[Relevant document: Fourth Report of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, The UK-EU future relationship: the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, HC 1094.]
Given the length of the Second Reading call list, Members will understand that there will be no time left before 2.30 pm to debate the Bill in Committee. Nevertheless, I should inform Members that under the order of the House of today, notices of amendments, new clauses and new schedules to be moved in Committee of the whole House may be accepted until 10.30 am. To maintain social distancing, Members are asked not to bring amendments to the Table in the Chamber but to send them by email to the Public Bill Office. The Public Bill Office will aim to circulate early this afternoon a notice paper of the amendments received by 10.30 am.
I inform the House that I have not selected any of the reasoned amendments.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
May I begin by thanking you, Mr Speaker, and the House authorities and all your staff for their hard work in allowing us to meet today? I also welcome the outstanding news that AstraZeneca is now rolling out a new UK-made vaccine, approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, that offers hope to millions in this country and around the world.
Having taken back control of our money, our borders, our laws and our waters by leaving the European Union on 31 January, we now seize this moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours based on free trade and friendly co-operation.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your clarification. I am just wondering how on earth the Prime Minister can talk about taking back control of waters when Scottish fishermen are going to have less access and less fish to catch as a consequence of his con deal.
Although that was not a valid point of order, I must none the less correct the right hon. Gentleman. In fact, under this deal we have taken back control of our borders. Indeed, Scottish fishermen from the get-go will have access to bigger quotas of all the relevant stocks. From the end of the transition period, as he knows full well—
Order. I understand that this is an important day and it is important that we all get on the record. It is also important that I get to the leader of the SNP. What I would not like to do is run out of time because of the number of times he stands for interventions. If the Prime Minister gives way, he will give way straight away, but please let us try to get the debate under way. At least give yourself time to hear what the Prime Minister has to say before you disagree.
With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I feel I must correct him. Not only will we take back control of our waters, we will increase Scottish fishermen’s share of all the relevant stocks: cod, for instance, going up by 47% to 57%; North sea haddock going up by 70% to 84%. That is just next year, Mr Speaker. In five and a half years’ time, we take control of the entire spectacular marine wealth of Scotland. It is only the Scottish nationalist party that would, with spectacular hypocrisy, hand back control of the waters of this country to the UK.
Mr Speaker, I wish the right hon. Gentleman to know that I am using the word “nationalist” with a small “n”. I do not think he would disagree with that, which is semantically justifiable under the circumstances. Yet in spite of that nomenclature, they would hand back control of Scotland’s waters and go back into the common fisheries policy. What the Bill does is take back control—
In a moment.
At the heart of the Bill is, as we have discussed in this Chamber many times, Mr Speaker, one of the biggest free trade agreements in the world: a comprehensive Canada-style deal worth over £660 billion, which, if anything, should allow companies to do even more business with our European friends, safeguarding millions of jobs and livelihoods in our UK and across the continent. In less than 48 hours we will leave the EU single market and the customs union as we promised. British exporters will not face a sudden thicket of trade barriers, but rather, for the first time in the history of EU agreements, zero tariffs and zero quotas. Just as we have avoided trade barriers—
Mr Speaker, I think that plenty of Members want to speak. I have already taken plenty of interventions and points of order. I am going to make some progress.
Just as we have avoided trade barriers, so we have also ensured the UK’s full control of our laws and our regulations. There is a vital symmetry between those two achievements. The central purpose of the Bill is to accomplish something that the British people always knew in their hearts could be done, yet which we were continually told was impossible. We were told that we could not have our cake and eat it—do you remember how often we were told that, Mr Speaker?—namely, that we could trade and co-operate as we will with our European neighbours on the closest terms of friendship and good will, while retaining sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny. That unifying thread runs through every clause of the Bill, which embodies our vision, shared with our European neighbours, of a new relationship between Britain and the EU as sovereign equals, joined by friendship, commerce, history, interests and values, while respecting one another’s freedom of action and recognising that we have nothing to fear if we sometimes choose to do things differently.
The devil is in the detail in anything that is before us today. Can the Prime Minister confirm—I hope that this is the case—that we see the end of discrimination and that the Hague preference is away, in the bin? The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation is expressing dismay from the Republic of Ireland. Will UK quotas be shared with Northern Ireland? Will there be tariffs for our ports of Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel landing the fish that they catch in Northern Ireland, and will the £100 million for fishing organisations be shared equally across the whole United Kingdom? Those are real, practical issues for us in Northern Ireland.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the entire UK will share in the programme of investment in our fishing industry. To get ourselves ready across the whole UK for the colossal uplift in fish that we will obtain, and even before the end of the transition period, the hon. Gentleman should know that we will fish about 130,000 tonnes more fish in the UK a year than we do at present. Currently, that is an opportunity that we must work to seize. [Interruption.] No.
We have much to gain from the healthy stimulus of competition, and the Bill therefore demonstrates how Britain can be at once European and sovereign. You will agree, Mr Speaker, that our negotiators published their feat at astonishing speed. It took nearly eight years for the Uruguay round of world trade talks to produce a deal; five years for the EU to reach a trade agreement with Canada; and six for Japan. We have done this in less than a year, in the teeth of a pandemic, and we have pressed ahead with this task, resisting all the calls for delay, precisely because creating certainty about our future provides the best chance of beating covid and bouncing back even more strongly next year. That was our objective.
I hope that the House joins me in commending my noble Friend Lord Frost and every member of his team for their skill, mastery and perseverance in translating our vision into a practical agreement. Let me also pay tribute to President Ursula von der Leyen, Michel Barnier and all our European friends for their pragmatism and foresight, and their understanding that it is profoundly in the interests of the EU to live alongside a prosperous, contented and sovereign United Kingdom. The House understands the significance of the fact that this agreement is not EU law, but international law, so there is no direct effect—EU law will no longer have any special status in the UK.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I feel that I have to point out to the House the historic principle in Scotland, as established by law, is that it is the people of Scotland who are sovereign, and it is the people of Scotland who will determine to take them back into the European Union with independence.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. Of course, it was the people of Scotland who took the sovereign decision, quite rightly, to remain in the UK—a once-in-a-generation decision. I think it highly unlikely that the people of Scotland will take a decision to cast away their new-found freedoms and new-found opportunities, not least over the marine wealth of Scotland.
We will be able to design our own standards and regulations, and the laws that the House of Commons passes will be interpreted—I know that this is a keen interest of hon. and right hon. Members—solely by British judges sitting in British courts. We will have the opportunity to devise new ways to spur and encourage flourishing sectors in which this country leads the world, from green energy and life sciences to synthetic biology.
Some of us had different views on Brexit, but those debates are now for the history books. Everyone in the House and the country should recognise the benefits of an agreement that goes beyond free trade, from science to energy to security. However, will the Prime Minister capitalise on the excellent news that we have had today on the vaccine by pursuing an industrial strategy that puts science and technology at its heart, so that we can grasp the opportunities that come as the world bounces back from covid during the year ahead?
Including the Prime Minister.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). I remember well working with him on his industrial strategy and his ideas for championing green technology and biosciences, and I can tell him that those ideas remain at the heart of this Government’s agenda. We will certainly be using our new-found legislative freedom to drive progress in those sciences and those investments across the whole UK. We will be free of EU state aid rules; we will be able to decide where and how we level up across our country, with new jobs and new hope, including free ports and new green industrial zones of a kind I am sure my right hon. Friend would approve of.
I must make an important point. If, in using our new freedoms, either Britain or the EU believes it is somehow being unfairly undercut, then, subject to independent third-party arbitration, and provided the measures are proportionate, either of us can decide, as sovereign equals, to protect our consumers, but this treaty explicitly envisages that any such action should be infrequent.
However, the treaty banishes the old concepts of uniformity and harmonisation, in favour of the right to make our own regulatory choices and deal with the consequences. Every modern free trade agreement includes reciprocal commitments designed to prevent distortions of trade. The true significance of the agreement embodied in the Bill is that there is no role for the European Court of Justice, no ratchet clause on labour or environmental standards, and no dynamic alignment with the EU state aid regime or, indeed, any other aspect of EU law. In every respect, we have recovered our freedom of action.
Many hon. Members will face a dire dilemma because they will feel that our country has been sold short. On the one hand, we have the Prime Minister’s thin, terrible, burnt oven-ready deal. On the other hand, we face the prospect of an even more damaging and destructive no-deal Brexit. Can the Prime Minister advise us why, given that services account for almost 80% of our economy, there is so little for that sector in this deal? In particular, why could he not negotiate equivalence and passporting rights for the all-important financial services sector?
It was not quite clear from that intervention which way the Labour party is going to go on this—whether the hon. Gentleman is going to go with the leader of the Labour party and vote for the deal, or whether he is going to join other members of the Labour party and continue to dither and delay. We on the Government Benches are going to get on; we will be free of the strictures of the common agricultural policy, and we will be able to conserve our landscapes and support our farmers exactly as we choose.
On Friday—I am coming to a point that has been raised several times, but I will repeat it because it is a wonderful point—for the first time in 50 years, the UK will once again be recognised as an independent coastal state, regaining control of our waters and righting the wrong that was done by the common fisheries policy throughout our EU membership. Of course I have always recognised—
The Prime Minister will know that Brixham, the most valuable fishing port in England, wants to see our waters regained, with access and control, and a rebuilding of the fishing industry in the UK. This deal delivers that. Can he assure my fishermen and fishermen around the country that that is what this Government are delivering on?
That is absolutely right, and the voice of Brixham should be heard up and down the country because that point is entirely correct and might be registered with advantage by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford).
I have always recognised that this was going to be a difficult period for our European friends and partners, because they have been fishing in these waters for decades, if not centuries. At first, as the House will know, they sought an adjustment period of 14 years, but our negotiators whittled that down to five and a half years, during which the UK’s share—[Interruption.] In that five and a half years, the UK’s share of our fish in our waters will rise from over half today, to around two-thirds. Of course we would like to have done that more quickly, but it is also true that once the adjustment period comes to an end there will be no limit, other than limits that are placed by the needs of science and conservation, on our ability to make use of our marine wealth.
Fifteen per cent. of the EU’s historic catch from our waters will be returned to this country next year alone. To prepare our fishing communities for that moment, we will invest £100 million in a programme to modernise their fleets and the fish processing industry—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) should listen to this, because we will be restoring a great British industry to the eminence that it deserves, levelling up communities across the UK, particularly and including Scotland where, in my view, those interests have been neglected for too long.
I find it extraordinary that on the eve of this great opportunity, the declared position of the Scottish National national/nationalist party—with a small “n”—is to hand control of the very waters we have just reclaimed straight back to the EU. That is its policy. It plans to ensnare Scotland’s fishing fleet in the dragnets of the common fisheries policy all over again. In the meantime, guess what SNP Members will do today, Mr Speaker. They are going to vote today for a no-deal Brexit! [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Glasgow East will tell me that he is going to vote for the deal.
I am immensely grateful to the Prime Minister for briefly pausing that monologue that was designed for the European Research Group. On fish, he is waxing lyrical about how amazing this deal is, but I would like to read him a quote from Andrew Locker, chair of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, who says:
“I am angry, disappointed and betrayed. Boris Johnson promised us the rights to all the fish that swim in our exclusive economic zone and we have got a fraction of that.”
Is he wrong?
I am afraid that yes, he is. We will take back control not only by becoming an independent coastal state from 1 January, but in five and a half years’ time, we will be able to fish every single fish in our waters, if we so choose. That is the reality. In the meantime, as I say, and the hon. Gentleman did not deny it—I don’t think I heard him deny it—the Scottish National party is going to vote against the deal. It is effectively going to vote for no deal, which it campaigned against and denounced, proving once and for all, that the interests of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are best served by a one-nation party serving one United Kingdom.
This deal was negotiated—the hon. Gentleman should know this—by a big team from every part of our United Kingdom, and it serves the whole of the UK, not least by protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom single internal market, and Northern Ireland’s place within it. Our points-based immigration system will end free movement and give us full control over who enters the country. By the way, on that point I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for all he did to protect the interests of Northern Ireland.
At the same time, the deal provides certainty for airlines and hauliers who have suffered grievously during this pandemic. It guarantees the freedom of British citizens to travel to and from the EU and retain access to healthcare. It provides certainty for our police, our border forces, and our security agencies to work alongside our European friends to keep our people safe, and the SNP are going to vote against that, Mr Speaker. The deal provides certainty for our partnerships on scientific research, because we want our country to be a science superpower, but also a collaborative science superpower. It provides certainty for business, from financial services to our world-leading manufacturers, including our car industry, safeguarding highly skilled jobs and investment across our country. As for the Leader of the Opposition, I am delighted that he has found yet another position on Brexit, and, having plunged down every blind alley and exhausted every possible alternative, he has come to the right conclusion—namely, to vote for this agreement, which this Government have secured.
I am very happy to confirm for the Prime Minister that I will be voting for this agreement. He mentioned several times his levelling-up agenda, but financial services and those working in the sector have been left entirely out of it, so does he not agree that every city and every town that is dependent on financial services, from Leeds to Manchester to Edinburgh, and many in between, have been levelled down and left out of this deal?
It is great to hear a member of the Labour party not only backing the bankers and backing financial services—a fantastic development—but also backing this deal. The hon. Gentleman is quite right because, actually, this deal does a great deal for services, for financial services, for the legal profession and many other professions. But, alas, the good news about the Labour party stops there, because I am told that the right hon. and learned Gentleman intends to ask the British people for a mandate to rewrite the deal in 2024—that is what he wants to do. I think, frankly, we got Brexit done; let’s keep Brexit done. And let’s press ahead with this Government’s mission to unite and level up across our whole country and grasp the opportunities before us, because I have always said—
I am going to make some progress because many Members want to speak. I have always said that Brexit is not an end but a beginning, and the responsibility now rests with all of us to make the best use of the powers that we have regained and the tools that we have taken back into our hands. We are going to begin by fulfilling our manifesto promise to maintain the highest standards of labour and environmental regulation, because no caricature can be more inaccurate than the idea of some bargain-basement Dickensian Britain, as if enlightened EU regulation has been our only salvation from Dickensian squalor. Our national standards have always been among the very best in the world, and this House can be trusted to use its new freedom to keep them that way without any outside invigilation.
We are going to open a new chapter in our national story, striking free trade deals around the world, adding to the agreements with 63 countries we have already achieved and reasserting global Britain as a liberal, outward-looking force for good. Detaching ourselves from the EU is only a prelude to the greater task of establishing our new role, and this country is contributing more than any other to vaccinate people across the world against covid, leading the way in preventing future pandemics. We will continue to campaign for 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for what he is doing on that. We will continue to lead the drive towards global net zero as we host COP26 in Glasgow next year.
I hope and believe—and I think, actually, the tone this morning has given me encouragement in this belief; the mood in the House this morning seems on the whole to be positive—[Interruption.] In spite of the as-usual synthetic and confected indignation that we hear from some on the Benches opposite, I hope and believe that this agreement will also serve to end some of the rancour and recrimination that we have had in recent years and allow us to come together as a country to leave old arguments—old, desiccated, tired, super-masticated arguments—behind, move on and build a new and great future for our country, because those of us who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU never sought a rupture with our closest neighbours. We never wanted to sever ourselves from our fellow democracies, beneath whose soil lie British war graves in tranquil cemeteries, often tended by local schoolchildren, testament to our shared struggle for freedom and everything we cherish in common. What we wanted was not a rupture but a resolution—a resolution of the old, tired, vexed question of Britain’s political relations with Europe, which has bedevilled our post-war history. First we stood aloof, then we became a half-hearted, sometimes obstructive member of the EU. Now, with this Bill, we are going to become a friendly neighbour—the best friend and ally the EU could have, working hand in glove whenever our values and interests coincide, while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own laws, made by their own elected Parliament. That is the historic resolution delivered by this Bill. I commend it to the House.
Before I call the Leader of the Opposition, the House will want to be aware that I have accepted a request from the Government for an additional statement from the Secretary of State for Education on education return in January. This will be the second statement after the covid-19 update and before the business statement. The ballot is already open in Members’ Hub.
It is often said that there is nothing simple about Brexit, but the choice before the House today is perfectly simple: do we implement the treaty that has been agreed with the EU or do we not? That is the choice. If we choose not to, the outcome is clear: we leave the transition period without a deal—without a deal on security, trade or fisheries, without protection for our manufacturing sector, farming or countless British businesses, and without a foothold to build a future relationship with the EU. Anyone choosing that option today knows there is no time to renegotiate, no better deal coming in the next 24 hours, no extensions, no Humble Addresses and no SO 24s—Standing Order No. 24 debates—so choosing that option leads to one place: no deal.
Or we can take the only other option that is available and implement the treaty that has been negotiated. This is a thin deal. It has many flaws—I will come to that in a moment.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I will in just a minute.
But a thin deal is better than no deal, and not implementing this deal would mean immediate tariffs and quotas with the EU, which will push up prices and drive businesses to the wall. It will mean huge gaps in security, a free-for-all on workers’ rights and environmental protections, and less stability for the Northern Ireland protocol. Leaving without a deal would also show that the UK is not capable of agreeing the legal basis for our future relationship with our EU friends and partners. That matters, because I want Britain to be an outward-looking, optimistic and rules-based country—one that does deals, signs treaties and abides by them.
I will in just one moment.
