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?
Yes. I am asking for a friend. If the Letwin amendment is passed and the Bill comes in next week and is agreed to before 31 October, we will leave on 31 October, but if the Letwin amendment is not passed and the Bill comes forward next week but is not agreed to by 31 October, we will leave with no deal—yes or no?
I say yes to this: to proceed, we need to comply with section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. That is the argument that the right hon. Gentleman and many others have repeatedly made. If we are to deliver that and avoid any further delay, it is important that we defeat amendment (a).
The Secretary of State says that the deal is about moving on. One of the real obstacles that prevented us from moving on was the backstop. I resigned from the Government and a party position in November over the backstop. Can he confirm that what we have now completely gets rid of the backstop and is about moving on?
I am listening very carefully to the debate about the timing. Is it not clear that if the Letwin amendment is defeated and we make a decision today that is actually complying with—not subverting, but complying with—the Benn-Burt Act by bringing forward a deal and winning that vote, yes, we will have to get the legislation through this House quickly, and that will probably mean sitting for long days and probably long nights, but we can get it done? However, if the amendment passes and there is an extension, my guess is that that legislation will go on and on, and we will never leave. The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) is absolutely right: if we want to get this done, vote against the Letwin amendment, for the motion today and get the legislation through by the end of October—and get Brexit done.
As a former Government Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right on the process that applies. The other issue that is sometimes forgotten is that our friends and colleagues in Europe do not want any further delay and do not want to see any extension, but want to see us get on.
My right hon. Friend does not want to answer the question from the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), so I will. If the Letwin amendment passes, and the Government bring forward the Bill at the start of next week and that Bill passes before 31 October, we will leave on 31 October without a delay. If the Letwin amendment fails, and the Government bring forward the Bill and some people in the ERG, such as the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), suddenly discover that they prefer the idea of a no-deal Brexit and the Bill fails, we will leave on 31 October with no deal.
The problem with the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that it is at odds with the argument put forward by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who says that we need to pass this amendment to have more scrutiny and delay and to take much longer, yet the hon. Gentleman says that we need the amendment to be able to leave on —[Interruption.]
That is a matter of extraordinary interest in the House and possibly across the nation—I say that to the hon. Gentleman in the friendliest spirit—but it is not a matter for adjudication by the Chair. However, the hon. Gentleman has advertised his non-membership of the ERG, and I hope he feels better for it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is entirely mistaken and cannot have been listening to what I said when I intervened on him. I am in entire agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), who asked him the question, because that must be the position. The intention behind the Letwin amendment is to secure that insurance policy—nothing more, nothing less.
I say, mainly for the benefit of those observing our proceedings who are not Members of the House, that in common with the overwhelming majority of purported points of order, that was not a point of order. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has put his point on the record, and he, too, will doubtless go about his business with an additional glint in his eye and spring in his step as a consequence.
The problem with the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s argument is that it is at odds with what he says about section 13. Each time it is a different argument, but the purpose is always the same, and that is to delay any resolution, to stop this House moving forward and to stop us getting Brexit done.
There are many in this House who have said repeatedly in debates that their principal concern is avoiding a no-deal exit. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), on the Prime Minister’s statement, made that point. Today is the opportunity for all Members of this House to demonstrate that they want to avoid a no-deal exit, to support this deal and to get Brexit done. This is a deal that takes back control of our money, borders and laws. It gives the people of Northern Ireland the freedom to choose their future. It allows the whole United Kingdom to benefit from our trade deals, and it ensures that we move forward as one complete Union of the United Kingdom.
In securing the new deal, the Prime Minister observed with his EU colleagues that a failure by them to listen to this Parliament, and in particular its decision on the backstop, would indeed be a failure of statecraft. They have listened; they have acted; and they have reached a new deal with the Prime Minister. It would now be a failure of this Parliament not to approve this deal and to fail to respond to that flexibility from EU leaders as required.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for your advice. I was shocked to hear the Secretary of State mention the name of Mo Mowlam in his introductory remarks. Mo Mowlam said that the EU contributed to the Northern Ireland peace process and that it was crucial in underpinning dialogue and cross-community contacts. She emphasised the precariousness of the process and the need for continued “substantial” support from the European Union. May I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, on how we can seek to defend her legacy when it is abused in such a way?
As the hon. Lady knows, I recognise the sincerity with which she speaks, and the constituency basis, of which I hope colleagues are conscious, that motivates her to defend the legacy of Mo Mowlam. As she also knows, she has successfully found her own salvation through that bogus, but sincere, point of order. Her point is on the record, and it can be studied by colleagues in the House and by people outside.
Today, we meet on a Saturday for the first time in 37 years, with huge decisions before us this afternoon. Those decisions are not just about whether this deal gets over the line, and getting Brexit done, but about what it means for our country. There has been a lot of attention on how the deal operates in Northern Ireland, and rightly so, but that should not be allowed to mask the political project that is driving this deal. That is why Labour has focused on the political declaration, and any examination of the detail of that political declaration reveals its true purpose and the intent of the deal.
No customs union—that strikes at the heart of our manufacturing sector. Once in the doldrums, decimated by Prime Minister Thatcher—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, my dad was a toolmaker. He worked in a factory all his life in manufacturing, and we lived through those doldrums. That is why when I go to a factory or plant I am proud, for myself and for my father, when I see manufacturing through the just-in-time process and the revival that has gone on in parts of manufacturing. Go to any of those manufacturing plants, and the management and unions speak with one voice: “Do not take us out of the customs union.” This deal does just that, and it will do huge damage to manufacturing.
What of services? Nothing in this deal is different from that of the previous Prime Minister—the weakest of weak deals for services, which make up 80% of our economy. What the deal does is clear: it rips up our close trading relationship with the EU, and the price will be paid in damage to our economy and in job losses. Anyone doubting that should look at the words that have been stripped out of the deal put forward by the previous Prime Minister. Put the text side by side and ask some difficult questions.
Paragraph 20 used to read:
“The Parties envisage having a trading relationship on goods that is as close as possible, with a view to facilitating the ease of legitimate trade.”
The words “as close as possible” have been stripped out. Why?
Now it is said that we want “as close as possible”. Now it is said that there are all sorts of assurances, but between the text as it was under the previous Prime Minister and the text before us today, the words
“a trading relationship on goods that is as close as possible”
have been taken out and that is not an accident.
At the heart of this is the question of destination: not an abstract of moving on today, but the impact of a deal on everyday life in towns like mine. The Government should stop selling this sell-out deal to us as if this is the decision today. For all the talk of a deal of Norway plus and Canada plus plus, the Government are presenting us with Britain minus: minus protections, minus opportunities, minus prospects. If the Government are confident in the deal, they should put it to a final say. Now the deal is through the gate and people know more than they did, they should have a say on whether this is what they want. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a final say is the only way through this mess?
I do agree, but I really want to press this point. As I say, this is not just about getting a deal over the line. That is not the end of it. It is what we are getting over the line and what it means for our country. I invite the Secretary of State to intervene on me. Why were the words “as close as possible” taken out of the text? If the Government’s aspiration is to be as close as possible, why take the words out? [Interruption.] Nothing.
Let us again go through the exercise of laying the two texts alongside each other. The words about alignment are all but gone. A deliberate decision has been taken to take out the aspiration of a trading relationship that is as close as possible and a deliberate decision has been taken to take out all the words about alignment. That is not an accident. That is not a typo. That is a deeply political decision that tells us everything about the direction of travel under this deal.
Does that not go precisely to the heart of why those of us on the Labour Benches will not be able to vote for this deal? We are hearing from our colleagues in the trade union movement, who represent millions of workers including those who work in manufacturing, that this deal will be damaging for the future of jobs and livelihoods. How can we trust the Tories on workers’ rights when, throughout the whole time I was a trade union officer and throughout the whole time I have been a Member of Parliament, this Government have reduced working people’s rights?
