Monday 22 January 2018
[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]
Leaving the European Union
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 200165 relating to leaving the European Union.
The e-petition states:
“Leave the EU immediately
The Government should walk away from the Article 50 negotiations and leave the EU immediately with no deal. The EU looks set to offer us a punishment deal out of spite. Why wait another 18 months when we could leave right away and fully take back control of our country, lawmaking powers and borders?
The EU looks set to offer us a punishment deal out of spite, insisting we pay tens of billions of pounds as part of a ‘settlement fee’ and continue to accept the jurisdiction of EU courts even after we’ve left. Meanwhile pro-EU MPs in Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP, along with unelected Lords, are attempting to block Brexit, the longer we remain a member the more opportunity they have to interfere. Why wait almost another 2 years when we could just leave right away?”
Mrs Moon, I think we have two firsts today. It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship for what I think is the first time during my time as a member of the Petitions Committee. Secondly, I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), to her place. I was delighted to see her promotion. I know she will do a fantastic job at this important time.
We have now debated a number of petitions on the EU—I think I have become the EU specialist on the Petitions Committee, mainly because I can grab hold of the issue and speak about Brexit until the cows come home—but clearly there is still an appetite for this type of debate. The last time I looked, there were 137,542 signatures on this e-petition, and the constituencies with the highest numbers of signatures seem to be in Kent and Lincolnshire, the Isle of Wight, Clacton and some parts of Cornwall.
I can understand why people feel the way set out in the petition. I do not necessarily agree with them, but I can understand why they feel that way. I voted for the Referendum party in 1997. I joined the Conservative party two weeks later when I saw the error of my ways, having helped Tony Blair to get into power and a Liberal Democrat to get into Sutton. My aim since has been to try to rectify the local matter and increase the Conservative majority, but also to leave the EU. However, having wanted to leave the EU for 20-odd years, I believe it is absolutely right that we do it in the best way possible—the way that works for everybody.
When I was speaking in various debates and on various panels on the EU referendum, I could see a real disjoint—people who felt set aside from the whole debate. To be frank, some people would be happy to be a little poorer to achieve their long-term aim. Again, I do not regard that as the right view, but we have to accept that there are people out there who feel passionately and urgently that they want to leave the EU immediately. Until we recognise that, we will never heal the divide, and we will never settle the current uncertainty, which has been whipped up by both sides of the debate.
To illustrate that, I remember a debate I attended in Balham in which, despite the fact that I am the son of an immigrant, I was accused of supporting migration policies whereby I would machine-gun migrants in the channel. I thought, “Crikey! What rhetoric is this? What kind of approach is this to any sensible argument?” However, as I said at the time, “You keep patting me on the head and you keep patronising me, because I know that will drive a whole load of voters into the leave camp,” because those people felt they were not being listened to.
Why do I not believe that to walk away without a deal is the right thing to do? I have wanted us to leave the EU for a number of years now, but I am patient enough to know that this Government are moving on the right track; we should give them every chance, and we should use up every day of the two years of article 50 negotiations to make sure that we get the best deal for this country and the EU.
My hon. Friend makes a very particular point. In St Albans, 190 people signed this e-petition—a minuscule number. I agree with him. Why on earth does this e-petition call for all negotiations to stop now, when we are nowhere near reaching the deal? It just assumes that we will not get a deal. It is very defeatist and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we should use every day to make sure we get a deal.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I intend to talk about the need to be optimistic. Just looking around the Chamber, I know that those gathered here to participate in the debate differ in our opinions, but we must be united in being optimistic for our prospects, whatever deal we strike with the EU. We have to talk up our economy, because the best way of creating, fostering and building up uncertainty is to talk down our economy.
That is not to say that we should be arrogant. We need to move on from this stereotypical idea that we are some sort of post-colonial power, sweeping everyone before us; that is not what we are saying at all. What we are saying is that the arguments in the referendum essentially centred on three areas: first, sovereignty and taking control of our laws; secondly, migration and making a fairer immigration system that we could better manage and better control; and thirdly, our prosperity and trade. When we leave the EU, we will take the first two back into our control. We will have a fully accountable Parliament and we will decide the laws that we pass, even if we give away or decide to share some of the responsibility for the decisions we have to make with groups such as NATO, or in areas such as environmental collaboration with relevant institutions. None the less, we will choose to do those things, so they will all come down to the UK and the UK Parliament. The position on migration will be similar. Having had the clear steer from the Government that we are ending freedom of movement, we will choose to what extent we extend visas and invitations to people with the skills and the qualities that we need and want in this country.
The one thing we cannot do on our own is build up trade partnerships, because trading, by definition, needs two sides—someone to buy and someone to sell. We are looking outward and the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade is doing a fantastic job of building up relationships with other countries; we should grab hold of the opportunities that Brexit and our ability to handle free trade agreements offer, but nobody is suggesting that will we just leave Europe, pull up the drawbridge and fail to trade with our closest partners, the 27 remaining member states of the European Union.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a responsibility for the public, industry and the Government to make the case that, if we were to crash out, the impact would be immediate in, for example, the car industry, which is a big factor in my constituency? Switching to World Trade Organisation rules immediately would lead to an increased tariff of 10% on that industry’s products, which would have a very damaging effect.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, but I challenge the language he used—“crash out”—as it goes back to what I was saying about a sense of optimism. We are right to plan for no deal, because it would be patently ridiculous if we did not have every avenue covered as we seek to build our relationships with the rest of the EU; but saying that we will “crash out” suggests that there will be no planning at all, and I just do not share the pessimism of that view. Regarding the car industry, the hon. Gentleman gives a strong argument for why we need to do a deal and why countries such as Germany, which sells 10% of its cars to us, would want to do a deal with us. We can set our tariffs as we see fit, whether that is 10% or not, if we leave without a deal, but then we would have to have an equal tariff with other countries, unless we have a free trade agreement with them.
This is not a competition, but not only did I vote for the Referendum party in 1997, I was a member of it before I joined the Conservatives, not necessarily because I wanted to get out of the EU but because I felt it was time people had their say.
On “crashing out”, does my hon. Friend agree that the people who say “Let’s go now,” are pushing us to crash out, rather than to wait and see whether we can get a good and favourable deal?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. That is exactly right. We need to use the time imaginatively, sensibly and constructively to ensure that we do not crash out, and that if we have no deal it is because we choose to have no deal—because we feel that is the best way for us, rather than because we have been forced into it by a knee-jerk reaction.
We were shown the benefit of using the time by the first part of the negotiations, which concluded just before Christmas and looked at three things: the Northern Irish border, EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the rest of the EU, and the amount of the financial settlement we might pay. While we were getting in a funk because of some of the newspaper headlines and the rhetoric that was being built up, the Prime Minister got her head down and carried on. Everyone was despairing on the Monday, but by Friday she had come up with a really good deal and was able to demonstrate that both sides had compromised. That is what a negotiation is. Sitting there thinking we will get everything we want is fanciful, and I say that as someone who would love to have everything he wanted. It is just not going to happen. That is the whole point of a negotiation. If we are to have a fruitful ongoing partnership with our European friends, it is really important that we take that time, and the Prime Minister ably demonstrated that before Christmas.
I have done a few public meetings in Sutton in which I have tried to give people my sense of a Brexit update as neutrally as I can. I always say, “Don’t read The Independent and The Guardian about Brexit because you will be going to hell in a handcart whatever you do, and don’t necessarily read things like the Daily Express, because everything is going to be absolutely sunny. We know it will be somewhere in between.” That is a fact of life.
As a London MP like me, has the hon. Gentleman had representations from people who work in the City and are worried—based not on reading The Guardian but on their own working lives—that their EU passporting rights could be lost? People have said to me that as we were not in the euro or part of Schengen and had a generous rebate, we were only about 60% in anyway. Does the hon. Gentleman have any comment on that?
Yes, I have had people talk to me about financial services. The financial services industry is important for Sutton and Cheam, for London and for the country—about 11% of our entire tax take comes from that industry, and it creates a lot of jobs. That is another good reason not to leave immediately without giving any thought to what happens to every single industry, including financial services, manufacturing, education and the medical sector. It all needs to be put in the pot.
On the idea that we need to panic about financial services, there are things we can do. This year the European Union is bringing in MiFID II—the second markets in financial instruments directive—and we had already been talking about a number of regulatory equivalence issues, at the behest of the UK, before the referendum. There is plenty more we can do, and we need to ensure that we develop that in our talks, to demonstrate that the financial services industry in London has the rule of the law that the EU is looking for, and the right time zone, language and support systems, so that it continues to be an attractive place in which to settle and remain for not just European financial institutions but worldwide ones.
On how we think the negotiation might pan out, we have to be really careful of the rhetoric. We knew how it was likely to pan out in the first place. A friend of mine, Syed Kamall, the MEP who is the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, wrote an article—I have also heard a few of his speeches on this—in which he detailed how he thought the negotiation would pan out. In it, he talked about how we need to be clearer about our priorities, but not necessarily reveal our hand, and that we need to set the right tone regarding co-operation. No one is talking about the need to break up the EU; all we have said is that we are leaving the EU. We are not leaving Europe. We want to work with Europe as one of a number of trading areas around the world.
We need to understand how the EU negotiates as it tries to grab some of our markets and close down some of our discussions. That is natural: we have talked about trade, but there is an element of competition. Trade is very much a partnership; competition can get a bit more feisty, because we are looking after our own interests. We must bear in mind, of course, that not all the negotiation will be rational. To be frank, the debates we have in this place are not always rational, so imagine multiplying that by 27, with all the competing priorities in the EU. It is no accident that many free trade agreements have not been dealt with speedily. The Australian trade agreement has primarily been delayed by Italian tomato growers, and the Canadian agreement has only just come to fruition—Romanian visas were one thing stopping it. There are many little competing priorities.
The main thing is that on a number of occasions, the European Commission has been keen to press on with international trade deals but has been unable to because one member state or another has prevented it. Does that not destroy the argument that the European Commission has been imposing laws on the United Kingdom against the latter’s wishes? Is it not the case that in every major decision regarding approval of European Commission proposals, the United Kingdom has played an equal and often decisive part?
The hon. Gentleman was right in the first half of his intervention: there are undoubtedly competing priorities. However, that is not necessarily the same as the laws, rules and directives that come from the European Commission. The 27 member states, individually or in small groups, often feel disempowered by the moves from the centre, from Brussels.
On asking for more than we want, I do not think that the EU understands our negotiation style sometimes. I believe that if we had asked for more when we were trying to renegotiate many things before the referendum, including the emergency brake, we would have got some movement, and we would have voted to remain in the EU. Instead, we did not ask for enough, and we did not even get that. So in this negotiation, it is absolutely right that we are ambitious, that we ask for perhaps more than we want. That is why we need time. We might do a deal on the courtroom steps, perhaps even on the very last day, but we need to be prepared to walk away as well. There is absolutely no point in saying, “You know what? We’re happy to sign up to anything you ask us for,” because if we do they will offer us a deal that we can easily refuse and we will never get anywhere. If we end up staying in the EU in all but name, that will not be good for the country, for the division and uncertainty I spoke about earlier, or for the other 27 nations when they want—and they clearly do—to seek to reform the EU.
The hon. Gentleman is generous to give way again. I want to come back to the point that in talking about walking away, we are essentially talking about having no deal. It is crucial for many manufacturers in this country, as well as for other organisations and businesses, that they have some visibility or certainty that we will have a deal that is as close as possible to or as good as what we have today. It should be the responsibility of Government and all of us here to ensure that our businesses, our economy and our jobs are protected in the future.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman about certainty. That was why I was explaining that we need to look at every area and sector, and every permutation and possibility. We talk about how we must do a deal—ideally, a bespoke deal that works for as many people as possible in the UK and the EU—but it may not be within our gift to do a deal. We talk about walking away, but if we do not sort out article 50 within the two years, we will walk away and no longer be members of the EU. That is what article 50 says and that is how it is.
