[6th Allotted Day]
Debate resumed (Orders 5, 4 December and 9 January).
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’.
May I begin on a personal note, Mr Speaker? I am very, very grateful to Members on both sides of the House, from all parties, who very kindly contacted me or sent messages over the course of the Christmas holidays following my son’s accident. I am very grateful for the kind words that many sent. My son is recovering well and I just wanted to register my appreciation.
A second brief point I want to make is that I want to ensure that as many colleagues as possible have the opportunity to intervene during my remarks. I recognise that we will be addressing a number of important issues today, not least the vital importance of maintaining environmental protection and the protection of workers’ rights, but I also recognise that many colleagues wish to speak, so I will try to keep my answers as brief as possible.
It is perhaps appropriate, Mr Speaker, given that this is a debate on European matters, that we should be emulating what happens in European football competitions by having a second leg of this debate following the first one. In hotly contested European matches, strong views are sometimes held, not just about the merits of each side, but about the referee, but all I want to say is that I am personally grateful to you, Mr Speaker. You sat through the whole of the first leg of this debate and intend to sit through the second, which is an indication of how important this debate is and how seriously you take your responsibilities. Across the House, we all owe you thanks for how you have facilitated this debate.
I also want to thank the many civil servants in my Department and elsewhere who have worked hard to secure the withdrawal agreement with the European Union. Officials, negotiators and others sometimes find themselves in the firing line but unable to speak for themselves, so let me speak for them: the dedicated public servants in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Exiting the European Union and other Departments have worked hard to honour the referendum result and to secure the best possible deal for the British people. I place on record my thanks and those of my Government colleagues for their wonderful work.
As everyone acknowledges, the deal that we have concluded is a compromise. Those who are critical of it recognise that there are flaws, and those of us who support it also recognise that it has its imperfections, but how could it be otherwise? There are more than 600 Members, all with different and overlapping views on Brexit and its merits, and on how it should be executed. Some 17.4 million people voted to leave—a clear majority—and we must honour that, but we must also respect the fact that 48% of our fellow citizens voted to remain, and their concerns, fears and hopes also have to be taken into consideration.
We are dealing in this negotiation with 27 other EU nations, each with legitimate interests, with which we trade and many of whose citizens live in this country. We consider them our friends and partners in the great enterprise of making sure that a rules-based international order can safeguard the interests of everyone. Inevitably, then, we have to compromise. I recognise that during this debate many principled cases for alternatives will be advanced. I will respect, and have respected, the passion and integrity with which those cases are made, but it is also important to recognise that those who support this compromise, including me, are passionate about delivering on the verdict of the British people in the referendum in a way that also honours the interests of every British citizen. That is what this agreement does. It honours the referendum result while also respecting the vital interests of every part of the United Kingdom and every citizen within it.
The difficulty is that we do not know the extent of the compromise because negotiations on the future agreement have yet to begin, and because we will have paid the money upfront and will be unable to walk away from these negotiations, so we will be in a weak position. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me about the level of compromise that is likely to be made?
I very much take on board my right hon. Friend’s point. As I will explain in greater detail in my remarks, I think we are in a far stronger position than many allow. The £39 billion that we will be giving to the EU is in part settlement of our obligations and in part a way of ensuring we have a transition period so that we can adjust to life outside the EU. The backstop that has been negotiated—let us all remember that originally the EU wanted a Northern Ireland-only backstop, but we now have a UK-wide backstop—allows us, as a sovereign nation, freedom in critical areas. These are freedoms that honour the referendum result and create real difficulties for European countries, which I will explore in greater detail in a moment.
It is critical that we recognise that the agreement the Prime Minister has negotiated will mean that we will be outside the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, outside the common fisheries policy, outside the common agricultural policy, outside the common foreign and security policy and outside the principle of ever closer union, and that we will have control of our borders and our money. The days of automatic direct debits from this country, at whatever level people might think appropriate, will end, and as a result the referendum verdict will be honoured.
Earlier, the Secretary of State said that the deal laid out by the Prime Minister was a good deal for everybody in the UK. Can he seriously stand at that Dispatch Box and say that our friends in Northern Ireland are getting a good deal out of this deal?
I absolutely can. One of the opportunities that the citizens of Northern Ireland would have as a result of the deal is unimpeded access not just to the rest of the UK market, which is essential for the maintenance of our Union, but to the rest of the EU. That is why the Ulster Farmers’ Union, Ulster business and so many in Northern Ireland’s civil society have said that, with all its imperfections, the deal protects not only the integrity of the UK, but their livelihoods, jobs and futures.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the Ulster Farmers’ Union. Has he had time today to see the letter written by the presidents of all four farmers unions to every Member setting out quite clearly why no deal would be so damaging to the interests of rural communities?
I have read that letter. It has been sent to every Member, and I would ask every Member to give it close attention. Our farming communities, like our country, were split over whether to leave. A majority of farmers voted to leave, recognising the opportunities that being outside the CAP would present, but I have yet to meet a single farmer who believes that a no-deal Brexit would be the right option for this country when the withdrawal agreement in front of us provides the opportunity for tariff-free and quota-free access for agricultural products to the EU.
I will say a bit more about the specific challenges of a no-deal Brexit. It is an intellectually consistent position, but it is important, even as we apprise it and pay respect to its advocates, that we also recognise the real turbulence that would be caused, at least in the short and medium term, to many of our farmers and food producers.
I find myself in agreement with the Secretary of State about the risks and dangers of a no-deal Brexit, but his claim that people will be better off flies in the face of the Government’s own economic analysis, which suggests that people will be poorer, the economy smaller and economic growth slower. How can he stand at the Dispatch Box and say something the Government have found to be otherwise?
The report emphatically does not say that people will be poorer. It is important to pay proper respect to projections while also applying the appropriate analytical tools. Some of the economic projections for no deal and Brexit have proved to be unfounded. Projections have been wrong in the past and may well be wrong in the future, but it is the case—here I do agree with the hon. Lady—that, irrespective of projections for different paths, there are certain brute and unalterable facts about no deal, including the imposition of tariffs by the EU, that would create friction and costs, and that would mean, at least in the short term, economic turbulence for parts of the UK economy.
Will my right hon. Friend welcome the great news from the port of Calais that it will not create any barriers and that our trade will flow perfectly smoothly if we just leave the EU on 29 March, and the news that there will be aviation agreements so that planes will of course fly quite normally? Does this not show that “Project Fear” is just a caricature of itself and a disgrace in seeking to sell us short and to lock us into something we have agreed to leave?
My right hon. Friend makes two very important points. It is absolutely right that there have been some lurid and exaggerated stories, both during the referendum and subsequently, about the impact of certain Brexit scenarios, and he is absolutely right that in aviation and the commitments of some of our partners who manage ports there have been welcome signs. It is also important to recognise, however, that the European Commission has made it clear that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there will be 100% checks on products of animal origin and live animal exports, which will add significantly to friction.
Tariffs would also be imposed, and while overall tariffs on agricultural produce in the EU are around 11%, which can be discounted by changes in the valuation of sterling, it is also the case that the import duties on some products, such as sheep meat, are more than 40%, and in some cases considerably more. That would certainly impose costs on our farmers and food producers. They are resilient, imaginative, energetic and dynamic, and in the long term, of course, they will flourish, but these are undeniable short-term costs.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important to listen to the likes of GE Aviation, which employs a lot of people in my constituency and says that a
“disorderly ‘no deal’ exit…would prevent…challenges for our operations, supply chains and customers”,
and exhorts me and others to ratify the withdrawal agreement, which would
“provide business with the certainty it needs”?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Again, across business there was a range of voices —for remain and leave—during the Brexit referendum, but what is striking is that many prominent voices among those who argued that we should leave have also made it clear that they believe that a no-deal Brexit would be the wrong outcome. They see significant opportunities for Britain outside the EU. Lord Wolfson, one of our most talented entrepreneurs in charge of one of our biggest retail chains, and Richard Walker, the chief executive of Iceland, one of our most dynamic and environmentally friendly supermarkets, both voted to leave the EU. They believe that to be the right choice for Britain and they both—employing thousands of our fellow citizens—also say that a no deal would pose significant challenges.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not “Project Fear” when the National Farmers Union and all the agricultural unions warn of an embargo on animal product exports, which are currently worth £3.15 billion, in the event of no deal? In the case of the lamb industry, 94% of its exports go to the EU. This is not “Project Fear”; this is serious “Project Business”.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There have been some exaggerated claims about the impact of a no-deal Brexit, and the British economy is resilient. He is absolutely right, however, that farmers in some of our most vulnerable sectors, in constituencies that Members across this House represent, would be significantly adversely affected in the short term.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for quoting my constituent Richard Walker, who has highlighted the fact that the jobs of 24,000 employees at Iceland depend on frictionless trade and that it is really important to support a deal, because no deal would be catastrophic for not only Iceland, but Arla Foods and several other food producers in this country.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is always important to get things in proportion, but across the business spectrum—from those who argued for remain and for leave—there is a strong consensus that no deal would, in the short to medium term, cause significant harm.
My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. I want to pursue his argument about the sheep meat implications of a WTO-terms Brexit. He referred to the introduction of tariffs of more than 40%. Will he confirm that that would apply on day one of moving to WTO terms?
Some people suggest that we could reject this deal and go back and get a better deal from Europe. Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns about the great uncertainty in that, not least because the European Parliament shuts down in mid-April for the European elections, leaving many months in which no negotiation will be possible?
Yes. As DEFRA Secretary, I suppose that I should say that a bird in the hand is worth more than however many we might find in the bush. My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have negotiated hard and effectively. We have not secured everything that we wanted, but we have secured a great deal of what we wanted. Now is the chance—I think the country wants us to do this—to unite behind this deal across the House and to deliver on Brexit in a way that delivers for every citizen.
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. To continue the point about tariffs and sheep meat, the fact is that the situation that has been outlined could happen, so what specific preparations have been made? What contingencies, compatible with WTO rules, can be undertaken in the event that those tariffs come in so that we support our hill farmers and so on?
That is a very fair point. One thing that occupies most of my time as Secretary of State for DEFRA is planning for various contingencies. In exceptional circumstances, there are market interventions that we can take to help this particular sector. The broader point is that whether we are in the EU or out, WTO rules on the level of state aid that we can give to farmers will bind our hands in any case.
The Secretary of State has just mentioned state aid, particularly in agriculture. Is he not concerned that the deal allows the Commission oversight of state aid for four years post the transition period, and that with the Northern Ireland protocol, the Commission may have an overview of state aid in agriculture for ever? That would mean that if we wanted to diverge from the common agricultural policy, the Commission could prevent us from doing that. Is that not a reason to throw out this deal?
Well, it was vegan, but the Secretary of State had cheese.
There is definitely a consensus that no deal would be absolutely disastrous for the farming community. The Secretary of State is totally focusing on the risks of no deal, and to me that is something of a red herring. We could easily avoid no deal—it is entirely in the Prime Minister’s power to avoid no deal either by extending or revoking article 50 if we get to that cliff edge. Can the Secretary of State now talk about the deal that is being put before us for the meaningful vote and try to persuade us of the merits of that deal, rather than talking about no deal?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was happy to embrace my inner vegan with the hon. Lady earlier this month. We had some delicious vegan parsnip soup, and also some cheese that was produced by the Sustainable Food Trust.
I have sought to respond to questions from several colleagues about the impact of no deal, and I will say more about the merits of the deal in just a second. I will say, however, that it is not just within the power of the Government, but within the power of us all to ensure that we secure a deal. The hon. Lady is a constructive and pragmatic member of this House, and I know that she has concerns about the deal, but one of the best ways of avoiding no deal would be for her to join many other colleagues across the House in supporting the deal.
I have a small point for the Secretary of State before he explains the benefits of the deal, in his view. My savvy constituents like to participate in the biggest horse race event of the year, the Grand National, which this year is on 6 April, and being savvy, large numbers of them tend to bet on Irish horses. With no deal, can they be certain that Irish horses will get to the Grand National?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. In the event of no deal, the tripartite agreement, which is part of EU law, falls. Of course, the bloodstock industry, the horse racing industry and others can take mitigating steps, but the current free movement of equines would be harmed, although it would be protected by this deal.
In the Secretary of State’s post-Brexit nirvana, there will be a different customs and trading arrangement with the EU from the one that exists just now, and that will be managed with no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Government have consistently said that that will be done with the use of new technology. What is the timeframe for the invention, trial and deployment of that technology, which will mean that there are no cameras and no infrastructure—no anything—on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland?
A lot of work has already been done—including by Members of this House, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh)—to point out how we can have a frictionless border and avoid checks at the border, so that we can move out of the backstop and into a new trade agreement with the European Union.
Today the focus of this debate is principally, although not exclusively, on the environment and on workers’ protection. It is important to put on record the work that has been done across this House while we have been in the European Union to protect our environment and ensure that workers have a brighter future. However, it is also important to stress that this country has had ambitions higher than those required by our membership of the European Union—ambitions that have been fulfilled in a number of areas.
The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), when he was Secretary of State in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, introduced climate change legislation that was significantly more progressive and ambitious than what was required by our membership of the European Union. On plastic and waste, this Government are going further than we are required to do by the European Union, to ensure that we pay our debts to this planet. Look at workers’ rights, holiday rights, maternity leave, maternity pay and the national living wage. In every single one of those areas, our ambitions have been higher than required by the European Union.
It is not the case that membership of the European Union is necessary to safeguard our environment or to guarantee high-quality rights for workers. This agreement makes it clear that we will apply a non-regression principle when it comes to workers’ rights, to health and safety and to employment rights. That principle, which will be very similar to the one that occurs in many other trade deals, will ensure that there is no race to the bottom. The Government will also—this is in the withdrawal agreement—create an office of environmental protection to ensure that our environment is safeguarded and that appropriate principles that were developed during our time in the European Union, such as the precautionary principle, are applied in an appropriate way.
However, there is a critical distinction between what the withdrawal agreement allows us to do and what the EU insists that we do. The withdrawal agreement allows us to take back control. The office of environmental protection will scrutinise this Government’s or a future Government’s application of environmental principles, but the House will decide how those principles are interpreted. For example, if we want to put the emphasis on innovation in certain areas in a different way from the European Union but still strive towards high environmental goals, we can. We can have both higher levels of protection and, critically—this was the message of the referendum—democratic accountability, with power flowing back to this place and all its Members.
Yes, absolutely. It is important that citizens have the right to access not just the courts but other means to ensure that environmental rights are protected. The creation of that new watchdog, which of course will be democratically accountable, will ensure that citizens do not have to go to court, but the Government and other public bodies will be held to account for their actions in safeguarding the environment.
Is the Secretary of State not concerned that, if the deal delivers such a glorious future for the United Kingdom, all the other member states of the European Union will look enviously on it and the integrity of the European Union itself will be challenged? Everybody will want a better deal than membership, which we currently have and, by definition, has to be the best possible relationship with the EU.
It will be for other countries to decide, but yes, I think other countries will be envious of our position. For the sake of argument, I think some Italian politicians will look at our ability to have quota-free and tariff-free access to their markets and yet to be outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, have full control of our borders and pay no money, and ask themselves, “Why is it that the UK has a better deal?” It will be for them to make their own judgments, but people under-appreciate the strength of the position that this deal puts Britain in for the future.
