I inform the House that I have selected amendment (a), in the name of the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), and amendment (f), in the name of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green).
I beg to move,
That this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship on 29 March 2019; and notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this House and the EU ratify an agreement.
Let me begin by paying tribute to our Prime Minister. She may have temporarily lost her voice, but what she has never lost, and will never lose, is a focus on the national interest and a full-hearted desire to do what is right for our country.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
Since the withdrawal agreement was concluded, the Prime Minister has stood at the Dispatch Box for more than 19 hours. She has answered many questions, and made compelling arguments. Throughout this process she has shown fortitude, tenacity, thoughtfulness, diligence and, above all, an unselfish and unstinting patriotism. I think it only appropriate that in all parts of the House, whatever political differences we have, we recognise that the Prime Minister always, always puts country first, and that we are fortunate to have her in that position.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
Not at this stage.
The House voted to give the people of this country a choice as to whether we were to remain in the European Union or leave it, and 17.4 million people—a clear majority—voted to leave. That is a mandate that we must respect, and an instruction that we must deliver. It is also the case that at the last general election, both principal parties stood on manifestos that pledged them to deliver our departure from the European Union. It is vital that we honour that manifesto promise, those instructions, and our democracy. Those outside the House who sent us here to act on their will and deliver that mandate will take a very, very dim view of those who seek to frustrate, deny or dilute the mandate that we were given.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the successful Vote Leave campaign of which he was part made clear that one of its primary objectives would be to deliver an exit from the EU with a deal, in an orderly fashion?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Let me also take this opportunity to pay tribute to his consistent championing of the rights of EU citizens in this country: we admire his commitment to principle. The Vote Leave campaign did indeed make clear that it was seeking a mandate to leave the European Union, and to conclude a free trade deal with the EU. That was the explicit aim of the campaign, and it is the policy of this Government.
Might I suggest that if we do want an orderly Brexit involving the Prime Minister’s deal, one way of securing it would be to invite the Secretary of State and his colleagues to vote for the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman)? It would take crashing out of the European Union off the table, which might convince some of the Secretary of State’s friends that that is no longer an option, and that if we are to deliver on our promise, the only way in which we can do so is the Prime Minister’s deal. Might the Secretary of State also consider when we can have an opportunity—when we are not going to crash out—to vote on the Prime Minister’s deal again?
Like me, the right hon. Gentleman argued that we should leave the European Union, and I take seriously the case that he makes. I shall go on to say a little about the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), but we should all be clear about one thing: the only way in which to ensure that we take no deal off the table is either to revoke article 50, which would dishonour the mandate, or to deliver a deal. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the deal that the Prime Minister put before the House last night, which sadly did not command a majority, allows us to leave the European Union in an orderly fashion, and in a way that honours our democratic mandate while also preserving our economic advantages. It is much to the regret of people outside the House that we were not able to command a consensus for it then.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State. He seems to be making a speech about last night’s debate rather than today’s. The debate that we are having today is about no deal. Can the Secretary of State imagine being the Prime Minister—I am sure he spends a lot of time imagining that—and coming to the House for a vote of this importance, and the Government’s not having an opinion on whether their own members should vote for or against it?
The hon. Gentleman has a wonderful cheek in saying I was speaking about the events of last night when he sought to intervene on me in the very first second of my speech. Perhaps he has pretensions to clairvoyance.
I have none, so I do not know what my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) will ask me.
Sadly, in his undoubted wisdom the Speaker did not select amendment (g) in my name, which instructs the Government to keep no deal on the table during negotiations with the EU. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is still the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to keep no deal on the table, as otherwise how will we get a better deal?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The motion which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and which I will vote for this evening makes it clear that we do not believe we should leave on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement, but it does not take the option of no deal off the table because, as I underlined earlier, the only way in which that can be done comprehensively is either through revocation or agreement to a deal.
I voted leave in the referendum, and my right hon. Friend led the campaign. There is going to be a choice in the end for this House between the Prime Minister’s vision for Brexit, which I support, and the Leader of the Opposition’s vision. The Leader of the Opposition’s vision is to stay in the customs union, remain in the single market and continue to have free movement of people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that in no sense honours the spirit of the referendum vote to leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend makes an admirable point, and I note that the Leader of the Opposition is not in his place today. I note also that in the point of order he made last night he did not refer to the newly adopted policy of embracing a second referendum, which is now Labour’s position. To add to the incoherence of the Labour party’s position in saying that it wants to be in a customs union and a single market and indeed to accept free movement, it wants to overturn the promise it has made to honour the referendum mandate, and not to bring forward a second referendum. In their naked pursuit of political advantage I am afraid that the Labour Front Bench are letting this country down, and more importantly letting their voters down.