People may talk in this debate, as they have in others, about whether article 50 is reversible. Now, I am not a lawyer but I am not too bad at grammar, and when I read article 50 I can see clearly that there is one way effectively to reverse it, and that is by getting the unanimous agreement of all the European countries to extend the deadline. That could be to something like 50 years—it could almost be like the lease on Hong Kong, with the issue pushed away to a time so far in the future that effectively we remain in the EU. Essentially, that is the only way.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very fair speech, but does he accept that the view of Lord Kerr, the author of article 50, and the weight of legal opinion in the United Kingdom is that article 50 is unilaterally revocable by the United Kingdom?
I have read what Lord Kerr said, and I accept that he has said that article 50 is revocable, but that does not make it revocable. He may have written article 50, but he is not a lawyer. He may look back and wish he had written it a little bit clearer in the first place.
What about the weight of legal opinion? What about the fact that it is not only Lord Kerr, who wrote article 50, but the weight of legal opinion that says the United Kingdom can revoke article 50 without anyone’s permission but our own?
There is some legal opinion that says that. The hon. Lady talks about the weight of legal opinion, but I do not agree that it is the weight of legal opinion. There are arguments about it. It is such a short paragraph, and it is pretty clear to my mind that we cannot unilaterally revoke article 50.
Is it not ironic that the lawyers who brought the case under the guidance of Gina Miller to require Parliament to enact the article 50 notification decided that article 50 was not revocable? The entire case was premised on that.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that powerful point.
The lawyers conceded that point, but it was not directly relevant to the case that was being argued.
It was the premise of the judgment.
I hear the chuntering from my hon. Friend, but the reality was that it was not the issue that was being decided on. If there was any merit in that point in the judgment, it was clearly obiter dictum, as it is called.
That exchange is interesting, but it is moot, because we are off. The point is whether we are off tomorrow, as the petitioners want, or whether we are off at the end of the two years under article 50.
I sum up my remarks by saying that I understand the petitioners’ frustration and why they want to leave now. We need to speak to them, but we also need to speak to the people, some of whom are here today, who want the future situation to be as close to the status quo as possible and for us to find a middle path. We can only do that with a sense of agreement, a sense of proportionality and a sense of optimism that wherever we go in the world, we will still be trading, partnering and collaborating with Europe. Environmental pollution does not stop in the channel. Terrorist threats do not stop in the channel. We will clearly need to collaborate with our European partners.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I totally concur with him and his summary, and I urge the Government to speak out to the audience who put forward the petition, because leaving now would have such an immediate and seismic effect on our industries, such as the car industry, which is already well down—14% down on 12 months ago. Leaving now would be absolutely catastrophic. The public need to be told just what the impact would be if we jumped out tomorrow.
There is plenty of uncertainty that we need to get rid of. I do not have time to start attacking some of the #DespiteBrexit things that we might otherwise go into. Yes, we need to speak to both sides. My concern is that while people are feeling disaffected on one side, we have the extreme version on the other that wants to unpick the referendum, and that is not helpful. Not only will it not happen, but it is creating even more uncertainty, particularly for EU citizens. The rhetoric around EU citizens on social media is invariably from people who want to unpick the referendum saying, “See what has happened,” and jumping on the bandwagon of things that may or may not be covered in the press, rather than being from people creating some sort of division and making others feel unwelcome. We have to be careful with the language, be optimistic and talk up our economy.
We should have confidence that we will be a single nation dealing with our own free trade agreements. That will make this country the buccaneering, maritime trading nation that it can be. As someone who has run a small business for 25 years, I know the agility and nimbleness we can have. That will stand us in good stead, but the Minister has a challenge over the next few months, because it is not going to be easy. It will be a complex negotiation, and I wish her good luck. I know we are going to get a great deal. I am optimistic that we will get a bespoke deal that will work for everyone.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. My remarks will first address the petition. They will then address the Government’s approach and advocate for an alternative to their binary position of either securing a great deal or crashing out with no deal at all. The petition paints the starkest picture of what a truly hard Brexit would look like. A few colleagues have flirted with the idea of taking World Trade Organisation terms or leaving the European Union without a deal, but I do not believe any of them would advocate doing so without even attempting to strike an agreement with our European partners.
The petition calls on the Government simply to walk away, despite the announcement of sufficient progress in December. It is apparent that the supporters of the petition support the hardest of hard lines on Europe, but there is a far greater number of people for whom the picture is less clear. Many a remainer voted to stay, despite concerns about how the EU operates, and many leavers voted to leave despite legitimate worries about the potential impacts.
What is being proposed? Were the petition’s proposals adopted, there would be several impacts. There would be a significant hit on our economy, our international reputation and British citizens living in the EU. We must separate the two different no-deal concepts. The idea of reaching no deal after negotiations—in other words, a deal to have no deal—would be different from the no deal envisaged by the petition.
Just walking away would see massive disruption to our businesses, such as our airlines and our nuclear safety industry. We risk planes being grounded and nuclear power stations grinding to a halt if basic agreements are not in place. The economic impact would be significant, especially on our world-leading financial and business services industries. Tariffs on goods and services would be imposed and we would need to re-establish our own schedules at the WTO before we could even begin to set the agenda. Exports of goods and services to the EU27 in 2016 totalled £236 billion, amounting to 12% of GDP. Financial and business services constituted £51 billion. Leaving with no deal on goods or services would be a huge hit to our world-leading industries
The Bank of England estimates that no deal could lead to 75,000 jobs being lost, so it is vital to negotiate to try to secure an agreement. Likewise, some estimates say we could lose £10 billion a year of tax revenue from no deal. Even some non-EU trading partners rely on EU regulations to define the legality of their trade—the REACH regulations for chemicals, for example, would be most likely to be at risk. That would significantly impact sectors relevant to the north-west. The chemical, car and energy industries are all big employers in the north-west, where my constituency of Eddisbury is located.
There is also a human impact. Crashing out with no deal would mean any decision on EU nationals would be unilateral, leaving Brits in the EU in the lurch and the subject of whatever immigration laws applied to non-EU citizens in the countries where they resided. Furthermore, those situations would change overnight. It would cause great uncertainty and alarm for the million-plus Britons living in the EU. People who have set up their lives in another country, who are living there peacefully and legally, would have to uproot everything if the suggestions in the petition were followed.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) that we should support the Government in trying to achieve their aims in the negotiations. I support the Government’s commitment to building a deep and enduring partnership. The announcement of sufficient progress last month throws this petition into sharper relief as it shows that a deal should be possible and that it could be more favourable than the cliff edge or crashing out. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) stated that he wanted the eventual deal to be,
“of greater scope than any such existing agreement.”
That is encouraging, as it is apparent that existing trade deals such as the deal with Canada or the CETA deal do not go far enough to meet our demands, needs and interests. The issue is vital as the WTO working paper found that an ordinary FTA would cut UK exports of both goods and services to the EU by 40% relative to the current regime.
I welcome the commitment to building a global Britain, a nation committed to free trade across the globe. However, to have better arrangements with a country on the other side of the world than with the EU just the other side of the channel would be unwelcome. For Brexit to be worth it, we must see new trading partners come in in addition to, not as a replacement of, existing partnerships. I press the Minister to make sure that any deal includes the free movement of services as well as goods. The British economy is reliant on some of its financial and professional services industries for jobs and for tax revenue. Financial services exports to the EU, worth, as I have already outlined, £51 billion, are vital to our prosperity. London’s global pre-eminence and the financial services sectors in Liverpool and Manchester benefit the country as a whole.
On plan B of the WTO, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam spoke about using our time imaginatively, sensitively and constructively to make sure we do not crash out. I agree with that, and there is an alternative plan, a back-up plan, should no deal be achieved. An off-the-shelf deal of any nature would require compromise from Members of all parties. None of the options is perfect, but nor is any pragmatic proposal or plan. In fact, the European Free Trade Association would allow us to fulfil our commitment to respect the will of the people and the referendum vote. We would be outside the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. We would be free of the risk of ever-closer union, which concerned some remainers as well as leavers. Some people, even some Members, raised concerns that they were misled over what kind of body the UK was entering into in the 1970s. Yet EFTA has shown itself to be clear. The organisation is strictly an economic grouping. It would also protect our economy, ensuring full access to the single market, including services.
Joining EFTA would give us access to its free trade agreements spanning 38 countries and more than 900 million customers. Access would come at a significantly reduced cost compared with EU membership. Norway’s net contribution in 2015 was €115 per person compared with €214 per person for the UK. This would also give our services sector a significant degree of protection. The negative impact would be small, as compared to no deal on financial services, the costs of which I outlined earlier. I cannot think of a better way to demonstrate that we are leaving the EU but want to remain engaged with Europe than by joining EFTA.
Likewise, joining EFTA would have a beneficial impact on our long-term agreements with the EU, as many EFTA institutions are already recognised by the EU and relationships already exist between them. It might seem strange, but I am not alone in my positive view of EFTA. Indeed, many notable figures from the other side of the referendum debate were very positive about this arrangement.
“Wouldn’t it be terrible if we were really like Norway and Switzerland? Really? They’re rich. They’re happy. They’re self-governing”,
said Nigel Farage.
“The Norwegian option, the EEA option, I think that it might be initially attractive to some business people”,
said Matthew Elliott from Vote Leave and Business for Britain.
“Increasingly, the Norway option looks the best for the UK”,
said Arron Banks.
Daniel Hannan even wrote a paper for the Bruges Group entitled “The Case for EFTA”. My constituents were told that the single market was not being put at risk, that there was an option to be self-governing and to take back control and have all the benefits of the single market. They were told to vote leave because we could stay in EFTA, so I do not understand why the WTO is now plan B and not EFTA.
I hope I have made it clear from my remarks that I view the proposal of this petition as potentially devastating for jobs in my constituency. It would be a road to ruin. It endangers our prosperity and our international standing, as well as putting in jeopardy the rights of our countrymen who live on the continent. I am pleased that the Government are moving in the opposite direction to the petition, with their ambition for a deep and enduring partnership with the EU. I very much hope they are able to meet their goals and I will do what I can do support that.
I would, however, caution that this agreement must include a deal on free movement of services, especially financial and professional services, which are the basis for so much of our prosperity. Should the deal not be everything that the Government hoped and promised, the solution would be closer involvement with other international bodies such as EFTA, and not to turn our back on the liberal international order and try to go it alone.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. When I speak in these petition debates on a Monday afternoon, it is usually because of the weight of popular opinion and the number of signatures that have been recorded in my constituency, but in the case of today’s petition, with 137,409 signatures, only 132 people in Ealing Central and Acton signed it. I had intended just to intervene, but I agreed almost 100% with what the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) said, which is unusual because she is on the other side, and her speech made me want to say a little more than a one-sentence intervention.
I have a couple of points to make. First, 132 out of 137,409 is 0.09%—a tiny number of people. I am a self-confessed remoaner or remainiac, as are more than 70% of my constituents. That is not even the highest percentage in Opposition seats. In the 2015 election—I have not seen the figures for 2017—we had the 25 most pro-remain seats and the 25 most pro-leave seats. The percentage of remain voters is even higher in the 25 most pro-remain seats. I do not think that anyone, even ardent leavers, could think it is a good idea to pull the plug on the negotiations—to cut the cord, put up the white flag, exit the stage, and throw in the towel—at this stage, when the negotiations are already under way. My constituent, Ruben Kenton-Harris, who is an intern in my office this term as part of his degree and whose opinion I trust on these matters, has said that he cannot understand why anyone would ever sign the petition. It makes no sense at all, because when jumping out of a plane, it is surely best to have a parachute. Going to WTO terms, with no say whatsoever, seems suicidal.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Okay, I will. My speech is really just an outgrown intervention, so I will not take loads of interventions, but I will take the hon. Gentleman’s, because he took mine.
I thank the hon. Lady. She says that she cannot see a reason why people might sign the petition. Although she might not agree with the petition, can she not see that disaffection and disassociation with this place, and some of the arguments that are being put forward, may be a good reason to sign the petition?
