House of Commons
Saturday 19 October 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Before I call the Prime Minister to make a statement, I want to make a very few brief introductory remarks.
First, I want to thank—and I am sure that colleagues across the House want to join me in thanking—all the staff of the House who have worked so hard to facilitate the sitting today. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I know that many of them have had to make special arrangements to be here, as have many hon. and right hon. Members.
Secondly, I remind hon. Members of what I said in my statement at the start of the Session less than a week ago about the need to be mindful of the impact of what they say, not only upon other hon. and right hon. Members, but upon on others who follow our proceedings.
Thirdly, I can inform the House that I have selected amendment (a), in the name of Sir Oliver Letwin and others, to motion 1, and the manuscript amendment in the name of Peter Kyle and others to motion 2.
Fourthly, it may be to the convenience of the House to know that although the second motion is debatable, I think it will be convenient for the two motions to be debated together so that reference to the second motion may be made in the debate. If the second motion is moved, I will put the Question or Questions on that motion without separate debate.
Prime Minister’s Statement
Mr Speaker, I want to begin by echoing what you have just said and expressing my gratitude to all Members of the House for assembling on a Saturday for the first time in 37 years, and indeed to all members of our House of Commons staff who have worked to make this sitting possible. I know that it has meant people giving up their Saturday and breaking into their weekend at a time when families want to be together, and of course it means missing at least the end of England’s world cup quarter final. I apologise to the House for that; I wish I could watch it myself. I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) has postponed his 60th birthday party—if not his 60th birthday—to be here. The House has gone to a great deal of trouble to assemble here on a Saturday for the first time in a generation, and I do hope that in assembling for the purposes of a meaningful vote, we will indeed be allowed to have a meaningful vote this evening.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the new agreement with our European friends. The House will need no reminding that this is the second deal and the fourth vote, three and half years after the nation voted for Brexit. During those years, friendships have been strained, families divided and the attention of this House consumed by a single issue that has at times felt incapable of resolution, but I hope that this is the moment when we can finally achieve that resolution and reconcile the instincts that compete within us.
Many times in the last 30 years, I have heard our European friends remark that this country is half-hearted in its EU membership, and it is true that we in the UK have often been a backmarker—opting out of the single currency, not taking part in Schengen, very often trying to block some collective ambition. In the last three and a half years, it has been striking that Members on all sides of this House have debated Brexit in almost entirely practical terms, in an argument that has focused on the balance of economic risk and advantage. I do not think I can recall a time when I have heard a single Member stand up and call for Britain to play her full part in the political construction of a federal Europe. I do not think I have heard a single Member call for ever closer union, ever deeper integration or a federal destiny—mon pays Europe. [Interruption.] Perhaps I missed it, but I do not think I have heard much of it. There is a whole side of the debate that one hears regularly in other European capitals that is simply absent from our national conversation, and I do not think that has changed much in the last 30 years.
If we have been sceptical, if we have been anxious about the remoteness of the bureaucracy, if we have been dubious about the rhetoric of union and integration, if we have been half-hearted Europeans, it follows logically that with part of our hearts—with half our hearts—we feel something else: a sense of love and respect for European culture and civilisation, of which we are a part; a desire to co-operate with our friends and partners in everything, creatively, artistically, intellectually; a sense of our shared destiny; and a deep understanding of the eternal need, especially after the horrors of the last century, for Britain to stand as one of the guarantors of peace and democracy in our continent—and it is our continent.
It is precisely because we are capable of feeling both things at once—sceptical about the modes of EU integration, as we are, but passionate and enthusiastic about Europe—that the whole experience of the last three and a half years has been so difficult for this country and so divisive. That is why it is now so urgent for us to move on and build a new relationship with our friends in the EU on the basis of a new deal—a deal that can heal the rift in British politics and unite the warring instincts in us all. Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together and bring the country together today, as I believe people at home are hoping and expecting, with a new way forward and a new and better deal both for Britain and our friends in the EU. That is the advantage of the agreement that we have struck with our friends in the last two days. This deal allows the UK, whole and entire, to leave the EU on 31 October in accordance with the referendum while simultaneously looking forward to a new partnership based on the closest ties of friendship and co-operation.
I pay tribute to our European friends for escaping the prison of existing positions and showing the vision to be flexible by reopening the withdrawal agreement and thereby addressing the deeply felt concerns of many in this House. One of my most important jobs is to express those concerns to our European friends. I shall continue to listen to all hon. Members throughout the debate today, to meet with anyone on any side and to welcome the scrutiny the House will bring to bear if, as I hope, we proceed to consider the withdrawal Bill next week.
Today this House has a historic opportunity to show the same breadth of vision as our European neighbours and the same ability and resolve to reach beyond past disagreements by getting Brexit done and moving this country forwards, as we all yearn to do. This agreement provides for a real Brexit, taking back control of our borders, laws, money, farming, fisheries and trade, amounting to the greatest single restoration of national sovereignty in parliamentary history. It removes the backstop, which would have held us against our will in the customs union and much of the single market. For the first time in almost five decades, the UK will be able to strike free trade deals with our friends across the world to benefit the whole country, including Northern Ireland.
Article 4 of the protocol states:
“Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom”.
“nothing in this Protocol shall prevent”
Northern Ireland from realising the preferential market access in any free trade deals
“on the same terms as goods produced in other parts of the United Kingdom.”
Our negotiations have focused on the uniquely sensitive nature of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and we have respected those sensitivities. Above all, we and our European friends have preserved the letter and the spirit of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and have upheld the long-standing areas of co-operation between the UK and Ireland, including the common travel area. As I told the House on 3 October, in order to prevent a regulatory border on the island of Ireland we propose a regulatory zone covering all goods, including agrifood, eliminating any need for associated checks at the border.
But in this agreement we have gone further by also finding a solution to the vexed question of customs, which many in the House have raised. Our agreement ensures
“unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom’s internal market.”
It ensures that there should be no tariffs on goods circulating within the UK customs territory—that is, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland—unless they are at risk of entering the EU. It ensures an open border on the island of Ireland, a common objective of everyone in the House. And it ensures for those living and working alongside the border that there will be no visible or practical changes to their lives: they can carry on as before.
I believe that this is a good arrangement, reconciling the special circumstances in Northern Ireland with the minimum possible bureaucratic consequences at a few points of arrival in Northern Ireland, and it is precisely to ensure that those arrangements are acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland that we have made consent a fundamental element of this new deal. So no arrangements can be imposed on Northern Ireland if they do not work for Northern Ireland. Under this agreement, the people of Northern Ireland will have the right to express or withhold their consent to these provisions by means of a majority vote in their Assembly four years after the end of the transition. If the Assembly chooses to withhold consent, these provisions “shall cease to apply” after two years, during which the Joint Committee of the UK and EU would propose a new way forward, in concert with Northern Ireland’s institutions.
As soon as this House allows the process of extracting ourselves from the EU to be completed, the exciting enterprise of building a new relationship with our friends can begin. That enterprise has been too long delayed, and the Labour party would delay it further. I do not wish this to be the project of any one Government or any one party, but rather to be the endeavour of the United Kingdom as a whole. Only this Parliament can make this new relationship the work of the nation, and so Parliament should be at the heart of decision making as we develop our approach. I acknowledge that in the past we have perhaps not always acted in that spirit.
So as we take forward our friendship with our closest neighbours and construct that new relationship, I will ensure that a broad and open process draws upon the wealth of expertise in every part of this House, including Select Committees and their Chairs. Every party and every Member who wishes to contribute will be invited to do so, and we shall start by debating the mandate for our negotiators in the next phase.
The ambition for our future friendship is contained in the revised political declaration, which also provides for the House to be free to decide our own laws and regulations. I have complete faith in this House to choose regulations that are in our best tradition—our best tradition—of the highest standards of environmental protections and workers’ rights. No one, anywhere in this Chamber, believes in lowering standards. Instead—[Interruption.]
Mr Speaker, I am grateful.
No one believes in lowering standards. Instead, we believe in improving them, as indeed we will be able to do, and seizing the opportunities of our new freedoms. For example, free from the common agricultural policy, we will have a far simpler system where we will reward farmers for improving our environment and animal welfare, many of whose provisions are impossible under the current arrangements, instead of just paying them for their acreage. Free from the common fisheries policy, we can ensure sustainable yields based on the latest science, not outdated methods of setting quotas.
These restored powers will be available not simply to this Government, but to every future British Government of any party to use as they see fit. That is what restoring sovereignty means. That is what is meant in practice by taking back control of our destiny. Our first decision, on which I believe there will be unanimity, is that in any future trade negotiations with any country, our national health service will not be on the table.
I am convinced that an overwhelming majority in this House, regardless of our personal views, wishes to see Brexit delivered in accordance with the referendum—a majority. In this crucial mission, there can no longer be any argument for further delay. As someone who passionately believed that we had to go back to our European friends to seek a better agreement, I must tell the House that with this new deal the scope for future negotiation—for fruitful negotiation—has run its course.
The Opposition said that we could not reopen the withdrawal agreement. They said that we could not change a comma of the withdrawal agreement. They said that we could not abolish the backstop. We have done both. But it is now my judgment that we have reached the best possible solution. So those who agree, like me, that Brexit must be delivered, and who, like me, prefer to avoid a no-deal outcome must abandon the delusion that this House can delay again, and I must tell the House in all candour that there is very little appetite among our friends in the EU for this business to be protracted by one extra day. They have had three and a half years of this debate. It has distracted them from their own projects and their own ambitions, and if there is one feeling that unites the British public with a growing number of officials in the EU, it is a burning desire to get Brexit done.
