We now come to the motions relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from and future relationship with the European Union. I inform the House that I have selected the following motions for decision by recorded vote: motion (C), in the name of Mr Kenneth Clarke; motion (D), in the name of Mr Nick Boles; motion (E), in the name of Mr Peter Kyle; and motion (G) in the name of Joanna Cherry.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you perhaps clarify why you have selected for debate motion (C), in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), when exactly the same motion with exactly the same words was debated and rejected by this House only three sitting days ago? For the benefit of those watching, could you perhaps explain why this can be brought back three days later, but the 585-page withdrawal agreement cannot?
The short answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that the House has agreed to the process that has unfolded, and therefore it is entirely procedurally proper for the judgment I have made to be made, and that is the judgment that I have made. The right hon. Gentleman will have noted the view expressed in the debates last week, and let me say in terms that are very clear—he may not approve of them, but they are clear—that the purpose of this discrete exercise, as I think is understood by colleagues across the House, is to try to identify whether there is potential consensus among Members for an approach to the departure from and the future relationship with the European Union. It is in that spirit and in the knowledge that it is wholly impossible, colleagues, to satisfy everybody, that I have sought conscientiously to discharge my obligations to the House by making a judicious selection. That is what I have done, that I readily defend to the House and that I will continue to proclaim to be the right and prudent course in circumstances that were not of my choosing, but with which, as Chair, I am confronted.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You know me not to be one to play games in this place. With respect, may I ask you to reconsider when it comes to motions (A) and (B)? The reason why I ask—we live in unusual times, so I do not apologise for making this request—is that motion (A) is new, in the sense that it reflects the withdrawal agreement as amended by the backstop. I suggest to you that it is the one vote we have had in this place, on the back of the Brady amendment, that actually achieved a majority. It is a new motion that has previously achieved a majority, and with respect—and I mean that—I think it worthy for consideration. May I also suggest, if only for future reference, that motion (B) is actually the legal default position from our triggering article 50? I do think it is incumbent on us to consider that in this particular debate, when we are trying to find some sort of consensus.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for the very reasonable tones in which, as usual, he expresses it. He and I have known each other for a long time, and I have the highest regard for the integrity of the hon. Gentleman. I am happy, although not obliged, to provide an answer to each of his two points. I say I am not obliged not in my interests, but because the House has long understood and asserted the obligation of the Chair to make these judgments and expected that the Chair would not provide an explanation, but that the House—having vested in the Chair the responsibility—would accept the judgment. However, I am happy in this case to respond to his two points.
First, in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s motion appertaining to the backstop, he makes his own point in his own way. I have to make a judgment about what I think is reasonable going forward. In this debate, colleagues, we are not acting alone; we are acting in a negotiation with the European Union. The point that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about is expressed in this motion for the first time, but it has been aired repeatedly—I do not say that critically, but as a matter of fact—since the publication in November of the withdrawal agreement. Repeated commitments have been made to seek a re-examination of that point by the Union, and it has become clear over a period of months that that re-examination is not offered by the Union. It may or may not feature in the future, but in terms of trying to broker progress now I did not think it would be the most sensible motion to choose at this time. I put it no more strongly than that.
Secondly, in relation to the so-called no-deal motion, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me—and, frankly, even if he will not—I am going to replay to him his own point in my support rather than his. Somewhat exasperated —well, quizzical—that I had not selected his motion, he said, “But Mr Speaker, leaving without a deal on 12 April is the legal default.” He is right: it is precisely because it is the default position in law that having it on the Order Paper is, in my view, a rhetorical assertion. It is a statement of fact, and it does not in my judgment require debate. The second point on that motion is that in looking at it—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) can chunter from a sedentary position in evident disapproval of the thrust of the argument that I am developing if he so wishes, but it does not detract from the fact that I am making the point I am making. He does not like it: I do, and we will have to leave it there.
The simple fact of the matter is that that motion, voted on last week, as the beady eye of the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) testifies he realises, was rejected by 400 votes to 160. A significant number of Members did not vote, but even if every Member who did not vote on that motion last week were to vote in favour of it this week, it still would not pass. I see my duty as being to try to advance matters. Whatever people think about this issue and whatever side of the argument they sit, they all think, “Can we not make some progress?” It is in pursuit of progress that I have made the disinterested—I use that old-fashioned but valid term—judgment that I have made to try to serve the House.
I totally understand that it will not please everyone, but it happens to be my view, it is an honest one, and it is my best judgment.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have always found you very patient in hearing the concerns of any colleague in the House, and always passionate about the rulings that you make.
If I may remind you, the other day you made a ruling on meaningful vote 3, and you said that you wanted to make it clear that you expected the test of change to be met and that the Government
“should not seek to circumvent my ruling by means of tabling either a ‘notwithstanding’ motion or a paving motion. The Table Office has been instructed that no such motions will be accepted.”—[Official Report, 27 March 2019; Vol. 657, c. 370.]
What, then, is motion (C), which seems to be exactly that?
Forgive me if I was not sufficiently clear. I thought I had been. My apologies to the hon. Gentleman if my reply was too opaque. I thought I had indicated in an earlier reply that the House, in the motion that it had supported, had endorsed the approach to indicative votes that we are now taking. It is a discrete process separate from and different to the processes that have been adopted thus far.
All sorts of arguments and explanations have been given as to why we are in this process, with the House taking control of the process, and I do not need to revisit those, but I have answered that point already. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, whom I like and respect very much as he knows, but I fear I have to say to him that it is not that I have not answered his point. I have answered his point already in response to an earlier point of order, but the simple fact is that the hon. Gentleman does not like my answer, and I am afraid I cannot do anything about that.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Tonight, we will be debating motion (E) on a confirmatory public vote, but this House voted on a confirmatory public vote, and I believe it gathered only 85 votes at the time. I am just wondering, Mr Speaker, why that motion, which was so roundly rejected by this House—it was not even supported by those on the Labour Benches—is worthy of another debate. Perhaps it should be kicked out.
I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me. I may have misheard her, but I thought she said something about 85 votes. From memory—I do not have it in front of me, although I can easily find it; it would not be very difficult—I think I am right in saying that the vote for the confirmatory public vote, for a confirmatory referendum, received 268 votes and was defeated—
The hon. Lady is shaking her head, but I am trying to answer the point. I think it received 268 votes and was opposed by 295, so it was defeated. But again, if the hon. Lady will forgive me, and even if she won’t, I repeat the point that this is part of a process for which the House voted. Colleagues did so in the knowledge that a result might not be achieved on day one or even necessarily on day two, but the House wanted that process to take place. It may be—I have not looked at the Division list and it is absolutely her right—that the hon. Lady voted against this process altogether, and I completely respect her autonomy in making that judgment, but the House chose to adopt the process. What I have done and am doing is entirely in keeping with the spirit of that process.
I am sorry. I did not realise that was what the hon. Lady was saying. Okay, but my point about the discrete process we are undertaking and the level of support for that particular motion stands. What I have tried to do—I say this not least so that our proceedings are intelligible to those who are not Members of the House but are watching—is identify those propositions that appear to command substantial support, preferably of a cross-party nature. That is what I have done. It does seem to me, if I may say so, that although it cannot please everybody it is quite a reasonable approach, as opposed to, for example, identifying a series of propositions that have minimal support and thinking that it would be a frightfully good sport instead to submit them to a verdict of the House again. That would not seem to me a particularly constructive way in which to proceed. I am for a constructive approach and I hope most of the House will agree with me that that is how we should operate.
Can we now move to the main debate? I call the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), he who owns motion (C) on the customs union, to address the House.
I beg to move motion (C),
That this House instructs the Government to:
(1) ensure that any Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration negotiated with the EU must include, as a minimum, a commitment to negotiate a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU;
(2) enshrine this objective in primary legislation.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following motions:
Motion (D)—Common Market 2.0—
That this House –
(1) directs Her Majesty’s Government to –
(i) renegotiate the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday 11 March 2019 with the title ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom’ to provide that, on the conclusion of the Implementation Period and no later than 31 December 2020, the United Kingdom shall –
(a) accede to the European Free Trade Association (Efta) having negotiated a derogation from Article 56(3) of the Efta Agreement to allow UK participation in a comprehensive customs arrangement with the European Union,
(b) enter the Efta Pillar of the European Economic Area (EEA) and thereby render operational the United Kingdom’s continuing status as a party to the EEA Agreement and continuing participation in the Single Market,
(c) agree relevant protocols relating to frictionless agri-food trade across the UK/EU border,
(d) enter a comprehensive customs arrangement including a common external tariff, alignment with the Union Customs Code and an agreement on commercial policy, and which includes a UK say on future EU trade deals, at least until alternative arrangements that maintain frictionless trade with the European Union and no hard border on the island of Ireland have been agreed with the European Union,
(ii) negotiate with the EU a legally binding Joint Instrument that confirms that, in accordance with Article 2 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland of the Withdrawal Agreement, the implementation of all the provisions of paragraph 1 (i) of this motion would cause the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to be superseded in full;
(2) resolves to make support for the forthcoming European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill conditional upon the inclusion of provisions for a Political Declaration revised in accordance with the provisions of this motion to be the legally binding negotiating mandate for Her Majesty’s Government in the forthcoming negotiation of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Motion (E)—Confirmatory public vote—
That this House will not allow in this Parliament the implementation and ratification of any withdrawal agreement and any framework for the future relationship unless and until they have been approved by the people of the United Kingdom in a confirmatory public vote.
Motion (G)—Parliamentary Supremacy—
(1) If, at midday on the second last Day before exit day, the condition specified in section 13(1)(d) of the Act (the passing of legislation approving a withdrawal agreement) is not satisfied, Her Majesty’s Government must immediately seek the agreement of the European Council under Article 50(3) of the Treaty to extend the date upon which the Treaties shall cease to apply to the United Kingdom;
(2) If, at midday on the last Day before exit day, no agreement has been reached (pursuant to (1) above) to extend the date upon which the Treaties shall cease to apply to the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government must immediately put a motion to the House of Commons asking it to approve ‘No Deal’;
(3) If the House does not approve the motion at (2) above, Her Majesty’s Government must immediately ensure that the notice given to the European Council under Article 50 of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union is revoked in accordance with United Kingdom and European law;
(4) If the United Kingdom’s notice under Article 50 is revoked pursuant to (3) above a Minister of Her Majesty’s Government shall cause an inquiry to be held under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the question whether a model of a future relationship with the European Union likely to be acceptable to the European Union is likely to have majority support in the United Kingdom;
(5) If there is a referendum it shall be held on the question whether to trigger Article 50 and renegotiate that model;
(6) The Inquiry under paragraph (4) shall start within three months of the revocation; and
(7) References in this Motion to “Days” are to House of Commons sitting days; references to “exit day” are references to exit day as defined in the Act; references to the Act are to The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and references to the Treaty are to the Treaty on European Union.
May I first of all say that I hope, for the reputation of this House and the reputation of the political institutions of this country, that we will achieve a majority for at least a couple of these motions this afternoon in order to reassure the public that we do know what we are doing, or we are beginning to know what we are doing, and that we are capable of delivering responsible government and looking after the national interest in the present crisis? I think most right hon. and hon. Members must have appreciated at the weekend how little respect the public as a whole have for their political institutions at the moment, and how very low is the regard in which they hold what is going on in this House.
The House has blocked the Government’s policy. It will not vote for the withdrawal agreement, and last week in a rather curious mixture of votes it voted against the propositions before it. If we are to avoid ludicrous deadlock, today is the day when the House has to indicate that there is a majority and a consensus in favour of something positive that will give some guidance on where we are going.
I might do so when I have got going, but the filibustering on the business motion means that we have very little time for debate, so I am going to make an effort to keep my speech short. With respect to my hon. Friend, who is an old friend, I will not give way.
What happened last week was understandable. People plumped for what they wanted, and we spread so widely over eight motions that nothing actually got a majority. Today, I trust that people will vote for more than one motion if they can live with more than one, because if we just keep plumping for our one and only solution, we will find that we are broken up. That is what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) had in mind when he introduced this process.
I voted for, I think, five of the motions last week, and, as I shall argue, I do not think that they are incompatible with each other. Some are larger than others, and they swallow one within the other. Some are on separate subsets of the problem. What we are all asking ourselves, in this deadlock, is, what compromise would each and every Member be prepared to accept in the national interest?