The Secretary of State mentions that we will move out of the orbit of the ECJ. Instead, for trade deals, particularly on fracking, we will be in the orbit of international investment tribunals. He may know that in the case of Lone Pine Resources, the Canadian Government were fined hundreds of millions of dollars for their moratorium on fracking in Quebec. Is he not concerned that, if we leave the defence of the European Court of Justice and try to restrict fracking, we will be open to attack by frackers? That would not be good.
I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but robust legal protections, including licensing and permitting, will continue to ensure that hydraulic fracturing, if we have it, is governed by a set of rules that safeguard and balance the interests of the environment and the interests of property owners and those who wish to generate economic growth.
I want to go back to the Secretary of State’s point about Britain being the envy of other European states because of the position it will be in post Brexit. Is it his contention that the Brexit scenario we are currently going through has enhanced Britain’s international reputation?
It is certainly the case that, if we look at the flow of individuals who want to come to Britain—[Interruption.] This is an important point. One of the critical questions about the attractiveness of our nation is how many people want to come here. The fact that so many people want to make a life in Britain is an indication of the strength of our position, and the significant investments by tech giants, Toyota and a number of others indicate that Britain continues to be an attractive destination not just for individuals but for investment.
As a Scot who believes in the United Kingdom’s ability to take things forward, I am very much behind our moving from the EU, as voters requested in the referendum. In noting the good work on the environment that my right hon. Friend has championed, may I ask him to specify what opportunities this Brexit deal will create for us to leave a better environment for the generation that follows us?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have already said that we wish to embrace higher standards for plastic, waste and resources, but there is another big opportunity, which I know he is very keen on us taking as we leave the European Union—the opportunity to take back control of our exclusive economic zone and our fisheries, and to ensure that the environmentally damaging and economically wasteful common fisheries policy ends.
The Scottish National party, which has many talented Members, some of whom are in the Chamber, is committed—[Interruption.] I will not blight their electoral prospects by naming them and explaining how much I admire them. The SNP is committed to staying in the European Union and the common fisheries policy, in direct defiance of the Scottish Government’s own analysis, which points out that there could be billions of extra pounds and 5,000 extra jobs in the Scottish economy if we left the common fisheries policy. The leader of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation told the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs yesterday that he was suffering “foot-stamping frustration” at the Scottish Government’s inability to seize that opportunity.
Why do the Scottish Government want to stand in the way of 5,000 new jobs being created? Is it ideology? Are they placing separatism above the true interests of Scotland? [Hon. Members: “Always!”] I hear cries of, “Always” from Scottish Conservative colleagues. I fear that, despite my respect for our Scottish Government colleagues in so many ways, my Scottish Conservative colleagues are absolutely right. Those jobs will be created only if we embrace the opportunities of being outside the common fisheries policy.
It is not just in fisheries that jobs can be created. Outside the common agricultural policy, we will be able to embrace methods of productivity that improve our food and drink sector—our biggest manufacturing sector—and provide new jobs, new investment and new technology. It is also the case that, with environmental services and our energy, dynamism and innovation—including ultra low emission vehicles, which my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has championed consistently—we can turn post-Brexit Britain into an environmental and economic superpower.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I cannot wait to leave the European Union on 29 March, but I have deep concerns about the backstop in the withdrawal agreement. If we do not want to use the backstop and if, in the event that we do use it, it will be only temporary, why does he believe the European Union is reluctant to give the legal clarity that we and the Democratic Unionist party are looking for?
I think the European Union and its institutions will provide more clarity, but let me try to provide an additional element of clarity. The backstop is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for me individually as a unionist, and it is uncomfortable for my friends in the House who represent Northern Ireland. However, it is important to recognise that the European Union originally wanted a Northern Ireland-only backstop. The Prime Minister pushed back against that. We now have a UK-wide backstop. Critically, as I mentioned, that creates difficulties for other European nations.
Immediately after the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement, we heard from President Macron. It was clear from his comments that he recognised how unhappy French fishermen and citizens in Brittany and Normandy would be if the backstop came into operation and they lost all—100%—of their access to UK waters as we took back control. We shall be able to say to France, to the Netherlands, to Denmark and to other nations, “I am afraid you are locked out of our waters” and at the same time, “but we have access to your markets without tariffs or quotas.” We shall be able to say, “Your citizens cannot come here except under our rules” and, at the same time, “We are not paying a penny for these privileges”—and, at the same time, “We are outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”
European nations will say to the European institutions, “We thought that you were not going to allow cherry-picking. Why does Britain have this bowl of glistening cherries? We thought you would say that the Brits could not have their cake and eat it, but they are enjoying an array of privileges, access routes and opportunities, while at the same time not paying for them, not accepting our citizens and not allowing our boats into their waters.”
It will be the case—it is already the case—that entering the backstop will be seen by European nations and European politicians as a consummation devoutly not to be wished. That is why I am so confident that we will be able to secure an agreement, pursuing the principles of the withdrawal agreement, that will ensure that we have the free trade that we want and the control that the British ask of us.
The Secretary of State spoke of cherry-picking, but he cherry-picks his own statistics when he talks about 5,000 possible new fishing jobs. The SNP was always opposed to the common fisheries policy and argued against it for many years. When it comes to cherry-picking, what does the Secretary of State say about the 80,000 post-Brexit job losses predicted by the Fraser of Allander Institute? What is he doing to address that?
It is the case that, if the Scottish National party votes for the deal, we shall be able to secure jobs in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, and also to secure those 5,000 additional jobs. The hon. Gentleman is right: the Scottish National party has said that it is against the common fisheries policy. However, while it has willed the end, it has not willed the means, which is leaving the European Union. The Scottish National party’s position is—how can one put this? To say that you want to leave the CFP but not to do anything about it, and to seek to frustrate the legislation that will allow us to leave the CFP, is inconsistent at best and a simulacrum of hypocrisy at worst.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making it clear that in certain circumstances we would ban all continental European fishing vessels from our waters, but will he confirm that, when we take back control, the fish will be for our fishermen to land and process here?
My right hon. Friend has made a very good point. In the event of leaving the European Union and in the event of the operation of the backstop, which neither of us wants to enter but we recognise of course is a possibility, we would have sovereign control over our waters. We could decide who came here and on which terms, and we could negotiate with other countries knowing that we were in a position of strength.
I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said so far. He will understand very well the position of the Democratic Unionist party in relation to the backstop, and he will know that my constituents clearly voted to leave. There are two matters about which we are concerned: the backstop and that control of fisheries will remain in our hands. There has been a question mark over that, too. The Secretary of State has been to Northern Ireland and met the MPs and the Unionist people, and he understands their opinion. May I suggest that what he needs to do now is remove the backstop? That is only way in which he will gain our support.
I quite understand, and I have enormous respect not only for the hon. Gentleman, but for the sincerity and clarity with which he and his parliamentary colleagues have put their views. I hope that over the next few days we can help to ensure that all the interests of Northern Ireland are safeguarded more effectively than ever within the United Kingdom. As I have pointed out, the backstop is uncomfortable for many of us, but it is also uniquely uncomfortable for the European Union, which is one of the many reasons why I think we will conclude a deal before that.
I thank the Secretary of State for being so generous in giving way. He talked about the sovereignty of British waters and about taking back control, but will he guarantee that in any negotiation for a trade deal with the European Union there will be no retaliation, and that the interests of the processing side of the fishing industry will not be sacrificed in return for sovereignty over British waters? The processing side is much bigger than the catching side, and it must not be sacrificed.
When I was in the Library doing my research for the debate, I came across a 2014 Government leaflet, produced of course by a Conservative Government, which states, under the heading “An influential voice in important places”—that was why Scotland should vote no—
“As one of the EU’s ‘big four’ nations, the UK is more able to protect Scottish interests in areas like agriculture and fisheries.”
May I ask the Secretary of State what has changed?
Several things have changed since 2014. First, of course, there was a coalition Government then. Secondly, we have had a referendum in which the people of Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom, and another referendum in which the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. But one thing has not changed: the interests of Scotland’s farmers and fishermen are better protected by maintenance of the Union than by the separation that the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government want to see. We remain influential, not just in respect of our relationship with the EU27 but globally. We have a stronger voice in trade negotiations, a stronger voice in environmental protection, and a stronger capacity to protect and enhance the interests of Scottish citizens as one United Kingdom. That is why the people of Scotland voted to stay in that United Kingdom, and that is why our Union will endure.
For how much money is the Secretary of State applying to the Treasury fund for fisheries protection in case the backstop has to come into force, or, indeed, we have to leave on a no-deal basis? My local fishermen who fish out of Berwick and Amble are concerned that there is already not enough fisheries protection in those waters, and there would need to be a great deal more to ensure that we did not end up with something like the cod wars all over again.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. The Ministry of Defence, in which she served with such distinction, has a suite of new offshore patrol vessels—state-of-the-art fisheries protection vessels—and we are negotiating with both the Treasury and the MOD to ensure that the work of those vessels will be complemented by the aviation and technological capacity that will guarantee that our fishermen are properly protected.
My right hon. Friend is making his case most powerfully. In relation to the backstop, I can confirm to him that those of us who speak to European politicians and diplomats know that they have no desire to see something that gives us a competitive advantage endure in perpetuity. Moreover, European law makes it very clear that the provisions of the treaties do not permit a backstop to be permanent.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be perfectly reasonable for us, with the assistance of the Attorney General, to seek further and better clarification of the definition of “temporary” in the protocol, which could be sensibly done, to reassure Members such as those from Northern Ireland who have legitimate but answerable concerns?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is the case not only that the legal position is that the backstop must be temporary, but that European politicians do not want it to endure, for the reasons that he has outlined, explored and explained, and on which I touched earlier.
There are, of course, a number of alternatives to embracing the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, the Opposition have put forward not just one alternative but 16 in the lifetime of this Parliament. They believe, Tommy Cooper-style, that—just like that!—they can negotiate a new deal with the European Union in the next 70 days which would give us freedom to diverge in relation to state aid in a way that would give the UK a competitive advantage that the EU allows no other nation on earth, and which would at the same time allow the UK to be in a customs union. That would mean that the EU could not negotiate trade deals with other countries—this is Labour policy—without the UK’s agreeing to those trade deals, and therefore exercising a veto. No other country on earth has the ability to veto the EU’s own trade deals, but that is what the Labour party wants.
There are also a number of different depictions of some of the fantasy alternatives that have been suggested. They have been described as unicorns. I have to say that the official Labour party position is to chase a whole carnival of unicorns across the European plain, none of which are capable of being delivered. In a broadcast earlier today, the shadow Justice Secretary was asked 23 times what Labour’s position on Brexit was, and 23 times he was incapable of answering.
The Labour party has had 16 different positions, and they cannot ask a question that is put 23 times. They do have six tests, but what do those six tests mean? Well, let’s listen to the words of the shadow International Trade Secretary, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), when he was asked about those six tests. He summed them up pithily in a word which in Spanish translates as “cojones” and in English rhymes with “rollocks.” I know, Mr Speaker, that there are some distinguished citizens in this country who have put on their cars a poster or sticker saying “Bollocks to Brexit”, but we now know from Labour’s own Front Bench that its official Brexit position is “bollocks.” [Interruption.] I am quoting directly from the hon. Member for Brent North, and I am sorry that he is not in his usual position, because it is not the role of the Government to intervene in how the Opposition dispose of their positions but I have to say that the shadow International Trade Secretary is a jewel and an ornament to the Labour Front Bench: he speaks the truth with perfect clarity, and in his description of Labour’s own policy may I say that across the House we are grateful to him—grateful to the constant Gardiner for the way in which he has cast light on the testicular nature of Labour’s position?
I have made no new ruling on parliamentary language. I was listening, as colleagues would expect, with my customary rapt attention to the observations of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I richly enjoyed those observations and particularly his exceptionally eloquent delivery of them, which I feel sure he must have been practising in front of the mirror for some significant number of hours, but on the subject of that which is orderly—because a number of Members were chuntering from a sedentary position about whether the use of the word beginning with b and ending in s which the Secretary of State delighted in regaling the House with was orderly—the answer is that there was nothing disorderly about the use of the word; I think it is a matter of taste.
I always enjoy the Secretary of State’s contributions from the Dispatch Box; he speaks with so much enthusiasm that I almost fall into the trap of thinking he actually believes what he is saying. On people saying things that are accurate, may I remind him of the things his campaign, Vote Leave, said during the leave campaign? It talked about state subsidy for steel; does he really believe in that? It talked about reversing changes to tax credits, expanding regional airports, more roads, new hospitals, hundreds of new schools and more places in them, raising pay for junior doctors, new submarines, maintaining all current EU spending—and that was alongside the £350 million per week for the NHS. When it comes to making promises that are questionable, the right hon. Gentleman has got an A-level.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman talks about A-levels, because if the hon. Member for Brent North is my favourite Labour Member, he must be my second favourite as he has just run through a list of many of the policies that this Government have delivered. We have delivered more outstanding school places—more than 1.8 million children are in good and outstanding schools compared with 2010. We have delivered a pay rise for junior doctors and others in the NHS. We have created new hospital places. We have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs. I will be very happy to see the hon. Gentleman feature in the next Conservative party election broadcast as he runs through the achievements that this Conservative Government have delivered in the national interest.
We can all manage a rhetorical flourish, the right hon. Gentleman better than most, but does he not agree that part of the problem we have had since the referendum is that his side and this side are spending the vast majority of their time on the rhetoric and repeating the arguments, rather than focusing on the critical issue of what we are going to be doing next? May I put it to him that this is probably not the time for rhetorical flourish, but that instead it is the time for serious discussion?
That is a great question from the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have an enormous amount of respect, and who has taken a brave and principled position on Brexit as on every issue he has faced as a Member of this House. It is right that we hold up to scrutiny some of the alternatives that are put forward, in order to say that they are not realistic and not deliverable so that we can focus on what is realistic and deliverable. He also makes the important point that Brexit creates opportunities for this House to reshape policy in a number of areas. Many people outside this place, whatever their view of the original referendum result, now want us to focus on dealing with the challenges but also on exploiting those opportunities.
I want to say one thing briefly, however, about an attempt by some Members of this House, in all sincerity, to put forward a case that would mean that instead of focusing on the opportunities and dealing with the challenges we would simply be rerunning the arguments of the past, and that is the case for a so-called people’s vote—a second referendum in other words. There are people I really like and respect who put forward this case so I hesitate to put the contrary case, but I have to, because if we were to embark on a second referendum, we would spend months in this House debating how to construct that second referendum, and there is no consensus about what the question should be.