The hon. Gentleman makes a wise point, which shows the danger of standing up and trying to make a speech on the spot. I agree that discontent with the system and with politics has made people sign the petition. Arguably that also explains things such as the Trump phenomenon, which was kind of a vote for “none of the above”. When people are so frustrated with elites and people in ivory towers who seem removed from their everyday lives, I can see why they might sign such petitions. However, like many things in the Brexit debate, what might look good on first glance starts to fall apart after a close look at the detail. The promise of £350 million for the NHS is one such example. I think we had a one-off injection of that amount for the winter crisis, but it was meant to be every week. That is what was promised on the side of the bus. It sounds good, but in reality it falls apart.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) talked about certainty and predictability. We live in uncertain times, so people want some sort of predictability. I do not read The Guardian in isolation—I mainly read it on Saturday for the TV guide—and I have been taking soundings from small businesses in my constituency. Park Royal, which at one stage was the biggest industrial estate in western Europe, is in my constituency, and I have visited various businesses there. Savoir Beds, in NW10, used to make hand-stitched mattresses and things for the Savoy hotel. I think it still supplies the Savoy, but its products are now available on the open market. Savoir Beds said to me early on, “Can you reverse Brexit?”
When I go to businesses I say, “Is there anything that I should be doing for you?” They all seem to be saying, “Can you reverse Brexit?” Initially, they found that their orders were going up because of the falling pound, but now that they want to buy more supplies that has come back to bite them. They have staff from all 27 member states. ChargeBox in Chiswick is really worried about that. When people go to a shopping centre, they can plug in their phone into a ChargeBox machine to charge it. Apparently, it makes sense to buy those machines, because people spend £35 more per head if there is a ChargeBox machine in a shopping centre. I visited ChargeBox the other week, and its representatives made those points to me about the talent pool from the 27 nations. That is in addition to the fact that businesses are finding the falling pound very difficult to work with, even though at one stage it might have looked like a correction.
I have a business in my constituency that manufactures paper cups. I think £400,000 of investment has been lost, and more than 50 jobs could be at risk if we do not get the deal right, because 55% of its manufacturing output is exported.
I completely sympathise and agree with what the hon. Lady says; I have found the same thing. There is a small business called Mooch on Northfield Avenue, near where I live. It sells knick-knacks and gifts—a bit like Paperchase, but a small-business equivalent—and it opened just before 23 June. When it had to restock, the price of everything had gone up. It has not chosen the same lines again because people think that it has just opened and already hiked up its prices. Its suppliers are based in Europe, and because of the pound, everything costs more, so Mooch deliberately had to adjust its stock. I completely agree with the hon. Lady’s point about the paper cups, and take her word for it.
It looks as if the EU negotiators have said, “Non, non, non”—that was meant to be a Belgian accent—to “Canada plus, plus, plus”, so that will not work. We have heard about the agencies and companies that are going to Frankfurt or elsewhere, such as the European Medicines Agency. I have not even got into the arguments about the impact on our regulatory framework, workers’ rights, environmental protections or many other things if we just came out with nothing in place—not to mention the impact on the 13,000 EU nationals in my constituency of Ealing Central and Acton.
In addition to Lord Kerr’s statement that article 50 could be revoked by only one side, there was a headline in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph—I accept not making exactly the same argument—which read: “UK could rejoin EU in future, says May deputy”. The argument that we could rejoin is already being entertained. Surely it would be cheaper and less troublesome simply to not leave in the first place? As I pointed out in my intervention, we were never part of the euro. I am talking in the past tense, even though we are still in the EU. We also had a generous rebate, and we were never part of the Schengen border agreement, so we were not even 100% in the EU anyway—we were perhaps only 60% in.
Some people argue that it was an advisory referendum, and only the other day the Speaker of the House of Commons said:
“People who are on the losing side are not obliged to accept that their view has been lost for ever”.
He also said:
“Democracy is not just about one vote…Democracy is a dynamic concept.”
I believe Nigel Farage has been saying that there might be a case for revisiting the decision. I imagine that he wants to do that quickly, so we do not see how bad things might really get. We used to be the world’s fifth-largest economy; we are now the sixth. The value of the pound seems to be tanking, and we have not left yet; it is early days. [Interruption.] I will not take any more interventions, because I am afraid I may have to leave before the end of the debate, Mrs Moon; I put that in the little note I scribbled to you. I apologise sincerely if I have to do so. Furthermore, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said:
“If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.”
The idea of leaving now, even before the negotiations are complete, is the opposite of that. There is a long list of people who are coming round to that perspective.
We need to indemnify ourselves. The points made by the hon. Member for Eddisbury about the single market and the customs union were very wise. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has done some modelling of what might happen in future; apparently, it may need 5,000 new staff, with a training process that can take six months. If we left now, how would that work out? I also wonder how many of the people affected are on the Irish border. In Dover, unemployment is not massively high, so if we left right away, that would that be a car crash. Moreover, Kent could turn into a huge lorry park.
Until the 2017 general election campaign started, it was almost as if the phrase “the will of the people” was deployed to shut people up. I welcome the fact that we are now having a healthy debate about the terms of Brexit, and that people such as the hon. Member for Eddisbury have voted with the Opposition on some matters. It seems as if a lid has been lifted, a genie has been let out of a bottle, and a Pandora’s box has been opened. Up until that point, it felt as if nobody was allowed to criticise any aspect of Brexit because it was “the will of the people.” It is very important that we look at other options, such as EEA or EFTA membership. To coin a phrase used by a former Labour Prime Minister, there may be a “third way”—not just in or out. There might be other ways of indemnifying ourselves against the worst effects of leaving.
Some of our media have been mentioned, such as The Guardian and the more left-leaning papers, but others such as the Daily Mail and the Telegraph have been really distasteful in some of their commentary. For example, putting the hon. Member for Eddisbury and others on the cover was reprehensible and appalling, as was calling for people’s heads, as it was a crazy person who went for the head of one of our own number, our friend and colleague Jo Cox—we should never lose sight of that.
I will finish with another quote from Mr Speaker, who said that
“in voting as you think fit on any political issue, you…are never mutineers…never malcontents…never enemies of the people.”—[Official Report, 18 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 805.]
That should be painted on the side of a red bus! We should always uphold our principles in this place.
It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mrs Moon.
Brexit is obviously one of the biggest issues of this Parliament, and I can say as a parliamentarian of seven months’ standing that it has certainly dominated a lot of the speeches, votes and sittings I have been at so far. I will keep my contribution to this debate on e-petition 200165 relatively short.
The EU referendum was a UK-wide debate. I voted to remain, as did most of the constituencies in Scotland—we managed to get 1.4 million voting remain, against the 1 million leave voters in Scotland. Other parts of the UK did so as well, such as London, Manchester, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Belfast. It was a UK-wide vote.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will progress the point a little further first.
There has been some talk about potential options for separation, especially in areas where we have devolution, as in Scotland or even London, which has the London Assembly—I have heard some interesting debates there—but this is not the time for more separation or driving wedges between different parts of the UK. It is a time for us to come together and work on making the best possible deal.
The e-petition highlights some of the frustration felt throughout the United Kingdom. Certainly in the lead-up to the referendum, when we were involved in some of the campaigning, it was clear that people felt forgotten and that the EU was not the only target of the day. People felt forgotten by this place, by their local councils and by their devolved Administrations, and they felt that they were not getting the right level of focus. The result came about through that and the lack of engagement by the EU—as we all know, it is not a perfect institution and at the weekend even President Macron admitted that France would probably vote to leave were that left to an open referendum. So even prime European leaders recognise the EU’s faults. In time we hope it will evolve, and even from a distance, I hope that we can still contribute positively.
As I was saying, this is a time for a little more unity and a little less division. I say to colleagues across the House, when they are talking about what kind of Britain we want to make when we leave the EU, I hope that we update our invective, move away from 17th and 18th century references and talk more about the 21st century —I want a little less Sir Francis Drake and a little more Stephen Hawking when we look at the type of Britain we want to produce and how we want to move forward.
In my constituency, barely 0.1% of the population supported this petition, so although I welcome the debate, I do not support the view expressed in the petition—that we should “walk away” from the discussions. The negotiations we are having are fundamental to the kind of country that we want to be in the future and to the type of relationship that we will have with one of our most important partners, which will still be the European Union. Also, it is not only the EU that is watching us in the negotiations; other countries and potential partners in the Commonwealth and elsewhere around the globe are watching too.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) said earlier on EFTA and some of the other opportunities we might have during the negotiations, it is important that all Members do not get caught in the binary debate between, “We leave and it’s WTO,” and, “We have to be in the single market and the customs union still.” A range of European politicians have expressed the opinion that a bespoke deal is possible and other models are in place, such as EFTA, or free trade agreements that offer methods of arbitration so we do not need to use the ECJ; we could use other international mechanisms to arbitrate between the EU and us. Those options need to be explored fully, and I hope that the Minister and the Government will be looking at them completely, as well as planning for a worst-case scenario, should it arise.
For my part, since I was elected I have held Brexit updates around my constituency, in south Perthshire, Kinross-shire and Clackmannanshire, to ensure that people get some frontline feedback from Parliament and hear some of the detail from our debates. I am also a member of the Public Accounts Committee and we have been looking into the real implications for day-to-day life through not only legislation but the operation of our borders and the customs and trading regimes that might apply after Brexit. We will obviously continue our work—a raft of new reports will be coming from the Public Accounts Committee—and, for those who do not already follow the committee on Twitter, please do, because it is a riveting feed to follow.
As I said, I understand some of the frustration felt in the country when the petition was set up, but that was before the first stage of negotiations was completed just before Christmas. We can welcome some of the successes, such as the agreements on EU rights or the direction of a financial settlement—we were clear that it would not be worst-case scenario—and some of that progress before Christmas was heartening, whether we are on the leave or the remain side. I was pleased that Members from across the House welcomed some of the progress made by the Prime Minister and her team in those agreements.
For us as MPs, for Ministers and for the Government as a whole, it is important to engage constructively, to stay in the trade talks and other negotiations in Europe, and to pursue them with the same intensity and tenacity seen in the EU referendum itself. We need to ensure that we get a good deal on trade, that the right customs arrangements are in place and that we continue to be part of and contribute to security, science and overall cultural and social co-operation throughout the European Union and the United Kingdom, as well as, we hope, new trading blocs and partners around the world.
People do not want us to go back and forth on referendums. Colleagues such as the Members of the Scottish National party probably appreciate that in Scotland —people want to have a democratic event and then for politicians to take responsibility for it and deliver it.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman giving way. Does he accept that the question is not so much about going back and forward, but about development? We have had one decision to leave in principle, but we do not know what the deal will be. Do the people not deserve the right to look at that decision and say whether that is what they wanted? That is not going back and forwards; that is progression, a democratic progression on the decision.
In my view, we had a clear vote on whether to be in or out of the EU and the decision has been made about leaving. Now it is about making the best possible deal and ensuring that we get the best possible outcome. When the agreement emerges as we go up the timeline to March 2019, as we have heard from Ministers, we will have a meaningful vote in this House, as the democratically elected representatives of our constituencies.
We need to engage with the negotiations. The decision has been made and we have to honour the democratic choice of the United Kingdom. Let us have a bolder, brighter and more prosperous UK as a result.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon.
We have to take this petition at face value and bear in mind what it is saying to us: that people are frustrated—that those who voted to leave the European Union want to see something more quickly than they are seeing at the moment. I fully appreciate why they feel that way. All the life decisions we make mean we want to move on, and in this country we are used to a quick turnaround—to Governments changing office in the middle of the night, with one Prime Minister leaving as the next arrives, before the sun has come up on the election results—but the negotiations cannot be the same. I appeal to those people who signed the petition to have patience, to think about how important the process is to the future of our country and to give our politicians time to find the best way ahead.