I am enormously grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, and I agree with every word he has spoken. Does he agree that the reason why we are holding this debate and following this unusual process is not that we are interested in some zany constitutional theory, but that our country faces the prospect, on Thursday week, of leaving without a deal if this House does not come together and find some way forward?
My right hon. Friend and I are in complete agreement. As he quite rightly says, we must avoid no deal occurring by default in a fortnight’s time simply because the House of Commons could not agree on anything. In fact, 400 Members of the House of Commons have voted against no deal, and it would be calamitous just to collapse into it because we cannot reach any compromise among ourselves about what we actually wish to put forward.
I am trying to illustrate that my motion, which is for a permanent customs union, is perfectly compatible with a wider look at the subject but sets a basic agenda. I think it will help to minimise what I regard as the damaging consequences of leaving the European Union, and enable us to reassure the business and other interests in this country—some of them are absolutely panic-stricken—who view the great unknown and the end of the common market with great concern. I hope that the public, who are as polarised as this House in their opinions, will begin to be reassured. I hope that people will be reconciled to a compromise of leaving the political European Union but staying in the common market, to use the language of Eurosceptics over the years.
No, I will not give way. As I have said, we have just had two hours of filibustering, and I do not want my speech to be spun out.
Let me illustrate why I think motion (C) does not conflict with the body of opinion in most of the political parties in this House, starting with the Conservative party. My motion does not conflict with the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. Indeed, it slightly complements it, and it deals with a different subject. Motion (C) deals with the political arrangements—the non-binding political declaration and the nature of the later negotiations that will have to take place to determine our long-term future.
As I said last week, the motion answers the concerns of the Labour party, which has supported it. The Labour party says that it will not vote for the withdrawal agreement, not because of its contents, but because it represents a blind Brexit in which we have absolutely no idea what the Government are going to do. To approve the withdrawal agreement would be to give the Government a blank sheet of paper and allow them to carry on arguing inside the Cabinet about what objectives to seek in the negotiations that would follow. What this motion suggests is that the House mandates the Government—whatever shape they take and whatever the Government—to make a permanent customs union one of their foundations in the negotiations. I will come back to the only reason that they have ever given for being against the customs union, which is the only basis for voting against it.
No, I am not going to give way. It would be unfair to other Members who have had this whole debate crammed into three hours. In 1972, we used to have all-night sittings on much smaller issues than this. I do not recommend going back to that, but I object to listening to my colleagues having to speak on three-minute time limits because chaps want to get to dinner and will not sit after 7 o’clock in the evening in the middle of the week, which is where this rather pathetic Parliament has got itself recently. That is my last digression from my theme. [Interruption.]
As I have said, the motion does not conflict with the Government’s withdrawal agreement. If the motion is passed or if it is subsumed by common market 2.0, which I will also vote for—that motion would subsume this one if it is carried—the easiest way of proceeding is for the Government to proceed with their withdrawal agreement tomorrow and for the Labour party to abstain because it is no longer such a blind Brexit, and then we can get on to the serious negotiations, which this country has not even started yet, with its 27 partner nations.
Motion (C) does not conflict with the case that is being made by many Members for a further referendum—either a confirmatory referendum or a people’s vote. It is not on the same subject. The referendum is about whether the public have changed their mind and whether we are firmly committed to the EU now that we know what is happening. That is a process—a very important one—that we are arguing about. I have been abstaining on that; I am not very fond of referendums, but there we are.
Motion (C) is concerned with a quite different subject: the substance of the negotiations if we get beyond 12 April. It begins to set out what the Government have a majority for and what they are being given a mandate for when they start those negotiations. The separate issue of whether, at any relevant stage, a referendum is called for can be debated and voted on quite separately. Advocates of a people’s vote are not serving any particular interest if they vote for a people’s vote and somehow vote against this motion to make sure that that somehow gets a bigger majority. Both can be accommodated.
I shall be accused of bias if I give way to my right hon. and learned Friend.
I urge the Liberals to proceed on that basis, and similarly, the Scottish nationalists. I agree with them—I would much prefer to stay in the European Union—but I am afraid that in trying to give this country good and stable governance by giving steers to the House of Commons, I have compromised on that, because a huge majority seems to me to have condemned us to leaving the European Union. I have tabled motions with the Scottish nationalists and have voted with them to revoke article 50 if the dread problem of no deal seems to be looming towards us by accident, and I will again. I cannot understand why the Scottish nationalists will not at least contemplate, if they cannot get their way and stay in the European Union, voting for a permanent customs union, which will benefit business and the economy in Scotland just as much as here and is not remotely incompatible with pursuing their wider aims.
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. The reason that the Scottish National party cannot support his motion today is that freedom of movement is vital for the Scottish economy and we do not get freedom of movement without the single market—that is the reason we cannot support his motion.
I will vote for the single market, if it is presented in a proper way, and I would have voted for the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) last week, had he not at the end added a gratuitous sentence ruling out a customs union. If we can get a majority for the single market, I will vote for it again.
I accept that if we pass a motion for the single market, or the motion for common market 2.0, which no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) will move later, my motion will be subsumed, but I am not confident we will pass a motion for the single market, because although the Scot nats are attracted by freedom of movement, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are provoked into voting against it for that very reason. Similarly, common market 2.0, which I would settle for, is probably too ambitious. Mine, then, is the fall-back position.
I hope that my hon. Friend votes for my motion, but I cannot understand the Scottish nationalists. Voting for my motion is no threat to their position; indeed, it is an insurance policy—this goes back to how I started—to make sure that we move forward and that the House of Commons gives the Government a mandate that we can then ensure they have to follow in mapping out this nation’s future. In the long negotiations over the next two or three years, questions of regulatory alignment and freedom of movement will start coming into the negotiations again; that we have committed ourselves to a permanent customs union will not compromise any of those discussions.
I have not the faintest idea why Members of the Democratic Unionist party are not supporting motion (C). If we pass motion (C), it will mean we have no tariffs or certificates of origin and that the Irish border question is pretty well solved—we will be 90-odd% of the way to maintaining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It would be of huge benefit to the Irish economy and Irish security and mean that the DUP’s objection to the Irish backstop—that Northern Ireland is being treated differently from the rest of the UK—vanished Pass motion (C) and it applies to the entire United Kingdom.
I am glad to hear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a Unionist, though in supporting the withdrawal agreement three times he has shown that he does not respect the views of the people of Northern Ireland who believe it puts the Union in jeopardy.
The customs union alone does not resolve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in the terms in which the EU has expressed it. The single market rules are equally important in its argument that there would need to be regulatory checks—though of course we know, from its no-deal preparations, that it does not matter whether we are in a customs union or a single market, or neither, because it does not intend to put checks on the border anyway.
I agree that to have an open border—unless we invent these magic X-ray cameras whose discovery some of my hon. Friends think is imminent—we will need to be in a customs union and have some degree of regulatory alignment. In the case of the Irish border—and, I think, of Dover—a customs union gets us 90% of the way. As I say, it is not the customs union that is inconsistent with the right hon. Gentleman’s aim and mine, which is a totally free-moving, frictionless—to use the Prime Minister’s phrase—border at the channel in England and in Ireland, with the same arrangements applying to both. He cites the fact that unfortunately the withdrawal agreement has the Irish backstop in it. Motion (C) makes the Irish backstop irrelevant and superfluous. It will never feature if we pass my motion (C).
No, I am sorry; I will go back to being strict, though when I refer to parties or people, I feel it is courteous to let them respond.
Let me now deal, finally and very briefly, with the only substantial argument that has been raised in the House against the customs union from the beginning to the end of our debates. That argument is that it will stop us having our own customs arrangements with third party countries, and it is repeated by Ministers over and over again.
No, I will not, in the interests of other Members who wish to speak.
First, that argument is not actually accurate. It is true that trade agreements with other countries would mean that we would not be able to make changes in external tariffs. Of course, we would have the benefit of no tariffs at all: totally tariff-free entry into the rest of the EU. What we would be able to have trade agreements on is the service economy, service industries, which constitute the vast majority of this country’s GDP.
I have been involved in trade negotiations quite a lot over the years. It is not vanity, but simply my longevity, which leads me to say that I have probably had more experience of trade arrangements and dealings than any other Member. In every Department that I have occupied, I have led trade delegations to somewhere or other. During my spell at the Department of Trade and Industry and my spell at the Treasury, I became heavily involved in trade deals, particularly with the Americans, China, and large parts of Latin America. I led for the last Government—the coalition Government—on the EU-US TTIP negotiations. Although the Commission conducts the negotiations on a mandate that it has been given by the 28 member states, certain of the bigger ones—such as Britain—remain a constant presence, and go backwards and forwards to try to ensure that the process is going smoothly. So I have been involved in many attempts to secure trade deals, some successful and some not. Opening up the Chinese market is a very slow business: I could have told President Trump that.
Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends ascribe great weight to an American deal. TTIP failed. It was given that strange title—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—because Obama’s officials said that it would not be possible to get anything called a free trade agreement past America, which is quite a protectionist country. Certainly Congress is protectionist, and that was under Obama. The problem with the Americans was, first of all, that we wanted to open up access to services. Tariffs do not matter much in European-American trade. They are vestigial. All the Europeans, including the British, are quite content to abandon tariffs in both directions, because they are fairly small. The auto industry, on both sides of the Atlantic, did not really want tariffs. It is regulatory differences, and getting regulatory equivalence, or convergence, that stand in the way.
We wanted the Americans to open up public procurement, which they would not do—and, anyway, it is a state-by-state process, which makes it more difficult—and to open up the service sector, particularly financial services. The lobbies in Congress are too strong for that to make much progress. The present President has given no indication that he would open up any market to us. The approach that he has taken to trade negotiations, when he talks about a trade agreement and takes on the Mexicans, the Canadians and the Chinese, is that he wants America to export more to them and wants them to export less to America. We have a large trade surplus with America, and that is what he has in mind. It is perfectly plain. His obsession is with food and agricultural products, and that means giving up our standards of animal welfare and food quality—which, owing to British lobbying, are very high in Europe—and accepting America’s lower standards involving hormone-treated beef and chicken.
If any Members think we can influence that—if they think that with such a trade agreement we can somehow start tightening up American food standards and animal welfare—I can only tell them that the agriculture lobby in Congress is extremely powerful, and would not take the slightest notice of British interests in such matters. The Australians would probably agree to a deal, but we would have to face the problem of hormone-treated beef, because that is what they want to export to us. The New Zealanders would want a deal as long as the quotas were lifted from their tariff-free exports of lamb. I am sure that they would be happy if we could think of anything that we wished to sell to New Zealand that we do not sell at the moment. But those negotiations will not compensate for the loss of our European markets if we stay outside the customs union and the single market and erect great barriers in our way.
I have made a modest case—it is modest compared with my own views; nobody in this House is a greater supporter of the European project than I am and nobody in this House wants Britain to remain in the EU more than I do, if that were in the realm of the possible. To reject motion (C) again would run the risk of the adverse reaction outside that we got when—as I think we all anticipated—there were minorities for every motion last week. Now is the time for hon. Members to get behind motion (C). If they wish to get behind common market 2.0, they should feel free to do so, and those who want to reinforce the revocation argument if otherwise we would crash out with no deal should vote for that.
So far, the process has been a shambles. The public hold their political parties and politicians and the institutions of Government almost in contempt. Today, we must start to bring that to an end. All I propose is a modest step compared with most others on the Order Paper. It is perfectly compatible with the wider ambitions of a large majority of this House. It is fitting that I should open the debate because my motion is the basic, obvious beginning. If the House wishes to add more, I shall probably vote with it.
Motion (E) is an attempt to bring us all together and to restore the kind of politics that will allow us to overcome the greatest challenges. We need to recognise that the House is in peril—not just of a disastrous Brexit outcome, but of falling so far in the popular esteem that we may never recover public trust.
We have lost the art of politics because we have become gridlocked in the politics of position. We have taken up positions, usually in groups, and effectively gone to war against all the other groups. There has been a heavy price to pay, even beyond the battering and the bruising of opposing views. It has been paid outside the Chamber in an ever more divided and fractious country.
The country is also bemused and demands that we chart a new course. After three years of assault and counter-attack, no position has emerged victorious. Instead, the politics of this House has been even more diminished and entrenched. Nothing will change if we are not prepared to move. A solution will emerge only if we make it so.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful tone. I would like to ask for some clarification. What will be the question in the referendum that he proposes? Given that we have already voted to leave in 2016, I assume that the question in his referendum would be to leave with the Government’s deal or to leave with no deal.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates where I will get to in my speech. I will answer the question once I have addressed it, but I think I can predict that we will get there soon.