It matters that Britain has negotiated a treaty with the EU Commission and the 27 member states; and it matters, ultimately, that the UK has not gone down the blind alley of no deal. It means that our future relationship starts on the basis of agreement, not acrimony.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for setting out the position of the Labour party, but he used to have six tests for any Brexit deal that he would be willing to support. How many of those tests does he believe the agreement actually meets?
There is only one choice today, which is to vote for implementing this deal or to vote for no deal, and those who vote no are voting for no deal. I will give way again to the hon. Gentleman. If he is voting no, does he want no to succeed at 2.30 this afternoon when the House divides?
A better one than this, for the reasons that I am about to lay out. [Interruption.] I will go into some of the detail—not too much—but if anyone believes what the Prime Minister has just said about financial services, they have not read the deal. With no further time for negotiation, when the default is no deal, it is not a mark of how pro-European you are to reject implementing this treaty. It is not in the national interest to duck a question or to hide in the knowledge that others will save you from the consequences of your own vote. This is a simple vote, with a simple choice—do we leave the transition period with a treaty that has been negotiated with the EU, or do we leave with no deal? So Labour will vote to implement this treaty today to avoid no deal and to put in place a floor from which we can build a strong future relationship with the EU.
I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for outlining how clear this is for him. His party has two parliamentarians in Edinburgh South—one in the Scottish Parliament and one in Westminster. At 4 o’clock this afternoon, the Member of the Scottish Parliament will vote against the deal and the Member of the Westminster Parliament here will vote for the deal. How does he square that circle?
I give way to the hon. Gentleman with my question. When he votes no, against this treaty, this afternoon, does he want the Bill to fail and thus we leave tomorrow night without a deal? Is that the intention? Does he want the result to go the way he is voting?
I think the right hon. Gentleman will understand that there will be members of his own party in the Lobby with me this afternoon. If he can point out to me in the Order Paper where I am voting for no deal, I will be very happy. Will he tell me what page that is on?
That absolutely identifies the point. He is going to vote in the hope that others will vote the other way and save him from the consequences of his own vote. That is the truth of the situation of the SNP. He is hoping that others will do the right thing and vote in favour of implementing the treaty. We fought against no deal together for months and years, and now those voting no are going to vote for no deal. Nothing is going to happen in the next 24 hours to save this country from no deal. So he wants to vote for something, but he does not want that vote to succeed; he wants others to have the burden of voting for it to save us from no deal.
That was about a year ago. Then it was supposed to be ready in July, then September, then November and finally it arrived on Christmas eve. That matters, because businesses have had no chance to prepare for the new regulations. Talk to businesses about their concerns. They have real difficulties now. Many of them have already taken decisions about jobs and investment because of the uncertainty, and of course that is made worse by the pandemic.
Let me now go to the deal itself and analyse some of the flaws in it. Let us start with the Prime Minister and what he said on Christmas eve in his press conference. He said:
“there will be no non-tariff barriers to trade.”
His words. He was not being straight with the British public. That is plain wrong. It is worse than that. It was not an aside, or an interview or an off-the-record remark. It was a scripted speech. He said that there would be no non-tariff barriers to trade. The Prime Minister knows that it is not true. Every Member of this House knows it is not true. I will give way to the Prime Minister to correct the record. Either stand up and say that what he said was true, or take this opportunity to correct the record. I give way.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that this is a zero tariff, zero quota deal. He says that he would have negotiated a different and better deal. Perhaps he can tell us whether he would have remained within the customs union and within the single market. Perhaps he will also say a little bit about how he proposes to renegotiate the deal, build on it and take the UK back into the EU, because that remains his agenda.
Typical deflection. The Prime Minister, at a press conference, told the British public that there will be
“no non-tariff barriers to trade”.
The answer he gave just now is not an answer to that point. It is not true, and the Prime Minister knows what he said was not true. He simply will not stand up and acknowledge it today. That speaks volumes about the sort of Prime Minister we have.
I will in just a minute. The truth is this: there will be an avalanche of checks, bureaucracy and red tape for British businesses. Every business I have spoken to knows this; every business any Member has spoken to knows this. That is what they are talking about. It is there in black and white in the treaty.
I will in one minute. There will be checks for farmers, for our manufacturers, for customs, on rules of origin, VAT, safety and security, plant and animal health, and much more. Many British exporters will have to go through two regulatory processes to sell to existing clients in the EU. To keep tariff-free trade, businesses will have to prove that enough of their parts come from the EU or the UK. So there will be significant and permanent burdens on British businesses. It is somewhat ironic that for years the Conservative party has railed against EU bureaucracy, but this treaty imposes far more red tape on British businesses than there is at the moment.
The lead-up to this Brexit deal has seen a litany of broken promises. Earlier this year, the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and said that there was
“no threat to the Erasmus scheme”.—[Official Report, 15 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 1021.]
Among other things, he made grand statements about taking back full control of our fishing waters. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, despite all the promises, it is not only British fishermen who are accusing the Prime Minister of betrayal and of having caved in to arrive at this insufficient deal?
I am glad that there is a deal and I will vote for the Bill to implement it, because a deal is far better than no deal. That is the right thing to do. But to pretend that the deal is not what it is is not being honest, and nor is it a base from which we can go forward. To pretend that there are no non-tariff barriers when there are is just not true. The Prime Minister will not just get up and say, “I got it wrong. I didn’t tell the truth when I was addressing the public.” [Interruption.] The Prime Minister says I do not know what I am talking about. His words were that there will be no non-tariff barriers to trade. Will there be no non-tariff barriers to trade, Prime Minister? Yes or no? The ox is now on his tongue, I see.
Whatever the Prime Minister says, there is very little protection for our services. That is a gaping hole in this deal. Ours is primarily a services economy. Services account for 80% of our economic output, and we have a trade surplus with the EU in services, but what we have in this text does not go beyond what was agreed with Canada or Japan. The lack of ambition is striking, and the result is no mutual recognition of professional qualifications. Talk to doctors, nurses, dentists, accountants, pharmacists, vets, engineers and architects about how they will practise now in other EU states, where they will have to have their qualifications agreed with each state separately with different terms and conditions. Anybody who thinks that that is an improvement really does need to look again at the deal.
In just one minute.
The deal will make it harder to sell services into the EU and will create a huge disincentive for businesses to invest.
The very thin agreement on short business travel will make things much harder for artists and musicians, for example. Prime Minister, they want to hear what the answers to these questions are, not just comments from the Front Bench.
On financial services, even the Prime Minister himself has accepted—I do not know whether he will stick to this, or if it is one that he will not own now—that the deal does not go as far as we would have liked, so pretending that it is a brilliant deal just is not on. We have to rely on the bare bones of equivalence arrangements, many of which are not even in place, that could be unilaterally withdrawn at short notice. That is the reality of the situation. We are left to wonder: either the Prime Minister did not try to get a strong deal to protect our service economy, or he tried and failed. Which is it?
Let me turn to security. The treaty offers important protections when compared with the utter chaos of no deal, such as on DNA and fingerprints. There are third-party arrangements to continue working with Europol and Eurojust. I worked with Europol and Eurojust, so I know how important that is, but the treaty does not provide what was promised: a security partnership of unprecedented breadth and depth. It does not, and anybody today who thinks that it does has not read the deal. We will no longer have access to EU databases that allow for the sharing of real-time data, such as the Schengen information system for missing persons and objects. Anybody who thinks that that is not important needs to bear in mind that it is used on a daily basis. In 2019, it was accessed and consulted 600 million times by the UK police—600 million times. That is how vital it is to them. That is a massive gap in the deal, and the Prime Minister needs to explain how it will be plugged.
Let me turn to tariffs and quotas. The Prime Minister has made much of the deal delivering zero tariffs and zero quotas. It does—
The Prime Minister says rubbish—[Interruption.] I have read it. I have studied it. I have been looking at nothing else than this for four years. The Prime Minister pretends that he has got sovereignty, and zero tariffs and zero quotas. He has not: the moment he exercises the sovereignty to depart from the level playing field, the tariffs kick in. This is not a negotiating triumph. It sets out the fundamental dilemma that has always been at the heart—
The Prime Minister says vote against it—vote for no deal. As my wife says to our children, “If you haven’t got anything sensible to say, it’s probably better to say nothing.”
The situation sets out the fundamental dilemma that has always been at the heart of the negotiations. If we stick to the level playing field, there are no tariffs and quotas, but if we do not, British businesses, British workers and British consumers will bear the cost. The Prime Minister has not escaped that dilemma; he has negotiated a treaty that bakes it in. This poses the central question for future Governments and Parliaments: do we build up from this agreement to ensure that the UK has high standards and that our businesses are able to trade as freely as possible in the EU market with minimal disruption; or do we choose to lower standards and slash protections, and in that way put up more barriers for our businesses to trade with our nearest and most important partners?
For Labour, this is clear: we believe in high standards. We see this treaty as a basis to build from, and we want to retain a close economic relationship with the EU that protects jobs and rights, because that is where our national interest lies today and tomorrow. However, I fear that the Prime Minister will take the other route, because he has used up so much time and negotiating capital in doing so. He has put the right to step away from common standards at the heart of the negotiation, so I assume that he wants to make use of that right as soon as possible. If he does, he has to be honest with the British people about the costs and consequences of that choice for businesses, jobs and our economy. If he does not want to exercise that right, he has to explain why he wasted so much time and sacrificed so many priorities for a right that he is not going to exercise.
After four and a half years of debate and division, we finally have a trade deal with the EU. It is imperfect, it is thin and it is the consequence of the Prime Minister’s political choices, but we have only one day before the end of the transition period, and it is the only deal that we have. It is a basis to build on in the years to come. Ultimately, voting to implement the treaty is the only way to ensure that we avoid no deal, so we will vote for the Bill today.
But I do hope that this will be a moment when our country can come together and look to a better future. The UK has left the EU. The leave/remain argument is over—whichever side we were on, the divisions are over. We now have an opportunity to forge a new future: one outside the EU, but working closely with our great partners, friends and allies. We will always be European. We will always have shared values, experiences and history, and we can now also have a shared future. Today’s vote provides the basis for that.
I welcome the deal and I will be supporting it today. I welcome the fact that the official Opposition will be supporting this deal, but I did listen with some incredulity to what the Leader of the Opposition said. He said he wanted a better deal. In early 2019, there was the opportunity of a better deal on the table, and he voted against it, so I will take no lectures from the Leader of the Opposition on this deal.
The Prime Minister has said that central to this deal are the tariff-free and quota-free trade arrangements, subject to rules of origin requirements. It would have been unforgivable for the European Union not to have allowed tariff-free and quota-free access, given that it signed up to that in the political declaration signed with my Government in November 2018.
One of the reasons for supporting this deal is the security arrangements that have been put in place, which are very important. Access to passenger name records and Prüm are important, but there is an issue of timeliness of access to those and other databases such as the European criminal records information system. I hope, in operational terms and in practice, we will see little change to the ability to investigate as a result of the good relationships that have been built up.
I think that the EU has made a mistake in not allowing us access to SIS II. I understand that it set as a principle that we could not have that access, but we should aim to try to find some resolution to that in the future, because it is an important database. It helps us in our fight against modern slavery and child abduction, and in identifying criminals across our borders.
One area in which I am disappointed by the deal is services. It is no longer the case that UK service providers will have an automatic right of access to provide services across the EU; they will have to abide by the individual rules of a state. I understand that a lawyer advising on UK law in the Czech Republic will have to be resident, but in Austria will have not to be resident. That is just an example of the difference in the rules.
The key area is financial services. In 2018, at Mansion House, I said that we wanted to work to get a financial services deal in the future treaty arrangement, and that that would be truly groundbreaking. It would have been but, sadly, it has not been achieved. We have a deal in trade that benefits the EU, but not a deal in services that would have benefited the UK. The treaty is clear that future negotiation on these points is possible, and I hope that the Government will go to that negotiation with alacrity and vigour, particularly on financial services.
Of course, a whole structure is set up under the treaty. One thing it does not do is to excise the EU from our lives, because a whole structure of committees is set up, some of which, like the partnership council, will be able to amend the arrangement and make determinations on its operation and interpretation without, as far as I can see, any formal reference to this Parliament. Sovereignty has underpinned the negotiations since article 50 was triggered. Sovereignty does not mean isolationism; it does not mean that we never accept somebody else’s rules; it does not mean exceptionalism. It is important as we go forward that we recognise that we live in an interconnected world and that if the United Kingdom is going to play the role that I believe it should play in not just upholding but encouraging and promoting the rules-based international order, and in ensuring that we promote these interests and values and strengthen multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, we must never allow ourselves to think, as I fear that some in this House do, that sovereignty means isolationism.
I say to all Members across the House that today is the time, as I have said before, to put aside personal and party political interests, which sadly too many have followed in the past, to vote in the interests of the whole UK and to support this Bill.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I wish you, Mr Speaker, all staff and Members a good new year when it comes tomorrow evening. May I quickly reflect on the sadness of the events that took place on 2 January 1971 in Glasgow, when 66 predominantly young people lost their lives in the Ibrox disaster, including five from one village in Fife, Markinch? I am sure that the whole House will want to remember those who sadly lost their lives at that moment.
When this bad Brexit deal was published, one of the very first public images that was released showed the Prime Minister raising his arms aloft in celebration. When I saw that image, my thoughts immediately turned to the European nationals who have made their home here. They are certainly not celebrating. During the four years and more of this Brexit mess, the main emotion they have felt is worry: worry about staying here, about their jobs and for their families. In Scotland, these citizens are our friends. They are our family. They are our neighbours. Before this Tory Government force through a deal that rips us out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union, let us get this message out to Scotland’s 234,000 EU citizens: Scotland is your home, you are welcome.
The value we place on European citizenship—that real sense of belonging to the European Union—cuts to the very core of this debate. Scotland is at heart a European nation. It always has been. Forcing our nation out of the EU means losing a precious part of who we are. Scotland did not become European when the United Kingdom joined the EEC 40 years ago. Our relationship with Europe predates the United Kingdom by some way. An independent Scotland has enjoyed centuries of engagement with European nations. Scottish merchants travelled, traded and settled on the continent. We shared citizenship with France and we appealed our nationhood to Rome. Scotland was European before it was British. That European history and heritage goes back to our nation’s place in the Hanseatic League in the 15th century. Scotland was central to a trading alliance that forged connections and commerce with the north Atlantic, the Netherlands, Germany Scandinavia and the Baltic. We were a European trading nation right up until many of our privileges were ended by the Treaty of Union. It was three centuries ago, and here we go again: with Westminster seeking to end our access to those European relationships by removing us from today’s union of nations across our continent; Westminster ending free movement of people and the access to labour that is so crucial to our economic success; and Westminster seeking to end our automatic right to live, work and get an education in 27 member states of the EU—rights that our generation had, which will be taken away from our children and grandchildren. And for what?
It was way back on 11 July 2016 that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, first spoke the infamous words, “Brexit means Brexit.” We all know what followed the use of that foolish phrase: nearly four years of constant chaos and confusion. Today, at least we have some clarity. We now finally know what Brexit means. We have it in black and white. It means the disaster of a deal. It means broken promises. It means economic vandalism. It means an isolated United Kingdom in the middle of a global pandemic. It means the worst of all worlds for Scotland.
This morning’s proceedings are so critical precisely because of that clarity, because with that clarity comes a choice, and it is a fundamental choice for Scotland. It is a choice between a future defined by this disaster of a deal or the future that the SNP is offering to the Scottish people: an independent nation at the heart of the European Union. Today, the contrast between the two futures is clearer than ever, and that choice will not go away.
I wonder if I could put to the right hon. Gentleman the same question that was put to a colleague of his by the Leader of the Opposition and by the Prime Minister. Today, when the Scottish National party votes against this deal, it is therefore voting for no deal. Is it his determination that, the day after tomorrow, the UK would have no deal and would be in a worse situation? Is that his position now? Could he answer yes or no?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the question, because it is very simple. This is a piece of legislation that has been put forward today. No deal is not on the Order Paper. The deal that we currently have—the deal that exists today—where we are in the single market and customs union is the best deal for us. We have argued many times in this House, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that we should have extended the transition, and that offer to extend the transition was there from the European Union. It is not our choice to accept a shoddy deal. What we should be doing—
Thank you, Mr Speaker. We will accept your guidance on these things, although I was looking forward to the debate that we were having.
Now that we see the scale of the bad Brexit deal, the question before the Scottish people is clear: which Union does Scotland wish to be part of? Which future will we choose: this broken Brexit Britain or the European Union? If this whole Brexit saga was truly about sovereignty, the Scottish people cannot and will not be denied our sovereign right to that self-determination. No democrat and nobody in this House should stand in the way of that—even boris with a small b. The Tory denial of democracy is a position that cannot and will not hold. Scotland will have the right to choose its own future.
Now that the detail of this deal is finally in front of us, people hope that Brexit fictions are swiftly replaced with Brexit facts. Judging by the Prime Minister’s performance today, his Government are still drowning in delusion or simply just putting on an act, but for those of us who have lived in the real world these past four years, it is long past time that reality finally bursts the Brexit bubble. In recent days we have heard wild celebrations and claims from leading Brexit cheerleaders that this is the largest free trade deal in history. I am sorry to inform them that it is not. The biggest and best free trading bloc in the world is the one that this Tory Government are dragging Scotland out of. It is made up of 27 nations and 500 million citizens. It is called the European Union.