I must tell the House again, in all candour, that, whatever letters they may seek to force the Government to write, it cannot change my judgment that further delay is pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust, and people simply will not understand how politicians can say with one breath that they want delay to avoid no deal and with the next breath that they still want delay when a great deal is there to be done.
Now is the time to get this thing done, and I say to all Members, let us come together as democrats to end this debilitating feud. Let us come together as democrats to get behind this deal—the one proposition that fulfils the verdict of the majority, but which also allows us to bring together the two halves of our hearts, to bring together the two halves of our nation. Let us speak now, both for the 52 and for the 48.
Let us go for a deal that can heal this country and can allow us all to express our legitimate desires for the deepest possible friendship and partnership with our neighbours, a deal that allows us to create a new shared destiny with them, and a deal that also allows us to express our confidence in our own democratic institutions, to make our own laws, to determine our own future and to believe in ourselves once again as an open, generous, global, outward looking, free trading United Kingdom. That is the prospect that this deal offers our country. It is a great prospect and a great deal. I commend it to the House.
I join you, Mr Speaker, in thanking all the staff—cleaning staff, catering staff, security staff, officials and our own staff—who have come into the House this morning. They have given up a weekend to help our deliberations. I also thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement.
The Prime Minister has renegotiated the withdrawal agreement and made it even worse. He has renegotiated the political declaration and made that even worse. Today, we are having a debate on a text for which there is no economic impact assessment and no accompanying legal advice.
The Government have sought to avoid scrutiny throughout the process. Yesterday evening, they made empty promises on workers’ rights and the environment—the same Government who spent the last few weeks negotiating in secret to remove from the withdrawal agreement legally binding commitments on workers’ rights and the environment.
This Government cannot be trusted, and the Opposition will not be duped; neither will the Government’s own workers. Yesterday, the head of the civil service union Prospect met the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and, at the conclusion of that meeting, said:
“I asked for reassurances that the government would not diverge on workers’ rights after Brexit… He could not give me those assurances.”
As for the much-hyped “world-leading” Environment Bill, its legally binding targets will not be enforceable until 2037. For this Government, the climate emergency can always wait.
This deal risks people’s jobs, rights at work, our environment and our national health service. We must be honest about what it means for our manufacturing industry and people’s jobs: not only does it reduce access to the market of our biggest trading partner, but it leaves us without a customs union, which will damage industries across the country in every one of our constituencies. From Nissan in Sunderland to Heinz in Wigan, Airbus in Broughton and Jaguar Land Rover in Birmingham, thousands of British jobs depend on a strong manufacturing sector, and a strong manufacturing sector needs markets, through fluid supply chains, all across the European Union. A vote for this deal would be a vote to cut manufacturing jobs all across this country.
This deal would absolutely inevitably lead to a Trump trade deal—[Interruption]—forcing the UK to diverge from the highest standards and expose our families once again to chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef. This deal—[Interruption.]
This deal fails to enshrine the principle that we keep pace with the European Union on environmental standards and protections, putting at risk our current rules on matters ranging from air pollution standards to chemical safety—we all know the public concern about such issues—at the same time that we are facing a climate emergency.
As for workers’ rights, we simply cannot give the Government a blank cheque. Mr Speaker, you do not have to take my word for that. Listen, for example, to the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, who says—[Interruption.] She represents an organisation with 6 million affiliated members, and she says:
“This deal would be a disaster for working people. It would hammer the economy, cost jobs and sell workers’ rights down the river.”
Listen to Make UK, representing British manufacturers, which says—[Interruption.] Government Members may care to listen to its comments on the deal. Make UK says that
“commitments to the closest possible trading relationship in goods have gone. Differences in regulation between the UK and the EU will add cost and bureaucracy and our companies will face a lack of clarity inhibiting investment and planning.”
Listen also to the Green Alliance, which says that the deal amounted to a
“very sad Brexit read from a climate perspective.”
The message is clear that this deal is not good for jobs and is damaging for our industry and a threat to our environment and our natural world. It is not a good deal for our country, and future generations will feel the impact. It should be voted down by this House today.
I also totally understand the frustration and fatigue across the country and in this House, but we simply cannot vote for a deal that is even worse than the one that the House rejected three times. The Government’s own economic analysis shows that this deal would make the poorest regions even poorer and cost each person in this country over £2,000 a year. If we vote for a deal that makes our constituents poorer, we are not likely to be forgiven. The Government are claiming that if we support their deal, it will get Brexit done, and that backing them today is the only way to stop a no-deal exit. I simply say: nonsense. Supporting the Government this afternoon would merely fire the starting pistol in a race to the bottom in regulations and standards.
If anyone has any doubts about that, we only have to listen to what the Government’s own Members have been saying. Like the one yesterday who rather let the cat out of the bag by saying that Members should back this deal as it means we can leave with no deal by 2020. [Hon. Members: “Ah.”] The cat is truly out of the bag. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether that is the case? If a free trade agreement has not been done, would that mean Britain falling on to World Trade Organisation terms by December next year, with only Northern Ireland having preferential access to the EU market?
No wonder, then, that the Foreign Secretary said that this represents a “cracking deal” for Northern Ireland, which would retain frictionless access to the single market. That does prompt the question: why is it that the rest of the UK cannot get a cracking deal by maintaining access to the single market?
The Taoiseach said that the deal
“allows the all-Ireland economy to continue to develop and… protects the European single market”.
Some Members of this House would welcome an all-Ireland economy, but I did not think that they included the Government and the Conservative and Unionist party. The Prime Minister declared in the summer:
“Under no circumstances… will I allow the EU or anyone else to create any kind of division down the Irish Sea”.
We cannot trust a word he says.
Voting for a deal today will not end Brexit, and it will not deliver certainty. The people should have the final say. Labour is not prepared to sell out the communities that it represents. We are not prepared to sell out their future, and we will not back this sell-out deal. This is about our communities now and about our future generations.
I must confess that I am disappointed by the tone the right hon. Gentleman has taken today, because I had thought that he might rise to the occasion and see what the electorate—and, I believe, his own electorate—broadly want us to do, which is to get Brexit done. I thought he would wish to reflect the will of the people who voted for Brexit in such numbers in 2016 and have waited for a very long time.
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about environmental and social protection. This Government and this country will maintain the very highest standards, and we will lead in environmental protection and social protection across Europe and the world. We lead, for instance, in our commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050, and as I have told him many times, Brexit gives us the freedom and the opportunity to do things that we have not been able to do and that are deeply desired by the British people, such as banning the live export of animals—that is to say nothing of shark fins—and many other things we can do differently and better.
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about business. The overwhelming view of business is that there are great opportunities from Brexit. Also, both Stuart Rose, who is a former chairman of the remain campaign, and the Governor of the Bank of England have said today that this is a good deal for the British economy. As I look ahead, the only risks I see to the British economy are the catastrophic plans of the right hon. Gentleman and his semi-Marxist party. What British business wants is the certainty and stability of getting Brexit done on 31 October, and then the opportunity to build a new future with our European partners and to do free trade deals around the world.
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about Northern Ireland, which, along with the rest of the UK, will exit the EU customs union, in defiance of what the European Commission and, indeed, the Irish Government had intended.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about trust. I do not wish to be unnecessarily adversarial today, but he patently does not trust his own party—he does not trust the shadow Chancellor—and, above all, he has not been willing to trust the people of this country by granting them the right to adjudicate on him and his policies in a general election. He will not trust the people, and he does not trust the people by delivering on the result of their referendum in 2016.
I suggest to the House, in all humility and candour, that it should ignore the right hon. Gentleman’s pleadings and vote for an excellent deal that will take this country and the whole of Europe forward.
The Prime Minister began his statement, for which I am grateful, by saying how rare it has been for Members of this House ever to support federalism and a united states of Europe, and I entirely agree. Federalism and a belief in a European superstate are as rare in this country as they are, nowadays, in every one of the other 27 member states.
Does the Prime Minister accept that, for the past 50 years, the vast majority of the Conservative party and all four Conservative Prime Ministers in whose Governments I served believed that membership of the European Union gave us a stronger voice in the world politically, as one of the three leading members of the European Union, and gave us access to a free trade market that enabled us to build a strong and competitive economy? Will he reassure me—as I assure him that I will vote for his deal once we have given legislative effect to it—that, when he goes on to negotiate the eventual long-term arrangements, he will seek a solution in which we have the same completely open access across the channel and across the Irish border to trade and investment with the European Union as we have now, in both directions, even if we have to sacrifice the political benefits we have hitherto enjoyed from membership of the Union?
I wish to agree with at least part of my right hon. and learned Friend’s analysis, because he says that there is scepticism across the continent about federalism and the desire to build a European Union superstate, and I think that he is right, but unfortunately that scepticism has not percolated up to the elites who run the EU and set the agenda in Brussels. [Interruption.]
I am making a valid point, which is that in Brussels my right hon. and learned Friend’s message has not really been perfectly understood, because they are continuing with a large number of federalist projects. At the European Council, only a couple of days ago, I heard the distinguished President of France calling for a union bancaire—a banking union, Mr Speaker; spelt b-a-n-c-a-i-r-e. There is a strong desire to intensify the process of integration—for example, by creating a defence pact—in a way that I think would meet the scepticism of not just my right hon. and learned Friend, but millions of people across the EU. I can give him an absolute reassurance that in the course of negotiations—in which we would want the entire House, or as many Members who want to be involved as possible, to take part—we will ensure that we get exactly what I think he desires: a zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade partnership so that there is maximum trade, and increasing trade, between our economies.
May I join you, Mr Speaker, in thanking all the staff who have made today’s sitting possible? I also thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement.
