earlier from businesses in strategically critical sectors of the UK economy—automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical, and food and drink. We collected evidence on their response to the withdrawal agreement, and as we make clear in the report’s conclusion, while they would have preferred to have stuck with the status quo, they now need clarity and certainty, and for that reason, their consistent message to the Committee, and to the House through the report, is that we should support the withdrawal agreement. They were also very respectful of our democracy and accepted the result of the June 2016 referendum—something that so many in this House seem unprepared to do. These business leaders were prepared to accept that result, and they were actively seeking to apply a pragmatic approach to an undoubtedly complex set of problems. It is now for us parliamentarians to be pragmatic and deliver the certainty that businesses need, and we do that by supporting the withdrawal agreement.
I am a Unionist; it is core to who I am. I have an unshakeable belief in our country and its peoples, in Scotland and in the United Kingdom, the most successful political union in the history of the world. My warning to colleagues is simply this: nationalism is waiting in the wings. The withdrawal agreement is, in my judgment, no threat to the Union, but no deal is. The threat in Scotland is from the Scottish Nationalists; they want the disruption that no deal would bring, because their nationalism is more important to them than any other issue. They and their leader make no secret of the fact that their single unifying purpose is to break up the United Kingdom, and that transcends every other single issue, economic or social. They want chaos; they want the disruption, because they believe it will give them the platform to launch their bid, much talked about within their ranks, for a second independence referendum, so that they can break up the United Kingdom.
I say to those who advocate no deal, particularly Conservative Members, that to me, as a Scottish Unionist, they exhibit some of the same symptoms as the SNP. Like the SNP, they appear to be prepared to sacrifice jobs and prosperity to realise their version of our future.
The hon. Gentleman talks about nationalism. Who gave EU citizens the vote in the 2014 referendum? Who gave EU citizens the voting franchise, and who did not?
I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman’s intervention amounts to, but I am grateful for his having had the opportunity to make it.
I appeal to colleagues, particularly Conservative colleagues, not to sacrifice the good for the sake of an unrealisable perfect. A second referendum, a no-deal Brexit or a general election all point to more uncertainty, and I cannot support any of those outcomes. We must remember that we voted as one United Kingdom to leave the EU.
My constituents in Stirling are weary of Brexit and of the shenanigans that go on in this House. They want us to move on. They want us to turn the page. Every single one of them wants us to deal with the pressing issues that affect their life and the life chances of their family. Irrespective of who they are or their story, we need to deliver stability and certainty. We need to turn the page. Voting for this agreement is the best way to do that, and I commend it to the House.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr)—he is truly an honourable gentleman. He was about to conclude his speech by saying that we voted as one Union and that we should leave as one Union. Well, I am a Member of Parliament for a part of this Union that is going to be left behind, and I will develop that point further. He fairly conceptualises what the aspiration was but, sadly, the faults and flaws of this withdrawal agreement rest in the concluding sentence that he never quite reached.
I, like the hon. Gentleman, am not an ideologue on this issue. Three of my hon. and right hon. Friends are sitting around me, all intently listening, and they know what I have said to them privately. For my whole life, Northern Ireland and this United Kingdom have been a part of the European Union. I have known nothing else, and it has not been a motivating or driving factor for me politically. It did not lead me to come to Parliament to campaign to leave.
I campaigned, very enjoyably, with the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) in my constituency of Belfast East during the 2016 referendum. I proudly voted leave because I was frustrated by the fear, the threats and the intimidation from those who said, “If you don’t do what you’re told, Northern Ireland will descend back into chaos. If you don’t do what is expected of you, the peace process is in jeopardy.” I found that line offensive.
I campaigned for a leave vote believing there was aspiration in what was being outlined, and believing that the people of this country engaged with that aspiration. Today, motivated not by leaving the European Union but by Unionism, I find it offensive that we have a Government, a Parliament and neighbours in the European Union who want to undermine our precious Union. It is deeply disappointing and it is not where we should be. It goes against every grain of my political ideology and it goes against the grain of the Prime Minister’s expressed political ideology.