It is fair to say that the petition did not have a lot of support in my constituency. Fewer than 100 people signed it—93, in fact—which is not a huge surprise in Edinburgh West, because at the referendum the vast majority voted to remain in the EU, as was the case throughout Scotland. Although I take the point made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) that the referendum was a UK-wide vote and I agree with him entirely that it was, I do not accept that the result had a significant majority—it was the narrowest of majorities. Again, that is a source of frustration for a lot of people and a reason why we should be extremely careful about what we do. The phrase “crashing out” worries me: the implication of crashing in any form, whether physically or financially, is always serious, because there is no control. We cannot know what the outcome will be.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the phrase “crashing out” tends to come from the people who want to unpick the referendum? I did not use that phrase and it is important that we do not use it. We are planning for the possibility of no deal, but not crashing out of anything.
That would be the reality, though: we would simply say, “We’re going.” That would be like a crash because if a car skids in the winter, the driver does not know the outcome until they stop. If we were to leave the European Union without a deal in place, a plan or a route map of where we were going, we would have no control over the future of this country’s economy.
I ask the people who signed the petition to think about it from the other perspective. There is an implication that the European Union is somehow being vindictive—that it is not dealing with us and giving us the best possible deal. Surely, if the roles were reversed, we would expect the European Union to protect our interests from France, Germany, Italy or any of the other 27 countries. We would expect our interest to be preserved, so we should respect their right to negotiate the best terms for them. For me, the impact on this country of leaving the European Union without that route map, agreement or deal is more important. Where would we go? What would we do? What would be the impact on our trade, and on the tens of thousands of jobs in this country that depend on our trade with the European Union?
There has been a lot of talk about the car industry: what would happen to companies such as BMW if we were to just walk away? What would be its arrangements? How would it get the spare parts from Europe, which suddenly would be in a foreign market? BMW is a vital British employer, and it would suddenly be cut off from part of its own company. There are others, too. We would stop them from moving goods about the EU. How would the borders operate under those circumstances? They are not ready—there is no customs arrangement. How would we trade? There has been a lot of talk about queues at the ports. I ask Government Members to think about the impact on the farmers in north-east Scotland if there were no customs or trading arrangements with the European Union. How would they sell their beef? I am sure that hon. Members agree that the impact would be disastrous, because they could not get their products to Europe.
What about our airports? In my constituency, there is a lot of concern about the impact on the airport—a vital link that provides Scotland with connectivity not just within Scotland, the UK and Europe, but to the rest of the world, too. There are fewer than 18 months to go before we leave the European Union—that is the period of time that most international carriers look ahead, to negotiate their routes. There is acknowledged hesitation among foreign carriers, particularly American ones, to commit to routes from the UK because they do not know whether they will be able to fly to Europe. If we leave the European Union without a deal, what happens to the open skies policy? That is not covered by WTO rules. What would they do—a separate deal? How would we have a separate deal if we walked away? Walking away means no deal.
There is a potential impact on the pound and on trade. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, the pound plummeted more than in the devaluation under Harold Wilson’s Government. We hear a lot about it recovering, but it is recovering from a very low base. Some people say that that is good for exports, but it is not good for imports—for buying goods—and for our tourists going abroad. Where would we derive the benefit that we were told there would be from leaving the European Union if we just walked away without a deal?
It is not a secret that I am not in favour of leaving the EU. I do not believe that it is certain by any measure that it will go ahead. I believe that the triggering of article 50 can be revoked. The weight of legal opinion is that we can say that we do not need Europe’s opinion, so we can revoke it on our own. Brexit is not a done deal yet: we can still repair our damaged relationship with Europe. But if we have to leave, we have to get the best possible terms for the United Kingdom. We have to be as close to the centre of Europe as possible. We have to be part of its trade, in the customs union and in the single market. We have to do what is best for the people of this country.
Does the hon. Lady agree that comments such as the ones that she makes about staying in the single market and the customs union and having a second referendum are precisely why people started the petition and why so many people signed it?
One point about democracy that we have not touched on, other than mentioning that we should have unity, is that, whether in politics, business or family life, good decisions come from discussion and debate. We have to move forward in a way that allows everyone’s opinion to be heard. That way, we will reach a good decision. We have to be far more realistic than we were during the debate before the referendum, when our future was decided by a big red bus with made-up numbers on the side.
For my constituents and many others, simply to walk away would leave us vulnerable, immediately cut us off from our major markets and present us with a bleak future. I appreciate that some people would like to walk away now, but I caution that they should know where they are going before they try to leave anywhere.
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon.
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a conference at the Assemblée Nationale in Paris, along with other young and nearly young politicians across Europe. Among the attendees were representatives from En Marche! and Les Républicains from France, liberals from Spain, conservatives and liberals from Poland and many others from all political backgrounds across the continent. Quite contrary to the statement in the petition that
“The EU looks set to offer us a punishment deal out of spite”,
my feeling from talking with delegates from all political ideologies and traditions from across the continent was resignation, disappointment—there is genuine sadness in many quarters that we are leaving—and a genuine desire to make the best of it. They all recognise that a good deal between the UK and the EU is essential, not only for the establishment of good relations in the post-Brexit world, but for the economies of their respective countries as well as our own.
The running argument between the assembly member for Calais and me, about which of our two countries was the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, belied the underlying truth that the UK economy—we are fifth, by the way—is one of the strongest in the world, and it continues to grow. Our intelligence services work together and are closely intertwined with others on the continent. Our navies work together, combating illegal people trafficking in the Mediterranean, and our soldiers stand shoulder to shoulder in NATO, facing common enemies from Afghanistan to the Balkans.
Many Europeans have made Great Britain their home—my wife included—and they contribute to our communities and our economy, just as Brits do across the continent. We have shared values, a shared cultural heritage, a shared commitment to democracy and freedom in the rule of law and, ultimately, we are all Europeans. In my case, I am mightily proud to be so.
The UK is leaving the political construct of the European Union—that is beyond doubt. The people of these islands chose to do so in the biggest single act of democratic participation for more than three decades. There were 35 million votes, representing 72.2% of the registered voters of this country who took part in the referendum. That is a higher percentage turnout than at any general election since 1992, and it is higher in percentage terms than any election to the Scottish Parliament, and the referendums on the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the alternative vote. In nearly 30 years, in percentage turnout by eligible electors, the EU referendum was beaten only by the referendum on Scottish independence, which had an 84% turnout and a result that I know everyone here agrees was conclusive and settled that argument for a generation at least.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I would be delighted to.
I am sure it will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I do not agree that the argument is settled for a generation. Does he, like me, recall that Scottish voters were told during the independence referendum campaign that the way to preserve their EU citizenship was to vote to remain part of the UK? Does he accept that that turned out not to be the case?
I absolutely accept that. That was the case at the time, of course, but the people of Scotland went to the polls in 2014 in the full knowledge that a referendum on our membership of the EU was on the table. It was January 2013 when David Cameron made his speech at Bloomberg stating his intention to hold a referendum on our membership of the EU if the Conservatives secured a majority at the 2015 general election. The people of Scotland went to the polls in September 2014 in the full knowledge that that would happen if we won a majority.
Will the hon. Gentleman remind us how David Cameron’s party got on in Scotland in 2015, when it put that referendum promise in its manifesto? How many MPs did the Tories get elected in 2015?
It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I tend to reflect more favourably on the result this year, when 13 Scottish Conservatives were returned to this Parliament and, sadly, the Scottish National party lost 21 seats to various Unionist parties. As much as I would like to continue that debate for the entire evening, I must carry on.
In June 2016, 17.5 million people voted to leave the EU and 16 million people voted to remain. That was a conclusive result, which must be respected by all who claim to be democrats. We are leaving the EU, but we are not—this is absolutely key—leaving Europe. That has been recognised on countless occasions by the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. We will remain the closest of friends and allies outwith the single market, the customs union and the political bodies of the European Union. It is evident from my discussions last week and from discussions at a far higher level than mine that our friends in Europe recognise that, too.
I too attended a summit at the weekend in the wake of the Franco-British summit. It was a summit of British and French politicians and businessmen. The French businessmen told us that they are exasperated with Britain, that they want to know what Britain wants out of Brexit and that, if we do not say what we want soon, decisions will be taken that go against the UK’s interests. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we require clarity rather than to crash out with no deal and no indication of what we want?
I do not advocate, nor do I think anyone in the Government advocates, crashing out. The negotiations are ongoing, and what we want out of the negotiations is key to our getting a good deal from them.
Does that mean that it is now accepted that the argument that no deal is better than a bad deal is completely mistaken?
I will come to this in a second, but I am saying that I believe a good deal is very much on the cards. I have complete confidence that our negotiating team and the European Commission’s negotiators will get a deal that benefits both us and our friends and partners in the European Union.
Is the hon. Gentleman able to provide the clarity that his colleagues in the Government have so far not been able to provide about what it is that Britain wants? What are the UK Government’s negotiating objectives? What kind of deal do they want with the EU27? Does he know the answers?
I refer the hon. and learned Lady to the Prime Minister’s speeches at Lancaster House here in London and in Florence, which underlined absolutely what we are asking for from our negotiations with the European Union. I have full confidence in our negotiating team’s ability to achieve those objectives.
Despite the disappointment among our friends and allies on the continent that we are leaving, they recognise that that will free them up to take the EU down a path of their choosing—namely, further integration and co-operation—which would have been opposed and obstructed by the UK at every juncture. Let us be clear: a strong and united Europe is in our national interest. That is why we should do all we can to support it and to assist and work with our allies when and where we can. They know that a strong UK is in their interests. That is why a deal can and will be made, as President Tusk, President Juncker and various Heads of State have made clear.
All effort must go into securing that deal for our farmers, our fishermen, our traders, our bankers, our industrialists, our exporters and our importers, for British subjects in the EU and for European citizens in the UK. We parliamentarians must rally behind those negotiations. A good deal is in all our interests and in our constituents’ interests. Our negotiators are not best served by threats of a second referendum, flip-flopping over the single market or continual threats of another independence referendum in Scotland.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, because I have given way many times. I apologise.
Of course, we must be prepared to walk away if it looks like the deal is bad—it would be a strange sort of negotiation if we were not—but I do not believe that will be the case. However, to walk away now as the petition suggests would clearly be folly. I say to the more than 100,000 people who signed the petition, including the 163 in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine: please have patience. The Government are determined to strike a good deal. The EU is determined to strike a good deal. The nation states on the continent are lobbying for the best deal, which they know is in all our interests. I know that, when the negotiations with our friends in Europe are complete, we will have formed the basis of a new special relationship that complements the one we already have with the United States and the ones will have with our oldest allies in the Commonwealth, and that we will be able to move forward together as Europeans into a brighter, less rancorous future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon.
During the 2016 referendum, I campaigned to leave the European Union, and I voted to leave. Despite our campaign having to battle the beast of the Scottish political establishment, we managed to achieve more than 1 million leave votes. To my frustration, far too often those leave voters are airbrushed out of the picture and Scotland is presented as Europhile, Eurocentric and keen on further integration with Europe. That just is not the case. To my disappointment, the Scottish Government’s Minister for leaving the European Union told an event in Brussels that 5 million Scots voted to remain. That just is not the case. The picture is different from how it is often portrayed.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I would like to make some progress first.
Scottish attitudes are actually similar to those in the rest of the United Kingdom. We just have to look at the Scottish attitudes survey, published merely a couple of weeks ago, to see that, when it comes to leaving the single market, Scots are in line with the rest of the UK: they want to leave. We also want immigration to remain at UK level; we do not want divergence.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I would like to make some more progress, but I will take an intervention from the hon. Lady in a moment. She said that good decisions are made by discussion and debate. We had months of discussion and debate in Scotland during the referendum campaign, and I believe that a good decision was made as a result.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept, then, that we should discuss and debate? Is it not the Opposition’s job to scrutinise what the Government do rather than simply to get behind them and allow them to make bad decisions because there has not been discussion and debate?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: every Opposition should hold the Government to account and hold their feet to the fire, but there is a difference between accepting the result and holding the Government to account, and simply trying to frustrate and overturn the result by arguing for another referendum.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I would like to make some progress on addressing the point of the petition. It asks us: “Why wait?” Well, we have been able to do some waiting since the petition was created in September. It is worth considering what has transpired since then, because that helps to answer the question.