I will make one more point and then I will give way. I just want to reinforce my point and then I will pause.
Not only have the aspiration for “as close as possible” and the references to alignment been taken out, but the new text removes the backstop as the basis of the future relationship—not the backstop in its own right, but as the basis for the future relationship. That is very important because it means that the starting point for the next stage is a baseline FTA with no safety net for workplace rights, consumer rights and environmental standards. They have gone from the binding legal withdrawal agreement altogether. They are found—I will come back to them—in the political declaration. They have gone out of the binding agreement and into the political declaration.
While we listen to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s confession entitled, “Why I wish I voted for the previous deal,” could he actually share with the House his honest assessment? Unless a deal says, “We will remain in the European Union and there will be no changes,” he will find false tests and artificially high hurdles that preclude him from voting for anything that does not ignore the referendum result.
That is just utter nonsense. Let me answer that directly: I have stood at this Dispatch Box and pressed amendments on the customs union time and again, and Government Members have voted against them. We have put forward the basis for a deal and we voted for it on the Opposition side of the House, so that intervention is just nonsense.
It is obvious where this ends: either with an FTA that significantly weakens rights, standards and protections, or in no deal and WTO terms at the end of the transition.
Yes, and anybody who has read the text knows it, because it is absolutely clear that there will have to be those checks.
Let me make one broader point that was made to me by manufacturers—this is not me speaking; it is what they have said to me. I will not name the company, but people from one of our major motor manufacturers said to me, “We don’t think that we would ever be able to take advantage of any new trade agreements, because we could never prove that 50% of our components come from the UK, and that is one of the rules.” That was their concern—[Interruption.] I will make this point, because it is really powerful and if people have not grasped this, they do not know what they are voting for. They said to me, “Our components come from across the EU and at the moment, we can show that 50% of them satisfy the rule to take advantage of the trade agreements that the EU has struck.” Their position is that they could never satisfy that requirement if the area is shrunk to the UK and therefore, their point to me was not that they are against new trade agreements—businesses are not—but that they will not be able to take advantage of them. That is what they said to me.
The thing that puzzles me is this: I hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman setting out strong objections to the strategy that this Government have pursued, yet, had the Labour party agreed to hold a general election when it was first mooted, that election would be over by now, and if Labour had persuaded the country, there would be a Labour Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box. What is it about the Labour party’s position that it is not willing to put to the country?
I have really agonised this week over whether to support this deal, and it has been profoundly difficult. Does the shadow Secretary of State share my concern with regard to Northern Ireland that by disturbing the careful balance within the Good Friday agreement between the two communities, we run the risk of inflaming Unionist opinion in potentially a very dangerous way, just, in a sense, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made clear in his intervention?
I am concerned about the position in Northern Ireland, and the Secretary of State quoted me on this earlier. It is true that I and the Labour party had reservations about the backstop—I am not sure that there were many people who did not have reservations about it—but on analysis, we thought that it was right for Northern Ireland and therefore, we focused our attention on the political declaration. I criticised it; I said what I thought was wrong with it. I was critical, for example, of the fact that it did not hardwire dynamic alignment of workplace rights, but ultimately, we thought that upholding the Good Friday agreement was more important and more significant.
I will also say this, because again, it is very important to read the small print: while it is true that the current deal says that Northern Ireland remains, as it were, in the UK’s customs territory, it goes on to explain that for goods going into Northern Ireland, the only ones that escape going effectively into the EU’s customs union are those that are at no risk of going beyond Northern Ireland and are not going into manufacturing, so the volume of goods that cross the border that truly are treated as if Northern Ireland is in the customs union is only that small category. The burden of proving that is on the person who is exporting. Can the Secretary of State, or anybody, explain how that can operate without very careful and extensive checks?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a powerful speech. He makes a good point about the backstop, because it was indeed a backstop: it was there in the last event, as it were. Does he agree that this is a new agreement, especially in relation to Northern Ireland? This is not a backstop; this is their future, and essentially it is in perpetuity. He is providing careful analysis to the House— I can see right hon. and hon. Members understanding and listening—but frankly the danger is that we will be bounced into a decision today with terrible consequences for our Union and our country.
The former Prime Minister used to say that no deal was better than a bad deal. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern that the current Prime Minister has just let it slip that this deal, heroically, manages to be both? It is a bad deal with a back door to no deal if no extension to the transition is agreed at the end of next year.
I agree, and that is a point that I will develop. In recognition of the previous Prime Minister, although she said that, I always felt that she had a profound sense of public duty, that she properly recognised the real risks of no deal, and that ultimately she would not have taken us there. I do not have that trust in the current Prime Minister.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend explore further the customs checks issue? If a lorry leaves Dumfries or north Wales for Northern Ireland, and its ultimate destination is the Republic of Ireland, where and when will the customs checks take place?
There have to be checks, and they have to be done at the border with England, Scotland and Wales, or Northern Ireland—there is no getting away from that. The argument that the Prime Minister tried to deploy earlier that he is not putting a border in the Irish sea is just wrong—it is absolutely wrong. Any goods that do not fall within the restricted category of goods proven not to be going any further than Northern Ireland and not to be going into manufacturing will be subject to checks, because that is the test written into the deal.
Ultimately, the bottom line is the future of people’s livelihoods. Never mind our emotional passions about being or not being in the European Union; what are the implications for workers and their jobs? Ford is leaving Bridgend, where it has 1,700 jobs—with 12,000 jobs across the south Wales economy—because it was worried about a no-deal Brexit. I have looked at this text, and there is a real risk that this is the end of just-in-time manufacturing in the whole UK. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree?
I have taken a lot of interventions and will take more later, but first I will make some progress.
It is important that we work through not just the technicalities of the deal, but where it leads us politically, because this is about the direction of travel for our country. If we go to a bare FTA, which is what it would mean, the Government’s own estimates show that there will be a loss of approximately 6.7% to growth in GDP over 15 years, and every region and nation will be poorer for it. The Prime Minister’s letter of 19 August to Donald Tusk made it clear that from the Government’s point of view and his own, the point of our exit is to allow the UK to diverge from the rights and standards of the EU. Let’s nail this one: you do not need that if you want to go up and have better standards. We do not have to break the rule to bring in better standards—we can do that under the existing rule—so anybody who wants to change the rule is not doing it to have the freedom to bring in better standards, because they do not need to change the rule for that; the only reason to diverge is to go down. That is why, on this question of divergence, it is very important to focus on the level playing field protections. As I say, those have been taken out of what is legally binding and put into the political declaration, and they apply in full only until the end of the transition period in 2020.
It is obvious where the Government are going. They want a licence to deregulate and diverge. I know they will disavow that, I know they want the deal through, and I know they will say, “Never. Of course not”, but it is obvious where it leads. Once we have diverged and moved out of alignment with the EU, trade will become more difficult. The EU will no longer be seen as our priority in trade and the gaze will go elsewhere to make up for it. Once we move out of alignment, we will not move back, and the further we move out, the harder it will be to trade with the EU27, and once that happens, we will have broken the economic model we have been operating under for decades, and we will start to look elsewhere—across to the United States.