The Belfast agreement has been mentioned quite a few times in this debate by Government and Opposition Members of Parliament. The hon. Member for Stirling, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) all talked about the Belfast agreement. The Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), indicated that the Belfast agreement—that hard-fought document for peace—contains a commitment to an open border in Ireland. It simply does not. I will give way to any Member of Parliament who wants to explain to me where that provision is in the Belfast agreement. It is not there. It is based on mutual respect, interconnected co-operation and better relationships between the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the Republic of Ireland.
What has gone wrong in this withdrawal process? What fundamental problems has the Prime Minister made? The first was to believe the political aspirations of others over what her own head should have told her. The Belfast agreement does not preclude a border on the island of Ireland. There is a border on the island of Ireland. We have differentials in duty rates. We have physical infrastructure. It was a mistake to believe that the aspiration to have no hard border on the island of Ireland meant that there should be no infrastructure whatsoever, because there is infrastructure today. There is this fanciful notion of cameras being attacked or any infrastructure being subject to vandalism or worse, but it is there today. There are cameras right across the main roads and arterial routes that take people from Northern Ireland to the south. We have different currencies and we implement different rules and laws. We have smuggling as a consequence of the fact that we have tariff differentials. As a former Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) knows that full well, as does the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet.
Secondly, as a country we were wrong to accept the premise that we had to solve the border question without knowing what the trading relationship was going to be. Who decided that that was a good negotiating strategy? How do we provide the answer when we do not know what the question is? Yet these are the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We accepted that premise from the European Union.
I have every sympathy with the position expressed by the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and understand entirely his motivation, yet for me the major issue is that according to the Attorney General’s interpretation of the backstop, in circumstances in which the backstop becomes operational, Northern Ireland must treat Great Britain as a third country for trade purposes. That offends my Unionism. It offends my sense of being part of the United Kingdom. Surely that is the issue that we need to address and resolve.
My right hon. Friend and party Chief Whip is of course absolutely right.
The third and final thing that we were foolish to accept was the notion that there had to be a solution to the border problem because in the event of no deal there would be a hard border. What did we see just before Christmas? The publication of the preparation plans from the European Union and the Dublin Government. What was strangely absent from those documents? Any provision for border infrastructure. It is a shibboleth. We have spent two years tearing ourselves apart trying to solve an issue that does not amount to a hill of beans.
I have to represent constituents in east Belfast who have a range of opinions, but there is one recurring theme: reject this deal. People say, “Reject the withdrawal agreement because it does not honour the aspirations of Brexit”; “Reject this deal because I want to stay in the European Union”; and “Reject this deal because I want a second referendum.” What is the thing that unifies them all? It is the rejection of this deal.
The White Paper published today does nothing to satisfy the constitutional concerns that we have. This is not just about economics. The withdrawal agreement outlines a scenario where we would not only have to face, but have coerced upon us, further implementation of forthcoming EU regulations, not to mention the 300 that are already there, which were referred to in the Attorney General’s advice and which span 69 pages. These 300 pieces of legislation will apply to Northern Ireland compulsorily. They could apply to the rest of the United Kingdom voluntarily. It is offensive to me as a Unionist that we need an Act of Parliament in this place to recognise our part of this country. That cannot be right. That should not be right.
When the Prime Minister spoke in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on 20 July 2018, she said that the reality is that any agreement we reach with the European Union will have to provide for the frictionless movement of goods across the Northern Ireland border. We accept that. She went on to say that equally clear is that, as the United Kingdom Government, we could never accept that the way to prevent a hard border with Ireland is to create a new border with the United Kingdom. Sadly, that is what we have.
