I beg to move,
That this House has considered legislating for the withdrawal agreement.
It is a great pleasure to open this debate. The Government published the White Paper on legislating for the withdrawal agreement in July, and the Secretary of State made a statement subsequently. Over the summer, we have made further progress in the negotiations, and the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement has now been agreed. Progress has been made across a range of outstanding separation issues. At the same time, we continue to work on backstop arrangements to deal with issues relating to the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Let me reiterate: it is unacceptable for a customs border to be drawn along the Irish sea, as that would be a direct threat to the territorial integrity of this country.
As the hon. Gentleman will hear in my speech, we are proposing an implementation period from March 2019 until the end of 2020 under which our immigration and customs rules will continue to operate broadly as they do now. I hope that that satisfies him.
I will make some progress, and if the hon. Gentleman still has outstanding questions, he can raise them with me later.
The House will be aware that the Government have also taken steps to prepare for the unlikely event of being unable to reach a deal with the EU and have published a series of technical notices to inform people, businesses and stakeholders of the steps they would need to take in this event. We do not want a no deal outcome; the Government’s priority is to achieve a deal with the EU, and I remain confident that a deal that the House can support is within our reach. That is what I am here to discuss today.
The Minister says that the Government have published notices. Last week, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union told us in this House that the medicine notices covered stockpiling. I looked at them and could see no reference to stockpiling. In which notice is the stockpiling of medicines set out?
I gently remind the hon. Lady that no deal planning and the technical notices are not the subject of this debate. We are here to talk about the contents of the White Paper published before the recess, which covers the implementation period, the proposals for EU citizens and the financial settlement. That is what I am here to talk about, and I ask her gently to keep to the subject of the debate.
I am going to proceed.
The EU withdrawal agreement Bill is a vital part of our exit. Its purpose is simple: to implement the agreement we reach with the EU in domestic law. It is the means by which we will protect the rights of EU citizens in this country, pay the negotiated financial settlement and enter into an implementation period that is strictly time limited to prepare for the future relationship. If Parliament votes in favour of the deal, we will introduce the withdrawal agreement Bill to give the withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect.
The Minister has asked us to focus on the subject of the debate, and she has just mentioned the supposed deal to be put to Parliament. Can she explain how on earth that deal will proceed, given that 80, supposedly, of her own colleagues—including members of her own European Research Group, such as her former ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), and others—have said that they will vote against it? Is not the reality that the Prime Minister’s Chequers deal is dead, that we are heading for a disastrous no deal and that that is exactly why we need a people’s vote on the deal?
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about a second referendum—it would be a complete betrayal of the voters, because we had that exercise and it was two years ago—and I am optimistic that we will strike a mutually beneficial free trade agreement with the EU that honours the result of the referendum, retains the territorial integrity of our country and enables a smooth withdrawal from the EU.
I will make some progress and then come back to hon. Members.
If Parliament votes in favour of the deal, we will introduce the withdrawal agreement Bill to give the withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect. Any parliamentarian who is truly committed to delivering the people’s decision to leave the EU will, I believe, find cause to vote in favour of the Bill. The final content of the Bill will, of course, be subject to the outcome of the ongoing negotiations. We intend to introduce it as soon as possible after the negotiations have concluded and the deal has been approved by Parliament.
The Bill will need to be given Royal Assent before exit day if it is to give effect to the withdrawal agreement. It is precisely because this window of passage is constrained that we have published the White Paper. We want to maximise Parliament’s ability to express its views on the Bill, and that includes the period before its introduction.
Would the Bill need to be passed completely unamended? If an amendment were passed, would the British Government have to go back and renegotiate with the European Union?
The Bill will be introduced after Parliament has approved the terms of the final deal with the “meaningful vote”. In that context, the Bill will have a normal passage, like all other legislation. Of course, the views of parliamentarians will be welcome. The Bill can be amended, voted on and scrutinised in the normal way, but it will always be set in the context of Parliament’s approval of the final deal, which includes approval of the withdrawal agreement. Members will, I know, have taken the time over the summer recess to review this substantial document at greater length. Views and questions will have matured and crystallised, and I am therefore delighted to return to the topic today and listen to those views.
The Government’s objective in publishing the White Paper was to set out how we intend to legislate for the parts of the withdrawal agreement that have already been settled in negotiations: those relating to citizens’ rights, the implementation period and the financial settlement.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. When I say that we have reached agreement with the EU on those sections—citizens’ rights, implementation and the financial settlement—I am talking about the legal text of the withdrawal agreement, which is in the form of a draft international treaty. Members will be familiar with the screeds of text that have been shaded in green. Progress has been made since the March European Council, which indicates agreement on the legal text and substance between the EU and the UK.
It would not have been appropriate for the White Paper to attempt to cover the parts of the withdrawal agreement on which negotiations have yet to be concluded. We will seek to keep Parliament informed as we make further progress, but let me make it clear that the withdrawal agreement Bill will be the primary means by which we give effect to the agreement, including any backstop arrangements for Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Does the Minister agree that to help these very difficult negotiations with the EU, which does not like the Chequers proposals, it would be an extremely good idea, as a matter of urgency, to publish our tariff schedules for no deal, so that the EU can see what it would look like and so that those of us who want import substitution will know that they have a better opportunity?
I share my right hon. Friend’s passion for the prospect of our country’s leaving the EU and our prospects outside the EU, and he has considerable expertise on this issue. I hope that he will be heartened by the technical notices that have been published over the summer, which take a step forward in setting out how our preparations are evolving in relation to that aspect of a no deal outcome.
The Government are committed to working with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the Bill works for all parts of the UK. The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations has already discussed proposals for the Bill, and I look forward to continued engagement in the run-up to the Bill’s introduction and throughout its passage. Engagement has been constructive and positive, and we expect and intend that to continue.
We have also begun engagement with organisations and individuals on the Bill over the summer. I have held roundtables with academics, legal practitioners and civil society organisations, and I look forward to further engagement with a range of representative bodies this week. We will continue to work closely with all interested stakeholders to make sure that we get the legislation right, and I look forward to further hearing the views of Members tomorrow.
Let me now turn to the detail of the White Paper. Part 2 of the withdrawal agreement and chapter 2 of the White Paper set out the arrangements for EU citizens living in the UK and for UK nationals residing in the EU. A key step in the provision of a smooth and orderly exit from the EU is the provision of certainty for those individuals and their families. That is why reaching an agreement on citizens’ rights was the UK’s first priority in negotiating its withdrawal.
If no withdrawal agreement is reached, there will be no protection of citizens’ rights. Does the Minister agree that she should take the lead from Labour and remove citizens’ rights from the negotiations and instead make sure these rights will be protected regardless of the final withdrawal decision?
For this Government to take Labour’s lead on anything to do with Brexit would be a serious derogation of our duty, because Labour does not have a plan and would completely let down this country if it was in charge of Brexit negotiations.
We have prioritised the position of EU citizens from day one of these negotiations. This agreement will safeguard these rights, and the withdrawal agreement will be the primary means by which the rights of EU citizens will be underpinned in the UK. Once enshrined in UK law, this agreement will give certainty to citizens on residency, access to healthcare, pensions and other benefits, so that EU citizens will continue to be able to live their lives broadly as they do today. Our message to EU citizens is clear: “We value you; we thank you for your contribution to our country, and we want you to stay.”
Central to the citizens’ rights agreement is the right for EU citizens to continue living in this country: EU citizens lawfully residing in the UK at the end of the implementation period will be able to stay, and I welcome the fact that, since the publication of the White Paper, the EU settlement scheme is now being piloted in the north-west of England. This is an important step in delivering certainty to individuals and their families currently living in the country.
The Bill will ensure that EU citizens can rely on the rights set out in the withdrawal agreement and can enforce them in UK courts. It will also establish an independent monitoring authority to oversee the UK’s implementation of the citizens’ rights deal, thereby providing further reassurance for citizens that their rights will be protected.
The Minister seems to be saying that everything is certain and everything is sorted out and EU citizens should be reassured. Why then do EU citizens living in my constituency tell me that they do not feel so reassured? Could it possibly be the case that the Minister’s engagements over the summer did not include meeting EU citizens living in this country?
Of course I am saddened to hear that, but I do feel that the Government have put this on the record, made it very clear and carried out extensive outreach with diaspora groups and EU citizens’ representative bodies and have worked with our opposite numbers on the continent to ensure that both citizens residing in the EU and those in the UK affected by this are aware of their situations and what their rights are going forward.
The Bill, and the resulting piece of UK law, will cover only the arrangements applying to EU citizens in the UK; it is for the EU and its member states to implement these arrangements as they relate to UK nationals living in the EU. But let me reassure the House and the 800,000 UK nationals who have chosen to make their lives in other EU countries that both the UK Government and the Commission are clear that providing certainty for citizens is a priority. Once fully agreed, the withdrawal agreement will become part of EU law, and the reciprocal commitments and safeguards we have agreed with the EU regarding UK nationals will be upheld through legislation in member states.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Prime Minister herself has said, “We value your contribution; we thank you for your presence in this country; and we want you to stay,” and I am not quite sure which part of that Opposition Members fail to understand.
Under the withdrawal agreement, any administrative procedures introduced for UK nationals are required to be smooth, transparent and simple, to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens. The Government are working closely with the European Commission and individual member states to confirm the processes that will be in place. We will also be running an information campaign to let UK nationals know of any changes—for example, in how they should access services—and I would recommend that all UK nationals resident in the EU sign up for exit-related updates on gov.uk. They can also find a country-specific living-in guide for their member state of residence.
I should like to turn now to the implementation period. The Government are committed to providing certainty—
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way before she goes on to her next paragraph. I want to ask a question about family rights. Quite rightly, EU citizens have asked, “If my mother is very ill, could she come to the United Kingdom to be looked after?” Can the Minister give us clarification on the question of elderly parents who wish to join their children here in the UK who are currently EU citizens?
I encourage the hon. Lady to read the contents of the White Paper, which sets out in extensive detail the exhaustive and wide-ranging provisions covering EU citizens. Any Member who has constituents who are worried or anxious should please direct them to that document. It is agreed with the EU, and it sets out the basis of the immigration status and people’s access to benefits, pensions and healthcare. It should go far in reassuring constituents such as the hon. Lady’s that EU citizens who are currently in this country have the right to stay under the provisions that are agreed and set out clearly in plain English in this document.
I want to ask the Minister a specific question. She talks about the assurances that have been given and why so many people are worried. There are 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK, not including any other family members. The Home Office has told the Home Affairs Committee that the app for registering will be available only on Android and will not be available for iPhones, which half the people in this country use, and that the biometric permits, which are already seriously delayed in the Home Office, are being printed on the same printers that the DVLA uses and are miles behind. How on earth can EU citizens have any confidence, when the Government have not made even the basic practical provisions for registering and for ensuring that those people can get their documentation?
That is precisely why the Home Office is leading a pilot of the settlement scheme in the north-west as we speak, to identify what is working for people and what is not. So far, that is proving to be successful and showing that there is a good uptake of the scheme, but of course it is still in its pilot stage. The Home Office is very much in dialogue with the people who are directly affected, to ensure that we iron out the scheme and make it as simple, as user-friendly and as easy to use as possible.
One of the questions that the 1.2 million British people living in the EU are asking is what their entitlement will be to continuing medical care in the other member states in the event of there being no deal. What answer can the Minister give them?
We are working towards a mutually beneficial agreement. The terms of the withdrawal agreement are mutual, so they will apply equally to EU citizens in the UK and to UK citizens in the EU. In the event of no deal, we would make strenuous efforts to reassure the position of UK citizens in the EU so that they would be able to enjoy the rights that they enjoy today, but we would definitely have to work hard to agree that with individual member states in the EU.
I would now like to turn to the implementation period. The Government are committed to providing certainty and stability to businesses as part of a smooth and orderly exit, and we have been clear that they should only have to plan for one set of changes as the UK moves to the future relationship with our European partners. That is why we have agreed a strictly time-limited—
In the context of the exchanges that we had in the European Scrutiny Committee last Wednesday with the Secretary of State, can the Minister throw some light on how people will know, when there are changes to the rulebook, what those changes are going to be? What certainty will that provide, when in practice those changes will be decided by 27 other member states behind closed doors and without even so much as a transcript?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will know as well as I do that Council directives and regulations that will come into effect in the UK during the implementation period are currently going through the scrutiny process in the EU, so we will have played a part in the development of many of those rules that might come into effect—
If I may finish my point, I will then give way. For rules where we feel that there may be an adverse effect or on which we have not had sufficient say, we are committed to enabling parliamentary scrutiny, and we are looking forward to discussing those options with Members.
My hon. Friend has just conceded that there will be a joint committee. She did not specifically say that, but that is how things will work in practice. I am talking about changes to the rulebook. If the 27 member states decide something and we accept it by way of international obligation, I do not see how we can prevent it. The parliamentary lock will simply be a farce.
When it comes to the implementation period, the withdrawal agreement, in its draft treaty form, contains agreed provisions on a joint committee. That committee could be a forum for resolving the issue to which my hon. Friend alludes. I hope that that provides some reassurance that there is an element of governance that commands some confidence and legitimacy in this process.
Significantly, from March 2019 and during the implementation period, the UK will not be a member state of the European Union. As a result, for the first time in 40 years, we will have the freedom we need to strike new trade deals with global partners—a freedom that builds on our long and proud history as a great trading nation and a champion of free trade with all parts of the world. Important work is already under way to maximise such opportunities. In July, the Department for International Trade launched consultations to inform the Government’s approach to trading with the US, Australia, New Zealand and potentially to seeking accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I am excited that those opportunities for the UK are drawing ever closer.
To give effect to the implementation period in domestic law, the withdrawal agreement Bill must ensure that EU law continues to have the same effect in the UK as it does now for the duration of the implementation period. The House will be aware that the current mechanism by which EU law is brought into UK law is the European Communities Act 1972, which will be repealed on 29 March 2019 when we leave the EU as prescribed in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—a vital step in our exit. The Bill will require a strictly time-limited transitional provision so that the legal effect of the ECA is saved until 31 December 2020, at which point the implementation period will end. That will reflect the UK’s unique status as a country that has left the EU but which, for a strictly time-limited period, will continue to apply EU law as it does now, to the benefit of citizens and businesses.
The Minister is talking about an implementation period, but is that not a misnomer? It is far from clear what we will actually be implementing. She is going to ask Parliament to sign off on a process when there is no detail of what our future trading relationship with the EU or anyone else is going to look like and when we will be giving up our negotiating power within the EU. Is it not just a step into the unknown?
I am disappointed that the hon. Lady is not here to welcome the implementation period, which has been welcomed by many businesses not only in her constituency, but throughout the UK, because it provides time and certainty. It is part of the withdrawal agreement, which is part of the final deal package, which is intricately linked to the future framework on the economic partnership. Together, they will be put to Parliament for the meaningful vote.
Does the Minister agree that 90% of future global growth will come from countries outside Europe? Will she therefore clarify that we will be able to start to benefit from that potential growth by signing trade deals during the implementation period?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s optimism. She is absolutely right. During the implementation period, the UK will be able for the first time in 40 years to design and develop its own independent trade policy, with the freedom to sign, negotiate and ratify trade deals with countries outside the EU. That is an important benefit precisely because, as she says, 90% of global growth will come from outside the EU, and we need to maximise that for our businesses and our citizens.
The provisions in the Bill in no way diminish the importance of the EU (Withdrawal) Act, which colleagues on both sides of the House worked so hard to scrutinise. That Act remains vital to the exit process, and any changes made to it by the withdrawal agreement Bill will not change its purpose. It was not appropriate for the EU (Withdrawal) Act to account for an implementation period, as the Act needed to be passed without prejudice to negotiations to ensure a functioning statute book on exit day. Now that we have secured agreement on the implementation period, we must ensure it is given proper domestic legal effect, which includes deferring the point at which some of the Act takes effect.
The negotiated financial settlement covering the UK’s financial commitments to the EU and the EU’s financial commitments to the UK provides predictability to current recipients of EU funding, including farmers, businesses and academics, with the UK continuing to get receipts due under the current EU budget plan. This is an issue of great importance to the House. We are a country that honours its international obligations, but it is important to recognise that the financial settlement was reached on the basis of both sides’ commitment to reaching a deal. If one side fails to live up to its commitments, there will be consequences for the deal as a whole, which includes the financial settlement.
The withdrawal agreement Bill will include a standing service provision that allows the Government to make payments due under the financial settlement. Although the amounts to be paid will vary and are a function of the terms of the settlement, the Bill will only allow payments to meet the financial commitments required by the withdrawal agreement. Parliament will want to monitor those payments, and it will be important to ensure that the payment mechanism balances the Government’s legal responsibility to pay the financial settlement with Parliament’s duty to scrutinise.
On the question of the financial settlement, does the Minister agree that it would be more honest for the Government, at the same time, to set out what the UK’s financial exposure to the European Union will be after the transition period? People would then be able to assess whether this actually represents value for money.
Characteristically, the right hon. Gentleman seeks to focus on the negatives and on the pessimistic view of Brexit for which he is well known. I do not sign up to his view of Brexit; I am very optimistic about the opportunities and the benefits that this country will stand to gain after we leave the EU and after the implementation period. I encourage him to put his pessimism aside and to get behind British businesses, to get behind British exporters and to get behind Britain.
The Minister has just suggested that we might not end up paying the bill that has already been agreed, because nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That therefore means there is no guarantee that there will be a transition period from next year. It also means that the Government must surely have some idea about which passport controls British citizens will use in Europe and which passport controls European citizens will use here. If not, they are completely irresponsible.
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s doggedness and his interest in passport queues. That information will be made public and will be set out by the Government in due course.
When it comes to the agreement, of course both sides are entering into an international treaty. Under customary international law, and under the convention that regulates international treaties, both parties will be bound by the duties to which they sign up. If one party fails to adhere to its obligations, the other party will have legal freedom to take appropriate countermeasures, which is what the UK retains in this international treaty negotiation. Both sides are committed to agreeing the framework of the future relationship alongside the withdrawal agreement, but it is our firm view that the withdrawal agreement itself must include a commitment requiring the framework for the future relationship to be translated into legal text as soon as possible. I am pleased that is now something we are taking forward in the negotiations, and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has raised this issue personally with Mr Barnier.
I hope that I have made it clear today that the withdrawal agreement Bill is vital in delivering our exit from the EU. It will protect the rights of individuals and families, give effect to the time-limited implementation period, ensuring continuity and certainty for businesses, and provide the appropriate means for paying the financial settlement.
In the trade section of her speech, the Minister talked as though the UK were completely excluded from world trade today, but in fact we are right at the heart of it through 65 bilateral trade deals between the EU and the rest of the world. Can the Minister tell us how many of those the UK will be involved in when we have left the European Union?
If the hon. Gentleman studies the legal text of the withdrawal agreement, he will see that we have agreed with the EU that its international trade agreements will continue to apply to the UK during the implementation period as though we were a member state. The reason that I am so passionate and optimistic about Brexit and proudly campaigned to leave the EU is that, once we leave the customs union and the constraints of the common commercial policy and the common external tariff, it will be for this Parliament and our country to determine the future of our global trade and build on our rich and prosperous history in that regard. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to support that opportunity.
We are committed to getting this right, and I am confident that Members in all parts of the House will be able to support the Government in delivering the next step in leaving the European Union.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, and I very much welcome the fact that we are having it.