Our gaze will shift to the United States, and that is a different economic model. It is not just another country; it is a different economic model, a deregulated model. In the US, the holiday entitlement is 10 days. Many contracts at work are called contracts “at will”. Hugely powerful corporate bodies have far more power than the workforce. This is not a technical decision about the EU but a political direction of travel that takes us to a different economic mode—one of deregulation and low standards, where the balance between the workforce and corporate bodies is far worse.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this is a project and ideology for the right by the hard right? It does not get Brexit done. We should be thinking about our children’s future. We need to put this back to the people. We need to listen to all those people, to the hundreds and thousands marching out there today, to those young people, and give them a say in their future.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about workers’ rights. The EU entitlement for holiday pay is four weeks. In the UK, it is 5.6 weeks. If we wanted to reduce that entitlement and to reduce standards, why would we not have done that already?
The Conservatives have luxuriated in telling us that the Benn Act undermined their negotiations by forcing them into preventing no deal from being on the table if we left on 31 October, but the Prime Minister has said that he has negotiated a “great deal” with that restriction in place, so what possible argument can they have for not agreeing that we cannot leave at the end of the next phase of negotiations with no deal, at the end of 2020? Why would they not accept that restriction, given that they negotiated what the Prime Minister calls a great deal?
I have never accepted the proposition that insuring the country against no deal undermines the negotiations. I remind Members that at no point in the two years of the negotiating window that closed on 29 March did the House take no deal off the table. The entire negotiations were carried out with the risk of no deal. The previous Prime Minister brought back a deal, and half her own side would not vote for it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. May I take him up on the very philosophical and logical argument that he is now trying to make? The argument from the Opposition Dispatch Box seems to be that the Opposition must have the European Union to protect them on workers’ rights because there is almost likely to be a permanent Conservative Government that will threaten those workers’ rights. Why do Labour Members not have the courage to say that they would fight an election, would make the case for stronger workers’ rights and would win that election, which would be democracy in action rather than someone else protecting them?
When Labour was in government, we legislated to go beyond European minimums many times, which included granting 6 million workers an extra eight days’ paid leave. For much of the time we were doing that, it was being vociferously opposed by the Conservative Opposition, and particularly by the present Prime Minister, who built his journalistic career on attacking measures of that kind.
The point that my right hon. and learned Friend is making is correct. This is not just about the legislation that we pass here; it is about the common rule book that gives us market access across the European Union. The Prime Minister cannot promise a deregulatory future to the European Research Group and a regulatory future to the Labour party.
I have given way many, many times. I am going to make some progress, and then I will give way again.
Of the two possible outcomes, one is this deregulated free trade agreement which in the end, whatever people say, will drive us away from the European economic model towards a different economic model. We will look back on this as a turning point in our history of much greater significance than whether this deal technically gets over the line tonight. The other possible outcome, which has been put to me in interventions, is that there is no deal at the end of the transition period, and that has to be significantly addressed. I know that some colleagues are tempted to vote for the deal because they believe that it prevents or removes the possibility of crashing out on World Trade Organisation terms. It does not. Under the previous deal, if the future relationship was not ready by the end of the transition, the backstop kicked in, which prevented WTO terms. That has gone. This is a trapdoor to no deal.
Let me quote the words of the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). I hope that I do so accurately, but if I do not, he will correct me. What I understood him to say was this:
“The reason I am inclined to vote for this one”
“is very simple… if the trade talks are not successful…then we could leave on no-deal terms.”
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right with the quote, but he has been very selective and taken it out of context, because I continued to make the point that it is a commercial reality that leaving no deal on the table in any negotiations makes a good and fair trade deal more likely. That is something I, and the vast majority of colleagues in this place, actually want. We want a free trade agreement agreed with the EU by December 2020, and my firm belief—I am not alone here—is that by scrapping the previous backstop, we stand more chance of achieving it.
I am genuinely grateful for that intervention, which I wanted to take, but the fact remains that the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that if the trade deals
“are not successful… then we could leave on no-deal terms.”
Before we rush into the Lobbies, let us explore what that means.
The decision on extending transition, under this deal, needs to be taken by the end of July next year. That is eight months away. It is very hard to see how any Government could negotiate a completed future relationship within such a short timeframe, particularly a Government who want to diverge. The Prime Minister brushed this away earlier by saying, “Well, we’re aligned.” That is true, and if he wanted to stay aligned he could probably do a trade deal a lot more quickly, but this Prime Minister and this Government want to diverge. So, the idea that this does not lead to a no-deal Brexit is wrong, and nobody should vote for this deal on the basis that it is the way to ensure that we do not leave at the end of 2020 on WTO terms.
I am going to make a little more progress, then I will give way.
Today, the Prime Minister dangles prospects of workers’ rights and indicates amendments he might be inclined to take down the line—promises, promises. I know these are really important issues for—
I will make this point and then I will give way.
I know how important these issues are to many Members on the Opposition Benches, particularly the question of workplace rights, environmental rights and consumer standards. I remind all Members of this House that not a single trade union supports this deal. I urge everyone in the House to reflect on the likelihood of this Prime Minister keeping his promises.
This point has been made, but I am going to make it again. Last November, the Prime Minister told the DUP conference, in terms, that
“regulatory checks and even customs controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland”
“fabric of the Union”.
He went on to say that
“no British Conservative government could or should sign up to any such arrangement”.
What does this deal do? It puts checks and controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It creates a customs border in the Irish sea. It does precisely what the Prime Minister told the DUP last November he would not do—typical of this Prime Minister. So, those who are considering today putting their trust in this Prime Minister need to reflect on how he has treated his supply and confidence partners—promise, then burn. I ask how anybody could trust any promise he is now making.
This deal not only rules out the customs union; it rules out a single market relationship, which affects service sector jobs, alongside the manufacturing jobs. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, it is going to be a bonfire of labour standards and environmental standards. Does he agree that this is a Trojan horse for a no-deal Brexit? That is why our colleagues on this side of the House must vote it down, as must others who believe in the national interest.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have heard the Prime Minister make a commitment to me and this House that he would legislate, if necessary, to ensure that workers’ rights in this country could not be inferior to those in the European Union. On the question of trust and confidence, if such legislation were pursued in parallel with the withdrawal agreement Bill, or in that Bill, so that they could be decided together, surely that would give him the confidence he requires.
I am grateful for that intervention. The point is this: the Prime Minister said that no British Conservative Government could or should sign up to any such arrangement, but now it is said that he could sign up to it. That is exactly why we should not trust that. It is why we should support amendment (a). [Interruption.] It is an important intervention, and I take it seriously. That is why amendment (a) is so important, because it gives the House an opportunity to know precisely what the commitment is and what words will go into the legislation.
I am not prepared, I am afraid—nor are the vast majority on the Opposition Benches—to take the Prime Minister’s word. There is more than enough evidence that his word does not mean anything and cannot be trusted.
I was one of those who worked in industry in Coventry during the period of the Thatcher Government when, as my right hon. and learned Friend, like his father, will know, every week we saw thousands of jobs lost in the motor car industry. Big companies such as Jaguar Land Rover are very worried about the industry’s future, bearing in mind that they will have certain things to prove and that if they cannot, they will have to pay tariffs, which could affect jobs and so on. If anyone wants to know why the Opposition are suspicious of any Government in relation to trade union rights, they have only to look at the Government’s Trade Union Act 2016, under a previous Prime Minister. They will see exactly what the Government have in mind.
I will make some progress and then give way again. [Interruption.] I have given way so much. I will give way again. I do need to make some progress so that others can get in.
I turn briefly to amendment (a) in the name of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). I thank him and colleagues across the House for the cross-party work they have done in recent months. The amendment, which is genuinely cross-party, is in that spirit. It makes it clear that this House will not be bounced into supporting what is a very bad deal without a proper chance to scrutinise it. It would allow the House to ensure that the legal text is acceptable and provide time to seek changes in the passage of implementing legislation. It would ensure that the Benn Act can be applied.