In the middle of a pandemic and economic recession, Scotland has been removed from a market worth £16 billion in exports to Scottish companies and a market which, by population, is seven times the size of the United Kingdom. Leaving the European single market and customs union would be damaging at any time, but in the middle of the current crisis, Prime Minister, it is unforgivable. It is an act of economic vandalism, pure and simple.
As usual with the Tories, it is people who will pay the price. Initial Scottish Government modelling estimates that the deal could cut Scotland’s GDP by around 6.1%—that is £9 billion in 2016 cash terms by 2030. That will leave people in Scotland—the same people who have always opposed Brexit—£1,600 poorer. That is the cost of the Prime Minister’s Brexit.
Really? I am amazed that the right hon. Gentleman, who of course comes from Scotland, seems to be threatening the people of Scotland with lack of access. Is that really the message the Conservatives want to deliver to the people of Scotland? Shame on him, shame on him, shame on him.
For all the Tory talk of levelling up, the deal is blatantly preparing the ground to level down on standards. Only in the last few days, the Institute for Public Policy Research has warned of what many of us have suspected all along: that the deal leaves workers’ rights and environmental protections at
“serious risk of being eroded.”
Another Brexit bubble that badly needs bursting is the myth that leaving the EU will somehow make it easier for businesses to trade. This is literally the first trade deal in history that puts up barriers to business instead of removing them. In 2016, the leave campaign’s assortment of lies included the claim that Brexit would remove red tape for business. Huh—since then, plenty of Brexit red lines have disappeared, but none of the red tape. This bad Brexit deal means that businesses will be burdened with mountains more bureaucracy and more costs. If the Prime Minister wants to disagree with that, I will certainly give way to him.
Presumably the Brexiteers think that that is okay, because the tape will now be coloured red, white and blue. [Interruption.] I hear the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster say, “It’s how they tell them.” He should tell that to the fishing businesses that all of a sudden will have to fill in customs declarations. He should tell them why, at his behest and based on his narrow ideology, that is the answer. The deal means more delay, paperwork and checks—[Interruption.] If he wants to deny that, he should rise to his feet. He knows that fishing businesses will face additional costs as a consequence of what his Government have done.
The deal means more delay, paperwork and checks, all of which will burden business, slow trade and cost jobs. This deal not only inflicts economic self-harm; it ignores economic reality. There is barely a reference in the deal to the service sector, which is 80% of the entire UK economy. Services have been left in complete limbo. Where there is any mention, it is not good news. The deal confirms an end to the financial passporting rights that have been relied upon by financial services firms across the United Kingdom.
Let me turn to the biggest betrayal of all: the broken promises to Scotland’s fishing communities. There are no Scottish Tory MPs in the Chamber. If there were, they would now be squirming. We know that the Brexit deal means a drop in key fishing stocks. For cod, haddock, whiting and saithe, the deal means less access to fish than under the existing arrangements. Let me say that again: less access to those fish than under the common fisheries policy.
One thing that is missing from the deal—I would have thought better of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—is the special privileges, the so-called Hague arrangements, that gave additional fishing rights to Scotland. They were not even negotiated as part of this deal. We have lost them, one can only assume, through the incompetence of the UK negotiators.
The Scottish Tories said that
“tying fishing to a trade deal”
was a red line that must not be crossed, yet here we are: it is exactly what has been done. Every single Tory promise—every red line—has been blown out of the water. Countless broken promises, but not even one resignation—yet. Not even one apology; not a hint of humility, or of regret.
I take no comfort in saying that this was predicted because this deal represents a history of bitter betrayal. Our fishing industry—our Scottish fishing industry—was sold out by the Conservatives on the way into Europe in 1973, and as the United Kingdom leaves, it has been sold out all over again. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation knows that it has been conned, stating that the deal
“does not restore sovereign UK control over fisheries, and does not permit us to determine who can catch what, where and when in our own waters.”
[Interruption.] I hear the Prime Minister muttering, “Rubbish.” This is fishing organisation after fishing organisation in Scotland, Prime Minister, that knows exactly what you have done to them. For Scotland’s fishing communities, lightning might not strike twice, but the Tories definitely do.
The latest Scottish Tory leader, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), gave one of the more graphic promises: he said that he would drink a pint of cold sick rather than vote for a deal that gave EU vessels access for two years. Well, this deal gives them five years’ access, and potentially much more. Let us just say that there will be plenty of Scottish voters in the north-east who will be very interested in what he is drinking after he and his colleagues break every single promise and walk through the Lobby with the Prime Minister.
In later speeches, my colleagues will attempt to cover and scrutinise as much as we possibly can, in the limited time, of the effect of this Bill in Scotland. It has to be said, though, that this lack of scrutiny is not helped by the stance taken by the Labour party. I am sad to say that the official Opposition have been missing in action. There was a time when Labour had six tests that it said needed to be passed in order for it to support any deal. Labour’s Brexit tests have disappeared as quickly as Tory promises. I can understand that this might be politically pragmatic for Labour, but it definitely is not politically principled. But I suppose political principle is hard to manage when you cannot even get a coherent position between Scottish Labour and its UK bosses. Unfortunately, when it comes to a position on this Brexit deal, Labour is literally all over the place. Today in the Scottish Parliament, Labour will join with the Scottish National party in refusing to grant a consent motion to this Bill. I am grateful for that. Labour will not only join us but the Greens and the Liberal Democrats standing with us: our Scottish Parliament united against the Tories, united against this Bill.
It is ultimately for others to explain their own actions and the litany of broken promises that will stay with them at the next election, because, in the end, this is not so much about the Brexit promises of political parties as about its impact on people. It is about respecting the democratic decisions that voters make. Both England and Wales voted to leave the European Union. They have decided that their future lies elsewhere. Let me make this clear: I may not agree with that decision, but I, and my party, respect it. This legislation respects it, and it forms a pathway to the future. The people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. Due to the efforts of both Michel Barnier and the Irish Government, the protocol protects the peace process. It means that Northern Ireland avoids a hard border and stays in the European single market. I support that protocol and its protection of a hard-won peace. This deal respects that. That being said, the Scottish Tories, including Baroness Davidson and the former Scottish Secretary, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), threatened to resign if Scotland was not offered the same deal as Northern Ireland. I say to both of them now that there is still time—we are still waiting.
The only democratic decision that has been ignored is the voice and vote of the Scottish people. None of this deal respects the choice that we made. I genuinely ask Members to reflect on that reality. Imposing this Brexit, imposing this deal means imposing a future that Scotland’s people did not vote for and do not want. Let us not forget that one of the central claims of the Better Together campaign in 2014 was that if we stayed in the UK, we would stay in the European Union. That is the promise that was made.
We were also told that if we stayed in the United Kingdom, we were to lead the United Kingdom. On the day after the referendum, that all changed: Scotland was told to get back in its box. Right through the Brexit process, Scotland’s voice has been ignored by Westminster, our attempts at finding compromise rebuffed at every opportunity, tossed aside on the premise that Westminster is supreme, locking Scotland out of the key decisions affecting our future and ignoring our desire to retain our European citizenship.
Despite the right hon. Gentleman’s gloom, he knows that I adore and love his country. Does he not believe that Scotland has the character to succeed? Despite his misgivings, Scotland is a great country. Why is his speech so full of gloom and misery when Scotland has the character to prosper and succeed now?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. May I reciprocate and say that I love England and its people? I want us to maximise our opportunity, but this deal limits our opportunity. I want to unleash Scotland’s potential. That potential will be unleashed with an independent Scotland at the heart of Europe.
The Prime Minister’s broken promise on Erasmus has been such a totemic issue in the last few days. He will remember standing in this House and promising us that we will stay in the Erasmus programme. That betrayal denies our young people the opportunities that European citizenship has given us. It denies them the European freedoms that we cherish—living, working and studying abroad. Around 200,000 people have taken part in Erasmus, including around 15,000 UK university students each year. It is also important to say that Erasmus is not solely about university students but about supporting youth workers, adult education, sport, culture and vocational training. That is why the Scottish Government are so committed to exploring every opportunity to keep Erasmus in place for our people.
Even the very name Erasmus signals our long-established European links. That long tradition of connection comes right into the modern day with our own Winnie Ewing, Madame Écosse herself. Winnie, a former mother of the European Parliament, was Chair of the EU Education Committee that brought in the Erasmus scheme. [Interruption.] People at home will be watching this, and we have the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster laughing about the success of the Erasmus scheme. Utterly, utterly, utterly pathetic—utterly pathetic.
All that history between Europe and Scotland, all those links and all these opportunities are now at stake. Scotland’s story is European, and that story does not end today. Our past is European, and our future must be European. As a nation, that is a choice that we made in 2016, and I am confident that it is a choice we make now. We cannot support this legislation because it does not respect that choice and it does not provide for our future. Scotland’s course is now set, and it is a very different course from the decisions being taken in the Westminster Parliament. We know that the only way to regain the huge benefits of EU membership is to become an independent state at the heart of Europe once more. That is the decision that the Scottish people will make. We begin that journey today. There is now an empty seat at the top table in Europe. It will not be empty for long.
The House will know that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) is a more cheerful person than his speech suggested. He gave us a 25-minute lesson in humility, for which we are grateful, and talked about ignoring popular votes. In the 2019 election, the SNP received 1,200,000 votes, and in 2014 the vote against independence was 2 million. That is a gap of 800,000—two thirds of the vote that the right hon. Gentleman leads in this House. He should be cautious both in predicting the future and in interpreting the past.
As Father of the House, I ought to recognise that the only significant speech ever made by a Father of the House was in the Narvik-Norway debate in May 1940, when in about his 11th year as Father of the House, David Lloyd George probably gave people the confidence to withhold their votes from the Government. I do not argue that today. We need to say, as many have said—except for the leader of the SNP—that this debate and vote is about whether we go for this deal or for no deal. In that, I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I give my vote, although in the referendum I argued that, on balance, it was better to stay in. We lost and, unlike the SNP, one has to accept the result of a referendum.
No, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
When my father, who survived serious personal injury during the war, was involved in the first negotiations about joining the European Union, I asked him for his views on the economic impact. He said that, on balance, it did not make much difference. We joined in 1973— two years before I was elected to the House of Commons—but it did not make a big difference to our economy until after 1979, when the change in Britain resulted in us going from being the sick man of Europe to being people who were looked on with respect, with many asking, “How did you do it?” The answer was in part by chance and in part by freedom and a cautious approach to a free market economy, led by Margaret Thatcher, who also led the significant debates to stay in the European Union in 1975. That was one of the best speeches she ever made and it can be read via the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.
I was nominated, or vouched for, as a candidate by Sir Robin Turton, a leading anti-marketeer. Margaret Thatcher and I—and, I argue, the country—won the June 1975 by-election after Neil Martin, a leading campaigner against staying in the European Common Market, asked Conservatives to vote for me, even though he and I disagreed, in the same way that Sir Robin Turton and I disagreed when he supported me.
We are often taken down paths we do not expect—the Prime Minister can probably vouch for that himself. I believe that we have to make a success of our present situation, and we have to make sure, as one of my friends kindly said, that we open a new chapter in a vibrant relationship with our continental cousins. We can, some of us, look with affection on the past, with admiration at what has been achieved in this past year, and with confidence to the future.
We ought to stop using this as an argument for Scottish independence. We ought to accept that the Labour party has, in many of its proud traditions, put the national interest before party interest. I say to the Prime Minister, as I said to him in reasonable privacy one day, that we want a leader we can trust and a cause that is just, so will he please lead us in the right direction in future?
Today is the day on which the Prime Minister promised us that he would get Brexit done, in one of the many sermons and catchphrases that have not illuminated but rather obscured this debate. At the weekend we had a good example of that obscurity—the Prime Minister mentioned it today—with the £660 billion deal that enables us to trade with the European Union with zero tariffs and zero quotas. I am sure that many fairly casual observers get the impression that this is some kind of negotiating triumph that we have wrung from the European Union. The fact is, however, that these are privileges and rights that we already had. The £660 billion is what we have salvaged—it is what we have left from what was a much greater package of rights and freedoms. I am not knocking it—it is a good thing—but it is important to recognise that it is not a net gain.
That is not all that is obscure and misleading. The Prime Minister spoke today about fishing rights—I think his phrase was that we would be able to catch whatever we like. If we look at this agreement, we see that that is not the case. He said that there were no non-tariff barriers, as well as the tariff agreements on trade, but that is not true either. The agreement makes it clear that there is much more bureaucracy and many more rules and regulations—the very things that the Prime Minister claimed we would be escaping. Littered throughout the agreement are working parties, specialist committees and the partnership council, to negotiate when there are differences.
Even for the stuff that has been agreed, a great deal of bureaucracy and negotiation surrounds it, and there is much that is left out, including the protection of designated products such as Stilton so that quality can be maintained and we can be assured that our producers have their rights in the market—that is all put on one side. It has already been mentioned in the debate that the huge issue of financial services has been left on one side and will have to be addressed in the future. This weekend, a blogger described the provisions in the treaty as “negotiations without end”.
Today, we have a Hobson’s choice: we are for or we accept this deal, or we have no deal. That is why my vote will be cast to accept the passage of this legislation to the statute book. I do not accept that that means we cannot criticise it in future; I certainly intend to do so.
In these historic days, as we regain our freedom and independence, I pay a profound tribute to our democracy and to the sovereignty of the mother of Parliaments, but above all to the voters in the referendum and the general election last December and, of course, to our Prime Minister, who, against all the odds, led us out of parliamentary paralysis last year to victory, delivering us from 48 years of subjugation to EU laws and European Court jurisdiction and regaining our sovereignty. Our Prime Minister—a great classicist—is, like his hero Pericles, the first citizen of his country and, like him, has saved our democracy. Like Alexander the Great, Boris has cut the Gordian knot. Churchill and Margaret Thatcher would have been deeply proud of his achievements, and so are we.
This Bill on our future relationship with the EU provides for a new exciting era for our trade with Europe and the rest of the world on sovereign terms—not on those of the EU, as with the Chequers deal. We must pay tribute to David Frost, Oliver Lewis and the Attorney General and her advisers for the successful outcome of the negotiations. There remain challenges on fishing and in relation to Northern Ireland; we must use our new and renewed sovereignty to exercise the political muscle that it gives us to resolve those challenges. We can, and I believe we will.
Regaining our right to govern ourselves is a true turning point in our great history. In peacetime, it compares only with the restoration by Monck in 1660, on the absolute condition of parliamentary consent, then followed by the Hanoverian succession after 1689 and the evolution of our modern parliamentary democracy, which has been the bedrock of our freedom and which enabled us, with the leadership of Churchill, to repel the danger of conquest in May 1940.
In April 1990, I was asked by Margaret Thatcher to lunch at No. 10 with members of the Cabinet. Margaret Thatcher asked me what I felt about Europe. I replied, “Prime Minister, your task is more difficult than Churchill’s. He was faced with bombs and aircraft. You are faced with pieces of paper.” Our Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), has achieved what all those years ago I was told was impossible. I refused to believe that. So did the Maastricht rebels and, last year, the 28 Tory Spartans. That opened the way to where we are today. We have now won back our sovereignty, despite those European pieces of paper, and we in this country owe our Prime Minister our deepest congratulations on his achievement.
I am glad that in two days’ time we will be finally leaving the EU. That is something that my party and I personally campaigned for, and it is something that would probably not have happened had it not been for the votes and crucial debates in this House when remainers tried to undermine the result of the referendum.
I have to say that today that euphoria is tinged with sadness, because the deal that the Prime Minister has struck will not apply equally to all parts of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland will not enjoy all the benefits of this deal. Indeed, we will still find ourselves tied to some of the restrictions of EU membership that the rest of the United Kingdom has been freed from. We welcome the limitations that have been placed on the withdrawal agreement and the mitigations that have been made to it, but unfortunately the withdrawal agreement is still an integral part of the Government’s policy and an integral part of this deal. This deal commits the Government to implementing not only this agreement but supplementary agreements, and they have to do it in good faith.
We therefore find that the detrimental impacts of the withdrawal agreement—that Northern Ireland will still be subject to some EU laws made in Brussels; that those laws will be adjudicated by the European Court of Justice; and that there will be barriers to internal trade within the United Kingdom between Northern Ireland and GB, and GB and Northern Ireland—are already being manifested. GB companies are indicating that they will no longer supply to Northern Ireland. VAT on cars will increase in Northern Ireland. From 1 January 2021, second-hand cars in Northern Ireland will be 20% dearer as a result of VAT rules applying, and a whole range of other things.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there seems to be no protection for the single market regulations, in particular for banking and investment firms? There is not even the option for firms in Northern Ireland to apply for authorisation to the equivalent of the Financial Conduct Authority. Does he feel that that is an anomaly that needs to be addressed?
Of course, it is not only in those areas. The Prime Minister talked about the way in which, because there was no longer any need for regulatory conformity, the UK could free itself to develop FinTech, biosciences and agricultural practices. Because Northern Ireland will still remain under some of the EU regulations, we will, in many ways, not be able to benefit from those new and exciting opportunities.
Having said that, Northern Ireland will still be part of the United Kingdom. I know that people have said that this deal will drive a wedge into the Union. A wedge can only be driven into the Union when the people of Northern Ireland decide that they no longer wish to remain part of the UK. When it comes to a choice between joining the Irish Republic—a small nation which will bob about in the future storms of economic chaos—and being anchored to the fifth-largest economy in the world, which will prosper under Brexit, I believe that that choice will be an easy one for the people of Northern Ireland.