Northern Ireland, 13: Scotland, zero—those are the number of references to Northern Ireland and to Scotland in the Prime Minister’s statement. There was not one reference to Scotland. The Prime Minister has returned from Brussels to present a deal that he knows—that we all know—is actually worse than Theresa May’s deal. It is a deal that would see Scotland shafted by this United Kingdom Government and left at an economic disadvantage, with Scotland’s views and interests totally disregarded by this Prime Minister and his Government.
The Scottish National party could not have been clearer: we would support any mandate to approach the European Union to remain in the single market and the customs union, or simply to remain in the European Union altogether. Yet the Prime Minister has made it clear that he is not interested in meaningful discussions with the SNP or our Scottish Government. He and his cronies in No. 10 do not care about Scotland. This Tory Government have sold Scotland out, and once against they have let Scotland down.
While, rightfully, Northern Ireland has been allowed special arrangements to remain in the single market and the customs union, the Prime Minister will not afford Scotland the same arrangements. He did not even consider giving Scotland a fair deal. Despite the fact that the Scottish people, like the people of Northern Ireland, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, this Prime Minister has never entertained the notion of giving Scotland the same arrangements that Northern Ireland gets in this deal.
The truth is that the Prime Minister does not care about Scotland. He and his Government have treated the Scottish Government, our Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people with nothing but contempt.
Not a single MP who cares about Scotland’s future should consider supporting the Prime Minister today. They should stand with the Scottish National party and vote this deal down. Any and all assessments of any Brexit outcome show that the United Kingdom and Scotland will be poorer, no matter how we leave the European Union. People up and down Scotland know that the Prime Minister, his Brexit fanboys and the Vote Leave campaign have ignored and shafted Scotland.
England is getting what it voted for, Wales is getting what it voted for, and Northern Ireland is getting a special deal, yet Scotland, which democratically voted to remain, is being ignored and treated as a second-class nation by this Government. How will the Prime Minister justify himself to the people of Scotland at the general election? When he cannot, and when he fails, and when the Brexit-backing fan club from all quarters fails, will he finally respect the mandate of the Scottish people and let them have their say on our future?
There was a lot enthusiasm in that response.
The right hon. Gentleman was a little bit churlish in his response to my statement, because after all I did not mention England and I did not mention Wales, either. Of course, the reason why Northern Ireland is a particular subject of discussion—it is a legitimate point—is that there are particular circumstances in Northern Ireland at the border that deserve particular respect and sensitivity, and that is what they have received in the deal.
This is a great deal for England, a great deal for Wales, a great deal for Scotland and a great deal for Northern Ireland. The people of Scotland now have the chance, championed by wonderful Scottish Conservative MPs, to take back control of their fisheries from the end of next year. That will allow the people of Scotland at last to enjoy the benefits of their spectacular marine wealth in a way that they would be denied under the Scottish nationalist party which, as I never tire of telling you, Mr Speaker, would hand back control of Scottish fishing to Brussels.
May I take issue—gently—with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? For 27 years, some of us have been warning about the federal nature of the European Union. [Interruption.] I did say gently.
I am in real agreement, as I stand here today, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Father of the House, who has said that he will back this deal today. So will I. In that spirit, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister please come to the Dispatch Box and ask my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), in recognising that we need to have a meaningful vote, to withdraw his amendment and give the British people what they are dying for, which is a decision on Brexit?
I am full of respect for the contributions that my right hon. Friend has made on this subject over many, many years. I did not mean in any way to exclude him or to say that he had not made important contributions on the subject of a federal Europe. What I said was that I had not often heard people speaking up in favour of the integration of this country into a federal EU.
On my right hon. Friend’s point about the amendment that I believe is being proposed, and that I think you, Mr Speaker, have accepted from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), I do think that this is a momentous occasion for our country and for our Parliament, and that it would be a great shame if the opportunity to have a meaningful vote, which is what I believe this House has been convoked to do, were to be taken away from us. I say that with the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, who I think is actuated by the best possible intentions.
The Prime Minister’s deal removes protections on workers’ rights. It puts a border down the Irish sea and, according to the Government’s own analysis, will damage our economy on a scale greater than the financial crash. Today, hundreds of thousands of people will be outside demanding a final say in a people’s vote. Is not it the truth that the reason why the Prime Minister refuses their calls is that he knows that, if given the option, the people will reject his bad deal and choose to remain in the European Union?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is not correct in what she says. The new deal does absolutely nothing to remove protections from workers or from the environment. On the contrary, it gives us the opportunity to strengthen such protections. She asked for the people to have a final say at the ballot box, yet she has been preventing a general election. Instead of campaigning for a general election, she has been in Brussels asking the EU not to give this country a new and better deal. The mere fact that we have a great deal before us today is a tribute to the signal lack of influence of the Liberal Democrats in Brussels.
Order. I certainly do not anticipate that it will be possible to call everybody on the statement, and we will want to proceed with the debate on the motion. In the name of maximising participation, there is a premium upon brevity from those on the Back and Front Benches alike.
Despite the fact that those who oppose Brexit have tried to undermine his negotiating position at every turn, despite the fact that the Benn Act sought to remove his strongest negotiating lever, the Prime Minister has done what they said was impossible two weeks ago and got the European Union to reopen and change its negotiating position. Does he agree that, during the referendum, this Parliament effectively made a promise to the British people to deliver on their decision, and that today is the day to deliver on that promise?
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said, and he is indeed correct. I do believe that this excellent deal dispels the doubts of many people about what this country could achieve and, indeed, will achieve in the future. I thank him—my fellow campaigner on this issue—for the way that he has stood up for the vision that we both share for our country as an open, global, free-trading, generous, outward-looking, but European economy, and that is what this deal allows us to be. I believe that it is a great step forward, and I hope that the House endorses it.
Weariness in this House over Brexit should not be an excuse for weakness on Brexit or weakness on the Union. This party has supported respecting the people of the United Kingdom’s referendum decision to leave the European Union. We have supported that and we continue to support that, but it must be Brexit for the whole of the United Kingdom—leaving the single market and the customs union if that is what the rest of UK does, along with the rest of the UK. This deal puts Northern Ireland, yes, in the UK customs union, but applies, de facto, all the European customs union code.
Yes, it does. Read the detail. It also puts us in the VAT regime. It also puts us in the single market regime for a large part of goods and agrifood, without any consent up front, contrary to the agreement made in December 2017, which said that regulatory difference could happen only with the consent of the Executive and the Assembly. It drives a coach and horses through the Belfast agreement by altering the cross-community consent mechanism. It was once said that no British Prime Minister could ever agree to such terms. Indeed, those who sought the leadership of the Tory party said that at the Democratic Unionist party conference. Will the Prime Minister now abide by that and please reconsider the fact that we must leave as one nation together? There may be special circumstances for Northern Ireland, but that can only be with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, Unionists and nationalists together. That is the basis on which the peace process—the political process—has advanced. He must respect that.
Let me first say that I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman in this sense: together he and I, and the rest of his group, made a case powerfully to the EU that it was necessary for Northern Ireland to come out of the customs union—which was not, by the way, a point that was accepted by the EU—and we were successful in that. The right hon. Gentleman is critical of the arrangements, but the significant point about a customs union is that it is a union that sets its own tariffs and duties at the perimeter around that customs union, and that is what the whole of the UK will do, including Northern Ireland. And let us be frank, that is not what the European Commission or our European friends thought would be the result of these negotiations. I believe that it is a great success for Northern Ireland and the whole country.
The arrangements that have made that possible, of course, are temporary and determined by consent. I do think it a pity that it is thought necessary for one side or the other in the debate in Northern Ireland to have a veto on those arrangements because, after all—and I must be very frank about this—the people of this country have taken a great decision embracing the entire four nations of this country, by a simple majority vote that went 52:48 and which we are honouring now. I think that principle should be applied elsewhere, and I see no reason why it should not be applied in Northern Ireland as well. It is fully compatible with the Good Friday agreement.
Before I decide whether to jump on the Prime Minister’s bus, I would like to be just a little clearer about the destination; I would like to be reassured that it remains the deep and special partnership with the European Union that we promised the British people in our 2017 election manifesto. In the absence of the UK-wide backstop, which has now gone from the package, the best way to give us that reassurance is to ensure a proper role for Parliament in the process of the future negotiations. So could the Prime Minister today make a commitment to accept the Nandy-Snell amendments, which the previous Government agreed would prevail?
This agreement will maintain friction-free access to the European market for Northern Ireland. Can the Prime Minister therefore explain why he is so determined to deny that exact same benefit to the rest of the United Kingdom? If he presses on with this path, he will not heal the rift to which he referred a moment ago; he will only serve to widen it further.
The right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a high regard, is, I think, one of those who believes that we should delay further in the EU. I do not believe that. I think we should come out as one UK, and I think there is a very important difference between Northern Ireland and the other constituent parts of the UK. That is evident in the Good Friday agreement and it is evident in the need to treat that particular land border with a great deal of sensitivity and respect. That is something that is agreed in all parts of the House and is I think appreciated by the right hon. Gentleman himself.
Will my right hon. Friend personally guarantee that in the withdrawal Bill there will be a guarantee to protect in practice our parliamentary sovereignty and furthermore that, in relation to the withdrawal agreement, there will be provision to protect the United Kingdom from any harmful matters relating to our vital national interests under a parliamentary system that will guarantee that this House will decide if there are any situations where we need to prevent EU laws from being harmful to those vital national interests during the course of the future arrangements that have been put in place?
My hon. Friend has campaigned on this matter for many, many years. Indeed, there is a sense in which this occasion today is a colossal vindication of his parliamentary career, in that he has long campaigned for us to come out of the EU. He raises an important point about our ability to protect this country from injurious or vexatious legislation coming from the EU during the IP. I can certainly give him the assurance that we will have such protection.