I want to make a little progress but will accept more interventions in due course.
As a result of the House’s failure to agree to the deal the Prime Minister presented last night we now face a number of unattractive choices, and it is important that the House realises that all of these choices are less attractive than support for the deal the Prime Minister negotiated. We can choose as a House to leave without a deal, but there are significant economic, political and constitutional challenges if we embark on that course which I will go into in just a second. We could accept a deal less attractive than that which the Prime Minister secured, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) has pointed out, there are many in this House who would have us leave the EU in a way that does not honour the referendum mandate and does not honour the manifesto promises at the last general election. Doing that would not only circumscribe this country’s sovereign right to make decisions in its own interests, but undermine and further erode faith in democracy. But if we are talking about faith in democracy, either frustrating the vote altogether by revoking article 50 or seeking to overturn it with a second referendum would be choices of far greater magnitude, and to my mind be far more damaging.
I am very happy to give way to the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. The cat is out of the bag: on his own admission this motion does not take no deal off the table. I will be guided by you, Mr Speaker, but my understanding was that at the Dispatch Box this House was given a guarantee that today we would have the opportunity to take no deal off the table. Will the right hon. Gentleman not only confirm that, Mr Speaker, but also inform us of the following? Is it the case that the Government are offering a free vote on amendment (f) in the name of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), which Mr Speaker has selected, yet they are whipping against amendment (a) in the name of the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman)? [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not want to hear it, but it is a shameful carry-on when a former chairman of the Conservative party is whipped against to the extent that she will not press that amendment to the vote. This House will be denied the chance to take no deal off the table; that is the truth of it, isn’t it?
The right hon. Lady is a distinguished criminal barrister; now I know what it is like to be cross-examined by her, but I also understand why lawyers are paid by the hour.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Whether I was ever a distinguished member of the Bar is debatable, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman as a member of the criminal Bar that we were never paid by the hour when I was at the Bar; in fact repeatedly I worked pro bono, as many criminal barristers have to do under his cuts.
The right hon. Lady has put the facts on the record. I do not think we should get into the subject of who has been remunerated by how much, whether for legal work or penning articles in newspapers or whatever. Instead let us focus on the terms of the debate. I say to the Secretary of State that, in his own interests, the less said about that matter the better.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker; I believe as a former Lord Chancellor that that is what is known as a refresher, but thank you.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
Not at this stage.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
Yes, to the Father of the House, of course.
On the point that was concerning the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), can the Secretary of State confirm that it is the Government’s position that we are ruling out leaving on 29 March with absolutely no arrangements at all—that we are ruling out the complete collapse of all our legal and trading arrangements with the continent that we have built up over the last 50 years?
Yes, I would not use exactly the same language as the Father of the House, but his point is correct. The motion commits the Government not to leave on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement; I hope that is clear and unambiguous. But the motion also makes clear that the default position in law is that we do leave the EU unless we can secure assent to a withdrawal agreement, which is why, as I mentioned earlier, it was so disappointing that we did not secure a mandate last night.
I will give way first to the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and then to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve).
Will the right hon. Gentleman now attempt to answer the question asked by the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and explain the media reports? Given that the Prime Minister last night promised free votes—[Interruption.] Yes she did, at the Dispatch Box; the right hon. Gentleman should not shake his head. Can he therefore explain the reports that the right hon. Member for Broxtowe has pointed to that the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) will be a free vote on the Conservative Benches but the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) will be whipped against? That is an absolute disgrace and bad faith to this House.
If only the Labour party would give its own Members a free vote, then we could find out what they really think.
It seems to me that the difficulty that might be arising across the House is as follows. If the House passes this motion this evening, and I have no reason not to support the motion in the terms of its ruling out no deal, in order to achieve that two things have to happen: first, we need to get an extension to article 50; and secondly, we are going to have to make a change to primary legislation in the withdrawal agreement Act. I assume the Government are undertaking, if this motion is passed in its own terms, to do exactly that?
I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his intervention, because it allows me to underline and further elucidate the point. It is absolutely correct that tomorrow the House will have an opportunity, if the motion passes tonight, to decide how to seek an extension. Obviously an extension is not something we can insist upon and automatically see delivered; it is in the gift of the EU and requires the assent of all 27 other EU members. But of course there will be an opportunity further to debate that tomorrow.
Just to remind the Secretary of State: there was a second part to the question, which is equally critical. It is that the Government will have to bring a statutory instrument to the House to alter the departure date set out in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. In those circumstances, I assume that the Government are undertaking to do exactly that.
The Prime Minister and others have said that previously, and I am happy to place on the record once again at this Dispatch Box exactly that commitment.