Take last month’s phase 1 agreement, which was a great success for the Government and testified to the fact that the EU wants a good deal, too, and is willing to make concessions to achieve it. After the referendum, a strange doom-monger alliance of ultra-remainers and Nigel Farage ran around insisting that we would have to pay a punitive “Brexit bill” of more than £50 billion—that was before anyone had included the implementation period until December 2020—yet last month the overall settlement, including the implementation period, turned out to be much lower. We were told that the EU would insist that its courts had jurisdiction over the enforcement of EU citizens’ rights here, yet last month we got a time-limited option for our courts voluntarily to refer unclear cases to the European Court of Justice. On the Irish border, we were told that Northern Ireland would have to have a separate deal and, in effect, remain part of the EU for customs purposes.
I am a member of the Exiting the European Union Committee, and when we took evidence it was clear: the experts told us that the can has been kicked down the road. The joint statement may have made a no Brexit scenario less likely, but it has also made a hard Brexit scenario very much less likely. Basically, nothing has been resolved.
That proves the point: we have seen nothing constructive from the Opposition. Actually, in the same way as they were confounded by the phase 1 agreement in their argument, we can bet that they will be confounded in their argument again at the end of phase 2. All we have had from the Opposition on leaving the European Union is perpetual pessimism and talking Britain down. I am talking Britain up, because we can achieve so much more when we leave the European Union. We have a bright future ahead of us.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, first, it seems the overwhelming majority of people who want a second referendum are remain voters? Secondly, I do not recall anyone—remain or otherwise—saying that if the referendum result was to leave the European Union, we would need a subsequent referendum on the deal. Does he see it like that as well?
I agree. If the result had gone the other way and the United Kingdom had voted to remain in the European Union, we would have accepted the result.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
I would like to make some more progress. I do not think we would have seen a call for another referendum to leave the European Union.
On the border with Northern Ireland, it was made clear last month that when we leave, we will leave as one United Kingdom. Now, the doom-mongers will say, “Sure, phase 1 was fine, but they’re going to punish us in phase 2.” After being wrong about the economic effects of a leave vote, the economic effects of article 50 being triggered and the outcome of phase 1, we might think they would have given up on “Project Fear” by now, but apparently not.
How can anyone know what is right or wrong about forecasts of the economic impact of Brexit when we have not left yet and the Treasury has not done an impact analysis? What is the source of the figures that enable the hon. Gentleman to say that it will not cause an economic problem?
I vividly remember being told during that campaign that, according to the Treasury, not just leaving the European Union but voting to leave the European Union would lead to an emergency Budget and a mass sense of panic. The world was going to collapse around our ears because of the economic devastation caused, but that simply never came to fruition.
What should be considered is this month’s analysis by the EU committee of the regions, which demonstrates why we have leverage in the Brexit negotiations. It found that—unsurprisingly—no deal would be not ideal for major industries in the EU 27, to put it mildly. It transpires that the EU cannot afford to be blasé about no deal or intransient in the negotiations, because a good deal is in our mutual interests. That is why I am confident we will get exactly that.
I believe in Brexit. I believe we will make Britain more prosperous and more democratic. We will be able to: equip our economy better to face the challenges of the 21st century; develop agriculture, fisheries and immigration systems better tailored to this country’s needs; decouple ourselves from the fortunes of a routinely crisis-hit EU; restore our democracy; enhance devolution at home; and become a global leader in free trade. Getting a good deal with the EU is part of that last goal.
The truth is that we are not waiting but laying the groundwork for the best Brexit possible: one that maintains free trade with our European neighbours while allowing us to reap the benefits of leaving. The past few months have shown that a good Brexit deal is not just achievable but highly likely. The fears of those who want us to ignore the referendum result and remain, and of those who want us to walk away immediately, have proved to be unfounded.
I understand why some Brexit supporters are upset by the efforts of the Opposition—the Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat politicians who undermine Brexit—but successive votes have shown that, in this elected House, we have a Conservative-led cross-party majority for democracy. We will deliver Brexit, both here in Parliament and in the negotiations. There are now just 14 months until we leave, so we are closer to exit day than to the referendum day. After 45 years of EU membership, there is not much longer to wait, and we will be better off for it.
I am pleased to begin the summing up of the debate. Interestingly, no one wanted to speak about how a no-deal Brexit would be a good idea. That is not surprising: I suspect that all 650 Members of the House know, deep down in their hearts, that leaving the EU without a deal would be almost criminally incompetent on the negotiators’ part.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), who introduced the debate, did what a representative of the Petitions Committee should do: he presented both sides of the argument. I commend him for that. I would be a bit concerned if one of the benefits of Brexit was that we went back to being what he described as a “buccaneering maritime trading nation”. Buccaneers were the state-sponsored international terrorists of their day. The fact that we can hark back—even jokingly—to days when part of Britain’s power as a trading nation was founded on piracy, theft, murder and similar crimes may be an indication of how we have got into the state we are in now.
There is a tendency—certainly in sections of the right-wing media and the right wing of the Conservative party—to build up the days of the empire, when everything was wonderful, and say, “Can’t we just go back to the days when Britannia ruled the waves and waived the rules? Everything will be fine.” No, we cannot, because 6.5 billion to 7 billion people on the other side of the water are saying, “No—this is our country. You are not getting to run India, Pakistan or Kenya in the interests of a handful of British businesses in the way you did before.”
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I call Ross Thomson—sorry, Andrew Bowie.
I have been called much worse, Mrs Moon. I may be wrong—forgive me—but I did not hear anyone in this Chamber, the House of Commons or anywhere else say that we should go back to the days when we ruled India or that we should rule the waves and bring back the empire. That is simply not what we are debating.
Perhaps I have misunderstood what a buccaneering maritime trading nation is or what period in history it refers to. If so, I am happy to apologise, but the days of the buccaneers were those of international pirates and terrorists sponsored by businesses in one country in effect to terrorise the interests of other countries.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) made a powerful, well-put-together contribution. Importantly, she did not talk just about trade. Because trade is such a vital part of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union, it is easy to forget all the other benefits that come from EU membership, such as open skies. There was recently an interesting suggestion that MPs should be allowed to know which of their constituents sign petitions as well as how many of them do so. I would like to go back to the 107 of my constituents who signed the petition—that is 0.12% of the electorate—and say, “Have you heard of open skies? Did you know that it existed when you voted to leave the European Union, or when you signed the petition saying we should leave without a deal? Did you really understand that, without a deal, British-owned and operated airlines will not have automatic authority to land their aircraft or even cross over European airspace after take-off? The only way they will be allowed to do that is through getting a deal.”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the accusations about “Project Fear” are way off? We should talk about “Project Realism.”
To be honest, some of the claims made by those who claimed to be on the remain side before the referendum were nonsensical. In the past couple of weeks I think I have heard five Members on the Conservative Benches say, “You can’t believe what the Treasury tell you during a referendum campaign.” We know that, and perhaps some in other parts of the House need to remember that.
At the time of the referendum, and I suspect even now, an awful lot of people in the United Kingdom did not understand—and they still do not fully understand—how complex our relationship with the European Union is. It is not just about being able to buy bananas with as much or little bend in them as we like or being able to prevent these so-and-so foreigners from coming over and taking our jobs or claiming our benefits—which they do not do. It is much more detailed and complicated than that, and to extricate ourselves from that relationship in a way that does not harm the interests of the people of these islands is a difficult and perhaps impossible task. Time alone will tell.
Going back to my earlier comments, would the hon. Gentleman agree that continually saying people do not understand what they were voting for is patronising and why petitions such as the one before us today are presented to this place?
[David Hanson in the Chair]
No, I do not agree at all. I remember when one of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues in the main Chamber turned talking about people not being well informed into a claim that they were stupid—and, of course, the Daily Express, as is its wont, put me on the front page saying that people who voted to leave were stupid.
I would never question anyone’s sincerity or intelligence when they cast a vote in a referendum or election, but the fact is that many people, at the time they voted, did not fully understand the implications of what they voted for. People will sometimes do that in an election, too. They vote for the party they usually vote for, and do not really look into the issues in any great depth. If someone does not like the outcome of a general election, they get another chance in a few years. Calling the referendum as the Government did, so quickly, and having it deliberately in the middle of important council and parliamentary elections in almost every nation of the United Kingdom, so that the referendum campaign ran at the same time, prevented debate of the length and detail that was needed.
Is it not time that we all admitted that there were things we did not know about the European Union? When I listen to what is said in the Exiting the European Union Committee, I hear so much information about the European Union that we did not know. It is not necessarily a question of a mistake or fault, but if even we did not know all the details and all the ins and outs of the European Union that are emerging in the debate now, it is time we said so. That would make both remain and leave voters comfortable about saying that they did not know about some aspects of the EU, but that they know them now, which is why it is healthy to have a debate.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. However, I want to make it clear that I respect the wish of the people of England and Wales, as expressed in the referendum. I insist—I demand, as do my constituents—that the wish of 62% of people in Scotland, as well as the wish of the majority vote in Northern Ireland, should be respected too. That does not have to mean that some should be in the EU and some out, but it must mean seeking—not necessarily reaching—a solution and deal that, as far as possible, recognise the diverse views in these islands. We keep being told that we are a partnership of equals. It would not be acceptable for the express wishes of 62% of voters in England to be cast aside in contempt, as is happening to the express wishes of 62% of voters in Scotland.
I was pleased that some speakers in the debate discussed the absolute need for a deal on Northern Ireland, so that we know what the status of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be. Most people in the United Kingdom did not think that that would be an issue during the referendum; it was hardly raised in any debate. It was a major issue in the debate in Northern Ireland, but in most of the rest of the United Kingdom, if it appeared anywhere, it would be at the bottom of page 22 of someone’s submission. Incidentally, I include myself in those comments: I did not appreciate how fundamentally damaging a hard border and a no-deal Brexit could be to the Northern Ireland peace process. That does not mean that people in mainland Great Britain voted stupidly; it simply means they did not have the information at their disposal. Would that knowledge have made a difference to their votes? We do not know. It is too late: that horse has gone.
It is not too late to make sure that there is a deal that protects the promises that the Government of these islands made to the international community and the Government of the Republic of Ireland at the time of the Good Friday peace agreement. There is a guarantee that there will be no border controls on the Irish border. That is what everyone whom the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee spoke to in Northern Ireland desperately wants. The Committee spoke to senior police officers who are still leading the fight against terrorism, representatives of community organisations, and politicians—any elected politician who came to see us, including a number from Sinn Fein.
It was perhaps surprising how much unanimity there was across the spectrum about the fact that we cannot afford a return to the days of armed border checkpoints across the island of Ireland. Many of the people we spoke to—and not only on the nationalist-leaning side—believe that if we leave the European Union without a deal it will be almost impossible to prevent border posts from returning, and to prevent the return of other things from the sad history of that island.
There were several contributions by Scottish Conservatives, every one of whom, completely unprovoked, tried to reopen another referendum argument, which is not on the agenda just now. The Scottish Conservatives want a public debate involving the whole population of Scotland, about its future place in the world. I am ready for that, but it is interesting that no matter the subject being discussed they always manage to talk about that.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
My goodness—what a decision! The hon. Gentlemen are almost identical. I give way to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson).
I am grateful. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that is not the Scottish Conservatives wedging the issue into the debate. The fact is that before anyone could even digest the European Union referendum result, the First Minister was immediately in front of the television cameras in Bute House putting a second independence referendum back on the table, against the wishes of the people. We are not crowbarring it into the debate; it is the First Minister.
I am afraid what the hon. Gentleman says about its being against the wishes of the people is completely inaccurate. The First Minister of Scotland did that a few weeks after being re-elected, when the people of Scotland had voted for a Government who explicitly said in their election manifesto that, if we faced being dragged out of the European Union against our will, that could trigger a referendum.