I suspect that many right hon. and hon. Members, particularly those who took part in its Committee stage, will share my view that the year-long passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 was perhaps the most demanding legislative exercise that Parliament has undertaken in recent decades. The process of overlaying and amending that byzantine piece of legislation with the proposed EU withdrawal agreement Bill will be equally, if not more, complicated and onerous. That is why we welcome the publication of the White Paper before the summer recess and the opportunity for further debate today on the Government’s early expectations for that Bill.
I want to touch on three distinct issues. The first is the relationship between the proposed Bill and the recently enacted European Union (Withdrawal) Act. The second is what is not covered in the White Paper: the parts of the withdrawal agreement that remain unresolved but which will need to be resolved if we are to avoid crashing out of the EU with no deal, which would be the hardest and most damaging of departures. The third is the political declaration on the future framework and the type of document that the Opposition believe will be required for Parliament to make an informed judgment about whether the final deal should be supported.
I know that many Members want to contribute, so I do not intend to cover all the parts of the withdrawal agreement made at the March European Council, such as the negotiated financial settlement or the issue of citizens’ rights, which the Minister touched on. We will, of course, fully scrutinise the Bill as it applies to those issues when it is published and the technical details become clear.
There is an issue there, is there not? Drafting legislation normally takes time. There are only so many draftsmen and women in this country, and they tend to take their time. Even a very simple Bill can take months to draft. The idea that we would consider a Bill only days after the negotiation had been settled is for the birds, is it not? It is inconceivable that we will get legislation through both Houses before the end of March.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It will be difficult, which is why it is imperative that the Government bring back a negotiated agreement at the earliest opportunity. I hope that Ministers will confirm that it remains the Government’s intention to do so after the October EU summit. If the passage of the withdrawal Act is anything to go by, the Bill may be in trouble time-wise.
My hon. Friend has set out some clear and important tests to be met. Will he join me in welcoming the news today that the general secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, has been very clear about the TUC’s position and that of trade unions across the country given the absolute shambles and chaos that we are seeing from the Government, let alone the time constraints that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) rightly pointed out?
Yes, I do welcome today’s announcement from the TUC. We have been clear that in the event of no deal, all options must be on the table. As I think I said in a debate just before the summer recess, we have to remember what no deal would mean: it would be a complete failure, in two years, of the Government’s entire Brexit policy. In that situation, as I am sure my hon. Friend appreciates, we would be facing something akin to a constitutional crisis. At that point, every option must be on the table.
I am going to make a little progress, if that is okay.
Let me turn to the relationship between the proposed withdrawal agreement Bill and the recently enacted European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which received Royal Assent on 26 June. Arguably, the most striking feature of the Bill that is the subject of the White Paper is the extent to which it will modify the European Union (Withdrawal) Act that this House and the other place spent more than 250 hours debating, and the fact that in many cases it will do so before the relevant provisions of that Act come into force. Of course, that partly reflects the degree of conditionality and uncertainty that any Government would face in attempting to legislate for Brexit, but in some cases it simply reflects the fact that this Government, scrambling desperately to keep their extreme Brexiteers onside, chose on more than one occasion to prioritise political gimmickry over the dictates of common sense. Such choices were exemplified by the Government’s decision last November to fix an exit day in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, and in so doing to restrict needlessly the sensible and necessary degree of flexibility that they had originally proposed in respect of an exit day for the purposes of that legislation.
No doubt many Government Members, still intoxicated by the fact that a symbolic reference to 11 pm on 29 March 2019 has been written into UK law, will defend that decision, but the fact is that the proposed Bill touched on in the White Paper will strip that reference of any legal significance. As paragraph 56 of the White Paper makes clear,
“EU law will continue to have effect in the UK in the same way as now”
until the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. Even the most ardent Brexiteers on the Government Benches cannot fail to note the irony that the Government’s flagship “great repeal Bill”, as the European Union (Withdrawal) Act was initially labelled, will not only preserve EU law in its entirety as of 31 December 2020, but will only emblematically repeal the European Communities Act 1972 at the point at which the UK ceases to be an EU member state.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House at the time, but it may be of some interest to him that I made this very point on 18 July, just as the House was about to rise for recess, because there is a real inconsistency. After all, the White Paper came out on 12 July, yet the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, including the repeal of the 1972 Act in section 1, went through only around 14 days before.
The hon. Gentleman is right, but it is an inconsistency of the Government’s own making, because they chose symbolically to repeal the ECA in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, and in this new Bill they are going to unpick the very legislation that we passed because, as paragraph 60 of the White Paper makes clear, the ECA will be “saved” for the duration of the implementation period and will continue to be legally effective until 31 December 2020. What is saved is not merely select parts of the ECA, but almost all its key provisions. Chapter 3B of the White Paper makes it clear that the Bill will ensure that throughout the transition, the EU doctrines of direct effect and primacy will continue to apply, including with regard to EU law that comes into force after 29 March next year; the legal basis on which most EU-derived domestic legislation stands will be preserved; and, as paragraph 80 of the White Paper sets out, the full role of the European Court and the binding nature of its rulings will be preserved.
The White Paper argues that repealing the ECA in name only, while in practical effect preserving its effect throughout the transition, is the most effective way to provide continuity and certainty to business and individuals. With the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and its fixed exit day already enacted, that may well be the case, but it is difficult to see why the flexibility provided for in the original drafting of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which allowed for Ministers to determine different exit days for different purposes, would not have achieved the same end, with the added benefit of saving us all a great deal of parliamentary time. The whole farcical saga highlights how when it comes to Brexit-related legislation, the Government have an unhealthy tendency to indulge in short-term tactical gimmicky at the expense of what is sensible and what is in the best interests of the country.
The hon. Gentleman has welcomed the White Paper and encouraged the Government to come forward and finish the negotiations as quickly as possible. Will he disclose whether, if those negotiations are completed, he will vote for the outcome? If not, is he not the person who is guilty of political gimmickry, rather than Government Members?
I am well used to the hon. Lady asking questions that are slightly out of left field, but I fail to see how the Opposition can give an opinion on whether we will back a deal about which we do not know the full details and which is still being negotiated. We will faithfully apply our six tests when the deal comes before us, as we all hope it will.
The political gimmickry must stop, and when we approach this next Bill, we hope that the Government will focus on what is the most effective way to legislate for the issues in hand, but there is good reason to fear that that same short-termism—a myopic approach driven by whatever will buy Ministers a few days or weeks of respite from the predations of the European Research Group—could stand in the way of a sensible resolution to those parts of the withdrawal agreement on which no agreement has yet been reached. It is to that issue that I shall now turn.
As Members will know, several aspects of the agreement remain unresolved, of which the two biggest are the mechanism for settling future disputes and the Irish border. It is on the second of these that I shall focus, because the issue of how we avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland is clearly now the major sticking point to concluding a withdrawal agreement. We can talk as much as we like today, and on future days, about how Parliament will legislate for a withdrawal agreement, but if the issue of the Irish border is not resolved, there will not be a final deal to legislate for.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it comes down to what happened last Christmas in relation to the Northern Ireland question, and that we are again getting obfuscation after obfuscation? We are never getting to the point of what the actual deal for Northern Ireland is.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I shall come on to say, we need urgent, rapid progress on this issue, given the time constraints that we face.
Many Brexiteers—although, I must make clear, not all—continue to belittle the Irish border issue on the grounds that it is a problem that has been exaggerated by nefarious Brussels bureaucrats or those at home who seek a close future relationship with the EU. Having initially dismissed the issue as posing no threat to the peace process, they now seek to talk down the Good Friday agreement. Their behaviour is not only irresponsible, but misunderstands the significance of the open border as the manifestation of peace on the island of Ireland. The border is a deeply political problem, not just a technical problem. It is about not merely how we avoid a hardening of the border, but how we ensure continued co-operation in a range of areas—economic and social as well as political—as set out in the Good Friday agreement.
Anxiety on both sides of the border and across all communities about the risk of no deal, or the failure to agree a legally binding backstop, is very real, and it is growing. Of course, the best means of solving the issue would be to secure agreement on a future relationship that is compatible with protecting north-south co-operation and avoiding a hard border, thereby ensuring that any legally binding backstop that might be agreed will never be used, yet the ideological red lines that the Prime Minister outlined in her Lancaster House speech are fundamentally incompatible with securing a future relationship of that kind.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my frustration that although the UK Government agreed in December last year that their primary responsibility was to introduce specific proposals for the Irish border, in the intervening period we have seen next to nothing of substance from them? All they are doing is throwing stones at the partly completed proposal that the EU has had to introduce out of sheer desperation because the UK has offered nothing in return.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In fact, over recent weeks I have seen some of the most ardent Brexiteers—people who wanted to take back control of our borders, incidentally—saying that they would just leave the border completely open. They are not going to be the ones who erect infrastructure. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has made it clear that because we chose to leave, the onus is on the UK Government, as well as the EU27, to come up with a solution that avoids any hardening of the border.
The Chequers proposals were designed to move the negotiations on, but it is patently obvious that they cannot command a majority in this House and would not be acceptable to the EU without further significant modifications of the kind that the Prime Minister cannot deliver because of the bitter divisions in her own party. The negotiations on this issue are at an impasse. Despite a summer of talks, little progress has been made on agreeing a legally binding and operable backstop. It is imperative that progress on this issue is now made and made quickly. With the second week of October being the effective deadline for sign-off at the October EU summit, there are now only a matter of weeks before the issue must be resolved. Both sides have an obligation, based on the solemn commitments they have given, to defuse the tensions that have built up around this issue, and both sides must now redouble their efforts to deliver a solution. What would make a legally binding backstop easier to agree, because it would ensure that it would be less likely to be used in the future, is a very clear signal on what the future relationship is likely to look like. That point was made at the end of last month by the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs.
That brings me to the final issue I want to touch on before drawing my remarks to a close—the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, or, more specifically, the political declaration that will accompany the divorce settlement if agreement is reached across all outstanding areas. Arguably, it is the contents of that political declaration, more than the details of the withdrawal agreement itself, that the House will focus on when it comes to pass judgment on the deal that we all hope—genuinely hope—the Government are able to conclude and put before us later this year.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you may have noticed that the notion of a so-called blind Brexit has received a great deal of attention over recent weeks, yet it has always been a distinct possibility. That is partly because there is every incentive for the Government, practically and politically, to bring back a withdrawal agreement that contains a political declaration that is highly ambiguous. To do so would be unacceptable. A vague political declaration on the future framework would not be a solution to the problems that we are grappling with; it would be tantamount to avoiding those problems altogether. As the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) said earlier—she is not in her place now—that would leave the UK in a far weaker position during the transition than we would otherwise be, and we on the Opposition Benches would not accept that.
I hope that the Minister will agree with us on this. We want a political declaration that is extensive, precise and substantive. When this House votes on the final deal, it must have a very clear signal of what the future relationship will be like—not a vague statement that allows us to crawl over the line to 29 March next year without any sense of where our relationship will end up in future. As I have said, the Opposition would not accept such a vague document.
When the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration are put before us, we will faithfully apply the six tests that we set out in March of last year. Let me be very clear: those six tests cannot, in our eyes, be met simply by failing to address them altogether. The political declaration on the future relationship must be sufficiently detailed and clear that hon. and right hon. Members are able to arrive at an informed judgment about whether the final deal and the future relationship are good enough for the country and for their constituents.
I appreciate that the negotiations are ongoing and that the drafting of the declaration is not yet under way, but in his summing up, I hope that the Minister will provide greater clarity on this matter. In particular, will he provide the House with a greater sense of the type of political declaration that the Government will be pushing for at Salzburg, an idea of the level of detail the Government believe that it needs to contain, and confirm, or reaffirm, that the Government still require a document that is both precise and substantive?
In conclusion, as I said at the outset of my speech, the Opposition welcome the White Paper as well as the opportunity to debate in more detail the legislation that we all hope will be laid before us later this year, but we urgently need a change of approach and pace from the Government. When it comes to the forthcoming European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, we hope that we see less of the short-term political gimmickry that we have seen in the past and more serious consideration of what is the most effective way to legislate. To that end, we call on the Government to allow pre-legislative scrutiny of those sections of the forthcoming Bill that relate to aspects of the withdrawal agreement that have already been agreed.
When it comes to the crucial issue of the Irish border and the default backstop, we need the Government to do everything they can to defuse the tensions that have built up around the issue and play their part over the coming weeks in delivering a solution. Finally, when it comes to the political declaration on the future framework the Government need to press for a document of sufficient precision and detail to allow the House to make an informed judgment.
The clock is ticking. The Government must shift their focus away from the deep divisions in their own ranks and towards what is needed to secure a deal that will work for the country. Urgent progress is essential not only to secure a withdrawal agreement, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, to ensure that full and proper scrutiny of the legislation that will be required to enact it.
I have made the point today—I have made it in previous debates—that it would not be satisfactory at all to accept the Chequers proposals. I shall explain why in relation to the particular arrangements under the White Paper.
First, while the White Paper contemplates saving the European Communities Act 1972 only during the implementation period, there are some very specific instances in which EU law will continue beyond the implementation period. The Government have already conceded in principle that some specific European Court jurisdiction will continue after the end of the implementation period, and that, of course, includes citizens’ rights. The withdrawal agreement, however, also includes other areas for which that would be the case, such as in relation to pending cases in which the facts arose before the end of the implementation period. Furthermore, continuing participation in EU agencies could entail automatic acceptance of the European Court’s decisions.
The Government say that they are going to save the European Communities Act in part. That is all very well but, as I said in my presentation of the arguments last Wednesday during the European Scrutiny Committee’s proceedings with Mr Olly Robbins and the Secretary of State, the reality is that within a mere 14 days of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 receiving Royal Assent, a White Paper was introduced on saving parts of the 1972 Act even beyond the implementation period in circumstances that I find not just weird but thoroughly unacceptable.
Paragraph 89 in chapter 1 of the future partnership White Paper says:
“The UK will seek reciprocal arrangements on the future rules around some defined elements of social security coordination.”
Does my hon. Friend share my fear that that may also involve jurisdiction over our banking system?
That is part of the same problem. I am afraid that there are some really very difficult questions that Ministers and the Government have to answer. I put all this to the Prime Minister immediately after 6 July, when the Chequers proposals came through. I questioned whether we could in fact reconcile the Chequers proposals with the European Communities Act 1972, and the reality is that we cannot. We may then say that we have an agreed implementation period to give certainty to businesses. However, as I pointed out in an intervention, it does not create certainty for business on product standards, for example, because anyone who knows anything about the workings of the European scrutiny system knows that decisions are quite often taken by officials in such things as working groups and then are effectively rubberstamped by Ministers. Furthermore, under the existing arrangements, decisions are taken behind closed doors without any transcripts of the proceedings.
Businesses need to wake up to this. They are told that they will have greater certainty, but do they really know and understand anything about how the system functions in practice? In practice, decisions are taken by consensus, because everybody knows what the outcome will be before they even walk in the room, but we will not even be there in relation to the common rulebook, so how can the Government provide business with certainty when they do not know what changes might be made to that rulebook? Moreover, people in business will have absolutely no idea why changes are being imposed on them because there is no transcript of proceedings.
Furthermore, a problem exists in relation to the scrutiny that will take place, because the so-called provisions of the joint committee represent no more than consultation. There will be no right for us to refuse to do something—I will come to the parliamentary lock in a moment—as the reality is that consultation means no more than saying, “We will listen to what you say,” but it does not mean that anyone will act. Anyone who is foolish enough to believe the European Union, given its background, its bullying tactics and the way in which it has operated over the past months and even before, needs to realise that the decisions will be taken by the other member states and that we will effectively have no real control over them whatsoever. That is a really serious problem.
When I was in the Netherlands with the Exiting the European Union Committee a few months ago, we had the opportunity to meet members of the Dutch Parliament’s equivalent committee. Halfway through that meeting, we had to stop because the Dutch Members were called to a vote. The Dutch Parliament had an absolute, binding vote on how its fisheries Minister would conduct himself or herself at an EU Fisheries Council vote later that week. The equivalent process in the United Kingdom is that the European Scrutiny Committee expresses a view, and then the Minister ignores it and does what he or she likes, and nobody can touch a Minister as a result. Is not it the case that the reason why so much EU legislation appears to be done over the heads of the people in the United Kingdom is because it is done over the heads of those in this Parliament? Other EU countries have much better parliamentary oversight of what their Ministers are up to than the United Kingdom.
I am bound to say that the system in this House involved much more transparency. For example, we do not have decisions taken by Parliaments that are determined by proportional representation. We do not have a system under which there are no transcripts of the proceedings. In this House, the Bills that go through Parliament set out all the provisions, and all legislation is subject to amendment by both Houses. Everything is printed. Hansard is available. Proceedings are filmed and shown on the parliamentary channel. People know where and how decisions are taken. The proposed joint committee will be no more than a consultative operation, and that does not mean that anything will come out of it.
A letter from the Secretary of State was put before my Committee on 5 September—more or less as we sat down that morning—regarding the discussions that we were going to have with Mr Olly Robbins and the Secretary of State. The letter says that there will be a
“working assumption that we would continue with the current model for providing written evidence to the committees through Explanatory Memoranda”.
My Committee is quite clear that that will not be anything like early enough. We want to know that we are going to get an explanatory memorandum at a very early stage. With regard to the scrutiny of the EU’s legislative proposals during the proposed joint committee procedure, the Secretary of State goes on to say:
“we will work closely with Parliament to agree upon a scrutiny system which, in the first instance, facilitates Parliament’s role in scrutinising EU proposals that may affect the UK during the implementation period.”
There is nothing, of course, about the fact that the process will go on afterwards. This is a pig in poke. We do not know what the scrutiny system will be, but we are being asked to approve it. Today’s debate is just a foretaste of what is to come. Working closely with Parliament to agree a scrutiny system but not actually telling us how the joint committee will work in practice is absolutely fundamental in this debate.
In the letter, the Secretary of State goes on to say:
“Given the way the EU’s legislative process works, most Council directives and regulations which will come into force during the implementation period have already been agreed or are being negotiated now, while the UK is still a Member State.”
Now, I know that the Minister referred to that point in her opening statement but, unfortunately, this does not deal with changes to the rulebook.
Let us suppose that it is the case that the 27 member states—with us not even at the table—will be able to make changes themselves and then effectively impose them on us, and that we are going to have a committee system. That system has not yet been agreed with us, and the details of it are extremely obscure but involve no more than consultation. If that is the case, when the negotiation of treaty obligations has been completed and we have entered into international obligations, which is what this will amount to, how on earth are we supposed to accept it when we—or the Committee or Committees scrutinising those questions—are then told, “Oh, this has all been agreed by international obligation behind closed doors”? We will have accepted the fact that that something will happen, but we will not actually be in a position to do anything about it at all. We are not merely buying a pig in a poke; we are also being bound and shackled by European law, and I have not even touched on the question of the arbitration arrangement.
Although I am in favour of arbitration in principle, the real question is whether it will be subject to European Court of Justice interpretation. I do not have time to go into all that today, but I simply put it on the table that that is a really serious problem. I know that the matter is currently under discussion, but it looks very much as if we will be buying into a reshackling of our Parliament and our businesses. The certainty that is being offered would be absolutely catastrophic if, in fact, the process went wrong and rules were imposed on us. That is what I am most concerned about in this context.