The Prime Minister’s predecessor said in this place that no British Prime Minister could ever accept a deal that put a border down the Irish sea. The Prime Minister himself went to the DUP conference not long ago and said the same thing. He has now agreed a deal that puts a border down the Irish sea, so can he tell the House why on earth anyone in the country, let alone anyone in this place, will ever believe a reassurance that he gives ever again?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is simply wrong. There will be no border down the Irish sea. There are already checks for epidemiological purposes. There will be some customs checks, yes, but there will be no tariffs. There will be a single united customs union between all four nations of the UK, as she would expect. That is what we have delivered; and we have delivered it, by the way, in defiance of the scepticism and negativity of the Opposition, who continually said that it could not be done and that it was absolutely essential for Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union of the EU. We have solved the problem and we have taken Northern Ireland out.
There are many of us, who do not often feature at the noisy ends of the debate, who campaigned hard for remain, but who accept the result of the referendum, because we are above all democrats. Many of us have said things like, “We will do anything to avoid no deal.” Does the Prime Minister agree that today is the day actually to make those words mean something and vote for a deal?
I thank my right hon. Friend, who has done much to bring our party and, indeed, the House together on this matter. I could not agree with him more fervently. I really do think this is the day for everybody to put aside their differences and get this thing done. Our voters—the country—are looking at us. They expect us to deliver it. Let’s do it today.
The democratic consent process does not remove the border down the Irish sea; it simply moves the risk from determining the future of the border from Westminster to Stormont. So why does the Prime Minister believe that the deal will accord with the consensus built into the Good Friday agreement?
Was not the right hon. Leader of the Opposition right on 22 February 2016, when he said:
“We welcome the fact that it is now in the hands of the people of this country to decide”—[Official Report, 22 February 2016; Vol. 606, c. 26.]
whether we remain in the European Union? Did the people not come to a conclusion on that? He was right then; should we not now carry out that instruction?
The better angels of the Leader of the Opposition’s nature may still agree with that position; my impression is that he has been in some way captured and held hostage by those who wish to convert the Labour party into the party of revoke, and of dither and delay, a second referendum, more turmoil, and more uncertainty for business for years to come.
The Prime Minister asks us with passionate words to vote with our hearts for his deal, but my head cannot get round the fact that we are being asked to accept his words in trusting ignorance of their full implications, and my heart tells me that the people of Wales will never be well served by his Government; we are only ever an afterthought to this Prime Minister. He has refused to share the impact assessments, and he revealed this 535-page legal text for us to comprehend only today. How could Plaid Cymru ever support his billionaires’ Brexit?
It seems to me that the right hon. Lady may conceivably have made up her mind about the 535 pages that she has in her hand before she scrutinised every word of the text. I am a fan of hers, but I gently remind her that, as she and I both know, Wales voted to leave. She should respect that.
Twelve minutes into his statement, the Prime Minister spoke of the importance of this place in future negotiations. Could he please reassure me that today will see the end of the campaign to portray what is happening as “Parliament against the people”, and that we will today accept that it is Parliament working on behalf of people?
The Prime Minister has said clearly that he wants a free trade deal by the end of 2020 for the whole of the United Kingdom. Will the Prime Minister tell us clearly that when that day comes, the protocol on Northern Ireland will be automatically changed, and that Northern Ireland will then be fully part of a free trade deal, with everything there being the same as in the rest of the United Kingdom?
As the hon. Lady knows, the arrangements envisaged for Northern Ireland in this deal lapse automatically, and the default position is full alignment with the UK in every respect, unless the people of Northern Ireland decide, by a majority vote, not to remain in alignment; that is always open to them, and that must be fair. The arrangements are for a very small range of policy. From the beginning, as I explained to the House, Northern Ireland will not only be able to take part in free trade deals, but will benefit from many of the advantages and attractions of Brexit, in the sense that we could, for example, regulate financial services differently and better, and have a freeport in Belfast.
I see my distinguished friends in the Democratic Unionist party accepting this good news, as is their customary way. There are many advantages to be had. On the point made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), yes, there is the prospect of a free trade agreement between us and the EU, under which these arrangements would eventually be superseded. We would enter into free trade, as the right hon. and learned Father of the House indicated—a zero-tariff, zero-quota arrangement—and then the current arrangements would be obviated.
Hon. Members are going to be promised—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are obviously going to be promised everything today by the Prime Minister; they should take it with a pinch of salt. I have to tell the Prime Minister that it speaks volumes that he and the Chancellor have refused to publish a fresh economic impact assessment of his proposal today. But I think the Chancellor has said, “Well, one was produced last year”—November 2018—by his predecessor, where, on the basis of an average free trade agreement, we would see the British economy lag by 5% of GDP. Can he at least give us the courtesy, at the Dispatch Box now, of saying that that model—that average free trade agreement: down 5%—is the expectation we could have of his plan?
My right hon. Friend will remember from the referendum the strength of feeling that he and I experienced in some of our most deprived communities about Brexit. Could he gently explain to the Leader of the Opposition the sense of betrayal that will be felt in those communities if we do not now deliver Brexit?
My right hon. Friend is completely correct in what he says. I think it is a feeling that is well known to Members on the other side of the House and well known on our Benches as well. The people of this country, wherever they come from, are coming together now in a desire to get Brexit done, and I hope that this House will today reflect that will.
At present, the United Kingdom consists of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In both Northern Ireland and Scotland there is no mandate for Brexit. The deal we are being asked to vote for today gives Northern Ireland a deal that keeps it close to the single market and the customs union, subject to its consent. Can the Prime Minister explain to me and my constituents in what way it strengthens the Union of the United Kingdom for Scotland alone to have foisted upon it a Brexit it did not vote for?
I am afraid there is a complete conceptual confusion here. Scotland, Northern Ireland—the whole of the UK is coming out of the customs union. Particular arrangements are being put in place to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, which I think is an objective that the whole House supports. As for the people of Scotland, they had a referendum, as the hon. and learned Lady knows full well, in 2014, and they voted very substantially to remain in the United Kingdom. That was the correct decision. They were told it was a once-in-a-generation decision, and I see no reason whatever to betray that promise that was made to them then.
The Prime Minister, I think, has said that he now wants to speak for the 52% and the 48%, but does he recognise that the rhetoric, the actions and the way that this Government have approached Brexit achieve the exact opposite of that, actually? Does he also recognise that dismissing the concerns of communities such as my own is no way to bring even England back together, and dismissing the concerns of other nations within the United Kingdom is also no way to bring the UK and Britain back together either?
I certainly did not mean to dismiss anybody’s concerns, let alone her own. I recognise, as I think I said in my opening statement, that this is an issue that has aroused deep feeling across the country on both sides, but it is my strong belief that the way forward for this country now is to deliver Brexit, get it done and move our country forward. That is the way, I believe, that people can honestly and passionately express their pro-European views in a new deep and special partnership of the kind that my right hon. Friend—both of us—campaigned for.
Forty years ago I heard a Conservative leader speak, and although I disagreed with much of what she believed in, I believed in her loyalty, I trusted her, and she brought the nation together with a great speech. I did not hear that this morning. What I heard was a man who leads this country but who people do not trust. He keeps saying, “Trust”. Who will trust the British people? If we want the British people to trust us, does he agree that we should have a referendum so that people can judge this deal for what it is? We can then have a general election after that.
I think the best way to show our trust in the people is to repay their trust in us by honouring their mandate and delivering on the verdict of the people. That is what we should do today, and I hope very much that the hon. Gentleman will join us in the Lobby tonight.
They certainly shall, and I congratulate my hon. Friend and thank her for everything she does to stick up for UK fishing. Fishing has a glorious future in this country, in the west country, and in Scotland too, if only the House will do the right thing and allow us to come out on 31 October.
Order. I think the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) thinks that nodding at me vigorously to the extent that it virtually constitutes a bow is the most efficacious means of being called. He may well have his opportunity in due course, but first I want to hear from Caroline Lucas.
How can this House have any confidence in the Prime Minister’s claims that he does not want to lower standards, when his own deal precisely moves the so-called level playing field from the binding withdrawal agreement to the non-binding political declaration? Is not the truth that this deal takes a wrecking ball to our social and environmental standards, and the reason that he will not put it back to the British people is that he knows full well that they can see through his bluster and see that this is a profoundly bad deal?
I am afraid the hon. Lady has totally misread or misunderstood the provisions in the agreement. It is stated plainly in the political declaration that we will maintain the highest possible standards, and it is up to this House to do so. I think it is the will of this House, and this Government, to have even higher standards. This is the party and Government who have banned microbeads and are cracking down on plastics. We are leading the world in going for zero carbon by 2050. We are world leaders in environmental and animal welfare protection, and we will continue to be so outside the EU.