What I would say to the Prime Minister, though, is that there will be economic damage as a result of our exclusion from this agreement, but there are opportunities. There is a joint committee, there is a review of the agreement, there is the fact that we now have parliamentary sovereignty, and there is the fact that the Government can act unilaterally to undo economic damage. We will continue to press you and your Government, Prime Minster, to live up to your promises that Northern Ireland will not be disadvantaged as a result of the deals you have done.
Let me finally say that we will not be voting for this deal today, and I think the reasons are obvious. We are excluded from many of its benefits. That does not mean we have any common cause with the petulant remainers in this Parliament who want to undo the referendum; it is because we are disappointed Brexiteers. It is because we are people who believed that the United Kingdom should leave and should leave as a whole, and that is not happening, and for that reason we will not be voting for this deal today.
It is a privilege to be able to speak in this debate and to follow the right hon. Gentleman, whom I consider a friend. I was going to start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but perhaps I should call him my right hon. Friend the Member for Athens, as our hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) described him as a modern Pericles.
The Prime Minister deserves the full plaudits for the delivery of this trade deal. He is entitled, I think, to a moment of satisfaction. Despite what all those doomsayers have said—perpetually during his process through this, they have said there was no chance he would achieve a deal, and therefore we would have to leave with no deal—he has defied that and he has shown us that consistency, determination and optimism are key drivers in any negotiation, and I thank him for that. I also thank the negotiators, Lord Frost and others of his team, who have delivered this in the face of quite a lot of difficulty.
For me, it brings to an end a 29-year period. Back at the time of the Maastricht treaty, I had just entered Parliament, and I was faced with the choice of whether to vote for what I saw as a huge extension of powers from what became the European Union. I made the mistake of entering the Smoking Room, where my hon. Friend the Member for Stone laid his arm upon my shoulder, and my career was ruined thereafter. I chose directly as a result of those blandishments to vote against Maastricht. I do not regret it, but I do say that from that moment onwards I was certain that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union, because it was getting more and more centralised, and it was not what we had joined. I voted to join. I am pleased that we have delivered on this deal, and it is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who has done that.
I say to those who are going to vote against the deal today that they cannot escape reality. To be fair to the Leader of the Opposition, he made it very clear that those who vote against the deal today are voting for no deal. We do not have to have that written on a piece of paper, because that would defy any of the logic that this place is about.
I do not believe that what the right hon. Gentleman says is the case. We are voting on the merit of the agreement, and the reality is that the agreement introduces a whole layer of extra bureaucracy for citizens and businesses in the UK. It is a charter for red tape.
I always love colleagues in this place trying to explain their actions, but it comes down to one simple point: we all know in this House that if we defeat an objective, we are left with what was there before. What is there before in this case is no deal, and I am sorry for the hon. Gentleman if he believes he is just voting against something that he thinks is wrong, because he is voting at the same time therefore for the status quo. The status quo is we leave the day after tomorrow with no deal, and there is no escaping that I am afraid, no matter what some wish for.
I welcome this deal. It is not perfect, and nobody here is going to say we can get a perfect deal, because there are two sides in this discussion, but it is a huge advance on where we might have been. We take back control of our sovereignty. We are a sovereign nation again, and with that power we can set our own direction in international as well as domestic relations. I simply say to those who do not see this: being able to regain that control is a huge step forward. Bringing back the power to this House and this Parliament is what the Prime Minister has achieved. Yes, there are things in this that will need to time to develop—I accept that fishing is one; we have a better deal now, but five years from now we will have the key opportunity to decide how those waters will be run, to our benefit, and I congratulate the Prime Minister on that. Importantly, we also have the power to reset the environmental running of those waters. For far too long, too many large trawlers have literally destroyed many of our fishing areas, and I urge my Government to start the process, literally tomorrow, of making sure we bring environmentalism and control of this back to our area.
No, I cannot give way—I beg the right hon. Gentleman’s pardon.
I wish to conclude by simply saying that Brexit was never about being anti-European. Brexit is about restoring power to the UK. I love Europe—half my family have worked in Europe all their working lives, and I studied out there and love its idiosyncrasies, language differences, arts, culture and people—but I am British and I am a member of the United Kingdom. I want to respect them and be their friend, but for too long we moved into the same house with them and we did not get on. We are now just going to move next door and be good neighbours, friends and allies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on bringing this to a conclusion—he deserves the plaudits he is going to get.
In order to assist Members further down the list in preparing their speeches, I ought to give notice that after the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), who is No. 19 on the list, the time limit will be reduced to three minutes—I see the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) already tearing up part of his speech. I call Hilary Benn.
May I draw attention to the fourth report of the Brexit Select Committee, on the agreement, which was published this morning? The Committee’s wonderful staff worked really hard over Christmas, but we have not had the opportunity, in three days, to produce a fuller report, and I did write to the Leader of the House about giving the Committee a bit more time to complete the task that was given to us just under a year ago.
I will be voting for this Bill to implement the agreement today, because, quite simply, the alternative is no deal. I recognise that others in the House will abstain or vote against, but if we were in the position where every one of their votes were required in order to get this Bill, and therefore this agreement, through, I cannot believe that any of those colleagues would actually choose no deal, with all the damaging economic consequences it would bring, over a deal. That is why, in the end, the Prime Minister realised that he had no alternative but to get an agreement. This is not a vote about whether we support Brexit—I do not, but it has happened. This is a vote about making a bit better of a bad job.
There are aspects of the agreement that will be welcomed: the absence of tariffs, which has been referred to; the agreement on healthcare; the level playing provisions, which seem pretty reasonable to me; and our having access to some of the information that we require for our security. But we must also be honest about what is missing from this agreement and what that will mean. It does not deliver frictionless trade. It will impose checks, costs and red tape on British businesses that export to Europe. Frankly, I was astonished to hear the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the radio the other morning apparently praising red tape as a benefit because it will make British businesses get “match fit” to trade. That is certainly a novel economic theory and it does not reflect the Conservative party as we previously understood it. The agreement offers no certainty yet on data transfer or financial services, which are so important to our economy. We did not get what was sought on conformity assessments, rules of origin, mutual recognition of qualifications, or reduced sanitary and phytosanitary checks. There is, as of this moment, no agreement yet on Gibraltar.
Why has this happened? It has happened because from the start the Government were faced with having to choose between sovereignty, on the one hand, and the economic interests of the country, on the other, and however hard they tried to pretend that they could have the best of both, that was never possible—a trade-off would always have to be made. We see that in the agreement before us, which is long and complex, rather like Brexit itself, and the full implications of both have yet to be revealed.
Today this Bill will pass, and tomorrow the process of leaving the EU will be complete, but the day after we will need to look forward, because a new question will confront us as a nation: what kind of relationship do we now wish to have with our biggest, nearest and most important trading partners and friends? The other reason why I will be voting for this Bill today is that, for all it has failed to secure, it at least provides a foundation on which, in the years ahead, we can build what I hope will be a strong economic and political relationship with our European friends. I hope, as we move beyond leave and remain, we will now be able, as a country, to come together to do exactly that.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). I do not always agree with him, but I recognise the detailed and sterling work he has done on the Brexit Select Committee and am glad that he is voting for the Bill today.
I also welcome the fantastic news on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which along with the Bill gives us a double reason for celebration. I add my congratulations and plaudits to the Prime Minister and all our negotiators on their steadfastness in bringing home this deal.
Make no mistake, it took guts and determination both to leave the EU and, finally, to deliver this result. It may not be perfect. I, too, for example, share the reservations expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) about the position of our services industry, which needs urgent resolution on, for example, what the equivalence rules will look like.
The deal has been hard won and delivers zero tariffs and zero quotas, which brings a huge sigh of relief to many businesses and industries across the country. At the same time, it allows the UK once again to control its destiny through its own elected representatives and its own courts—the independence and control over our affairs that I and many others voted for in the referendum.
This is not a precipitative end to our relationship, but the controlled departure that we were all hoping for. Our participation in programmes such as Horizon Europe and EU Space Surveillance and Tracking indicates our recognition that there are things we can do better together across Europe, but now without having to be subject to a regime that we could not change or, at the very least, even influence.
There will be many other things that we can do better, such as the Turing scheme, which is going to offer 35,000 UK students worldwide opportunities and will replace Erasmus. When we pass this legislation today, we will be in a golden position to create a great future for the United Kingdom—a future that the people of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England will grasp with both hands. The trade deals and continuity agreements that we have already signed with 62 countries are testament to that, and we must make a great deal of fuss about the work that has gone into those signings, which will mean so much for our country in the future.
To those who continue to wage a war of attrition against this reborn independence and look backwards towards membership of the EU, I hope they, too, will now move on and develop the guts and determination of our Prime Minister to back our own Union and contribute positively to its future success. I believe that the UK’s future is bright, working alongside Europe, but finally, after today, not subjugated by it.
It is with great pleasure that I support this Bill.
I understand completely the exasperation of people that, four and a half years after the Brexit referendum, we are still debating this subject, and I understand the desire to move on. I also accept the proposition that a thin deal is better than no deal, but this is not only a thin deal; it is a bad deal. A far better deal could and should have been negotiated by the Government and still could be.
In the nearly 20 years that I have spent in this House—15 of them on the Front Bench—there have been many occasions when I have voted for a proposition with reservations; that is the nature of parliamentary and party politics. But there are occasions when that proposition is too damaging to support. I accept that there is a valid argument at this stage, as laid out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, to move on and for the Opposition to build on this bad deal. I also accept that in politics, many decisions—perhaps most—are not between what is right and what is clearly identifiable as wrong but are on a continuum between what is unpalatable and what is unacceptable. Clearly, no deal is unacceptable. This bad deal is certainly unpalatable and, in places, unacceptable because of the ideological approach taken to negotiations by this awful right-wing shambles of a Tory Government who are determined to set Britain on a path that will damage it culturally and economically.
While I understand the desire to move on, I simply do not understand why it is necessary for those who believe that this is a bad deal to vote for it and dip their fingertips in the indelible ink of this abject failure of national ambition. The deadline we are up against today is an entirely artificial one, sustained only so that the Prime Minister can say that he has met his own political timetable. The truth is that the transition period could have been extended or the deal could have been introduced on a provisional basis to allow the House to thoroughly scrutinise it line by line, rather than follow the “take it or leave it by lunchtime” timetable that the Government have artificially manufactured today.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) was right to talk about the red tape for manufacturing in this deal, checks for farmers, burdensome regulation on businesses and the fact that the consequences of the deal will be economically damaging. In addition, the Government have chosen to end the Erasmus educational programme for young people, there is no proper recognition of professional qualifications and they will remove work permit-free access across the EU for touring musicians, who have already been unable to work for the last year due to covid. In the last few days, that issue alone has triggered a petition to Parliament of more than 200,000 signatures. Less than a year ago, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who was at the time the Minister for Sport, Media and Creative Industries, said in Westminster Hall:
“It is essential that free movement is protected for artists post 2020.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 56WH.]
That is just one example of the failure of the Government to deliver even on their own woefully inadequate promises in relation to this deal. This is a thin deal. It is a failure, even on the Government’s own terms. In short, it is a bad deal, and I will not be voting for it.
Those of us who voted and campaigned to leave the European Union did so for a number of reasons. I was always a constitutional leaver. For me, the test of this Bill is: does it return the sovereignty that we sought? The answer is yes. Why? Because there is no subjugation to EU law or EU jurisprudence, no direct effect and no direct application. Retention of any of those would have been incompatible with a sovereign state. In fact, from our accession to the European Community through various EU treaties, all those elements were incompatible with the concept that those who live under the law should be able to determine those who make the law. That is what we have regained in this process.
The second test for me is: does this allow us to have a genuinely independent trade policy? Let us remember that we were told that it would take more than 10 years to reach a free trade agreement with the European Union and that it would be impossible to roll over all the EU agreements that we had. I stood at the Dispatch Box and listened to the Opposition incessantly telling us that. I congratulate Ministers and officials under Crawford Falconer at the Department for International Trade for all they have achieved, and I especially congratulate David Frost on landing one of the world’s biggest, if not the biggest, trade agreements in 11 months—a world record—which, again, we were told was not possible.
When we voted to leave the European Union, we also voted to leave the single market, although for some of us the single market is also the single anti-market, with many of the restrictions and protectionisms that it encompasses. If we want to access the single market, there has to be a price to be paid. If we want to diverge from the rules of the single market, there has to be a price to be paid. Does this agreement provide effective mechanisms for us to do those things? My answer, again, is yes.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the mechanisms that this treaty has found are every bit as good as the mechanisms in the Canada treaty, for example, and all other treaties that reflect these tensions in free trade agreements?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and not only are they effective mechanisms, but they keep us in line with the best international practice that exists, which of course enables us to move forward with greater predictability. On that point, there are a number of specific elements to welcome. The first is the acceptance of the concept—
I will not, I am afraid.
The first element is the concept of non-regression as a means of ensuring minimum standards. We accept that the maintenance of those high standards has fixed costs in international commerce, which is why we will always need to compete at the high end of the quality market globally in goods and services. As the Prime Minister rightly pointed out, we cannot ever become a bargain basement economy because the fixed costs we have are simply too high and, quite rightly, the British people would not allow us to abandon the standards we have. It means that we will have to move forward with the natural innovation and creativity of the British people expanding our export culture, because the bottom line is that without more exports and without more actual trade, any trade agreement is simply a piece of paper. It is upon the natural innovation of the British people that our prosperity will be built in the future.
The second element, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) alluded, is the fact that the concept in dispute resolution of international arbitration is done without the European Court of Justice, which brings us in line with international trends and practices. That takes us to the third element: the mechanism of determining divergence. If there is no ability to determine to diverge, we are not sovereign. If there were not a price to be paid for divergence, the EU would never have reached the agreement with us. What would have been unacceptable is the concept of dynamic alignment—automatically taking EU rules over which we had no control into our law—but what is acceptable is penalties for divergence, which are clearly set out. They are proportionate, and there is a requirement to show harm, rather than their simply being put into law. The most important element of all in this is that it is we who will weigh up the costs and benefits of any potential disalignment. It is our choice—that is one of the key elements that we have in the future.
Today opens up a new chapter in our politics. It is the choice of maintaining and strengthening an independent United Kingdom; or of the new ranks of the rejoiners, who would have us thrust back into European accession politics all over again, consuming all our political time and energy, which is a future that I believe the British public will reject. There are things that we still have to sort out—the future of Gibraltar is one of the important ones, as is seeing further details on services, including financial services—but this is a historic day in our democracy. We have delivered on the referendum and our election promises. If, for the Opposition, those are not reasons to be cheerful, they are at least reasons of which we should all be proud.
Our country is gripped by two crises: Britain’s hospitals are overwhelmed and Britain’s economy is in the worst recession for 300 years. A responsible Government, faced with those crises for people’s health and jobs, would not pass this bad deal, for it will make British people poorer and British people less safe.
This is not really a trade deal at all; it is a loss of trade deal. It is the first trade deal in history to put up barriers to trade. Is that really the Government’s answer to British businesses fearing for their futures and British workers fearing for their jobs? We were told that leaving the EU would cut red tape, but the deal represents the biggest increase in red tape in British history, with 23 new committees to oversee this new trade bureaucracy, 50,000 new customs officials and 400 million new forms. Some analysts estimate the cost of this new red-tape burden for British business at over £20 billion every year. This is not the frictionless trade that the Prime Minister promised.
I fully agree with the points that the right hon. Member is making. Is he concerned at reports that the lack of equivalence for sanitary and phytosanitary measures means that Welsh farmers will face more red tape exporting to the EU than New Zealand farmers?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman; he is absolutely right. The more businesses see this, the more they will be very disappointed. These reels of red tape will put more jobs at risk at a time when so many are already being lost to covid, and all these new trade barriers will raise prices in the shops at a time when so many families are already struggling to make ends meet. From the failure to agree a good deal for Britain’s services sector—80% of our economy—to the failure to agree a stable deal that investors will trust, this is a lousy deal for Britain’s economic future.
The Conservatives can no longer claim to be the party of business, and with this deal they can no longer claim to be the party of law and order, for our police will no longer have real-time, immediate access to critical European crime-fighting databases such as Schengen II. Such sources of key information about criminals and crimes are used every single day by our police; in one year alone, they are used over 600 million times, often in the heat of an investigation. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s deal, British police will lose that privileged access and criminals will escape.
There are so many things wrong with this deal, from its failings on the environment to the broken promises for our young people on Erasmus, yet the irony is that, for a deal that is supposed to restore parliamentary sovereignty, our Parliament has been given only hours to scrutinise it while the European Parliament has days. And business has just days to adjust to this deal. The Liberal Democrats called on the Prime Minister to negotiate a grace period to help businesses adjust, forgetting, of course, that this Government no longer care about business.
The Government leave us no choice but to vote against this deal today. Perhaps that will not surprise too many people—the Liberal Democrats are, after all, a proud pro-European party who fought hard against Brexit—but we have genuinely looked at this post-Brexit trade deal to assess whether it is a good basis for the future relationship between the UK and the EU, and it is not. To those who argue that a vote against this deal is a vote for no deal, I say this: the Liberal Democrats led the charge against no deal when this Prime Minister was selling the virtues of no deal.