I want to make a bit of progress, but there will be time for others to intervene. I am also conscious that many Members want to speak—
Forty Members. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
I stressed earlier that if we choose to leave without a deal on 29 March, this country will face economic, political and constitutional challenges. We are a great country, and we would get through it. We would in due course ensure that this country was more prosperous, freer and successful, and of course the Government have been working hard to ensure that we can be prepared for any eventuality and that we can mitigate the risks of leaving without a deal. At this stage, I should like to pay particular tribute to the civil servants across the Government who have been working exceptionally hard and with great skill to ensure that we are ready for any eventuality. We do not pay tribute to civil servants often enough, and I am sure that everyone across the House will recognise how important their work is. However, I stress that that work is work to mitigate the challenges.
If we were to leave on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement, we would be treated as a third country by the European Union. That would mean that we would face tariffs on many of our products. I am acutely aware that some of the highest and most severe tariffs would be imposed on food. Our sheep farmers and beef farmers would face the instant imposition of tariffs of at least 40% and in some cases more than 100%. Their livelihoods, and indeed the economic and social health of our countryside, would face very challenging circumstances. None of us can be blithe or blasé about those challenges.
We also know that there are at least 145,000 businesses in this country that trade with the EU—and of course do commerce in the UK—but do not trade outside the EU. As soon as we become a third country, they will need to register with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in order to ensure that their trade can continue. Those businesses will need to secure their economic operator registration and identification—EORI—numbers and the other documentation necessary to trade. At the time of speaking, only about 50,000 of those 145,000 businesses have made those preparations. That means that, just over a fortnight away from the prospect of leaving without a deal, a significant number of businesses in this country do not have the wherewithal, the means, or the appropriate documentation to carry on trading.
On top of that, products of animal origin being exported to the European Union will need to undergo sanitary and phytosanitary checks—in addition to customs and other checks—at a border inspection post. A significant amount of our food produce crosses the narrow strait from Dover to Calais or goes through Eurotunnel. At the time of speaking, there is no border inspection post at either of those ports. Of course, there are many things that this Government can do to mitigate the consequences of no deal, but we cannot dictate what the EU’s tariffs will be, we cannot instruct the port authorities in France on how to order their affairs, and we cannot compel businesses to acquire the means necessary to continue to trade in the way that they have been doing. These all represent cumulative costs that businesses would face in the event of a no-deal exit on 29 March.
I am delighted to give way to my dear Friend.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. He is right to say that the European Union does not have border infrastructure in place to carry out the border inspection checks that he mentions. Is that perhaps why the EU has asked us to dynamically align our regulations for a period of nine months so that it would not have to carry out such checks during that period?
My hon. Friend is right, but dynamic alignment during those nine months would mean our being a rule-taker during that period. Dynamic alignment would allow us to be registered as a third country, but there would also be sanitary and phytosanitary—SPS—checks on a variety of products.
The Secretary of State speaks as though there is some distance between him and the tragedy that he has just outlined, but is it not the case that he is a senior author of that tragedy? Does he feel no sense of shame or responsibility? Should he not apologise for the mess that we are facing?
It is the responsibility of those who voted against the withdrawal agreement last night—[Interruption.] If Scottish National party Members had a care for Scotland’s industry, Scotland’s prosperity and Scotland’s farmers, they would have voted for the withdrawal agreement last night, but I am afraid that when it comes to political positioning and separatist posturing, rather than serious politics, there is no equal to the ranks of the Scottish National party.
My right hon. Friend might not be aware that the authorities in Calais have said to me that they will have a border inspection post open at the end of the month. I urge his Department to work with my port and with the community in Dover on this, because they want us to have a border inspection post just outside the port—just as they do in places like Rotterdam—but the unfortunately restrictive position of DEFRA means that it is trying to say that it has to be inside the port, which it does not. Can my right hon. Friend get his Department to be more flexible?
My Department has been flexible, and will continue to be flexible. We will continue to do everything possible in order to facilitate trade, but as my hon. Friend points out, although that border inspection post could be in place by the end of the month—and we hope it will be—it is not in place now.
My right hon. Friend knows, as I do, just how important agriculture is to this country through the jobs that it creates and through all that it adds to biodiversity and the environment. Does he agree with my assessment that no right hon. or hon. Member who purports to understand and support farming in their constituency can support leaving the European Union without a deal?
Obviously there is a diversity of views in this House, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is in the interests of British farming, and indeed our broader environment, that we do not leave on 29 March without a deal. This is one of the reasons why I am making these arguments at the Dispatch Box now.