The Prime Minister said that he wanted to leave with a deal, and he has shown determination and flexibility to reach a deal, for which he deserves credit. He will be aware, however, that unless we reach a free trade agreement in the next stage of negotiations, there is a risk that Great Britain will leave the implementation period without a deal with the European Union. Can he commit today to showing the same determination and flexibility to ensure that we reach a deep and special partnership through a free trade agreement with the European Union, before we allow the implementation period to come to an end?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point—indeed, that was really the substantive point that I have been discussing with our European Union friends in the past couple of days. That is where they want to go now. They are interested in our timetable and in whether 14 months is enough, and it is absolutely right to focus on that. I think that it is enough; I think we can do it in 14 months. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) asks why from a sedentary position. She may not know that we are already in perfect regulatory alignment with the European Union, and it may have escaped her that we already have zero-tariff and zero-quota arrangements with the EU. We have a fantastic opportunity to do a free trade deal. Yes, 14 months is a blistering pace, but we can get it done. I remind doubters and sceptics—[Interruption]—there they all are. They said that it was impossible to reopen the withdrawal agreement, they said we would never get rid of the backstop, and they said we would never get a deal. There is a very good deal on the table here today, and I hope they vote for it.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. While addressing the Democratic Unionist party conference in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister promised that there would be no border down the Irish sea, whether customs, regulatory or any other sort. He promised the same thing to his Conservative colleagues during his pursuit of power to become the jungle king. Would the Prime Minister like to take this opportunity to formally apologise to the DUP, his Conservative colleagues and the good people of Northern Ireland for having sold them down the river and for having broken yet another promise?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I must say in all candour and humility that he misrepresents what I think is an excellent deal. It takes Northern Ireland out of the EU customs union and preserves it in the UK’s customs territory. It does not create a border in the Irish sea; it allows us together, as a single United Kingdom, to do free trade deals around the world. I think his constituents would want him to support this deal and get Brexit done tonight and on 31 October.
I wholeheartedly commend my right hon. Friend for abolishing the anti-democratic backstop. On that basis, I will, having opposed the previous deal, be supporting this deal today. May I suggest this to him? Given that I and most of us in this place want a fair and good trade deal, and prefer that to no deal, does he accept that by abolishing the anti-democratic backstop we actually not only make a good and fair trade deal more likely, but we almost guarantee it given the common position we start from and our common interests with the EU?
The Prime Minister’s Brexit Secretary was on television this morning. He confirmed that no economic analysis of the deal has been done. I ask the House to let that sink in: no economic analysis of the deal, on which we are all expected to vote today, has been done. How does the Prime Minister anticipate that Members on all sides the House can, in good faith, be expected to vote on a deal today that will impact on our country for decades to come?
I respectfully point out to the hon. Lady that the deal has been welcomed by a broad range of opinion, including the Governor of the Bank of England and the CBI. The choice for her today is between this deal, which I believe is very good for this country both economically and politically, and no deal. That is what she has to decide between.
Article 126 of the withdrawal agreement states that the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, but a few articles later, in article 132, it states that that can be extended for a further two years. If it was extended, we would still effectively be in the European Union six and a half years after the referendum. Will the Prime Minister say that while he is Prime Minister he will not consider extending past 31 December 2020?
My hon. Friend, with his customary sagacity and grip on detail, is absolutely right about article 126. That article provides for the UK and the EU to decide that matter by Joint Committee. The UK would therefore have discretion or a veto in that matter. I can tell him now that I certainly would not want to extend beyond the end of next year, nor do I see any reason for delay—as indeed nor do I see any reason or excuse for delay beyond 31 October.
There is a philosophical problem at the core of the Prime Minister’s argument today: he is promising his colleagues—particularly his most ardent Brexit-supporting colleagues—that the proposals before us offer a pathway to the deregulated future of which they have always dreamed, and at the same time, he is saying to Labour colleagues that he now has a new-found love for all the European workers’ rights that he built a journalistic career slagging off in the strongest terms. Both of these things cannot be true, so which one is?
The right hon. Gentleman is right in what he says, but, of course, the first few things he said were wholly incorrect. There will be a high standard maintained—the very highest standards maintained —for workers’ rights and environmental protection. If he is not content with that, it is open to him as a Member of this House, as I have said, to take part in the setting of the mandate for the future partnership and to engage, as all parliamentarians are invited to, in drawing up the terms of our future partnership, and I hope he takes up that offer.
The Prime Minister will be well aware of the considerable anxiety, and indeed anger, caused to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland since the publication of his Brexit deal. I would like him to take this opportunity, since he has not bothered until now, to reach out and reassure the Unionist community. I would like him to take this opportunity publicly to reassure the people in Northern Ireland that there is nothing in his deal that undermines the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, as guaranteed by the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and the consent principle. I pay tribute to the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, who has given a very solemn explanation about his commitment to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, but as a Unionist, I need to hear a British Prime Minister making that commitment to the Unionist community.
Of course, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I wish to reassure her that I make an absolute commitment to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, which is inviolable and intact. It may be that she has not seen the statement from Lord Trimble, who said of the change in the agreement that we have secured:
“Whilst, previously, the people of Northern Ireland were to have an agreement imposed on them, now we have a mechanism for the consent of the people of Northern Ireland”—
and that is
“fully in accordance with…the Good Friday Agreement.”
My right hon. Friend is right to characterise the political participation of the UK in the EU as too often uncertain, and it is one of the great regrets of my time here that what he says is true. We will never know, in a way, what the EU might have looked like if the United Kingdom had been a full partner, but if a new relationship with us outside the EU, for which I will be voting today, is to be a success, not only for the trade negotiations but for the diplomatic links, does he agree—as they read our newspapers and know what we say—that the relentless, persistent and too often 1940s anti-EU rhetoric must come to an end, no ifs and no buts?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is time that this country moved on. I may say that the best way in which he could show his support tonight for this deal would be gently to suggest to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset that he remove the amendment standing in his name, which I am afraid is an impediment to such a verdict tonight.
In my constituency, 71% voted to remain. The world-class researchers who are doing world-class and life-saving research at universities in Glasgow are not half-hearted Europeans. The children at Pollokshields Primary in Erasmus Plus programmes are not half-hearted Europeans. Those citizens who are completing projects in Glasgow funded by the European social fund are not half-hearted Europeans either. Does the Prime Minister agree that the only way for the people in my constituency to be full members of the European Union and retain that citizenship is for Scotland to be an independent country?
The hon. Lady is making a very important point. People feel very strongly about this matter, and they also feel very differently about it. What we have today is an opportunity to take the country forward with a new relationship that allows people who feel wholeheartedly passionate about Europe to express those feelings. Yes, students, professors, academics, artists and creators of all kinds will be able to share their enthusiasms with their friends across the EU under this deal; that is vital, and it is part of our ambition for the UK and for Europe.
I support my right hon. Friend in securing this deal, but he will acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed in relation to Northern Ireland. In addition to the commitments that he has given, especially over the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, please will he reaffirm his commitment to a new deal for Northern Ireland, investing in its infrastructure, investing in its prosperity and investing in its future as a proud part of our precious United Kingdom?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for everything that he has done for Northern Ireland. I think he would agree that the one thing that would really make a difference now to all those policy fields in Northern Ireland, and take Northern Ireland furthest forward the fastest, would be if we could get the Stormont Assembly up and running again and if the parties came together for government in Northern Ireland once more.
At any point in the past three years, the Government could have agreed to internationally binding legal commitments to maintain existing workers’ rights and environmental protections and ensure that rights keep pace in the future. At every stage, they have refused to do so. Can the Prime Minister explain why people across this country should believe his empty promises now? If he is so confident that the British public will not see through his hollow rhetoric, why is he so afraid of giving them a final say?
The hon. Lady will know that the provisions on workers’ rights and environmental protections in the political decision are very ambitious. We want to maintain the highest possible standards. She should understand that whenever the EU introduces a new provision on workers’ rights, even if it is in some way inferior to our own by then, Parliament will have an opportunity to consider that new provision from the EU and put it into UK law.
The Prime Minister said at the outset of his statement that the debate about our membership of the European Union has not just paralysed our politics but profoundly divided our society. The longer we have that debate, the more difficult it will be to reunite our country. Is it not incumbent on all of us in this place today to act in a way that seeks to settle that debate, not perpetuate it—and not to reject a good deal in the fruitless and impractical pursuit of a perfect deal?
My right hon. and learned Friend is perfectly right. I think that this deal is about as perfect as you could get under the circumstances, if I say so myself, but yes, of course there are difficulties with it. I accept that people have objections to the current arrangements; all I can say is that those arrangements are there expressly by consent and are time-limited. We will go forward with a new deep and special partnership with our European friends that will supersede those arrangements. I think we should be very proud of the deal that we have today. Let us knock it through, if we possibly can, tonight.
If I may say so respectfully, I do not believe that such Acts have necessarily been conducive to a stable negotiating position. By the way, I have not done enough in this statement to thank my team and those in the Foreign Office, the Department for Exiting the European Union and all the Departments of State, as well as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, David Frost and the many others who have worked to make this deal happen. I want to thank them very much for what they have done. I respectfully say to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think their position has been made easier by measures passed in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). Not a good idea!
The people of Wales voted to leave, but many had concerns about a no-deal Brexit. Can I thank the Prime Minister for coming forward with a deal that respects the result in Wales and delivers on the concerns of those who did not want a hard Brexit? As the Welsh would say: mae’n hi’n bryd. Diolch yn fawr.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. Scotland says today that we reject this rotten deal. We will be taken out of the European Union, which we value and cherish, against our national collective will, be deprived of the customs union and single market and be left at a competitive disadvantage to our friends in Northern Ireland. Is it not the case that Scotland can retain its EU membership only by becoming a normal independent nation?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is sadly in error if he thinks that Northern Ireland is part of the EU customs union. It is simply not; it is part of the UK customs union, as indeed is Scotland, which is greatly to the benefit of the people of Scotland.
Ribble Valley voted 57% to leave. Every constituency in Lancashire, whether held by a Labour or Conservative MP, voted to leave the EU in 2016. What message would my right hon. Friend send to Members representing leave constituencies? How should they vote tonight?
I remember vividly campaigning with my hon. Friend at cattle markets and elsewhere where he attracted strong support for his views. He is right. I hope very much that people in the House tonight will respect the views of their constituents—not just their belief that Brexit needs to be done, but their passionate desire to move on to our dynamic domestic agenda of expanding our health service, improving our healthcare, investing in education, putting more police officers on the street and taking this country forward. The Labour party offers nothing but dither, division, doubt and delay. It is completely mistaken.