Today, the question is simple: is this a good deal for the British people? It is a deal that costs jobs, increases red tape, hits our service-based economy, undermines our police and damages our young people’s future. It is a bad deal, and the Liberal Democrats will vote against it.
I start by congratulating the Prime Minister and his negotiating team on getting a deal that preserves tariff-free and quota-free trade with the EU worth over £660 billion. I also welcome the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which will help to deliver our health in the future, and all the great work that all our health workers are doing in our communities across the country to fight covid.
I hope that all Opposition Members will join us in voting for the Bill today to support our farmers, our fishermen and our car industry, and to finally deliver on the referendum result. The public have consistently voted to leave the EU over the last four and a half years, including in Tiverton and Honiton, but farmers in my constituency and across the whole United Kingdom will be pleased that we are leaving with a deal. Sheep farmers across the whole United Kingdom who were facing tariffs of almost 50% will breathe a huge sigh of relief this Christmas. Our fishing industry can also be assured that the agreement recognises UK sovereignty over our waters, putting us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and coastal communities, and to process more of our fish in future. We are gaining 25% more fish, worth £146 million for our fleet, over the next five years. And we can go further, with the right to exclude EU boats should we want to. However, the Prime Minister and the Government were right to be reasonable on this issue, because we export about 80% of the fish we catch to the EU, and we need a market for that fish.
We need to co-operate on the agreement so that we are not constantly fighting with the EU and ending up in arbitration. There are incentives on both sides in the deal to keep promises and to be proportionate. Clearly there will be some practical challenges for our businesses over the next few weeks and months. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has heard evidence on technical barriers to trade and on the additional paper and non-tariff barriers that exporters and importers will have to deal with. I want to take this opportunity to urge the Government to be on standby to assist businesses as they adjust to the new processes, whether that is through the Marine Management Organisation, the Food Standards Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Department for Transport. We have seen over the past few weeks the importance of the Dover-Calais crossing for trade, including for getting fresh food on our shelves at this time of year. We need to ensure that our businesses and hauliers are prepared for new rules of origin requirements, as well as for plant and animal health regulations at the border.
Leaving the EU’s customs union and single market will be a big change. We now need to work hard as a country to overcome any challenges and seize the opportunities that being an independent sovereign state can bring. Let us raise our standards on animal welfare. Let us challenge public procurement and eat more food that we produce in this country. Let us lead the world on clean environmental cars and environmental protection. Let us catch more fish and regenerate our coastal communities. Let us roll up our sleeves, export more and attract more investment from all corners of the globe.
Negotiations over Brexit and a deal with the EU have gone on for nearly four years in a process that was initially described as the “easiest in human history”. The decision to leave has led to a significant devaluation of the pound, along with reduced business certainty and investment in the UK. Now that a deal has finally been reached, it is time to move on with our new relationship with the EU. However, this thin final-hour deal was not the deal that I wanted. It was not the deal that we were promised. It was not the deal that my constituents, the vast majority of whom voted to remain, had hoped for. I do not believe that this is a good deal. Indeed, it will never compare to the deal we had before, which allowed for free movement, studying abroad, access to healthcare, and access to the single market and the customs union.
In the previous Parliament, I consistently called for a second referendum and voted to remain in both the single market and customs union. However, the debate has moved on. Things that seemed possible in 2018 and 2019 were no longer a reality after the general election. Today, the choice is stark: this deal—a bad deal and a bad outcome—or no deal, which would be disastrous for the country and my constituents. Given the choice that this country faces, I cannot in good conscience sit on my hands and abstain on the biggest vote I have faced since my election in 2017—in effect, saying that I do not mind either way if we leave with a deal or not. I also do not think it would be credible for the Opposition to sit on the sidelines on an issue of such fundamental importance. Nor can I vote against the deal when the alternative of no deal is a complete disaster.
The responsibility for this bad deal lies squarely with the Conservatives, but it is the deal that Labour will inherit if elected in 2024. It will be our responsibility to build on it and to make it succeed in the future. As a starting point, I call on the Government today to restore the UK’s participation in Erasmus. Opting out will deprive thousands of young people of opportunities, and sever countless potential links between UK nationals and our European neighbours. I lived and worked in Italy under an EU scheme as a teenager, and it fills me with sadness that the same opportunities will no longer be afforded to my children and my constituents. As an MP proud to have a large number of constituents who work in the creative industries, I urge the Government to do everything possible to secure a cultural work permit that provides visa-free travel throughout the 27 EU states so that creative professionals can perform shows and events, along with customs exemptions for their touring equipment.
Finally, the level playing-field commitments on labour and environmental standards are limited. They are not dynamic, and do not require the UK to uphold current levels of protection in all instances. In 2017, I tabled an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill that sought to ensure that sex discrimination protections and maternity rights, along with rights for workers with caring responsibilities would be no worse after Brexit than had Britain remained a member of the EU. This deal is nowhere close to achieving that.
It is clear that this is a bad deal, but it is better than the disaster of no deal. That is why, with great sorrow that we left the European Union last January, I will vote for the Government’s deal.
Following the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), I feel that we are having a debate about the glass being half full or half empty. It is worth reminding ourselves that we will be able to do things such as abolishing the tampon tax, which many hon. Ladies on the Opposition Benches railed against, because we are leaving the EU and getting out of its jurisdiction.
This extraordinary recall of Parliament, the day before new year’s eve, in the midst of a raging pandemic, is a pivotal moment in our history. Since 31 January, we have been in limbo, outside the EU, but subject to its laws and institutions. Tomorrow marks the real departure, when we take back control of our destiny. Denial by some of the importance of sovereignty is based on confusion. Sovereignty is not the same as power. Sovereignty is the ultimate source of authority to exercise power. EU member states have given that ultimate authority to the EU. Demanding its return was a revolutionary act by the majority who voted leave in the referendum, which they then confirmed in the 2019 general election.
That revolution continues. It recalls our Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the nation broke with an attempt to align the then three kingdoms of the British Isles under James II with an existing European hegemon to create a new arrangement with the modern, free-trading Dutch, when Parliament reasserted the right of the people through the Bill of Rights to consent to its system of government. It is that right that was increasingly compromised in the EU, which attaches more importance to integration and central control than to democratic choice.
Some said that the EU would never allow the UK to leave EU control and to prosper. What the EU negotiators called “governance” became the fundamental difference of principle in the EU negotiations. The agreement may be less than many would have liked in many respects—let us remind ourselves that many of those extra barriers and checks have been imposed by the EU through its choice, not because we chose to accept them—but I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who held absolutely firm on governance, insisting that the EU could only have free trade with the UK if it gave up its control over the UK. As the ERG legal advisory committee has confirmed, the agreement treats the EU and the UK as sovereign equals. I have no doubt that the EU will continue to do everything it can to assert what it intends the provisions of the agreement should mean. This is the new challenge. For two generations, our system became institutionalised by the EU, but we now have the reciprocal right to insist on our view of fair interpretation with equal vigour. We must do that, because only then can we seize the great opportunities that exist for our reborn nation.
I have a final word about Scotland. It is striking that although the Government have agreed an institutional framework for relations between Whitehall and Brussels, and even between this Parliament and the European Parliament, no such formal frameworks exist in our own country between the four Parliaments and the four Governments. Those who want to strengthen the Union, and to strengthen trust within our own Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, must address that issue with urgency. I hope, as Chair of the Liaison Committee, to help the Government do precisely that.
Diolch yn fawr, Madam Ddirprwy Lefarydd. This deal is a bad deal for Wales. The Government dragged out negotiations until Christmas, and it is now being rammed through Parliament just to avoid proper scrutiny. Who would have thought that “taking back control” would prove so false, so soon? With the Tories and Labour now committed to working hand in hand to enable the deal, it is a done deal, a stitch up—it will pass. The dominant Westminster parties have worked together to make all other options impossible. Our vote today is therefore reduced to a symbolic rubber-stamping exercise that makes a mockery of sovereignty.
Let us get one thing on record: we are brought here to implement this legislation, not to ratify it, and to rubber-stamp a virtually unseen document that is the Government’s creation. In law, the Tory Executive hold the power to wave this through, but they need the cover and the pretence of democracy. Let us be clear-eyed. The Tories have choreographed this delusion by dither and delay at every stage of negotiation, and they own every spin and twist of this danse macabre. Labour is their willing partner.
There is no question but that this is a bad deal for Wales. In fewer than 48 hours, people and businesses will face significant new barriers to trade, when our economy is already in crisis due to covid-19. Welsh farmers who sell their lamb to the EU will now face complex paperwork and new produce checks. One hundred and forty thousand jobs in Wales’s manufacturing sectors, including automotive and aviation, will be hampered by disruption to complex cross-border just-in-time supply chains.
This deal will also lock out our young people from opportunities granted as a right to other parts of the UK. The Erasmus programme opened doors to education, training and work for many young people in Wales, but those doors are now shut in their faces. Although many people in Wales did indeed vote for Brexit, nobody voted for the immense damage that this Tory deal will cause, or for Wales to lose its voice in shaping our future. As has been the case throughout the negotiations, Wales will likely be excluded from the mechanisms included in this deal that will govern our future relationship with the EU.
This is a Government who scorn checks and balances, disrespect devolution, and centralise power where their political interests lie. This is a betrayal of working people, who were promised greater prosperity and control over their own lives by this Government. What Wales now needs is a new deal—a relationship with Westminster that would enable us to be a good neighbour, rather than a tenant tied into a bad contract. That means control over our economy, our justice system, our welfare arrangements and our natural resources, and a political system where decisions are made with true and direct accountability in the best interests of everyone who lives here—a truly independent Wales. Plaid Cymru will stand up for the interests of the people in Wales, and vote against this bad deal.
At the last two elections, I promised my constituents that I would do all I could to ensure that we left the European Union with a deal, rather than without one, and I shall therefore vote for the Bill today. Even though it does not go as far as I would have liked in some areas, it is none the less a basis on which we can build a constructive relationship for the future. That is in our interests as a nation, and in the interests of our friends and neighbours in the European Union.
There has understandably been much talk of sovereignty and control. I recognise the force of that, but we also have to be frank and honest, and say that sovereignty itself never put any food upon any family’s table nor paid any family’s wages, or mortgage or rent. It is how we use that sovereignty and control that matters, and sometimes that is best done with restraint, and often in collaboration with others. I hope in that spirit that we will build on the arrangements in the Bill, particularly in key areas of our economy such as financial services. I welcome the fact that there is some reference to financial services in the Bill, but there is much more to do there. I hope that as a matter of urgency the Government will do more work on data adequacy arrangements, ensuring that we swiftly obtain equivalence arrangements for that sector and also deal with the growing financial technology sector, in which we are world leaders. There is work to do, but this is something on which we can build, and I know that for that reason the City corporation and the financial services sector welcome the Bill.
I also welcome the legal services chapter, but again there is more that we can do to extend the definition of mutual recognition of professional qualifications beyond lawyers, as it currently stands, as very often accountants and others work in multidisciplinary teams now.
I am pleased with the work done on justice and security co-operation, although I hope that we will be able to find a better means to deal with access to SIS II, because we have had compelling evidence on the Justice Committee of the importance of that. Again, that is something that we can build upon. I hope also that there will be a spirit of co-operation in which we can deal with other matters of critical importance that are not directly covered by the Bill, such as agreeing early accession to the Lugano convention on civil justice co-operation and enforcement of judgments. There is no reason now why that should not be pursued with the utmost speed, so that we can ratify as soon as possible.
Finally, there is the matter of an obligation that we have to the people of Gibraltar. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar. We gave a clear undertaking to the people of Gibraltar—who, although they voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe, are equally determined to remain part of the British family—that we would not leave them behind and would not leave the European Union without securing a deal for them, too. I hope that when he responds to the debate, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will confirm our Government and our nation’s continuing commitment to use every endeavour in the coming days to get a deal for the people of Gibraltar that protects their interests and respects their British sovereignty. We gave our word. Our future reputation in a global world will depend on our ability to keep our word; here is a swift and immediate instance where we can be seen to do so. That is a matter of political and moral obligation.
Against that basis, there are constructive things that we can do—set aside, perhaps, divisions of the past and work together collaboratively as a nation with our friends and neighbours, and those who we have given our word to support and assist. I will support the Bill today.
Despite the Government doing their best to limit parliamentary scrutiny, we now see how the promises of the 2016 leave campaign, led by the Prime Minister, compare with reality.
Despite all the promises to the fishing industry, the vast increase in quota has not been delivered. Even after six years, half of the 87 fish stocks listed in the deal produce no gain or less than a 1% shift of allowable catch from EU to UK fishermen. Only 13 stocks will produce more than a 5% shift. Indeed, the removal of the ability of EU and UK fishermen to swap quota means that landings of many species, such as cod and haddock, will actually be less than now. The Prime Minister’s claim of no non-tariff barriers is patently laughable. The costs of customs bureaucracy and seafood devaluing in lorry queues means that many fishermen will be worse off after Brexit. In exchange for this poor deal, we will pay a high price as individuals: the loss of EU citizenship; the loss of the right to study, work, love and live anywhere in 31 other countries—a right that we have all enjoyed but that we are taking away from the next generation; the loss of recognition for professional qualifications; and over 4 million EU and UK citizens, such as my husband, having to apply for the right to remain in their homes.
In this year of all years, we have cause to be grateful to those immigrants who have been working in our health and care services or as key workers, keeping us safe, maintaining food and energy supplies, and keeping our public services working. We value those who choose to make Scotland their home, whether they come from Europe or further afield, and who contribute their knowledge, skills and energy to our public services, our communities and, in my case, our families. The people of Scotland are outward looking and reject the isolationism and small-minded pettiness that have led the Government even to remove the opportunities of Erasmus+ for young people. So much for the 2014 promises of “Vote no to stay in the EU” and “Scotland is an equal partner in a family of nations”.
Scots have the democratic right to choose their own path and to take their future into their own hands. I believe they will choose for Scotland to become a modern, independent European country in its own right.
After sharing many conversations with friends around the House and on various Benches, I am sorry to say that I disagree with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) and many on the Opposition Benches. I am going to vote, alongside Members of the Dáil and Parliaments around Europe, to back this treaty. I am going to recognise that the European Union has made an offer and we have accepted it, and that we have made one and they have accepted it, and I am going to respect that. That is why I am going to vote with the Government today.
After the last four years, nobody can claim that breaking up is easy, so I am delighted that I was here to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) speak, because what he said, he said with his usual candour. He respects our interdependence, and he respects that that interdependence comes at a cost when we assert independence from it. I respect that; he is right. He also made it clear that sovereignty is deeper than deals: it is in the Government’s robustness and preparedness and in their willingness to defend our interests with vigour. Great Britain, as he rightly said, has guarded its sovereignty in this agreement.
After years of acrimony and anger, it is time to end the constitutional Kama Sutra that has left us all bruised, exhausted and distracted from our families, our friends and our communities. It is time to move on.
In constituencies such as mine there was great division around Brexit and the referendum. Does my hon. Friend agree that when the Division bell rings today and the deal goes through, it is time to heal those divisions and to move forward together as one Union?
I absolutely agree. We have been in the EU for only 47 years—that is the lifespan of a Hohenzollern empire. We are leaving the EU, just as Germany left that empire, and we will find a new way of working together. This deal is but the first step on that journey; it is just the concordat that bridges the channel and looks to future co-operation.
Many areas are overlooked; many people have mentioned them, and I know will build into them. Building on the rule of law, our close partnership with like-minded democracies, our new alliances with European countries and other countries around the world, and our global ambition—in many ways that was the building block for the Union of our four nations, which still lives in the hearts of our people today—we can see our people prosper in security and peace for years to come. Indeed, we have achieved that as an island nation for longer than almost any other nation.
The history of that stability is one reason why the Foreign Affairs Committee has heard from people such as the King of Jordan and the former President of Liberia, Nobel peace prize winners, former Foreign Ministers, business leaders and diplomats that British leadership has been missed for too long. They recognise that what we offer is worth having. We need now to invest in our foreign services and co-ordinate our Departments to deliver abroad, and we need to do more than roll over trade deals.
Wars are not won by defence but, as NATO doctrine puts it, by offensive action. We need to be bold if we are to chart a different future and we need to build on the Prime Minister’s coming visit to India and the wider alliance that is coming together in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. We would be welcomed hugely, and I have been told clearly by many, particularly by the Pacific democracies. We have a chance to renew international co-operation and commit ourselves to the environmental revolution that is so essential as we chair the G7 and COP26. This Government have the chance to set the agenda that the world needs to protect democracy at a time of autocracy and to defend the rule of law. We can make Glasgow the next milestone after Paris in the path to a greener world. Britain will succeed if we remember our friends in Europe, the Commonwealth and the world, if we renew our alliances and build new partnerships, and if we develop new, greener markets and industries, innovate and invest in ourselves. This is a new beginning and we alone are responsible for seizing it.
Today, we are faced with a choice between this flawed deal or no deal. I do not welcome this deal, and there is plenty in it that I do not like, but I accept it. I accept that it is better than no deal. It is the least worst option on offer today. It is the least worst option for business. It is the least worst option for supply chains, for the economy and for jobs. Speaking to local businesses in Lancaster and Fleetwood, they tell me that they are relieved that this deal will provide some certainty, finally, after four-and-a-half years of uncertainty. Although everything in it might not be what they want, at least they have something to work with other than those Government adverts that say, “Get ready for Brexit.”