When the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland spent time before Christmas going around trying to sell this withdrawal agreement, she was filmed on BBC Newsline with a group of ladies from the Resurgam Trust in Lagan Valley who said, “Secretary of State, we don’t like this deal because it treats Northern Ireland differently.” With all the majesty of her office, the Secretary of State said, “It does not treat Northern Ireland differently.” And do you know what? The ladies were not in a position to challenge her authority on the matter. Yet there is no annex for Aylesbury; there is no protocol for any other part of the United Kingdom in this withdrawal agreement. There are no separate provisions, no backstop, no loss of democratic accountability or democratic involvement in the production or the assessment of future regulations on our trading relationships, and the White Paper today does not change that. We can see it in the withdrawal agreement—we can see it in the text—that the UK Government are committing to enforcing, over the heads of the Assembly and its Members if they were to disagree, implementation of rules over which we have no democratic control or say. That is not taking back control. Mr Speaker, you have heard and presided over sessions and speeches in this Chamber, and heard speeches outwith this Chamber, that have continually said that this is about taking back control of our laws, our borders and our money. On that test, this withdrawal agreement fails.
I do not want to extinguish hope, and I will conclude with this: the next number of months will undoubtedly be febrile in this place, as they have been, and within the country. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and his colleagues and his team in delivering on the referendum commitment. All we ask is that Northern Ireland is not treated differently from any other part of this United Kingdom; that we honour our shared commitments, our shared history, our shared values and our shared aspirations; that we do it collectively; and that we work, post Tuesday, on how best we deliver a workable solution.
I was fortunate to speak in the December debate, so I will do my best to be brief. It is a tremendous honour to follow the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson). He has made a very powerful case and he demonstrates his tremendously strong rhetorical skills.
I listened to the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union very closely. In his words, he said that this is not a vote about Labour’s proposals; I agree. We are voting on the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. I agree with the withdrawal agreement and I will be supporting it. I listened to Labour’s desire for a customs union and for a close relationship with the EU to protect our vital Union of the United Kingdom and to protect business and jobs. The shadow Secretary of State agreed with the Government Front-Bench team that there must be a withdrawal agreement to protect citizens’ rights. I echo the words of the Minister for the Cabinet Office that this should not be about semantics. This is not about Labour’s plan, but that is because there have been so many versions of Labour’s plan. The Government have had to come up with a finely negotiated plan, which we are now trying to get through this House.
The shadow Secretary of State said that he had agonised over voting for article 50. That set off a time-limited process, which we had to negotiate with the EU, and here we are; we have nearly arrived at the end of it. During that time, I have never heard a concise, cohesive plan from the Opposition. I can only conclude that despite the deal’s perceived faults, to avoid no deal, and to protect jobs and citizens’ rights, as the shadow Secretary of State agreed a deal should do—and recognising that there must be a withdrawal agreement and, I am afraid, a backstop—Members on both sides of the House, following on from article 50, should support the deal. It is the next step so that we can negotiate our future with the EU and the rest of the world. This is in stark contrast with those who simply do not agree with Brexit, although I respect that that is what they campaigned on.
The SNP rejected Brexit pretty well in the same way that it rejected the result of the independence referendum. SNP Members quote figures of doom and gloom, which is disappointing because we are here to be optimistic. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) said that those who oppose this deal could be the handmaidens of a hard deal—of no deal. This disappoints me, because back in 2014, as a consequence of possible separation, the SNP was happy to negotiate with the EU as a third party. That is in tremendous contrast with the suggestion of Armageddon, when we would have to negotiate with the EU as a third party.
Industries in my Gordon constituency have embraced Brexit. In good faith, they expect elected politicians here actually to get on with it, so I implore the SNP and others who reject Brexit to think again, to deliver on what we pledged and to respect the Brexit referendum with a deal that works for business and jobs. These industries want us to make progress and move on to the next step, because the political declaration leaves a great deal of scope. There are not many Members present on either side of the Conservative side of this debate, but the political declaration would allow scope for a deal that would very much accommodate what both sides of the debate on the Conservative Benches and the Opposition are arguing for.
The Government are making no-deal preparations. The Treasury Committee heard from the Bank of England that the financial system is robust in all situations. That is a very good thing and that is what the stress-testing was; it was not suggesting that the economy would drop by 10%. We cannot go back. The country has moved on, but it seems that this place is frozen in time while the rest of the country is moving on, including my constituency. I heard on the radio this morning the chairman of the port of Calais, who said that the trucks will keep moving under all circumstances. The rest of the world and the rest of Europe is moving on, while this place is frozen—stuck back in the EU referendum.