As for the parliamentary lock, the Prime Minister herself, in a pamphlet published by Politeia in 2007, was very explicit about the failures of the European system of oversight in the UK Parliament. Anyone can read it for themselves. All I am saying is that it is absolutely catastrophic. I have been on the European Scrutiny Committee for 33 years, and not once in all that time—and certainly not at any time before that—has Parliament ever overturned an EU decision that has been taken in the Council of Ministers. What confidence could we possibly have that that would ever happen, particularly as the Prime Minister said herself in her pamphlet that parliamentary sovereignty in this context was a fiction?
It is all very well to fall back on the concept that under our constitution we have the power to overturn legislative arrangements by Act of Parliament—that no Parliament can bind its successors and the rest of it. However, if, in practice, as with the European Communities Act in the first place, we voluntarily agree that we are going to accept what is being done, that situation is made worse by the context—a referendum in which the British people agreed by common consent that we will leave the European Union, with the Government accepting that; and the fact that the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was passed by Members of the House of Commons by six to one and the withdrawal Act was passed by 499 to 120, or whatever it was. It is crystal clear that we should be in control of making of our own legislation on our own terms, not supplicants to the European Union.
What this is all about is that we are supplicants to the European Union, and I put that to the Secretary of State and Mr Olly Robbins. We are going to the European Union and saying, “What is it that you are prepared to give us?” And that is just not good enough. I say that because, apart from anything else, under this White Paper, the scrutiny process—during the implementation period and even afterwards—leaves us extremely exposed. That is the problem. It leaves us in a position whereby we are effectively engaging in a form of legal re-entry into the European Communities Act 1972. I do not believe—I have to say this in all candour—that the Government did not know that. I believe that they did know it, unequivocally, before the repeal of the ’72 Act was passed via the withdrawal Act’s Royal Assent. No one is going to kid me that the White Paper, which was produced 14 days later, did not get written in anticipation that we were going to repeal the ’72 Act through section 1 of the withdrawal Act at the end of June but then end up undermining that repeal within a matter of 14 days. I find that absolutely extraordinary. It was Chequers that did it. Up until Chequers, I was 100% behind the Government. Chequers ended up undermining the basis of the collective responsibility, as I understand it, of members of the Cabinet, because they did not know about that either.
I come back to the simple point: this is an unacceptable arrangement. We do not know how the joint committee will operate. We have no confidence whatever that it is going to be more than a mere consultation, and what is COREPER going to be doing about all this in the meantime?
There is much more that I could say, but others want to speak. I regard this as a very, very serious breach of trust. I am afraid that that is the basis on which I approach this debate. I think that a lot of people outside—the punters; the real people of this country—know and understand this. We decided on 23 June 2016 that we would leave the European Union. We did not agree that we were going to come back with some form of legal re-entry to satisfy the whims of the European Union, and particularly the country that dominates it most—namely, Germany.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate. First, I invite Members to spare a thought for our good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), whose husband passed away recently and his funeral is taking place today. I have no doubt that otherwise a lot more of my colleagues would have been here. Certainly, my thoughts are very much with Marion and her family today.
We are talking about legislating to leave the European Union, but I find it very difficult to know how even the best drafter of legislation that we have—and there are some pretty good ones in this place—can have a chance of drafting legislation when the Government still have not quite decided what they are legislating for. The first thing that anybody asks if they are asked to draft something, whether legislation or a legal contract, is, “What do you want it to say and what do you want it to do?” The Minister talks about the overwhelming majority of the draft agreement now being in place. That overwhelming majority is 80%; it has increased from 75% about three months ago. Even if we accept that it is the hard bits that are still to be done, if it takes us three months to do 5%, we can see that 20% before the end of March is pushing it a wee bit. Even if the Government knew what they wanted the legislation to say, it would be difficult; when they cannot decide what they want the legislation to achieve, it is a potential recipe for disaster.
That is not talking down Britain. I thought it was quite funny that when the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) spoke earlier, the Minister suggested that he was failing to get behind Britain and told him to get behind British businesses and British institutions, because he was highlighting some of the not only potential but now very real and present-day difficulties, problems and downsides to Brexit. Although I disagree with quite a lot of what he says about Brexit, I would suggest that his comments are a lot closer to the comments of British business, British universities and British civic society than some of the platitudes that we continue to get from Government Front Benchers—let alone some of the stuff we get from their so-called allies on the Back Benches.
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about his colleague. Is he aware that British businesses are already finding that when they are dealing with EU suppliers with a lead-in time for orders of six months, those suppliers are saying, “Well, of course we can sign a contract with you, but you’re going to have to bear all the risk of things like no-deal tariffs and delays on the border, and we’re not going to carry any of that risk.”? That is already happening to British businesses.
The right hon. Gentleman touches on something that Members on both sides of the House have referred to in the past. We know that a lot of very significant businesses right across the whole spectrum of the UK economy have serious concerns. They are telling Ministers in private what their concerns are. They are bound to be saying it in private, because they do not feel that they can go public for various reasons. Obviously, businesses do not like to go public about things that they think might bring down their business. That is how the Government can get away with simply pretending that there is not really a problem, or claiming that anyone who highlights a problem is somehow being unpatriotic or not getting behind British business.
The Minister talked in glowing terms about all the trade deals that we will be able to negotiate in the blink of an eye after we leave the European Union at the end of a transition period—or implementation period, or whatever it is being called this week. Of course, an implementation period does not give us certainty; all it does is extend the period of uncertainty by a year or so. It is bit like someone who is heading towards the edge of a cliff thinking that maybe it is good if they can prolong the uncertainty about just how high the cliff is until the last possible moment, but who does not use that period to back away from the worst potential consequences of their decision. An implementation period that causes a cliff-edge Brexit at the end of 2020 is not really much better than a cliff-edge Brexit at the end of March 2019.
The Minister talked about all these trade deals that somehow we cannot do just now. I cannot understand how Germany manages. Germany seems to manage to trade very effectively and very profitably with a lot of countries that the United Kingdom does not trade with or trades with on very poor terms. What are the Germans doing right? What are the German Government good at, with regard to running their economy, that this Government are not good at? I do not have time to give all the answers.
Of course, there is a simple reason for that. First, Germany calls all the shots in the European Union; and secondly, it hides behind the euro currency and therefore has an enormous trade advantage, as Mr Trump has identified. That is demonstrated by Office for National Statistics figures that show that we run a deficit with the EU27 member states of about £80 billion, and Germany has a surplus of £104 billion a year.
An alternative explanation might be that Germany has had a succession of Governments who actually believe in investing in the long-term stability and sustainability of its economy, whereas the United Kingdom, for decades, has not had Governments with the ambition, the imagination or the long-term vision to do so.
In answer to a question from an Opposition Member about the 65 trade deals that we are currently party to, thanks to our membership of the European Union, the Minister suggested that the European Union has already agreed that all those 65 deals will be extended to a non-EU member after we have left. Well, the European Union might have agreed to do that. However, it does not have the right to do it unilaterally, because every one of those 65 deals has got somebody on the other side of the table, so the second signatories to all those 65 deals will have to be asked if they agree as well. Some of them will agree, but if any one of the 65 says no, we are immediately in a worse bidding position than we are as part of the European Union. Anyone who suggests that we can replicate all those 65 trade deals by March 2019 or December 2020, or at any time when most of us are still active in politics, is being wildly optimistic. It is almost as ridiculous as suggesting that these negotiations will be the easiest trade deals in history and it will be all done and dusted within six months.
We hear all the platitudes from the Government. The latest buzzword is “broadly”. It used to be that EU nationals living in the UK would have “approximately” the same rights as they currently have; now they are to have “broadly” the same rights as they currently have. I do not want them to have broadly the same rights; I want them to have exactly the same rights. In fact, I want them to have at least the same rights, because in some areas they should have more rights than they have just now. The Minister did not give way when I wanted to ask a question earlier, so I hope that her colleague will tell us explicitly, without any prevarication, what the Government mean when they continue to say “broadly” the same rights. Will he give us the specific areas in which EU citizens currently living in the UK will have fewer rights after we leave the EU than they have just now? These people are entitled to know which of their rights they will lose that are being hidden behind the word “broadly”, which the Government have started using all the time.
There has been mention of the question of the Irish border. Like other speakers, I find it astonishing that the only way that some people, including a growing number on the Government’s hard Brexit side, can reconcile what is happening is just to pretend that the problem does not exist. We are told that people are using false concerns about the Irish border to play out some kind of clandestine political agenda.
I remind Members about a couple of things that this Government willingly signed up to in December last year, as part of the joint report with the European Union—namely, that the United Kingdom will accept in all regards that the Republic of Ireland will continue to be a full and integral member of the European Union for as long as the Republic of Ireland wants to and that the United Kingdom will accept that the Republic of Ireland will and must comply with all aspects of European Union law. The United Kingdom has already committed itself to accepting that the Republic of Ireland is bound by European law as it applies to the enforcement or the observance of the European Union’s external borders.
The Republic of Ireland would love to get an agreement endorsed by the rest of the European Union that allows the border to be kept as it is now. The Republic of Ireland does not have the option of doing what so many Government Members blithely suggest, which is to sweep aside EU border legislation unilaterally, by keeping an open and uncontrolled border, contrary to European law and contrary to the commitments that this Government have already made. Let us have no more of this nonsense of trying to blame the Republic of Ireland for a mess that has been wholly created by the UK Government. Let us have no more of this nonsense of saying that somehow the European Union is usurping British sovereignty over Northern Ireland by trying to force a backstop agreement that the Government do not want.
As I said in an earlier intervention, the UK Government undertook in December last year to bring forward specific proposals for a solution to the question of the Irish border that would comply with all the requirements of Ireland’s continued membership of the European Union and with all the requirements of the Good Friday agreement and the peace process. In the intervening period since December 2017, the UK Government have utterly failed to live up to that promise. That was why the European Union brought forward a solution that I do not think it thinks is particularly good, but it was a desperate attempt to get the UK Government to put their money where their mouth is and bring forward one of the specific sets of proposals that they had willingly promised to produce as a basis for discussion.
Again, let us have no more of this nonsense of claiming that somehow there is a conspiracy between the Irish Government and the EU to take Northern Ireland away from Britain against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. The European Union will support the Republic of Ireland because the Republic of Ireland is a member of the European Union, in exactly the same way as the European Union would support the UK in a trade dispute, border dispute or customs dispute with any non-EU member if we asked it to.
I am asking the Minister who sums up to confirm in terms that the UK Government still respect absolutely and unreservedly the sovereignty of the Republic of Ireland and its position as a full and integral member of the European Union, because too much of what we have heard being supported by Conservative Members appears to undermine that position.
Let us not forget that the people of Northern Ireland have spoken twice on this issue. When they spoke in 2016, they said, “We want to stay in the European Union.” When they spoke in the referendum on the Good Friday agreement—which did not bring peace to Northern Ireland, let us not forget, but it certainly brought peace a lot closer than it was before—the agreement reached at that point was that nobody could take Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland and that nobody could force Northern Ireland to stay in the United Kingdom against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. How on earth is it within the spirit of that agreement for anyone to take Northern Ireland out of the European Union against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, especially when it is becoming increasingly clear that it is difficult, if not impossible, to deliver the kind of Brexit the Prime Minister is obsessed with without having to go back on some of the promises that have saved so many lives on both sides of the Irish border over the past number of years?
The Irish border question cannot be easily solved if Northern Ireland is out of the EU and the Republic is in. It can be very substantially solved within the terms of the question that was on the referendum ballot paper if the Prime Minister is prepared to see sense, listen to sense and listen to the businesses and so on that the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington was accused of not supporting. Those businesses are saying to us, “Why in the name of goodness are we coming out of the customs union and the single market?” Customs union membership makes the solution to the Irish border question so much easier and so much more achievable. If that was the only benefit of being in the customs union, I would say to the Government that they should at least think about it.
People did not vote to leave the single market or the customs union. They voted to leave the European Union. [Interruption.] I still have a photograph of the ballot paper at home, if Members want to see it; it does not say anything about the single market or the customs union. We do not really know how many of the 17 million people who voted to leave wanted us to leave the customs union and how many wanted us to stay in it. How does the Minister think Members should vote on the deal, assuming a deal is brought back, if they want to respect the wish of the majority—the majority being the 16 million who wanted to stay in the whole package and the unknown but undoubtedly significant number who wanted us to leave the European Union but not the customs union and the single market? Which option is the Minister saying we should support? Should we vote for a proposal from the Government that will involve us leaving the customs union and the single market on a rotten deal, or should we vote for a proposal that says we will leave the single market and the customs union on no deal at all? That is not a choice that respects the sovereignty of the people or, indeed, the alleged sovereignty of Parliament.
If the Minister is as confident as she appeared that the deal brought before the House will be one that we can all enthusiastically get behind, why do the Government not commit to make that vote a proper, meaningful vote, with alternatives for those who do not want the Prime Minister’s deal because it is too destructive and who do not want no deal? If the Government are so confident that we will accept the deal anyway, why not offer to put a third option to Parliament, which is to let the people decide? If we cannot agree what the people really meant about leaving the customs union, borders in Ireland, passport queues at Brussels and all the rest of it, why not ask them again what they really meant?
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has any views about the conditions before there would be an opportunity for people to determine whether they support the terms of a deal. For example, we heard this weekend that two out of three members of the three biggest unions support having a say on the deal. Are those the sort of conditions?
I come from a tradition where the people are sovereign, and if Parliament cannot decide what the people actually meant when they voted, Parliament should ask the people. I am not that bothered about going back to ask the people in my country what they wanted, because they made it perfectly clear by a majority of almost 24% that they wanted to stay.
I love it when somebody who hardly knew I existed 18 months ago knows more about my political philosophy and political motivations than me. I suspect that I have lived in this body for longer than the hon. Gentleman has. I want to make this quite clear to him yet again, although I cannot say that I will only use words of one syllable, because “syllable” is too big a word to use. The Scottish National party is founded on the principle of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland. That principle has been unanimously endorsed by this House during this Parliament. If he did not agree with the sovereignty of the people, he could have spoken about it and voted at the time. He did not, and therefore, according to the rules of this most sovereign of palaces, he has endorsed the principle of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland. The people of Scotland said that they want to stay in the European Union. That creates a difficulty, but ignoring the will of the people when it does not suit is not a solution to the problem.
Is the problem with the people’s vote not the talk about having a vote on the deal but the fact that if the vote involves the same Hobson’s choice that we will get here—a rubbish deal or no deal—it will not help to put that to the people? If there is no option in that vote to not do this, that will give it a false legitimacy and actually weaken the fight against Brexit, not strengthen it.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. One of my concerns about the growing campaign for a people’s vote is that if it is as meaningless and as flawed a process as the 2016 referendum, it will not bring us any further forward, regardless of the result.
What the Government can be in control of is the wording of the motion that they bring forward and demand we give our unanimous support to, otherwise they will say that we are failing to get behind British businesses, British institutions and all the rest of it. We will be given the option to vote for a deal of some kind, and we will be given the option—by implication, if no other way—of opting for no deal, but we should be given a third option. I remind the Minister and the Government again that, as far as the people of Northern Ireland are concerned, constitutionally and by international treaty, they do have an option, and the indications are that more and more of them are seriously considering that option. [Interruption.] The Minister can tut all she wants. One of her colleagues admitted last week that she did not know that people in Ireland vote on unionist and nationalist lines, and if that is the depth of the Government’s ignorance about how politics in Northern Ireland works, it really does not surprise me.
The people of Northern Ireland are guaranteed that they will always have a third option before them, and the people of Scotland always have a third option before us. I would like the people of England and the people of Wales, and their elected representatives, to have another option as well. I do not want the MPs representing constituencies in England and Wales to be forced to decide between a catastrophic deal and a catastrophic no deal. My very real worry is that the political games—the musical chairs and musical Cabinet offices—being played within the Conservative party just now are leading to a position where the deal offered will be so different from no deal that it really will not make any difference, and we will end up with a result that fewer than 17 people in these islands, never mind 17 million people, would really have wanted.
The British people voted, by a large majority of over 1.25 million votes, to leave the European Union. We had all been told, by means of leaflets sent to our homes by the then Government, that this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to vote on this—not a series of votes until people got the answer they liked—and that we, the people, would make the decision. It was a very clear issue. The leave voters I met, and I met a good number of leave voters, took it very seriously. They understood the arguments, they considered them and they meant their vote. I do find it most curious that some Members of Parliament are still saying that it was not clear that we voted to leave the single market and the customs union. One of the very few things that the two official campaigns agreed on was that point. Remain said that we would obviously have to leave the single market and customs union—remainers regarded it as a kind of threat—and leave said that we would want to leave the single market and customs union, as well as having to, because we saw it as an opportunity. So there was happy agreement and everybody voted accordingly.
I was a very strong supporter of this Government because they were elected, in the recent general election, on a ticket of getting on with implementing Brexit. That was pretty popular around the country. The Conservatives got a much higher percentage of the popular vote than in all the previous elections since Margaret Thatcher. We did not get as many seats as we would have liked because there were interesting surges in the popularity of the Labour party, which also fought the election on getting on with implementing Brexit. The bit of the Labour manifesto I most enjoyed was the rather long piece in it about how Labour wanted an independent trade policy. It was not in every respect the policy that I would have designed, but Labour made it crystal clear that it wanted a completely independent trade policy and that would of course be totally incompatible with staying in a single market and a customs union.
I was very happy with the Lancaster House speech, which I thought was beautifully crafted. It set out exactly the vision that most leave voters and many moderate remain voters who accepted the democratic verdict of the people could buy into.
From conversations, watching opinion polls and listening to the national conversation. I do not know about the hon. Lady, but I take my politics seriously and I regard it as my job to listen, to read, to understand and to consult colleagues. I find that coming into the Chamber is quite a good way of judging the mood because sometimes Members of Parliament, even those on the Labour Benches, know the mood in their constituencies.
Will my right hon. Friend remind the hon. Lady and the House that a pamphlet was put out by the Government during the referendum campaign that explicitly said, “This decision will be yours”? There was no question of its being decided by Members of Parliament. We operate by a system of parliamentary government, not government by Parliament.
Indeed, but let us press on.
My worry is about the Chequers proposal—and it is only a proposal; it is not a deal or an agreement—which was set out in the future relationship White Paper, and the consequent White Paper about how such an agreement, were one to arise, would be handled and implemented by this Parliament. My worry, and I think it is the worry of many leave voters and some remain voters, is that, having voted to get rid of treaty law—to dismiss the European Union treaty because we had not enjoyed living under its tentacles—the Government now suggest we need another two European treaties to replace the one that we are getting rid of. We are mightily suspicious of treaty law. Why are we so suspicious of it? Because the original treaty, the treaty of Rome, masqueraded as a free trade agreement, which is how it was sold to the British people in the long-distant 1975 referendum, but by accretion and development, over which the British people had no control, it changed—through Nice, Amsterdam, Maastricht and Lisbon—into a massive panoply of laws and controls and completely changed our constitutional structure, without the people ever having a proper vote on that process until the most recent referendum.