Let us face it: this deal falls far short of what the Government promised. I want to reserve most of my remarks today to fishing. Vote leave, led by the Prime Minister, promised to secure “an even better deal” than the one that was tariff-free for fishers and that offered full control over access and quota as well as frictionless trade of course. That is important because we export 80% of what we catch, mostly into the EU, and import 70% of what we eat. The industry has called for free unimpeded trade on fish and fisheries products to ensure that supply chain continuity. As we leave the common fisheries policy, it is clear that the Government’s demands in negotiations have been severely watered down in the final agreement that we see today. When it comes to over-promising and under-delivering, this Prime Minister certainly has form. The reality is that the communities, such as my own in Fleetwood, who voted to leave the EU on bold promises about the regeneration of fishing will be left very disappointed.
I want to make a few remarks about the £100 million promise that has come from the Government in recent days and I say this: it had better be more real than the promise of £350 million a week for the NHS that was plastered on the side of a bus. That £100 million will not be enough to truly transform coastal communities up and down these islands who desperately need that investment, and that is the reason why many of them chose to vote to leave the European Union.
I will vote for this Bill today, because the old divisions between leave and remain are over and the two options before us today are leaving with a flawed deal or leaving with no deal tomorrow. I shall cast my vote in the national interest. I do so not because I think that this is a good deal—and I reserve the right to criticise it, which I certainly will be doing in this House—but because I want to put the national interest first, unlike those who play politics by voting down this Bill today.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to participate in this historic debate today. Thanks to this agreement, we will finally be leaving the European Union forever on new year’s eve, so perhaps Big Ben will bong for Brexit after all. Nigel Farage memorably said last week that “the war is over”. Well, sometimes, as you will well remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, it has felt like a war in this place. Perhaps we should now take on board the advice of the Prophet Isaiah who said:
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
In that case, I and my spartan friends should now lower our spears too, but perhaps keep them to hand just in case one day, someone—perhaps the Leader of the Opposition—should try and take us back in.
My colleagues in the European Research Group have fought long and hard for this day and we have sometimes been lampooned or even vilified by the remain-dominated electronic media for our trouble, when all we have ever wanted is one thing: to live in a free country that elects its own Government and makes its own laws here in Parliament, and then lives under them in peace. Now, thanks to the Prime Minister, who kept his word to the country and got Brexit done, who did exactly what it said on the tin, as our star chamber has verified, we can do that. What I call the battle for Brexit is now over. We won, but I suspect the battle for the Union is now about to begin.
We are about to write a new chapter in what Sir Winston Churchill called our “island story”, but now, after a truly epic struggle, we will do it as a free people. Despite all the brickbats we have endured for years—I think particularly of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash)—it was always worth the fight. Mel Gibson once made a very entertaining film but this is cry freedom for real, and now, finally, it is true.
At the outset, I thank the Irish Government and Michel Barnier for standing up for the Good Friday agreement and the people of Northern Ireland when others refused to do it. The majority of people in Northern Ireland, of course, voted to reject leaving the European Union and they still reject it today. This Boris Johnson deal does not address the core problem with Brexit for us. We have chosen a different path from the one driven by English nationalism. While we welcome the fact that a no-deal outcome has been avoided, we have absolutely no intention of giving our consent or endorsement to an outcome that will make people poorer. This is the first example of a trade deal in modern history that actually puts up barriers to trade. The protocol protects us from a hard border in Ireland—yes it does—but this deal still will damage our economy, our society and our public services in a range of areas. Whether it is on services, roaming or policing and justice, this deal puts us in a far worse place than we are in right now, and I, for one, refuse to apologise for voting against it. Our position has remained consistent throughout.
My firm view now is that the United Kingdom is coming to an end. I say this in the full understanding that many in my community will see the break-up of the Union as a tragedy, and I fully respect that position. Just because I believe that the Union is ending does not mean I say it in a tone of thoughtless triumphalism. It instead places a solemn responsibility on us to manage the relationships across these islands. Our scarred history places a moral duty upon us. We need to conduct the coming conversation with patience, care and compassion. The prize is to build a shared homeplace for all our people, but a new Ireland will not be built upon the rubble of our past, and I want to appeal to some of my fellow nationalists: there is no future in glorifying the ugliness of our past. Stop pretending that murdering unarmed farmers up country lanes was somehow heroic. There is no future worth having to be built upon that narrative.
To my Unionist neighbours, I want to say this: look at where the DUP has led you and look at where London has left you. It is my firm conviction that we can build a new society together—one built on mutual respect, which recognises and celebrates all our rich traditions. We in the SDLP will remain true to that proud heritage. We will be patient and generous, but we will also be honest about our view of the unfolding constitutional realities. Young people everywhere rejected Brexit. Thankfully, in Northern Ireland, young people will have a choice again. They will be able to choose a European future again. They will be able to choose an open, liberal and modern future, which is a prize worth fighting for. As John Hume said—
In normal times, this House would have been packed to the rafters with people listening to the Prime Minister’s speech, because this is a new beginning for our country. There is no doubt about that. There is no doubt that, in two days, our freedom and our sovereignty will be much greater than they were as a result of the treaty.
In terms, the treaty is better—much better—than would have been achieved under the previous strategy. The Prime Minister and Lord David Frost have done a fantastic job on delivering it. They delivered it by standing up to the European Union and calling its bluff successfully, time and time again. They have delivered an outcome that we can make the most of.
I was in this place when the right hon. Gentleman was at the Dispatch Box and he promised the House that we would have the “exact same benefits” from Brexit. When he was challenged to put that in law, he said that we did not need to put it in law, because he had given his word. How does he reflect on that period and the failure to deliver the exact same benefits he promised?
That is the point. First, it was a negotiating aim, as the hon. Gentleman’s leader said at the time, but secondly, that is why I resigned. The strategy that we were pursuing then did not, and would not, deliver that. The only honourable thing I could do was to stand down.
This treaty is a new beginning, which is not to say that it is perfect—I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. On Northern Ireland, we have issues to deal with. On fishing, we have issues to deal with, which I will come back to. On Gibraltar, we have issues to deal with. It is not over. All will lead to uncomfortable decisions in the near future.
Freedom is only as good as what we do with it; it is only as good as how we exploit it. One day, frankly, is not enough for us to deal with a 1,200 page treaty in that respect. Some may say, “Well, surely it’s a day to celebrate—to vote yes and move on,” but not at all, because the European Union will, of course, use the treaty to its own advantage. We can look at the past and see how it has done that.
For example, Switzerland struck a whole load of trade treaties, primarily in the ’90s, but subsequently as well, with the European Union. About four or five years ago, the Swiss people voted to restrict their migration and cut back on the free movement of people. The European Union bullied the Swiss Government into giving in by saying, “We will withdraw all the free trade arrangements we currently have.” That is important, because we have not been through the whole 1,200 pages here to make sure that we do not have any such issues in there. We do have one in the fishing arrangements. In five years’ time, the EU can trigger an end to the trade and transport elements. That is not impossible—we can deal with it—but we will have to devise a strategy for that.
My point to the House is that we have to come back to this treaty and look at it in detail—all 1,200 pages—to devise a strategy, so we do not get into conflicts with the European Union, fall into traps or get into acrimonious disputes with the member states. They are our neighbours and friends, and we have to devise a strategy that will keep them as neighbours and friends and maximise our joint benefits. If the House does that, we will have a bright future. To come back to the point of the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), we will have better than the exact same benefits, because we will have bigger opportunities in the rest of the world, as the Department for International Trade has already demonstrated, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. On that basis, I will vote for this treaty.
I very much hope that if hon. Members who are down to speak intervene on others, they will shorten their own speeches accordingly. If people want to take interventions, it is probably a good idea to run a little short, as the right hon. Gentleman just did.
In my brief contribution, I wish to say that I feel very strongly about Europe. We are leaving the European Union; we are not leaving Europe.
I am a war baby. I was born in London on the worst day of the blitz for London. After the war—that terrible period in European history—the move to start a Europe with the watchword to “make war unthinkable” was inspirational. It was to be a Europe that was wealthy, powerful and a great influence on the democracies of the world. We still need that spirit.
I sit on the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, so I have been privileged to hear a great deal of evidence. Although I am sure this is not the best deal we could possibly have had, it is a much better deal than I expected, so I will support it in the Division Lobbies tonight. This is the time for the renewal of the European spirit. We are still in Europe. This agreement is a building block. We can build on it, and we must build on it if we are to make this world a safer and more secure place, if we are to stand up to the global threats from China and Russia, and if we are to stand up to the threats of covid, global warming and climate change. Europe must work together.
Given all the evidence, we ought to thank Michel Barnier, who has been tough but is a true European, and Ursula von der Leyen, who is an inspired leader. We should also recognise the support behind them from Angela Merkel and President Macron. It was, in part, inspired leadership across Europe that gave us this deal; it was not just the true Brits fighting for a good deal. It was a good piece of statesmanship and I applaud it.
I was really pleased that the Prime Minister secured this deal. It will mean so much to so many, and I support it.
I was, however, disappointed that the deal was linked to our fishing waters. To say that fishermen are disappointed is an understatement, and I share their disappointment. I do understand that the EU originally demanded access to our six to 12-mile limit for 40 years and that the negotiators managed to reduce it to five and a half years. In order to give the industry certainty, I hope that we will see July 2026 as an end date enshrined in legislation and that the Government will compensate for this to happen.
I ask that we take advantage of our new-found freedom from the European Court of Justice to restore the principles enshrined in Margaret Thatcher’s Merchant Shipping Act 1988. We must make sure that all UK quota is available for UK-owned boats. The disastrous Factortame ruling must be reversed.
I ask that licences issued to foreign-owned vessels fishing in our six to 12-mile limit are stringently enforced. The right of arrest given to the Royal Navy police must be extended beyond the six-month period, with any breach of our rules resulting in the impounding of the vessel and gear. Canada showed the way with the arrests on the Estai in 1995.
Minimum landing requirements in UK ports should be introduced, with the limits set after consultation with industry representatives, in order to ensure no obstruction for UK vessels that land in ports in other countries.
We must take advantage of the five and a half year window to rebuild our fishing infrastructure, including new vessels, using the generous £100 million from the Treasury. I hope that the Chancellor will look to provide a little more, but I do understand the economic times we are in. Any grant aid must be distributed throughout the whole United Kingdom and benefit fishing vessel owners, as well as port infrastructure and processes.
We must prepare ourselves for 2026. With the UK an independent coastal state, the Minister can take decisions to free us from a fisheries management regime that has been hampered by the constraints of the CFP. We can honour our obligations under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea, but be flexible to ensure all UK fishermen can benefit from this partial freedom and take the necessary steps to ready ourselves when we—as we must—really take back complete control of our waters in 2026. I will support this deal this evening.
In over 30 years in this House, this is the most important and consequential piece of legislation on British-EU relations that I have taken part in. Let me say at the beginning that I will not be voting for this Tory Brexit deal today, but that is not because I do not respect the result of the 2016 referendum.
I think I have rather good Eurosceptic credentials. I voted against the Maastricht treaty in 1992, and I have voted against most other pieces of further EU unification that have come in front of this House. However, I voted against the Maastricht treaty not because I was opposed to freedom of movement or because I had fears and concerns about EU migrants or because I had the notion that migrants drove down wages; I voted against the Maastricht treaty and other aspects of EU integration because of a concern about fundamental issues of democracy and accountability. By driving this historic deal through Parliament in one day, with no time for proper scrutiny, this Government are trashing democracy.
This deal falls short in many policy areas, but I want to talk about security. The Government claimed that they were going to get
“a security partnership of unprecedented breadth and depth”.
On the contrary, our access to Europol and to Eurojust has been compromised, and we will no longer have access to the European arrest warrant and to EU databases that allow for realtime data sharing, such as the Schengen Information System, and are valuable to our police and the National Crime Agency. The database was consulted over 600 million times by UK police forces in 2019.
In closing, I have the greatest respect for the result of the 2016 referendum, but this shoddy deal falls shorts. It fails the British people and fails my constituents, and I have to meet my responsibilities as a Member of the British Parliament and vote against it today.
There are huge complexities in this deal, but there is a simple choice before us today: this deal or no deal. As someone who campaigned hard for remain in 2016, I have held two views very strongly since then: not only would it be wrong to try to overturn the result, as many of my hon. Friends believed, but leaving with no deal would be a terrible option for this country. Today, therefore, I will vote enthusiastically for this deal.
I congratulate the negotiating teams on both sides for showing, at the final stretch, the kind of practical pragmatism which, ironically, has always been held up as a positive British contribution to EU proceedings. I am also very grateful that the British negotiators went to the trouble of making some time to share and discuss matters with the One Nation Conservatives caucus in recent weeks.
There is no time today to go into the details. Although today is a triumph for the Government and for the Prime Minister, it is not a triumph for Parliament because this degree of scrutiny is clearly pretty laughable. However, it is worth registering two specific points, both of which are things that need to be built on. The first are the security arrangements. It is hugely regrettable that the UK has had to leave the SIS II regime for exchanging information about criminals. I hope that we can negotiate some equivalent in the future. The second is obviously the need to improve matters for the financial services industry. The arguments have been well rehearsed already. I hope that the necessary rules can be agreed in the coming months to allow the industry to flourish, not just in the City of London but around the UK. That strong likelihood of further talks in the committee structure that the deal sets up is one of the reasons why the deal is worth supporting enthusiastically. With no deal, there would have been no chance of such sectoral deals. There would have been bad blood instead of what I hope will become the habit of close co-operation. I hope that fervently because in recent days my constituents have seen the effects of blockages and delays at the ports, and if this goes on too long they and I will be very unhappy.
What is needed now is a spirit of generosity both in our internal debates—too much of the Brexit debate has been full of bile, hatred and personal attacks—and, even more important, in our attitude to countries that are our neighbours, our allies in democracy and our friends. We can make today the start of a new relationship of good neighbours rather than surly housemates, so let us take the opportunity, support the deal and move on.
I am glad that the Government and the EU have agreed a deal. As the transition ends tomorrow night, our country should start the process of building new relationships and a future outside the EU, based on an agreement and a plan, not on the acrimony or chaos that no deal would have heralded. This is not the deal that the Prime Minister promised everyone—on services, which are left out; on red tape, which will increase; and on security co-operation, which will go down. He should level with people about those problems, not make impossible promises.
There are further urgent things we need the Government to do now to support jobs and security, but we need an agreement as a starting point. We left the EU in January; the transition ends tomorrow. Everyone needs to get on with things and no one deserves the chaos of no deal. Britain’s counter-terror chief told us that that would make us less safe, and employers in my constituency such as Tereos, Burberry, Haribo and Teva would be badly hit under no deal by tariffs and delays.
So it is in the national interest and in our local interest for this Brexit agreement to pass through Parliament now, and I shall vote for it today, but we need urgent action to improve the deal for this country. I am glad that it includes continued security co-operation on criminal records—DNA, Europol and extradition—although arrangements will be more bureaucratic, but there is a huge gap for us. Tomorrow night the police and Border Force will have to remove access to the details of 38,000 wanted suspects and criminals from the EU on the SIS II criminal database, which they check hundreds of millions of times a year. The replacement Interpol information system database is much slower and weaker. That makes our security response weaker too. There is not a proper trade deal on services, and there will be a massive increase in red tape for businesses—11 million customs forms that have to be filled in. Those costs will hit jobs and investment.
So we need to look forward to the things that the Government need to do now, once the Brexit agreement is in place, to support security and jobs—resources for the police to operate the new arrangements; look again at SIS II and work to improve Interpol; a new trade plan for services to reduce customs red tape; a proper industrial policy to support communities; and higher, not lower, environmental and labour standards.
We also need urgent action to heal the divides. The ultimate test of the Prime Minister’s deal and future plan is what he uses it for—whether to strengthen the United Kingdom or to divide and destroy it; whether he pushes Scotland away and deepens the divide between north and south. So far in the north this year we have not seen any of the levelling up that the Government promised. We have seen power and control centralised. Our communities still want a fair deal. That is what we should unite around now.
It is a matter of public record that I have had my points of difference with this Government and this Prime Minister since the Brexit referendum, but unlike many, I never questioned that we had a clear result from a free and fair referendum and I always hated the rather unkind view that people who voted leave were somehow hoodwinked or too daft to know what they were doing.
There were just two red lines on which I and my constituents insisted. One was the transition period—a key ask of business, if we remember—and the other was that we leave with a deal in place between the UK and its closest neighbours, our largest trading partner, which does not seem like a radical thought to me. As I said to the Prime Minister on Christmas Eve, I pay huge tribute to him for his statecraft and for sticking to the word that he gave me both publicly and privately that he wanted a deal with the EU and would do everything in his power to secure one.
I will support the deal today, and not just because it avoids the no deal many feared and that so many of our opponents spent an election campaign just 12 months ago warning would herald some form of national apocalypse. How ironic that they will vote today for the hardest Brexit of all—I listened with interest to the Leader of the Liberal Democrats confirming that. I will support the deal because it is a good deal for Britain. It does what we promised at the election last year. The Prime Minister said that he would get Brexit done, and last year’s European Union withdrawal agreement was passed within days of his securing a majority in this place to allow that. That was the oven-ready deal, and we should not allow others to rewrite history.