We know that the currency markets and the stock market have built-in risk, and that companies have pent up investment in their balance sheets; as we heard on the Treasury Committee, their balance sheets are in rude health. My good and hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) said that he is a pragmatist. Well, I am an optimist and I believe that there can be a positive result from Brexit, so next week let us give the economy and the mood of a nation a lift. Let us support the Prime Minister’s deal and get on with Brexit.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his magnificent succinctness, upon which he should be congratulated.
As we have a little more time than I thought we would, before I get into the substance of my speech tonight I just want to start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for your support with regard to the harassment and targeting of MPs on and around the estate. The abuse that the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and others on both sides of this House and this issue are being subjected to is truly despicable and genuinely worrying for the stability of our democracy. My worry is that the genie may be out of the bottle and the country may not heal for decades, no matter what happens here. That is why, as others have said, this is probably the most important decision and vote that I will have made in my almost 14 years as an MP, and perhaps may ever make.
I say this as I have had brought to my attention details of a threat that I have just received, calling me
“a traitor who should be hung for treason”.
This threat was not even made anonymously. It was made very publicly and traceably, and the man—I believe it is a man because I have seen a photograph of him—who made this threat must know that it is public and easily traceable, which makes this change in our national and political discourse all the more worrying. My crime that precipitated this threat was to be one of the 213 MPs of all parties to have signed the letter against crashing out without a deal—which we now know, after the vote last night and today, is the will of the majority of Members in this House. I say all this to reinforce the point about the pressure of the political climate that we are all operating in and dealing with. I know that none of us is taking any of this lightly at the moment.
Two years ago, over 62% of people in Sunderland voted to leave the European Union. That is an average across the three Sunderland constituencies. My canvassing told me at the time that the vote in my constituency may have been more in the region of 65% to 67%. The fact that—as I am sure you know, Mr Speaker—Nissan, the most productive car plant in the whole of Europe, is in my constituency explains why that first result on results night had the impact that it did on all of us, not just the three Sunderland MPs. I campaigned and voted to remain in the European Union, and did so because I believed that it was the best decision for the security, social cohesion and economy of the north-east and the country as a whole. Despite this, I recognised that a majority of my constituents had voted to leave, and I set out to respect the result of the referendum.
In that vein, I have largely refrained from commenting publicly on Brexit or speaking about it here—check Hansard!—choosing instead to listen to my constituents to understand the result, the vote. So I ran two surveys on Brexit. I took great care to read all of the significant amount of correspondence I received on the topic. I held three large public meetings. I engaged regularly with major employers in my constituency, such as Nissan, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and others, to hear their concerns about the process as it has unfolded over the past two years. Many of these companies, in particular, have been unnecessarily placed in a position by this Government where they are already spending vast sums of money on preparations for a no-deal scenario—something that none of us here will ever allow to happen.
Voting, and how one votes, is an extremely personal decision, and it would be wrong of us to claim to know exactly what led people to vote in the way that they did. We do know, however, what issues come up on the doorstep, in emails and letters, and through polls and surveys. We also know what was promised to people. As part of the survey that I ran last year—I ran one straight after the referendum and then one again last year—I asked people who had voted to leave in 2016 to rate a number of factors involved in their decision from “very important” to “unimportant”. The three issues with the highest number of people ranking them “very important” were, first, the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK; secondly, concerns that remaining would mean little or no choice about how the EU expanded its membership or powers; and thirdly, the incentive of trade opportunities outside the EU. It will be noticed that in this sample, immigration did not make the top three of the “very important” issues. It was an issue that people could choose but was actually near the bottom of the list in the final analysis. Make of that what you will.
During the referendum, people were also promised that voting to leave would mean more money for the NHS, more controls on immigration, and significant trade opportunities around the world—and ultimately that it would mean “taking back control”.
Does my hon. Friend accept that they were also led to believe by the leave campaign that this would be a very simple process?