May I say this? The amendment does not cause delay, because that exercise will have to be gone through anyway. It is not a vote to delay; it is a vote to get on with looking at the next stage, which will have to be looked at. What it does provide is an insurance policy against signing up to a deal that is not what it seems, with the risk of a no-deal Brexit to boot.
The deal before the House is a thoroughly bad deal. It is a bad deal for jobs, rights and living standards. It is a bad deal for the future direction of the country. It will put us on a path to an entirely different economy and society: one of deregulation and divergence. It will end in either a bare bones free trade agreement or no deal in eight months. It stands against everything that the labour and trade movement stands for—[Interruption.]
Order. We do not need people, in a rather juvenile fashion, calling out. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will give way if and when he wants to give way, as was true of the Secretary of State. Notwithstanding the notably generous-spirited instincts of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), I am not aware of the shadow Brexit Secretary having asked him to be his mentor.
I beg to move amendment (a), in motion 1, leave out from “with a deal,” to end and add
“this House has considered the matter but withholds approval unless and until implementing legislation is passed.”
Amendment (a) has been tabled in my name and those of many other right hon. and hon. Members, and I do not need to detain the House for long. The purpose of the amendment, as has been said in several interventions and speeches, is to keep in place the insurance policy provided by the Benn Act that prevents us from automatically crashing out if no deal is in place by 31 October.
When the Prime Minister brings his implementing legislation to this House next week, I will vote for it, but we all know that the votes on that legislation, throughout its passage, will be tight. The Prime Minister has a strategy—I fully accept that, and I accept that it is rational in its own terms—and it is that he wants to be able to say to any waverers, “It is my deal or no deal. Vote for the implementing legislation, or we crash out.” I understand that strategy, but we cannot be sure that such a threat would work.
I will not, if my right hon. Friend will forgive me, because I am going to be so brief that I will not take interventions.
Despite my support for the Prime Minister’s deal, I do not believe that it is responsible to put the nation at risk by making that threat. I am moving this amendment to ensure that whichever way any future votes may go—today, next week or the week after—we can be secure in the knowledge that the UK will have requested an extension tonight which, if granted, can be used if and to the extent necessary, and only to the extent necessary, to prevent a no-deal exit.
It is a considerable pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), and I commend him for his amendment and for his contribution this afternoon.
We heard, “An equal partner within the Union, and a nation within the European Union,” but the broken promises of 2014 from this Government and the Better Together campaign could not be starker than they are today. Scotland has been totally and utterly shafted by this Prime Minister and this Tory Government. Scotland is the only part of the United Kingdom where democratic rights are not being respected. England voted leave, Wales voted leave, and Northern Ireland gets to remain in the EU single market and customs union—a special arrangement to protect its interests and people. Scotland, however, has been ignored. Scotland is being dragged out of the European Union against its will.
Sixty-two per cent. of Scotland voted to remain, yet this Tory Government and this Brexit fanatic Prime Minister have ignored Scotland’s wishes and interests by bringing forward a deal that will weaken our economy. The Scottish National party categorically rejects this appalling Brexit deal, and we will vote it down today. Not only would it be devastating for Scotland, dragging us out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union against our will, but it is clear that the right-wing Brexiteers have been assured by senior Tory Ministers that backing this deal could lead to a no-deal crash out if trade talks fail next year.
Anyone tempted to vote for this deal today needs to be warned that it is a blank cheque for the Vote Leave campaign that is now running the Tory Government to crash us out of the European Union on a no-deal basis at the end of the transition next year. The Prime Minister’s deal is not a deal at all. It is the gateway to a no-deal Brexit, taking us off the cliff edge not at the end of October, but at the end of 2020. Let me be clear that any Brexit would have disastrous implications for Scotland’s economy.
Although I agree with amendment (a) and the idea that it will stop a no deal, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in this deal, we have no guarantee from the Prime Minister that he will avoid crashing out after the transition period? Any trade deal will take longer than a year to put together, as we know, so is this not really a death row deal? We will be crashing out in a year, which is why it is our duty to vote against it.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were both given the opportunity to rule that out, and neither did. Colleagues right across the House who are tempted to vote for this deal today should take note, because there is a very real risk of a no-deal Brexit by the back door.
I will make some progress, as I know many colleagues wish to speak.
The viability of our economic future will be brought into question because of the damage the deal would do to investment, to population growth and to our key exports. All Brexit assessments show that the United Kingdom and Scotland will be poorer, no matter how we leave the European Union. If the Government disagree, why have they not done an economic impact assessment on their deal?
How are Members of Parliament supposed to debate and decide on the details of this deal when the Government have not provided a detailed analysis? It beggars belief that, on something so fundamental to all our citizens’ futures, there is no economic impact assessment.
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that he and I come to this from very different perspectives. However, I believe we should be united on this issue today. This is not a good deal for Northern Ireland, and I plead with him not to suggest that what would be a bad deal for Northern Ireland should be a good deal for the people of Scotland. If this had applied to the people of Scotland, I would be voting against it for his sake and for his people’s sake. That is why I encourage him to vote against it for our sake.
We will certainly vote against it, because I do not believe this is a good deal—period.
How did the Prime Minister even sign up to a deal without understanding the impact on the economy? What a dereliction of duty. The truth is that the Prime Minister is not concerned about the economy and is not concerned about the facts. The Brexiteers did not care about facts during the referendum campaign, and it looks as if they are doing the same now.
The truth must hurt, because the truth is this: every version of Brexit will leave us worse off. It will continue to damage our relationship with the European Union, but it will not grant as much scope to develop relations with other countries. It is also clear that the heightened economic uncertainty has been forecast to reduce business investment by £1 billion in 2019, damaging our economy and leaving Scotland poorer.
I am mindful of these words:
“What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 December 1921; Vol. 48, c. 44.]
Although the DUP may be choking on the words of Carson, I am sure that my right hon. Friend, as a member and a leader of our political party, will remind the Government that Scotland will not be duped a second time.
My hon. Friend is correct. I say to the Conservatives and to those Conservative Members who are here, for now, from Scotland that if this deal goes through, and if it has the impact on Scotland of creating a competitive disadvantage, it is increasingly clear—we see it from the messages that are coming to us, even today—that people who voted no in our referendum in 2014 want Scotland’s right to choose. I make this guarantee: Scotland will become an independent nation, and in short order.
The House is faced with an impossible choice. This is like being asked to buy a house based on the estate agent’s details, which are designed to sell it, with no chance of looking inside or seeing any sort of contract. We spend about two months a year debating and scrutinising the Finance Bill, and that is for a one-year Budget for Britain. Is it not absolutely ridiculous that we cannot see even the Bill, let alone the economic impact assessment, before being allowed to make a decision?
Absolutely. Heaven knows what the term of the mortgage might be. Let me make it clear that I certainly will not be buying any house from this Prime Minister.
Brexit in any form will damage the branding, reputation and standing of Scottish produce, our civil society, our regulatory alignment to key markets, our commercial and political relationships abroad, and even recognition of skills and qualifications. Scotland relies on the skills and labour that the EU offers for its economic growth. Brexit will serve only to weaken our access to a vital labour market. Considering that Scotland’s native population is declining, we need more migration to our country, not less.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for finally giving way. What he is not telling the House is that every major business group in Scotland is encouraging us to support the deal today. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Farmers Union of Scotland and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation are all pleading with us to bring the uncertainty to an end by voting for this deal. Do not listen to SNP Members; they are not Scotland.
It is illuminating to hear such voices in the House, because I am afraid that the harsh reality is that many business and industry organisations in Scotland see the impact, and not just in Scotland but throughout the UK. The British Chambers of Commerce, the National Farmers Union, the food and beverage association and the Timber Trade Federation have all talked about the negative impact of the deal, but we never get the truth from the Scottish Conservatives.