I believe that the solution is to work with what we have before us: to accept the world as it is, not the world as we would like it to be. After the referendum, I travelled to Norway and met negotiators and Ministers. I visited the European economic area headquarters in Brussels and I worked alongside colleagues to champion a soft Brexit, which I then voted for. So those who say that I and others like me have simply tried to scupper Brexit from the start are wrong.
I have also voted for every proposition from the Labour Front Bench and I encourage others to do the same as another way of achieving compromise and consensus. I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Brexit Secretary on their excellent work in crafting a set of Brexit policies that puts the future of our economy and workers first and foremost. I believe that if they had done this from a position within Government, we would have been able to present a deal to Parliament that would have been accepted. That is why our motion relates to a deal, rather than specifically to the Government’s deal.
I know that many people on these Benches still long for a better proposition than the one on offer. We must be honest with each other, however. When the Prime Minister triggered the article 50 process, we all knew, whether we voted for it or against it, that it bestowed on the Government the right to negotiate a deal on behalf of the British people. That deal is now before us, and it defines Brexit.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady—[Interruption.] I encourage everyone to look in this direction rather than in any other direction. I am not suggesting that we propose another deal. I am proposing that we accept the landscape that we are standing in, exactly in the manner that I have just suggested. The deal before us is one that defines Brexit, and as it stands, this sovereign Parliament has rejected it again and again and again. In fact, MPs have cast a staggering 1,167 votes against the deal—[Interruption.]
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This debate is obviously of extreme importance and it is vital that Members are able to hear the speeches, particularly those made by the proponents of the different motions. There is obviously a disturbance in the Gallery, and whatever the rights and wrongs of that protest, I am sure you would agree that we need to ensure that people can be heard in the debate and that the situation in the Gallery is appropriately handled so that we can proceed with our debate today.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
As it stands, this sovereign Parliament has rejected the deal again and again and again. In fact, MPs have cast a staggering 1,167 votes against it. That is 50% more than the number of MPs who sit in this Chamber. However, although the majority here do not like it, the fact remains that it has been signed off by every EU country, by the EU itself and by the British Government. It is the only deal on the table. We have to accept that there is no majority for the Government’s deal, but neither is there a majority right now for an alternative. So we have a stark choice. Do we continue the war of positions in the hope that one side will capitulate, knowing the damage that it will do to our politics and to our country? Do we persist with the deadlock? Or do we choose to progress? If there is no outright majority for any of the motions, we must do what the country is desperate for: we must compromise by bringing together two minority positions to create a majority in order to move forward.
I should like to intervene on the hon. Gentleman to enable him to collect his thoughts. I congratulate him on speaking in the way that he is, notwithstanding some of the other stuff that might be going on. In any event, does he agree that it is really important that everyone believes in and votes for a people’s vote and does not get distracted by anything else?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for the constructive manner in which he has worked with those on the other side of the divide—albeit those who have come to the same conclusion as him. We can either keep going on and on, with Parliament being seen as an absolute failure that delivers nothing, or put the matter back to the people and get legal certainty. His is the only option that would give that certainty.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has been a fantastic person to work with. Listening to him and learning from his experiences and from how he has approached his voting has informed how we can move forward based on compromise. The naked truth is that 202 Members have loyally voted for the Prime Minister’s deal three times now, and that is a principled stance. However, simply repeating the same exercise will not see loyalty rewarded.
I have long said that if this House cannot find a solution to the Venn diagram that is Brexit, all options, including a confirmatory vote, must remain on the table. However, does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that any route from here is not consequence-free? Does he further acknowledge that a second referendum could be much more divisive than decisive?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his cheeky intervention. He makes a good point. I accept that the 2016 referendum was challenging for our country, but the next public vote need not be, and we have a role to play in that. If we choose to lead the country in a different way, we can hope not to repeat the 2016 experience and instead have a vote that reconciles more than it divides. That is our hope as we move forward. We are not slaves to the past. Let us be masters of the future.
The hon. Gentleman is fleshing out his arguments well. We cannot keep going around in circles. This Parliament has spent nearly three years debating the topic without finding a consensus, so we need to understand that we must break that deadlock, and he is right that the only way of doing so is through a public vote. Surely it makes more sense to have a public vote on the matter at hand, which is the route forward on Brexit, than a general election that may result in different MPs, but still a hung Parliament and no direction.
I am going to make some progress. I promised Mr Speaker that I would take about six minutes, and I am trying hard to honour that promise.
Last week, 268 Members voted for the principle of a confirmatory ballot—the largest number of votes for any alternative Brexit proposition up to that point. The principle has effectively been used twice in the past 20 years to solve complex, divisive issues.
The first occasion was on the Belfast or Good Friday agreement. Many people, institutions and organisations were asked to give a lot to cement the deal, but they gained a lot together despite sections of Northern Irish society strongly rejecting it. The Good Friday agreement was put to a confirmatory ballot that confirmed the deal and led to a decisive end to the arduous process and a peace that has endured to this day. I do not want to risk undoing those gains, which is another reason why we need to unlock our politics.
I am going to make some progress, but I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene a bit later.
The second occasion was the alternative vote referendum in 2011. Electoral reform had been hotly contested and was a regular feature of public debate, and it was a divisive matter within the coalition Government. However, both Tory and Lib Dem parliamentarians were able to work together to legislate for it, because the matter would be subjected to a confirmatory public ballot. The innovation of a confirmatory ballot is important, because it is binding on Government. Once confirmed or rejected, the subject does not even need to return to Parliament. In the case of the Good Friday agreement, the matter was agreed. In the case of the AV referendum, it was rejected. However, the debate was settled instantly in both cases, as it would be in this case. There would be no return to Parliament, no more squabbling, no best of three, no “neverendum”, just a definitive end to the Brexit impasse—talking of which, I give way to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans).
The hon. Gentleman has kept his word, for which I am extremely grateful. His idea would have some merit were it not for the fact that we had a general election in 2017, which our parties both fought on manifestos saying that we would deliver Brexit. Some 80% of the people voted either Labour or Conservative. Does he not therefore believe that, as I have heard from constituents over the past few weeks, we should just get on with it?
The Labour manifesto was published two and a half weeks after I agreed to stand as a Labour candidate, and the deal we are now debating was reached a year and a half after the general election. We did not see the Chequers agreement, the Government’s negotiating stance or the deal until months after that general election. By standing on either manifesto, we did not give the Government a blank cheque to deliver any deal.
The simple answer to the manifesto point is that the coalition Government worked out a completely different set of policies, literally behind closed doors, after the 2010 election, and the Conservative party lost the 2017 election. The reason why the Brexiteers cite the manifestos is that they are trying to stop Parliament having a say on Brexit.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware, as I read in The Times this morning, of a secret letter that was sent to the Prime Minister by 170 Conservative MPs, and which they refuse to publish, apparently advocating no deal, in direct contravention of a resolution passed in this House? That shows a complete lack of respect.
I am not aware of that letter, but it is something we have seen time and again. We have to ask ourselves a fundamental question: people going to Chequers to discuss stitch-up deals behind closed doors, and people writing letters to the Prime Minister that are not in the public domain—is that an elitist stitch-up? Alternatively, is getting Brexit out of Parliament, out of Westminster and into every community up and down our country an elitist stitch-up? One of those two is an elitist stitch-up, and I believe in my heart that I am on the right side of the argument so far.
Motion (E) offers two benefits that Members cannot afford to ignore. It breaks the deadlock in Parliament; I reassure Opposition Members that the motion makes it explicit that Parliament is withholding consent for the deal until it is confirmed by the public. It cannot be said that, by supporting the motion, Members are supporting the deal.
Secondly, the motion allows us to offer a definitive end to this nightmare. It is a sign of failure that we could not resolve Brexit alone, but it is at least honest to admit our failure. We owe the public an apology for the need to return to them one more time, but at least it will be only one more time.
Is not the essence of the problem that the original referendum was not defined in terms of whether it was binding or, as the Government said at the time, advisory? As a result, it has led to lots of complications. The referendum proposed by motion (E) would clearly be a final say, and therefore there would be no ambiguity, which is what the people deserve.
I could not agree more. This time, voters would be making a decision based on facts not promises. They could compare the deal on offer with the deal we already have. The consent they give would be an informed consent. It is time to get Brexit out of Westminster, and we can do that only by backing a compromise. If we do not back this compromise, we could be stuck here in Parliament debating this for weeks and months to come.
Brexit has to be returned to the people of the United Kingdom for them to issue their final instruction, and then together we can begin the reconciliation our country so desperately needs but which today seems so far away. Motion (E) makes that possible, and possibility is the very art of politics.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on managing to deliver a powerful speech despite a certain amount of distraction. He was responsible for my defeat in his constituency in 2005—not as the candidate but as the campaign manager—and I have always been slightly frightened of him since.
I find myself wondering whether it is a coincidence entirely that the people who normally sit around me on these Benches are not here, given that we all know that among them are counted noted naturists. It has long been a thoroughly British trait to be able to ignore pointless nakedness, and I trust that the House will now be able to return to the issue we are discussing.
In last Monday’s debate, my great friend and mentor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), urged the House to take to heart the words that are recited every day during Prayers by the Speaker’s Chaplain:
“never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind”.
In the nine years since I arrived in this House, there has never been a day, or a debate, in which this injunction is more relevant. If by doing this a clear majority of right hon. and hon. Members are able to support one of the Brexit compromises on the Order Paper today, the vast majority of the people we represent will breathe a deep sigh of relief. We are sent here to make the most difficult decisions on behalf of our constituents. If we vote for a compromise version of Brexit this evening, they will see that we are up to the job.
As my hon. Friend knows—and he is my friend—I have made the case and voted for the single market and the customs union for almost the past two years. My difficulty with his motion is that paragraph 1(i) says that it seeks to
“renegotiate the framework for the future relationship”.
I think that he would have won more support if, like motion (C), on the customs union, he had sought to change the withdrawal agreement as well as the future framework. The problem with his motion is that it is about only the future relationship, which any Government and any Prime Minister who succeeds the current one can change. In other words, it is non-binding.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her point, but I do not agree with it. My motion specifically includes a provision that the political declaration, as renegotiated, should then be cemented into the withdrawal Act, as will come if this House votes for this, and therefore this will require a majority of this House to vote to amend statute if there is to be a change. So it will not simply be a matter of a future leader of the Conservative party being able to rip this up and renegotiate it. They will have to amend an Act of Parliament in this House, and currently there is no majority for amending it in the direction that she fears.
I agree that the public would be relieved if we ever did come to a conclusion, but they would be angry if we came to the wrong conclusion. Does my hon. Friend accept that his common market 2.0 proposal would allow free movement of people, that it would cost us billions to access the single market, that we would be justiciable by the Court and so we would be law-takers, and that we would not be able to do free trade deals—and was that not the basic tenet of what we voted for in 2016?
Unfortunately, my hon. Friend is right about only some of those things. It is true that in normal days we would be subject to free movement, because that is the price of single market membership, and that we would have to pay over some financial contributions, although they would be probably of the order of half of what we currently have to pay. He is not correct to say that we would be justiciable by the European Court of Justice. If we were within the European economic area, which is what common market 2.0 proposes, we would be subject to the European Free Trade Association court, and the key thing about the EFTA court is that there is no direct effect in its judgments; they all have to be implemented by sovereign Parliaments before they take hold. So this is a substantially different relationship, one in which we would have a great deal more control. Of course we would be outside all the areas other than the single market—all the political areas of the EU—and we would truly have taken back control.
I will not give way again.
Some commentators have criticised those of us who support common market 2.0 for adapting our proposal in response to suggestions from other colleagues or to statements by leading figures in the EU and the EFTA states. I make no apology for that; from the start we have wanted to bring forward a realistic and deliverable plan, and give as many people as possible reasons to support it. So since last Wednesday’s debate, in response to comments from Labour Members, we have added further detail to the definition of the comprehensive customs arrangement that would prevail at least until alternative arrangements underpinning frictionless trade have been agreed with the EU. We have also added a commitment to seek a protocol on agri-foods trade across the UK-EU border. I want to thank the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) for educating me about this matter, and for the tireless work of Diane Dodds MEP on behalf of Northern Ireland’s farmers. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) felt able to sign the motion. I understand that the Scottish National party plans to vote for common market 2.0 tonight, which shows that it is the Brexit compromise that would be best for all parts of the UK.