Absolutely. That would be one of the biggest ironies of any of our political careers, as we are all finding out that it is anything but simple. It has got to be the most complicated thing I have ever had to try to get my head around.
Can anyone in this place honestly say that the deal on offer delivers any of the things I have listed? Far from delivering back control, this deal means giving up our voice within the EU and becoming rule takers until at least 2020, at which point the problematic backstop could come into place. The Government’s own analysis shows that the economic benefit of further trade deals around the world is minimal, will not come for a while and will be outweighed by GDP falling by around 3.9% under their deal.
With regard to immigration, the Government’s recent White Paper failed to provide overall clarity on the issue and included plans to disgracefully label workers on less than £30,000 a year as “low-skilled”. That policy will only contribute to existing staffing shortages in the NHS in particular, as it rules out nurses, care assistants and paramedics coming from abroad. As shadow Minister for Public Health, I am well placed to know that the much promised extra money for the NHS—remember the £350 million on the side of that big red bus?—could not be further from the truth.
It is no wonder that all this lack of clarity has left people on both sides of the debate hugely disappointed. Indeed, in recent weeks I have received hundreds of emails, letters and postcards regarding this deal, as I am sure every single Member of the House has. There are people who say that the Prime Minister’s deal fails to respect the result of the referendum and would like me to vote against it. There are people who would like me to vote against this deal and then push for a people’s vote. There are people who would like to bypass another vote altogether and for us to remain a member of the European Union. There are people who would like a Norway or Canada-style deal, and there are people who believe that we would now be better off leaving the EU without any deal at all.
However, it is astonishingly clear from the percentages of 87% to 13% that very few people would like me to vote for this deal. It is no wonder that almost 60% of those who took part in my survey now think that the electorate, as well as Parliament, should have to approve any deal agreed with the EU before it is ratified.
Almost nothing of what was promised and expected has been delivered. People who voted to leave the EU are not happy with this deal. People who voted to remain in the EU are not happy with this deal, and 87% of my constituents who contacted me about this deal are against it. As such, I will be voting against it when the question is put on Tuesday.
What an extraordinarily succinct contribution that was. Of course I am paying attention; I never cease to do so.
The public, frankly, are fed up with this, but they are also worried. I have been overwhelmed with correspondence from my constituents, 69% of whom voted to remain, and many of whom have since changed from leave to remain supporters. They have raised concerns about the treatment of EU nationals and the impact that it will have on the NHS, and they are angry at the tone of the negotiations. Today’s carry-on after Prime Minister’s questions does nothing to restore anyone’s faith in the Government or the Tory party.
My hon. Friend says that many of her constituents are moving from leave to remain. Is it not the case that many of them are also moving from no to yes on the question of Scottish independence as they watch this play out?
That is exactly what many of the emails say—they voted no in 2014 because of their concern about European Union membership, and now their worst concerns are coming to pass.
I was in Romania last year as part of a parliamentary delegation. Everywhere we went, there was a celebration of Europe and its membership of the European Union. People showed great pride in the country having been a member since 2007. It was notable that one issue raised fairly regularly with the delegation was the brain drain that Romania was experiencing. It was seeing its most talented and very best young people moving to other parts of Europe. We gain benefit from that, and we should continue to.
Let us compare that with the UK. We joined a trade organisation very reluctantly in the early 1970s because we were being economically disadvantaged by not being a member of it. Almost immediately afterwards, there was a referendum to see whether that had been the right decision. Had we really done what we should have done? Throughout that time, we heard about European bureaucracy and about how things were being done to us. There was lots of comedy about it. I remember episodes of “Yes, Minister” in which people talked about sausages and bendy bananas. It is rather ironic that we are talking about the bureaucracy of the European Union and European Parliament when, just along the corridor, we have a whole pile of unelected bureaucrats sitting in this building.