The people of Scotland can choose whether to respect the wishes of the 55% who want to be in the United Kingdom or those of the 62% who want to be in the European Union. As I have said, I am happy for that process and debate to start at any time when the Scottish Conservatives can get their act together. I do not want to labour the point, because the present debate is supposed to be about the European Union. I simply want to say that the Scottish Conservatives have once again shown their obsession with independence. They cannot even talk about an important matter such as membership of the European Union without bringing the independence argument into it.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the choice between the 55% who want to stay in the UK and the 62% who want to stay in the EU. Things do not have to be so mutually exclusive: we can stay in the UK and, hopefully, we could stay in the EU as well.
I think that that prospect is becoming much less likely as time goes on. We certainly can retain a lot of the benefits of EU membership. We can do that by staying in the single market. There has never been a referendum vote by the people of the United Kingdom to leave the single market, so it is perfectly legitimate for the Government to admit that they have got that wrong, and to go back on it.
I was quite interested when a Member—I think it was the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie)—referred to the high turnout in the EU referendum and used that as a basis for treating it as binding, conclusive and final. It might surprise some people, but the percentage of eligible voters in the UK who voted to leave the European Union was lower than the percentage of eligible voters in Catalonia who voted to leave Spain. I suggest that if the EU vote is binding, conclusive and final, the future of Catalonia has been determined by its people. Of course, the Government do not want to fall out with Spain, so they will not recognise that.
The difference between those two referendums is that the one on our membership of the European Union was legal, whereas the one on Catalonia’s membership of Spain was not legal in any way. It was an illegal referendum, as has been recognised by the European Union and the United Nations.
It was legal according to the wish of the people of Catalonia. The referendum in Gibraltar was illegal, but the United Kingdom was quite happy to recognise it and act on its result—and I think it was right. We must be very careful about quoting the European Union as the arbiter of what is and is not acceptable as a way for any nation or people to seek to determine its own future. That does not quite sound like taking back control to me.
To go back to the matter we are supposed to be debating—the petition signed by just over 137,000 people across the United Kingdom—part of the issue I have with it is that some of the statements of fact at the start are quite simply untrue. The European Union is not, and never has been, intent on deliberately punishing the United Kingdom for a decision by its people. For all its faults, at its heart, the European Union wants to see itself as an organisation that respects democracy. That is why, despite the comments from the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), who has not been able to stay for the rest of the debate, it will not be easy to get back in after we leave. The United Kingdom would be disqualified from applying for membership of the European Union because we are not democratic enough, since more than half of our legislators in the UK Parliament are not elected but appointed on patronage.
The European Union sees itself as an organisation that wants to recognise the will of the people, whether in elections or referendums. What it has said, and will continue to say—I do not think the Government have quite got this yet—is that under no circumstances will the European Union allow the United Kingdom to have a better relationship with the EU by leaving than we would have had had we stayed. That is perfectly understandable and logical; it would be astonishing if it did anything different.
The petition also talks about a “settlement fee”. There is no settlement fee. There have been discussions to agree the liabilities that the United Kingdom has accrued through commitments it made as a member of the European Union, and any liabilities due to come back to the United Kingdom in the same way. Although it is on a bigger scale and more complex, it is a bit like somebody deciding to leave the house they rent before the end of the month and expecting to get a couple of weeks’ rent back because they decided not to stay until the end of the rental period.
If we scale that up several million times, that is what the European Union has been saying to the UK and what the UK has accepted in its relationship with the European Union. Talking about it as a settlement fee or a divorce payment, as many in the media have done, is misleading and steers people down the path of saying, “This is clearly unfair. Let’s just leave without even bothering to wait to fulfil our international legal obligations.”
I think the reason that the petition has attracted so many signatures has been mentioned. There is a clear malaise about politics in these islands. People are fed up with politicians and political parties. They are fed up with the notion that someone can tell blatant lies during a referendum campaign and it does not matter as long as they still win at the ballot box. People do not want that any more. They are fed up with politicians who make promises when everybody knows the promise will be broken.
I am sorry to say that we have not seen any change in that practice from the present Government; we only have to look at the backsliding on the firm commitment that there would be changes to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in the Commons on Report to avoid any undermining of the devolution settlement. That was a clear promise given by the Secretary of State for Scotland, which was completely ignored when the crunch came. When politicians are allowed to break promises like that and get away with it, it is no wonder that the public begin to lose faith in all of us.
The hon. Gentleman has made a few valid points in his speech about ensuring honesty and clarity over the course of this debate. He made specific reference to clause 11, which was debated in the main Chamber just last week. In the interests of clarity and honesty, does he accept that amendments were not made because there are ongoing negotiations between the devolved Administrations and Her Majesty’s Government? An agreement has not yet been reached and when it has been we can table amendments and make them? Does he also accept that it is not over yet? The Bill goes to the House of Lords but it will come back to the Commons, when both he and I will have the chance to approve, reject or propose amendments in lieu.
That prompts the question as to why the Secretary of State for Scotland made those unconditional guarantees at the Dispatch Box. There was a time when a Minister who made promises at the Dispatch Box and did not keep them could not possibly remain a Minister. Perhaps, if we were prepared to go back to those days, we could start to rebuild some of the trust that has been lost.
One of the great ironies is that, while a lot of the emotion linked to petitions such as this is the result of a lack of trust in politicians, both the hard Brexiteers and the not-so-hard Brexiteers on the Government side are asking us to trust the entire future of our nations to a small and not particularly accountable group of Government Ministers and advisers in the negotiations. To me, that seems completely illogical. If the process has been driven by people’s loss of trust in their politicians, the one thing we should not be doing is passing legislation that allows a few Ministers to go off and do what they like, with little or no effective scrutiny or holding them to account.
I will not say “blame” because I do not like using the word, but I think certainly the Conservatives, and the Labour party for a number of years, deserve to be strongly criticised for not standing up to dismiss the EU myths. I know that Labour have begun to do it more recently, but by that time it was too late. Instead of David Cameron saying that as part of his EU negotiation he would put an end to benefits tourism, why could he not have just told the truth and said, “We don’t need to put an end to it because it doesn’t really exist to any noticeable extent in the first place”? Why did he not say, “We’re going to use the rights we already have to prevent benefits tourism in its entirety”? Why, when there was so much talk about the damage being done to our economy by immigration, did no one in the Government stand up and say, “Immigration is good for our economy”?
It is all very well to explain that, but when we look at the signatures on the petition, they come from areas that have had very large impacts from inward migration from the European Union. That was largely caused during the period when former Prime Ministers Blair and Brown could have put restrictions on the number of EU migrants coming in, and did not. That is what has caused the issues, because the volumes coming in meant that it was difficult for local councils to adjust to the demands on their services. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point on that matter.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point, and I have a lot of sympathy with her. However, the fact is that under the existing freedom of movement rules within the European Union, if the UK Government determined that there were particular geographical areas of high unemployment, for example, they would have the authority to take steps to restrict freedom of movement in those areas. That is just one example.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to talk about the difficulties that local authorities, health authorities and so on have had in dealing with a significant number of people, whether they have come from the UK or elsewhere. A significant increase in the population of an area in a short time does cause difficulties, which were made much worse by the complete inadequacy of the system of Government funding for local services, certainly in England; I.do not know whether it applies in Northern Ireland or Wales. Local authorities simply were not given the powers they needed to take decisions to cope with increased demand for their services, because it was easier for some people to blame it on immigrants than on a failure of Government policy.
We have seen the EU myths that were never properly challenged; we had the myth again today about the all-powerful European Commission, able to impose laws on the United Kingdom. It is not. The Parliament of Wallonia was able to hold up the comprehensive economic and trade agreement deal. The Parliament of the United Kingdom tried to prevent the relevant UK Minister from signing it, but they went off and signed it anyway, against an explicit instruction from the European Scrutiny Committee acting with the full authority of the House of Commons. The Scrutiny Committee said to the Minister, “No, you don’t sign it.” The Minister went and signed it anyway.
The lack of parliamentary control and scrutiny over what has been happening in Europe for the last 20 years is not down to problems with the European Union. It is down to this Government and previous Governments being prepared to ride roughshod over the will of the House when it suited them.
If we were to accept just walking away from the European Union right now, none of these great international trade deals, which we are told will suddenly come out of the pipeline a few days after we leave, will be possible. Who will go into a major trade deal with anybody who says, “Oh yes, we had the biggest trade deal in the economic history of planet Earth, and we walked away from it and didn’t even stay to comply with the obligations we’d adopted and agreed to under that. We welched on the last trade deal we had; can we have a trade deal with you, please?” That is not going to happen. Even as a matter of self-interest and to present ourselves as an honest trading partner to future trade deals, we must ensure that we fulfil the obligations of our existing EU membership.
I do not have to hand figures for the rest of the United Kingdom, but in Scotland, we currently have £15.9 billion-worth of exports that go either to the EU or to countries to which we have access because of our EU membership. That is 56% of all Scotland’s international exports, and the figure is likely to rise to between 80% and 90% by the time we actually leave the European Union, because of the number of new trade deals that are coming on stream. We are looking at a potential drop in Scotland’s GDP of £12.7 billion if we leave without a deal. Actually, there is no scenario of leaving the EU that does not cause a reduction in Scotland’s GDP, but leaving with no deal is by far the worst. People would on average be £2,300 worse off. Who was it who said that nobody voted to make themselves poorer when they voted to leave the European Union? Perhaps they did not vote for that, but if we leave without a deal, it is what is going to happen.
I respect the views of the people who have signed this petition. I take offence at those who say that I am accusing people of being stupid. I would never use words such as “traitor” or “disloyal” to anybody simply because they voted or spoke in a way that I disagreed with. It is mainly Conservatives who have had those terms thrown at them, and worse, simply for following what they think are the interests of their constituents. That is despicable and should be called out and condemned unreservedly by us all whenever it happens. I have spoken out previously when people who claim to be on the same side as me have used similar inflammatory language about people they disagree with. There is simply no place for that in any democratic and free society.
That said, I genuinely do not understand what people who signed the petition think would happen if we were to leave the EU tomorrow without a deal. Let us say that we did leave tomorrow without a deal. There is no agreement on the future of the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK or the 1.5 million Brits living in the European Union. There is no deal about no border in Ireland, and that quite possibly means there is no longer a peace process in Ireland. There is no deal that allows our planes to continue to fly to the EU’s airports and its planes to bring us back from our holidays afterwards.
I think that the Prime Minister was highly irresponsible in coming up with the cheap line that no deal is better than a bad deal. The final sentence of the last report from the Exiting the European Union Committee was that it could not envisage, or it would be difficult to envisage, any scenario that the negotiating team would bring back that could possibly be as damaging as leaving the European Union without a deal, so let us get rid of that terminology, the sloganising, and the sound bites. They might sound good and get a few cheers on the front page of the Daily Mail, but they are contributing to a negative part of the whole debate. No deal is not better than a bad deal. No deal is the worst of all possible deals. This Parliament should have the courage of its convictions and send that message out, and each of us should be prepared, if need be, to say face to face to those of our constituents who signed the petition, “I know that you have done this sincerely and this is what you believe, but I cannot support it, because I am convinced that it is a recipe for complete and utter disaster.”
It is a great pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson.
We have had a good debate. Much of it has been very familiar in subject and theme, but the petition has succeeded in achieving something that I never thought I would see, which is that everybody who has spoken has been in agreement on the undesirability of accepting the instruction contained in it. I have been in so many Brexit debates during the past year and a half and that has never happened before, so we should at least acknowledge it. We have managed to find many things to disagree about, none the less.
It will not surprise anybody to know that I fundamentally disagree with the petition. The very first line says that we should
“walk away from the Article 50 negotiations and leave the EU immediately with no deal.”
We have agreed to take part in negotiations, as we accepted we would when we triggered article 50. It is suggested that we should walk away and not complete that task. I do not think, and clearly nobody here believes, that that would be the right thing for the United Kingdom to do.