Every single Member of this House who argues for a second referendum had previously argued to remain, so if this House supported a second referendum it would be seen by many people as an attempt by those who lost to rerun the contest, and the inference that many would draw is that we did not have faith in their judgment and in our democracy—that we thought they were somehow too foolish, too stupid, too prejudiced to make an appropriate decision. That would do real damage to our democracy, and far from allowing us in this House to concentrate on the NHS, education, the environment and jobs, I am afraid people would see this as not just an exercise in protracted navel-gazing but a thumbing of our nose at the British people. That is why I believe that this is profoundly dangerous and playing with fire in our democracy. I have enormous respect for many of those who make the case and I understand their motivation, but I ask them to use their considerable energy and intellect to focus on making sure that Brexit can work in the interests of their constituents, rather than on attempting to say to their constituents, “You got it wrong.”
Every single Minister I have spoken to privately outside the Chamber has said to me that the vote is going to go down on Tuesday. Every single Minister has then said to me, “And then we’ll bring it back a second time.” Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that if the Government lose on Tuesday they will not bring it back to this House a second time? Otherwise everything he has just said would be a pile of nonsense, wouldn’t it?
The hon. Gentleman is one of those people who is a supporter of a people’s vote and for whom I have enormous respect, and he is a keen student of this House and its procedures. We all have an opportunity and a responsibility to think hard about the decision we will take next Tuesday. If we do vote to support the withdrawal agreement, imperfect as it is—it has flaws in my eyes and in his—we will nevertheless then be able to secure a Brexit that works in everyone’s interests. That is why between now and next Tuesday evening all I am focusing on doing is talking to the hon. Gentleman and other Members of this House to convince them of the merits of this agreement. That seems to me to be, following on from the point made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), the single most important thing I can do.
I have given way to the right hon. Gentleman twice; I may do so again, but the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) has made an important point.
We are out of free movement. One of the principal concerns the British public had long before the referendum was that unrestricted free movement meant we could not control who came here on terms that the British people could determine. If we vote for the withdrawal agreement we take back control of our migration policy and can exercise it in the interests of the British people in a way that both safeguards—
Not at the moment.
We can do that in a way that both safeguards our economy and ensures we can have a humane policy on asylum. It is also the case that we will have tariff and quota-free access—as near frictionless as possible access—to the European market for goods and agri-food, and that will mean jobs will be protected and preserved across the country, and the competitive advantage that so many of our companies have will be enhanced.
The European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction in this country will end, and that means that we can choose to diverge in a huge number of areas. Services account for 80% of our economy and that figure will increase, so a growing part of our economy will be completely outside the control of the EU and its new laws. We can choose to diverge in ways that will increase our competitiveness as well as supporting people in work. We talk about workers’ rights, and they are critically important, but the most important workers’ right is the right to a job. This withdrawal agreement not only safeguards existing jobs in manufacturing but ensures that new jobs in our economy can be created in a way that reflects the dynamism of the British people.
With respect to Northern Ireland, if the EU wishes to impose new rules on it, we will have the opportunity to say no to those rules. It is critical that people appreciate that we have that power within the backstop. We will be outside the common agricultural policy, with an opportunity to have a new system of agricultural support that makes farming more productive and at the same time safeguards the environment. We will also be outside the common fisheries policy, with the opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and embed higher environmental standards.
No, I will not.
I respect the views of many Members of this House, and I know that I will have to stand down—sorry, sit down—in just a second to ensure that everyone has their say in this debate. I know that there will be speeches, as there have been throughout the debates, that will be compelling and heartfelt and that reflect the honest grappling with difficult issues that all of us have had to face.
No, I will not.
However, 17.4 million people were told in that referendum campaign that their vote would be honoured. They were told unambiguously, “What you vote for, the Government will deliver.” We have an obligation to honour that mandate. Our other obligation is to do that in a way that safeguards the interests of the British people. All of us might have a perfect version of Brexit—a change here, an alteration there—but we all have to accept our responsibility next Tuesday to decide whether we are going to honour that verdict. Are we going to make the perfect the enemy of the good? Are we going to put our own interpretation of what Brexit should be ahead of the votes of 17.4 million people, ahead of the interests of everyone in this country who has a job, and ahead of the clearly expressed democratic will of the British people? Are we going to endanger their future by either seeking to overturn that mandate or rejecting this agreement and entering what the Prime Minister has suggested would be uncharted waters?
As I pointed out earlier, if we reject this agreement—the current course on which Parliament is set—and have no deal, Britain will of course prosper eventually but it is undeniably the case, because the facts on the ground demonstrate it, that our citizens and constituents will face economic turbulence and damage. That is why, after long reflection, I have decided that we must back this agreement. We must ensure that the British people’s vote is honoured, that their futures are safeguarded and that Britain can embrace the opportunities that our people deserve. That is why I commend this agreement to the House.
I was relieved to hear that the Secretary of State’s son is making an excellent recovery. I am sure that many Members were shocked when they heard about the accident.
We are here today to debate environmental protections following Brexit. We are at a critical time for the future of Britain’s environment and the Government must be ambitious when it comes to protecting our environmental standards; otherwise, we could sleepwalk into an environmental crisis. Unfortunately, the withdrawal agreement does not contain a whole lot of action or ambition. The Government should commit today to strong, enforceable and measurable targets that go even further on environmental standards. We want to see no backsliding, only progress. The onus is on the Secretary of State to get to work immediately to make good on his many promises and to deliver a better environment, post-Brexit.
Thanks to the Labour amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Ministers have had to publish their draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. While I welcome its publication, it falls far short of what we were led to expect. Again we have warm words with no substance to underpin them. The withdrawal agreement requires us to establish effective oversight and enforcement of environmental law. Enforcement therefore relies on having an independent and adequately resourced body or bodies to hold public authorities to account. There have been warnings that we are facing a “governance gap” for environmental protection, post Brexit. Nothing can replace the full powers now held by the EU and the European Court of Justice, but a powerful watchdog would make a real difference, so it is disappointing that the proposed office for environmental protection will lack teeth and will not be directly accountable to Parliament. It must be able to enforce the law and it must be properly resourced. We need an environmental watchdog with real power, independence and scope. The office must hold Ministers to account, not do their bidding.
The Government’s track record on the environment has been woeful. They have repeatedly failed to tackle toxic air, they have given the green light to fracking and they have pushed ahead with Heathrow expansion regardless of the environmental impacts. Labour has pressed the Government repeatedly on the need to enshrine crucial environmental principles, such as the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle, into domestic law. I am pleased that these are in the draft Bill, and I am glad that Ministers have recognised their importance, but will the Secretary of State tell us whether the principles, as drafted, are legally enforceable, and what will need to be included in the national policy statement to interpret their application? He often repeats the mantra that the Government intend to leave our environment in a better state than they found it, but we need to know how the draft Bill will deliver this, with legally binding, ambitious and measurable goals and plans.
There are serious questions as to how effective the proposed office for environmental protection will be if we accept imports with lower environmental standards. The Secretary of State is well aware that some of his colleagues are pushing ahead with plans to open us up to lower-quality imported produce. Brexit cannot be used as an excuse to allow deregulation and the undercutting of our high standards. Will he give concrete guarantees that this cannot happen? Unlike the International Trade Secretary, who has dismissed concerns about chlorinated chicken, I do not see the prospect of importing food produced to lower standards as any kind of prize. The Secretary of State needs to stand up for Britain.
On that point about ensuring that there is no lowering of standards in any post-Brexit trade deals, will my hon. Friend be supporting my new clause 1 to the Agriculture Bill and a similar amendment that the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has tabled, to make absolutely sure that we do not see a lowering of standards for food coming into this country? As we saw at the Oxford farming conference last week, farmers certainly do not want that to happen either.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. A number of amendments have been tabled to the Agriculture Bill and we are looking at them closely. Her new clause is important, and we are taking a close look at it. It would be useful to have a conversation with her about it at a later date.
The suggestion at the heart of what the hon. Lady is saying is that she has no confidence in the Labour party to champion the cause of the British people on workers’ rights or environmental standards. There should surely be a post-Brexit competition between Labour and the Conservatives on championing those causes, and any political party wanting to slash standards would be condemned by the British people. She should have more confidence in the Labour party.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that my party does not believe that the agreement on the table is good enough. If it is voted down next week, as many in this House believe it will be, we should go back to the country and have a general election, so that my party can actually look forward to working for a better deal.
I will make some progress, because many Members want to speak and the Secretary of State was generous with his time.
The Prime Minister said that the environment Bill will be world leading, so where is the duty and obligation within the agreement to reduce the UK’s global environmental footprint? Labour wants to see good-quality, affordable food available to all but that must not come at the expense of environmental and animal welfare standards, workers’ rights or societal protections.
The managing director of Arlo Foods warned that a no-deal Brexit would see shortages of products and a sharp rise in prices, turning everyday staples like butter, yoghurt, cheese and infant formula into occasional luxuries. Does the hon. Lady therefore agree that, by voting against this deal, the Labour party risks that outcome?
Labour does not want no deal. We understand the risks that that would bring, which is why we are saying that if the Prime Minister’s deal is voted down next week, we should go for a general election. However, we also think that the Prime Minister has had nearly two years to negotiate this deal. She could have had something much better. It is unacceptable that we have so little after two years.
I will make some progress because many people want to speak.
The Government have failed to put in place any measures in the Trade or Agriculture Bills to ensure that all food and agricultural products imported into the UK will be produced to standards equivalent to our domestic ones. We want British food production to go from strength to strength while protecting our precious natural environment, but that will not happen if Ministers insist on kowtowing to Donald Trump.
On our future relationship with the EU, what mechanisms do the Government intend to put in place to enable continued co-operation on all environmental issues, from biodiversity to collaboration on tackling climate change? Will we continue to participate in the European Environment Agency and the European Chemicals Agency?
On standards, is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am that, if we do Brexit, rather than negotiating with the US as part of team EU, which is a big conglomerate, we will be in a much weaker position on food standards, chlorinated chicken and so on? Indeed, I made the point to the Secretary of State about frackers being able to sue us because we will be outside the orbit of the European Court of Justice.
Like me, the hon. Lady wants to maintain environmental standards, to have high animal welfare standards and to continue co-operation with Europe on chemicals, for example. However, unless there is a withdrawal agreement, the EU has made it clear that we cannot make progress on the future relationship to agree to such things. Will she please confirm why Labour will not support the withdrawal agreement? We cannot get on with other negotiations without it.
I think we have made it pretty clear why we are not supporting the withdrawal agreement. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) made that quite clear in the debate yesterday and I do not want to get into all those arguments again when they have already been clearly expressed on the Floor of the House.
The point is that this is about not just the withdrawal agreement, but the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. The political declaration is so imprecise that it could mean absolutely anything to anybody. There is no security treaty, which is what the Prime Minister was demanding, and there is no surety as to what we will have on the European arrest warrant. That is why we cannot support what is frankly a pig in a poke.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend puts the argument in a nutshell. The political declaration contains only one paragraph referring to protecting rights and standards, which just shows how low down the list of priorities they are for the Government.
What do the Government have planned to replace current EU funding for nature conservation, low-carbon infrastructure, and environmental research and innovation? We also await the return of the Fisheries Bill on Report, so how do the Government intend to safeguard and manage our marine environment, protecting our healthy seas and sustainable fish stocks? British wildlife is also in freefall, so we need the Government to set ambitious and measurable goals to provide certainty for the future of our natural world. We need an action plan and an ambitious timescale in which to deliver the environmental protections that we so desperately need. We need legally binding targets to guarantee that Britain’s high environmental standards cannot be threatened.
It is also essential to keep in step with the EU on environmental standards post Brexit and we need to use the status quo as the starting point. We must not pick and choose which standards to apply—we need all of them. We cannot have divergence on standards or weaker arrangements than those that we currently uphold. We must ensure that the rights enshrined in law are not just principles. The work of the European Union and its institutions has enhanced Britain’s environment for decades and experts are saying that the Government’s proposals are, unfortunately, riddled with loopholes and undermined by vague aspirations that simply do not go far enough in tackling the challenges we face. Environmental organisations do not believe that the withdrawal agreement or the draft environment Bill, as they currently stand, will even scratch the surface when it comes to leaving the environment in a better state. The end result has been watered down and fails to match the powers held by the EU and the European Court of Justice. How does the Secretary of State intend to rectify that?
We also need future environmental policies that go together with a comprehensive future food policy, protecting and enhancing our environment while improving farm productivity and ensuring that we have a stable supply of high-quality British food. Brexit risks setting the UK back, despite all the progress made on environmental protections through our membership of the EU, and the environment Bill presents an opportunity to mitigate those risks. However, that will happen only if the Government go back to the drawing board to ensure that the Bill is stronger and more ambitious and that it fulfils the aspirations previously set out by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister.
The state of Britain’s environment is at a historic crossroads and Brexit cannot be used as an excuse to veer off towards a future of lowered standards that would put our environment at risk. We need to build on the progress we have made so far, which means the Government must set out a robust action plan detailing exactly how they will leave the environment in a better state than they found it. What has been laid before us so far does not do that, and it is therefore not acceptable to the Opposition. It is time for the Secretary of State to fulfil his warm words before Britain’s environment pays the price for his Government’s failure.
It is a privilege to be called to speak immediately after two important speeches from each of the Front Benches.
I campaigned in favour of Britain remaining a member in 1975. I was too young to vote, but I put leaflets through doors that clearly said we would remain a member of a common market of independent trading states and that nothing about our membership would in any way affect the sovereignty of this Parliament, of which I am proud to be a Member. Unfortunately, in the 40 years since that referendum, we have moved steadily away from that vision, with more and more power given over to Brussels. It is essentially for that reason that I voted against the Maastricht treaty when I was first elected to this place and that I campaigned to leave in the last referendum, in which I was proud to serve on the campaign committee under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s subsequent commitments in her Florence and Lancaster House speeches on the red lines that the Government cannot breach in our negotiations, and I fought the election on a manifesto making it clear that we are leaving the European Union and that that includes leaving the single market and the customs union.
The many benefits of leaving the European Union are summed up—as we were reminded by the Channel 4 drama on Monday, which had an interesting portrayal of the Secretary of State—by those three words: “Take back control.” There is no doubt that one of the referendum issues that featured in my constituency is immigration, as summed up in the “Taking back control of our borders” White Paper, but I am not opposed to immigration, which has brought great value to this country.
The farmers and horticulturalists I represent in Essex rely on immigrant labour, particularly seasonal labour, and I understand their concern that that should continue. Equally, like most farmers, as the Secretary of State said, the majority of them voted to leave because they embrace the idea of competing in world markets, being outside the CAP and, instead of being subsidised, receiving payment on the basis of their contribution to the public good, which is a far better system.
The ability for my right hon. Friend to set our policy in this area, as there will be such an ability for every other Secretary of State, is one of the great benefits of our gaining our freedom. That is one reason why I am not attracted to the Norway option that some have suggested, and that I understand my right hon. Friend has occasionally thought about. We on the Exiting the European Union Committee discovered in taking evidence from Norwegian parliamentarians that Norway is still bound by European regulations, and of course freedom of movement is one of those requirements.
The vote was essentially about sovereignty. It was a vote to remove the overall jurisdiction of the ECJ. My Select Committee colleagues and I have been to see Michel Barnier several times, and he is very clear that the Prime Minister’s red lines rule out the UK having membership of the European economic area or an agreement similar to those of Norway and Turkey. He told us that the only way in which the UK would not breach its red lines in continuing to have a relationship with the European Union is on the basis of an agreement like the one signed with Canada. He showed us a proposal that not only had a Canada-style trade agreement but had parallel agreements covering security, law and order co-operation and data transfer. Indeed, he set out a scenario almost identical to the one I would have described had I been asked what kind of relationship I wanted with the European Union.