That is a good question and I am pleased the right hon. Gentleman has asked it. I truly believe that if this proposal were to achieve a majority tonight and if the Government were to accept it as Government policy tomorrow, which they should if this House has resolved on something by a majority, it would not be necessary to extend beyond 22 May. Last week, the EU said that it was ready to renegotiate the terms of the political declaration within hours, not weeks.
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done on common market 2.0. Does he agree that it is not just a strong Brexit, but a unity Brexit, because many Eurosceptics in the past have supported the idea of Britain joining EFTA and current Eurosceptics such as my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) are supporting common market 2.0 membership of EFTA. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) not also agree that it provides important brakes on freedom of movement?
I am replying to another intervention, if the right hon. Lady would just give me one moment. My right hon. Friend is right; common market 2.0 has attracted the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), and no remainer is he. He has been one the most long-standing and principled Brexiteers, but he nevertheless sees the merits in a proposal that offers something to the 48% who voted remain as well as to the 52% who voted leave. My right hon. Friend is also right to say that, although free movement would apply in normal times, by joining the common market 2.0, we would secure a new legal right in exceptional circumstances—I stress the exceptional—to pull an emergency brake on free movement if there were major societal or economic impacts being felt by this country. That is significant. We do not have it as a member of the EU; it is a significant measure of additional control that we do not currently have.
This is important, because we are all, or should be, compromising across this House. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge, on freedom of movement and immigration, that Scotland has a unique demographic situation and that we cannot compromise on freedom of movement because of its importance to the Scottish National party and to Scotland? Will he elaborate further on that point?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. In truth, I have been educated not only by the right hon. Member for East Antrim but by the hon. Member for Dundee East and the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), and I now understand better the importance of immigration not only to the Scottish economy but to Scottish society. There is an important detail about the emergency brake in articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement, which is that it talks about regional impacts and the potential for a regional application of the emergency brake that might suspend free movement. Therefore, were there significant societal or economic problems in, say, the south-east or east of England but not in Scotland, a Government could bring forward a brake that applied only to the affected areas and not to Scotland. That is entirely within the scope of the emergency brake framework.
Mr Speaker is glaring at me, so I am not going to take any more interventions until I am much closer to the end of my speech.
We all in this House would much prefer to avoid the activation of the Irish backstop. One of the great advantages of common market 2.0 is that it keeps all parts of the UK in the single market and in a customs arrangement, with a common external tariff, until alternative arrangements have been agreed with the EU. It should be possible to agree with the EU a legally binding joint interpretative statement, enshrining the commitment that the backstop protocol will be superseded in full once the UK is safely inside the EEA and a customs arrangement. Common market 2.0 is the only Brexit compromise that can make the Irish backstop fall away altogether.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling case, and I am almost convinced—almost, but not quite. Will he confirm that he would replace the Northern Ireland backstop, with its potential “forever” arrangements and handcuffs on the United Kingdom, with something that we could at least depart from upon having served sufficient notice?
I simply say that we have to have an agreement with the EU about alternative arrangements. Thanks to the hard work of the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and many others from across the House, we have secured in the agreement with the EU a commitment to develop those alternative arrangements. Although they may not exist now and may not exist in three years, I am absolutely confident that, with good will, we can secure arrangements. I do not believe that the EU wants any more than we do to keep us in a prehistoric situation when new technologies make the more sophisticated management of the border possible.
As we heard from the hon. Member for Hove, many in the House believe that there should be a referendum to secure the voters’ consent to any Brexit deal. I do not agree with them, but I have the greatest possible respect for the sincerity of their arguments, and I admire the passionate commitment of the supporters of their cause. I hope that, like the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), they will support common market 2.0. We have learned that were a referendum to happen, its result would be unpredictable; surely it would be better for the leave option to be one that retains membership of the single market and a customs arrangement that guarantees frictionless trade.
The hon. Gentleman is to be commended because, unlike Government Front Benchers, we are now looking at compromises and working together in the interests of the people. Let me push him a little more on the idea of a referendum. We have already discussed no deal and the Prime Minister’s deal, and now potentially common market 2.0, and all of them are mutually exclusive and they cannot all represent all of the 52%. Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that in the interests of democracy and legitimacy, the only way to end this situation is to put his proposal, with all the benefits it brings with it, to the British people and allow them to choose either it or to remain?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for taking the time to talk to me about the proposal and to understand it. We discovered much common ground. I am not persuaded of his argument, and in a sense I apologise that I am not able to be. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be aware that if the House votes for common market 2.0 tonight, it will then need to come forward in a withdrawal implementation Bill. There will be opportunities for people from all parties to seek to amend that Bill to add the confirmatory referendum that they seek. This is not the last stage in this conversation; if anything, it is just the beginning. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can support the leave option that would do the least damage to the British economy, while he continues to make his argument for a referendum.
I am going to make some progress.
Some of my hon. Friends supported the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), which also supported British membership of the EEA and EFTA. Although the journey proposed by the common market 2.0 motion might take a little longer, I hope that those colleagues will recognise that the destination is, to all intents and purposes, the same and that they will therefore join my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth in supporting our motion today.
The construction of a compromise is not easy—nor is the realisation that we may not get everything that we want, that other people’s views and interests matter and that it is better to get half a loaf than to get nothing at all. Our constituents do not send us here for an easy ride or to duck difficult choices. This evening, let us live up to the words of the parliamentary prayer and, setting aside our private interests and prejudices, lead our country out of the Brexit morass.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Briefly, may I thank you, Sir, and the House authorities for the way in which the disruption was handled? It was a distraction, but there was no disruption to our proceedings. May we, through you, thank everybody involved?
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who has become a good friend during the course of this debacle, and the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles).
Given the mess that the Government have got the United Kingdom into, each of us who has spoken so far today is, in our own way, trying to ensure that the Prime Minister does not go naked into the conference chamber—if I can use that phrase—when she goes to the EU Council on 10 April, which is a week on Wednesday. As the Father of the House said, we must not allow no deal to happen by accident on 12 April simply because this House has failed to find a deal that a majority can get behind. As the Government Chief Whip has himself admitted, the Prime Minister’s failure, from the beginning when she lost that general election two years ago, to try to build a consensus across the House and with the devolved Governments, means that we are highly unlikely to find a deal that the House can get behind before Friday 12 April. We therefore need some sort of backstop—some sort of insurance policy against a no deal.
We also need a way to make sure that the Prime Minister honours the promise that she gave this House at the beginning of last week: that unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen. That is what the Prime Minister said. As we know, and as has been said already this afternoon, one thing that definitely did happen in the indicative votes last week was that 400 Members rejected the idea of a no-deal Brexit. We know there is a majority against a no-deal Brexit.
I commend my hon. and learned Friend for her efforts in respect of her motion. She will remember, as I do, that the Prime Minister pledged that, if Parliament voted to support no deal, that would become the Government’s policy. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, if Parliament votes for her motion tonight, that should be the Government’s policy and there should be a backstop to make sure that no deal cannot happen?
Yes, I do. That is the purpose of the motion. It is not an SNP motion, although I am absolutely delighted that all my right hon. and hon. Friends are backing it; it is a cross-party motion. It has support from members of every single party in this House, apart from the DUP. If we cannot agree a deal by 10 April, which is the date of the EU Council—everyone must see as a matter of common sense that that is highly unlikely—my motion, if it is passed tonight, will mandate the Government to ask, first, for an extension of the article 50 period. If the EU did not agree to that, the UK Government would be required immediately to table a motion asking this House to approve no deal. My motion goes on to say that, assuming the House did not approve no deal—I think that we can assume that given the many votes that there have been on the matter already—the United Kingdom Government would then be mandated to revoke article 50, before we exit the EU with no deal late on the night of 12 April.
I am very sympathetic to the idea that we need a backstop in extremis to prevent no deal from happening, but can the hon. and learned Lady explain why, later in her motion, she goes on to introduce a level of complexity and a prescriptive route? Is she really wedded to that process, or is she more flexible about how that might work?
I am keen to get this motion passed today. I was very disappointed that some hon. Members, particularly those in the official Opposition, did not feel able to support it last week but, in the spirit of cross-party working, I am trying to be respectful of the reasons why they did not feel able to support it. Coming from the city of Edinburgh, which voted 75% to remain, and the country of Scotland, which voted 62% to remain, and representing a constituency which voted 72% to remain, I understand that it is easy for me to cross this bridge, but it is more difficult for Members in English and Welsh constituencies with different mandates.
Equally, unlike the British Government, who have failed to recognise the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted remain, I am trying to recognise that other parts of these islands voted leave and that, for some people to support this motion, the door cannot be closed on the Brexit process by a revocation to prevent no deal. That is why, with the assistance of lawyers—including Jo Maugham QC who was my fellow petitioner when we took the case to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg to establish that article 50 can be unilaterally revoked—we have crafted the motion in this way. In that connection, I declare my interest in relation to the support of the Good Law Project.
I do agree. I appeal to Members across this House. I know that 10 Conservative Members, including two junior Ministers, voted for this last week. I appeal to anyone who cares about the people who live on these islands and the economy of these islands to prevent a no deal from happening. It is no secret that I came to this House to secure an independent Scotland. That is still my primary aim, but it is not in the interests of Scotland for the Scottish economy to go down the tube with a no-deal Brexit. It is not in the interests of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish economies to go that way, and it is not in Scotland’s interests for the English, Welsh and Northern Irish economies to go that way. Make no mistake about it: if we crash out with no deal, it will be the jobs of ordinary, decent working people that go first. They are the sort of people who vote for the SNP. They are the sort of people who vote for the Labour party and we must protect them.
It is indeed, but the difference is that many people who signed that petition would like to see us just revoke article 50 now—straightaway—and that would be an end of the matter. I would quite like to see that myself, but that is not what this motion seeks to do. The motion is about using revocation as an insurance policy. In respectful recognition of the fact that the issue of Brexit will not go away if we simply revoke to avoid no deal, the motion seeks to mandate the Government to set up a public inquiry, under the Inquiries Act 2005, within three months of revocation to establish whether a model of a future relationship with the European Union could be found that would command majority support in the United Kingdom. It also says that, if that could be done, another referendum would be held on the question of whether to retrigger article 50 and renegotiate that model.
I will give way in a moment, but I just want to knock on the head at this stage a myth that has been peddled by some people that, if this motion were passed, the EU would object to our revoking article 50. That is not the case. It is a misunderstanding of the judgment of the Court of Justice in Luxembourg in the Scottish case, which did not say that, once we revoke article 50, we can never issue an article 50 notice ever again. It categorically did not say that. If Members cannot take that from me, then please read the judgment of the court, which I put on my Twitter feed this afternoon.
I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. Does she agree that one of the failures of this debate, in this House and beyond, is that we do not talk about exactly what no deal is all about—what it actually means for our constituents? We talk about it in too much of a conceptual way, and we let those who are in favour of leaving with no deal get away with not going into the real details—whether on agriculture, or the 83 trade deals of which we would no longer be part.
I absolutely agree. That has been one of the many failures of this process—that this House has not been afforded sufficient time to knock on the head the sort of misinformation peddled about the consequences of no deal. Fortunately, we have much independent research on the consequences of no deal and Members will find that that independent research wholly tells us that no deal would be bad for the economies of these islands, for jobs and for the living standards of people who live here. It would be to shoot ourselves in the foot and to cut off our nose to spite our face.
I am proud to have signed the hon. and learned Lady’s motion and I shall be voting for it tonight. My only concern is not about the motion but, if it is passed, about the consequences. Many of us, right across this House, are concerned that, whatever votes we come to and whatever majority we find, the Government will simply ignore them.
We have every reason to be concerned about that. As the right hon. Lady knows, the Government have repeatedly ignored votes in this House. However, if an instruction is clear and unequivocal, as this motion is, and it is ignored by the Government, there will political consequences—we have seen that previously with a contempt motion in this House—and there could also be legal consequences. In any normal times, this Government would be long gone because of their incompetence and the multiple fiascos that we have had recently but, really, if this Government were to ignore an instruction as clear as this and plunge the nations of these islands into the economic disaster of no deal, not only would they not survive it, but the Conservative and Unionist party would not survive it.