The future relationship in the Bill before us today did not go anywhere near the oven until the eleventh hour, but it has come out very nicely and I welcome it. Ultimately, however, it is just the framework—wide enough to do all the things the Prime Minister set out this morning, giving businesses, citizens and law enforcement what they need, notwithstanding the SIS II concerns, which I share, but nimble enough to let this country forge its own way in the world. For me, the success or otherwise of this new chapter, as many have said, is not in the 1,200 pages and various appendices before us today. That is all still to be written.
Given the time, let me touch on just one area, that of services—financial services in particular. I understand that there is a lot of noise about what is not included, but that rather misses the point. To summarise, the title, under services and investment, seems to have extracted an agreement not to put unreasonable or unnecessary impediments in the way of UK financial service businesses seeking to operate in the EU. That is welcome. May I ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, through the Ministers who are now on the Front Bench, what this means in practice given that the agreement does not protect UK passporting rights, as many have said today? What work needs to take place now so that financial service firms can be clear?
On passporting, I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that the ball is in the EU’s court to get this done, not least because if the deals we are working on with our friends in the US, Australia and New Zealand work out as we intend them to, we will be in a much stronger position than we are now.
I agree with my hon. Friend, who has experience of working in the sector. The deal is in many ways a basis on which we can build. There is always a way to structure services, as he well knows, and of course many businesses put measures in place long ago, through EU brokers, for instance. I want those on the Front Bench to answer that point when they respond to the debate today.
Although we have left the political structures of the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically and strategically attached to Europe, not least through the 4 million EU nationals who are our friends and neighbours and who include many of my constituents. We have a new future to look forward to. It will not be the same, and we should not pretend that it will—we should never have pretended that it would—and that is okay. It is time to come together and to move on.
I was walking down New Church Road in my constituency yesterday when I was stopped by a man who was out for walk with his young daughter. He explained to me that he was a real remainer. He had voted and campaigned for remain, and supported remain all the way through, and he had supported the idea that I co-championed with Phil Wilson for a confirmatory referendum. He had really felt in his heart that he wanted our country to remain, yet he told me that when the Prime Minister came back with a deal on Christmas eve, he rushed to the fridge with his wife and opened a bottle of champagne that he was saving for the next day. He did so because he knew the impact no deal would have on his business. It was hard to hear somebody say that they were celebrating this deal, but I understand why and it really impacts on the way that I am voting today.
The man I met is lucky because his business, which exports products into EU countries and other European countries, is in the 20% of the economy covered by this deal. He is now preparing himself for the additional paperwork and bureaucracy, and having to take on extra staff to do it, but he is covered by some of the deal. But 80% of the economy is not. A person in the financial services sector working in Chester, Manchester or Edinburgh is left behind. Someone with a professional qualification who seeks to use it in another country is left behind. People in the creative or performing arts sector are left behind. A young person in education who is looking to explore their full potential across Europe and beyond is left behind.
None the less, I am in no doubt that supporting any deal is better than the chaos of no deal. Nor am I in any doubt that if we inflicted defeat on the Government today, they would not extend or renegotiate. This is a Government who would drive us out with no deal tomorrow. That is a price that we cannot afford. I did not go into politics and become a member of Parliament to be a politician who votes one way and secretly hopes for another outcome. I am not a member of a party that wants to let other parties do the heavy lifting. That is why I will step up and take responsibility for what is in the best interests of our country, support the deal and fight for it to be a starting point, not the end.
This is a deal that many felt could not be done, but it is a deal that the Prime Minister and the negotiators on both sides have secured that ensures that there are zero tariffs and zero quotas. It is a deal that has been welcomed by the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Farmers Union of Scotland, the Scottish Salmon Producers Association, the CBI and many, many more. But while some thought it could not be done, it now seems clear that some hoped it could not be done, because despite spending months suggesting the dire consequences of a no-deal Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP will vote for precisely that today.
That same politician, Nicola Sturgeon, said just a couple weeks ago:
“A deal, any deal, is better than a No Deal.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), said in the House of Commons:
“No deal will result in unprecedented harm”.—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 337.]
He even tabled an amendment last year pledging
“not to leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and future framework under any circumstances”.
Yet by their votes tonight, SNP Members are voting for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in just over 24 hours’ time with no deal at all. That is dangerous and reckless, and clear for everyone to see.
On fishing, I agree with the Prime Minister. I would have preferred by far a shorter adaptation period, but over the next five and a half years, we will see a 25% transfer of quota from the European Union to UK fishermen—15% in the first year. We will see £100 million invested in the sector by the UK Government, and great opportunities for fishermen and communities up and down the country in the years ahead.
Earlier, a remark was made about something I may be drinking, as a result of comments I made previously. What I was speaking about then was staying in the common fisheries policy—the policy the United Kingdom will be coming out of from 1 January. So the only thing I will be drinking on Hogmanay this year is a glass of fine Scotch whisky from one of my many Moray distilleries that has its geographical indicator secured by this deal and recognised by the European Union in the future, toasting the fact that we are coming out of the CFP. The only betrayal of our fishermen that we can see in the future is by the Scottish National party, which would take us straight back into the CFP.
As we leave 2020 behind, with a deal and renewed hope in our fight against covid-19 as a result of this morning’s great news about the second vaccine being made available for use in the United Kingdom, here in Scotland we have to get the focus back on supporting jobs, individuals, families and communities, which for the past 13 years have been so badly let down by the SNP Scottish Government. That is where our focus has to be in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Members of this House have been recalled to vote on legislation of which we were given no sight until yesterday, to implement a trade deal that we have barely seen and had no input into whatsoever. Let us be clear about what is being asked of the House today: to issue a blank cheque to the Government to implement a deal that is devoid of democratic oversight.
Let us also put to bed the idea that today’s vote is about deal versus no deal—that false framing is used to hold the House to ransom. Members are today tasked with the democratic oversight of how a done deal, which we cannot amend, will be implemented. Does the restoration of sovereignty not extend to democratic oversight by elected Members of this House, or is sovereignty to be restored only to the Executive? It is a great irony that Members are allowed less democratic oversight of the deal’s implementation than our friends in the European Parliament, who have until the end of February to scrutinise and ratify the deal.
Change was what the public were promised: more control over lawmaking, more power for people in this country, and less done by bureaucrats behind closed doors. How are those promises fulfilled through less scrutiny, less accountability and less democracy? Where in the Bill is a clause restoring sovereignty to where it should rightfully be—with the people of this country? Change was demanded and more control was promised, yet what we are presented with today is, ironically, more of the same: unaccountability; power concentrated in the hands of a few; and an over-centralised Government evading scrutiny to act in favour of vested interests and to impose decisions from the top down.
With mere hours to debate the Bill, Members are being asked to act as a rubber stamp, and to forgo our obligation and responsibility for democratic oversight. For example, many of the regulatory bodies and mechanisms used to settle disputes between the EU and the UK will be set up without any further scrutiny or oversight by Parliament. Brexit has shone a light on the deep democratic deficits in our arcane political system. Making good on this change demanded a new and codified constitution to give over sovereignty from this place to where it should rightfully lie—with the people of this country. We now urgently need to forge a modern democratic settlement to protect the hard-won rights and freedoms that are at risk of being run over roughshod by this Executive, who we know are champing at the bit to capitulate to the deregulatory demands of turbo-charged capitalism.
I cannot in good conscience support a process that runs roughshod over checks and balances. I will not vote for more centralisation of power or comply with the erosion of an already weak democracy. I will play no part in giving this Government a blank cheque to bulldoze through democratic oversight. I will not be voting in support of this legislation.
This is a day that has been so long in the coming: from the inspiration of Margaret Thatcher’s speech at Bruges; from when I was elected national chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students, but vetoed by the current Lord Speaker, who was the then chair of the Conservative party, because I was leading the student opposition to the Maastricht treaty; and from being a young research assistant, when an undergraduate at Southampton University, crafting amendments to the Maastricht treaty for my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). Why were we doing that—why were we opposing that treaty? It was because we could see the destination: a flag, an anthem, a currency, a Parliament and citizenship. We passionately believed that we did not need to be citizens of a trading organisation. That is why leave won the referendum: because the European Union, given the journey it is now on, is not right for the character of Britain.
We would not have won that referendum were it not for the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—and, by the way, the intellectual heft of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. When the Prime Minister resigned as Foreign Secretary—he spoke from somewhere around here on these Benches in his resignation statement—he said:
“It is not too late to save Brexit…We need to take one decision now before all others, and that is to believe in this country and in what it can do”.—[Official Report, 18 July 2018; Vol. 645, c. 450.]
I remember those words being met with deep scepticism—and that was from the generous ones—as well as outright hostility. Some of us believed then that we needed to make my right hon. Friend Prime Minister. The chances at that time seemed vanishingly small. He himself said that he had about as much chance of becoming Prime Minister as being “reincarnated as an olive”, “decapitated by a frisbee” or “blinded by a champagne cork”. There were moments when we thought the hat-trick of all three was more likely than him becoming Prime Minister, and he believed that himself. Today is, above all, a personal triumph for the Prime Minister.
The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke absolutely believe in this Prime Minister, hence why I am fortunate to be in my place on these Conservative Benches. Does my hon. Friend agree that this deal delivers on not only Vote Leave’s pledges, but the pledges made in 2019 Conservative manifesto?
I absolutely agree. Knowing the Prime Minister as I do, I can say that he will not let down my hon. Friend’s constituents. My hon. Friend will be rightly rewarded at the next general election for how the Prime Minister will deliver for him and his constituents.
I think that doing so would test the patience of the Chair, but perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) would welcome an intervention when she speaks.
We are now talking about the future relationship, and today marks the day when the British dog finally leaves the federalist manger. Our European friends can now pursue their ambitions unencumbered by reluctant Brits. We are no longer a reluctant and truculent member, but a sovereign equal and close friend.
We would be deluding ourselves if we believed that leaving the European Union was, in and of itself, a panacea or solution to the challenges that the United Kingdom faces. The new freedom that we take up as an independent sovereign country will be daunting. It will test our institutions, which are not used to having to make decisions for themselves. It will take time to adjust. As a Trade Minister, when I was looking at international trade agreements, I sensed a profound interest around the world in doing business with the United Kingdom. Our businesses will have to step up and seize the opportunities that the new free trade agreements will create. We could be at the dawn of a new golden era for this country. I relish the reality that, today, we are at last again the masters of our own destiny.
I emphasise again that I do not want to stop people taking interventions. However, if they do so, it would be helpful to colleagues if they shorten their speeches accordingly, because it is stopping others coming in—that is the point.
When legislation has been rammed through Parliament inside a day, it has usually been to address some type of emergency, such as for the prevention of terrorism, but this is different. The Government did not have to run down the clock in negotiations, placing Parliament in this difficult position. We must not fall into the trap of an artificial choice between this bad deal and a no-deal situation.
The agreement was negotiated by this Conservative Government. No other party was asked for its input. The Conservative Government have a majority of 80. They own this deal, this outcome and all the consequences that flow from it. No one needs to run to the rescue of the Government. I am not prepared to be a rubber stamp. I am not prepared to legitimise or even acquiesce to this monumental act of self-harm. We must have the ability to stand up for and represent our constituents, and to make it clear that this is not good enough.
The Government seem obsessed with some abstract and antiquated concept of sovereignty. However, we live in an interdependent world. We cannot maximise prosperity, achieve social inclusion, protect the environment, address climate change, defeat pandemics, fight terrorism and organised crime, and project influence around the world if we are in splendid isolation and without pooling sovereignty. The notion of a global Britain is a contradiction in terms. The UK is retreating from the international stage and erecting more, not fewer, barriers to trade.
The opportunities and benefits that our citizens have taken for granted for generations are being stripped away. For Northern Ireland, Brexit itself poses significant challenges to a society and economy that only works based on sharing and interdependence. Brexit means new borders and new friction, which creates needless tension. I welcome the fact that the EU recognised this dilemma right from the outset. We are not fans of the protocol, but it is the product of the UK’s decisions around Brexit and the consequent need to protect the Good Friday agreement. It gives us a degree of protection and at least preserves some access to the European Union, but it still brings us challenges.
I am grateful for the work on the flexibilities and mitigations that were agreed in recent weeks, yet how effective the protocol will be in managing the situation remains unclear. While Northern Ireland may have free access to both Great Britain and the EU, that applies only to goods, not to services or free movement. Brexit and the approach taken by this Government have recklessly shaken the foundations of the Good Friday agreement. We do not know whether or how things will settle in the future.
We stand on the verge of once more becoming an independent country with control over our laws, money, trade and borders. There have been some difficult compromises, especially with the delay in securing a much greater share of our rich marine resources, and there is more to be done on services, but the deal stands up to scrutiny. It does not bind us into the EU’s laws or its Court. It is a trade agreement between sovereign equals. It gets Brexit done.
The Prime Minister has delivered what many Members said would be impossible in just 11 months, and despite the covid emergency. The regaining of our freedom at 11 pm tomorrow will mark a historic turning point. Some disruption is inevitable when there is change on this scale, but we can get through that and seize the opportunities provided by our new-found independence. This should be a moment of national renewal in which we choose better, more adaptable, modern regulation to compete more effectively around the world, create jobs and raise living standards for everyone.
We must ensure that the Northern Ireland protocol does not divide our precious Union. The FTA helps us to do that, because it requires the EU to act proportionately on formalities for goods entering its single market, but we must also develop alternative arrangements to replace the protocol altogether.
The UK’s relationship with the European Union has divided our politics since the 1950s. I was one of the 28 Eurosceptic Conservatives to vote three times against the former Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement—every time it came before the House. We were under immense pressure to accept that deal, but the backstop it contained would have left us as a client state, trapped in the European Union’s regulatory orbit forever. With that hanging over us, there was no way an FTA on equal terms would have been possible.
For this country, belonging to the EU means vesting supreme lawmaking power in people we do not elect and cannot remove. We in this country pioneered the democratic system of government and exported it around the world; now, we are bringing democracy home.
I thank the House staff who have made today’s proceedings possible. They have come at the 11th hour, as the Prime Minister was desperate for a Christmas miracle, but this deal is better than no deal and gives us something to build on.
The Nissan plant in my constituency is the largest Nissan plant in Europe, proving the north-east’s worth to the world’s automotive industry. It must continue to be so in the post-Brexit world. I welcome the work of both negotiating teams to avoid immediate tariffs on vehicle exports in the new year. However, the deal states that all vehicles exported into the EU must be of at least 55% UK or EU content by 2027. As manufacturers such as Nissan work hard to adapt to those requirements, what support will be offered to the sector to meet that threshold?
To comply with the rules of origin, electric vehicle batteries and their components must be of UK or EU origin by 2024. I welcome Britishvolt’s announcement of a battery gigafactory in Blyth in Northumberland that will be manufacturing by 2024. However, the battery manufacturer Envision AESC in my constituency, which serves Nissan, recently cut 100 new jobs because of coronavirus pressures. What will the Government do to support existing battery manufacturers in the UK and encourage further investment into the UK by battery manufacturers?
Brexit has always been about damage limitation for the automotive industry. However, if the Government act accordingly, the next three years offer an incredible opportunity to level up, especially in the north-east. The Government must commit now to ensuring that areas with large car manufacturing plants, such as the north-east, are the beneficiaries of the development of a domestic supply chain of components such as electrodes, which are at the moment predominantly imported from Asia. By 2024, they must be sourced within the rules of origin.
There is no Christmas eve miracle that can magic up an electrode factory overnight. The localisation of the supply chain is essential to the just-in-time supply model that is so important to Nissan’s success and will minimise any delays. Will the Government commit to developing a localised supply chain in their upcoming refreshed industrial strategy, to ensure that our automotive giants such as Nissan can continue to trade tariff-free? We have got the deal, which I will vote for, but we are not at the end of the road for the UK automotive industry just yet, so I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It has been quite a journey from the gridlock of the last Parliament to our consideration of this legislation on a new deal with the European Union today. I welcome it, and I join others in congratulating the Prime Minister on quite an extraordinary achievement.
Overall, this deal ticks all the boxes of zero tariffs on goods and zero quotas, and it brings back our sovereignty and control of our money and our borders. But as is always the case, it is in the detail that we will find the imperfections and the questions to be asked, and the Treasury Committee will be very active over the coming weeks and months in carrying out that scrutiny. We will look at questions around the level playing field and the issue of regulatory divergence. It remains to be seen how the mechanisms in this agreement will ultimately set the balance between fair competition and the pursuit of legitimate competitive advantage or allow for appropriate Government support for the sectors that we wish to develop further.
There are questions around the rules of origin. It has been pointed out that zero tariffs only apply provided the rules of origin are met. The fact that we have bilateral cumulation between the EU and the UK is welcome, but are these rules of origin too restrictive, and are the transitions around them—particularly, for example, for electric vehicles—adequate for the adjustments that will be required? There are questions around sanitary and phytosanitary regulations and around our access to services, which, on the face of it, looks pretty good in this agreement, but there are many annexes setting out exceptions.
There is also the critical issue of access for our financial services, which are such an important part of our economy. We await the memorandum of understanding with great interest and expectation. This is about not only the nature of how equivalence is set but whether the European Union has the ability to withdraw those arrangements and that equivalence at short notice, which could be so damaging to the sector. The Governor of the Bank of England will appear before the Treasury Committee before the recess is out to discuss those issues. Finally, there will be issues around trade frictions and how prepared or otherwise we are to deal with those over the coming weeks and months.