We know from our experience here that this became what I call a puppet Parliament. In dozens and dozens of crucial areas where we might like to legislate, we had no power to legislate independently of the European Union whatsoever. In all those massive areas—not just trade and business, but the environment, social policy, employment policy and even foreign affairs—we had to legislate in the way the European Union laid down. Quite often, many Members of Parliament and many members of the public disagreed with that way. Quite often, it was an area where the Government had either lost a vote or did not bother to hold one because they knew they were going to lose as they were in disagreement with other member states. It was that above all else that the British public rejected in the historic vote in 2016. They said to Members of Parliament, “Collectively, you often make a mess, we don’t always approve of you and we are very critical of you, but you are our MPs” and the joy the public have is that they can fire us if we really annoy them or we get it wrong, whereas the European Union often strongly annoys them and gets it wrong and there is absolutely no one they can, directly or indirectly, have fired because it is a system that the UK cannot control and has to receive. We are, therefore, very suspicious of the idea of more treaty law.
One of the things that makes this debate very difficult for a neutral observer to come to a sensible view on is the abuse of language and the scare stories that seem to characterise most of what passes for debate on these important issues. I do not for one moment believe that there is a cliff edge and I do not for one moment believe that we would leave the European Union with no agreements. There will be lots of agreements. We have always had lots of agreements: there are lots of business-to-business agreements, business-to-individuals agreements, business-to-Government agreements and even Government-to-Government agreements. Once we have left the European Union properly, I am sure that there will be a lot of diplomacy, discussion and joint action, but we want it to be bilateral and based on the merits of the case as we proceed each time. We do not wish it to be multilateral through the EU, where the EU has special legal powers that mean that it has duress over us or can prevent us from having a weighted dialogue with the EU and reaching an agreement if we wish and not if we do not.
The structure of what the Government are now proposing is quite alarming. The EU withdrawal agreement would take the form of an international treaty, which would of course need full ratification by Parliament in the way that has been laid out. However, if it was agreed with the EU and then subsequently ratified by this Parliament, we would be back in the position where European law had more significance and for the whole of the transition period we would of course be completely back under the control of the European Union. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has pointed out, we would be even more vulnerable than we are today because the EU could legislate in our absence. At least we can see them annoying us at the moment around the same table, whereas we would be in the position where they could simply do it without consulting us or taking into account our views.
Therefore, that is not a good idea, but even worse is the proposed legal form of the so-called future partnership agreement. The UK Government call it a partnership agreement, but I think what the EU proposes, and would call it, is an EU association agreement. Such agreements are normally very comprehensive, and we can see exactly what they look like when we read the one for Turkey or for Ukraine. They have been designed by the EU to lock in countries that would like to become members but are not yet fully compliant with all its legal requirements, standards and so forth. They are used to drag those countries gradually into compliance—usually willingly, because they want to join.
We want something completely different. We want agreements on how to proceed in various areas, but we are going in the other direction. We do not want an agreement that drags us into closer compliance; we want the freedom and flexibility to have our own trade policy, our own fishing policy and our own business policy as time evolves. I am very worried that an association agreement model, rather than allowing that, would reintroduce the powers of the European Court, over which we will obviously have no control, and we would again be under strict control in a number of wide-ranging areas from which the British people wish us to liberate themselves.
In the right hon. Gentleman’s vision of the future, how does he see the nature of the devolved Governments here? There was clearly a very different relationship before we went into the EU. What influence does he see them having on the trade deals that the Government seek?
In the model that I am describing, we would get much more power back and we would keep it, and that would then be shared with the devolved Administrations, so they too would be winners. That settlement will be sorted out in the usual democratic way in a unitary country that has recently had a very important democratic event. The Scottish people decided by a decent margin in a referendum that they wished to stay in the United Kingdom, so their way of influencing the trade deals will be through this Parliament. Had they chosen to leave the United Kingdom, they would be having their own trade deals—or more likely they would be having the EU’s trade deals, because the Scottish National party does not seem to want an independent Scotland; they want a Scotland that is dependent on the EU, rather than a very important partner in the United Kingdom enterprise.
My other worry about the two prospective treaties that the Government are mulling over is conditionality. The Government have told us that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and I fully approve of that. They also seem to understand that, unless they are prepared to say to the European Union, “We will leave without signing the withdrawal agreement,” they have no negotiating position. We now know that the Government are quickly preparing to be able to leave without signing a withdrawal agreement. I think that that would be a very attractive option for many leave voters because the withdrawal agreement itself is mainly about the United Kingdom paying an extremely large bill. The Government are saying, “Yes, but you need to look at the whole package. You need to see what is in the future partnership”—the association agreement treaty to come, because they think that might persuade Parliament and people to accept the rather unpalatable withdrawal proposal. The Government’s problem, as we have just heard from the Opposition, is that there will not be a majority in this House to put through the current kind of withdrawal proposals the Government have without a very clear, bold and good-looking association agreement/future partnership and we might be looking only at rather vague heads of terms. I suggest that the Government need to introduce rather stronger conditionality than they have done so far in their negotiations. They need to make it crystal clear that there is no £39 billion unless something really impressive is available.
I do not know about the Government—I sometimes worry about how they might go shopping—but when I go shopping I do not go into a shop, put £39 down on the counter and say, very politely, “By the way, I have £39 there for you, which I thought you might like. Do you have something that I might like so that I do not leave the shop as a loser?” It seems to me that that is what the Government did. They put down £39 billion—they have rather more money than I have, lucky them; some of it is money that they took from me, actually—on the counter and said, “By the way, EU, we have these dreadful Eurosceptics back home who want value for money, so it would be quite nice if you could offer us something that might be suitable for us.”
When I look at what the EU has in its shop, I am afraid, oh Government, that I do not see anything that I would pay £39 billion for. Yes, I would like a free trade deal, which I think would be a perfectly good answer in the current situation, but I do not remember Canada paying anything for its free trade deal. A Canada deal would be just fine, with a few extra knobs and whistles—we start from complete compliance with the EU, so it will be easy to have a few extra knobs and whistles—but I do not think that is the kind of thing I would pay £39 billion for. Indeed, the tariff saving would be a small fraction of £39 billion, so it would not make a lot of sense financially. The Government, therefore, have a bit of work to do to persuade friendly, reasonable people like me that the two treaties they have in mind represent a good deal for the British people.
I am listening to the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the divorce payment. Is he making the case that Nigel Farage should be deprived of his pension pot?
I am not suggesting that at all. That gentleman’s pension pot is a liability of the European Union. They entered into it, so I think it is something that they need to sort out. I do not think that the European Union should be the kind of body that stops people getting their pensions. I do not remember when we joined the European Union being given a big pot of money to reflect all the liabilities we inherited, so it is a bit difficult to understand why the reverse has to happen when we leave and we have to pay for the others. We simply were not given a whole load of money at the beginning to reflect the fact that we were going to have to pick up some of the pensions of civil servants who had been working in the EU before we arrived.
It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that we went into the European Union on the basis of a referendum in which people did not understand the question but we are not allowed to use that argument now. Is it not the case that when new members join the European Union, they become liable for liabilities that occur only after they join? In the same way, if any member is daft enough to leave, they are liable only for those liabilities that occurred before they left.
No, I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I think that he will find that we were responsible for the existing pension liabilities jointly and severally with the other members. We cannot really complain about that; we were joining the club, so we had to help pay the club bills. When we leave the club, the remaining members pay the bills—it is a fairly straightforward operation.
I would have thought that when someone leaves the bar in the golf club, they pay their tab before they go. That is what the £39 billion is; it is not shopping for a trade deal. If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that no deal is better, so as not to pay the £39 billion, I would be interested to hear what he thinks will happen to the EU citizens who have settled here and to British citizens who have settled in Europe, because they are also part of the withdrawal agreement.
I have always said that someone should pay for the drinks they have just ordered in the bar while still a club member, and once they have ceased to be a club member they cannot order drinks anyway, so there is no problem. I do not think that the hon. Lady has really got that one. As for EU citizens, I am very keen that we reinforce the Prime Minister’s assurances. I have always thought that if we do the right thing by its citizens, it will end up doing the right thing by ours. It is very important that we do not forget that our citizens have rights and need support as well, but I do not believe that the EU is as nasty as some remain voters seem to believe. I do not believe that this group of democratic nations would start evicting people from their countries after they had settled there legally under its rules. I hope that the hon. Lady is not suggesting that. If she is, why does she wish to belong to the kind of organisation that throws people out when they are legally entitled to be there?
It was the right hon. Gentleman’s colleagues sitting on the same Benches who talked about EU citizens as bargaining chips and playing cards. One of them stated in the newspapers only recently that EU citizens would not be allowed to stay—someone not very far away from him at all.
Indeed. I would not have expected anything else. I think that it is always better if people speak for themselves.
I am very worried by this drift. I am also worried by this whole so-called implementation period or transitional period. It is clearly not an implementation period, because there is nothing to implement as of today. Even if there is a moderately detailed political agreement, it will not be something we can go off and implement. I have become very nervous about the idea that we need another 21 months of uncertainty. I have heard a lot from remain about the dangers of uncertainty. I can see that going on for too long with arguments about our future is not terribly helpful. I think 33 months is probably quite long enough to have a good old argument and see whether we can get a decent set of agreements from the EU or not. I remain to be persuaded that there is something our talented Ministers can achieve in negotiations on 1 April next year, to pluck a date out of the air with no particular significance about it being April fools’ day. What is it that could be agreed on April fools’ day next year that could not be agreed now or in December? We still have seven negotiating months left. We have already had two years or more of negotiations. I would say that that was a fair enough test. I would also take the view that if there is not something at the end of 33 months that we like, then we should just say, “Fine, it is not to be. We will go off and do bilaterals on a regular basis on the things that are of mutual interest.” I suspect we would get along just fine.
That is, of course, how the 160 other countries around the world get on with the EU. They do not have a special trade arrangement. They are certainly not bound by EU treaties in most cases. There are those who are terribly worried about the fate of the trade deals the EU has with 60-odd countries. I can reassure them that I still have not heard a single one of those countries say they wish to lose that trade deal with the UK. Of course, in law it novates to both the UK and the rest of the EU, but it needs to be agreed with the other party to the agreement. I do not know of any country that does not want to allow us to novate. Of course, some say we could improve it and make it better—why not? It is a good idea to have a look at it, but until I am told of a country that has actually ruled out taking on one of these trade deals I think they are there for us to continue to enjoy.
What is more important is that if we got on and left, we could sign trade deals and implement them from April next year. There are a number of countries friendly to us who would like early trade deals. There are off-the-shelf trade deals that they might be interested in developing, which they have developed with others, that would get us off to a good start. I do not like the provision in the White Paper—I think perhaps the Minister did not quite grasp it—that says, as I understand it, for the 21 months they are proposing for transition we are not allowed to implement a trade deal with anybody else. I think we could discuss them and get them ready for signing—that kind of thing—but they could be brought into effect. I think it would be rather nice to get on with it and bring things into effect.
There are plenty of other things I would like to talk about, but there are many others who would like to join in. Let me sum up by saying that my worry about the EU withdrawal proposal is that I do not think Parliament will be very willing to put the legislation through without great clarity, as Labour has said, on the so-called partnership—the association agreement. For myself, I am going to need a lot of persuading, because I think the money is far too great and the transition delay, so-called, is far too long. I am also extremely concerned that we will give up one EU treaty only to sign up to another two, which look to me as if they will have many of the problems that we had from the original.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood).
This House finds itself, 18 months after article 50 was triggered, with the Government having no credible Brexit plan, no viable solution for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland, and apparently no majority in Parliament for the Chequers proposals. This debate comes on the same day as an e-petition debate in Westminster Hall on rescinding article 50 if it is found that the vote leave campaign broke electoral laws. The petition attracted 398 signatures from my constituency of East Lothian. My constituency voted, on a turnout of over 72%, 64.6% to remain and 35.4% to leave. The petitioners are of the view that if laws have been broken the validity of the referendum is questioned and article 50 should be withdrawn. The Government’s response to the petition included a quote from the Prime Minister:
“This is about more than the decision to leave the EU; it is about whether the public can trust their politicians to put in place the decision they took.”
The Government’s response went on to state:
“The British people can trust this Government to honour the referendum result and get the best deal possible. To do otherwise would be to undermine the decision of the British people.”
I raise that as a warning about the proposed legislation for the withdrawal agreement. Our law, like our paper currency, works only because there is universal agreement and consensus to follow and obey it. The confidence of the British people has been undermined. None of us here will be forgiven: neither those who seek to undermine the public’s confidence nor those who allow it to be undermined unchallenged.
The White Paper intends to give legal clarity to people and businesses, along with a political declaration, on the future relationship. To understand the significance of what is required, I want to look at my constituency’s relationship with Europe. East Lothian has many links with Europe. There are thousands of EU citizens who live and work in and around East Lothian. They work in education, the NHS and agriculture, from co-ordinating sheep-breeding programmes across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the provision of saplings, vegetables and grain. Whisky is exported from my constituency, both as a single malt and blended, to France. Thistley Cross cider travels around Europe and the world.
Chapter 2C of the White Paper discusses the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. There is a clear assertion that the Government wish them to be honoured and represented, but will the Minister say whether there is a guarantee that we will have access to the databases that hold that information? This will cause problems in Scotland, particularly with registered teachers, and for the safety of our children in relation to access to police databases regarding people.
East Lothian’s interconnection with Europe is complex and nuanced. It is vital to the future of my constituents, from the European workers who tend the fields with skill and expertise to the hospitality sector that makes our “golf coast” a success. Musselburgh racecourse relies very heavily on horses bred and trained in southern Ireland. The interconnections run at family and community level dating back to migrations from the previous century and earlier, from the manufacture of ice cream to modern cutting-edge IT companies that rely on today’s European students. Will the Minister tell us what consideration has been given to the avenues of enforcement for EU citizens here, as compared with UK citizens in Europe, regarding their rights and obligations? What will happen when there is a conflict in judgment between an EU country and the UK?
The disarray of the Government is causing distress, worry and fear for families and individuals. There is talk about having just one set of changes to the rulebook to stop any panic. I would like to look at that in relation to a constituent, Scott Sutherland. He runs an extremely successful chemical coatings company in East Lothian, Marott Graphic Services, which has been family-owned for over 30 years. It develops, produces and sells lithographic pressroom chemistry: high performance additives to put into machines to make sure corrosion is prevented. In 2011, it established XCP Corrosion Technologies, which sells successfully across Europe.
Scott is a classic example of an entrepreneur who is developing and growing his small and medium-sized enterprise. He is a practical man who welcomes technical and market challenges. He has more concern about the governmental challenges that are being put in his way. His view of Brexit is harsh, but based on facts. He read the initial technical papers put out in case of a no deal. They basically confirmed his fears that moving to a no deal will result in an immediate 6.5% tariff on his products, as well as other associated costs relating to delays, customs controls and the bureaucracy of form filling. His conservative estimate is that it will hit his margins by between 10% and 15%, which is the difference between his family business being viable and not being viable.
Scott is making active plans and preparations to transfer production to continental Europe. The loss of highly skilled technical jobs, the loss of personnel, and the possible loss of the business’s potential for East Lothian is devastating. It is an SME, and if that is replicated across the UK it will be a devastating blow to our economy.
The responsibility of those making the decisions is crucial. The withdrawal legislation we are debating today and provided for in the article 50 notice will implement an agreement we have not seen, proposals or a no deal—or some chimera of all—reached for political reasons rather than the benefit of the UK and Europe. The new legislation must amend earlier legislation, as we have heard, and it must deal with the question of a meaningful vote, either here in Parliament or a people’s vote on the deal. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) say that the SNP Government now agree on the need for a meaningful people’s vote.
The hon. Gentleman may have misheard me. I said that we could not have a meaningful vote here until we knew what the terms of any supposed people’s vote would be. I do not think anyone could sign up to that. We certainly want to see a meaningful vote in Parliament, not the Hobson’s choice that the Government intend to impose on us.
I apologise: my understanding was that the hon. Gentleman spoke about a meaningful vote for the people as a third option, if there was no agreement here. I am grateful for the clarification.
The majority of people in East Lothian and I believe that the original decision to leave Europe was wrong, but there is a variety of solutions, from a no deal, WTO, hard Brexit through the Chequers agreement to what is looking less like a deal for the country than a deal to keep the Conservative party together. The proposals from the Government will damage the UK—the whole of the UK—and, in particular, they will damage our young people. That damage will last for generations.
There is another solution, which would protect our United Kingdom. I look to Conservative Members representing Scottish constituencies to stand up and ensure that the United Kingdom remains so. It is a deal that would protect the staff and users of our NHS, protect our chemical industry and our manufacturing industry, protect the Northern Ireland border and the Good Friday agreement, and protect our reputation abroad as a law-abiding society, and it must involve staying in the single market and the customs union. It does not really matter what we call it, but what does matter is that it preserves our relationship with the EU and our stance as an open, outward-looking, supportive partner.
History gives the opportunity to review, consider and analyse. Leadership gives the privilege of decision making today, even if that decision begins with an admission that this might not be the best route for our journey after looking at the map.
The six tests intend to keep us in a close relationship with exactly the same benefits that we exercise now.
If the decision making damages our United Kingdom and the future of our young people, our leaders today will not be forgiven. Scott Sutherland says:
“I sincerely hope it will not come to that.”
If it should, I suggest there is a case for a people’s vote.
It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech made by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield), although I confess that I have many different thoughts.
Today’s debate on legislating for the withdrawal agreement is obviously covered in the White Paper, and it seems to me that it includes three key points. The first is the obvious issue of EU nationals. I have always thought that it is really important that people who are here lawfully, and who we allowed to come and invited to come, are protected in every possible way as if they were British citizens. We are not the sort of country that applies retrospective legislation, and as Conservatives we should have a particular admiration for people whose motivation is to improve their standard of living, and who have travelled halfway across a continent, legally and lawfully, to come to a country where they do not speak the language so that they can work hard to send money back to support their families. If that is not an admirable and Conservative thing to do, I do not know what is. It is not their responsibility that we have voted to leave the European Union. They came here under treaties we had agreed, and they will be entitled to remain here, because that is the type of country that we are.
The rights that they have should be no better or worse than those of British citizens. We should not have a special category of people under EU law. The extra rights they have under EU law have been a mistake, and they have been granted by the European courts contrary to our intention. It is absurd that it is easier to bring in a dependant under EU regulations as an EU citizen than it is for a British citizen. That is not a fair law and, once we have left, it should not continue. People should have the same rights as the British, not better ones.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the initial settled status offer meant that a European citizen who went abroad to work for two years would lose that status? The period has now been extended to five years, but that is not what applies to a British citizen.
We can be more generous. I am in favour of generosity to people who are legally here and who have made their lives in the United Kingdom. There must be some point at which, if they separate their lives from the United Kingdom and have not applied for British citizenship, the status might not be perpetual, but they should be looked after and protected, and we should always remember that they came here legally and that we are not a nation of retrospective legislation.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), I think that other continental countries will reciprocate, because they are civilised nations. We are dealing with allies and friends, so this should never have been a topic of negotiation. We should simply have set out our stall and said what we would do. I am glad that it is now clear that in the event of our leaving on WTO terms, we will protect the rights of EU member state nationals who are living in this country. That is the first point on legislation on withdrawing from the European Union, and I am all in favour of generosity.