I am going to make some progress, because I am aware that other colleagues wish to speak.
It did not have to be like this. If the Prime Minister had any interest in the people of Scotland, he would have engaged with our Scottish Government. From the very beginning the Scottish Government sought to compromise. We did that by offering up “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, with a compromise position for all the United Kingdom, and for Scotland, to remain in the single market and the customs union. I have to tell the House that we had no engagement with the UK Government over those papers, but I can say that Michel Barnier, when I went to see him, had read every page. That is the difference between the attitude of our friends and colleagues in Europe and the disdain that our Scottish Government have been shown by Westminster. Our plan was dismissed out of hand, and then followed by years of the UK Government ignoring Scotland and ignoring our Parliament.
With Northern Ireland getting access to the single market and the customs union, it is clear that the Prime Minister is willing to put trust in the people of Northern Ireland to manage its relationship, so it is inexplicable that he will not trust the people of Scotland, who also voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, to do the same. This offer gives Northern Ireland a competitive advantage over Scotland.
While we respect and understand the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland—I want to be clear that everyone in the SNP wants to see the continuation of peace and stability—the proposal in this deal is, in effect, to keep it in the single market and the customs union. That was our compromise position, and the UK Government completely ignored us—they ignored Scotland.
The Prime Minister has shown the people of Scotland total contempt. This is a Prime Minister who has no mandate from Scotland, yet he seeks to impose his Brexit against our democratically expressed will, silencing the wishes of our people and weakening our economy. This Prime Minister, and his Brexit fan club in No. 10, do not care about Scotland. They are obsessed with only one thing: winning and delivering their Brexit fantasy at any cost.
The dishonesty and lies of the—[Interruption.] I hear Ministers shouting from the Front Bench, “Not true!” Where was the engagement with the Scottish Government on our place in Europe? It simply did not happen. That is absolutely and completely true.
Order. Resume your seat, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. As far as I am aware, the right hon. Gentleman is not currently giving way—[Interruption.] Order. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should not stand there portentously, as though he has an absolute right to intervene. It might be courteous to allow him to do so, but such an allowance has not yet been made.
Today, the House will be listening to our voices, Mr Speaker. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might catch your eye later on.
The dishonesty and lies of Vote Leave brought this country to vote for Brexit in the first place. The Prime Minister and many in his Cabinet should be ashamed of that. They have torn their country, their Parliament and their own party apart. This is the beginning of the end of their precious Union and their distorted Etonian vision for society. Scotland will not be ignored any more. The deal must be stopped and binned today.
Whether or not the deal passes today, the Government need an extension. The deal is devastating for Scotland. We will not vote for it, and we call for the extension period to be used for an election, so that we can get rid of this rotten Tory Government out of Downing Street. Scottish National party MPs are here to do our job—to stand stronger for Scotland. Those from all parties who ever want to lay claim to representing the voices and interests of the people of Scotland cannot support this deal. They cannot inflict economic and social harm on our society.
We have heard myth after myth from the Prime Minister and his cronies, but the facts are clear. The European Union accounts for 56% of the UK’s exports and 65% of imports, either through the EU directly or through other countries with which the EU has trade arrangements. The direct value of EU trade is more than triple the value of US trade. The Brexit Secretary even said that the EU was the UK’s most important partner.
There are 100,000 jobs in Scotland at risk. Our fishermen, farmers and crofters will all be disadvantaged by this deal. As the Scottish Seafood Association put it, this could “switch the lights off” for a small exporter:
“Five separate certificates all have to be done on October 31. For a small exporter that is possibly trying to sell 30 kilos of top quality langoustines to a restaurant in Paris, switch the lights off, that restaurant owner is going to go and buy his lovely langoustines somewhere else.”
Those are not my words; that is from the Scottish Seafood Association. I hope that people in Scotland can see that those on the Government Front Bench are laughing. People’s livelihoods are at risk and the Government Front Benchers think it is funny. They should be utterly, utterly ashamed of themselves.
The Scottish National party will not stand by and let this Government rip apart our economy and our country’s future. We are Europeans and Scotland is a European nation. Members from all parties should unite with the SNP and bring this Government down. A general election is now the best way to stop this Prime Minister and stop this dangerous Brexit.
Let me say that anyone, any single Member here, who backs the Tory Prime Minister and his cheating Vote Leave campaign this afternoon by shafting Scotland will never, not ever, be forgiven by the people of Scotland. Overnight, we saw the reports, the rumours and the whispers. Will the Labour party really allow its Members of Parliament to vote for this catastrophic Brexit deal? Let me remind the Labour party what the TUC said:
“This deal would be a disaster for working people. It would hammer the economy, cost jobs and sell workers’ rights down the river. Boris Johnson has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May. All MPs should vote against it.”
Those are the words of the TUC. Let me ask this: why has the Leader of the Opposition not yet guaranteed that all Labour MPs will vote with the Scottish National party this afternoon against this deal? It is a deal that would be devastating for Scotland, ripping us out of the EU against our will, terminating our rights of freedom of movement, and threatening jobs, living standards, our public services and the economy. Is the leader of the Labour party really willing to allow any members of his party to write a blank cheque for this Tory Prime Minister to deliver Brexit? Not a single member of the Labour party should be voting for a deal that delivers a race to the bottom on workers’ rights and on environmental standards and that paves the way for dismantling our precious NHS. It would be absolutely staggering that, with a no-deal threat on the table, any Labour MP could even think about voting for this toxic deal. Labour must not be the handmaidens of a Tory Brexit, which we know will cost thousands of jobs and harm people’s livelihoods.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I wondered whether he had taken sections of his speech from Jon Lansman.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, when it comes to workers’ rights, the EU is not God? The fact is that local authorities up and down the UK have to outsource contracts to the European Union to the detriment of workers in their local communities. We have seen a rise in zero-hours contracts and poor conditions, partly because of that outsourcing. Does he agree with me?
I simply say to the right hon. Lady that I would trust the European Union with workers’ rights before I would trust this Conservative Government.
The Opposition must stop the excuses and finally act by backing the SNP tonight to reject this damaging deal, secure an extension and call an election, so that we can bring this Tory Government down and stop Brexit.
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory MPs are prepared to vote for a deal that they previously pledged they would not back. That is simple irresponsibility and moral cowardice. I say to the Scottish Tories: you are serving the death knell on the Union by voting for this deal. Independence is coming, and we will take our place as a proud European nation. What a shift in time, Mr Speaker, from what Ruth Davidson said in 2014, which was:
“No means we stay in, we are members of the European Union.”
The people of Scotland now know more than ever that they can never, not ever, trust a Tory. We already know that, despite promise after promise—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Perhaps if Members settled down, we could get through this and their voices might be heard.
Despite promise after promise made by the Scottish Tories to protect our fishermen, we already know that the backstop loophole in the deal threatens to be devastating for the Scottish fishing sector. Under the proposed deal—[Interruption.] It might help if the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson) listened, rather than trying to shout from the Bar of the House. This is about fishermen’s livelihoods, which the Scottish Tories falsely claim to protect. Under the proposed deal, Scottish fish exports to the European Union face being hit by damaging tariffs. Any move that could see Scottish vessels registered in Northern Ireland land their catch there and then have it moved to the Republic of Ireland for processing to escape those duties would pose a huge danger to Scotland’s fishing ports and wider processing industry. That is the reality of what the Tories are threatening to do to our fishing industry. This would directly threaten thousands of jobs, and could make the sector among the hardest hit by Brexit in the whole of Scotland—Scottish fishing sold out by the Conservatives yet again. That is the stark reality, as opposed to the bluster of a UK Tory Government who once again treat Scotland as an afterthought. Well, we in the SNP will not stand for it.