The only problem was that of Northern Ireland and what would happen at the Northern Ireland border. The Prime Minister accepted that that was an insuperable obstacle, and she therefore made the Chequers proposal. I could not support that proposal principally because it maintained the common rulebook, which would mean still having to abide by EU regulations. The Government have shown a willingness to accept further lock-ins, and under amendment (p), tabled by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), we would have to continue to accept EU regulations in employment law.
Amendment (p), which I support, does not say that we should automatically harmonise with the EU as it strengthens protections in these areas. What it says is that, when protections are strengthened, it will come back for this House to debate and vote on those issues. That means Parliament is still taking back control.
As I understand it, amendment (p) would require us to accept that all existing EU regulations in this area will be maintained. I do not necessarily say that I am in favour of removing any of those regulations, although it is ironic that, when we debated the Maastricht treaty back in 1992, one of the arguments made by the then Conservative Government under John Major was that we had obtained an opt-out from the social chapter and that we would not be bound by the European employment and social regulations. We were told that we had achieved a great prize. Interestingly, of course, it was accepted that we could be part of what then became the European Union without being part of the social chapter. The indivisibility of freedoms is applicable only when it suits the European Union, and not when it does not.
There are many things about the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration that I do not like. I do not like the fact that we appear to be signing up to paying out £39 billion without any guarantee on what the future arrangement will look like. I do not like the fact that the ECJ will continue to have a say for a considerable period—some 20 years. I do not like the trading relationship described in the political declaration, which seems to be based on Chequers and its continuing adherence to the common rulebook. However, all those aspects could be dealt with in the subsequent negotiations during the transition period, with the exception of money, which is in the withdrawal agreement. The future arrangements can be discussed during the transition period because they are part of the political declaration, which is not legally binding.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the money is not £39 billion? There is no cash limit, no agreed amount, in the agreement, and there are huge powers for the EU to keep sending us bills of an undescribed amount for decades. It will be a lot more than £39 billion.
I fear my right hon. Friend may well be right. He highlights the risk we run in making that commitment.
I am willing to accept an ongoing payment, so long as an eventual exit date is set out. I am willing to accept some continuing role for the ECJ on things like citizens’ rights. However, the problem is in the withdrawal agreement, which is legally binding and cannot be changed. I am afraid that, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, it is the backstop. It is the fact that we would be locked into a customs union without any ability to leave it unless we obtain the agreement of the European Union. That makes trade agreements essentially impossible. One of the great opportunities of leaving the European Union is the opportunity to sign trade agreements with those countries that the European Union has been trying to sign trade agreements with for decades but has still not succeeded—China, Brazil, India, the United States of America, Indonesia—the countries that will be the biggest economies in the world over the course of the next 10 or 20 years.
I was aware of that, which is why I did not include them, but the countries whose names I just read out are likely to be the five biggest economies in the world. We know that the EU has been trying to sign a deal with China and a deal with America, and has failed so far to do so, principally because it requires the agreement of every single member state, and we have seen how difficult that can be.
Also, of course, the provision of the backstop creates the one thing that the Prime Minister said she could never accept under any circumstances—a border down the Irish sea. If the Northern Ireland protocol and the backstop could be taken out of the withdrawal agreement and put into that basket of issues that we shall settle in the course of the transitional period, as part of the arrangement covering our future agreement for trade with the European Union, that would remove the problem. It is where it ought to be. It was always daft that the Northern Ireland border issue could be determined before we knew what was going to be in the future trade agreement. The Prime Minister herself has now accepted that, actually, over the course of the two years, it should be possible to find a solution that will allow free movement back and forth across that border, on the basis of technology, so the Government think that can be done in the next two years. If we could only get it out of the withdrawal agreement, we would then have the time in which we could demonstrate that it would never be necessary.
I operated a hard border in Northern Ireland for two years. We stopped every car, we searched every car, we checked every person. I absolutely believe it is perfectly possible for there to be free movement across that border, given willingness on both sides and the use of new techniques, particularly things like pre-registration and number- plate recognition. I think that border does not need to be hard.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, when he was serving his country in Northern Ireland, we had to have controls on the movement of people because we were facing a serious terrorist threat. Nobody is suggesting controls on the movement of people now. There is no suggestion that we are going to need any measures of that kind. We are talking about the movement of goods.
I do not want to detain the House any longer because a lot of Members want to speak. As I said, the problem is that the backstop is in the agreement and the agreement cannot be changed once it is passed, because it is a legally binding undertaking. If only the Government could find a way of taking the backstop out and putting it into those issues that we will try to resolve over the course of the next two years, I would be happy—well, not happy, but willing perhaps—to support the motion on Tuesday. But unless that can be done, I am afraid that I cannot.
May I start by saying to the Secretary of State that we were all distressed when we heard the news of his son’s accident over Christmas, and we wish him all the best for his recovery? We do, of course, enjoy the right hon. Gentleman at the Dispatch Box. That was a bravura performance—such a comedy turn. He referenced Tommy Cooper. I think of him more as a Frank Carson, because it’s the way he tells ’em, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The line that I enjoyed best—it was the way he told it—was the one where he said that the EU “will look on enviously at the UK with this Brexit.” That was the best killer line in that speech, because we can almost hear the shrieks of laughter coming across the North sea and the English channel as they observe the plight of this pitiful nation. They are not envious of us; they are feeling sorry for us because we have ended in this pitiful state. If any of them were even thinking of following the United Kingdom’s example, they will look at this chaotic Government and decide, “Never in a million years will we do that.” It is the best lesson to any other nation never, ever to engage in such an action.
I loathe the Government’s Brexit—I loathe it totally and utterly, from the self-defeating, isolating ugliness of the project to the all-consuming, chaotic humourlessness, to the disgusting way that they are treating the 3.6 million EU nationals who are among our friends, our colleagues and our family members. I despair at what we are doing. I will observe and look at their Brexit deal, but I see no redeeming qualities or features to what this Government are doing with this absurd Brexit. The fact that my country so overwhelmingly rejected this Brexit makes me despair even more of what this Government are doing.
The only reason, the Government tell us, that we should be supporting this paltry document is that it is better than a no deal. My big toe is better than a no deal; my broken finger is better than a no deal, but I am not asking the House to support either of these personal artefacts. What vision! What ambition! Vote for the Prime Minister’s deal because it is better than no deal! That is the only reason that we seem to be given, in successive speeches by Government supporters and Ministers, for why we should be doing this.
That is a gross generalisation. The reality is that 52% of this country voted to leave, and that is what this deal does. But also, importantly, 48% did not, and this deal will actually see us continue with our relationship with the EU, and in fact deepen it in many regards. [Interruption.] Security.
It does not even start to—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman does not need to address his points to me. I am beyond redemption. He should turn his attention to some of his hon. Friends and colleagues on his own Benches, and I invite him to do that. I think they are all thoroughly looking forward to his speech. His efforts may be more fruitful with them than they are likely to be with me, because I shall go on to explain why this deal is totally, absolutely and utterly unacceptable to me, to my constituents and to the vast majority of the Scottish people.
I have never seen another example where it has been the main policy intention of a Government to intentionally impoverish, with such chaotic abandon, the people they are notionally there to serve. When the history books judge this little period of British history, in the late teens in this century, they will only ever conclude that this is the greatest example of political, cultural and economic self-harm that has ever been committed by a nation unto a nation.
The fact that we have got to this point will be forever remembered as the greatest single failure of any modern Government in post-war history. And you remember why we are doing this—remember why all this started? [Laughter.] They laugh. A referendum. It was supposed to heal the divisions within the Conservative party on the issue of the European Union. Ten out of ten for that, Mr Speaker. What an absolute and resounding success. Not only have they further divided their rotten party, but they have gone and divided a nation and then taken that nation to the very brink. And now, of course, we observe the abyss on the other side of that brink, in all its grotesque horror.
If we look at the Brexit clock—
This is where we are with the Conservatives, when they ask banal, stupid questions such as that. The hon. Lady asks me about the referendum. Let me tell her about referendums. We have had two referendums in Scotland. In the first referendum, the people of Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] They like that. Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom. We then had a referendum on EU membership, where the nation—the nation—of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. We have not got what we wanted in this referendum, and that means that we have a nation completely and utterly alienated from what the Brexit Tories are doing to us. That is a difficult issue that, at some point, they will have to confront, just as, at some point, the Scottish people will have to make some sort of constitutional assessment of it, because this cannot stand. We cannot have a nation being taken out of a Union that it values and cherishes, against the national collective will of the people of that nation.
I say candidly to the right hon. Gentleman that the EU referendum had at its very core—at its cold, beating heart—the case of isolationism and immigration. It was about stopping people coming to this country. That defined every single case for rotten Brexit—every reference was about ending freedom of movement, which is presented as the great prize of this deal and this Brexit. What Scotland wants to do is reach out to the world and be part of an international community, to demonstrate our internationalism and what our sense of community is about. There is the right hon. Gentleman’s type of nationalism and then there is my type of all-encompassing international solidarity.
My area, the west midlands, is massively diverse. I have spent 10 years knocking on doors all over the midlands and all across Birmingham. The issue has nothing to do with immigration—it is to do with sovereignty. That is why people voted to leave. Come with me to the Black Country, Coventry or Birmingham, and speak to voters on the doorsteps. That is what they will tell you.
I almost wish that was true—that the debate had been about sovereignty and the great things this country could do. All I ever saw was the disgusting and nauseating posters about immigration; all I saw in the right-wing press was about that issue. Every time I went on a hustings with a Conservative Member of Parliament, it was all about ending freedom of movement and controlling immigration. That was all I heard. That was the repeated message, again, again and again.
Like me, and I presume everyone else in the Chamber, my hon. Friend got a begging email from the Prime Minister shortly before the first attempt to push this through. It listed the benefits of her deal and No. 1—top of the list of the Prime Minister’s reasons for supporting the deal—was, was it not, ending freedom of movement. Did my hon. Friend get a different set of priorities? Is it possible that the Prime Minister gave us a priority that we could not support at the top of the list and gave something different to those who now deny that the referendum was about ending freedom of movement?
Absolutely; I did get that correspondence from the Prime Minister. I do not know why we are even trying to debate and contest the fact as it has been said by the Prime Minister and everybody on their feet, including the Secretary of State: the great prize of this deal, of this Brexit, is ending freedom of movement. I will briefly come to the consequences of that; they are dire for my nation and for the businesses that depend on freedom of movement. This is absolutely appalling for the young people who will have their rights restricted.
I want to talk about the Brexit clock, which is interesting. Not only are we now at the cliff edge—the front wheels are actually starting to dangle over, yet the clown shoes are still pressing on the accelerator—but a no-deal Brexit is now a real possibility and the consequences are becoming reality as the Government try to run the clock down.
We know about the food shortages, the running out of medicines, the turning of the south-east of England into a giant lorry park and all the real possibilities of leaving without a deal, yet the Government casually prepare for it. They apply millions of pounds to try to deal with it. They talk about it as if it were a realistic prospect—“Don’t worry your little British heads about it. You’ll be absolutely fine if we leave without a deal.” A no deal may be the life’s work and ambition of some of the extreme Brexiteers in this Chamber, but there are dire consequences for the constituents we serve. Those Brexiteers may be indulging in their European Union departure fantasies, but our constituents will have to pay.
The House is absolutely right not to allow that. The vote on Monday evening was very important. It indicates to the Government, lest they did not know, that no deal is unacceptable to the vast majority of this House. I am looking at some of the Scottish Conservatives—not one of them voted for stopping a no deal and against exposing their own constituents to the prospect of the appalling things that would follow. For that, they will pay a heavy price.
Companies in Gordon are actually making preparations for Brexit. If the hon. Gentleman really wants to avoid no deal, he should get behind the Prime Minister and support her deal. That would be in the national interest. Let me ask him: what preparations are the Scottish Government, as a responsible Government of Scotland, making for the possibility of no deal? Are they doing anything?
I share an office with the Deputy First Minister; I have seen some of the things he has had to deal with and some of the consequences there would be for Scotland. I do not think the hon. Gentleman fully understands what is at stake. Does he understand the idea of food shortages or civil unrest? Police forces have been activated in this country to ensure that that will be contained and dealt with. Those are the prospects for his constituents, yet he is prepared to expose them to that.
I want to talk a bit about my nation; it is great that some Scottish Conservatives are here and so engaged in this conversation. My country wanted absolutely nothing to do with this.
I will make a bit of progress, then give way to the hon. Gentleman because I quite like him too.
We returned one Member of Parliament with a mandate to fulfil an EU referendum. Nearly every single one of Scotland’s Members of Parliament voted against the EU (Referendum) Bill; nearly every single one of Scotland’s Members of Parliament voted to ensure that we would not trigger article 50. When we were eventually obliged to have that referendum in Scotland, Scotland voted emphatically and overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union—62% to 38%, which is the most emphatic result in any of the nations of the United Kingdom.
I was waiting for the famous 62% figure, which is often repeated, to come up. Does the hon. Gentleman also recognise that in the 2017 general election, 56% of Scottish voters voted for either the Conservatives or Labour, which, at the time at least, was committed to delivering on Brexit?
I have heard Conservatives do this before: they include the Labour party in the figures. If the hon. Gentleman knows what the Labour party’s intentions are with Brexit, he is a lot further down the road than I am. It is a bit disingenuous to include a clueless Labour party in those numbers.
We had the most emphatic vote in the United Kingdom, so we might think—as part of the family of nations and being asked to lead, not leave, the United Kingdom—that that vote would have been taken into account and acknowledged. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. Our remain vote has been contemptuously ignored and every effort to soften the blow to a remain nation has been dismissed, with every proposal binned before the ink was even dry. In the process, we are witnessing the undermining of our political institution with a power grab and the binning of conventions designed to protect the integrity of our Parliament. Then the Government had the gall to tell us four years ago that the only way Scotland could stay in the European Union was to vote no in our independence referendum. We now see the consequences of that.
We look at the example of independent Ireland where the weight of the EU has stood in solidarity and support of one of its members and backed it to the hilt. Compare and contrast that to dependent Scotland within the UK, whose views and interests have been ignored and whose institutions have been systematically diminished as a junior partner in this chaotic Union.
This is an exclusively Tory deal. This Brexit crisis was designed, administered and delivered by the Conservatives. Even with all the last-minute overtures they have made, they have taken no interest in working with others or properly consulting and considering the views of other parties or Governments across the United Kingdom. This chaos is theirs to own, and it will define the Conservatives for a generation. It is a Tory Brexit—forever and a day, they are now the Brexit Tories.
As for Labour, I am not even yet sure whether it is a party of Brexit or against Brexit. I know it has a new position today. [Interruption.] The Secretary State has actually scarpered off, as he usually does when the third party is on its feet. That is a massive disrespect, isn’t it? The third party is on its feet, and the Secretary of State scampers out of the House. That is so consistent with this Government.