The Prime Minister used the phrase “European friends” over and over again in his statement, and we in this House know that he likes to treat his friends with great generosity. Bearing that in mind, will he distance himself from the comments last week of the Security Minister, who said that our European friends in this country could face deportation if they did not get settled status by next year?
The hon. Lady has raised a very important point. Perhaps I should have said more about it in my opening remarks, because I think that this is one of the things that the Government have done well over the last few years. Perhaps we should have been faster, but we are finally giving the 3.4 million the assurances that they need, and the EU settled status scheme is now working extremely well. It is vital that everybody—all the EU citizens living in our country—has the reassurances that they need.
I might add that it is also vital—this is a point that I made to our colleagues in Brussels—that there should be symmetry. At the moment there is not perfect symmetry, and it is important that as we come out and give our EU nationals the treatment they deserve, that is reciprocated on the other side of the channel. By and large it is, but there is some progress to be made.
Will the Prime Minister confirm what business has been telling us for many months now—that there is enormous pent-up investment waiting to be released into the UK economy when the fog and lack of clarity of this stage of Brexit has been lifted? Will he also confirm that very last thing that business wants to see from today’s proceedings in this House of Commons is further delay, fogginess and confusion?
My right hon. Friend is completely right. I do think that the whole business world has been, as it were, holding its breath and waiting for us to get this thing done. There is massive confidence and excitement about this country and its future. Businesses want to invest: let us give them an opportunity to do so in the course of the next few weeks and months.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). Does the Prime Minister not agree that one of the confusions that we face, in the House but more so in the country, is that some—not all—of those who wish to remain often appear in Brexit clothing? Does he agree that today there is a motion on the Order Paper for those of us who want to deliver on the promise in the referendum, and that only one vote is necessary?
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken with his customary honesty and insight. I think it would be a good thing if the House were able to have what I think was promised to it and to the country, namely a meaningful vote tonight, but my fear is that the vote that we have will not prove to be meaningful, and I think that, given the solemnity of this occasion, that would be a great pity.
Yes. Not only that, but if my hon. Friend studies the agreement, he will see that it is open to the UK authorities to give support of any kind that is necessary to alleviate any impacts that may result from the arrangements that we will put in place, whatever the implications may be for state aids.
Does the Prime Minister understand the worries of manufacturers about new rules of origin checks and other red tape that his deal would impose on them, and the fears of Make UK that reassurances in the deal negotiated by his predecessor have been dropped from his deal?
I think it important that other voices from Scotland are asking Scottish MPs to vote for this deal, such as the National Farmers Union of Scotland, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Scotch Whisky Association. They all believe that it is best for industry, the economy and jobs. Scottish Conservatives will vote for this deal, and Scottish nationalists will once again vote for a no-deal Brexit.
There speaks the true voice of Scotland! My hon. Friend is perfectly correct in what she says, and I venture to say that the constituents of SNP Members overwhelmingly tonight want that party —even that party—to get Brexit done and move this country on. I bet they do, Mr Speaker!
The Prime Minister has said there will be no border down the Irish sea, yet every good imported from GB to Northern Ireland will be subject to a customs declaration, a physical movement subject to checks, and tariffs have to be paid until it can be proved where the goods are going to. Will he accept that while he may have avoided a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, he has put a legal, customs and economic border between the country to which we belong and the economy on which we depend? Rather than a great deal, this will do a great deal of damage to the Union.
On the contrary. What this does is protect Northern Ireland by extracting Northern Ireland whole and entire from the EU customs union and allowing Northern Ireland to join the whole UK in setting our own tariffs. In so far as there may be checks at a few places in Northern Ireland, physical checks would involve only 1% of the goods coming in. If that is too much of a burden, it is open to the people of Northern Ireland, by a majority, to decide that they no longer wish to participate in those arrangements. It is being done by consent. It is a very, very ingenious scheme that gets Northern Ireland out of the customs union and allows the whole UK to do free trade together, with minimum bureaucracy.
The British people are watching this place very carefully and history is recording what we say. The clear majority message from my constituents is that they want the Brexit they voted for delivered, and this deal does that. Can I have an assurance from the Prime Minister that we will not only maintain, but enhance, our environmental and animal welfare standards?
North Wales is a major artery to Northern Ireland by road and by boat, and to the Irish Republic by road and by boat, but also to the Irish Republic through Northern Ireland by road and by boat. Given what the Prime Minister has said today—there will be no tariffs on goods “unless they are at risk of entering the EU”; that is in his statement—where and when will the border checks be, and where and when will there be tariffs, because people will face them under his proposals?
We all know that the people of our country are desperate to end this uncertainty, but we often forget that the people of the other 27 countries are also desperate to end this uncertainty, and our Prime Minister has needed to get consent from all 27 countries. Does he agree that if this House fails to back this deal today, or seeks to kick the can down the road again, we will create more uncertainty, not less?
My hon. Friend is exactly right, and the choice is very clear today for this House and for the country: it is really this deal or a no-deal Brexit. I do not think, by any stretch of the imagination, it can be right for the UK to delay beyond 31 October when that is expensive, pointless and a waste of spirit and an expense of shame that would achieve absolutely nothing whatever.
Evidence matters, Prime Minister. How can he possibly assure our constituents that this is a good deal if he has not carried out an economic impact assessment of what it will cost them? If he has carried that out, why on earth are we not able to see it as we debate this today?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but I direct her to the answers I have already given on that point. Many business groups have already come out in support of the deal because it gives certainty and stability and allows the country to move on. I think it will, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) just said, unleash a great deal of investment in the UK.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and the tone in which he has delivered it. He and I have had some robust conversations in the last six weeks, and he has done what he promised me he would do: sought a Brexit deal and brought it back to this House. I was pleased to hear him mention the 48%. There are a lot of people for whom we need the losers’ consent to deliver Brexit safely. Does he agree that the way to do that is with the deal he has proposed, which is well worthy of all our support?
My hon. Friend’s support means a great deal to me. He and I did have long conversations about this, and I did my best to convince him that I was in earnest in seeking a deal. I truly was, and I am very pleased with the result that we have secured. I am delighted that he feels able to support it tonight. To get back to the key point, the deal gives people who love Europe, in the broadest possible way, a real chance to move forward and work with us to develop a new partnership with our European friends. That is the opportunity. Everything else is stasis and division. This is the way forward.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) said:
“I am doing my best to persuade colleagues…who, like me, voted three times against Theresa May’s deal, to look at this in a favourable light…provided we can get that clear assurance, and I have been given it so far by people like Michael Gove and Dominic Raab…that…if those trade talks fail up to December 2020, we will be leaving on no-deal terms.”
Have members of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet given those assurances? If, indeed, no deal is therefore not ruled out by supporting the Prime Minister today, why will he not tell the country the truth?
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) made it clear in the House just now—perhaps the hon. Lady was listening—that he wants and will work for a great new free trade agreement. That is indeed what we will do. I respectfully say to the hon. Lady, as I say to all hon. Friends and Members, that if they wish to avoid a no-deal outcome, the single best thing we can all do is vote for the deal tonight.
I strongly support the deal. Is it not the case that, whatever the Government, we in this Parliament will be able to strengthen workers’ rights without recourse to an external authority? Is it also not the case that we will be able to spend the billions of pounds we save from leaving the European Union on public services and cutting the cost of living for ordinary folk across our country?
That voice of Harlow is completely right. By the way, we will be able to get on with investing in hospitals in my right hon. Friend’s area. Yes, of course, it is open to this House and this country to strengthen workers’ rights beyond the standards in the EU. As I said, every new regulation or directive that comes from Brussels on this matter will, of course, be capable of being scrutinised by this House, which will be able to decide whether it is right to implement it in UK law. It seems to me that we cannot say fairer than that. We can go further than the EU, but we can also track it if we choose.
Following the earlier question from the right hon. Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), the Prime Minister will know that there is a great deal of anxiety in the business community that it faces a cliff edge at the end of next year. Will he reiterate what seemed to be his assurance that the transition will be extended until his free trade agreement has been concluded?
If the right hon. Gentleman is worried about a cliff edge—I, frankly, am not as worried as he is, because I think we will do a great free trade deal by then—the best thing he can do is vote for this deal tonight. I am looking at him carefully to see whether he might have that in his heart; I hope he does. He says that he is opposed to a no-deal Brexit and that is the way to avoid it.
European Union (Withdrawal) Acts
I beg to move,
That, in light of the new deal agreed with the European Union, which enables the United Kingdom to respect the result of the referendum on its membership of the European Union and to leave the European Union on 31 October with a deal, and for the purposes of section 1(1)(a) of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 and section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, this House approves the negotiated withdrawal agreement titled Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and the framework for the future relationship titled Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom that the United Kingdom has concluded with the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, as well as a Declaration by Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning the operation of the Democratic consent in Northern Ireland provision of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, copies of these three documents which were laid before this House on Saturday 19 October.
With this it will be convenient to discuss motion 2:
That this House approves the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union on exit day, without a withdrawal agreement as defined in section 20(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Today is the time for this House to come together and move forward. Someone who previously did that, and whom many Members of the House will still remember, was the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam. Her biography was called “Momentum” before that was a faction forcing out its own colleagues—[Interruption.]
That spirit of bringing people together was what I was seeking to pay tribute to. After 1,213 days and frequent debates in this Chamber, now is the time for this House to move forward. Another pivotal figure in bringing different views together was Lord Trimble, who won the Nobel peace prize for his contribution to the Good Friday agreement. He has made clear his support for this deal, confirming that it is fully in accordance with the spirit of that agreement, and the people of Northern Ireland will be granted consent over their future as a result of the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated. This deal also delivers on the referendum in a way that protects all parts of our Union against those who would seek to use division and delay to break it up, particularly those on the SNP Benches. As such, it is a deal that honours not one but two referendums by protecting both our democratic vote but also our United Kingdom.