We all know that, if there is any sort of a lengthy extension, there will have to be European elections. I know that there is some learned opinion to the contrary, but the weight of opinion is that there will have to be European elections. I know that that will be difficult for some people to deal with, but if that is the consequence of preventing no deal and protecting our constituents’ livelihoods—the businesses of our constituents and the jobs of our constituents—then so be it and no responsible MP could fail to support this motion tonight. There are four motions before us. I will vote for two of the other ones as well but supporting this motion does not preclude hon. Members from supporting other motions. It is not a motion about the eventual outcome; it is a motion about process and about protecting us. [Interruption.] I can see that Mr Speaker is keen to bring in other speakers. I will not take up much more time, so I will wind up to a conclusion.
For Conservative Members of Parliament, this is an opportunity to make good on the promise that the Prime Minister has already made to this House that, unless the House agrees to it, no deal will not happen. For Labour MPs, it is the opportunity to make good on the promise in their 2017 manifesto, which of course I have read, as I always do Labour manifestos, and which says:
“Labour recognises that leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ is the worst possible deal for Britain and that it would do damage to our economy and trade. We will reject ‘no deal’ as a viable option”.
This is pretty much the last chance saloon. If Labour wants to reject no deal as a viable option and put in place the insurance policy of revocation, then it really needs to do that today.
Most of all, this motion should appeal to all of us as democrats, because this decision of such importance for the United Kingdom, between revocation and no deal, ought to be one for the representatives of the people in this Parliament and not for the Prime Minister in a minority Government. That is why I have called it the parliamentary supremacy motion. Of course, in Scotland, it is the people who are sovereign and supreme, not the Parliament, but I recognise that, for all intents and purposes, this Parliament is supreme. This motion is all about taking back control and making sure that we have an insurance policy against the danger that this rather confused Government could crash us into no deal without really meaning to do so.
Order. Approximately 40 right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, the large majority of whom, I am sorry to say, seem set to be disappointed, and three Front Benchers are due to speak, although I hope mercifully briefly. So in the interests of trying to accommodate colleagues, we will start with a time limit of six minutes, but it is not obligatory to absorb the full six. I call Mr Dominic Grieve.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will try to be brief.
Of the four motions before us, two relate to substance and two relate to process, and they cannot be easily disaggregated. I have signed motion (E) and motion (G), motion (E) being that of the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). As I have said on many occasions, in view of the circumstances that have arisen, the idea that we can legitimately take the people of this country out of the European Union without consulting them as to whether the deal that we are offering them is one they want seems to me very odd indeed. The reality is that everything we have been talking about this evening, on the two substantive motions in particular, bears almost no relation to what was advanced by those advocating leave in the 2016 referendum campaign.
Equally, this House has said repeatedly that it does not believe in a no-deal Brexit. That is why I support the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry)—because we have to do everything to stop it, given that the evidence is overwhelming that leaving without a deal would be catastrophic. I realise that this is sometimes a very difficult issue. On Friday night, I found myself giving an audience the Government’s own figures on the administrative burden on business of leaving without a deal, which is £13 billion per annum. That may be too high or it might be too low, but it is a reasoned estimate. That group of people, some of whom say they support my party and therefore the Government, were shouting “Liar” at me. This, I am afraid, is the point where reasoned debate has wholly evaporated. The House is very clear that what we have here is a real risk to this country’s integrity in future, and that is why no deal must be prevented.
Let me now turn to the two substantive motions. Looked at straightforwardly, I think that both offer a better destination for this country than what the Prime Minister negotiated. That is first because they address the Northern Ireland issue, and do it a way that covers the integrity of the whole United Kingdom and does not separate Northern Ireland out from it, which seems to me to be an advantage; and secondly, because the concessions they make to our participation or deeper integration with our EU partners even after we have left do not come at a cost that people will notice when we are out. I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that, in reality, the trade deals that we were told we would have, and which were celebrated, are going to be absolutely marginal compared with the effect on our wellbeing now and what we are going to lose.
For those reasons, I look with favour on both motions. They are both, as I said, very far removed from what was being trumpeted in 2016, which unfortunately was an utterly misleading vision that the United Kingdom could have its cake and eat it—could have the benefits of membership and all the freedoms that go with not being a member. That is the basic problem that this House is going to have to grapple with. I will not vote against the two motions of substance, which seem to me to be moving us probably in the right direction.
I am anxious about the risks of our concluding a political declaration and having a very limited timeframe—to 22 May, with probably no extension—to resolve fully the issues within it to the satisfaction of this House. I have a serious concern, first, that that can be done; and secondly, that it can be done to the satisfaction of the public. That is why there is a need for a linkage between the preferred option and consulting the public. I do not want to say any more about that now—I want to sit down and allow others to speak.
However, I do want to emphasise my willingness to work with Members of this House who have promoted both these motions, in my determination to try to bring this sorry saga to an end. But in saying that, I want to emphasise that the House has to be very careful about simply jumping on something that it thinks we can all agree on without thinking through the consequences of the process and making sure that the process ends up satisfying the House itself and the electorate, and leading to the right outcome.
I shall seek to be extremely brief, Mr Speaker, because I have been fortunate enough to catch your eye before on these matters.
One of the merits of last week’s indicative vote process was that the arguments for each option, and also the prime concerns, have become much clearer. Discussions on the proposal for a confirmatory ballot devised by my hon. Friends the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) revealed considerable reluctance to contemplate the longer extension, and hence the delay, that would be needed. I completely understand that reluctance, especially if, as may be, it would lead into the holding of Euro elections. But to me, that would be a price well worth paying for the sake of achieving the settlement that a confirmatory vote could produce, as it did with the Good Friday agreement. It may also be the price that we need to pay to allow enough scrutiny of the different options before us to provide the basis for a stable majority, not just a fleeting majority, in this House.
As it happens, I very seriously doubt that such a longer extension can be avoided in any event. The Government can only deliver either the Prime Minister’s deal or any other deal when the necessary legislation passes both Houses of this Parliament. That legislation is said to be ready, but, as the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) pointed out last week, the House has seen neither hide nor hair of it. I have heard that it is long, perhaps even 100 clauses, and that it is also complex—and it is obviously an extremely significant part of this process. But whenever it is mentioned, Ministers speak briefly and dismissively as if its passage is just a given thing that will be both brief and uncontentious. Frankly, I rather doubt that. So as we are likely to need a long extension anyway, for a whole variety of other reasons, why not take advantage of that reality to hold a confirmatory vote on the likely outcome of Brexit, whatever option ultimately emerges from these deliberations?
I agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying. Does she agree with me, though, that in order to get that long extension, the EU would need to be satisfied that this House has actually taken forward a view through a substantive, positive vote, and that otherwise—if we do not take that difficult step—we could just crash out with no deal?
I agree that that would make it infinitely easier. The EU might be convinced of that on the basis of our wanting to hold such a vote, but I totally accept my hon. Friend’s point. This is all based on us trying, if humanly possible, to get such a deal.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. This country has had half a dozen or so referendums in recent years, and we have honoured the outcome of those referendums on each occasion. She is suggesting that we do not honour the outcome of the June 2016 referendum. If we do not honour the outcome of that referendum, are the public not entitled to ask why we should honour the outcome of the referendum that she is advocating or any other?
I am sorry, but I utterly reject the notion that what I am proposing does not honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum, and I will come to the reason why I do not accept that for one second. We should take the step of a confirmatory vote whatever the deal or option that is finally agreed, or even if none is agreed, because whatever the hon. Gentleman may say, not one of the options before the House tonight or over the last few weeks was on the ballot paper in 2016—not one of them, including the Prime Minister’s deal.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I agree with her, but for a confirmatory referendum to take place, there needs to be a viable leave option on the ballot paper versus remain. Does she agree that those campaigning for a second referendum should support the other motions on the Order Paper that present a viable leave option—namely, a customs union and common market 2.0?
I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend about that, but I hope it cuts both ways. I heard the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) say, “Of course, those who want a second referendum can come back to this some other time in legislation when all of this is done,” but it must be a two-way street.
I am duly grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
What is most often heard in these discussions is the argument that to hold a confirmatory vote would be not only wrong but undemocratic, which is the point that the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) was trying to address. That argument is advanced both by those who believe that the view of the people has not changed and that they will still vote to leave—and, according to Mr Farage, by a bigger margin—and by those who fear that their view might have changed and who resist holding such a vote for that very reason. It seems to me that there is something mutually contradictory in those arguments.
We have heard a great deal about the resentment that would be felt by those who voted to leave, but I again ask Members to carefully consider the position in which this House would place itself if it is the case—I do not know one way or the other—that the British people do not now wish to leave the European Union. We are being invited to vote to take the UK out of the European Union even if it is now against the wishes of the British people, and to do so while refusing to give them the opportunity even to express such wishes. I fear we may find such a refusal difficult to defend, especially if the basis of our decision ends up being the Prime Minister’s deal, which will itself have been presented to this Parliament for decision more than once.
There is another dangerous argument being advanced: that we should leave, and if we do not like it, we can always rejoin. This House knows that if we leave, we lose the special opt-outs on the euro and Schengen that successive Governments have negotiated. Rejoining would put us in a very different place from remaining with the concessions that we have now.
I accept that, in a variety of ways, the alternatives proposed on today’s Order Paper by the Father of the House and others offer advantages over the Prime Minister’s proposal. I could live with any of them apart from the option of no deal, but I repeat: none of them was before the British people three years ago, and for that reason, if for no other, they should be asked for their view on the reality that is before them, rather than the fantasies they were spun in 2016.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). Like her, I will be voting for motion (E), but I will be doing so for very different reasons, and I wish to explain those reasons in the time I have.
I have been on the wrong side of all the EU votes when it comes to the arithmetic, with the exception of the vote for the Prime Minister to trigger article 50, when I was one of almost 500 MPs who voted for that to occur. Since then, I have voted for the Prime Minister’s deal three times, I have voted for no deal as the fall-back twice and I have voted not to allow an extension of article 50—on each occasion, I have lost. That has brought me to this place.
Motion (E) provides the opportunity to get the Prime Minister’s deal through, as much as it provides the opportunity for those who did not vote for article 50 to be triggered to revoke article 50. I am willing to take my chances and put the matter to the people, because I have given up on Parliament delivering a majority for the deal that I want. I am left with two choices. One is to find myself in meaningful vote 3,029, and the other—I say this as a former transactional lawyer working on a trading floor—is to look ahead and try to find a solution that will deliver what I want, which is to honour the vote in 2016. That is incredibly important to me. I worry about the democratic deficit of that not being delivered.
Of course, people could ask us why we are going back to the people. I say this with a great degree of self-loathing, but I am supporting this purely because Parliament is unable to reach a majority and a decision—we are stuck. Every Member of this House needs to face up to the reality and ask themselves, “How long can this go on? How much uncertainty will we allow business and our constituents to bear before we finally reach the conclusion that we need to find another option?”
My hon. Friend talks about uncertainty, but surely a second referendum, whatever way it is formulated, will just add to uncertainty ad infinitum. Why would people accept the result of a second referendum? It is an absurd position.
I do not believe it is absurd. With respect, it is more absurd us having debate after debate and vote after vote and achieving absolutely nothing. Alternatively, we can be realistic and say that Parliament is not delivering. I mean no disrespect to us, but that is the reality.
This motion gives certainty because unlike, for example, a customs union, which would then have to be negotiated, there are two options—one is revoke, which can be done but I hope will not be, and the other is the Prime Minister’s deal, which has been agreed with the EU—and they both automatically deliver certainty. The other options do not deliver certainty, and Parliament is not delivering anything at all right now.
Will my hon. Friend confirm what he appeared to just say, which is that he would support there being two options on the ballot paper in a second referendum, one of which would be to revoke article 50? Is he representing the Chancellor when he says that?
I resent that point. No, I am not representing the Chancellor, otherwise I would be sat behind him on the Treasury Bench. I am representing my constituents and what I feel is right. I take umbrage at that.
Let us be reasonable. Let us look at compromise and at two differing views. It has been put to me that the options on the ballot paper should be no deal or deal. Of course that is what I would want, because those are the options I have voted for, but on the other side of the divide, if the options were customs union and single market membership or revoke, that would be no good for the 17.4 million. Let us choose options that might deliver something for both sides of the argument and then put it to the people and give certainty.
I do not say this because I have ever wanted a second referendum. As far as I was concerned, when we had the first vote, that was it. I said to my constituents that I would first support the deal, and if that did not work, no deal. My voting record shows that I have done just that, but it also shows that I have lost. Being a serial loser, I can either carry on in that negative vein or face reality and tell my constituents that we have to find a way through this—they want that more than anyone I speak to—and look for another solution. That solution, to me, is a confirmatory vote.