Let me return to my friends in the Labour party, because I think this is the 17th position they have taken on Brexit. They have tried to create a policy of constructive ambiguity, and I am constructively ambiguous about their position. I presume that their view is still to respect the result, and that it is still their intention to take the UK out of the EU. I know I often refer to my Scottish Conservative friends, but if that is the case, it will be dire for Scottish Labour, which has been shown that if Labour supports Brexit, its support in Scotland will fall to 15%.
I have already mentioned immigration, and we know that ending freedom of movement is the big prize in this country. The sheer dishonesty of the immigration question means that the Government cannot even bring themselves to acknowledge that what we do to EU nationals with restricted freedom of movement, the EU will do to the UK. I have tried to get the Prime Minister to accept that that is the case, because it means that the rights that we across the House have all enjoyed to live, to work, and to love across a continent of 27 nations, freely and without any restriction, will be denied to our young people, our children and future generations. The Government cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that, and to look the young people of this country in the eye and tell them that this change will apply equally to them. If any Conservative Member wishes to say that they acknowledge that, I will happily take an intervention —they were rushing to intervene earlier on.
That is an important point, and I genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as I share some of those concerns. Does he accept, however, that parts of England had extremely high levels of EU immigration, and although I always welcomed EU immigration—particularly from eastern Europe and so on—it is legitimate for any community faced with such high numbers to express concern about that, and we as politicians should never be deaf to those concerns?
I do not think I heard the hon. Gentleman say that this change will apply to young people in his constituency as they try possibly to make their lives in Europe. That was all I wanted to hear. I know that he has concerns about immigration, but our population growth in Scotland depends on immigration, and if we end freedom of movement, every single business in our economy will take a massive hit. Things are different in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and in my nation of Scotland—we require different things. That is why we have called, repeatedly and consistently, for the devolution of immigration so that we can look after those interests, just as he looks after the interests of his constituency.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I am conscious that I am taking up a lot of time, so I will make a bit of progress.
What happens next? That is the really intriguing question. Like a trapped beast, the Government might lash out and try to take the whole House down with them in an attempt to punish the country for its insubordination. Compromised by contradictory tensions within their own ranks, it is rare that we get a glimpse of a Government and party collapsing so spectacularly as we have seen over the past few weeks. They have lost all right and authority, and their ability to govern is almost gone. They have lost successive debates on important issues.
The Government will lose the vote next week—it seems there is nothing they can do to avoid that. As a result of the vote yesterday, they will have to come to the House with alternative options for how to deal with the situation, but there are two things that they could do to immediately to respond to that defeat. First, they could revoke article 50, which they can now do unilaterally because of the work done by some of my hon. Friends and colleagues. The second thing is a bit harder: ask the European Union for an extension to article 50 so that something can be cobbled together to try to keep the issue alive and open for debate. The Government have to do one of those two things, and the important point is how they deal strategically with their position.
I have considered all the different outcomes possible for the Government, and none of them is good—none of them works for this Government because each ensures that some massive constituency will emerge in opposition—but one thing that we have in Scotland is our own particular solution. We have a way out of this Brexit crisis. We do not have to go down with this Tory ship. We can make our own decisions and relationships with Europe. Increasingly, as this Government continue to collapse, as the Brexit options continue to fall in on them and as we see the disaster that is emerging, the choice of independence for our nation becomes more and more appealing. As we go forward into this year, it will soon become the majority option in our country, and soon we will have the opportunity to foster our own sustainable relationship with the European Union.
I will speak about public trust in Parliament as a backdrop to this debate. I hope you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, if I start by paying tribute to our former colleague, the late, great Mark Wolfson, who served Sevenoaks with great distinction between 1979 and 1997. He was a great friend and parliamentary mentor to me.
I approach the debate with the clear principle—a principle that long ago inspired me as the great, great, great, great nephew of the “Grand Old Man” Gladstone—that because of a great and glorious truth, this Parliament is sovereign. I still believe that elected MPs, as the sovereign representatives of our constituencies, serve in the highest office, and that to be elected to this House is one of the great privileges and responsibilities that our citizens can bestow. This is a moment to remember that.
Parliament is the institution that, more than any other, defends the liberties and order that we enjoy. Parliament historically defied the tyranny of the King, and in the 19th century, it was Parliament that granted rights to so many who had been denied them. Parliament said that all of us are entitled to equal human rights. In moments of crisis, Parliament has always come together, with parties coming together to put country before party. It is now Parliament that confronts this crisis and the biggest decision facing our generation. It is a decision that will redefine Britain’s place in the world and, almost more importantly, the trust of a whole generation in our democratic Parliament and politics.
Parliament—yes, a majority of us in this House—decided to ask the people, and in June 2016, they gave us their answer. For that reason, I remain deeply opposed to a second referendum. The people have spoken and it is our job to implement their instruction. However, that instruction was not clear. People voted to leave by a narrow margin. In my constituency, 58% wished to leave, but nationally the result was 52% to 48%. That is not an overwhelming, thumping majority—it was a narrow margin. Many of my constituents who voted to leave said to me, “George, I voted to join a common market; I did not want to be in a political union.” Those people who voted to leave wanted to be in a common market. I put it to the House that there is no majority in the country for taking the result as an instruction unilaterally to pull ourselves out of all European institutions, including by cutting ourselves off from the single market. That is not our mandate, although we do have a duty to implement the will of the people we serve.
Public trust in our politics and parliamentary democracy is at a dangerous low. As well as getting the outcome right, we must ensure that we conduct ourselves in the spirit required of the day—a spirit of repairing the damage done by that appalling referendum campaign, reuniting a divided nation, and restoring trust in Parliament and parliamentary democracy, not least for those who did not get to vote in that referendum and the people whose futures and interests we will shape.
I voted remain in 2016, and as a Minister responsible for a £60 billion industry employing 250,000 people, in which not one man or woman I could find supported leaving, I felt that was my duty. As the MP for Mid Norfolk, I was—and remain—deeply worried about the impact of this decision on our economy and on the economic prospects of my citizens and constituents. However, I always vowed to respect the result, and I have done so ever since the referendum.
I may have voted remain, but in the previous Parliament and the coalition I was one of the leading champions of European reform. Colleagues may remember that I led the Fresh Start Group report, warning of the dangers of Europe’s precautionary principle on holding back UK leadership in science and innovation, which threatened to risk a European dark age at a time when the world is embracing extraordinary technologies in agricultural genetics, accelerated access for new medicines and genomics. Such technologies can transform the life chances of our global citizens. It is a time when we in the UK, through Europe, could lead on taking those technologies around the world. I fought this battle as a Back Bencher and then as a Minister, but the plea for a more innovative and enterprising Europe fell largely on deaf ears.
Yes, I was a remainer, but one who understood all too well the flaws of the European Union. Let no one accuse me of being a lily-livered, root-and-branch pro-European—I am not. [Interruption.] And neither am I a snowflake, as someone chunters from my side of the Chamber. I wanted Britain to lead the reform of Europe so that we, together with Europe, could embrace the extraordinary opportunities for UK science and innovation around the world in agri-tech, health-tech and clean-tech; in food, medicine and energy; to feed, heal and fuel; and to take around the world the technologies that this country leads in, and that, with our European scientific partners, could help to accelerate global development.
The people have spoken and now we have to deliver. The truth is that all parties are split. It is a truth that Opposition Front Benchers would do well to confront. I know that it suits them to position themselves as remainers in London and the south-east, and as Brexiteers up north, but the truth is that all parties are split. I believe that we ought to be pursuing this in the spirit of cross-party co-operation. In my view, we always needed a cross-party council of Brexit, and I was appalled to hear the other day that the shadow Brexit Secretary has apparently received no contact from Ministers about the possible basis of an agreement. It seems to me that unless we reach out across the House, listen to the electorate and signal that we will put party behind country, we are unlikely to find a solution. We have less than 100 days. We are running out of time. There is an angry mob outside Parliament, and they speak for an angriness in the nation. We need an orderly withdrawal.
Despite our differences, it seems to me that we are all agreed on one thing: this deal is not perfect. I have said so myself and I have many reservations. I had hoped that the Prime Minister would come back from Europe before Christmas with a concession on the backstop. She has come back with a concession, and I hope that there will be more before the vote next week. Let me be clear that I have supported no deal as an option for two and a half years in order to get the best deal. The negotiation is over. In my view, it would be woefully irresponsible of the Government to pursue no deal. I will do everything to ensure, yes, that we leave the European Union with an orderly deal, but not with no deal. When I hear Lord Wolfson, an ardent Brexiteer, warn as the chief executive of Next that the cost of food and clothes—basics that our constituents rely on—would go up dramatically with a no-deal Brexit, when I hear the Royal Society warn that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for our science and when I hear the National Farmers Union warn that British agricultural would be hit without a deal, with a potential trade embargo affecting our £3 billion food export industry, please do not accuse me of “Project Fear”; this is serious “Project Business” for the people we serve.
If the Prime Minister’s deal does not pass next week, it seems to me that we need a plan B, and I have made it very clear that I personally support colleagues on both sides of the House pushing for the European Free Trade Association model. It would give us access to the single market, but we would be out of the customs union and we would have freedom to do trade deals and to take back control of farming and fishing. Yes, it has a problem, which is free movement, but remember that it is the free movement of workers, not citizens, and I believe that it would require—I relish this—a bold package of welfare eligibility reforms, along with skills and training reforms, here in the UK.
I will, with a heavy heart, vote for this deal on Tuesday, because we are now in the dying stages and leaving with no deal is unconscionable, but I beg colleagues to ask their Front Benchers to work together across the House in pursuit of something we can all be proud of.
I want to say at the outset that the Government are now in such a position that we need a general election. They no longer have any authority, they no longer have a majority and, it seems to me, they no longer serve any useful purpose.
Before making my main points, I want to take issue with something the Secretary of State said in his opening speech—the right hon. Gentleman has unfortunately had to leave the Chamber. Essentially, he argued that a second referendum would be undemocratic. The premise of the whole argument was that the deal people voted for in 2016, or that they thought they were voting for, will be delivered by the Prime Minister’s deal, but it will not. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, as indeed does every Member of the House who campaigned in the referendum. We all know that the deal has no bearing on the reasons people voted to leave the European Union, and we should be clear about that. I do not think that it would be undemocratic to go back to the people almost three years later and ask, “Is this exactly what you voted for? Is this what you want to happen?” My first priority, because of what I have said about the Government, is to have a general election. If that is not going to happen, the next best thing, almost certainly, has to be a referendum.
I want to talk about two things. First, I want us to consider Britain’s place in the world. Winston Churchill, in his speech to the Tory party conference in 1948—it has been quoted repeatedly, but I think it is worth revisiting—described “three majestic circles” in the following terms:
“The first circle for us is naturally the British Commonwealth and Empire, with all that that comprises. Then there is also the English-speaking world in which we, Canada, and the other British Dominions and the United States play so important a part. And finally there is United Europe.”
Obviously, so much has changed since then that we cannot stick to that as a rigid formula, and I would not argue that we should do so, but let us quickly take each one of those circles in turn. The United States and Canada are both much more complicated places and have new networks of connections between them and with South America. Of course, in the current circumstances, as others have said, the idea that we can have a truly constructive relationship with the present US Administration beggars belief.
The English-speaking world has changed considerably. Our trade and relationship with the Commonwealth, for example with Australia, New Zealand and Canada, are now dramatically different. The idea that we could suddenly revive all those old relationships and everything will be fine is purely fanciful.
We still have, while we are a member of it, a relationship with the European Union. That does give us a bigger say in what happens around the world, because it is not just plucky little Britain as an island state saying something; it is often something we can say in concert with the rest of the European Union. My first point is therefore that we will be a diminished country in the world after we leave the European Union.
Secondly, I want to address some of the concerns that constituents raised with me on the doorstep during the referendum campaign. Yes, the main issue was immigration. It was not just about free movement of labour, although some people did mention that; it was about immigration in general. Another issue was the lack of opportunity for young people, which is a serious problem for many young people in my constituency. Another issue was the need to revive our towns and town centres, and not just in economic terms but with regard to the built environment. Concerns were raised about workers’ rights, particularly by those active in trade unions, and of course I agree on that. Concerns were also raised about the environment, which is the subject of today’s debate.
I firmly believe that we can get immigration right and better, and that the time is now propitious for us to do so, with Europe. We could implement cross-Europe policies to deal with migrant labour and those who seek asylum through other ports in Europe. The time is right for us to get a good agreement on that with Europe. In recent weeks, my party and the Government have started to publish new immigration policies. Let me be clear: I am not anti-immigration, but I accept that we have to have some kind of rational policy on it.
On education, health and all these other issues, the country is crying out for change and for new opportunities for young people. Why do we have to leave the European Union to get that? We do not have to. If we put forward to the British people a positive programme that still involves our being part of the European Union, they would probably want to go for it. They should certainly be given the opportunity to do so. Our future lies in our hands, but it does not necessarily lie outside the European Union.
Order. Just before I call the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) to make the next contribution, I am sorry to remind Opposition Members of what they will have already seen for themselves: namely, that the speech-time facility is not functioning. I am advised that it will not be repaired until the House is not sitting. Opposition Members, who will doubtless be very aggrieved, cannot go on for as long as they want, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) chunters hopefully from a sedentary position. They are disadvantaged, but they will have to be assisted by the Whip on duty, who can gesticulate as and when he or she thinks fit. That is a practice not entirely unknown or uncongenial, in my experience, to a Whip.
I approach this debate very much conscious of the wide range of views held in the House. As we are on the second leg of this debate, following December’s discussions, this is a pertinent moment to go back to what it is we are here to focus on vis-à-vis the withdrawal agreement and how we got here. Of course, I approach this debate very much with the referendum result in mind. Nearly three years ago, this country quite remarkably put on the greatest show of democracy that we have seen, resulting in the majority—more than 17 million people—voting yes to take back control of our country. They made that choice against a range of forecasts and, to be quite crude, some pessimistic propaganda. They took a bold and brave decision to instruct us Members of Parliament, in this House and throughout the country, to take a new and different path. It was a message to us to reset the political system.
I am so grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way so early in her speech. Does she agree that, whether people voted leave or remain, at no point during the referendum campaign was there a suggestion that the rights of EU nationals who had been resident in this country, lawfully exercising their treaty rights prior to any prospective Brexit day, should be affected if the referendum resulted in a vote to leave?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that point. That was never a feature of the campaign at all. Of course, what did figure in the minds of the British public, irrespective of how they voted, was that the political system—us—had for far too long siphoned power away from voters and almost denuded political decision making in this country. That is where they wanted to see us come together. At the core of the vote was a desire to see our democratic, economic and political freedoms returned to our institutions and, of course, for them to see sovereignty returned, too.
The vote to leave was an endorsement not of a political individual, party or platform, but of our country. It was an expression of self-confidence in where we could go in terms of our place in the world. Amid the debates that we are currently having, the rhetoric now, the wider discussions of a second referendum or even, as some may say, attempts to block Brexit, and amid the stories in the media and a continuation of fear and scare-stories, the essence of choice—the choice that people wanted to see—is being lost. Of course, there are a wide range of views in the House, and I respect all right hon. and hon. colleagues who want their voices to be heard, but we should also remember that Parliament gave the people a choice, and Parliament voted to trigger article 50 and to leave the European Union. We are now focused on fulfilling those commitments.