I warn Members who march through the Lobby with the Government this afternoon that selling Scotland out by backing this deal will be the final nail in the coffin for the Union. While the UK drags Scotland out of the EU against our will, and this Tory Government downgrade our devolution settlement and destroy our rights, in Scotland the SNP are looking proudly at our record. We are ambitious for our nation, and not this Prime Minister, not the Leader of the Opposition and not any leader of the Liberal Democrats—not anyone—will stand in our way. The Scottish people are sovereign and they should have the choice to determine their own future.
This year, Scotland is marking the 20th anniversary of devolution—the establishment of our Scottish Parliament. The first speech that was made in the new Scottish Parliament in May 1999 was by my good friend Winifred Ewing. At the time she made that speech, she was of course also the Mother of the European Parliament, having served there since 1979. Winnie expressed the hope that the Scottish Parliament would try to follow the more consensual style of the European Parliament and other European Parliaments, rather than the more confrontational approach that we have witnessed again here today in Westminster. In our actions today, we are trying to stay true to that advice.
Although there remains uncertainty over whether the proposed deal will pass, what is absolutely clear is that it would take us out of the European Union, out of the single market and out of the customs union against the overwhelming democratic will of the people of Scotland. Scotland did not vote for Brexit in any form and, unlike others, the SNP will not vote for Brexit in any form. Scotland has been shafted, sidelined, silenced and ignored by this UK Government, and it cannot be ignored today. I urge Members not to stand by and allow this Prime Minister to drag us into an economic abyss, because I warn the House that it is clearer than ever that the best future for Scotland is one as an equal, independent, European nation. That is a choice that the SNP is determined to ensure is given to the people of Scotland, and those who vote against Scotland’s interests this afternoon should be aware that they are ending the Union. Scotland is not for leaving Europe. We will become an independent nation. My message to Europe is: leave a light on for Scotland.
When I arrived at the House of Commons this morning, I saw the message, “Good day for May”. I thought that perhaps consensus had come across the whole House and that it had already been decided that this deal would be supported by the House tonight. Unfortunately, my view on that was premature—although I think only premature—because, happily for England, it was a reference to Jonny May having scored the first two tries in our victory against Australia.
I hope the whole House will forgive me if I say that, standing here, I have a distinct sense of déjà vu. But today’s vote is an important one—
I intend to rebel against all those who do not want to vote to deliver Brexit.
Today’s vote is important. The eyes of the country—no, the eyes of the wider world—are upon us today. Every Member in this House has a responsibility in the decision that they will take to determine whether or not they are going to put the national interest first—not just an ideological, single-issue or party political interest, but the full, wider interests of our constituents.
As we look at this issue, the decision we take tonight will determine not just the future of our country and the future lives of our constituents, but I believe the very future of our politics, because we have today to take a key decision, and it is simple. Do we want to deliver Brexit? Do we want to deliver on the result of the referendum in 2016? [Interruption.] We know the views of Scottish National party Members: they reject results of referendums, including the referendum to stay in the UK.
When this House voted overwhelmingly to give the choice of our membership of the EU to the British people, did we really mean it? When we voted to trigger article 50, did we really mean it? When the two main parties represented in this House stood on manifestos in the 2017 general election to deliver Brexit, did we really mean it? I think there can be only one answer to that: yes, we did mean it; yes, we keep faith with the British people; yes, we want to deliver Brexit.
If the hon. Lady will just wait for a minute.
If this Parliament did not mean it, it is guilty of the most egregious con trick on the British people.
There have been many views across this House. I want simply to say something to some of the groups involved. To those who believe that there should be a second referendum—some believe passionately and have for some time; others have come to this more lately—I say simply this: you cannot have a second referendum simply because some people do not agree with the result of the first. I do not like—
There are many people who want to speak, so I am going to carry on. I have taken many interventions and questions from across the House on this issue over time.
I do not like referendums, but I think that if we have one, we should abide by the result that people have given us.
Then there is the Labour Front Bench. I have heard much from those on the Labour Front Bench over the last three years about the importance of protecting jobs, manufacturing and people’s livelihoods. If they really meant that, they would have voted for the deal earlier this year. Now is their chance to show whether they really care about people by voting for this deal tonight—this afternoon, I hope, Mr Speaker—in the House.
Then let me say something to all those across the House who say they do not want no deal. I have said it before; I have said it many times; I hope this is the last time I have to say it: if you do not want no deal, you have to vote for a deal. Businesses are crying out for certainty, people want certainty in their lives, and our investors want to be able to invest and want the uncertainty to be got rid of. They want to know that this country is moving forward. If you want to deliver Brexit, if you want to keep faith with the British people, if you want this country to move forward, then vote for the deal today.
I say with all respect and humility to the former Prime Minister that a lot of people watching who have listened to her words will feel strongly that the only con trick was a Prime Minister making a solemn promise to the public that under no circumstances would there be a border down the Irish sea, and then traipsing through the Lobby to vote for precisely that. I would have expected a little more humility from her.
All of us who participated in the referendum debate noticed one thing: in the prospectus for Brexit, it was very poorly defined. It was difficult to gauge precisely what Brexit would mean for our country. However, when the former Prime Minister signed the article 50 treaty, she had the legal right to define Brexit. She came to the House with her deal, which had over 500 pages defining Brexit. For almost a year, she and the Government said that the deal respected the will of the people.
Now we have a separate deal, brought back by a separate Government, who say that this fundamentally different deal, with different customs arrangements, different regulatory systems, and a different order for the United Kingdom, represents the will of the people. Both deals cannot represent the will of the people. I say this with all humility: if we want to know what the will of the people is—what they were voting for—we can ask them. Their response will be based not on promises, but on facts, because we have the facts now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) and I have been working on a compromise—and it is a compromise, because it means we could become the remainers who open the door to Brexit. Fundamentally, it is about breaking the gridlock in Parliament. It is based around a deal.
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with interest. Does he agree that though the referendum settled the question of leaving, it did not settle where we were going? That is why the House has, over the last three and a half years, debated different ways of leaving the EU. Some people believe in the May deal; some want a May deal minus backstop; some want a Northern Ireland backstop; some want a customs union; some want no deal; and some want a managed no deal. Does he agree that that is why any deal that the Government put before us should be put to the people for a final say?
I am extremely grateful for a thoughtful intervention. Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I speak as someone who has voted for three separate versions of Brexit. I have not opposed it; I have voted for Brexit in this place more often than most members of the ERG. The key question is: how do we break the gridlock? How do we get past this impasse? The idea of a referendum based on a deal is that it would be a confirmatory referendum. We would put the prospectus to the people and ask, “Is this good enough for you?”, in exactly the same way we did in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday peace agreement.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, back in February 2016, before the referendum, that suggestion was put to the then Prime Minister, who said at the Dispatch Box that the very idea was absolutely ridiculous. Nobody in the House disputed that then. Where was the hon. Gentleman?
I was here in the House, working constructively with Members from across the House. I voted for three separate versions of Brexit; I have done my bit to try to get it across the line, but because the prospectus for Brexit was defined not at the start, but only at the end, of the process, many people in this House have a different version of it, and that is why we are irreconcilably divided.
We propose a compromise whereby we allow the deal to pass through Parliament in return for inviting the public to have the definitive, final say on whether the deal should pass. The public can decide whether the deal is good enough for them, their family, their community, their job and our country. If they decide that it is, we can leave directly on those terms, without any need to return to the matter in this place. If they do not, we can remain with the deal we have. Those are two propositions, based in international treaty and law, that are implementable straight away.