Further to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, does he agree that a confirmatory vote is also the best way of healing the divisions, as it would give both sides the chance to have a view on the final deal, put it to bed once and for all, and move us forward?
It may well do so, although it would of course be fractious. I would certainly be embarrassed at the very fact that we had got there, but I support doing so on the basis of the reality in this place.
It has also been asked, would we not be better off having a general election? Again, however, I want certainty, and a general election would not deliver certainty. With all due respect to us all, it might deliver us back here again, and then we could carry on in the same vein as we have so far. I do not believe that that would be better, whereas the options I have laid before the House would provide legal certainty and that would be it. So far as I am concerned, I say with great reluctance that I will absolutely support a confirmatory vote because, to me, that is the only way we are going to deliver certainty. This place, I am afraid to say, has not done so.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), and I agree with the points that he made.
This is the first time I have contributed to any of these debates—I have managed to avoid doing so until now—but I have worked with right hon. and hon. Members across this House. Incidentally, I pay particular tribute to the right hon. Members for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). It has been a pleasure to work with people who have been united in a desire to find a way forward, and united also in recognising that there is an absolute need to avoid leaving the EU with no deal.
I believe it is essential now that we seek to build consensus, and I feel that for two reasons. First, we are in a perilous state: there is a real danger to this country. There is a high risk that, unintentionally, we could end up in just a few days’ time crashing out of the EU with no deal. The damage to the economy would be profound. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), with the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), has made very well the points about the absolute importance of protecting manufacturing industry, and the auto industry in particular. As Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, I should also say that the damage to our science community from crashing out with no deal would be profound, and it seems to me that we have to avoid that at all costs.
The second reason why I think it is important to build consensus is that we live now in a horribly divided country, with entrenched positions and intransigence on both sides. This is deeply damaging to our country, and we risk damaging the social contract. I think we play with fire if we do not recognise the danger, and I do not think enough people have been seeking to find ways of bringing this country together again, rather than maintaining the divisions.
I approach this as someone who campaigned for and voted for remain. It may be odd to say this, but I respect the alternative point of view. I have my own criticisms of the EU, and I always have done. It is massively over-centralised, and I think it needs substantial reform—it needs to be more dynamic and more flexible—yet I was clear in my mind that I should support and campaign for remain. However, I lost, and we now need to find a way forward out of this mess. No route is perfect and no route is risk-free; danger is everywhere.
It is vital that Parliament today actually supports a way forward, rather than rejecting everything yet again. Another day of everything being defeated risks inflicting further enormous damage on this institution and of leaving the country feeling that it is without leadership. The country is crying out for leadership. I want this Parliament to agree on a Brexit deal that, as far as possible, protects jobs, the economy and the funding of public services, and maintains the closest possible relationship with the European Union—and then I want that settlement to be put to the people of this country in a confirmatory referendum.
The Prime Minister opposes the single market and a customs union, and her red lines have stayed rigidly in place all the way through. She says she cannot support those because they were not in the manifesto, but in 2017 she failed to get a majority. Just as in the coalition the parties coming together had to make compromises—a party cannot get everything in its manifesto if it does not have a majority in Parliament—this necessitates compromise. The Government Chief Whip was absolutely right to say that the election changed everything, yet the Prime Minister has failed to recognise that. She has failed to reach out and has stuck rigidly to red lines that are inappropriate in a balanced Parliament.
I will vote to support a customs union, the argument for which was put very succinctly and effectively by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). Manufacturing industry in our country demands that we remain part of the customs union, and that is why I will support it. It is not sufficient on its own, but it is a building block. I will also support common market 2.0. It is not perfect, but it seeks to ensure the closest possible economic relationship, protecting the economy and jobs.
I would say to the people who support a confirmatory referendum that motion (E) says that nothing in this House should be approved without a confirmatory referendum, but we have to agree what this House decides. They should please engage in that process, come together and support a deal that protects jobs and the economy—and then put it to the British people.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who was a very good Minister in the coalition Government.
I am very keen that the voice of the world of work should be heard in this debate today. Last week, with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), I co-chaired an industrial coalition. A huge range of industries and trade organisations evaluated the options before us, and they are going to inform how I will vote this evening. The British brand has been badly damaged, they said. Brexit has changed international perceptions of our country.
The CBI and the TUC were very clear that they want Parliament to compromise to find a way forward. No deal or a Canada-style relationship with Europe would not, in their view, be workable. They warned us that the trade we do with our near neighbours is very different from how we trade with more distant partners. Trading with Canada, for example, could necessitate the completion of up to 12 pages of customs forms. They estimate that that could cost British business an extra £2.5 billion annually, and that would of course hit small and medium-sized enterprises hardest of all.
There are big problems, businesses said, with mini extensions of article 50, because they cannot properly function on such a short-term planning cycle. Car factories in our constituencies are shut down this month in anticipation of the disruption of Brexit, and the workers have been urged to take their annual leave this month. They cannot suddenly open the factories and shunt the annual leave three weeks later. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders would prefer an 18-month to two-year delay to article 50 just to give business a chance to adjust. It said that we cannot keep marching up to the top of the cliff.
The TUC and the CBI again made clear the threats of a no-deal brisket that would—[Laughter.] I had a go at cooking that yesterday, Mr Speaker. A no-deal Brexit would put thousands of jobs at risk. This is not just about jobs; I remind the House that it is about the thousands of Brits abroad who will not be able to fund their own healthcare in the event of a no deal and are receiving notice of that now. I appeal to the Government for contingency funding to help those vulnerable individuals, but again mini extensions do not help them much either.
I have consistently supported the Prime Minister’s deal. Business says that it is workable and would give clarity. I will continue to support that deal if it comes back for another vote, but without enough support in Parliament we have to consider the other options. I will vote in favour of two options. I will support the proposal for “a” customs union. There is a big difference between “a” and “the”. The withdrawal agreement already provides elements of a customs union and that is something that both main parties supported in different forms at the last election. While the Conservative manifesto stated we would
“no longer be members of the single market or customs union”
we did commit to seeking a
“deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement”.
I will also vote for the proposals setting out common market 2.0, which builds on the EFTA model put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). We helped to set up EFTA: it offers preferential trade with the EU, recourse to an EFTA court for trade disputes and the right to pull the handbrake on migration.
All the options have their critics. However, an agreement on customs with the EU would work for business and help to safeguard jobs—
No, I will not give way.
If jobs were lost so that we could have a more flexible trade policy in the future, I would find that way forward very difficult to support. The critical issue for business is the need for frictionless trade with our principal market.
No, I have now said three times that I will not give way.
For the automotive industry, just-in-time manufacturing is critical. Some 1,100 lorries a day pass through Dover. Many firms do not have warehouses to store parts. The lorries are their warehouses. Any logistic disruption at the border is damaging. While I was out canvassing in my constituency, a small business owner explained how 15% of his trade is with the EU, and that is at risk. If he loses that trade, he has to make two of his people redundant.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that a customs union alone provides 90% of a solution for a frictionless border. People have been understanding on the doorstep, but they expect Parliament to come together now across parties and find a compromise. Our children’s future will depend on the quality of the compromise we achieve, and we must not let them down.
The votes tonight will help to shape phase 2 of the Brexit process when we negotiate that future trading relationship. However, we cannot get to phase 2 without phase 1. That means accepting the treaty, which allows us to leave in an orderly fashion, and I urge more colleagues to do so.
I rise to speak with great pleasure, because this has been a good debate. Over the weekend, when I was thinking about speaking in the debate should I be lucky enough to be called, I decided that I wanted to be entirely positive. Indeed, I am a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament and have a penchant for co-operation in my DNA. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and I were both born during the blitz. I was born a week before him on 17 August, the day after the heaviest bombing by the Germans in the second world war. A week later, my neighbours—both parents and two little children—were killed by a German bomb.
When I got into Parliament, many of the generation here in 1979 had fought in that war. Denis Healey had been on the beach at Anzio, and Ted Heath had also been in the war. They were great pro-Europeans because they had seen two world wars and knew what the killing and waste had done to Europe—to our economy and to our people. The European economy was set back for many years and political progress seemed the only way forward. Those men and women built the United Nations and NATO, and started the European Coal and Steel Community, which was the beginning of Europe. We should honour them, and put this debate into context.
I often say that I have been sent here from Huddersfield to make sure that people from my town get a better standard of living, improved health, welfare and prosperity. We all say that, and we all believe it, but we must put it in the broader context of the hallowed duty we have never to go back to that Europe that was so divided and bitter.
To hold out an olive branch to the Conservatives, over the weekend I did a lot of reading of the history of the Labour party on Europe. What a mess that was! One man who is almost canonised in the Labour party—
Yes, Attlee. He is almost canonised, but anyone who wants to know about the confusion on Europe in the Labour party should read about Clement Attlee. He wanted to reject Europe and continue expanding trade with the colonies. The divisions on Europe in the Labour party were deep, mirroring in part what has happened more recently in the Conservative party. It was Harold Wilson, who came from Huddersfield but was never Member of Parliament for the town, who called the first referendum because of the deep division between left and right in the party, especially with Tony Benn. The result was the innovation, which I much regret, of referendums under our constitution.
I will support all four of the motions this evening, because this is the beginning of a process. We are in a bitter and toxic period. In my nearly 40 years in Parliament, I have never seen such nastiness in the streets, on social media and in the way we treat each other in the House, referring to each other as traitors. I hope tonight we can start the process, by voting for some of these positive motions. Of course, in the end I want to stay in the European Union, but I am willing to meet people halfway and to build bridges.
All the time I have the national interest at the back of my mind. Someone asked me at the weekend, “What is the national interest? The Prime Minister keeps talking about it. The Conservative Prime Minister who first got us into this mess has disappeared and now another one is going to disappear.” The national interest is for this House to come together and replace the vacuum we have had from the present leadership in the major political parties. I say that reluctantly, but it is true. It is time we had that leadership, but until we get it again, the House must pick up the baton and run with it. I hope that tonight will start that process.
I will next take the Front-Bench speeches. I have asked the Secretary of State, the shadow Secretary of State and the spokesman for the SNP to try not to exceed five minutes, and then the Back-Bench limit will have to be cut to four minutes to try to maximise participation.
I will obviously take note of your direction, Mr Speaker: the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and I are not particularly short of opportunities to debate these issues at the Dispatch Box. I commend the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on his honesty. He set out clearly that he wishes to stay in the European Union. It is the case, however, that the Government are committed to ensuring that we deliver on the referendum result.
The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) is no longer in his place but he spoke about respecting all views, which has very much been the tenor of the debate today. I take issue with one point that he made: when he criticised the Prime Minister for not compromising. Part of the criticism she has received from both wings of the debate is that her deal is seen as too much of a compromise, both for those who want purity on one aspect—a purity of Brexit beyond what 17.4 million people voted for—and those who do not want to leave at all. That is the pincer movement that has bedevilled the agreement she has reached.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a difference between those who wanted a pure Brexit and those who did not want us to leave in any event? I suggest to him that that is not any compromise that the Prime Minister has made. She has not compromised. The point is that she has not reached out to those of us who had accepted the result of the referendum and did want to form a way of delivering on it with the least amount of damage.
I am sorry to intervene on the Secretary of State. I was going to raise this point in my speech with the hope that he would respond to it, but he is now speaking before me. Will he illuminate the House on the letter that has gone to the Prime Minister from 170 of our colleagues? Did he sign it? What is in it? Is it true, as the papers are being briefed, that it keeps no deal on the table, despite the resolution of this House?
All of us, as politicians, are often accused of not answering questions, so let me be very specific. I have not signed any letter of the sort. I have the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister most days and if I have a point to raise with her I do so.
No. I am conscious that I have only five minutes, and I wish to press on.
It is worth reminding the House that it was only last Friday that Members—[Interruption.] I do not know why the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) is chuntering. I have been given a steer from the Chair to give time for other Members and she wants to come in a second time. I have taken her intervention.
On Friday, the House voted against the withdrawal agreement. It is worth pointing out that a number of the motions before the House require the withdrawal agreement as part of the package, including motions (C) and (D). Likewise, the motions on a public vote are proposals that include the same withdrawal agreement that the Members who signed them opposed. The fourth motion before the House includes a vast number of signatories who stood on manifestos contrary to what they have signed. So, again, that points to the contradictions inherent in the approach that many have taken throughout this debate. People are taking positions one week and then signing motions that are contrary to them the following week.