This House called for a meaningful vote. Yet some who championed that now suggest that we should delay longer still. I respect the intention of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) who, indeed, has supported a deal three times and has indicated his support today. However, his amendment would render today’s vote meaningless. It would cause further delay when our constituents and our businesses want an end to uncertainty and are calling for us to get this done. The public will be appalled by pointless further delay. We need to get Brexit done by 31 October so that the country can move forward and, in that spirit, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
The Secretary of State pointed out that some hon. Members have voted against a Brexit deal since the referendum, including the Prime Minister, who did so twice. Why do the Government not have the courage, therefore, to allow the same privilege to the people of this country by allowing them to make their judgment on this deal?
If the hon. Gentleman really thought that, he would have supported an election to let the people have their say on this issue, but he declined to do so. It is important that politicians do not pick and choose which votes they adhere to and that we respect the biggest vote in our country’s history.
The Secretary of State has just said the public do not want a delay. I was in Rainham yesterday, and 100% of the people I met said that they want Brexit delivered and that this Prime Minister’s deal delivers on Brexit. I applaud the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister for getting this done.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who now call for a second referendum have denied the result of the first referendum? How, then, could the British people ever trust us to follow through on a second referendum?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that many of us have long campaigned to leave the European Union. Will he tell me now why this agreement does not give an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to opt in and consent to what has been decided? That would have made a crucial difference to people on the pro-Union side in Northern Ireland who, like me, genuinely feel that, somehow, the United Kingdom Government are letting them down and giving in to others.
As the hon. Lady should know, the unilateral declaration published with the documentation on both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration does, indeed, allow for a consent mechanism for the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the Prime Minister set out in his statement, it is right when we make a decision based on a majority across the United Kingdom that the Assembly reach a decision on that basis without one community having the power of veto over the other.
The Secretary of State has followed the example of the Prime Minister in quoting David Trimble. I pay tribute to David Trimble as a great leader of the Ulster Unionist party; he now sits as a Tory Member of the other place. I asked the Prime Minister and am now asking the Secretary of State for a clear guarantee that there is nothing in this new Brexit deal that undermines or weakens the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, as guaranteed in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the consent principle. Do not quote Lord Trimble to me. Give me a clear commitment.
I refer the hon. Lady to the letter that the Prime Minister sent to President Juncker on 2 October. The first commitment within that letter was the absolute commitment of this Prime Minister and this Government to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We share that commitment not just within the United Kingdom but with our friends in the Irish Government. That is why we have shown flexibility in the arrangements, some of which have caused difficulty to some colleagues in the House, to address the concerns, particularly in the nationalist community, about the possible impact on the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) mentioned the opt-in, which was in the letter that the Prime Minister sent to Jean-Claude Juncker two weeks ago—that is where it came from—but it has since been abandoned. The Prime Minister and others seem a bit bemused, but that was an opt-in.
Secondly, the Secretary of State now talks about it having to be agreed by majority vote. Can we now take it that the Government’s policy is to do away with vetoes on, for instance, getting the Assembly up and running? Four of the five parties in Northern Ireland want the Assembly up and running—the Assembly will meet on Monday, which is good news—so does that veto no longer apply? [Interruption.] I see the Prime Minister nodding, for which I am grateful. That is a very big breakthrough in Northern Ireland.
It is also worth clarifying—this speaks very much to the unilateral declaration and the concerns on how it operates—that this is about a reserved matter that applies to our international agreements as a United Kingdom and not the powers that sit with the Assembly, within the Good Friday agreement. That is why there was not a willingness to give one community a power of veto over the other.
It is simply not true to say that agriculture and manufactured goods, and so on, are reserved matters. These are matters devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Secretary of State is just not correct. Please do not use that argument. This was recognised by the Prime Minister in the letter he sent to Jean-Claude Juncker only a few weeks ago.
The difficulty with that argument, with great respect—I do very much respect the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns—is that Stormont is not sitting at present. That is why we have the mechanism set out further in the unilateral declaration on how that declaration on how that will be addressed if Stormont is not sitting.
When, a few weeks ago, I voted for the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019—distressingly, it is often referred to as the Benn Act, rather than given its full title: the Benn-Burt Act—it was with the clear intention of ensuring that maximum effort was committed to the negotiations in order to secure a deal and prevent the risk of no deal. I am grateful to the Prime Minister and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for having succeeded in an objective that did not at the time seem to gather favour. Now that they have succeeded in that, I want a vote on it tonight. Having referred to the good intentions of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) in moving his amendment today, which I will be voting against, could the Secretary of State give some reassurance to the House as to why he believes it is not necessary if we are to fulfil the terms of the deal and the efforts that have been made in the past few weeks?
I will make a little more progress before taking further interventions.
This is a deal that the Prime Minister was told was impossible. We were told that the withdrawal agreement could not be changed. Indeed, the shadow Brexit Secretary used to hold up the text of the agreement and say that not a word had been changed. We were told that the backstop could not be removed; it was the all-weather, all-life insurance on which the European Union relied. We were told that there was insufficient time for a new deal, and indeed that the negotiations were a sham—and sometimes that was just from the voices on our own side.
The real significance of the Prime Minister’s achievement is that the people of Northern Ireland will have a vote that will give them consent over their future arrangements, and there will no longer be any European veto over what those future arrangements will be. Just as importantly, the deal changes the dynamics of the future negotiations. Before, many Members of the House were concerned that the backstop would be used as leverage, with the EU holding the prospect of our being permanently stuck in its orbit against us. Indeed, many Members spoke about it being easier to leave the EU than to leave the backstop. With this new deal, because of the need for Northern Ireland’s consent over its future, the dynamics of the future relationship will change, because the EU’s interests will be aligned with ours in reaching a future relationship that benefits both sides.
In my constituency, 52% of people voted to leave and 48% voted to remain. When we come to the sheer weight of legislation that will be needed to put into force the referendum result, might we not only keep faith with the 52% by leaving, but remember, as we have experienced today in the House, that 48% did not wish to leave?
I very much respect that point. The right hon. Gentleman has always reached out to build consensus across the House, which is important. The commitment that the Prime Minister gave in his statement, on how the House will be consulted on the new phase of negotiations, is intended in part to address the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman and other Members across the House have raised, in order to have a balanced approach to the future relationship.
I listened intently to the Prime Minister’s statement and the debate that followed, and it seemed that assurances were given to Europhiles that the intention in phase 2 would be to follow close regulatory alignment with the EU, yet a carrot was offered to Eurosceptics in the form of there being unalignment, and even the suggestion that no deal would not be off the table in phase 2. Both cannot be true, so which is it?
Paragraph 77 sets out our commitment to high international standards and to their being reciprocal, as befits the relationship that we reach with the European Union. The hon. Gentleman really should have more confidence that we in this House will set regulation that is world leading and best in class, that reflects the Queen’s Speech, with its world-leading regulation on the environment, and that reflects the commitments that many in the House have sought on workers’ rights. We should also be mindful that, of course, it is this House that went ahead of the EU on paternity rights and parental leave. We can go further than the EU in protecting people’s rights, rather than simply match the EU.
It is my assessment that the deal struck by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister accords with the Good Friday agreement. I think it presages a new golden age for relationships north and south of the border, which is to be welcomed. I congratulate the Government on adopting the stance of consent rather than veto—that reflects modern island-of-Ireland politics today.
As Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend speaks with great authority on this issue. I know that he in particular will have recognised the importance of the fact that the whole of the United Kingdom will benefit from our future trade deals around the world, with every part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, leaving, as the Prime Minister said in his statement, whole and entire.
It is right that we examine the detail in this place, and the Secretary of State is doing a great job in answering the questions, but may I suggest to him that we, as a collective body, need a slightly more optimistic note? It is my firm belief that now we have got rid of the backstop, we will achieve a fair and good trade deal by December 2020. We should be focused on that, rather than on all the minor detail. It is a bright future, if we decide to take it today.
My hon. Friend is right to talk of the opportunity for trade deals that Brexit unlocks. We start from a position of great understanding of the respective economies—a big part of a trade deal is usually negotiating that understanding at the start—and we can seize the opportunities of those trade deals around the world. That is exactly why we need to move forward.
Should the House divide later on the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), the amendment will have my support. I suggest to the Secretary of State that there is a way through that brings the consensus he talks about: we support the amendment and the Government table the legislation next week so that we can scrutinise the detail. We can then make meaningful decisions on Second and Third Reading, but, crucially, those of us who have some reservations about the Government’s trustworthiness can see the commitments that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have made from the Dispatch Box, which I welcome, written on the face of the Bill before we make that final, crucial decision on how we continue the process.
I respect the care with which the hon. Gentleman has looked at these issues, but his constituents, like many throughout the country, now want the country to move forward and for us to get this deal done. There is of course a distinction between the meaningful vote today and the further opportunities there will be on Second and Third Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill for assurance to be provided for in line with the statements that the Prime Minister has made from the Dispatch Box today.
Surely the crucial point of this new deal is that it offers Great Britain a fairly hard Brexit in order to facilitate trade agreements with countries for which European standards are incompatible. An economy cannot be a European-style economy and a US-style economy at the same time. The Secretary of State is not giving us an economic assessment to tell us what jobs and industries will grow on the back of this deal and what goods and services will be cheaper to compensate for loss of aerospace, automotive, financial services and so much more. He cannot tell us that today.