That brings me to the deal that has been put forward. Of course, many of us want to see Brexit delivered, and we were impressed by the sensible and pragmatic vision for our future outside the EU that the Prime Minister outlined in her Lancaster House speech and in other speeches two years ago. That was a plan that would have restored control of our country, kept a positive partnership with our friends and allies in the EU and, of course, freed Britain to be globally focused and to form close ties with countries and friends around the world. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister approached the EU in good faith but, as negotiations have progressed, the vision in Lancaster House and other speeches has been diluted, and ultimately ditched. We have seen the EU exercising control in the negotiation at the expense of our national interest.
The deal before us does not deliver the Brexit and the vision that the Prime Minister originally outlined. It allows the EU to continue to make our laws and to impose its Court’s judgment on us, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) said earlier. It gives the EU powers to veto our foreign policy and sabotages our international trade negotiations. Ultimately, as the House has heard repeatedly, it threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom. On top of that, we are expected to pay £39 billion of taxpayers’ money, as other right hon. Members have highlighted, without guarantees of a comprehensive free trade arrangement and no prospect of departing from the horrors of the backstop without the EU’s permission. The equal partnership with the EU that the Prime Minister promised has not materialised; instead, we have a deal that gives the EU licence to dominate us for years to come.
I am conscious that earlier in the debate we heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs speak about the environment, fisheries and farming. As a Member of Parliament who represents a coastal community and a farming community, I have said in the House, as have colleagues, that there are so many freedoms that we want to secure outside the European Union when it comes to the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, yet the deal does not secure them. Brussels will still pose ongoing threats to our fisheries, which will obviously have ramifications for us. The same is true when it comes to agricultural policy. Farmers in my constituency have raised that issue with me.
Of course, the great prize of being free from the EU to negotiate and secure trade deals with growing global markets has been lost in this deal. I do not need to remind the House that by the middle of the century the EU’s share of trade in the global economy will be less than 10%. We need to focus much more strongly on our trading relationships outside the EU. Why would we want to remain shackled to the EU and to be dependent on it to set our trade policy when we can be trading further afield? We need to work sooner rather than later to secure those relationships.
I have touched on what the deal means for our precious Union and for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. The protocol severely damages democracy in Northern Ireland and imposes laws and rules on the people there without any representation. That goes further than the controls on the rest of the United Kingdom and is simply not acceptable. In the provisions on Northern Ireland we have seen for the first time in modern history a UK Government negotiate to cede part of our country to a foreign power. That is simply not acceptable.
The British people are tired of subservience to the EU and astonished by the one-sided negotiation process that has put the integrity of our precious Union in real danger. We will be trapped in the backstop and trapped in EU institutions; Northern Ireland will be left under the control of a foreign power, which is not acceptable; and under this deal our destiny will no longer be in our own hands. The British people want national leadership that is ambitious for our country—the type of leadership that is clear as to who governs our country and where elected power and accountability lies, and they want decision making that is free from the unnecessary constraints of the EU and EU control, and with that a restoration of trust in the democratic process that does not see our political establishment renege on the referendum result or our manifesto commitments.
I believe that Parliament should deliver on these democratic, political and economic freedoms by rejecting the withdrawal agreement. We must ensure that we can go further by trying to secure the type of trading arrangements that we originally said we would, but we can do so only once we reject the withdrawal agreement and ensure that the EU is no longer in control of our country.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel).
Unfortunately, as is so often the case in this House, we have polarised views on both the leave side and the remain side, for which no deal is ever going to be good enough. I rise to speak because my approach to the nation’s decision to leave European Union is to look forward rather than debate the past, to work cross-party where possible, to be constructive rather than destructive, and to seek to unite the country, not divide it further. That is why I support amendment (p), which I have co-sponsored with my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and for Wigan (Lisa Nandy).
As we debate the conditions under which the UK leaves the European Union, there are legitimate concerns not only about what form the final agreement takes, but about UK Government intentions and the UK’s future direction. I am sure that this amendment is not perfect—we know that all amendments in this debate are not legally binding, and there is much discussion about that—but it does speak to the concerns of many in this House about how we can build on the political declaration and get more assurances, and maybe more certainty, from the Government on how we can protect the rights and standards that affect employment, health and safety and the environment, many of which we have taken for granted during UK membership of the European Union. We want to ensure that they do not decline after the UK leaves. Also, in keeping with the desire for the UK Parliament to regain control, amendment (p) wishes this House to be able to debate and decide on any future improvements to protections or rights implemented by the European Union. The choice would be in our hands; we would debate and vote on those issues.
As this amendment proposes, the UK’s goal post Brexit should be to ensure that workers’ rights do not slip back—that the rights enjoyed by many British employees are protected. Likewise, UK standards on water pollution, pesticides, emissions, energy conservation and carbon reduction must all be protected, with a UK commitment not to walk backwards. Amendment (p) reflects some of the key demands expressed by Labour over the future direction.
For too long the debate in this House has been polarised, with the rhetoric too sharp and many Members on both sides of the House too quick to condemn and too slow to listen. I campaigned for remain. A majority of my voters voted leave, although many voted remain as well. I have always been honest with my leave voters that there will have to be compromise in the final deal that allows us to chart our own future and have more independence over many policy areas—the ability to move beyond the EU and deal with many of the concerns that led to their voting leave. But I have also been up front about recognising that we need a strong partnership with the European Union as we leave, and much of that strength is through co-operation.
I am also honest that life in the EU was never perfect, despite the relationship being close for good reason and despite the fact that it must remain so. We need to talk less about what we are against and more about what we are for, and I believe that our deliberations on the next steps should reflect that. The British people deserve sincere endeavour from this Parliament. The withdrawal agreement is the headline deal—the divorce. It is not the final deal. Trade-related, customs union-related talks will have to be agreed only once the UK leaves.
I welcomed Labour’s support for a transition period, which we demanded back in August 2017. We recognised that the 20-month period to which the Prime Minister signed up would be as important as the past two years have been because there are a wide range of trade and security matters to resolve. We should approach this period positively. It is unreasonable to expect all these matters to have been resolved by this point in the process, but a deal has to be agreed to get to that discussion, and there is still time for talks across this House in order to reach that outcome.
Despite the good work of the EU, I am very proud of the UK having a long history of being at the forefront of high standards when it comes to employment rights and environmental protections. It would be wrong to suggest that the rights that UK citizens take for granted—holidays, maternity leave, minimum pay and our welfare system—exist only because of the European Union. They do not. As a Labour MP, I fundamentally believe they exist because of 100 years of the Labour party and the trade union movement. Despite relatively few periods in office, Labour has made great advances in social change that have become mainstream and to which all parties now lay claim and adopt. These are achievements of this House over many decades, not imports from Brussels or Strasbourg, and not every country in the EU can claim what the UK rightly can.
I sympathise with some of that, but the truth is that LGBT rights were quite often forced on Britain by European Court of Justice decisions and European Court of Human Rights decisions, and were not adopted even by a Labour Government. Sometimes we have had to resort to elsewhere.
Shame. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who should be a right hon. Friend, but we must not polarise this debate by saying either that the EU is all bad or that the UK does nothing without the EU’s permission.
Our minimum wage is twice that of Greece’s and more than Spain’s, and many EU member states do not have a minimum wage. Statutory maternity pay in the UK is paid for up to 39 weeks, compared with just 16 weeks in France, 16 weeks in Holland and 26 weeks in Ireland. Many people ascribe paid holidays to the EU, but the truth is that it was a Labour Government who signed up to the social chapter that led to that happening, and who added bank holidays on top. With regards to equality, same-sex marriage is legal in just 14 of the 28 member states, so the rights that our lesbian and gay citizens enjoy are in many respects rights derived from decisions of this Parliament, not the European Union.
In the coming weeks and during the transition, it is not too late to adopt a different approach—a less confrontational politics. I want the Government to begin a new dialogue across parties, as they should have done earlier. I want them to consult the Opposition on the negotiations around trade now, and to commit to doing so during the transition period. With 78 days until the UK leaves the European Union, it is too easy to talk about further delay. The task is only impossible if we in this House make it impossible. Extending article 50 would not solve anything, and neither would a second referendum. Our conduct in the coming weeks and months can either seek the best deal and heal divisions, or seek to prevent a deal and divide the country further.
I believe that our path has to be one that brings the nation together—a Brexit based on a reasonable deal that protects the standards and rights that we value and shows generosity of spirit to our European neighbours, but which gets on with the task of getting through this process and dealing with the many issues that we did not face up to during our 40 years in the EU.
This Parliament is on trial. The public voted very clearly in the people’s vote of 2016. They were told by Parliament and the Government, by the remain and leave campaigns, that they—the people—were making the decision. They were promised that this Parliament would get on with the task, and they now say to this Parliament, “Do just that. Get on with it.”
The public recall that this Parliament is dominated by Members of Parliament serving in the Labour and the Conservative interests. In the 2017 election, every one of us was elected on a manifesto that made it clear that our parties supported implementing the verdict of the British people. The Conservative manifesto went further and made it very clear that we were going to leave the single market and the customs union, as had been pointed out by both remain and leave campaigns in the referendum. The Labour party manifesto set out an interesting and imaginative trade policy for an independent Britain that is clearly incompatible with staying in the customs union. So Labour too, along with the Conservatives, said to the public in 2017 that we would be leaving the customs union as well as the European Union when the decision was implemented.
There are many leave voters now who are extremely angry that some Members in this House think they were stupid, think they got their decision wrong, and think they should have to do it again. Many people in the country who voted remain, as well as many who voted leave, think it is high time that this Parliament moved on from every day re-enacting the referendum debate as if it had not happened and thinking that we can go back over the referendum debate and decision because it did not like the answer. All those who stood on a manifesto to leave the European Union should remember that manifesto. Those who deeply regret the decision and did not stand on such a manifesto should still understand that democracy works by the majority making decisions. When a majority has made a decision in a referendum where they were told that they would get what they voted for, it ill behoves anyone in this Parliament to know better than the British public and to presume that this Parliament can take on the British public and stand against them, because we are here to serve that public. We gave them the choice and they made that choice.
I want us to be much more interested in the opportunities that Brexit provides and to have proper debates about all the things the Government should be doing for when we leave, as I trust we will on 30 March 2019. I see nothing in the withdrawal agreement that I like. It is not leaving; it is sentencing us to another 21 to 45 months of these awful, endless debates and repetitions of the referendum arguments as we try to get something from the European Union by way of an agreement over our future partnership, having thrown away most of our best negotiating cards by putting them into the withdrawal agreement in the form that the European Union wants. That would be ridiculous, and a very large number of leave voters would see it as a complete sell-out. That applies to a very large number of remain voters as well, many of them in my own constituency. They have written to me and said, “For goodness’ sake oppose this withdrawal agreement, because while we do not agree with you about the ultimate aim, we are united in thinking this is even worse than just leaving”, or, in their case, staying within the European Union. I find myself in agreement with the overwhelming majority of my constituents on this subject. For both those who voted remain and leave, this is a very bad agreement that suits neither side.
The opportunities we should be discussing today in respect of fishing, agriculture and business are very considerable. I again ask my oft-repeated question of the Government: when are they going to publish our new tariff schedule? The United Kingdom can decide how much tariff, if any, to impose on imports into our country. I think that the EU tariff schedule on imports into our country is too high. I proposed to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that he remove all tariffs on imported components. That would be a huge boost for manufacturing in this country. Instead of having to say to manufacturers that we might end up with some tariffs on components coming in from the EU, because we have to charge the same to everybody, let us be bold and say that we are going to get rid of the tariffs on the components coming in from non-EU sources so that we cheapen the costs of manufacturing in the United Kingdom and give people a better choice on components.
I was going to get on to food, and I will do so immediately as I have been prompted. We run a massive £20 billion a year trade deficit in food with the European Union, and tariff-free food competes all too successfully against some elements of our farming industry. I want the Government to choose a tariff structure on food that provides lower overall tariffs against the rest of the world but produces some tariff against EU production so that we will produce more domestically. I want to cut the food miles. I want to see more of our food being produced and sold domestically. Our domestic market share has plunged seriously during the time we have been in the European Union. I think it was well over 90% in 1972 when we entered, and it is now well under 70%. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot get back there.
We need to know urgently from this Government what tariff protection there is going to be against EU food once we have left; whether they will take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of tariffs on food coming in that we cannot conceivably grow or produce for ourselves; and whether they will lower the average tariff, because some of the tariffs that the EU imposes are eye-wateringly too high, to the detriment of the food consumer. As we will be collecting more tariff revenue in total when we start to impose some tariffs on EU products, we should be having a debate on how we are going to spend that money. I trust that the Government would rebate it all to British consumers by direct tax cuts of the right kind. There is no reason why the consumer should be worse off, because we are heavy net exporters and we are going to collect an awful lot more tariff revenue on the EU’s goods than they are going to collect on ours, unless we do something very radical on our tariff schedule. We therefore need to discuss how to spend that money.
We also need to discuss how we rebuild our fishing industry. I am impatient to get on with this. I do not want it to be delayed. We need to take control of our fish and our fishing industry this year, not sometime, never. Under the withdrawal agreement, we have no idea if and when we would get our fishing industry back. Doubtless it would be in play as something to be negotiated away, because the Government have given everything else away that they might otherwise have used in the negotiation. I want to get on and take back control of the fish now. I want a policy from the DEFRA Secretary on how we can land much more of the fish in the United Kingdom, how we can build our fish processing industries on the back of that, and what kind of arrangements we will have with the neighbouring countries both within and outside the EU whereby we will be free to settle the terms and negotiate our own conditions.
This is a huge opportunity. The fishing industry is one of the industries that has been most gravely damaged by our membership of the European Union, and we owe it to our fishing communities around the country to take that opportunity. From landlocked Wokingham, I can assure colleagues from coastal communities that there is huge enthusiasm throughout the country to rebuild our fishing industry and to see those fishing fleets again expand and enable us to land much more of our own fish. We can, at the same time, have a policy that is better on conservation by getting rid of many of the big industrial trawlers that come from the continent. We can get rid of the system where there are discards at sea or, now, the system where people are actually going to be prevented from fishing completely because the fishery cannot be managed sensibly, to the detriment of the fish and the fishermen and women undertaking the work.
There is a huge agenda there. Above all, I want the Government to set out how we are going to spend all the money that we will be saving. The Government say that we are going to give away £39 billion—I think it will be considerably more—under the withdrawal agreement. I would like to take that sum of money, which they have clearly provided for as it is their plan to spend that money, and spend it in the first two years when we come out in March 2019. That would be a 2% boost to our economy—a very welcome Brexit bonus.
I invite the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) to sign our amendment (p), because through it we want to take back control to Parliament. The substance of the amendment is on workers’ rights, environmental standards, and health and safety—that, for me, is one of our red lines; not the only one, but a critical one. That is what this amendment does in directing Government through the negotiation period. I recommend that others around the House sign up to it.