I have used four minutes of my five, so I will press on very quickly. Many of these points were raised in the debate last Wednesday, including on the permanent customs union. The concern relates to giving control of our trade policy, in particular our trade defences, to EU countries over which we would have no say. It is questionable why we would want to give MEPs in other countries control over our trade defences, whether in ceramics or steel, or on many of the issues debated in this House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) has quite often drawn the attention of the House—I am pleased to see him in his place—to some of the issues I do not have time to expand on today. Likewise, the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) reminded the House, when he intervened on the Father of the House, that regulatory alignments often drive friction at the border—much more so than the tariffs on which the debate tends to centre.
Motion (D) was debated last Wednesday, so we do not need to rehearse the arguments about financial contributions, the acceptance of freedom of movement or alignment with EU rules—all the issues that cause concern. Indeed, the Governor of the Bank of England, no ardent Brexiteer he, talked about the damage and how highly undesirable this option is, because of the rule-taking element strangulating a part of our economy that paid £72 billion of tax in 2016-17. We should be cautious about the rule-taking implications. In his remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) talked about an extension to 22 May. I simply remind my very good friend that—I am sure he is aware of this point—the conclusions from the Council do not give an automatic right to an extension to 22 May, given that we have passed the 29 March deadline.
We debated motion (E) last week. It was defeated by 27 votes, so the arguments were rehearsed. Likewise, we debated motion (D), which was defeated by 109 votes. What we have is a rehashing of a number of arguments that did not curry favour last week. Again, many of the issues remain. Motion (G) does not specify how long the public inquiry should be. On average, they last for three years. Are we going to subject our businesses to a further three years of uncertainty, followed by a further vote?
What we need to do is give certainty to our business community and to safeguard the rights of EU citizens. That is what the House rejected by rejecting the deal. What we see today is a number of motions signed by people who, just last Friday, rejected the withdrawal agreement. They stood on manifestos that contradict the motion before the House and, in essence, are asking colleagues across the House to vote for a package that includes a part that they themselves rejected just a matter of days ago.
I am glad that we are resuming this indicative vote exercise. It has been a good debate today. There has been a good tone, with good contributions from around the House. I recognise that no majority was found last week for any option, but I equally recognise that Parliament is trying, at some speed, to complete a process that the Prime Minister should have carried out two years ago.
May I begin by saying a few words to all Members across the House, but particularly to colleagues sitting on the Labour Benches behind me? I recognise that many Members have a single preferred option and understandably want to push that option as hard and as far as possible. No one wants to stand in the way of that, but I do urge colleagues to enter into the spirit of the exercise we are now engaged in. That means supporting options other than their own preferred option in order to break the deadlock. It is important that we find a majority if we can this evening—if that is possible. I do recognise how difficult that can be for individual Members and how they have grappled with the positions they have tried to take, but I ask them to enter into the process in that spirit. I thank them for the approach they have taken so far.
As far as the Labour position is concerned, it will again be to support amendments that are consistent with the two credible options we have been advancing time and again: a close economic relationship with the EU based on a customs union and close single market alignment; and a public vote to prevent no deal or a damaging Brexit.
I am going to come to the customs union in a minute, and I will take an intervention then.
On that basis, we will whip support for motion (C), the customs union as a minimum, in the name of the Father of the House; for motion (D), common market 2.0, in the name of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles); and for motion (E), on a confirmatory public vote, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson). I will come to motion (G) in one moment.
On motion (C), Labour has long supported a customs union. It is a vital component of any deal which will genuinely protect manufacturing, and it is necessary to protect against a hard border in Northern Ireland. As I said last week, it must be a minimum, and that is written into the motion in terms. That is the position of the Labour party.
On the customs union, I would like, if I can, to take the right hon. and learned Gentleman back a few years to when the Labour party was wholly opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—I think it was before he was in the House. At the time, the UK had a seat at the table. Now, as he is proposing it, the UK would not have a seat at the table and the EU would set our trade policy. Why is he in favour of that arrangement, particularly at a time when the United States says it wants to launch trade talks with the European Union? The EU has, in general, a system of social insurance, not our system for the NHS. How does he think that this is a better arrangement to defend his NHS?
That is a serious point. Before the Labour party surfaced its proposition for a customs union, we had long and hard discussions with the EU about the sort of customs union that we were considering—not the customs union, but a customs union—and we looked at the influence that now exists for EU members, and how one could devise a pillar that gave influence to a very close third party. I have stood at the Dispatch Box many times and said that that would not be easy, but that is why we have always said that we should have a customs union with a say. We have sought to discuss that with the EU, and it is telling that when we put our proposal to the Prime Minister, the EU was very warm about the possibility of negotiating it. I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but we have, I hope, addressed it in our approach to the customs union.
On motion (D), Labour’s preference remains the approach that we set out in the letter to the Prime Minister in January this year—that is, a customs union and single market alignment. However, we recognise that motion (D) has a number of similarities and could deliver a close economic relationship with the EU. The motion has been revised since the first phase of indicative votes and now includes further detail about the form of the envisaged customs arrangements, which have similarities with the approach that the Labour party has set out.
The motion does not specify that those arrangements should be permanent—that is our preferred option—but it does say that they should be in place at least until alternative arrangements can be found. There remain differences between our policy position and motion (D), but the motion would allow for close economic partnership with the EU. It is a credible proposition, and on that basis we will support it this evening.
I will not, because I am trying to make some progress. We will support motion (E), because at this late stage it is clear that any Brexit deal agreed in this Parliament will need further democratic approval, and that is what the motion will provide. It will put a lock around any deal that the Prime Minister forces through at the eleventh hour, or any revised deal that comes about at this very late stage. It will ensure that any Tory Brexit deal is subject to a referendum lock. In other words, it upholds the principle that any such deal must be confirmed by the public if we are to proceed.
I want to finish by dealing briefly with motion (G). I understand why it has been tabled, and I have had the opportunity to discuss it with the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) . Our focus today is on the way forward, and that is why we are supporting the three motions that I have mentioned. Motion (G) is, in a sense, a fall-back for if that exercise fails, so I understand why it has been tabled. We will not be voting in favour of it tonight, but we accept that it deals with an issue that the House will have to confront in due course.
I am extremely puzzled by the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s position. We all have to compromise today. I am going to vote for motion (D), and I am on the record as having concerns about it and saying that it did not go far enough. What does he think will be the reaction of working-class voters if the Labour Front Benchers’ failure to support motion (G) means that we crash out with no deal a week on Friday?
As we try to find a way forward, I think it is important that we all adopt the right tone, rather than throwing around, “What will people think of this, that and the other?” We have always said that we will take whatever measures are necessary to stop no deal. The exercise that we are involved in is an attempt to break the impasse and find a way through, using the indicative process. I accept that if that fails, there will have to be an insurance exercise, but we are not at that stage yet.
I am not going to take another intervention. I am not rejecting the principle, but I am not going to stand at this Dispatch Box and listen to Members from across the House throwing around allegations that we are not interested in this, that and the other. We are trying to have a different debate, with a grown-up tone, to find a way forward. I am prepared to engage in that, and I am prepared to accept that we will have to confront the principle, but at the moment our focus is on how we break the deadlock. If we can do that, we will be able to move on to how we progress. If we cannot do that, we will have to look at other options. That is a genuine and sincere position from someone who cares a great deal about whether we crash out without a deal.
I want to start with my usual mantra. I have voted for Brexit three times, and I have backed the Prime Minister's withdrawal agreement, but I will be supporting the customs union and common market 2.0 tonight. I want to make it absolutely clear to anyone who is thinking of not doing so that supporting those options will not preclude them from supporting the withdrawal agreement, should it come back as MV4.
It is clear that we need a plan B. The House needs to show what it is in favour of if we cannot get the withdrawal agreement through. The reason for that is that, sadly, certain elements in my party are hellbent on shoving through a no-deal Brexit. I apologise to the Secretary of State for putting him in the same category, but I read on the cover of The Times this morning that 170 Conservatives had signed a letter to the Prime Minister—they kept it secret from all their other colleagues, by the way, so keen are they on debate—calling for no deal, despite Parliament’s resolution. Parliament has to vote tonight in support of these measures to show that it remains in favour of a reasoned exit from the EU, and it must not be taken in by some of the absurd arguments that we are hearing.
I am confused about how, three years after the referendum, we have got to a place in which no deal turns out to be allegedly what people voted for. I look aghast at some colleagues who I have long admired, who have spent the last three years attacking the judges for daring to suggest that Parliament might have a vote on article 50; praying in aid the manifesto which we lost on, despite having supported for five years a coalition Government who governed on a manifesto that had not existed in 2010; and berating remainers for treating with foreign powers and then merrily going off to the Polish and Hungarian Governments and asking them to force a no-deal Brexit on the United Kingdom.
The fact is that too many of our colleagues have decided that they are the self-appointed interpreters of Brexit, and that anything that gets in their way has to be stopped. When those of us in this House—I count in this almost everyone in the Chamber this evening—want to make reasonable progress and deliver Brexit in a reasonable way, the constitutional experts from the hard Brexit wing emerge to tell us that what we are doing represents the biggest constitutional outrage, oblivious to the fact that one of their colleagues has called for the prorogation of Parliament to get through a hard Brexit, and for a no-confidence vote in the Government from which he still takes the Whip.
The fact is that we seek a compromise. I voted for the withdrawal agreement. It has been supported by Gove, Leadsom, Fox, Grayling and Leigh—all people whose Brexit credentials cannot be second-guessed. For those who worry about the manifesto, it accords with the manifesto. If we cannot have the withdrawal agreement, we need a reasonable way to leave the European Union and deliver on Brexit. According to what the Brexiteers said during the leave campaign, Norway was on the table, Switzerland was on the table and EFTA was on the table. The House wants to leave with a deal, but if we do not show tonight that we are in favour of a deal, I guarantee that my colleagues will do their level best in the next two weeks to drive through a hard, no-deal Brexit.
My remarks will be brief. I will explain why Plaid Cymru will be supporting only one option, and two procedures, as a potential solution to the Brexit deadlock. The Prime Minister insists on bringing forward the same votes on her botched deal, only for the House to reject it again, as has happened twice already. We believe it is essential to hold a people’s vote on the final deal. Ultimately, it must be a question of deciding between the arrangements that we know, and that have worked well, although not perfectly, for several decades, and what those who advocate change can devise. It is clear that there is no agreement on what that alternative might be, so what was started by a vote of the people must, I think, be ended by a vote of the people. We will be supporting the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) tonight.
The best option for Wales is undoubtedly to remain within the European Union. As our economy is heavily dependent on the ability to export tariff-free to the European Union, leaving the Union would be damaging for the Welsh economy. It is our responsibility as Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, to mitigate that as much as possible. Therefore, we will also be supporting the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), which would continue to ensure membership of the single market and a form of customs union, protecting jobs, protecting workers rights and protecting our economy. It is indeed strikingly similar to the proposals entitled “Securing Wales’ Future” that we brought forward some two years ago and which were largely the fine work of our late friend Steffan Lewis AM, whose untimely death this year deprived us of a great future prospect for our politics. If this is the final position adopted, it is imperative that this too is put to a people’s vote.
It is essential that we have a means of protection against crashing out of the European Union with no deal at all. The first step to protect against this must be a meaningful extension of article 50. This has to be obtained from the European Union, but were it to be refused—although I think that is unlikely—it must be up to this House to choose between a no-deal Brexit, which we have already rejected, and revoking article 50 and stopping this careering train in its tracks. Therefore, we will be supporting motion (G) in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry).
I will begin by answering my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who said that he had not heard a single argument against a customs union. I credit him for staying for the whole debate, because I am going to give him plenty. He also said that I had been involved in a filibuster, but my contribution to the business of the House motion lasted for one minute and 13 seconds. That must be the shortest filibuster that there has ever been. I did once speak for one hour and 43 minutes on beer duty, but I do not think that one minute and 13 seconds really counts.