The second point is law, which was covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who has great experience in these areas. We were lucky that the Henry VIII clauses in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 were, by and large, removed, as they would have allowed all European law to have been brought back through the back door. It would have gone out through the front door and returned through the back door. Now, primary legislation will be needed, but that primary legislation is dubious, because it will produce a vassal state—Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians; this great nation state tied down by petty bureaucrats, running all over us, tying us down with ropes—because we will have to do whatever the European Union says during the implementation period. Our senior law will be made by a foreign body in which we have no say and no vote, and with which we have no association. Our money will go to—
Which Europe are we dealing with: the one that is all friends and civilised countries that would never knowingly do anything bad to us; or a lot of miniature people who want to tie us down and, presumably, leave us to drown when the tide comes in? Or does the hon. Gentleman have a way to prevent the tide from coming in?
The hon. Gentleman is confusing me with the much-maligned late King Canute, who was accused of trying to hold the tide back when, in fact, he wanted to show that it was not possible to do so. The bureaucracy of the European Union is something to which I am strongly opposed, but that does not mean that I do not admire the individual member states and think of them as great countries and friendly allies. The two are completely different. Even if they were the same, while I may have a great friend, I would not want him to rule my life. There is no logical connection.
As so often, the United Kingdom is leading by example. To paraphrase that great quotation from Pitt the Younger, we have saved ourselves by our exertion and we will save Europe by our example. We should always remember that as we make this great exertion—this worthy and noble exertion.
To have a period of 21 months, however, during which our senior law in this country cannot be stopped and our senior court is the European Court of Justice is a great mistake. It is an aspect of the legislation for which I, for one, will find it extremely difficult to vote, because there was another way—an alternative route. In terms of the courts, it is what we do with our own courts in relation to human rights challenges.
If the domestic court—the Supreme Court—decides that a bit of primary legislation fails to meet the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998, there is a fast-tracked way of amending legislation through statutory instrument. That means, however, that if the House of Commons is against the change and wills to make the move that is against the Act, it is free to do so. That maintains control under our democratic processes, and that is how the Government should be proceeding in relation to judgments of the ECJ—or the CJEU, if you prefer—during the implementation period. We would, in the normal course, want to accept them, because we would still have treaty obligations, but they should come to Parliament to be passed into our law by statutory instrument. That would give us a straightforward reserve power not to act it if we felt that the proposal was not the right thing.
Equally, the same should apply to new laws. New laws being made by the European Union, over which we will have no say, could do specific damage to areas of our interest. There could be laws affecting the City of London, in which I have certain interests—I draw people’s attention to my relevant declarations in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. They are not just my interests, however; they are the interests of the nation at large, and we want to protect them and to prevent unfavourable legislation over which we have no control from being passed.
What is Her Majesty’s Government’s best defence of this ability of a foreign set-up to make laws for this land, which is something that I cannot think any country has ever voluntarily agreed to before? Countries have become colonies, but normally that is after a little encouragement, usually at the end of a bayonet, spear or some such. It is most unusual—unprecedented, in fact—to volunteer to allow a foreign organisation to make one’s laws.
No, that is not quite true. The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant)—a great seat for which I once stood, in 1997, although not with enormous success—says that, but Scotland did not do that. Scotland became part of a greater whole, and how many Scottish Prime Ministers have we had who have led this country with great distinction? We became one, rather than simply farming out legislation to somebody else.
What is the Government’s best answer? It is that the EU is so slow—so slothful and sluggish—that in a period of 21 months, it could not institute any new laws and therefore we should not worry our little heads about it. This is a really unsatisfactory answer. It is not impossible for the EU to move swiftly, and it has done so the past. This is a golden opportunity for the EU to legislate in a way that we do not like, and we will have no say at all. I go back to the solution I have suggested for the courts: no new law without a vote in Parliament—and not a scrutiny vote. Although it is a very important Committee, the European Scrutiny Committee has never been able to stop any directive or regulation from coming in, and regulations have direct effect without any vote or scrutiny in Parliament anyway. There needs to be a vote as if for a statutory instrument. It is an abnegation of democracy to allow our law to be changed in this way, and this is a part of the White Paper that must be rejected.
That is very tempting—I would be delighted to talk about that proposition—but the title of our debate is “Legislating for the Withdrawal Agreement”, so I feel I have to stick to those terms because otherwise Mr Deputy Speaker, who I understand has had a very nice holiday in France, showing our continental cousins that we still send them our finest and best—
I do apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I understand there was a haircut while you were abroad that was reported in the national newspapers and should be brought to the attention of the House.
The third point is money. Money is really important. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) intervened earlier on my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham to say that we were the sort of country that pays its bills—that is absolutely true—but the question is: what do we owe under international law? On this point, the most authoritative report is “Brexit and the EU budget”, published in March 2017 by the House of Lords EU Committee.
One may say that an EU Committee will be stuffed full of Eurosceptics and would be bound to come out with a report unfavourable to the EU, and that could perhaps be true in the House of Commons. I used to serve on the European Scrutiny Committee, and it would only be fair to confess that most of us were followers of that great gentleman, my hon. Friend—not right honourable, sadly—the Member for Stone, but in the House of Lords that is simply not true. The Lords Committee is made up of former Law Lords, a former Cabinet Secretary and others who, by and large, were in favour of our membership of the EU.
The case explained in that very powerful document is that if we leave under the terms of article 50 without a withdrawal agreement, we will owe no money, and the reason is that our obligation to pay any money would in normal circumstances depend on the 1968 Vienna convention on the law of treaties. If we leave under those terms, without anything in the Lisbon treaty or other EU treaties, we would indeed be liable for our share of the liabilities, but that convention says that if the treaty of the organisation to which one belongs makes a different provision for leaving, that provision is authoritative. And then we go back to article 50, and the provision of article 50 is that if we leave after two years without a deal, that is it—there is no financial provision at all. In those circumstances, this £40 billion of our constituents’ money, which could be spent on other pressing needs—every Member could identify a pressing need in their own constituency, or for their own constituents or the nation at large—is not a legal obligation, but a charitable donation, unless it comes with a very clear quid pro quo.
The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), the Opposition spokesman, made an excellent point on this in his very considered speech. He said that the Opposition would be expecting a good deal of detail on the second stage. What are we moving to? A report last week said that we would have a 10-page document on a political agreement saying that motherhood and apple pie was all fine and dandy. That would be £4 billion a page for waffle. Well, Members may like waffles—they may prefer Belgium waffles—but £4 billion a page for waffle is not something that any responsible Member of Parliament could vote for. For what, after all, is the job of this House and its power? How do we control the Executive? It is has always been through the provision of money, and if the Executive wish to waste British taxpayers’ money, we must say no.
The answer, then, is that we are generous and say yes to people who are living here, but that we say no to being a vassal state, no to being tied down by Lilliputians, and no to squandering taxpayers’ money.
It is a privilege, as a north-east MP myself, to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg).
I voted to trigger article 50 in accordance with the will of my constituents. Forgotten communities, worries about immigration, promises of more cash for the NHS—whatever their reason, the people of Hartlepool voted for Brexit by the highest margin in the north-east. They are a tenacious and aspirational people who, despite having benefited from millions of pounds of EU investment over the years, somehow lost faith in Europe. Instead, they put their faith and hopes in a future outside the EU—one that gives the UK autonomy and the freedom to trade with the rest of the world and to award contracts to local businesses without forced competition. They wanted financial security, prospects for their children and the right to self-determination without interference from EU laws. They wanted all that, and quickly. My constituents are level-headed. They expected some difficulties along the line, and they knew that negotiations had to happen; what they did not expect, and rightly should not have had to expect, was that six months before leaving the EU, we would face a hard Brexit.
Negotiations are negotiations. People should not go in there empty-handed and expecting nothing. They should fight for what is right by the people. They should not promise jam tomorrow to those whose jobs and livelihoods depend on a well-managed outcome. They should not ask people to have blind faith in the future if they have nothing credible or tangible to show them that such faith will be rewarded in the long run. My constituents want proper checks and balances to be put before them. They want to see that all the right mechanisms are in place and that the negotiations will have outcomes that will protect them. That is why I am not against the idea of putting the final deal to them. No deal will cast the people of Hartlepool and the UK into darkness. It will cast them adrift. It will leave them rudderless and with no faith in those whose job is to chart their future.
My very good friend and I have slightly different views on this issue, but at a conference on Saturday, I spoke about the north-south divide and the left-behind communities in our cities and towns. How can we have a Brexit that would cause those left-behind communities to be even more left behind? Manufacturing plants would have to close, because we would have no customs arrangements to meet their requirements. Does my hon. Friend not agree that we need a deal that will keep jobs in the north?
I absolutely agree, especially as my coastal community feels that it is one of the forgotten communities.
I am on record as saying that in the north-east, Hartlepool will be the true barometer for change. On that basis, I say no to a second referendum, but I also say no to no deal, and I expect to see true leadership from now on.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill). It was great to hear about his admirably level-headed constituents; my constituents in Gordon are equally level-headed.
I was inspired by the paper on the withdrawal Bill that the Secretary of State published in July. He expressed a very positive view, referring to
“a smooth transition to a comprehensive future economic and security partnership for business and citizens”.
I could not agree with him more.
Fundamentally, the Government have, in good faith, prepared for an amicable Brexit. They have reached out; they have bent over backwards; and they have pushed colleagues to the limit to work with the EU. We need a sustainable plan, welcomed by the EU and by this Parliament. We need an agreement that would lay to rest the divisions on both sides of the House. The paper states that
“it remains our firm view…to reach agreement on a good and sustainable future relationship.”
That agreement must be legally robust.
The Government are publishing papers in preparation for no deal. I am a pragmatist—a long-time business person—and I know that we cannot afford a cliff-edge no deal. As the Minister said in her opening speech, the withdrawal agreement recognises that a deal is still being negotiated; but can we explore existing EU and international rules-based agreements? They are numerous and have been signed up to by major economies—valued trading partners of the EU.
This is a balance. Is the EU willing to accept a proposal that it claims undermines its founding principles—it does not look like it—or can we cut and paste from existing, tested free trade agreements such as the comprehensive economic and trade agreement and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to facilitate a deal honouring article 50, respecting the right to withdraw, upholding World Trade Organisation rules, recognising regulatory equivalence, protecting the union of the United Kingdom and, fundamentally, respecting the will of the people of Britain, the EU’s closest trading partner and historic ally?
We must debate the merits of a hybrid deal. I do not accept that there can be no deal. I believe that there is time—within the timetable that has been specified—to agree a framework modelled on proven free trade agreements, allowing withdrawal as laid out in article 50 and outlined in the July 2018 exit document, and leaving 18 months in which to negotiate the detail. That could be welcomed by the EU and embraced by the British Government. It would be in line with their stated aims, and it would be vastly superior to a cliff-edge so-called hard Brexit.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who is no longer in the Chamber, mentioned a super-Canada, CETA-plus arrangement, which would be a comprehensive free trade deal. An enhanced basic Canada deal could deliver 99% access to the EU single market, with no fees and no free movement. President Tusk himself mentioned it.
As the Minister said, we have made significant progress in protecting the rights of EU citizens. The oil and gas industry in Gordon values them very highly.
It is worrying that free movement into the rest of the United Kingdom has continued strongly during the Brexit debate but has fallen in Scotland. That prompts us to ask what it is about the Scottish economy and the Scottish Government that is putting people off coming to work in Scotland. It is deeply worrying that people are not moving from the south, from other countries, to work in our NHS. We are still bereft of doctors. But I will not go into that further, because to do so would diverge substantially from the subject that we are discussing.
An FTA would mean customs declarations, but let me respond to the issue raised earlier by the hon. Gentleman. The British people did vote to leave the customs union, and they did vote to leave the single market. They did that in the full understanding that it was in exchange for the return of sovereignty and self-government, and a proven free trade agreement would respect that.
We must remember that other countries that do not have FTAs do more exporting to the EU than we do. Only 12% of the UK economy and 5% of UK businesses even trade with the EU; 60% of our trade is with the rest of the world, and most of the world’s fifth largest economy—ours—is domestic. The reality is that even the EU single market for services barely exists. The European Commission’s 2014 single market integration report shows that trade integration stands at only 5% for services, compared with 22% for goods.
When the transition period begins, we will have 18 months in which to negotiate the details of an FTA or CETA-style deal. That will be mostly in the area of services, and financial services in particular. TTIP contained advanced provisions for services: the framework is there. We have an opportunity to cut and paste what already exists. As the Minister said, the purpose of the transition period is to provide certainty and consistency, and that is what my constituents in Gordon and businesses in the north-east of Scotland want to see.
There has been much talk of a second referendum. I think that it would take Parliament eight or nine months to legislate for that, and would it not just mean a further negative in terms of inward investment and confidence in the British economy? Would it not be the worst possible outcome of all those that are being discussed?
I could not agree more. The last thing that the country needs is more doubt about its politicians. The same applies to the referendum in Scotland. The people vote and trust us to represent them in a democratic system, and that is what we are here to do. We are here to make the difficult decisions, and we must be brave enough to do that.
Non-trade agreements can be made for aviation, customs and security. They can cover non-trade items such as Horizon 2020, Erasmus, or the European Aviation Safety Agency. North sea helicopter operators are a subject close to my heart, because the airport from which they fly is in my constituency. EASA needs associate access. The Government have already proposed that, but it requires an agreement, not a no deal.
A CETA-style FTA is not backward looking. It could free the UK to do its own free trade deals throughout the world. As has been said, 90% of growth over the next 10 to 15 years will be outside the European Union, and the Minister recognised that. We can build on those 65 bilateral deals the UK supported in the EU.
No deal is not an alternative; an internationally-tested FTA would be. It is said that the EU has never signed an FTA containing significant liberalisation in financial services, but the point is that it has; it has had deviations in the past, and therefore we should be ambitious about having them in the future.
But Mr Barnier’s comment is just a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, because of course the outcome will be different from anything there has ever been before because nobody has ever left the EU before. I do not think anybody should get over-excited by some mistranslated words from Michel Barnier.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I am glad he was intervening on the intervention on me.
We are either inside or outside the single market. Pragmatism shows derogations are possible, and in the latter case there have been many concessions. So is it in or out? The British people voted out; they expect us to deliver, not drive them into a cul-de-sac.
The EU has a record of FTAs—off-the-shelf agreements based on international trading rules that could protect the EU and UK industry and jobs, and that is paramount in what I want to see from this process. But without article 50 and £39 billion focusing EU negotiations, we cannot revisit this; we have to get it right the first time. The impediments are not insurmountable; we should stick to the transition timetable laid out in the withdrawal agreement, with a clear framework.
It is especially apt that we are having this general debate today as undoubtedly Brexit will be the major issue facing us as Members of Parliament over the coming weeks and months. We are about to enter a huge parliamentary moment when it comes to the withdrawal agreement meaningful vote, and today is an opportunity for Members to outline the way ahead as we see it. Having pondered the current state of play over the summer recess, I can honestly stand here before the House and say anything could happen over the next few months. I will therefore refrain from making arguments on the type of deal required and will instead concentrate on my interpretation and how I see matters at the moment.
Future historians will not be kind to this generation of politicians for getting us to where we are now. Former Prime Minister Cameron will be judged for holding the referendum in the first place as a means of easing party management. The current Prime Minister will be judged for wasting the first two years of the leaving process by basing her policy on extreme red lines only to change her major strategic objective late in the day, as I will explain later. And the Labour Opposition will be judged for a lack of coherence in policy and playing political games with the biggest political issue of our time. Labour knows that its six Brexit tests can only be met by staying within the single market and the customs union, specifically test 2 of ensuring the exact same benefits of our current membership, yet its policy is to leave both frameworks. It is a completely cynical position to take, with its only goal being to try to use Brexit to force another general election.
I for one saw the Prime Minister’s Chequers statement of July as a significant moment. Leaving aside the near collapse of her Government due to the resignations of the Brexit and Foreign Secretaries, it outlined for the first time that the driving force of policy would be protecting the economy, not dealing with immigration. The natural development of that policy would be to come to the same conclusion as Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats: the objective of the British state should be to stay within key European economic frameworks. Unfortunately, of course, the British Government continue to be wedded to a “have your cake and eat it” scenario, which obviously the European Union will not entertain. The French European Minister Nathalie Loiseau clearly told in the Evening Standard last Wednesday:
“We will not redefine our basic principles because the UK doesn’t want to belong to the European Union anymore.”
Much of the media attention over the summer recess has surrounded the potential for no deal as we approach the October, or what now seems to be the November, deadline in Brussels. However, while it may come to pass that talks collapse, I believe that some fudge will be agreed and that it will then come to this House for approval to trigger the necessary withdrawal legislation. At that stage, as I put it to the Brexit Secretary during his statement of 24 July, I find it difficult to see how the Prime Minister will be able to get a majority of the House to support her position.
As I said earlier in this speech, Labour’s policy is basically to use Brexit as a means of forcing a general election, and it will therefore oppose the fudge, although how that will solve the problem I do not know, because essentially Labour’s policy is not that far removed from that of the Conservative Government. The Brexit buccaneers in the Prime Minister’s party whose objective is no deal will also vote down the fudge as that would make a no deal more likely, unless they make the more nuanced calculation that the only thing that is more important for them is getting to the 29 March deadline, because after that date and once we are outside the EU anything negotiated beforehand is not worth the paper it is written on. Considering that two Secretaries of State resigned on the basis of the Chequers announcement, however, it is difficult to see how they and their supporters can back the Prime Minister.
Those of us who believe that staying within European frameworks is the only way to safeguard jobs and wages will also vote against. I am sure that the British Government will say their aim is to stay within regulatory alignment—the adoption of the so-called common rulebook—thereby easing our economic concerns. The Minister might want to correct me when summing up, but my understanding of the situation is that currently the rules governing the single market are made in Brussels and then every member state, and in some states sub-regional Governments such as Wallonia, have to endorse those changes before they become part of the European single market regulations. What the British Government are proposing is that Europe would come up with new regulations for the single market and then we would have to adopt them via statutory instrument in this place—no mention of the devolved Governments of course, but that is a separate issue. The question then arises: what happens perhaps three or four years down the line if this Parliament decides not to adopt one of those SIs? Does the whole thing collapse at that moment? I do not see how the plan currently envisaged by the British Government can be sustainable in the long term.
I will also vote against because, essentially, supporting the fudge that I envisage would mean supporting what is now being termed as a blind Brexit, which means the fine detail of the future economic relations between the British state and the European Union determined being only after the British state has left the EU. How could responsible Members of Parliament with concerns about the economic impact of Brexit make that leap of faith? I should add that the previous argument of the British Government was that the transition and the final deal would have to be negotiated together, because it was impossible to transition unless we knew what we were transitioning to, but that argument has now been long forgotten.
My final reason for voting against the expected fudge is that, by leaving the detail until after the British state is no longer a member of the EU, the balance of power in the negotiations will move even further in favour of Brussels. The current pathway to Brexit by the Prime Minister seems completely naive. The future economic partnership with the European Union will be by far the most important trade deal the British state will ever make—it will dwarf any other the British state ever makes. It is therefore beyond my comprehension why the British Government want to give further leverage away in those negotiations. Furthermore, leverage within the Conservative party at this stage will swing decisively towards the European Research Group of Brexit extremists after 29 March next year.