The Government have a dilemma and I want to speak directly to them. This time when the Government are imploring everyone to vote for their deal is the time when we, across Parliament, have maximum leverage over the Government. The Government will need to handle this dilemma in a very sophisticated way. The time for rhetoric has gone—there have been plenty of repeat speeches on what people think; everyone has a view—and the time for negotiating has begun. The Government ought to be getting people in immediately—be it shadow Front Benchers, the shadow Brexit Secretary, or the Chair of the Brexit Committee—and attempting to negotiate directly with them on how we go forward. Otherwise the prospect of no deal gets all the more real—no deal by accident.
The focus here has been inward, and the Government’s focus has been inward, on their own party and their Democratic Unionist party deal, rather than outward. It is getting very late in the day, but it not too late in the day. The weakness of the Government’s deal is also its strength, in that it puts a lot off into the negotiations on the trade deal. That gives us in Parliament significant influence, if we choose to use it, all the way through.
Mr Speaker, your ruling yesterday has been seen in the context of you being biased in relation to Brexit. That is nonsense. You will have whatever view you want. The huge significance for government must not be lost in this. With a Fixed-term Parliaments Act and a minority Government, your ruling gives Parliament more power over a minority Government in the future. It happens to be a minority Conservative Government now. If there is an election, it could be a minority Labour Government. It is the same principle. This is fundamental, because it changes the way we will have to operate. Will we learn quickly enough, or will we continue with the rhetoric and fall into something that the majority do not want?
There are other red lines. These are not the only things that I or, I think, Opposition Members regard as essential. One of the reasons that my constituents voted for Brexit—it was no surprise to me—was that we have not had our fair share. There was a small period under the Blair Government when we got our fair share infrastructure-wise. We gloried in it, and it was brilliant, but other than that, we have not in my lifetime had our fair share. Whoever is in government in the next five years has to give what I call the real Brexit dividend—our fair share—to areas like mine, which means that other areas would get less. That is what “left behind” actually means.
I recall a demonstration I went on outside the power stations, with 5,000 workers. I was the only external person invited, and I spoke. The jobs were going to Portuguese workers and, because of EU laws, they could do nothing about it. We had to pressure the employer, and we succeeded, through civil action. I realised at that point how strong the feeling was, and therefore the result was no surprise. If we want to define a Brexit voter in my area, it is a trade unionist in an organised workplace. That is the core of the Brexit vote, and my area is not unusual in that. Government need to get their head around that and negotiate with the Opposition over the next weekend and the next few weeks, if that is needed to get a deal.
I stood on a manifesto that said we are going to deliver Brexit. Frankly, voters can boot me out—they can boot any of us out for reneging on or sticking to our principles. I do not for a moment demur when people take the opposite point of view. They are very principled people, and I respect them for that. I do not agree with their conclusions, but I respect them for their bravery. Everyone knows that even a second referendum will not resolve the split in the country. Part of what we need to do in this process in relation to the deal is to resolve the split in the country.
My area is sick to death of condescending, patronising words. People in my area knew what they were voting for. They knew why they were voting—and by the way, it was not the same as the vision of the right hon. Member for Wokingham. They were not voting for a race to the bottom, for the lowest common denominator, for lower wages and lower standards and for us to undercut the rest. They were voting for best practice, the highest of standards and to compete with the freedoms. My appeal to Members in my party and others is that now is the time for practical, specific proposals based on what people are in favour of precisely, not what they are against.
This is not just about whether we can get through the next few weeks. It is about whether Parliament and its authority will survive. My voters will walk. They may not vote Tory or UKIP, and they may not vote for me; they will walk. They will say, “The political process is useless and broken. You’re all to blame.” We can reach different conclusions about the outcomes of that, but understanding that reality is fundamental.
We should at least try, with the Labour party manifesto position and our stated objectives, to get a negotiated deal with the Government and vice versa. That is fundamental to the process. Will it succeed? I do not know. We are helping with this, and we are helping, not to be helpful politically, but because this is real stuff: health and safety, environmental standards and workers’ rights are real stuff.
Well, I shall finish by inviting the right hon. Gentleman and everybody else to sign amendment (p). We should see more amendments like this on equality issues and other red lines, to get the deal through by the maximum consensus based on our manifesto commitments and, more importantly, to hold the country together.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the debate, but this seems important. The media are reporting that No. 10 Downing Street is briefing that its interpretation of yesterday’s vote and the requirements of the legislation is that, if the Prime Minister’s motion is defeated next Tuesday, the debate on the plan B that the Government would be obliged to bring forward would be restricted to only 90 minutes, and they would allow only one amendment to be chosen and voted upon.
Is that your understanding? Can you confirm that the Government could in fact provide as much time as they wanted for a constitutional debate that is so contested and so crucial to the future of our country, and that they could provide for as many amendments to be considered as is needed? Given that the Prime Minister and the Government have been saying that they want to listen, reach out and build a consensus, how, if this is the case, can we believe anything that the Government say?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to confirm, no decision has been made along the lines of what the right hon. Lady has said. The Government will do everything they can to ensure that the House is fully consulted in every eventuality next week, and the information that she has is not correct.
I am happy to respond to the point of order from the right hon. Lady, and I thank her for giving me notice of it. She has kindly shown me the press report to which she refers, but she knows that I have not yet had the opportunity to study it carefully. Moreover, it is not our normal practice to respond to any and every press report based upon a briefing from someone who perhaps thinks that he or she knows what the procedures are in this place but does not always fully do so.
It is true to say that the default position under Standing Order No. 16(1) is that debates pursuant to an Act of Parliament must be concluded after 90 minutes, flowing from which there tends to be a practical restriction on amendments because the time has lapsed, and therefore only one amendment in such a hypothetical situation would be taken. However, it is also true to say that such provision is often disapplied by an Order of the House.
I must emphasise that all of this is hypothetical at this stage, and I do not think it would be helpful to speculate on what may happen subsequent to the decision of the House next Tuesday. I can, however, confirm that the right hon. Lady is quite correct in saying that it is perfectly open to the Government, if such a situation were to arise, to provide for a much fuller debate. In those circumstances, there would predictably be a significant number of colleagues who would want to put their own propositions on the paper. I am extremely confident that if that hypothetical scenario were to arise, colleagues would assert themselves.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you confirm that it would be open to Members of the House to seek to remedy this potential problem by tabling an amendment to the withdrawal agreement motion for next week, because this matter would inevitably flow from a consequence of the withdrawal agreement not being carried by the House of Commons?
I would like to reflect on that. It may be possible for that to be done. If it is possible for it to be done, it may well be a matter of judgment as to whether it is thought to be worth doing. The reason there is no great hurry on that matter is, of course, that I am not even in a position, under the Order passed on 4 December, to select amendments until the final day of the debate. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman heard me explaining, in response to a point of order from the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) this morning, that it was quite wrong for people to talk about amendments that had been accepted. She mentioned to me in her point of order that allegedly the Government had signalled their acceptance of a particular amendment. That was a wholly inapposite report or claim. No amendment has been accepted at this stage, because no amendment has yet been selected. I am not allowed to select any amendment until the final day, so some people really do need to keep up with what the procedure is. The right hon. Gentleman has plenty of time in which to reflect on these matters.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to interrupt the debate further, but the response from the Chief Whip was obviously helpful, even if it is slightly odd that he has now left the Chamber before the conclusion of any further discussion on the point of order. Do you think, Mr Speaker, it would be helpful for there to be further clarification from the Government Benches about what plan there would be for further debates, so that we can have reassurance?
What I would say to the right hon. Lady is twofold. First, I do not control the Government Chief Whip any more than the Government Chief Whip controls me. I think we ought to be clear about that. I cannot comment on his whereabouts and they are not a matter of any great concern to me. Secondly, if the right hon. Lady or other colleagues want to explore these matters in the debate in the coming days, they absolutely can do so. All I can say is that, in support of Members in all parts of the House and of all shades of opinion, I will always have regard to the opportunities for Members to put their points and to advance their causes. These are not matters purely for the Treasury Bench. I think we are clear about that.
I should start by reflecting that the speech by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) was one of the finest analyses of what happened in the referendum. The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) also absolutely hit the nail on the head about where we are today and how we need to progress.
We have heard, and will continue to hear in this debate, reasons why people feel they cannot support the Government’s deal. We will hear hon. Member after hon. Member describe in gruesome detail what precise strand of Brexit or non-Brexit they will support. That will be all very fascinating for their local paper or grist to the mill for their next blog, but in the context of what Parliament is doing in this debate and in next week’s vote it will be utterly irrelevant. What matters is not what any of us individually think of the deal; what matters is what Members in the Chamber decide. What matters is the maths of who makes up this House.
I am happy to give detailed reasoning to the House for why I am prepared to support the Government. That would be of interest to some of my constituents. It would be welcome news to my constituent who runs a business which employs over 20,000 people and is pleading with us to agree the deal. It would be interesting to the small businesses in my constituency that wrote to me about why ideological Brexiteers are playing with fire when they breezily claim that no deal would be just a bit of mid-air turbulence. We should listen to such people and ask ourselves who is more likely than them to understand the complexity of supply chains or the competitive pricing of their products.
For some in this House the word “compromise” is a pejorative term: a sign of weakness and a word which is too quickly followed by other words like “betrayal”. For me, compromise is almost always a virtue. I compromised as a soldier serving on operations. I compromised as a businessman in every negotiation I did. I compromised as a Minister when negotiating in Europe for this country. I compromise almost daily in this place trying to get some of what I want through, rather than getting nothing. Perhaps the best analogy I can use is that I compromised when I got divorced. As one hon. Member said outside this Chamber the other day, “At least his divorce was with only one person, not 27.”
As the leading Brexit campaigner Dan Hannan wrote recently, if a 52% to 48% referendum result is a mandate for anything, it is a mandate for compromise. That said, like most in this House I am a democrat and I concede that my side lost. Like about 85% of this House, I was re-elected in 2017—I might add, with the highest ever popular vote in my constituency in any general election—on a manifesto that pledged to respect the result of the referendum. If we look at the bell curve of public opinion on this issue, we see the edges of the bell curve showing the irreconcilables, the small percentage at either end who are either inexorably grieving at the result of the referendum and will do anything they can to undo it, or those for whom the cleanest of breaks with the EU is a theocracy and an ideology on which, as with the other end of the scale, compromise is impossible. And then there is the rest of the country. Here we find an understanding about what we want to achieve: to move from being a country inside the EU with some opt-outs, to one being outside the EU with some opt-ins. For many of them, this deal is fine. I support the Prime Minister if she can bring forward any changes and tweaks that will encourage more of our colleagues to join. I also give notice that if that fails I will seek, with other colleagues right across the House, to find a way forward. If that takes me down an EEA or EFTA route, then I will look at that. That would be sub-optimal, but it may be the only thing the House can agree. What I do feel is that there is no majority in this House for no deal. I really urge people to listen to industry and to the letter we received today from the four presidents of the NFU. If one represents a rural area and minds about our food industry and the rural economy, that letter is calm, deliberate knowledge.
In the spirit of compromise, and to ensure there is something for all of us, I am really attracted by the idea that, perhaps on workers’ rights, the environment, and health and safety, we could provide a sort of triple lock where if Europe decides to raise standards above where we are today we can say that we will put them to this House. We are a sovereign House of Commons. We can make a decision on whether to support them. I am interested in that.
I wish to say a word to those who want a second vote. If someone is calling for it because they see it as the best way of reversing the first referendum, say so—be honest with the public and do not dress it up with some higher purpose. In passing, I would also say: be careful what you wish for. The further one gets from London and its bien pensant elites, the more one detects an anger and belligerence towards the campaign for a second referendum. The Institute for Government has said it would take four to five months to have a second referendum. We would be putting this poor country through another four or five months of the kind of divisions we saw in the last one. Is that what we really want? The Electoral Commission, the independent body that oversees such votes, has very strong views on some of the points being made about the kind of questions that might be asked.
My discussions with some of the 97% of my constituents who have not written to me on this issue can be condensed down to one simple message: get on with it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman also accept, though, that if the House were to support the Government’s deal, along with the political declaration, it would be a sure fire way of ensuring that this uncertainty and political wrangling continue for years to come?
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It will give certainty. It would certainly give certainty to many of the businesses I have talked about. I think there is a dam holding back investment in the economy. We all see it in our constituencies. If the deal were to go through, I think we would see a mini-boom in this country, as well as a determination to close this off in the minds of the electorate by trying to speed through the final stage of negotiations. If there is another emotion I detect in my constituency, it is one of admiration for the tenacity of the Prime Minister. While not everyone will agree with what she has come up with, I think we can all accept that.
I will finish with a heartfelt plea to people right across the House not to stand absolutely on the principle and clear position of what they would accept, but to recognise that the House of Commons has to raise its game, understand that compromise is not a dirty word and find a solution that we can all agree.
Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), I must advise the House that, after she has spoken, the time limit will have to be reduced to six minutes. [Interruption.] Yes, I recognise that it is a pity, but very many Members wish to take part.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon).
Is it not depressing that we are here again having moved on no further in the past five weeks? The Public Accounts Committee has produced nine reports on Government preparedness. Every day we go on indecisively, the Government are spending money preparing for no deal and other options, and that is not to mention the money that will need to be invested, if we leave, in order that we can do all the things currently done through European institutions.
I will not repeat what I said in my speech on 6 December, but I feel I need to mention the 41,500 EU residents in my borough, who are very concerned. The uncertainty that the right hon. Gentleman talked about is doing them and business no favours. I have sympathy with what he said about compromise. I am a remainer. My constituency was very pro-remain, and many of my constituents viscerally want to remain, but the distress and delay is a problem. He talked about a three to four-month plan for a second referendum, which I would reluctantly support if Parliament cannot make a decision, but according to others it would be six months. We need to think carefully about where that would lead us and what uncertainties we would have to live through along the way.
As I said in my last speech, the Government have proceeded recklessly, but today I want to talk about an issue that was never really discussed in the campaign on the mainland of the UK. I should declare that my husband is a dual citizen of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland border is too often dismissed as a confected issue that does not matter greatly. I did some research. Only 108 MPs in the House today were in Parliament when the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, and only 144 of us were here when we had the last republican terrorist attack on the mainland. There is a diminishing number of Members who were here and closely involved in that debate, when our leaders, Tony Blair among them, took us to the signing of the Good Friday agreement.
In December 2017, the Irish Mirror reported that MI5 had disrupted more than 250 separate attacks in Northern Ireland alone, with seizures of explosives, weapons and ammunition, and that there had been 16 attacks in 2015-16 in Northern Ireland. There remain serious issues for peace in Northern Ireland and the security of Northern Irish citizens, as well as of Irish citizens across the border. We have been in the common travel area with Northern Ireland since the Irish Free State was declared in 1922, except for a brief period after the second world war. Ireland has aligned itself with us to maintain that position, in 1952 signing up to our immigration rules on the Commonwealth and in the ’70s joining the EU. The Republic of Ireland is not considered a foreign country under UK law. Irish citizens have a special status that confers on them the right to vote here. Under British law they have more rights than EU citizens, including the right to be Members of this House with Irish citizenship alone; they are not required to become British citizens.