Why is a customs union a very bad idea? Broadly speaking, it would mean a huge loss of control over our economic policy, a decline in our foreign policy influence and a huge democratic deficit. Trade policy is not just about trade deals. It is about much more, which we would be handing over to the European Union without a seat at the table. There are tariffs, remedies and preferences as well as trade agreements, and these would all be given over. The House of Commons would abrogate its responsibility in relation to the UK’s trade policy. This is not Andorra or San Marino, which are currently in customs unions with the European Union. This is the world’s fifth largest economy.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and I were on the same side in the referendum in 2016, so I am approaching this debate not as some kind of Brexiteer, but from the position of what makes sense for the UK’s trade policy. It makes no sense in our democracy for the House of Commons to vote tonight to hand over control of UK trade policy to Brussels. It would mean that a Maltese Commissioner, a Latvian MEP, a Portuguese Commissioner and a Slovene MEP would all have more say over UK trade policy than any elected politician, including the UK Prime Minister. That is not democratically sustainable, nor is it sustainable for our foreign policy.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I served in the Government together. At that time, I went into various rooms in foreign countries to speak to foreign Governments, so I know that trade is one of the aspects of leverage that we have. As a member of the European Union, the UK has influence on EU trade policy. That will obviously be gone when we are no longer a member, but under a customs union we would also have no influence over our own trade policy. We would be unable to have those conversations with the Government of the United States when we can say, “Well, if we can do this on some other area, we will have a word in Brussels on this particular trade issue.” All of that would be gone.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way because I did not have time to give way to him in the end. I think he would acknowledge that it is a slight exaggeration to say that the British Government would have as little influence over deals being negotiated by the EU as a Latvian MEP if we moved into a customs union. As the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) just said, a big economy such as ours would add to the attractions of the EU market for a negotiating partner, so surely we should put in place a structure giving us far more consultation and involvement in the negotiations than my right hon. Friend is describing—not as good as now, but perfectly adequate.
I think that is wishful thinking. The European Union is highly likely to prioritise the interests of its members versus the interests of non-members. That has always been the case. There are also serious arguments as to whether European Union rules would even allow a non-member to have an influence on EU trade policy. I am afraid that that is just a fact.
Entering into a customs union would be democratically unsustainable. Tariffs would be set by people who are not accountable to this House or to our constituents. That could be damaging for goods coming into the country, if those people were to set high tariffs on goods that our consumers would quite like access to. It could also happen the other way around with things such as trade remedies, as has been briefly mentioned. All these incredibly important aspects, including trade defences, would be handed over to Brussels. Now, Brussels might look after our trade remedies, but it would not give them priority. It would give the defence of its own industries—the fee-paying members of the European Union—priority over countries such as ours. This would mean that those all-important WTO investigations into, say, the ceramics industry, would be relegated below investigations to protect, for example, the German or Dutch steel industries.
On trade deals, the Turkey trap has been mentioned; this is about the asymmetry. The EU would offer access to our 65 million consumers without necessarily being able to achieve anything in return. I can guarantee that the UK asks would be the ones that would be dropped first, and that the UK items of defence would be the ones that the EU would concede first. It is inevitable because we would not be a fee-paying member of the European Union, so we would not be a priority.
I am listening very carefully to my right hon. Friend. I have a lot of respect for him, I have read his article and I have listened to every speech so far during today’s debate, so I understand what he does not want, which is a customs union. But bearing in mind that Parliament has yet to decide what it does want—and has rejected all other options, and the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration—what is he arguing for?
I continue to argue for the Prime Minister’s agreement, and that is where I think we should head. People talk about a compromise; that is the best compromise, and it is the one that my hon. Friend and I have both voted for.
I am astonished that the Labour Front Benchers are supporting the idea of handing over our trade policy. They were the people most passionately against TTIP, and other trade agreements, due to the access that it would supposedly have given foreign companies to the NHS. As it happens, I do not buy into that idea, but the idea that it will now be fine because we are handing over trade policy to the EU without having a seat at the table is for the birds. I think it was Senator Elizabeth Warren who said,
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”
That is exactly what I fear will happen in an EU customs union if motion (C) is passed this evening.
This has been a good debate. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) for his innovation, and to other hon. Members for the way in which they have engaged in the process.
Let me be clear: every day I am more and more pleased that Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. We could have walked away from all this, washed our hands of it and said that it was nothing to do with us, but we must engage and we have done so at every single step of this sad, sorry process. There are no winners in this tragedy of epic proportions. It is a horror show, and this process is all about us making things less bad, rather than better. However, there is one thing that has come out of this situation; this Government seem to be uniquely bad at minority government and at reaching out to other parties, and this process is forcing us to talk to one another in a more meaningful way.
The Scottish National party did not vote for an EU referendum and we did not vote to trigger article 50, and we can see why. I am pro-European. The EU is a force for good that has made us wealthier, safer, greener and fairer. I have benefited from our membership—from freedom of movement, Erasmus, and the privileges and rights that we have as European citizens. But we have to engage in what you, Mr Speaker, were right to call “part of a process”, so let me turn to the motions before us.
I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) on her proposal. It is a responsible proposal and frankly, anybody who is opposing it tonight is being irresponsible. No deal is a dangerous, damaging Brexit, and to those who call it a clean Brexit, I say this: it is the messiest Brexit possible. My hon. and learned Friend’s proposal is also the best option, and that is the reason we will back it. The motion would revoke article 50 as a reset clause and, frankly, I am astonished that the Labour party has not been able to support it tonight—I have to say, disappointed is the least I can say on that.
We are also in favour of a people’s vote, and I support the motion from the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). As somebody who wants to campaign to remain in the EU, I would look forward to doing so.
Let me make reference to the motion from the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and pay tribute to the way that he has engaged with us in this process. I hope that he does not mind me saying that I want to remain in the EU and he wants to leave, and that we disagree profoundly on many issues, but I am very grateful for the way in which he has tried to engage with us, and I know that my hon. Friends are very grateful for the way in which he has conducted this process. We would like a referendum. I also think that a long extension is the right way to take things forward, but his reassurances about freedom of movement and the particular situation in which Scotland finds itself have been incredibly important to us, and I would like to acknowledge that. That is not a wholehearted endorsement and, as he rightly pointed out, there will hopefully be a time further down the line when there are amendments and other proposals to that purpose.
We can no longer be held hostage by a small band of Tory extremists on this. It is not the end of the line today. I appeal for Members to support the motion in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West. We must find a way forward. We should right now be debating poverty, climate change and austerity, but instead, we are focused on the least worst options and damage limitation. We should not be doing that, and it is time for us to put this Brexit nightmare behind us.
For some time, I favoured a simpler and swifter Brexit, based on our leaving the European Union but rejoining the European Free Trade Association, and in so doing, making our existing rights and obligations as a signatory to the treaty establishing the European economic area operable. It would mean that we would have no customs union and an independent trade policy. We would be outside the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy, but we would accept regulatory alignment to reduce border friction. My motion was not selected, but this evening, I will support motion (D) in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles)—the so-called common market 2.0 option—for reasons that I will come on to.
There were two ways to address the issue of Brexit. One was to self-confidently resolve from the beginning that we would leave as a third country and prepare on that basis, and be willing to leave without an agreement if necessary. I would have supported the Prime Minister in that, had she seen that through. However, if the Cabinet always believed that we could not leave without a deal, it had to recognise that that would require significant compromise with the EU, which in turn would require the development of a cross-party consensus in this House. Now that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet have signalled that they are unwilling to leave under a no-deal scenario, we must try to secure a consensus.
Last Friday, the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement was defeated for a third time, but the vast majority of Government Members voted for the withdrawal agreement, albeit unenthusiastically in many cases. My contention this evening is that hon. Members who were willing to take a second look at the withdrawal agreement should also take a second look at common market 2.0. Certainly, it envisages a temporary customs union, but so does the withdrawal agreement, first through the implementation period, then through a probable extension to the implementation period, and finally through the backstop. It also envisages some regulatory alignment through membership of EFTA and the EEA, but that would be dealt with expeditiously under the motion. Under the withdrawal agreement, the UK is already committed to aligning its regulations in relevant areas. The extent to which we have border checks would depend on any divergence from that.
I believe that this option provides a way to compromise and a way forward for the House. It is far preferable to motion (C), the proposal for a customs union, which, as hon. Members have pointed out, does not make sense for an independent country such as this. It means that we would have our commercial interests traded away in the interests of other countries, and it would not solve the border issues.
While the headlines that greeted last week’s indicative votes, saying that they were a shambles and chaos, were patently ridiculous, given that it was the first time that we were given the opportunity to discuss these options after two and a half years of the Government failing to get a consensus, it would be helpful if we made progress today. As other Members have said, that will involve all of us not just sticking to our first preference but voting for our second preference and, indeed, any preference that we can live with. That is certainly something that I shall be doing. I will support Labour’s unanimously agreed conference policy in favour of a public vote, and I am minded to support the motion in the name of the Father of the House. However, I and other hon. Members have concern about that and about the length of the extension, because I do not want the Prime Minister to pocket it, add it to her political declaration and take us out of the European Union on 22 May. I do not think that would be acceptable.
I have similar concerns about the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). It is better—it takes away all the stuff about the free movement of labour—but it still has only a temporary customs union and could still be bagged by the Prime Minister and added to the political declaration, and we would be out within a few weeks.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the only way in which the Government can carry this forward, if there is a cross-party consensus, is by bringing in something like the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which would give his party the opportunity to seek to amend it, no doubt with much support around the House, to prevent the eventualities that he is talking about.
I very much hope the right hon. Gentleman is right, and I take his point on that. I also want absolutely to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). If we get progress today and a majority on one or more of these options, my view is that basing the future of our country on a majority that has been agreed in Parliament among Members of Parliament, for whom it might have been not their first preference but their second or third, will lack not only long-term legitimacy but sustainability. It will be impossible for us as a House or for any Government to take this forward without it being ratified in a confirmatory vote by the British public. That is why, whatever happens tonight, I think we are going to have to accept the principle that the Brexit that is now on offer is so different from the Brexit that was offered in 2016 that it would be undemocratic and illegitimate not to give the people a final say on it.
I want to say one last thing about the motion in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). I will support that motion and, as I said earlier, I cannot see any reason for anybody—unless they actively want a no-deal Brexit—not to support it tonight. I hope that Labour Front Benchers might support it tonight and that they will support it on Wednesday, if it comes to that, because we have to have an insurance policy against a no-deal, crash-out Brexit. More than 6 million members of our community are demanding it, and I urge all hon. Members, on both sides of the House—it is only a recommendation for Opposition Members—to vote for the motion and to do so with enthusiasm.
I will be short and to the point. Let us go back to first principles. What was the referendum question about? It was about our membership of the EU. This country decided to revoke that membership, and therefore we must implement that decision. By doing so, we effectively become a sovereign, independent nation. Any sovereign, independent nation gets involved in international relations. We do so through our membership of NATO, which has obligations and benefits. We are also a member of the United Nations, which has responsibilities and clear benefits, and interestingly, we also make a financial contribution.
As an independent, sovereign nation, we will clearly want to enter into free trade agreements. Logic would dictate that we should start with the 30 closest countries, which are in Europe. They are our main trading partners, making up 55% of our trade. In any agreement, we would want no tariffs, regulatory alignment and access to a market of 500 million people, including some of the richest in the world. We would like agriculture and fisheries to be excluded. We would want to make sure that there was a fair competition policy, and we would want state aid rules to be fair to all participants. What a wonderful opportunity for our businesses, what benefits for our country.
Clearly, there may—and should—be some obligations. What about payments and contributions? Quite rightly, we would make contributions to the institutions, and we might even make contributions to poorer regions to help them develop, but there would be a significant saving on the amount we pay under the present arrangements. What about free movement? Yes, we would have to accept there might be free movement, but we might in fact want that, because we need employees for our NHS, workers during the summer and the opportunity to tap into that employment base in Europe. Under this agreement, however, we would also have an emergency brake, so if circumstances were such that we wanted to curtail immigration, we would be in a position to do so.
What about changing the rules? Clearly, under any agreement, there would have to be the ability to change rules, and we would have to accept them, but we could be right in at the beginning helping to frame those rules and making sure they were ones we could tolerate. If we were an independent sovereign nation, however, those rules could only be implemented through an Act of Parliament passed by this House—no other body could impose those rules on us.
What if any of this is ultimately unacceptable to us? We could say, “We’re not going to enact those policies because we are a sovereign Parliament and we are not willing to do so”; we could enter into a negotiation with those countries and try to come to some arrangement; or, as an independent country, we could give one year’s notice and leave. This is quite clearly the best possible outcome. We would confirm the revocation of our membership of the EU but also be part of what I consider to be the best free trade arrangement there is.