I speak as somebody who campaigned for remain. We all seem to have to tell our little Brexit biography when we make these speeches. I campaigned for remain; my constituency voted 56% to leave. To be completely honest, that caused me to reflect, to think and to listen incredibly hard to what my constituents were telling me through that vote and what they expected me to do about it. Having promised throughout the campaign that I would honour, respect and abide by the outcome of the referendum, that is what I intend to do and what I have done through the triggering of article 50 and the process subsequently. But the listening is two-way. I have had to explain to my constituents that this is a process and it will take far longer and use up far more energy than I think any of us would really like, but it needs that energy, focus and attention from Parliament and the Government in order to result in a good deal.
I have days when I pretty much think, “Oh my goodness, why are we doing this?” You want it to stop. I think the public are bored with much of this, if I am honest. There was a time when Brexit was the first thing that people spoke about, it was the topic of heated conversation down the pub, but I think that for many people that is declining now. Since the general election, the debate has been moving on and there is growing acceptance that Brexit is going to happen, but that makes the responsibility all the more keenly felt by us that we must deliver a deal that is worthy of our country.
Whenever we discuss these things, we inevitably talk a great deal about trade and about WTO tariffs and crashing out. I heard the admonishment from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) about the term “crashing out”, but his colleagues used it, so I am using it as well; we all know what we mean. We talk about what a disaster that could be for this country, and particularly for certain sectors. It is true that some businesses and sectors and possibly some parts of the country could withstand it, but I do not believe that my region, the north-east, could do so. The National Farmers Union has been clear that farmers would have a lot to say about 30% or 40% tariffs on exports to the EU. The automotive sector would have an awful lot to say. I think that the customs checks that would need to be implemented overnight, for which we are not prepared, would have a disastrous effect on our ports and airports. The port of Dover estimates that even a two-minute delay in the time taken to process each lorry would result in 17 miles of tailbacks. The people of Kent would not thank us for that.
We also talk very often about the impact on financial services and the immediate loss of passporting, which enables banks to do business across the EU without setting up subsidiaries or relocating. The Financial Conduct Authority says that 5,467 firms rely on passporting rights. The immediate loss of that would be a catastrophe for that sector. The UK has a trade surplus of £11 billion in services, and the loss of passporting would be disruptive, expensive and incredibly time consuming.
We really do not know what the impact would be in the wider economy. We suspect that it would probably not be good. It would be good, responsible and transparent government if some impact assessments were conducted and published. I do not intend to go round that whole debate again this evening, but it has not helped confidence in the Government’s handling of this process to have had the row about impact assessments. I am thinking of the misleading statements that were made about whether or not there are impact assessments and what they consist of, and the embarrassment that must surely have been felt by the Department about that whole saga.
Another thing that is said is, “You have voted now. You have triggered article 50. What about the withdrawal Bill?” The reason we are undertaking the whole process of the withdrawal Bill is so that we can align our rules with those of the EU once the Bill has passed. It has not passed yet, so were we to leave before that Bill has passed, we would have massive holes in our book of rules—how we run the country. Even when it has passed, one could say that not much would change in terms of regulation and red tape. The Government have done that, although we think they are doing this process incredibly badly. One could say that the Government are doing it deliberately in this way so that a deal can be made more easily once the withdrawal Bill has passed and we reach the end of negotiations.
All the Bill does is enshrine EU regulations in law, but it does not provide on its own for reciprocal recognition; that would need to be part of a future relationship agreement. It is not properly understood that the withdrawal agreement the Government are negotiating and the future relationship agreement or deal, which is probably of the most interest to our constituents, are separate things. There is a good chance that we will not know the future relationship—the future trade deal or whatever form it happens to take—by March 2019, so it would be very dangerous indeed to leave the European Union now, before that process is complete.
The hon. Lady has admitted that we had a good and constructive debate about how we all need to have a good deal. Is there not a danger that we end up with a good deal that we all agree with, but it will look very much like being a member of the European Union? In the end, everyone who voted, for leave or remain, will look at it all and say, “What was all this about and why did we go through all this pain when the end is similar—just a little bit worse—to what we had as members of the European Union?”
I do not know what deal the Government are going to make. I hope that they are capable of making something better than no deal. If the phrase “No deal is better than a bad deal” ever meant anything, it is losing whatever credence it had. I do not know how little confidence they have in their own negotiators that they would come back with something that bad. It is important that the deal we reach protects jobs and the economy. I think that is what the hon. Lady wants, but the Labour party recognises that it is also important that the deal recognises the outcome of the referendum. That is a difficult thing to achieve and a difficult thing to encapsulate in a single sentence. That is where the negotiations will succeed or fail, because the deal that is reached must settle the relationship we have with the European Union for 20 or 30 years, perhaps longer. We cannot have a perpetual state of negotiation and renegotiation, and referendum after referendum.
Does the hon. Lady agree that, from that point of view, EFTA membership is very attractive? One of the big concerns and reservations my constituents have is around ever closer union. EFTA gives us the benefit of a close relationship and a trading relationship without the political institutions, but still delivers that close and special partnership with the European Union.
Well, it could, but we should not be so lacking in imagination that we cannot conceive of alternatives that may also offer benefits, without being tied to an existing form or treaty. Sometimes we disappear down the rabbit hole of the customs union, the single market and existing forms of arrangement. Actually, we might be able to do better than that. Let us keep those on the table, rather than do what the Prime Minister thought she was doing in the Florence speech and take them away. It is conceivable that something else may be possible. The option the hon. Lady outlined does have the benefits she describes and it should never be written off without proper debate and negotiation. I fear that that is what the Government initially attempted to do. Although post-phase 1, one could argue that that is back in play—we shall see.
Another thing that frequently comes up in these debates is the plight of UK citizens in Europe and EU citizens in the UK. People have been described as bargaining chips in this process, so what would happen to those bargaining chips if the negotiations did collapse because we walked away? They would be left in a very precarious situation indeed. They would have no status and no rights, and that is not a situation that we should take lightly. I am pleased that hon. Members have made that point in this debate and it ought to be something we consider very carefully.
There are also the issues of crime, counter-terrorism, exchange of data, the arrangements we have with Europol and the European arrest warrant. We are a member of all of those things by virtue of the fact that we are part of the European Union. It may be that we can have separate deals on those issues—who knows? But we certainly would not if we just walked away, as the petition urges us to do. We would also become less attractive to future trade partners. The public perception of the incompetence of this Government would only be enhanced were they to take that route—so perhaps there is something in it—but it is difficult to imagine a worse outcome for Britain than failing to agree a deal.
The issue of Northern Ireland and the Irish border may be the most difficult to solve. Looking at the approach the Government intend to take, I do not think anybody should have anything to do with these negotiations until they have been to the border and spoken to people who live there, community leaders and business leaders in Northern Ireland, because it is the most critical issue for anybody living in that part of the world that there is no return to any form of infrastructure on the border. One can conceive of any number of possibilities, such as a digital border, light-touch border checks and arrangements for small businesses but not for others. All those things are possible, but I tell the Minister that any kind of infrastructure on that border will make peace and the conduct of daily life in that part of the world impossible, and that must not be allowed to happen.
It is good that phase 1 rules out the prospect of a separate deal for Northern Ireland and some kind of border down the Irish sea. That is welcome. There needs to be a solution that preserves the integrity of the Union, but one cannot then say that we will have any other kind of border infrastructure on the island of Ireland. I am very interested to find out quite how we solve that in the context of what was agreed in phase 1. The statements made on the alignment of regulations are fascinating. Now that those things are going to be put into a legal document, we will have to get some real resolution to these questions and not the fudge and clever use of words we have seen so far.
I have heard other people say, “Oh, you are catastrophising when you talk about Northern Ireland in that way.” We are not. There are still shootings in Northern Ireland—61 incidents last year. There are still people active in that part of the world who are prepared to use those methods. That is not something we should take lightly. Many of my constituents fought in Northern Ireland and they understand what this means. Whether they voted to leave or remain, they understand that this is not a question that can just be skirted over or somehow dismissed. It needs a proper resolution and any outcome that reinstates a hard border would be fought against by my constituents, even those who voted to leave.
Another reason for us to reject the petition is consistency. The Labour manifesto in 2017 said that
“leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ is the worst possible deal for Britain and that it would do damage to our economy and trade. We will reject ‘no deal’ as a viable option and if needs be negotiate transitional arrangements to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ for the economy.”
Some of the Prime Minister’s words can be interpreted as almost agreeing with that sense of needing a transitional period and being willing to negotiate in that way. That is welcome, and we should say that it is, but she now has to deliver that and keep the confidence of her parliamentary party while she does so—let us hope that she can.
Nobody voted to be poorer, to lose their job, for chaos or to be less safe. That is what would happen if we accepted the petition, as we are urged to do. It is very good indeed that everybody here agrees that that would be a bad outcome. If we can take anything away from today, it is that we accept that a deal is the best outcome and that walking away with no deal would be a disaster for the UK and is something that we should resist as far as we can.
Thank you for your stewardship and chairmanship of this worthwhile and interesting debate, Mr Hanson.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for leading the debate, on behalf of the Petitions Committee, on whether the UK should leave the EU immediately. I must say that I very much enjoyed listening to his contribution and those of many hon. Members today. He has been a passionate campaigner for Brexit for many years. I applaud the sensible, pragmatic and optimistic message that he voiced and set out, which was echoed by many hon. Members who took part in the debate.
I was particularly struck by the chord of unity and agreement and the consensus that emerged from this debate. From Members who took opposing sides in the referendum debate, from all over the country and from different political parties, there has been a total consensus that the UK should not walk away from the negotiations now, should continue to build on the progress that has been achieved and should work towards seeking that new, dynamic relationship with the EU through an agreement. I share that optimism and pragmatism that has been expressed today by many Members. I also share their call for unity, which was particularly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham)—a unity that unites all of us behind a shared vision of a Britain of the future: one that is global, open, dynamic and prosperous.
Combined with that optimism and that call for unity is a shared acknowledgment of the need for patience. Again, that has been voiced by many today, including the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie). Time is needed so that we can make the best of Brexit and strike a successful and prosperous agreement with the EU.
The Government’s position has been very clear: the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and there must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the backdoor and, importantly, no second referendum. To do so would undermine our democracy and destroy the vital trust that lies between citizen and state, between voter and representative. That commitment to leave the EU is steadfast on the part of the Government. It means leaving the customs union and the single market when we leave the EU. It means regaining control over our laws, our border and our money. It means restoring our ability to be a leader in global trade and to set our own independent immigration, agricultural and fisheries policies. It means benefits for consumers, businesses and our democracy.
The Prime Minister has also been very clear that the UK will leave the EU at 11 pm on 29 March 2019—a date that is fixed as a matter of law under the article 50 process. This will reduce uncertainty to businesses and the public: we will leave the EU no later and no sooner than that fixed point.
I just want to take the Minister back to her point about democracy. Does she accept that no Parliament can bind another Parliament and that, although I am not advocating a second referendum and it is not something I support, as a matter of principle it is not anti-democratic to hold one?
The referendum that we saw in 2016 was a brilliant example of a thriving democracy. That vote, whether it had been to leave or to remain, although the majority vote was to leave, was a vote of confidence in our democratic process. It was a vote of confidence in Britain, and it is incumbent on all of us to respect that result and deliver that outcome.
The position respects the vote of the people in the referendum of 2016 to leave the EU. It also reflects the will of Parliament. The Government have successfully triggered article 50, pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed last year in the Commons on Second Reading by 498 votes to 114—an overwhelming majority—and they are negotiating for a good outcome that works for both the people and businesses in the UK and those in the EU.
As someone who campaigned to leave the European Union, I understand that those who signed the petition are impatient to leave the EU and are asking the Government to leave the negotiations before 2019. However, the Government are responding in a responsible manner, balancing the needs of adapting to our new post-Brexit landscape with ensuring that we are in the best possible position to really grasp all the advantages that Brexit will bring, so that we can have a smooth and successful Brexit. That is why an implementation period is so important.