The hon. Gentleman really should listen to business leaders like Sir Stuart Rose who says that we should get this deal done; to the Bank of England Governor, who says that this will be a boost to our economy; and to the many business leaders who want an end to this uncertainty. We cannot simply keep debating the same issues in a House that has said no to everything and refused to say yes to anything.
This debate should be about restoring the independence of our country in accordance with the votes of the referendum. Given that in the implementation period the EU will have massive powers over us, is there something that the Government can build into the draft legislation to give us reassurance that the EU will not abuse those very excessive powers?
My right hon. Friend spoke earlier about there not being pointless delay, and I actually agree with him about that. This matter has to be brought to a conclusion, but he must be aware that quite apart from approving it in its generality, we also have a duty as a House to look at the detail of this deal in primary legislation. In the course of that, the House is entitled to pass amendments which, provided they do not undermine the treaty itself, are wholly legitimate. The difficulty is that, by insisting that the Benn Act be effectively subverted and removed, the impression the Government are giving is that they have other intentions—of taking us out at such a gallop that that proper scrutiny cannot take place. I wish the Government would just listen a little bit, because I think that they would find there is much more common ground on this than they have ever been prepared to acknowledge, instead of which they continue to give the impression that they just want to drive a coach and horses through the rights of this House to carry out proper scrutiny.
I have always had great respect for the legal acumen and the seriousness of my right hon. and learned Friend, but there is an inconsistency in his case when he talks about wanting to look at legislation in more detail, having supported the Benn-Burt legislation that was passed in haste, and having supported the Cooper legislation, which needed to be corrected by Lord Pannick and others in the House of Lords, because it would have had the effect of doing the opposite of what it intended as it would have forced a Prime Minister to come back to this House after the EU Council had finished, thereby making a no deal more likely rather than less. That Cooper legislation is a very good example of where my right hon. and learned Friend did not look at legislation in detail, and, indeed, where it would have had a perverse consequence at odds with his arguments for supporting it at the time. Indeed, there is a further inconsistency: he championed section 13, but when the Prime Minister secured a new deal, which my right hon. and learned Friend said that he could not achieve, he then denies the House a right to vote in a meaningful way as required by his own section 13 because he no longer wants it to apply on the same rules as it did when he passed it.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. This deal has hardly lacked scrutiny, given the number of times it has been voted on and debated in this House, although we now have an altered deal. May I just point out that the implementing legislation is simply that: it does not alter the substance of the agreement but merely implements the agreement in domestic law. We can do that very quickly and amend that Bill after ratification of the agreement if necessary, because it is only a piece of domestic implementing legislation. There is no case for delaying that legislation, and I am going to vote for the deal today, if I get the chance.
First, I welcome the support of my hon. Friend. One issue that the shadow Secretary of State and I agree on is that, on these issues, there has not been a lack of scrutiny, given the frequency with which we seem to debate them in the House.
It is also worth reminding ourselves of what the motion is addressing today. The motion is addressing the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration secured by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The mechanism to implement that—the withdrawal agreement Bill—has still to be debated. Indeed, even that pertains only to the winding-down arrangements and not, as is often referenced in this House, to the future trade deal that we want to get on and debate. It is therefore rather odd that the main issue—our relationship with Europe—is being thwarted because of a circular, endless debate on the same issue, when we need to support the deal today in order to unlock the withdrawal agreement Bill that we need to debate.
Is not the simple fact of the matter that all the people who cry out for a deal have to support the deal that has been brought forward by the Prime Minister? It is a first step on the way to many other opportunities that this House will have to discuss this particular issue, but we really have to move forward now and respect the result of the referendum three and a half years ago.
Does the Secretary of State agree that amendment (a) is a panic measure by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and others, because they had no idea or confidence that a deal would be before us today that would allow those of us in this House who want to secure a deal to move on and leave the European Union by 31 October? As a result, if the House votes for amendment (a) today, we will be forced—even if a deal is approved—to seek an extension until 31 January, underlining that the sponsors of Benn Act had only one motivation: to delay Brexit and stop it.
I very much agree with the right hon. Lady’s points, as well as with the principle and consistency that she has shown throughout the debate. It is indeed an interesting snippet within the point that she raises that some of the voices in the media this morning were complaining that there had been insufficient time between the deal on 17 October and the debate in the House today, 19 October. And yet, this is the timescale that the Benn legislation itself required of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when it came to bringing issues before the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for very kindly giving way. He has used the word “scrutiny” on a number of occasions in his contribution so far, yet he was on BBC News this morning confirming that no economic analysis has been done on the deal presented to the House today. [Interruption.] Government Members may shake their heads, but how can this House be expected to vote on something so fundamental to the future of our country without that analysis?
I suspect that a point on which the hon. Lady and I could agree is that there is probably no level of analysis that is going to change her vote and her mind. As a former Treasury Minister, I am always aware —as I am sure the Chancellor himself would recognise—that it is indeed difficult to model a deal that was only done on Thursday, which cannot anticipate what changes the new EU Commission under new leadership will make, which does not set out what changes the UK will make in response to that, and which cannot second-guess what changes will happen in the wider world economy that will clearly have an impact on such an economic model.
The Secretary of State represents North East Cambridgeshire and is a member of the Conservative and Unionist party. I am a member of the Democratic Unionist party. A Unionist in Strangford at this moment in time is a second-class citizen by comparison with a Unionist in North East Cambridgeshire. Can the Secretary of State tell me why the Unionist people in Northern Ireland—my children, my grandchildren and their birthright—will be secondary to Unionists anywhere else across the United Kingdom? Does he not understand the angst, fear and annoyance of Unionists in Northern Ireland? We have been treated as second-class citizens in this deal and, as I see it, our opinion means nothing.
Members from across the House who have seen the assiduous nature of hon. Gentleman, particularly in Adjournment debates, will know that his constituents never get a second-class service from him. In the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated, he has tried to operate in the same spirit that I know the hon. Gentleman does by ensuring that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom customs union and leaves whole and entire. As a consequence, the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, like mine in North East Cambridgeshire, will benefit from the great trade deals that I know the Secretary of State for International Trade intends to negotiate.
The aim of amendment (a) is clear. The emperor has no clothes; it is to stop us leaving the European Union at any cost. The European Research Group met this morning. Normally, our meetings are private, but in the circumstances, there were three things that I thought I could share with the House. First, the officers overwhelmingly recommended backing the Prime Minister’s deal. Secondly, the ERG overwhelmingly recommended the same and no member of the ERG spoke against it. Thirdly, and most importantly, we agreed that those who vote for the deal vote for the Bill. If the deal is passed today, we will faithfully vote the Bill through to the end, so that we can leave the European Union. You have our word.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support, which, coming from someone who opposed the previous deal, is a reflection of the fact that this is a deal for everyone—a deal for the 52 and for the 48; a deal for Northern Ireland and for Cambridgeshire. This is a deal that benefits the United Kingdom—in particular, by enabling us to move forward and, above all, take back control of our fisheries.
Obviously, Northern Ireland is getting preferential treatment. Although it has not brought the DUP on board, Northern Ireland is getting special access to the single market and the Government have promised more money to Northern Ireland, yet Scotland is being left high and dry. Can the Secretary of State confirm that Scottish Tory Members did not ask for any concessions for Scotland—that they got no concessions and are just Lobby fodder?
Let me make some progress, then I will take further interventions.
By contrast with the efforts of the Prime Minister—who was told that a deal was impossible and that neither the backstop nor one word of the withdrawal agreement could be amended—the Leader of the Opposition appears to have rejected the deal before he has even read it. This is an Opposition who cannot see further than opposition for opposition’s sake.
The shadow Brexit Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), will always, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, have read the detail. He has been in post throughout the three years, but during that time has used a wide range of arguments to support his case. He said in July 2018:
“We respect the result of the…referendum”,
and he recognised that we are leaving the European Union, but he now says that
“any outcome…must be subject to a referendum and we would campaign for remain”.
He said that Labour’s concerns were never about the withdrawal agreement or the backstop;
“They were about the Political Declaration”.
That is what he put on Twitter on 17 October this year, yet he used to stand in this Chamber and object to the withdrawal agreement because it had not changed. At the time of the third meaningful vote, which was purely on the withdrawal agreement and not the political declaration, he still objected to the withdrawal agreement. In 2018, he said that Labour could not support a withdrawal agreement without
“a mechanism for universal exit”,
which is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has secured through the vote of consent for the Northern Ireland Assembly, but the shadow Secretary of State now says that the issue is no longer about the withdrawal agreement; it is instead about the political declaration.
For much of this debate, Labour has been for being a participant in the EU customs union, yet we have heard from a senior member of the Labour party that its real position is 100% remain. As one media report alleged this week, during the cross-party talks, Labour even rejected a copy-and-paste of its own proposal, describing it as “unacceptable”.
Some in government have cautioned against listening to experts during this debate, but it is clear from business experts and the Bank of England’s Governor—
If hon. Members will give me a moment, the shadow Secretary of State and I have always conducted our debates in the House with great courtesy, so in that spirit, of course I withdraw that. That is a good illustration of what today’s debate is really about. We could get into the detail of whether we are presenting something aligned to what he has previously said and whether the sense is the same, but today is about this House and the country coming together and moving on from these debates and the talks, although the real issue in the talks was some people’s desire for a second referendum, rather than a desire to get into the detail of how we could resolve the issues.
This is at least the seventh opportunity the House has had to avoid a harmful no deal. There were three occasions relating to the former Prime Minister’s deal; there was the European Free Trade Association; there was Norway; and there was the customs union. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be folly to let this final opportunity to avoid a damaging crash-out slip through our fingers?