It is good that article 5 of the withdrawal agreement confirms that the common travel area and free movement must remain for our Irish cousins, but it is of real concern to me that we have not debated how we will deal with the Irish border. The Prime Minister said in a statement in October 2018, and she has repeated this sort of phrase many a time:
“We are obviously committed to no hard border, and we have made it clear that in any circumstances, including in a no-deal situation, we would be doing all that we could to ensure that there was no hard border. We would look to work with Ireland and the European Union to ensure that there was no hard border, but there has been no commitment in relation to that.”—[Official Report, 22 October 2018; Vol. 648, c.61.]
That last half sentence is the real issue.
There are options, but none of them is good. Customs checks could be imposed at the border because Ireland becomes a third country under EU law. How does that chime with our commitment to the common travel area? We could do nothing and temporarily have no border while we work out the political agreement, but if we do so, we could be the subject of a complaint to the World Trade Organisation. We could move checks further away from the border in the so-called max fac—maximum facilitation—option, which the UK proposed and the EU rejected. Even when the UK proposed it, it was still not clear what it was. It involves a bit of number plate recognition, and perhaps taking some goods and checking them.
I have had the privilege of speaking to the Comptroller and Auditor General for the Northern Ireland Audit Office and hearing him describe the travel of goods back and forth across the border, which I know well. UK citizens in Northern Ireland and Irish citizens in Ireland have a lot of business—processing of milk and pork, a lot of other agricultural business—that relies on movement across the border. It is vital that that is maintained, and there is really no answer to that. One of the reasons why I cannot support the deal is that it does not resolve that problem.
There is, as other speakers have highlighted, no simple answer, but we have had weakness upon weakness from this Government. There has been reckless rush and unnecessary delay. The Prime Minister has reached out far too late to Members in her own party, let alone trying to have any cross-party discussions. I was dismayed to hear from the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) that there has not even been proper dialogue with the Opposition Front Bench. There is no authority, and that is of real concern to me. How can we have faith that the sketchy political agreement will be fleshed out and delivered by this Prime Minister in her current weakness?
I think we need to look—I say this rather reluctantly—at revoking or at least extending article 50 unless Parliament can deliver. Even with the three-day deadline, it is difficult to know how we can begin to coalesce around alternatives. I throw that at the Government; as the Executive, they still have power to determine the business in this place. We have to have an opportunity to discuss alternatives. If we fail, we need to consider going back to the people, even with all the problems I have highlighted that doing so would raise.
In these difficult times for our country, it is as well to remember the iron rule of politics: no situation is so bad that it is not possible for politicians to make it worse. I fear that we are in such a situation now. Not to vote for the deal would be to fall into precisely that trap.
I was a remainer. I campaigned across Cheltenham for remain, from the high street to the promenade. I did not do so because I thought the European Union was perfect. It had allowed itself, in many ways, to become inflexible and too remote from ordinary people. Even if I would not have suggested joining on the terms that were proffered in 2016, it seemed to me that the process of unravelling that 40-year relationship would be so lengthy, so complex, so expensive and so divisive that the game would not be worth the candle.
I made that argument and others, which are being reheated, such as that that process would act as a headwind against growth, and I was proud of the fact that 56% of people in Cheltenham voted to remain. But we did not vote as constituencies; we voted as a country. We voted as one nation, and I am first and foremost a democrat. I stood on a manifesto in 2015 that read:
“We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.”
Parliament then voted for such a referendum. On Second Reading of the Bill that became the European Union Referendum Act 2015, the then Foreign Secretary said that the Bill had
“one clear purpose: to deliver on our promise to give the British people the final say on our EU membership in an in/out referendum”.—[Official Report, 9 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 1047.]
That was voted for by parties across the House—the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. During the campaign, the Government distributed to every home in Cheltenham a leaflet stating:
“The referendum…is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union…The Government will implement what you decide.”
We all know that was the deal. I remember the words of the late and much-missed Paddy Ashdown on the evening of the referendum. Before the result came in, he said:
“I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it is spoken, whether it is a majority of one per cent or 20 per cent. When the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t.”
Some in the House say the margin of victory does not matter. “In a referendum,” they say, “the winner takes all—one more vote is all you need to impose the most ideologically pure version of what you argued for.” I respectfully suggest there are great dangers in assuming that the 2016 referendum result—just 52:48—was a mandate for a tungsten-hard no-deal Brexit, which is now one of the two obvious alternatives to this deal. Those who advocate that would do well to remember that, had the EU negotiators simply offered David Cameron a genuine emergency brake that did not dismantle the freedom of movement principle but provided a sensible derogation, it is likely we would have voted to remain.
This deal is a compromise. That means it has positives and negatives. The positives are these. On goods, the EU has accepted that the UK should have a bespoke trade deal, with no tariffs, fees or charges and no quotas. On services, the EU has accepted the principle of arrangements for financial services, which, importantly, will be based on equivalence. British nationals will be able to travel freely without a visa, EU directives will no longer have direct effect and so on.
Against that backdrop, is it any surprise that the deal has been loudly welcomed by Rolls-Royce, Siemens, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the chief executive of UKHospitality? The BioIndustry Association supports it—I could go on and on. The chief executive of BAE Systems, which employs many people in Cheltenham, welcomed the transition period, and GE Aviation, a significant employer in Gloucestershire, said:
“Ratification of a withdrawal agreement would provide business with the certainty it needs. In contrast, a disorderly ‘no deal’ exit in March would present considerable challenges for our operations, supply chains and customers.”
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the experts and others he prays in aid, whose views I certainly give great weight to, have been too easily dismissed? People either call them fake news or say, “They would say that,” or, “They don’t know what they’re talking about; we know better.” There is a dangerous anti-business trend in what some people say, and we must resist it.
And this is the Conservative party, which listens to business and wants to stand on the side of people who create prosperity in our country. By the way, if we want to deliver social mobility, we will do that through jobs and enterprise, and by raising tax revenues so we have the greatest possible public services.
Of course there are negatives to the deal; we have heard about those. Concern is rightly expressed about the Irish backstop, but, as the Secretary of State indicated and the Attorney General has said, it is an instrument of pain for both sides. What is a backstop for us is a back door for them. Northern Ireland would have the advantage of being able to access both the single market of the EU and the single market of the UK. Mainland British businesses would be incentivised to relocate to Northern Ireland to supply their goods into the EU. Meanwhile, the process of negotiating trade deals would become a nightmare for the EU, as it would not be able to clarify the frontiers of its single market and the British taxpayer would not be paying a penny piece.
The fact is that all trade deals require some kind of backstop. Canada-plus and Labour’s suggestion—it wants to be inside the customs union but outside the single market—would require one, too. I have heard much criticism from the Labour party. Some of it is fluent and cogent—we get all that—but, with respect, criticism is easy. As a quote probably misattributed to Teddy Roosevelt goes, complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining. Labour does not want a second referendum, does not want an extension and criticises the Government, saying there is no way they could get meaningful changes to their deal, yet it suggests that it could get a whole new deal by 29 March—a “strong single market deal”, although that is completely lacking in detail and clarity as to what Labour would require. [Interruption.] It is indeed a “unicorn” prospect.
A hard Brexit, I would suggest, is simply not an option. There are concerns about Ireland, and I have real concerns about it. Of course it is necessary to “aim off” with respect to some of the polls, but there is a real risk that if there is a hard Brexit the appetite for a border poll will increase, and there is then a real risk of a united Ireland. There are great risks from a second referendum as well, which I cannot go into now. However, there is an opportunity for us to do something sensible and unlock the wall of investment that is poised over our economy, and I shall be voting for the deal.
I have faced many challenges in the two decades for which I have sat in the House, but Sunday 7 August 2011, the morning after the Tottenham riots, was by far the greatest. Walking on broken glass, past burnt-out cars, homes and businesses, comforting men and women who were still in their pyjamas, I saw the place where I had lived for my whole life turned to ashes.
Many members of the community were urging me to say that the killing of Mark Duggan by police, which had sparked the riots, justified that rage: that the families made homeless, the burnt-out buses and houses and the looted shops were worth it. They told me I had to say that that wrong was right. It was not easy, but I had to look members of my community in the face, tell them that the violence was a disgrace, and condemn it unequivocally. Why? Because we have a duty to tell our constituents the truth, even when they passionately disagree. We owe them not only our industry but our judgment. We are trusted representatives, not unthinking delegates, so why do many in the House continue to support Brexit when they know that it will wreck jobs, the NHS and our standing in the world?
This is the fundamental dishonesty at the heart of the Brexit debate. Most Members now recognise that in private, but do not say it in public. Brexit is a con, a trick, a swindle, a fraud. It is a deception that will hurt most of the people it promised to help. It is a dangerous fantasy that will make every problem it claims to solve worse. It is a campaign won on false promises and lies. Both Vote Leave and Leave.EU broke the law. Russian interference is beyond reasonable doubt.
By now, every single campaign promise made in 2016 has come unstuck. Brexit will not enrich our NHS; it will impoverish it. Our trade deal with Donald Trump will see US corporations privatise and dismantle it, one bed at a time. Even the promises on immigration, which has so greatly enriched our country, are a lie. After Brexit, immigration will go up, not down. When we enter into negotiations with countries such as India and China, they will ask for three things—visas, visas and more visas—and they will get them, because we will be weak.
Then there is the myth about restoring parliamentary sovereignty. The last two years have shown what a joke that is. The Prime Minister has hoarded power like a deluded 21st-century Henry VIII. Impact assessments have been hidden, votes have been resisted and blocked, and simple opponents of Government policies have been bullied and threatened to get into line. Even when we forced a meaningful vote, the Prime Minister cancelled it, certain we would reject her disastrous deal—and oh, we will reject it, because it is a lose-lose compromise that offers no certainty for our future. All that it guarantees is more years of negotiation, headed by the same clowns who guided us into this farce in the first place.
We are suffering from a crisis of leadership in our hour of need. This country’s greatest moments came when we showed courage, not when we appeased: the courage of Wilberforce to emancipate the slaves in the face of the anger of the British ruling class, the courage of Winston Churchill to declare war on Hitler in the face of the appeasers in his Cabinet and the country, and the courage of Attlee and Bevan to nationalise the health service in the face of the doctors who protested that that was not right. Today, we too must be bold, because the challenges that we face are just as extreme. We must not be afraid to tell the truth to those who disagree.
Friends on this side of the House tell me to appease Labour voters in industrial towns: the former miners, the factory workers, those who feel that they have been left behind. I say that we must not patronise them with cowardice. Let us tell them the truth. Let us tell them, “You were sold a lie. Parts of the media used your fears to sell papers and boost viewing figures. Nigel Farage and the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) exploited the same prejudice to win votes. Shame on them. Immigrants have not taken your jobs; our schools and colleges failed to give you skills.
Hospitals are crumbling not because of health tourists, but because of decades of austerity that ground them down to the bone. People cannot afford a house because both parties failed to build, not because Mohammed down the road moved in. Wealth was hoarded in London when it should have been shared across the country.
Blame us; blame Westminster: do not blame Brussels for our own country’s mistakes. And do not be angry at us for telling you the truth; be angry at the chancers who sold you a lie. As Martin Luther King said long ago:
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
So just as I speak plainly to the Government this time around, let me speak to the Opposition about some home truths. There is no left-wing justification for Brexit. Ditching workers’ rights and social protections and ending environmental co-operation is not progressive. This is a project about neoliberal deregulation; it is Thatcherism on steroids, pushed by her modern-day disciples. Leaving the EU will not free us from the injustices of global capitalism; it will make us subordinate to Trump’s US.
Socialism confined to one country will not work. Whether we like it or not, the world we live in is global. We can fix the rigged system only if we co-operate across border lines. The party of Keir Hardie has always been international. We must not let down our young supporters by failing to stand with them on the biggest issue of our lives.
If we remain in the EU we can reform it from the top table: share the load of mass migration, address the excesses of the bureaucracy and fix inequalities between creditor and debtor states. We can recharge the economy. We can refuel the NHS. We can build the houses we need after years of hurt. Hope is what we need: remain in the EU; give Britain a second opportunity to decide.
I do not want to use my speech to talk about parliamentary procedure or the detail of the various options to withdraw from the EU—I will leave that to others to do. What I want to talk about today is trust: not trust in MPs, which the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) has just alluded to, but trust in the electorate, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) spoke about.
In 1997, I, like many others, was unhappy that Tony Blair became Prime Minister, but I did not start campaigning for a people’s vote to remove him, and the same was the case in 2001 and in 2005. In fact, I think the situation was the same in 2010, 2015 and 2017, as the Opposition would have been disappointed about the outcome of the election, but they did not start campaigning for a people’s vote to overturn it. That is because we accept the results of votes in this country, and we should accept this one.
Turning to the point of this whole debate, in June 2016, the British people were given a say on our future relationship with the EU through a simple in/out referendum. We chose to leave. The numbers who voted or the margin of the majority are irrelevant; the question was put and the answer was given.
It should come as no surprise that, in a contest, some people will be disappointed. We should not dismiss their concerns; we should instead try to be as accommodating as possible. That is what people have been talking about today, but we must stay true to the referendum result—we have a duty to do so.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s intervention, but it is not for me to talk about what Vote Leave decided; it is for me to talk about what I think and what my constituents think.
Everyone in the Conservative party, including my hon. Friend, stood on the 2015 manifesto. They promised to give the British public a straightforward in/out referendum. Everyone who voted in December 2015 to legislate for that referendum did so promising to honour the result. Everyone who voted and campaigned in the referendum did so in the spirit of what had been agreed before the vote took place, and again promised to honour the result—at least I assume that they did. Can we really imagine that people were wandering around campaigning for in or for out, but saying to their constituents and friends, “Whatever happens, if we don’t win, we’ll just renege on the result”? Of course they did not do that; they campaigned saying they would honour the result. Everyone in here who voted to trigger article 50 and everyone in here who voted to pass—[Interruption.] I am not saying that everyone here voted in that way. I am talking about everyone who did vote in that way—[Interruption.] If Members listen, they can intervene on me. Everyone in the Chamber who voted to trigger article 50 and who voted to pass the European Union (Withdrawal) Act did so because at that time they were doing what they promised their electorate they would do.
In 2017, both two major parties stood on manifestos that promised to honour the result. In my constituency, the Conservative and Labour candidates shared 93% of the vote. Two parties that promised to honour the result of the referendum shared almost the entire vote while all the other parties lost their deposits. Almost every Conservative and Labour Member has promised to deliver Brexit at one time or another. At the time, those who supported remain accepted the wording of the referendum. At no time did they say that the result needed to have a particular majority, or that the consequences needed to be spelled out. Why was that? Quite obviously it was because the remain voters thought they would win. I thought they would win, even though I campaigned for and voted to leave.
The country has followed this soap opera for two years. It has joined us on this journey, which began with the referendum and was followed by a prime ministerial resignation, a new Prime Minister, a general election, Lancaster House, Florence, “Brexit means Brexit”, “No deal is better than a bad deal”, a delayed vote, a v