Furthermore, we do not believe that the “punishment deal” mentioned in the petition will come to pass. Striking a free trade agreement with the European Union will be mutually beneficial to both parties. We want a rich, prosperous new partnership with our European friends and allies, and we believe that that is eminently possible. Seeking the best deal for the UK and maximising the benefits of leaving the EU, while maintaining the greatest possible access to EU markets and continuing to work with our European neighbours on common problems such as terrorism and security, is vital if we are to ensure that we manage the prospects of life outside the EU.
In addition, after withdrawal the UK will bring an end to the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. As the EU has confirmed, we have already made significant progress towards a good deal, as was set out in the Government’s joint report in December, striking agreement on citizens’ rights, on a financial settlement and in relation to Northern Ireland. For me, and for the Government, that provides great confidence that we can achieve a more positive deal going forward, and significantly reduces the chance of a no-deal scenario.
However, let me be clear: while we want and expect a good deal with the EU, the Government have a duty to plan for a range of eventualities, including the unlikely scenario where we leave the EU without a deal. That is common sense and it is prudent. Our plans are carefully developed to provide the flexibility to respond to a range of negotiated outcomes and to prepare us for the unlikely eventuality of not securing a deal.
Some of the Government’s planning has already become evident. Each Department has a clear understanding of how withdrawing from the EU may affect its existing policies in a wide range of outcomes. To support Departments, the Treasury has already given those such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Transport, nearly £700 million to prepare for Brexit, and is making an additional £3 billion of funding available over the next two years.
On a legislative front, as well as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Government are already introducing other legislation, such as our Trade Bill, which will allow the UK to develop an independent trade strategy. The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill will lay the groundwork for an outstanding international sanctions regime, and the customs Bill will set a framework for delivering an effective customs regime. Legislation on nuclear safeguards arising from the UK Parliament will deliver a regime for the future landscape on nuclear safeguards.
Does the Minister accept the recommendations of various Committees, including the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, for example, that we should seek to rejoin Euratom, or seek associate membership? It would cost around £4 million, which would be a far cheaper option, and would instantly align us with a nuclear safeguards regime that is worldwide, rather than just European, permitting our power stations to keep providing electricity for our homes and constituents. Although I appreciate that the Bills are being introduced, does she see that that is a sensible option?
No. The Government’s policy is to leave Euratom, because although it provides some benefits, it also subscribes us to a jurisdiction and legal framework that are not aligned with our objectives in leaving the European Union. Our Nuclear Safeguards Bill provides us with an opportunity to combine exactly the objectives that my hon. Friend set out with honouring the legislative requirements of leaving the European Union.
Does the Minister not accept that the Government might have got things the wrong way around? They decided that they wanted to get away from any influence from the European Court of Justice, and despite the damage that that is now doing to our future nuclear safety regimes, for example, that red line has become almost an obsession. Regardless of what disadvantages it brings with it, the Government seem to be hell-bent on not moving any of those red lines by as much as an inch. Is that not just silly?
A vote to leave the European Union entails an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That is what this Government are committed to and that is what will be delivered. It is essential if we are to regain the benefits of leaving the European Union.
Although the Government do not want or expect a no-deal scenario, we have a duty to plan for all eventualities, so we continue to develop those plans to ensure that we are prepared when we leave the EU at in March 2019. Alongside the necessary legislation, we are procuring new systems and recruiting new staff where necessary to ensure a smooth exit regardless of the outcomes. However, to walk away from the negotiating table now and leave immediately would be counterproductive and unnecessary, especially in light of the progress made in December on the first stage of the negotiations.
First, consider the financial settlement. Far from the punishment deal anticipated by the petition, we have achieved a good deal for UK taxpayers. Britain is a nation that honours its obligations, and we will honour our share of the commitments made during our membership while ending the vast sums of money going to the EU every year. Crucially, we have ensured that our rebate will continue to apply, and that the EU will reduce the settlement accordingly. The settlement may be paid over the course of several years, but the Government estimate that it will be between £35 billion and £39 billion, equivalent to roughly four years of our current budget contribution, around two of which we expect will be covered by the implementation period.
As the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) pointed out in his speech, the money is not a divorce bill. We have agreed a fair financial settlement with the EU, enabling us to move to the next stage of negotiations. We will soon see significant savings from our payments to the EU, compared with what we would have paid had we stayed in. We will continue to benefit from EU programmes under the budget plan. No UK region will lose out on EU budget funding, and anyone who gets European funding—local councils, regional bodies, UK businesses, scientific researchers, Erasmus students or charities—can continue to bid for and receive funding until the end of their projects.
From the beginning, the Prime Minister has been clear that safeguarding the rights of EU citizens is her priority. In her open letter in October, she made it clear that we
“hugely value the contributions that EU nationals make to the economic, social and cultural fabric of the UK”,
and that we want them to stay. We are pleased that that commitment is reflected in the joint report of December. The agreement reached in principle will provide citizens with certainty about their rights going forward, enabling families who have built lives together in the EU and UK to stay together. The agreement gives people more certainty not only about residence but about healthcare, pensions and other benefits. The agreement will cover only those people defined in the withdrawal agreement. Anyone arriving in the UK after the specified date who does not fall in that category will be subject to future arrangements.
Those who signed the petition may well have had concerns about the European Court of Justice. At present, the UK is bound by all ECJ decisions; hundreds of decisions every year have effect in the UK, whether or not the case originated in the UK. That will end. The UK will take back control of its laws, and UK courts will have the final say on UK cases. EU citizens’ rights in the UK will be upheld by implementing the agreement into UK law.
Of course, we will still be subject to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. My constituents have a great deal of difficulty understanding the distinction between the two. Will the Minister confirm that it is Britain’s intention to remain bound by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights? The judgment in the Abu Hamza case, for example, prevented us from deporting him.
As my hon. Friend rightly points out, the European Court of Human Rights arises from the European convention on human rights, totally separate from the European Union and its legal structures. It is a source of much of our rights culture here in the UK, transposed through the Human Rights Act 1998. She is right that we are, and will continue to be, bound to honour that document and the decisions of that court.
I am listening to what the Minister is saying, and I have a lot of time for the interventions from the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). I represent a leave seat and, to be completely candid, nobody has raised concerns with me about the ECJ being involved in issues such as nuclear safeguards or even EU citizens’ rights in this country. In those limited respects, and possibly much more widely, no one has raised it with me. It is slightly misleading to suggest that there is huge outcry and dissent about that particular issue. I do not believe that it is true, and it is not borne out by any of the discussions in my leave seat.
I must disagree with the hon. Lady. I think that sovereignty, whether it is parliamentary or legal sovereignty, were key factors in the referendum.
On nuclear safeguards?
On many issues. Whether on immigration, on which the ECJ has the final say, or on nuclear safeguards, ending the ECJ’s jurisdiction is integral to leaving the European Union, and the two cannot be divorced.
To resume my point—in the UK, EU citizens’ rights will be upheld by implementing the agreement in UK law. In the interest of the consistent interpretation of citizens’ rights, the UK has agreed that a narrow group of issues will be referred to the ECJ for interpretation, with due regard to whether relevant case law already exists. That will be up to our courts and they will make the final judgment, not the ECJ. In practical terms, that is a very limited role: our courts refer only two or three cases of that kind to the ECJ every year. In any case, there is a sunset clause after which that voluntary reference to the ECJ will come to an end. In short, any continuing role for the ECJ in our legal system will be voluntary, narrowly defined, and time limited.
A further reason why the Government seek to continue their negotiations with the EU rather than to leave before March 2019 is the advantage gained by securing an implementation period, as set out by the Prime Minister in her Florence speech. The implementation period will be strictly time-limited and mutually beneficial —it will be in everyone’s interests. Let me be clear: it is about not delay, but preparation.
An implementation period is essential to make the most of Brexit. We want to leave the EU, but we want to leave successfully. We want to base the long-term trajectory of our country as an independent nation outside the EU on prosperity, growth and taking back control. The best way to achieve that is by causing the least disruption.
An implementation period is important because businesses and public services will have to plan for only one set of changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU. At the end of that period, all our systems, procedures and structure will be in place and ready to go. There will not be one set of changes in 2019 and one at a later date. Many hon. Members have spoken on behalf of the business community, which has been clear about the importance of the implementation period to its planning. An implementation period provides certainty, which is a clear advantage and one of the key reasons why the Government are seeking to make a beneficial deal with the EU, rather than to leave prior to March 2019.
I thank hon. Members for their contributions to this interesting debate. To reiterate, there is no doubt that we are leaving the EU, the customs union and the single market. We are seeking a new future partnership with the EU in the second phase of negotiations, and we neither want nor expect a “no deal” or a “punishment deal”. We are confident that we can achieve a mutually beneficial deal that delivers on the will of the British people.
The next phase will not be easy—far from it. We can expect difficult moments and challenges.
Will the Minister give way?
I will not, because I have been generous in giving way and accepting many interventions.
It is now important for talks to move forward so that we can work towards agreeing the terms of our future relationship. We want to maintain the beneficial trading relationship between the two parties. We aspire to continue to co-operate on an array of areas. We also want to lead the world in global trade by striking trade agreements with countries outside the European Union. We need to devise our own independent immigration policy and restore judicial sovereignty to UK courts. As the Prime Minister set out, we will leave the EU on 29 March 2019 in accordance with article 50. We want to give businesses and the public the certainty that they need to ensure a smooth transition.
As elected representatives, we all have a duty to honour the result of that historic 2016 vote. It was a vote of confidence in Britain, in our democracy, in our country forging a new path, and in a country free to harness its people’s abilities, talents and genius—
On a point of order, Mr Hanson.
I very much hope it is a point of order.
I would not let you down, Mr Hanson. Is it in order for a Minister to decline to take an intervention when she has 25 minutes remaining and she has not addressed many issues that have been discussed, including Northern Ireland and the border?
I am grateful for the point of order, but the Minister has the Floor. She can give way or not, according to her preference.
Thank you, Mr Hanson.
Our country will be free to harness our people’s abilities, talents and genius to develop a new, dynamic and beneficial future for our country. It is eminently possible that we will strike an agreement between the EU and the UK. Let us get on with the job and deliver for the British people.
I pay tribute to all hon. Members for such a good-natured debate—unlike some other debates and headlines. I am dismayed at some of the words spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). They are demeaning and deplorable, and frankly, they do not get anybody on either side of the debate anywhere. For that reason, I am pleased that the words chosen in the debate have been useful and careful. To the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), I say that I chose the word “buccaneering” carefully and used it as an adjective about being adventurous.
When it comes to Brexit, my eyes look to the future, not the past. I am pleased to hear the Minister say that there will be no second referendum. That would weaken our negotiating stance, prolong uncertainty and fuel the very divisions that the people who are calling for that referendum complained about in the first instance.
It is important that we understand the petitioners and that our approach is not patronising. Many people up and down the country signed the petition. They are not too old and they are not stupid. We have had a long debate. They have the facts that the Committees have come up with since the referendum, but they still signed this petition. We must appreciate what they are saying.
The petition says, “Why wait?”, but as we have heard, we are not waiting. We are working hard, whether that is on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to ensure that we leave in an orderly fashion, or on the negotiations in which we know we have to compromise at some point. I appreciated President Macron’s interview over the weekend. Although I do not agree with everything that he said, he said it in a fair way. He was representing the views of French people, which is his job. It is up to our Government and us as parliamentarians to represent our people in the UK.
We are making the decision for 40 or 50 years—it is not a short-term decision—so although I am counting down the days to 29 March 2019, it is important to get it right and to concentrate on getting the best bespoke deal that we can. I ask petitioners to stay with us, to remain patient, to talk up our abilities as a country and as an economy, to believe in Britain and to know that our best days are ahead of us.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 200165 relating to leaving the European Union.