If my analysis is correct and the meaningful vote does not gain the approval of the House, as I said during the Brexit Secretary’s statement on 24 July, the British Government will face four choices. First, they could seek to extend article 50 to renegotiate with the European Union. That would seem sensible to me as leaving the business end of the negotiations to after the British state is outside the EU seems completely bizarre. Secondly, the British Government could call a new referendum, possibly a multi-choice one, including the Prime Minister’s proposal and, vitally, the option of staying in the EU. Thirdly, if the meaningful vote does not gain the approval of the House the Labour party will move a motion of no confidence in order to force a general election but, as I have already said, this will not offer a solution to the Brexit paralysis unless Labour drastically changes its position. Equally, the Government might move one against themselves, resigning the Conservative party to defeat and leaving the Labour party to deal with the resulting pandemonium. In fact, an option for the Government might be to include a motion of no confidence in the meaningful vote, as that would be a manner for them to deal with the challenge set by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who is no longer in his place. He said that he would not vote for the final fudge that comes back from Brussels, but he also said that he would never vote against the Government on a motion of no confidence, so that would be a way of placing him and his political followers in political difficulty.
At that stage, the likelihood is that a motion of no confidence would be carried, resulting in another election, unless an alternative Government of sensible MPs were to come together within the 14-day deadline under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and steer the British state on to a more sensible course. In the past, I have floated that idea as a pragmatic solution, and I put it on record that I do so again today.
The last likely scenario is that no deal would become inevitable by default, as opposed to by design. Over the summer, writing for The Times, I called on the British Government to remove no deal from the political theatre. As a negotiating tactic with the European Union, it has failed miserably. It has also failed to bribe this House into supporting the Prime Minister’s position. All it has done is to embolden the kamikaze side of the Conservative party. Far be it from me to offer political advice to the Prime Minister, but if she were acting rationally, she would disempower the European Research Group wing of her party by taking no deal off the table.
Politics is not a game, and our actions as Members of this House over the next few weeks and months will have far-reaching consequences. The position taken by me and my colleagues has been consistent from the day after the referendum—namely, that the economic wellbeing of our constituents has to come first and last. The British Government are eventually moving in the right direction, but they will have to move far further and far more quickly if they are to avoid the approaching slow-motion train crash.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards). I rise to speak about this issue from the point of view of the people of Redditch, who are always at the forefront of my mind in this place. I remember clearly the expression of their sovereign desire to leave the EU, which they expressed in the referendum with 62% in favour of leaving. I have not found anyone in Redditch who has changed their mind during the ensuing period, even though we have been grappling with a series of extremely difficult and complicated technical issues.
We spend a lot of time in this place dealing with incredibly complex legislation, some of which has been eloquently explained tonight by hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, my constituents always come back to talking about three basic things. They voted to leave the European Union in those numbers because they wanted to take back control of their money, their borders and their laws. That brings me to something that we have not heard mentioned at all tonight. It is something that is very hard to put into figures, and it is called sovereignty. It is an emotional concept for people in my constituency and in constituencies across the United Kingdom, including Hartlepool, which we heard about earlier.
People in Redditch and across the midlands are very level-headed. They know very well that we are reliant on jobs in the manufacturing industry and in the supply chain. The excellent Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, makes this point on a regular basis. I declare an interest in that I helped him to win that election, and I am very proud that I did so. He is a businessman, and he understands the need for a deal so that those jobs can be protected. I also understand that very clearly from the businesses in my constituency, including GKN and a number of other businesses, large and small.
I come back to a point that I have made before in this House, which is that we are sometimes misled by listening to the voice of the very large corporate businesses and failing to heed the voices of the small and medium-sized enterprises. I know those SMEs intimately, because I ran one for 26 years before I came to this place. I can tell the House that there are many things that stand in the way of businesses. They face obstacles every single day as they grapple with trading conditions, whether at home or around the world. The great genius of our British entrepreneurs is that they are able to turn those obstacles into challenges and to innovate and be entrepreneurial. They are able to seize the opportunities that are provided by any state of affairs or economic situation that they face. That is why we have such a thriving and dynamic economy in this country, and why we have given rise to some of the best businesses in the world.
I asked the Minister earlier whether she believed we would be in a position to take advantage of the 90% of trade outside our European borders in the future, and she assured me that we would be in a position to start signing those deals and that we would shortly be able to move quickly to ratify them. That is why I welcome this withdrawal agreement. We have all been calling for certainty and clarity; I hear it from my constituents in the business sector all the time. This agreement will start to put in place some of the things that we have been calling for. It is not perfect, of course; there have been vigorous debates on these subjects and they will continue.
When I think about being the Prime Minister, I think, “My goodness me! Who would want to do her job?” At the end of the day, she just cannot win, can she? She cannot ever please everybody, either on our side or on the other side of the House, or in the country. We had a vote in which some people voted to stay and some people voted to leave, so she is never going to be able to please anybody. However, I hear people in Redditch saying, “Good on her. She is just getting on with it. She is facing down criticism on all sides.”
I have absolute confidence that the Prime Minister will continue to do what she is doing, and I for one certainly support her. If she can bring back a deal that is in the interests of my constituents, I will support her. I take heart from the way in which she has been able to make such significant progress in the face of all the criticism and of people saying, “You won’t be able to get this far. You won’t be able to make a deal. You won’t be able to settle these incredibly complicated issues. You won’t be able to unpick all these decades of agreements.” But actually, she has. She went to Africa over the summer and, again, she was in a position where she was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. She was faced with people demonstrating their dancing skills. If she had not joined in, everyone would have said, “Oh, that’s terrible. She’s awful. She isn’t spontaneous.” What did she do? She got stuck in, and she got so much admiration from people for her dancing skills. I really think she should be on “Strictly Come Dancing”, and I would certainly vote for her to do that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. I hope that he will take my comments in the spirit in which they were intended; they were somewhat light-hearted. Of course I would not wish the Prime Minister to leave the House. I want her to get a great deal and to enable us to leave the European Union. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that I have put that on record.
As an example of the negotiations that we can do, the Minister for International Trade was able to negotiate on behalf of one of the companies in my constituency, Lakeland Dairies, a £50 million powdered milk contract with China—worth £250 million over five years. Is that not an example of the good things that we will be able to do when we are outside the EU?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting some of the examples that we will see when we are out of the EU. I have seen some of the benefits in my area, too. Worcestershire is benefiting from the Department for International Trade’s forward-thinking policy of going out to the rest of the world and making the case for investing in the county, and Redditch in particular, and I hope that some of our international companies will take advantage of that.
My hon. Friend was interrupted from a sedentary position by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who said, “It takes two to tango.” We have evidence of the EU’s willingness to tango, particularly with the Trump Administration. At the suggestion of tariff changes from Washington, the German Chancellor was immediately on to Jean-Claude Juncker, and he was on the next flight to Washington, and they made an agreement in the same day. Is that not an example of what is possible when there is a willingness to reach an agreement?
I thank my hon. Friend greatly for that intervention. If we all embrace the optimism that he has just demonstrated, I am certain that we can do some great deals in the interests of the British people and of Redditch.
I return to my point about the status of EU citizens. It is a matter of great concern. We all have EU citizens in our constituencies. I have been approached by EU citizens who live in Redditch, such as those who work at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, and we rely upon them to deliver the caring services that we can all need. That is why I welcome the details already set out in the withdrawal agreement, but there is more work to be done on that and we must ensure that the processes are working properly and that people get the security they need to be able to stay in our country, because that is exactly what we want. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) said, we invited people to come from the EU, and they have contributed and we want them to stay.
My final point is about women and Brexit. I am a proud feminist and agree with campaigners on many issues, but I cannot bring myself to agree with the suggestion by some notable feminist campaigners over the weekend that women do not want to leave the EU. Newsflash: women are able to make their minds up based on the issue, not their body parts. We are able to consider an issue without basing it on our gender. Amazingly enough, I feel entitled to say that because I am in a minority in this House. I have some hon. Friends on my side who are also women. I do not have any on the other side at the minute. I actually do want to leave the EU, and I am a woman, but I recognise that I do not speak for all women—women, just like men, will have a variety of opinions. However, to try to say that all women do not want to leave the EU is a lot of nonsense that I utterly refute.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking from a sedentary position, and I am going to conclude my remarks. This Government have done more for women since being in office in terms of bringing women into work, strengthening women’s rights, bringing in policies that support women back into the workplace, such as on childcare, and a whole raft of other issues. I put it on the record that I refute that ridiculous stance about women and Brexit, which should be rejected out of hand.
In summary, I of course have some questions about the withdrawal agreement. Naturally, I expect to scrutinise the final deal that is brought back in great detail, as any Member should. I would not like to see us spend hard-earned taxpayers’ money—the £39 billion or whatever it is—unless we get something good in return. That is absolutely essential, and I would not be doing my job and would be failing my constituents if I did not hold the Government to account on that. In the negotiations so far, we have demonstrated to our international partners that we are a reliable negotiator and that we can be trusted to keep our promises, and we are sending out a signal so that they can come back and negotiate with us. That is how we will continue to build the scaffolding to deliver on the will of the people and their sovereign desire to leave the EU.
I will begin by commenting on some of the earlier contributions. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean). I am not aware that anyone has said that all women are against Brexit, but I am aware that recent polls suggest that women have switched in large numbers from leave to remain. Clearly, that does not mean that all women support remain, but there has been a switch.
I was going to suggest that the hon. Lady should perhaps get out more, but that would have been rude, because I am sure that she does get out among her constituents. However, I am rather surprised that she has found no one who has changed their mind on Brexit. There are people who have switched from supporting leave to supporting remain, but equally others have gone in the other direction. I am not quite sure about the circles in which she has been moving—perhaps they are particularly set in their ways—but I suggest that, even in her constituency, there are people whose thinking has changed in both directions.
I corroborate the analysis of the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) of where the Government are at. However, he was far too generous about the legacies that David Cameron and the Prime Minister are going to leave us and about the assessment of their contribution to history, because I think things will be even bleaker than the situation that he portrayed.
The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) said that he did not support a people’s vote due to his worries about how badly the first vote was conducted. However, something is significantly different now. Over the past two years and three months, we have had the debates that we should have had in the run-up to the referendum. Issues such as no deal meaning that Health Ministers will require pharmaceutical companies to stockpile medicine is something that should have been in the debate before the EU referendum took place. The current debates about the impact on the economy, the pharmaceutical sector, the automotive sector, aviation and so on should have happened before the vote. I therefore hope that there will be a final say on the deal or a people’s vote and that it will be better informed debate. I accept that some players will seek to muddy the waters, but at least some of what we should have been talking about two years has been aired.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) is not in his place, because he said—I have heard him say this often—that the people he spoke to during the referendum campaign only talked to him about the single market and the customs union and understood perfectly what they both meant. Well, he and I actually shared a platform during the campaign and, although I do not have perfect recall, I am reasonably certain that the people in that exchange focused on immigration, which was clearly a major factor. Yes, there may have been some who referred to the single market and the customs union—I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman referred to them many times during that debate—but for the audience it was about immigration. People were not saying that they wanted to come out of the customs union because that would enable us to do trade deals. I appreciate the irony of the Prime Minister going to Nigeria, which is trying to negotiate a customs union with its neighbouring countries. We are leaving the customs union while Nigeria and the countries in that region are trying to establish a customs union, but such is the illogicality of much of what we are doing at present.
The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), was present for the earlier debate in Westminster Hall about article 50, but he came and sat here in the Chamber too. I was hoping that he would answer the question that I put to him during an exchange in Westminster Hall about whether article 50 was revocable, because the House is entitled to know the Government’s view. Even if the Government are not willing to reveal their hand—although they should, because Members of Parliament are entitled to know something that will be key to some of the decisions that we might be taking —I hope that the Wightman case in the Scottish courts may lead to the matter being decided by the Court of Justice of the European Union, which will determine whether article 50 is revocable. I think it will determine that article 50 is revocable, and I hope it can do so on a timescale that is pertinent and helpful to this debate. Of course if that happens, at least we will have demolished one of the Government’s arguments, that they cannot revoke article 50. Hopefully the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) will be able to clarify whether the Government are now willing to take a position on this or whether they will simply run with, “We are not going to answer this question, because it is not something we intend to do.”
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that possibly the reason the Government will not tell us their view is that they know perfectly well that article 50 can be revoked and that the European Union would be quite willing to talk on those terms? It is not a question of legality; it is a question of obduracy and obstinacy on the part of Her Majesty’s Government.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman, who has of course provided the Minister with an opportunity to get rid of that obduracy by providing some transparency so that we all know the Government’s view on this.
I will speak briefly, which I am sure Conservative Members, and possibly some Opposition Members, will welcome, in part because I have a nasty feeling that we may have all this debate about a withdrawal agreement that is not then secured. We are having this debate, but the evidence from Conservative Members who are no longer in their place is that they are not going to support the Chequers agreement, and therefore we are very unlikely to have a withdrawal agreement to discuss or to vote on at some point in the future.
I hope that one thing the Minister will do in his response is to go on the record again on the question of whether, when the Government table the motion on the withdrawal agreement and the future relationships, Members of Parliament will be able to amend it to enable us to insert a people’s vote. In the same vein, I hope he will say whether, in fact, it would be in order for the withdrawal agreement Bill itself to be amended to allow a people’s vote, if Members choose to table such an amendment. I put those two specific points to the Minister, and if he has not made a note, I know that people elsewhere will have so that he is able to respond to those questions directly. If he fails to do so, I suspect I will be writing to him to require that he does respond.
The withdrawal agreement includes a transition period or, as the Government prefer to call it, an implementation period—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) that it is not entirely clear what the Government will actually be implementing during the said transition period. In many ways it is just a standstill period, as opposed to a transition period or, indeed, an implementation period.
With the transition period and with the fact that we are going to be rule takers, the Government have succeeded in uniting hard-core Brexiters and remainers. Congratulations, because there has not been much unity so far, but on that point the Government have found a way to unite two very different, opposing wings. On the one hand, nobody wants to be a rule taker; on the other, although we might want to accept rules from the European Union, we want to participate in that decision-making process, as opposed to being excluded from it.
On EU citizens and UK citizens, I am pleased with something the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) said—I am rarely so—because he called for the rights of EU citizens to be ring-fenced. We have also heard that from Labour Members, and Liberal Democrat Members support it, and I am sure Plaid Cymru and SNP Members do too. We need to park this issue. The Government could do so by saying that they are going to legislate unilaterally to provide full rights to EU citizens, regardless of what happens and regardless of whether we end up with no deal. The Government would then not have to say that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. They could say, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but we have actually agreed the rights of EU citizens.”
I hope that would provide some reassurance to UK citizens in the EU. I am not sure what other Members are finding, but I am on the receiving end, perhaps because I am my party’s spokesman, of a steady stream of emails from people across the EU who might have lived in, say, France for 15 or 20 years but are now being asked to do things they have never been asked to do before. In some cases, elderly people are being told to drive 30 miles to a particular office to get their paperwork, which is causing them some concern. If the Government were unilaterally to agree those rights, the issue could be addressed more quickly and the concerns of many, often retired, UK citizens in the EU would be addressed.
Documents often have pages in the middle saying, “These pages are left deliberately blank.” Well, clearly that is what has happened in relation to Ireland and Northern Ireland, because, after two years and three months, we are still no closer to getting a solution to the Ireland-Northern Ireland border, unless of course the solution is, as outlined in the technical note, that if any business trading across the border has any problems it should talk to the Irish Government. It is an interesting approach from the British Government to advise British businesses that if they want answers to questions about cross-border trade, they should talk to the Irish Government. I have not previously heard of that approach, and it is not one that I would commend, but it neatly sums up the difficulties the Government have got themselves into on this question.
I am sorry that he is not in his place to hear this, but the hon. Member for North East Somerset has previously referred rather glibly to
“our ability, as we had during the troubles, to have people inspected.”
That rather neglects the impact that that might have on peace in Northern Ireland, about which Northern Ireland’s police chief, George Hamilton, has expressed great concern.
George Hamilton revealed the level of chaos surrounding preparations for the border in Ireland after Brexit, claiming that no one is in charge. He told Members that no go-to co-ordinator is actually taking responsibility for the project, which does not sound very positive. I hope that since 27 June a go-to person has been identified.
I made an intervention earlier on the divorce bill, and I was accused by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) of not supporting British business. Well, I talk regularly to British business, which is why I went, long before any DExEU Minister did, to talk to the port of Dover authorities about the impact on that port and on all the business that goes through it.
It would perhaps be more honest of the Government if they were to set it out that not only will there be the £39 billion divorce bill, give or take a little, and that European leaders, contrary to the words of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), are not going to “go whistle,” but that there is no doubt we will be making ongoing payments for a number of years thereafter—one report suggests we will be making payments until 2064. People are entitled to know that, because it slightly changes the parameters of the criteria on which people based their decision two years and three months ago. If at that point people had been told, “Well, it is a down payment of £39 billion, and then an ongoing payment, which will probably continue, certainly in relation to pensions, until 2064,” I think the outcome might have been different. Certainly people would not have swallowed or taken at face value the rather glib statements of the leave campaign.
I have a real worry, as other Members, including the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, have expressed, that what we will get in the framework, and perhaps Mr Barnier will facilitate this, is an almighty fudge—something that enables the UK Government to come back and say, “Peace in our time,” and wave a bit of paper, and that enables Mr Barnier to go on and pursue other interests that he may have. I have written to Mr Barnier and to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union asking some very precise questions about what criteria this political agreement will have to hit so that we can have some substance, a point made by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook). We want a very precise agreement that sets out the terms. What we do not want is a vague undertaking that achieves our getting out of the European Union and then, for the next 15 or 20 years, leaves future Governments the responsibility of trying to unpick the mess caused in seeking to achieve that exit. I hope that that will not happen and that the House would reject it. If the agreement is just the equivalent of a couple of sides of A4 with a lot of clichés and a lot of nice words about how we are going to work closely together in the future, I hope that Parliament will say no to it.
There has been a lot of reference to how EU trade deals will simply be rolled over, and how the EU has said that is fine. I have asked the embassies of the countries involved—I have also asked Ministers in parliamentary questions, but they have not really answered—how many of those countries have written to the UK Government saying that they are happy for their trade deal to be rolled over without any change. I imagine that Members can guess how many have written back to me saying that they have confirmed that: zero. Not a single embassy that has responded has been willing to put it in writing that they will allow their deal to be rolled over. Some have said that they want to reopen aspects of the deal. Good luck to the Government if they think that all 65 trade deals will simply roll over just like that, lock, stock and barrel. That is not the feedback that I have got from the countries involved.
I conclude by putting on record again the questions that I have asked the Minister, so that he really cannot escape answering: whether the Government consider that article 50 is revocable, and whether the motion that they will bring forward or the withdrawal agreement Bill itself will be amendable to allow a people’s vote. I am sure he has listened carefully twice to me asking him those questions, so I am absolutely confident that I will get simple yes/no answers when he responds.
It is a great honour to follow the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who speaks with great passion and experience on these subjects, even if I cannot agree with much of what he says. I begin in the same vein as the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) by extending condolences to our fellow Scottish Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), who recently suffered a bereavement.