Today we move on. If we play it right, this will lead to better, not worse, relationships with our European neighbours. With that in mind, let us not lose hold of at least the vision of the EU’s founding fathers: that a continent that had been the crucible of two world conflagrations should live together in peace, co-operation and friendship. Let us never forget that. It is still a vision for all of us to live by.
Feasgar math agus tapadh leibh, Madam Deputy Speaker. I notice that the Prime Minister had some trouble earlier with “national” and “nationalist”, undoubtedly due to the better performance of the NHS in Scotland, which he probably calls the nationalist health service.
The hard Brexit deal that is about to be foisted on the UK economy will damage it by 4.9%. It is notable that the New York Times said that this trade deal is heavy on goods, where the EU has a surplus, and light on services, where the UK has a surplus—it is, as ever, the big guy winning, and the EU is winning this one.
This, in the UK context, is the Tories’ deal. It is their hard Brexit. They have ended up with a trade bloc that is smaller than the UK. Northern Ireland is out, and Scotland is leaving, too. The fact is that the UK had the Rolls-Royce of deals, but the Brexiteers have bypassed this, gone past the second-hand car shop and do not even want a motorbike; they are now at the back of the bicycle shop telling us that the unicycle is the best possible thing to do. They are extolling the virtues of the unicycle, but the people know better and can see through this Tory deal.
They should be absolutely frank about what they mean by tariff-free access. Under this deal, tariff-free access means lots-more-paper access—the bureaucrat is king. The achievement of Brexiteers is to turn the unelected European Union bureaucrat into a king. UK businesses and exporters must now satisfy the new kings of the UK, EU bureaucrats, and my shellfish producers and many others on the west coast of Scotland are unfortunately ignored.
The trade deal damages the economy by 4.9%. They talk of shiny new trade deals but, if this trade deal is worth £4.90, a USA trade deal is worth only 20p, if it ever happens; an Australia trade deal is worth only 2p, if it ever happens; and a New Zealand trade deal is worth only a penny, if it ever happens. This all costs, and it is the Brexiteers who have foisted it upon the UK economy.
The British Poultry Council tells us that the price of UK-produced chicken in the UK is going to rise by 5% as a result. Gibraltar and the Falklands have been cast aside. The Brexiteers have effectively told the Falklands, “We have a deal, but you don’t. Too bad.” They talk about sovereignty, but France showed them last week that it has full, independent sovereignty. Dear Brexiteers, France is in the EU, as Scotland will be soon.
This takes me to the future. In 2014, 54% of Scotland voted for a UK in the EU, but 62% of Scotland voted for the EU. With 17 or 18 polls showing that Scotland is going for independence, it is pretty clear that Scotland is not a Brexit nation; it is a nation heading for independence. Hopefully, 6 May next year should determine that for us. It is time for Scotland to become a proper nation, and not under the self-centred UK.
On 23 June 2016, 72% of the electorate in the Cities of London and Westminster voted to remain in the European Union. I was one of them. Like so many, I felt unsure and worried by the referendum result, but the majority of the UK electorate had spoken with a clear message. They felt left behind, ignored and alienated by those in this House, but more so by the unelected EU bureaucrats who had so much influence over their daily lives.
I am a democrat and, although I did not welcome the Brexit referendum result, I accepted it. Last year’s general election was viewed as a second referendum on our EU membership, and voters in places including Ashfield, Sedgefield, Burnley and West Bromwich gave their verdict a second time. They have changed the look and feel of the Conservative party for the better. I am proud to call blue wall Conservatives my colleagues.
I am also proud of what this Government have achieved, securing the largest-ever trade deal with our closest partners within 12 months. To have achieved this while dealing with a global pandemic is frankly incredible. I pay tribute to all those involved on both sides, and I pay personal tribute to the Prime Minister, who never gave up and showed such personal determination to the very end.
Although financial services are not covered in this deal, I am pleased to report that the City of London Corporation welcomes the trade deal and the joint declaration on financial services regulatory co-operation. Let us hope that further progress can be secured between the EU and the UK on equivalence and in other areas, such as data sharing and mutual recognition of qualifications.
With the UK outside the EU, it is perhaps natural to feel a competitor. However, being competitors does not need to mean that we are opponents. Successful UK financial markets will benefit the EU and vice versa. Both the EU and the UK can thrive and continue to work together on areas of mutual concern, including the green agenda, the digitisation of the economy and the response to covid-19.
I appreciate that some of my constituents will never come to terms with the fact that the UK has finally left the EU, but most do wish to unite this country and to live and trade on friendly terms with our partners across Europe. I say to everyone: it is now time to put these last torrid years behind us and work together to rebuild our economy following the pandemic. Today, as we ratify this extraordinary trade deal, we close a painful chapter in our nation’s history. It is an ending, but also a beginning: a new dawn for this great country of ours. We are no longer remainers or Brexiteers; we are one nation. I support this Bill.
This hardest of Brexit deals, for which there is no mandate, is one that cuts British jobs, sidelines our services sector, undermines hard-won protections for the environment, workers’ rights and consumers, and turns Kent into a diesel-stained monument to hubris and political myopia. It is a deal that condemns us to live in a poorer, more unequal and more isolated Britain, and it leaves us less equipped to rise to the greatest challenge we face—the nature and climate emergencies. This deal does not have the explicit informed consent of the British people, and I shall vote against it later today.
Some will say that those of us who voted down some less-damaging forms of Brexit must take some responsibility. I can see that argument, but given such a narrow referendum result on the back of the most cynical, toxic and mendacious political campaign ever fought in this country and on an issue of such profound national importance, I believe it was right to campaign for a confirmatory referendum on the terms of any departure.
I want to tackle head-on the ludicrous accusation that to vote against this deal is to support no deal. That is clearly not the case. Whatever the Opposition parties do, sadly, the Government have a majority of 80 and this deal will pass. That is why I do regret the official Opposition’s decision to vote for a deal that they themselves admit will make this country poorer and hit the most vulnerable hardest of all. Now more than ever people deserve principled leadership based on conviction, not party political calculation. While I understand why some would prefer to abstain, abstention is still acquiescence. It is standing aside and allowing something to be passed into law that is harmful for this country.
There are some things so serious and so damaging in which we should not acquiesce. I am not prepared to acquiesce in the infliction of even greater economic hardship on my constituents. At this time of climate and nature emergency, I am not prepared to acquiesce in lower environmental standards and less rigorous enforcement of them. I will not be complicit in the creation of a smaller United Kingdom, with diminished global influence.
I will not turn my back on a project that is imperfect—yes, of course it is; what project of such ambition would not be?—but is based on one of history’s greatest and most noble experiments: bringing nations together to build peace out of the ruins of war. Now more than ever, in a world racked by insecurity and division, we should be cementing relationships with countries that share our values, not deliberately and knowingly cutting our ties with them.
I will not abandon what I believe, and I believe that leaving the EU is a profound mistake. Ironically, and too late, a majority of people in this country now agree. Voting against this deal is how we keep alive the belief in something better, and that is what I will do today.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) will be delighted to hear that I am going to start with nuclear. I am delighted that part of this deal includes nuclear not only because it is right, but because it is vital for our future. If anybody wants to see a living example of EU co-operation, they should go down the road from where I am at the moment and find Hinkley Point nuclear power station. It is an absolutely burning example of what we have done with the co-operation of the French and others in making this an enormous success.
However, I would say to the Government that we should now upskill. We are going to do Sizewell, and rightly so, and I am hoping that we will get small and medium-sized reactors throughout the United Kingdom, and rightly so, but to do that we need to up our skills. Such skills were transferable around the world, and we now have the freedom to do that. EDF Energy has put an enormous amount of money into training facilities not just down here in Somerset, but across the United Kingdom. That is partly to do with decommissioning, partly to do with new build and partly to do with running the existing fleet of Magnox stations. We must embrace this because it is a future success. It is a success, so let us build on what we have got.
I also want to make a point about upland farming. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been to Exmoor. He knows how tough it can be for any upland farmer up on those hills. We are now free and can do what we want—the Agriculture Act 2020 has gone through—but I urge the Government to build on that. The use of the environmental land management scheme is fine, but I ask the Government to please not use our freedom within this Bill as an excuse to say that we will rewild at the drop of a hat or make farming more difficult across the United Kingdom.
My constituency also covers the lowest part of Somerset, which is the levels. The levels are beautiful and are unbelievably well managed. We went through hell in 2014; we have been through hell time and again. I urge the Government to not throw away what we have. It is a wonderful thing. I would like my right hon. Friend to confirm that the Government will not use this as an excuse to lower anything that gives farming the edge. I have absolute faith in this Government that they will fight for us.
My last point is this. The City of London is hugely important—so many colleagues have already said so—but the devil is in the detail and I think we have to see what the Government are going to do next. When my right hon. Friend winds up the debate, I would like him not only to allow us time to discuss this but to say what we are going to do next to safeguard the City of London.
I will vote for the Bill, as the choice is stark and clear. The important question is: what do we do after Friday? That is when the real work will begin. Gaps have already been identified, including the situation with services, especially legal and financial services; the travel position of our huge cultural and arts sector, particularly our world-leading music industry; and the rules of origin for manufacturing, not least the motor industry, whose revival has driven the midlands engine.
I want to focus not on our relations with our neighbours but on how the British state will actually respond. The EU, imperfect as it is, has had to carry a considerable amount of the weight of our own errors. The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves. This applies both to doctrine, with the stubborn refusal of the civil service and Governments to behave as others do to benefit our industry and our people, and to chronic inefficiency and incompetency in implementation. The Prime Minister talked about free ports. Perhaps he should focus on getting his Transport Secretary to sort out the gridlock at our existing ports.
There has been a lot of talk today about fish, but as an MP whose constituency is probably as far as you can get from the sea, I want to focus on industry. The Prime Minister talked about state aid, regional policy and our great biomedical industry. It was not the EU but NHS bureaucracy that insisted on buying vaccines from abroad, which is why we have only limited capacity and have to import them. It is only now that we are belatedly recognising that and building a new plant. However, it will be not in the north-east, which was the alternative site for it, but in the overheated Oxfordshire area. Oxford scientists have performed magnificently, but we must break this obsession with the south and back the midlands, the north, the west, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It was not the EU that forced us to produce only 1% of personal protective equipment in the UK before the covid crisis, which led to shortages, eye-watering costs and endless scandals. It was not the EU that forced the Government to build the new Navy ships abroad or to use trains from Germany rather than Derby, buses from China rather than Ballymena or Falkirk, and police cars for the north-west from Korea rather than Ellesmere Port. It was our own misguided authorities.
In conclusion, from Monday, whether it is from ministerial offices, Whitehall, town halls or quangos, from boardroom to shop floor the message must be clear: “Back Britain or back off. Shape up or ship out.” Only that way can we make Britain great again.
The Government are right to take back control and to recreate our sovereignty in the United Kingdom. We do not just want legal sovereignty; we also want practical sovereignty, so I ask the Government today to spell out how they will be cutting our taxes, changing our laws and using our powers to grant aid and support businesses and individuals, free of the EU controls, to promote the prosperity of the British people. That is what Brexit was all about. We stand on the threshold of independence day, so bring on the measures.
I have a couple of worries about this agreement. The first is fishing. One of the great prizes of Brexit is to recapture control of our fishing stocks and to rebuild our coastal communities and our fishing industry. Will the Government today promise to legislate immediately to prevent pulse fishing and over-large trawlers, which are doing enormous damage to our marine environment and to our fish stocks? We could at least do that as proof that we intend to rebuild our marine environment and our own domestic fishing industry. Will the Government set out the details of plans to train new fishermen and fisherwomen ready for the extra capacity we will need? Will they provide grant in aid schemes, so that those individuals can acquire second-hand trawlers or commission new trawlers from British yards so that we are again expanding the capacity of our industry?
I am also worried about the position in Northern Ireland. To what extent is our sovereignty damaged or impaired by the special relationships and special provisions of the withdrawal Act? I thought they were going to be changed in this latest agreement with the EU. Will the Government spell out more detail on the limitations on our power to be one United Kingdom in Northern Ireland, setting our own tax rates, making our own agreements on trade internationally and setting our own standards for products? We need to know, because we have already heard in this debate from Northern Ireland Members saying that is becoming a matter of division within Northern Ireland communities.
The issue also has read-across to Scotland. We know we have a battle to fight for the Union in Scotland. The SNP will clearly use the different arrangements in Northern Ireland as part of its battering ram against the Union, so I need some reassurance about the impact of the powers under this agreement and how we can start to settle those difficult issues.
The two things I most like about this agreement are the ability to withdraw unilaterally from it, should the EU be too aggressive in its handling of us and in its claims upon us, and the fact that the ECJ has no further power in the United Kingdom. That is absolutely vital, because otherwise it will assert extraterritoriality.
Four and a half years since the referendum, here we are. I accept we have left the European Union, we are in the transition period and at 11 o’clock tomorrow the shutters will finally come down on that chapter of European-British relations, but we have more than a thousand pages in an agreement and a hastily drafted Bill that runs to 80 pages, but that has to be read alongside many other pieces of legislation to be fully understood. We have five hours of debate today and I have three minutes, of which I have already used up half a minute, to talk about how poorly the Government are using this place.
This is not parliamentary scrutiny; in keeping with the festive season, it is much more of a charade. It does not give us the chance to do properly the job that we should be doing. This place does not always make good legislation, and this is clearly rushed legislation.
I have many concerns about this Bill. I have big concerns about Northern Ireland. As someone married to a dual Irish-British citizen, I spend a lot of time on the island of Ireland, and I see the real challenges of what is being put in place, and I saw the lack of thought about that land border right from the get-go in the run-up to the 2016 vote.
The security matters concern me, including SIS II, the European arrest warrant, and Europol. Services are not included in this agreement, despite, as others have said repeatedly, their accounting for a trade surplus with the EU. Professional qualifications and issues affecting musicians and others in the creative industries affect my constituency particularly. As a constituency Member for the City fringe, I am very concerned we still have not bedded in arrangements for financial services.
It is security arrangements that concern me most. They have been massively weakened by this agreement. I spent three years in government negotiating over access to SIS II, Prüm, the European arrest warrant, Europol, Eurojust and mutual legal aid. Those were all things that I dealt with day in, day out with our European neighbours, and we have thrown that away. We have thrown away so much of what we have been fighting, even in the last decade, to get much more closely involved with. We are now attempting to patch together, with more bureaucracy, the same things as we are giving up with this Bill.
The lack of scrutiny and the impossibility of reading the Bill properly make me unable to support it today. I am not voting against it, because I recognise that the votes in 2016 and 2019 give this Government licence to take us out of Europe, but I cannot be complicit in what is a wrecking ball in the name of sovereignty. We now need to drop the “remainer” and “leaver” labels. We need to unite to fill the gaps in the creative and performing arts, in the financial sector, in the recognition of professional qualifications and, above all, in security. It is because of those security measures, in particular, that I cannot be complicit with the Government and will abstain today.
I shall be voting in favour of the deal today, but not with any enthusiasm. This is an awful deal—the first trade deal in history to make trade even harder. It removes freedoms and piles red tape and administrative burden on businesses. It is not no deal, however, and my real fear is that the Conservative party has been captured to such an extent by fanatics and maniacs of hard Brexit that no deal remains a possibility. Since the only choice on the table today is between this deal and no deal, I will vote to stop no deal, especially since trade unions and business groups are urging a vote in support to get past this hurdle.
I am clear that this is an extremist Brexit that breaks all the promises about having the exact same benefits of membership of the EU. It must be judged not only in juxtaposition to no deal, but in comparison to what we left as members of the EU. There is £200 billion in lost wealth, for starters, which rather puts the lies about £350 million a week for the NHS into perspective. Of course, the deal says nothing, as other hon. Members have said, about trade in services—a rather huge omission, especially for somewhere such as Chester with a large financial services sector.
I have read that the leaders of the fishing industry are unhappy with the deal. What did they expect? Surely they know that the current Prime Minister will say anything that is necessary to get him out of whatever situation he is in, with no sense of responsibility for promises made and no sense of commitment to anything except himself. It was the same with Gibraltar—I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—whose Government were promised that any deal would include that territory, but this deal does not. It was the same with Airbus, which is so important to my constituency. A commitment was given on the US tariff dispute in late November but broken by mid-December. This will not stand us in good stead when we are negotiating future international agreements.
The Government are desperate to agree a deal—any deal—with the USA, however detrimental to long-term UK interests, in order to validate their Brexit policy. They have already alienated the Biden Administration, and that Administration are not even in office yet. Now they are alienating the EU. In global terms, there are only three shows in town: the USA, China and the EU. We have walked away from the EU, and now the Prime Minister announces that we will be in direct competition with it. The road he is leading us down will not end well for the UK, because we are now easy pickings for the much larger blocs, and soundbites such as “Global Britain” will not alter that.
The deal will make us poorer, it will make us weaker and less secure, and it will make us less road relevant globally. It is not no deal, but barely so. I give notice that I consider it to be the barest of foundations on which to build back a better, more progressive relationship with our European neighbours and friends in the long-term interests of the whole United Kingdom and all who live here, and that is what I intend to do.