The nature of the arguments in the referendum campaign also caused me deep concern. There were stories about millions going to the EU that could be spent on the NHS instead. There was scaremongering about swarms of migrants. A lot of this was stoked up by the right-wing media, and it was received by a public who were looking for leadership. EU nationals were blamed for the strain on schools, the health service and social housing, but let us be clear that the majority of EU nationals in the UK are of working age and are contributing. Three to 18 is the age of education, but the majority of EU nationals here are not in that age group. The biggest strain on our health service comes from those who are over 70, and that does not generally include EU nationals.
When I first came to London to sit in this place, I had a flat in a building where more than half the flats were empty, because they had been bought up and banked by foreign money launderers who used them as a place to keep their investments. Those flats were empty when homeless people were sleeping out on the streets. That was not the fault of EU nationals. If we want to deal with the housing crisis, we need to build houses for social use—for people who need houses. We need to stop building houses that are going to sit empty in the centre of London.
On that theme, is my hon. Friend aware that the UK is currently the most unequal country in the EU? The people who financed Vote Leave are the very ones who are going to do their best to make the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That will be the Brexit dividend.
We know that a no-deal Brexit is going to be economically disastrous. We also know that when an economy is wrecked in such a way, people with money, power and connections are in a position to exploit the situation for their own ends. No doubt we will see that happening if we are stupid enough to leave without a deal.
Following the vote to leave, where was the political leadership? Who was countering the right-wing media? Who was reaching out to the EU nationals here? The answer is that Scotland was. On the very first day after the vote, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, stood up and said, “You are welcome. We want you. We value you. Please remain. You are our friends, our family and our colleagues.” That is powerful. I and many of my colleagues wrote to every EU national in our constituencies. The majority of them cannot even vote for us in this place, so there was no personal gain for us in doing that. We did it because it was the right thing to do. But what did we see from the Prime Minister? We saw her talking about “queue jumping” by EU nationals, implying that they were cheating their way into jobs, and we now see them being asked to pay a £65 fee to apply for settled status. How can they feel valued with that sort of action?
The biggest issue for me is the position of EU nationals and the loss of freedom of movement—[Interruption.] The deal does not protect freedom of movement—not for EU nationals here or for our people moving elsewhere. It does not support that. My husband is an EU national. He spent 17 years in the Royal Navy as a commissioned officer, with two and a half years of that time spent under the ocean, yet he has British nationalists telling him to go home if he does not like things here, and he is not unique in that. The worst thing is the patronising manner in which people have been dealt with. He has been told, “You should be okay.” What? Because he is white and speaks English? We are not interested in being part of a xenophobic society that pulls the drawbridge up behind us.
Our universities have expressed concerns about Brexit. They are concerned about the loss of EU funding, both in Horizon 2020 and in successor programmes. They are concerned about the threat posed to the rich collaborations that are supported and underpinned by freedom of movement. Universities UK has said that over half of all UK-based European Research Council funding is received by non-UK nationals living in the UK. That accentuates the risk that we could lose out on talented and highly mobile researchers.
With the immigration White Paper, the Government said, “Well, if you’re skilled, you’ll be okay.” I have asked a series of written questions about what is meant by high, medium and low-skilled jobs. I have been told that high-skilled is degree level, medium is A-level or HND level, and low-skilled is GCSE level. However, that is at odds with the salary thresholds that will apply. For early-stage researchers and post-docs or for early-career nurses, teachers and even medics, the definition of skills does not match the salary threshold.
The reality is that what the hon. Lady is describing is actually up for consultation. I am sure that she and other Members, including Conservative Members, will make representations to ensure that Scotland’s interests are looked after in our new immigration laws. She is making a valid point, but she is talking about what will happen, when this is in fact a consultation document.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the contributions from SNP Members over the past couple of years, he will see that when we have talked about salary thresholds, the message we have sent has been strong, clear and consistent. Salary thresholds do not work, and they specifically do not work in Scotland, where people earn less than in parts of the south-east of England. It would be good if the hon. Gentleman joined us in calling for the scrapping of these salary thresholds.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the salary thresholds. My experience of dealing with many constituents, who are treated very shabbily by the Home Office, is that they work all the hours God sends and still cannot reach the thresholds to get their families to come over from other countries. I have a constituent who missed out by a matter of pounds and was not able to bring over their family.