We gained growing support for this across the House when we pushed it last time. People repeatedly said to us that, if the deal of the Prime Minister at the time was defeated, they would want to come and consider this, but they would not want to consider it before any defeat. The problem was that we did not get the opportunity to press for a vote straight afterwards, but now we do have such an opportunity. Because the Government are pushing two motions tonight—one on their deal, one on no deal—we will have an opportunity to vote after the House has spoken on the main deal.
To all the people who want to support the deal, I say this: focus on the deal and support the deal, but accept one thing. If the deal does not succeed in the first vote tonight, we have to make a choice, and there is a choice on the table that keeps the deal alive and keeps the deal intact. It is the only way, in those circumstances, that the deal can proceed. In those circumstances, I hope that people from across the House will decide that the country needs resolution, and an option remains standing that will break the gridlock, that will get Brexit out of Westminster and back into our communities for one definitive final say, and we can bring this nightmare to an end.
I hoped I would never be driven, in these long debates on Brexit, finally to deciding what my opinion is on the choice between a no deal and a bad deal. I regret to say that when my right hon. Friend the previous Prime Minister put forward the proposition before, I had considerable doubts about her belief that no deal was better than a bad deal. Those doubts have increased, because what we have before us now is undoubtedly a bad deal. I think it is a very bad deal. It is wholly inferior to the deal that was negotiated by my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister, for which I, too, voted three times, like the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). We cannot be accused of taking part in this debate seeking to block Brexit and repudiate the wishes of the British public, and all the rubbish that the more fanatic Brexiteers and their followers frequently hail at us. But now the choice is very real.
This is a very bad deal, for reasons that I will not dilate on, but others have. I actually have considerable sympathy with the Members from Northern Ireland: the independent Unionist, with whom I almost always agree, and the Democratic Unionists. This is a most peculiar constitutional position that they are being put in as members of the United Kingdom. I would very much rather that we did not have this situation of a border down the Irish sea, because there is absolutely no doubt that there is quite a clear customs and regulatory border being envisaged down the Irish sea.
It has to be said that the effect is to save the all-Irish economy from the near calamity that a total no deal would have resulted in. I have no idea how anybody would have operated a no-deal situation across the border, and I thought these weird propositions of a customs border somewhere in Northern Ireland but not on the border had little or no chance of working. Although the Irish at least have the economic consolation that they will sail on through the transition period as they are now, I am extremely worried that the purpose of going to negotiate this convoluted arrangement over Ireland was so that the economy of Britain could be taken out of the customs union and the single market straightaway. If that holds after the transition period, I think it will have the most damaging effects on our economic future, for all the reasons that other people have given in the earlier and lengthy speeches we have heard.
Therefore, it is all to be played for in the transition period. I actually do not believe that a good free trade agreement, a good agreement on security and fighting international crime, and agreements on the licensing of medicines and the possible arrangements with the European Medicines Agency—all the things spelled out—are likely to be achieved by the end of next year. The Canada deal, which a lot of Brexiteers like to hold up as a model, took about nine years to put in place, and I wish that we were prepared to contemplate a more realistic timescale.
Meanwhile, the votes today, and the process of the next week or two, must get us through the necessary steps to put in place a withdrawal agreement, so that we have a transition period in which to hold full negotiations about our ultimate destination. All my votes in this House have been to ensure that the calamity of leaving with no deal on 31 October, or whenever, was never allowed to happen. For that reason, we should support this deal, but I cannot understand the Government’s resistance to saying that we should legislate before we abandon the protection of the Benn Act and decide that we do not need an extension.
The Government say that we can take for granted the details and getting the votes, but none of us are sure whether there is a majority for this Government and the present deal at all. If the Government can maintain a majority throughout all the legislation I shall be very reassured, but I would like to wait to see that they can—
The Democratic Unionist party has been supportive throughout the process of delivering on the result of the referendum of the British people, and we have defied and opposed the procedural chicanery and political machinations that have gone on in this place to try to undermine that result. The irony is that today, which should be a day of rejoicing for us because the Prime Minister has come back with a deal, we find that Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland alone, will be left within the clutches of the European Union, by being a de facto member of a customs union and tied to European regulations.
The Government have put forward two defences for their position. The first is that there will be no border down the Irish sea—there is no border down the Irish sea. But let us look at the facts. As a result of the customs arrangements, every good that is exported from GB to Northern Ireland will be subject to a customs declaration. Movements will be subject to checks. Unless it can be proved that the goods are not going outside Northern Ireland, duty will be paid. Only once it has been proved that the goods are not leaving Northern Ireland will that duty be paid back. On top of that, all the regulations of the European Union will be imposed on Northern Ireland. If anybody tells me that that does not represent an economic customs legal border—a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom—I do not know what a hard border looks like.
During debates in this House, I have heard it said that if an extra camera were to be placed on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, or if one additional piece of paper had to be signed, that would be a break in the Good Friday agreement because it would represent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. On the one hand we can have all those checks between Northern Ireland and GB, and that does not count as a hard border, yet on the other, one camera on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic does count as a hard border. That shows how false the argument put forward by the Government is that they have not accepted a hard border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. What are the implications of that? First, it means that we are cut off from the country to which we belong and, secondly, that our economic relationship with our biggest market will be damaged.
The second argument put forward by the Minister today is that we can get out of this—we can vote against it. But in Northern Ireland there is a mechanism for dealing with sensitive issues. It is enshrined in an internationally binding agreement. That mechanism, because of the sensitive nature of politics in Northern Ireland, states that any controversial issue has to be decided by a cross-community vote. That part of the Belfast agreement, which is so sacrosanct in this House and to those who negotiated it, has now been torn out.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument, which we have heard. In the limited time available, may I ask him to turn his attention to the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin)? If he is concerned about a hard border, he must recognise that the door may be opening for a hard border and a no-deal Brexit to emerge.
First of all, the hard border is there. I have made the argument. I defy anybody to tell me that if we have to fill in a customs declaration, we have to search lorries and vans coming into Northern Ireland at the ports and we have to pay taxes on goods that come from Great Britain, that is not already a hard border.
Let me return to the issue of consent, because it is important. The Minister dismisses Unionist fears by saying, “You can vote your way out of it.” The mechanism for voting our way out of it is led by an international treaty. Why is it not going to be adhered to? Because the Government, the EU and the Irish Government know that that would be an effective way of Northern Ireland doing the very thing that the Minister said we would be able to do. Remove that and you remove the ability of Northern Ireland to take itself out of this arrangement. And of course we only get the chance after four years! We are put into it without any consent at all.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in Northern Ireland, at the moment and for the past 1,000 days when we have had no Government, there has been a majority—not just a simple majority, but a significant majority—of parties and people who want to get back to work? We are being held and blackmailed by a minority party, Sinn Féin, yet this Government have defended that minority veto for over 1,000 days, meaning that there is no Government in Northern Ireland.
That is the irony. We have to avoid having an Assembly because the voting mechanism of the Belfast agreement must be adhered to, but when it comes to getting out of this arrangement, which has severe consequences for Northern Ireland, the Belfast agreement mechanism does not have to be adhered to. Either we avoid a hard border or we have a hard border. Either we adhere to the Belfast agreement or we do not adhere to the Belfast agreement. The agreement the Government have signed turns all those things on their head, and that is why we will oppose it.
I am sure hon. Members across the House who have defended their constituency interests, whether the fishing industry in Scotland and Cornwall or the rights of workers in their own constituencies, will understand why we will not give in to this agreement. We believe it will cause damage to our part of the United Kingdom and lead the focus of attention away from London towards Dublin. Let us not forget that we will be tied in to an arrangement where the laws for Northern Ireland will be made in Brussels. The British Government will have no input. The Stormont Government will have no input. So where will the focus of attention be for industry, lobby groups and politicians in Northern Ireland? Dublin. We will move towards a united Ireland.