As we heard earlier, it was inevitable that this Session would be dominated by the method of our departure from the European Union. The conversation taking place both inside and outside the House has left the country with the distinct view that there is little consensus about the details. I have always been clear that I voted to leave the EU, and my constituents knew that. My political opponents in Stirling, where 67% of people voted to remain, often ask me on what basis I can speak up for Stirling in the House as a Member of Parliament who voted leave. My answer is simple: the people of Stirling sent me here on the basis of our manifesto commitment. All Conservative and Unionist candidates at the election stood on a manifesto commitment to deliver Brexit, and to leave the customs union, the single market and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
I respect that fact that someone who gets elected is expected to implement the manifesto commitment on which they stood, but two years earlier the hon. Gentleman stood in the same constituency on a manifesto promise of keeping us in the single market. What caused his personal journey to Damascus from 2015, when he was determined to stay in the single market, to 2017, when he was determined to get out? Or did he just change his mind because he had to so that he was allowed to stand as a Conservative candidate?
The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken. In 2015 I stood on a manifesto commitment that the Conservative party, should it be elected with a majority and form the Government of this country, would hold a referendum on our membership of the European Union. The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that he would go to Brussels and negotiate a better arrangement with the European Union. In the event, sadly, he came back with much less than he had promised and, in my opinion, tried to oversell it to the British people. The British people will not be sold a pig in a poke, and the inevitable consequence was that they voted to leave the EU.
I am a bit surprised to have to remind a Conservative MP of what was in his own manifesto in 2015. Admittedly it is no longer available on the official Conservative party website—I wonder what the party does not want us to see—but I can assure him that it said:
“We are clear about we want from Europe. We say: yes to the Single Market.”
I ask him again: what changed his view from wanting to stay in the single market when he stood in 2015 to wanting to get out when he stood in 2017?
The simple answer is that we fulfilled our election commitment by holding a referendum in June 2016, when the people of this country voted to leave the European Union. That is clearly what changed. The hon. Gentleman was a little thin-skinned in his response when I intervened on him earlier but, unlike his party, the Conservative party honours and respects the outcomes of referendums. We did so in 2014 when the Scottish people voted to remain in the United Kingdom. We stand firmly on the side of the Scottish people in that judgment, as we stand on the side of the people of the United Kingdom who voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union. I have committed to the people of Stirling to come here and deliver on the outcome of that referendum, and I believe it is my responsibility to them to ensure that we in this House get the best possible Brexit for the United Kingdom. That remains my first and foremost consideration.
The electorate expect their politicians to negotiate, finalise and deliver a deal that will have their best interests at heart. I spent most of Saturday in Callander, which I recommend all right hon. and hon. Members pay a visit to—it is the most beautiful place. I was in Stirling Road, Campbell Court, Menteith Crescent and Willoughby Place, and when I knocked on doors, the people there were universally adamant about one thing, regardless of how they voted in June 2016: they want us to pull together and deliver Brexit. The people of our country have become incredibly fatigued by the squabbling and division, and they look to Members of all parties to unite and deliver the result of the referendum with a deal that is in the best interests of people in all parts of the United Kingdom.
Global Britain did some polling in my constituency last month—I am sure it will be covered in the Stirling Observer when it comes out on Wednesday—and the outcome was exactly as I have just described: people want to see us do the best we can for our country, and that we must do. That is why I continue to support the leadership of the Prime Minister. There was some scoffing earlier when my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) talked about how people see our Prime Minister, but I can tell Members that she is admired even by our political opponents, at least in my neck of the woods, because she has stuck to her job and shown a sense of duty and devotion to public service. Whether or not one agrees with her direction of travel, that is deeply admirable in her as a person. I honestly believe—in fact, I have no doubt whatsoever, and nor can any rationally-motivated person—that the Prime Minister is doing everything in her power to secure a Brexit arrangement that fulfils the instructions of the British people that were delivered through the referendum.
The Prime Minister is also dealing with the complexity of leaving the European Union. Despite the comments of Opposition Members, the British people fully embraced that complexity in a pretty full and protracted debate surrounding the EU referendum. The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said that the fact that people spoke in a public meeting about one particular issue but perhaps did not dwell on another logically proves—although this is actually illogical—that people did not give any consideration to whether we were leaving the single market, even though that fact was said repeatedly at the time by those on the remain side. In fact, the remain campaign even stopped calling the EU the European Union for a while and simply referred to it in those terms. The situation was well understood.
I admire my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for what she is trying to do, and I wish to make it absolutely clear that my support for her includes my support for what she set out in her speeches about Brexit at Lancaster House and the Mansion House. The Conservative party was united in its response to her Mansion House speech because the principles that she set out in it were founded on pragmatism. At the end of the day, I am a Conservative because I am a pragmatist. The difference between the Conservative party and the ideologies of other parties is that we will do what will work. That is what the Conservative Government are being guided by.
I will. I am grateful for that intervention because it leads me nicely on to my comments about the Chequers agreement and the White Paper that followed. I think that all Conservative Members—I should really only speak for myself—are more than happy to give fair consideration to the Chequers agreement and the White Paper. The clear majority of the White Paper’s contents constitutes something to which I could readily sign up, because it talks positively about our future relationship with the European Union, which will be the subject of the process that we are discussing. It talks about co-operation and partnership, and that is the kind of future relationship with the European Union that I want. We cannot say too often from the Government Benches that while we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe.
We are not going to cut ourselves off—far from it. This is a time when we need to renew our commitment to engage with our friends and neighbours in Europe, but the British people simply no longer have an appetite to participate in the European Union project. The United Kingdom should and must continue to play a full part in the defence and security of the continent, and in the common values that bind us together as an alliance of like-minded nations that stands four-square for freedom and the rules-based international order. That was seen vividly in the response of our allies to the events in Salisbury and the Prime Minister’s statement last week.
What continually concerns me—it has come out again in this debate—is how we talk ourselves down from the strength of our negotiating position. At the weekend, while reading a magazine for investors, a paragraph caught my attention. In describing why the United Kingdom remains such an attractive place to invest in relative economic terms, it said:
“One of the most competitive tax rates in the developed world, labour market flexibility, excellent universities spawning research and development, and an innovative and industrious people, our language and the rule of law are just some of the reasons the world is knocking at the U.K.’s door”.
I must say to Ministers that my concern is that in our negotiating position with the European Union we sometimes appear—perhaps through the prism of the media, I should add—to act from a position of weakness. I say that because from listening to some people, we would imagine that we were a weak, small and poor nation that does not have a past to be proud of. We are the sixth-richest economy in the world, but we are somehow shunted off the coast of Europe, some poor island somewhere—the Russians once described us in those kind of pejorative terms. That is not how we should be behaving. The way in which some people paint us as enfeebled and a shadow of our former selves is not helpful.
I spent some of the summer in the United States. Our friends and admirers around the world are perplexed by our totally unnecessary public display of self-doubt. Why should this country behave that way? This is not the Britain I recognise.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does he not think that the thing that sends the strongest possible message about self-doubt is the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union walking out of their jobs? What does he think that says about self-doubt in the Government?
The Prime Minister said in relation to the Chequers agreement that she was restoring collective Cabinet responsibility. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what I genuinely think: I admire people who have principles. I admire him for his principles, and I admire my right hon. Friends who decided to give up positions at the Cabinet table because of their principles. As someone who has principles that he holds dear, that must be something that the right hon. Gentleman can relate to.
As I said, this is not the Britain that I recognise. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s visit to Africa has been mentioned. Possibilities exist not just for those nations that she visited—I also had the privilege of visiting Kenya at the start of the summer recess—but for us to work with those nations and to see their development. These countries, particularly Kenya, have fast-developing economies, and they would be new consumers and trading partners for our businesses. By trading and working with our African allies—this is an example of the growth in world trade that we will see as we leave the European Union that will come not from the European Union, but from the rest of the world—we will show that we can be not only participants in this renaissance of Africa, but a force for good in the world while helping our own economy in the process.
I recognise that Britain is ready to grasp these opportunities. I want our country to be a global player in the fullest sense of the word. I recognise the Britain that our European friends want to be partners with. I refer the House to a statement that was made by Donald Tusk in March:
“I propose that we aim for a trade agreement covering all sectors and with zero tariffs on goods.”
That was a very significant statement. Europe does want to make a deal with us, whether it be French wine producers, German car manufacturers or Spanish holiday companies. The prospect of a no deal is as bad for them as it is for most of us in the House. There is a mutual interest here—a win-win possibility. I want the Government to conduct these negotiations from a position of strength.
I hope that the Government will not persist in trying to sell the unsaleable with those bits of the White Paper that the European Union will not accept. The Prime Minister has played a canny hand so far, and I sincerely hope that she and the Government will now pivot away from the unsaleable elements of the White Paper, especially in relation to the common rulebook and the facilitated customs model, and refocus our future commercial relationship around what is possible, namely this unprecedented bespoke free trade agreement between the EU27 and the United Kingdom.
I cannot conclude without saying something more about Scotland, but before I do, let me say that I associate myself with many of the comments that have been made by Conservative Members about the £39 billion that we have seemingly committed. We should definitely question the value for money behind that kind of exchange of currency.
It has been said by people from all parties that somehow or another Brexit presents a moment of stress for the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The truth is that that is the Union that matters the most to me. I often say that I did not sleep very much in the weeks leading up to the referendum in 2014. That was a time of intense worry and concern for me, and I felt nothing like that before the June 2016 vote. The Union that matters the most to me and to millions of Scots is the Union that we have with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Here are the realities to stem any thought—other than the flight of imaginative fancy that we hear from nationalist politicians in Scotland and in this place—that there would be any desire to break up this hugely successful Union of nations that we call the United Kingdom: Scottish exports to the United Kingdom are worth £46 billion; Scottish exports to the rest of the world are worth £17 billion; and Scottish exports to the EU27 are worth £13 billion. According to the Fraser of Allander Institute, 125,000 Scottish jobs are related to EU exports—I do not want to lose one of them—but 529,000 Scottish jobs are related to business with the rest of the United Kingdom. These are the economic facts of life.
I was sent here by the people of Stirling to help to deliver a deal that will make the best of Brexit, which is an issue of paramount importance. If we get this wrong, it will haunt British politics for a generation and do lasting damage to our standing in the world and to our economy. This is a time for self-confidence, not self-doubt. We have good cards to play in these negotiations, and it is time for our Government to play them and play them well.
It is enormous delight to follow the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr). One of my earliest memories is of dancing the highland fling in Stirling castle many, many moons ago. That is a dance, of course, that can be done entirely on one’s own. The trouble is that, as with most dances, when it comes to Europe, it is not just a question of it takes two to tango; there are 27 other member states, plus the Commission, let alone the negotiations that have to be done in this House and in Parliament.
I find this really difficult because I think that this country is making a monumental mistake. We are cutting off our nose to spite our face, sticking a pen in our eye—I do not know how to describe it. I just think that it is a monumental mistake that will be catastrophic for our future relations with other countries and for the trade that we do with other countries. All the new trade that we are talking about with all these other countries does not add up to the trade that we do with France and Germany. And that will continue to be the case in the future. It is especially true for Wales, whose single biggest trading country is not the United States of America, Australia, or any of these countries in Africa or Latin America; it is Germany.
I worry that this country is perpetrating an enormous own goal. Of course, I know that people voted for it, but I think that it is a massive distraction. My constituents in the Rhondda do not want me to be debating this tonight. They want us to be debating: why people who work 40 hours a week still might not be able to put enough food on the table for their children to be able to eat; why children from poor backgrounds still do not have the same opportunities as children from rich areas of the country; and why on earth Westminster manages to get vast amounts of money from the Government to subsidise its council tax, whereas Rhondda Cynon Taf gets barely a penny. Those are the things that my constituents are worried about. They are worried about their jobs, whether there will be houses for their children and what the future holds. I honestly think that they just see all this as a massive distraction.
I feel so angry with David Cameron, because in the end he appeased the far right in this country. Of course, lots of people are always tempted by appeasement of the far right, because it makes a lot of noise. Historically, there has always been a temptation to say, “Yes, all right, we’ll give you a little bit of ground and try to quieten you.” But, actually, the message that we have known for centuries is that if we try to appease somebody, all they do is consume us. That is exactly what happened to David Cameron and that is why we had the referendum in the first place.
I also worry that the Labour party sometimes wants to do similarly. We do not call it appeasement, of course; we call it triangulation. We used to say, “The Tories are massively Eurosceptic and the Liberal Democrats are ludicrously pro-European, but we are the sane, sensible people going down the middle.” But if we triangulate in politics, all we actually do is give up on our own values and principles and surrender a piece of political territory to somebody else. So I say sorry to the Liberal Democrats; I warn hon. Members, I will not say that very often.
I enormously respect how people voted, including in my own constituency, but I have no respect whatever for the people who lied to the country in the referendum. I am not saying that the remain campaign was pure—far from it. It tried to rely on fear far too often and created bogeymen who never really existed. But the lies on the leave side were just spectacular.
“Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market”,
said Daniel Hannan, and now we have heard countless Government Members and the Prime Minister say, “Oh no, everybody voted to leave the single market.” Well, which was the truth?
We were told, “Turkey is joining the European Union and we cannot prevent it.” There is no prospect of Turkey joining the European Union. We were told, “We can get net migration down to the tens of thousands,” as if to suggest that the European Union provided more of the net migration than the rest of the world—that even with all the rules that were brought in in 2010 curtailing migration visas for families, for people bringing in their spouses and all the rest of it from outside the European Union, the number of people coming by those routes, where we have complete control, was still higher than the hundreds of thousands. It was a completely fallacious argument, and, again, part of the appeasement of the far right.
We were told, “Health tourism costs us billions in the European Union.” There is absolutely no evidence for this whatsoever. Indeed, Spanish politicians will say, “Actually, there is quite a lot of health tourism from the UK to Spain.” That has yet to be sorted out. “The Irish border will be unaffected,” we were told. This is the bit I really do not understand. How can we take control of our borders if we do not have border controls? That is basically what the Government are trying to work out. They have been pursuing that unicorn for quite a while now, and I suspect that they will still be pursuing it when we get to Christmas and they start looking for Father Christmas instead.
We were told:
“There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside.”
Yet every single estimate that the Government have made has shown that they know that there will be considerable downsides to Brexit. They may argue that there are upsides as well, but nobody in the Government is arguing that there will be no downsides. We were told, “Every single penny that Wales gets from the European Union will be guaranteed by the Government.” We still have to hear anything about providing that amount of money for Wales.
It is not just lies, though—some of the comments were just delusional:
“The day after we vote to leave”
a Cabinet member said,
“we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.”
That is not quite how it has worked out over the past two years, is it? We were told:
“Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy—the UK holds most of the cards.”
We were told:
“The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history”,
yet there is still no prospect of anything of the kind. The Government said:
“We’re not really interested in a transition deal, but we’ll consider one to be kind to the EU.”
Yet only weeks after they made that statement, the UK suddenly realised that we were in real danger of a completely chaotic collapse out of the European Union and went begging to the EU for a transition. Finally, we were told that the UK would owe no money to the European Union after it left in March 2019. Yet we know perfectly well, as even the Minister has admitted today, that we have debts and we will end up having to pay them.
I mention all those things because I think that when we triggered article 50, we were far, far too precipitous. The Government had no idea of what they wanted to get out of the negotiations; they had not even started the process of putting together their negotiating strategy. [Interruption.] That is why I voted against triggering article 50, before the Minister says anything. At the time, I said, “I realise that this is the opposite of the way that my constituents have voted, but in honesty I can only vote according to my conscience. I believe that this will be bad for my constituents, and if they choose to throw me out at the next general election, then I’ll have to live with it.” I had not quite expected that the next general election would be six weeks later, but I doubled my majority, so all is well that ends well, I suppose.
The problem remains for us that there is not then much in the Venn diagram. If we want to make a Venn diagram of what the European Union treaties will allow, what the ERG grouping within the Conservative party will allow, what sane and sensible members of the Conservative party and the Conservative Government will allow, what the Labour party will vote for and what Parliament will vote for, there is simply no space in the middle. That is why Opposition Members who are remainers keep on saying that the danger of no deal—and a chaotic no deal at that—is very real. That is why I ask questions of the Minister. I have asked two Ministers now about something that every single British holidaymaker or businessman or woman who has to work elsewhere in the European Union fully understands: which passport queue—the British people know all about queuing—will we get in when we arrive in France, Germany, Spain or Greece next year? It is a very simple question, and so far, no Minister has an answer.
The attempt at an answer that was provided earlier by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), is useless. It just does not wash—as she perfectly well knows, which is why she is smiling so elegantly—because nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. There is no transition period until we have agreed all three different stages of what we have to go through. That is why the Government should have a policy now on where British passport holders will queue when they arrive in other countries of the European Union next year and where EU citizens will queue when they come here, because someone will have to start recruiting passport officers to staff those control points.
One thing that particularly bewilders me about the way that the Government are choosing to do their business is that, yet again, we are debating a theoretical Bill—a piece of legislation that does not exist. Of course, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), is sucking his pen and thinking, “Well, that’s always the basis when you have a White Paper.” That is true, but this is a very theoretical Bill. There is no certainty that there will be such a Bill. There is no certainty about what will be in it. The White Paper even admits that the Government have referred to some things but are not yet certain whether other things will be included.
The Government’s chosen course of action in relation to residence rights is quite disturbing. I suspect that we will have an immigration Bill at some point. If this country is leaving the European Union, we will have to have a new immigration policy. Unless I have missed it, we still have not even had a White Paper on an immigration Bill. The Government, as far as I understand it, have no policy at the moment on what our future immigration rules should be.
When making very significant changes to the way that we conduct our business that affect thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people living in this country and our citizens, it is a mistake to rely on secondary legislation. But that is precisely what this White Paper says we will do in relation to residence rights. Government Members will say, “Oh yes, but we have been doing that ever since 1971 when we changed our immigration rules,” but I think that that has been a mistake. It was a mistake in 2010, for instance, only on the back of secondary legislation, to change the rules on visas for spouses by increasing the amount of money someone has to earn in the UK to £18,600. That was not understood by the vast majority of people. I think that if that had been put to the House in primary legislation, it would not have been carried.
It is a phenomenal mistake, therefore, to use secondary legislation to go down this course—especially since in the past, the whole premise of secondary legislation was that if the Leader of the Opposition or a significant number of people in the House prayed against a statutory instrument, there would be, in proper time, a debate and a vote in the Chamber of the House of Commons, but in recent years, the Government have repeatedly refused to provide that, and on very significant issues. If the Government intend to change the rules on residence rights for EU citizens in the UK by an SI later this year, I certainly will not support them, and I will point out time and again that government happens by consent, and a Government do not gain consent by sneaking things in through the back door.
I have one final point to make, which is about the timetable. I honestly think that the Government are leaving all of this far, far too late. I return to the point about government by consent. A Government have to take the people with them, and they have to make sure that the legislation is in good nick, preferably before it is presented to the House and certainly before it ends up becoming law. However, I am guessing that everybody has now given up on October as the date for the negotiation to end. It looks as though Michel Barnier has done so. The EU is now proposing 13 November for a special summit meeting, as I note from the media today, and I guess we may then have a meaningful vote. I use the term “meaningful vote” advisedly. I do not know how we can have a meaningful vote under the terms of the withdrawal Act, because all the motion will say is that this House has noted the fact that there has been a debate, and if hon. Members vote against that, it will have no meaning whatsoever. Let us say that the meaningful vote is perhaps on 20 or 21 November, because the Government will want to get their ducks in a row, but as has happened quite often, that may be delayed—perhaps to the last week in November.