I was asked what the DUP would do in relation to the Letwin amendment. All I can say is this: we would be failing in our duty if we do not use every strategy available to try to get guarantees, changes and alterations that will safeguard the interests of the United Kingdom, the interests of our constituents and the interests that we represent.
I was planning to be brief anyway, Mr Speaker. I campaigned to leave, but at every stage of the campaign, I argued that we should leave on good terms with our friends and neighbours and leave with a deal. I supported the previous Prime Minister in what she sought to achieve, and I pay tribute to this Prime Minister for what he has done in bringing forward a deal. After a year of turbulence in this place, when we have not really come near to finding anything a majority in this House can agree on, it is absolutely clear today that we are much closer than we have been to something that this Parliament is willing to give its support to. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for achieving that and strongly urge the House to unite behind this agreement.
I want to talk specifically about the amendment from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), and I want everyone on both sides of the House to think about this. I know him well—he has his reasons for tabling it—but the consequence of it is that this House, at a moment when the nation is watching us to see what decision we will take about the deal that has been brought back from Brussels, may decline to form an opinion. That is the consequence of passing the amendment—that we will not decide today whether we support the deal.
My right hon. Friend and I are Brexiteers of long standing—in my case, going back to my boyhood—but the truth is that the public are saying to us, “Enough is enough. Get on, get out, so we can get ahead.” It is as simple as that.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. To my mind, that is the crux of the issue with this amendment. Are we really going to say to the public today, “We are not going to make up our minds. We are going to yet again defer the decision”? Every Member will have to go back to their constituents and explain why today, at the first Saturday sitting since 1982, we were not able to take the decision about whether we support the principle of the deal or not. I think that would be deeply damaging to our democracy and to the reputation of this House and of every individual in this Parliament. I strongly urge everyone here, whatever their views, whether they are for this deal or against it: let us not put ourselves in a position today where we are simply not taking a decision and saying to the public, “Do you know what? We’ll put it off to another day.” I do not think that we can afford to do that, and I urge everyone in this House not to allow that situation to happen.
The decision that we make today will shape the future of our country for years to come. In making that decision, three issues weight most heavily on my mind.
The first is the potential risks that this deal poses to the future of the Union of the United Kingdom. We have heard many times that the deal explicitly separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, with a border down the Irish sea and with Northern Ireland remaining part of the EU’s trading system—something that the Prime Minister promised he would never allow. I fear that these proposals would have knock-on implications for Scotland’s future relationship with the UK, too. I fear that the deal is an open goal for the Scottish National party in its bid for independence. We have heard the argument that Northern Ireland voted to remain and that it is still part of the EU, with frictionless trade, so why should Scotland not have that, too? I have always believed in the importance of unions—that we are stronger and have more power and control when we work together. I do not expect all Government Members to share that most fundamental of Labour beliefs, but, as members of the Conservative and Unionist party, I find it very hard to believe that they would vote for a deal that could put the future of our Union at risk.
The deal would also have potentially profound consequences for the future shape of our economy and public services, paving the way for the Government to take England, Scotland and Wales out of the single market and customs union—the hardest of all hard Brexits, short of no deal, with all the risks that that brings for manufacturing and services. Whatever the Prime Minister claims, there are no legal guarantees for workers’ and consumers’ rights and environmental standards. They can deny it until they are blue in the face, but we remember that it was precisely in order to cut those rights and standards that Brexiteers argued for years that we should leave the EU, so they cannot convince us otherwise now. I wish Government Members would just be honest and say, “We believe that the future of the country is as a low-tax, small-state, deregulated country.” They have a perfect right to think that, but they should have the guts to put that vision of Britain to the British people.
Finally, on the implications for our democracy, I know that colleagues on both sides of the House understand the risks that this deal poses to the Union and to our economy, but believe that the risks to our democracy are even worse. However, the truth is that the deal is not what people were promised during the referendum, nor will it get Brexit done. Far from it: we will have years more of negotiations, with another cliff edge at the end of the transition. I do not doubt that many people will be angry if the deal is voted down tonight, but we must put it back to the British people so that they can decide whether this is the future for the country that they want.
I share the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that the deal presented to us has many flaws. As a Unionist, I think that one of its principal flaws is that it threatens the Union of the United Kingdom very directly, although I am bound to accept that I also think that Brexit in general threatens the Union of the United Kingdom very directly; I have never really seen an easy way to resolve that issue and deliver Brexit at the same time.
Although I should congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the deal—he negotiated it; he was unhappy with the earlier deal; and he now says that he is satisfied with it—I remain of the view that if one looks at its detail in terms of the likely negotiating process that will have to take place next year, one is left in very serious doubt whether it will be possible to achieve a free trade agreement. This House will therefore be confronted in 12 months’ time with challenges very similar to those that we face at present, with deep economic consequences if we cannot find a way through them, so I am afraid that I am not enthusiastic about the deal.
I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who has been very consistent in her view on Brexit, which is that for MPs to offer a referendum and then try to thwart or reject it by our own actions is a con trick. I do not disagree with that, but we have the following disagreement: I do not believe that it is in any way a con trick, when one ends up with something so utterly different from what was offered, to go back and ask the electorate whether it is what they really want. I do not see anything wrong with that. I remain of the view that that possibility exists; if the House’s majority view were that it should be done, I would support it and seek to have it carried out, because the consequences are so momentous. I also make it clear to the Prime Minister that if that failed, I would not seek to oppose leaving on these terms. We have to resolve this.
That point brings me to the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). It is frankly extraordinary that a Government who say that they want to follow a sensible process should seek to railroad that process in a way that makes it likely that proper debate will not take place. To that I profoundly object. For that reason, I will support the amendment, and so should any Member of this House who wants an orderly form of Brexit.
I will vote for the amendment moved by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) because it is an insurance policy against no deal, by accident or by design. It is very clear from the debate so far that the deal that the Prime Minister has brought back will give us less good access to the biggest, nearest and most important market that we enjoy today and less good access than the deal negotiated by the former Prime Minister would have given. I cannot understand why anyone should regard that as something to be celebrated, cheered or recommended.
No wonder the Government do not want to do an economic assessment, because it would show the same thing as their last economic assessment. It was very striking, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) told the House, in his typically forensic and eloquent way, what it would mean in practice, to watch the euphoria evident on the Government Benches earlier give way to a cold realisation of what the deal will mean for the businesses and industries that we represent in our constituencies. I simply ask this: why would we want to undermine our future economy, investment, opportunity and potential in that way?
The second point I want to make is about consent. The Prime Minister is right to ask us how we will heal the rift that Brexit has created. If this deal is defeated, it will be the fourth time the House has been unable to agree a way forward. I am the first to admit that we cannot carry on like this. We need to find a way forward, and a way of doing so was offered, in a very prescient intervention a year ago, by my hon. Friends the Members for Hove (Peter Kyle) and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) with their compromise proposal—and it is a compromise. There is in politics a division between those who advocate leaving with no deal if we cannot get a deal and those who say, “Let’s just cancel the result of the referendum and pretend it never happened.” I do not subscribe to either of those views.
There is compromise: we can get this done and make a decision by asking the British people. At the heart of that question is this: do the British people have the right to change their minds? I fear that some who reject a referendum would cry, “No, they don’t. We had the one vote, and that’s it.” I disagree with that view because it is fundamental to our democracy that, when the facts change, events change or time passes, we should have an opportunity to change our minds if we wish. I do not know the answer to that question. The only people who know are the British people, which is why I will vote for my hon. Friends’ amendment. We should ask the people what they now want.