On the back of that, legislation will have to be drafted to implement the deal. I have never—never once—known a Bill of the extent we are talking about being drafted by parliamentary draftspeople in less than six months, even on things that really mattered, so I suspect that that will be a tall order. I suspect the Minister will stand up and say, “Oh, no. We’ve got all of this written out. It is just a question of crossing some bits out and putting some other bits in. It’s going to be dead easy. We will be able to produce a Bill, following the negotiation day and after the meaningful vote, within a week.” I doubt it, but perhaps that is what he is going to say.
Let us say that that means First Reading is in December. We cannot have Second Reading on the same day as First Reading, unless a motion of the House is carried to that effect, and I think that would be a dodgy business because hon. Members would not have been able to see the Bill before we started talking about it. I therefore presume that Second Reading is very unlikely before Christmas. Will there be a Report stage—sorry, a Committee stage—of 10 working days? I cannot believe we will devote all of January to a single piece of business, so the legislation may be out of the House of Commons by 14 February—maybe, but I suggest that is a tall order for such a piece of legislation. It will then go to the House of Lords, where the Government cannot control the timetable at all. The only bit of the timetable they can control is when Parliament prorogues and the whole lot is lost.
The point is that there is no prospect at all of getting this legislation in place between mid-November and the end of March—absolutely no prospect whatsoever—unless the Government are going to use every trick in the book to make sure we cannot have proper debates or end up with proper legislation. In other words, they will have to shove as much as they can through in secondary legislation and allow barely enough time to get through proper amendments in this Chamber, let alone in the House of Lords, with the single threat of the sword of Damocles hanging over everybody. I just cannot see it happening.
I will end with the hon. Member for Stirling.
I do not doubt for a single instant that the Government have already started doing so—I am certain of it—and if they have not done so, they are in doolallyland. They should certainly be getting on with that. It was crazy to have started article 50, but it would be even crazier to stick with that date if they cannot produce proper legislation so that there is legal certainty in the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister has gone several rounds with the English language, given all her sentences such as “Brexit means Brexit” and “No deal is better than a bad deal”, when no deal is actually the worst possible kind of deal we could possibly end up with. In her first letter to Donald Tusk, she herself said that, if there is no deal on everything, there is no deal on security. She therefore knows perfectly well that, if there is no deal, she is—we are—compromising the security of this country and of other countries in the European Union.
The Prime Minister knows that the Chequers deal is dead—it is not going anywhere. She would be better off tabling a motion on the Chequers deal, for us to debate the moment we get back in October and discover that there is no majority for it in this Chamber. That is one of the reasons there will be no deal. I suspect that in the end she will be begging Parliament for a people’s vote, so that the people can decide the right outcome for us all.
The hon. Member for Stirling expressed enormous respect and admiration for the Prime Minister, as did the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean)—it is great to see her back in her place; waving, not drowning. I honestly think that the real disaster of this Prime Minister is that she knows perfectly well in her heart of hearts that this will damage Britain. No Prime Minister has ever brought to this House a project that they themselves did not even believe in. That, in the end, is why I believe this will prove to be the greatest catastrophe we have ever engaged in.
I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, I did not hear your dulcet, quiet tones, after the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) left us so full of hope and optimism. It is a great pleasure to follow him, of course.
As I have said many times before, we are engaged in the most challenging negotiations of a generation. It should come as no surprise that the legislation that goes with it is extremely complex and challenging. The coming weeks and months will be crucial. The negotiations will intensify as they reach their conclusion, and so too must our work here. I believe that the vast majority of people in the UK and across the EU want to find a pragmatic and amicable long-term relationship. However, as I have said many times since the referendum, some politicians, in this country and elsewhere, will seek to disrupt that for their own political gain, because some will benefit politically from chaos. We must avoid that.
Some of the Members who have spoken tonight have made objections on technical and ideological grounds, but for many people these decisions are not just technical; they will have a real and direct impact. I am thinking, in particular, of those affected by the citizens’ rights issues, whether EU citizens living in my constituency of Chelmsford, or UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU. I am reminded that today is Gibraltar Day. The citizens of Gibraltar of course need the withdrawal agreement to be stable. Finding a solution to these issues is vital. That is why I welcome the extra pace and energy of the team at the Department for Exiting the European Union, and why legislating for the withdrawal agreement is so crucial.
I voted to remain, but I do not see how a second referendum would solve these complex issues. It would risk undermining the confidence that people put in politicians, because we did tell them that it was their choice. I also think that some of those who are lobbying for a second referendum have not thought about the complex political situations in many other European countries at this time, especially in the run-up to the next European elections. It is right to try to close as much of these negotiations as possible before those elections, when many of the people on the other side of the negotiating table will change. In order to agree the terms of withdrawal, we also need clarity on the long-term arrangement, which is why the future framework decisions also need to be agreed.
Let me remind the House of the different options. First, a no-deal Brexit would bring many uncertainties. As we saw in the paperwork released over the summer, it is absolutely right that the Government endeavour to mitigate some of those uncertainties, but it is certainly not the preferred solution. Secondly, a Norway-style relationship, staying in the single market and the customs union, would bring huge challenges, as I know from my own experience. One challenge would be needing to keep the free movement rules, which were such a major issue to many voters in the referendum. The other big challenge is being a rule taker, especially on very sensitive issues such as fishing, farming and financial services, areas where, in my experience in Europe, there was often a great difference of approach.
Thirdly, the Canada-style free trade agreement, Canada-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus, may sound quite attractive, but the EU negotiators simply are not offering us that. They may offer us a free trade agreement, but only for England, Wales and Scotland, leaving a different arrangement for Northern Ireland that puts the border in the Irish sea. I was in Northern Ireland on Friday and Saturday. It is very clear how many people are becoming extremely frustrated by the void that has been left by not having any local decision making. So many decisions have been put on hold: not just Brexit decisions, but decisions on health, education and projects for new roads. These projects have been fundamentally agreed, but not signed off. I believe in the Union. I believe in the United Kingdom. If we want to keep our country together, we should not underestimate the sensitivities of Northern Ireland at this time and the importance of finding a solution. It has to be a solution that works for all of the UK, while respecting the Good Friday agreement.
We therefore have to find a fourth way, which is what the Government have now agreed in great detail in the White Paper, Chequers and in many other papers since, and what they have gone in to negotiate. Unlike many other speakers tonight, I am not going to start pulling the Chequers agreement to pieces, because we are one country negotiating with 27 other countries. It may not be perfect in every detail, but it has very, very, very many details that have been widely welcomed by many of the companies, businesses, people and individuals affected by those details.
Every time—I see an Opposition Member jumping up and down—any one of us on this side of the channel starts pulling our own Government’s negotiating position to pieces without focusing on the details, we create much greater uncertainty for the negotiators on the other side of the table.
No. The hon. Gentleman spoke for long enough. I am not going to take an intervention.
We need to be careful. If we are going to raise points on the White Paper, let us make sure those points are truly valid and not scaremongering. There would be a real issue if we were left rule taking in areas such as financial services, where often we have a different economic balance from other European countries, but the White Paper does not do that. On the three Fs in particular, fishing, farming and financial services, we would not be a rule taker. We would have common rules on goods, but actually all trade deals have some form of common rules on goods. The deeper the trade deal one wants, the more one needs to have a common approach to the goods that go across the border. Europe is our largest trading partner, so presumably we want the deepest trade deal. Eighty per cent. of the rules that are set on the goods across the EU are not set by politicians anyway; they are set by the businesses, as part of the trade between different businesses.
When I think about my eight years in the European Parliament and I think about the number of times the UK and the rest of Europe had a fight about rules affecting a good, I could count those issues on the fingers of my two hands. When I try to then think about the ones we really did come to blows about, I end up with the fight we had over washing-up gloves. Am I really going to try, just because from an ideological point of view I do not want to be a rule taker on goods, to pull down the Government’s entire negotiating position because of some fight we once had about washing-up gloves? Some of the fights and ideological rows about the Chequers White Paper are not based on reality, pragmatism or the experiences that every one of our constituents has when they go out shopping for goods. The clock is ticking. We need a deal with the EU and it needs certainty.
The one thing I would say to Opposition Members is that, if they want to help to create more certainty, can they please be clearer about what their position will be when the Government come back with a deal that follows the broad parameters of the Chequers agreement? If Opposition Members would vote for it, or at least say that they will abstain, it would have a much greater chance of being delivered through the negotiations and creating the certainty that my constituents—all of our constituents—need.
These events are not the draw they once were perhaps, but every contribution has been brilliantly delivered and it has been an interesting debate, with great contributions. To pick two entirely at random, I single out those from my hon. Friends the Members for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). Both of them stood out because they described no deal as something that their constituents would find intolerable. I wonder what message the Minister will glean from this debate, given that the single contribution in favour of the Government’s strategy came from the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). Perhaps he will say in his speech what messages he will take away from the debate and what changes may be in the offing for the Government’s negotiating position.
He is the only one who has not resigned—yet. There is still time.
I remind hon. Members of the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), who asked some important questions. I hope that the Minister will reply to them. If the withdrawal and implementation Bill ever sees the light of day, it will be an important measure that sets out our arrangements with the EU for the next two years, providing the legal basis for EU citizens to retain their rights; approving the payment of a large financial settlement with the EU; and putting in place a legally operable backstop in Northern Ireland. The House must have the chance to carefully scrutinise legislation of such importance.
With more than 80% of the withdrawal agreement agreed, the Government’s lawyers will have started to put that into draft UK legislation. There is no reason Parliament cannot see draft clauses now. Pre-legislative scrutiny would provide further certainty for EU citizens, and it would provide for better scrutiny of the legislation. Hopefully that would allow us to avoid the farce of the Government introducing legislation that they have to repeal and amend before its main powers come into force, or the Government trying to railroad Parliament with a raft of widely drawn Henry VIII powers at the final hour.
I was going to say that there is an elephant in the room, but many Members have pointed out that there will be no withdrawal and implementation Bill if there is no withdrawal agreement to implement. It should not be in question, but the Government have mishandled the negotiations and there is great uncertainty with fewer than 40 days to go until the October Council.
Two fundamental stumbling blocks remain. First there is Northern Ireland and the backstop. Both the UK and the EU made a solemn commitment in December to deliver a legally binding backstop that prevents a border with physical infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I regret to say that a small number of Members believe that this is a problem best ignored. They remain under the illusion that the Irish border is an imagined or exaggerated problem, or that new and uninvented technology will provide an answer. That is not only irresponsible but misunderstands the significance of the open border as the manifestation of peace. It is about identity, not technology. Unfortunately that small group of Members count among their number former members of the Cabinet, including the former Foreign Secretary. That has surely held back any progress in the negotiations.
With just weeks to go, it is time for both sides to work together to reach an agreement that puts into force the backstop agreements made in December and which can command the support of all communities in Northern Ireland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich argued, it will be easier to reach agreement on the backstop if both sides do not believe it will ever come into force, and if they believe that the future partnership will allow for frictionless trade and a border without physical infrastructure and will be ready to come into force at the end of the transitional arrangement.
That, however, brings us to the second stumbling block in the process of Parliament’s approving the withdrawal agreement: there has been little or no progress on the political declaration on the future relationship—in fact, negotiations have barely begun. The story is one of catastrophic political failure. The Government did not publish a plan until 18 months after triggering article 50, and when it was published, it was a cobbled-together compromise designed first and foremost to keep the Cabinet together—in that, it failed, and the Tory civil war has continued.
Much more importantly, the Chequers proposals have failed to provide a basis for reaching an agreement on the future partnership with the EU. The EU chief negotiator has made it clear that the Commission is fundamentally opposed to two aspects of the proposals: the facilitated customs arrangement, which is a bureaucratic nightmare and threatens to puncture the EU customs union, and the so-called common rulebook, which picks and chooses which bits of the single market the Government want to participate in. There is no indication of a groundswell of opinion among member states against the Commission, and even if there was, a Chequers-style deal would not have the support of this Parliament, as we have clearly seen this evening.
The Chequers proposals do not go anywhere near far enough for the Labour party. The facilitated customs proposals are unworkable and bureaucratic; the enhanced equivalence provisions on services are inadequate and would erect significant barriers to trade; and the non-regression provisions on social and employment protections are weak and could lead to the UK falling behind the highest standards. As we have heard today, it is not acceptable either to large parts of the Tory party, whom the Prime Minister has indulged for too long in their fantasy that they can have a close economic partnership with the EU without any obligations and whom the Prime Minister does not have the political authority to stand up to.
We are now at the most crucial stage of the Brexit process, yet the Government have no credible plan for our future relationship with the EU and no viable solution to the Irish border issue, and there is no majority in the Commons for the Chequers proposals. The Government cannot conduct the final stage of the negotiations without acknowledging this reality. They must go back to the drawing board. They need to come back with a policy that has a chance of achieving a majority in the House and which eliminates the need for a border with physical infrastructure in Northern Ireland. If they do not, they will not get a withdrawal agreement through the House, there will be nothing to implement and they will have failed in the most important set of negotiations this country has faced since the second world war.
It is a pleasure to listen to the whole debate and to be able to make some points at the end. I note the rare lack of the constraint of a time limit, but I do not intend to detain the House too long. I am mindful of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who promised us a short speech—something the whole House was ready to cheer on—only for his promises to turn out as honest as the average Liberal Democrat election leaflet.
The right hon. Gentleman raised lots of questions, many of which have been answered previously. I refer him to the answer that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) gave when he said he could not envisage motions of the House that would not be amendable. Of course we will have parliamentary scrutiny and debate, but the House has repeatedly voted against the concept of a second referendum, which the right hon. Gentleman supports, and will, I suspect, continue to do so.
As has been pointed out, there have been some unusual agreements between the Opposition Front Bench and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), for instance, on some aspects of the debate. There has been wide-ranging discussion about the future partnership, the Chequers agreement and so forth, but the debate has focused on legislation for the withdrawal agreement and, indeed, on the White Paper.
I particularly enjoyed the powerful contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), who—as her constituents, my near neighbours, often tell me—is always a breath of fresh air. We also heard some thoughtful comments from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill), who gave some of the reasons why his constituents had voted Leave and why he did not believe that a second referendum was appropriate. I share the passion felt by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) about our precious Union, and his confidence in the success of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) spoke a great deal of sense, as she always does.
The withdrawal agreement Bill is a vital step in the delivery of the outcome of the referendum. Its purpose is simple and straightforward: to give effect to the agreement that we will have reached with the EU, an agreement that we fully intend to reach in the coming weeks—and it is interesting to note that, during our debate, there have been confident predictions from Michel Barnier that an agreement can indeed be reached within that period.
The Bill will be introduced only once the vote on the final deal has been held. It will therefore be the means by which Parliament’s decision—and, more important, the decision of the British people to leave the EU—is delivered in our law. As we heard from the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), Royal Assent will have to take place before exit day if the withdrawal agreement is to have domestic legal effect. It is precisely because the window of passage is constrained that we published the White Paper in July.
I found it slightly extraordinary that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) simultaneously criticised us for publishing a White Paper on legislation that was not yet complete, and called for more pre-legislative scrutiny. The whole purpose of the White Paper—and, indeed, of the debate—is to ensure that Parliament can have its say. We wanted to maximise Parliament’s ability to express its views on the Bill, including before its introduction, and I welcome the wide range of passionately held views that we have heard today.
There are some key themes on which I want to reflect, and the first is that of parliamentary scrutiny. We recognise that parliamentary scrutiny has a vital role to play in the exit process. Having heard from the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone—sadly, he is no longer in the Chamber —and a number of other long-standing members of his Committee, I can say it is important that we are discussing a White Paper that Parliament has had time to consider before legislation is published. It follows more than 250 hours of parliamentary debate on the Bill that became the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, to which the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) referred, 110 ministerial statements to both Houses of Parliament, and more than 40 appearances before Select Committees by Ministers in my Department since July 2016.
Members on both sides of the House have rightly highlighted the importance of providing certainty for not only EU citizens in the UK, but UK nationals in the EU. The parts of the agreement that have already been agreed will safeguard the rights of those individuals and their families. The withdrawal agreement Bill will be the primary means by which the rights of EU citizens will be underpinned in the UK. It will give certainty to EU citizens living here on rights of residency, and on access to healthcare, pensions and other benefits. That means that EU citizens will continue to be able to lead their lives broadly as they do today. Let me reiterate our message, and the message that the Prime Minister has sent to EU citizens:
“we want you to stay; we value you; and we thank you for your contribution”
to our country. That was echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and for Redditch.
The Bill will ensure that EU citizens can rely on the rights set out in the withdrawal agreement, and can enforce them in UK courts. It will also establish an independent monitoring authority to oversee the UK’s implementation of the citizens’ rights deal, providing further reassurance for citizens that their rights will be protected.
The hon. Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) asked about the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. We have reached agreement on a number of areas. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that regarding the citizens’ rights agreement, articles paragraphs (1) and (2) of article 27 of the withdrawal agreement provide for ongoing administrative co-operation in respect of MRPQ. We will return to that issue in our ongoing conversations about the future relationship.
I also listened carefully to the points made—with appropriate passion, I think—by the hon. Members for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) and for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) on Northern Ireland. We have been clear from the start of this process that we will deliver on all our commitments in that regard—not only on the reciprocal rights of British and Irish citizens, the common travel area and the absence of a hard border, but those other areas of north-south co-operation to which the hon. Gentleman referred. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has confirmed in this House, we expect the withdrawal agreement Bill to implement our commitments on Northern Ireland, including the backstop. The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) referred to, and quoted from, the joint report. We stand by all our commitments in that report. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about and good will towards the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). All Members send her our good wishes and condolences.
The status of EU citizens in this country in the event of no deal was raised a number of times, although it is not really the topic of the debate. Providing certainty for citizens has been a priority for both parties to the negotiations. We do not want or expect a no-deal outcome, but should we be unable to reach a full agreement with the EU, the Secretary of State has made it clear that the prospect of us not moving swiftly to secure their legal position or having people removed from this country is far-fetched and fanciful—it simply would not happen. As we have heard, these individuals make valuable contributions to our communities and our economy, and we would not want to lose them. That sentiment was echoed by those of all viewpoints in the referendum debate.
I am pleased to observe a degree of support across the House, especially from my hon. Friends the Members for Gordon (Colin Clark), for Chelmsford and for Redditch, for the implementation period. Colleagues clearly recognise the need to provide citizens and businesses with certainty as we leave the EU. They should have to prepare for only one set of changes—I hear that day in, day out from businesses. It is notable that when the agreement on the implementation period was reached in March, the CBI said it would help to protect living standards, jobs and growth. The Federation of Small Businesses said it would help protect small businesses from a damaging cliff edge and the Scotch Whisky Association said it would provide welcome reassurance.
I want to provide clarity on several points about the implementation period. First, it is strictly time-limited. That is the case owing to necessity—if it were not time-limited, it would be not a transitional period, but a permanent relationship. That time-limited nature will be reflected in the Bill, with the relevant provisions sunsetted so that they expire at the end of December 2020. Some queries were raised about the domestic legal basis for the implementation period. Let me assure the House that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, a vital piece of legislation, will continue to play the role that Parliament intended. The amendments made to that Act by the withdrawal agreement Bill will be technical. They will simply defer some parts of the Act, such as the domestication of EU law into retained EU law, so that they take effect at the end of the implementation period rather than on 29 March, when we leave the EU. That will ensure that the Act can operate in the correct context and th