There are also political challenges in leaving on 29 March without a deal. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) pointed out, during the referendum campaign we argued that we should leave with a deal. I am also conscious that, while our mandate was clear, it is also the case that with a 52:48 result, we need to take into account the hopes and concerns of those people who did not vote to leave the European Union. The Prime Minister’s deal does that; it does more than that. Many people who voted to remain—including Members of this House in my party and in others—have accepted the result and wish us to leave in order to honour that mandate. However, they do not want us to leave on 29 March without a deal. There would inevitably be political strains and pressures consequent on leaving without a deal on 29 March that no Minister can afford to ignore.
More than that, it is important to stress that there are also significant constitutional challenges. It is the case, as several hon. Members have pointed out, that a majority of voters in Scotland and in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, but we voted as one United Kingdom, and we voted to leave. It is striking that support for the Union in Scotland has risen since the vote—[Hon. Members: “It’s gone down!”] Well, we only need look at the ranks of Scottish Conservative MPs, who turfed out the partitionist part-timers of the SNP, to see which way the tide was flowing—[Interruption.] They don’t like it up ’em.
The Secretary of State will be well aware, as will other Members, that Northern Ireland has not had a functioning Assembly for over two years. We have had no Ministers in Northern Ireland for over two years. This House, including the Members of the Democratic Unionist party, must therefore give due weight to the serious warning issued last week by the head of the Northern Ireland civil service, David Stirling, about the grave consequences for Northern Ireland of a no-deal Brexit.
The hon. Lady, for whom I have enormous respect, is absolutely, 100%, totally right. Of course, it is up to this House to take that decision, but it is the case, whatever the position in Scotland—there can be no doubt that leaving without a deal would impose additional pressures on our precious Union—that there would be particular pressures on Northern Ireland if we leave without a deal on 29 March. As the hon. Lady points out, Northern Ireland has been without a devolved Government for two years and, in the absence of the Stormont institutions, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has introduced legislation and guidance to empower Northern Ireland’s civil servants, including the wholly estimable David Stirling, to continue to take decisions that are in the public interest. That arrangement is sustainable at the moment, but it is the sincere hope of myself, my colleagues in Government and, I believe, almost everyone across the House that we can restore the Northern Ireland Executive.
However, it is also clear that the current situation, with no Executive, would be difficult to sustain in the uniquely challenging context of a no-deal exit. If the House voted for no deal, we would have to start formal engagement with the Irish Government about further arrangements for providing strengthened decision making in the event of that outcome. That would include the real possibility of imposing a form of direct rule. That is a grave step, and experience shows us that it is hard to return from that step, and it would be especially difficult in the context of no deal.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s written statement today, which affords frictionless trade to the Republic of Ireland in terms of tariffs and there being no checks. If that can be the basis of no deal, why can it not be the basis of a deal?
It is the case that my right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary has issued a written statement, and it is the case that those provisions seek to minimise the consequences of no deal, but that is a temporary arrangement that could be open to legal challenge. To put it at its highest, it is a sub-optimal arrangement. It is a reflection of the hard work of the Northern Ireland civil service and my right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary that we will do everything we can to minimise frictions and checks at the border in order to underpin the importance of both commerce and peace on the island of Ireland. However, it is emphatically not an arrangement that any of us can regard as genuinely sustainable or ideal.
I am happy to give way to all my hon. Friends, but I will give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford).
My right hon. Friend is making a clear case for why leaving without a deal at the end of this month would bring such uncertainty. Will he provide more clarity on how the time could be used during an extension?
It would be for the House to decide tomorrow what type of extension it believes is appropriate. The most important thing that we could do is to rally behind a withdrawal agreement that ensures that we can preserve not just the strength of our economy, but the gains from leaving the EU. It is also the case, as I indicated earlier, that civil servants are working incredibly hard to ensure that we can mitigate all consequences.
I will give way to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) in a second, but I will not give way to the hon. Gentlemen from the SNP. First, however, I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison).
This morning’s written statement’s bearing on tariffs is welcome, particularly the zero tariffs on goods travelling north to south on the island of Ireland, but what discussion has he had with Dublin about tariffs on goods travelling south to north? Given the importance of agrifood in Northern Ireland, he will appreciate the potential grave disadvantages for agriculture in Northern Ireland in the event of no deal.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have spoken to Michael Creed, who is the responsible Minister, but there are additional challenges that agriculture and food processing in Northern Ireland would face in the event of a no-deal scenario on 29 March.
I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) and then to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford.
My right hon. Friend is being incredibly generous with his time. The overwhelming view of business is that no deal should be taken off the table. Given that those of us on the Government Benches know that the success of our party and our country is based on backing the job creators and the wealth creators, how does he think the Conservative party of the 1980s would look at our response to business at the moment?
I am fortunate to speak after the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a spring statement in which he underlined the fact that this country has had the longest period of uninterrupted growth of any G20 economy and that we have a faster-growing economy—and are predicted to have a faster-growing economy—than Italy, Germany and Japan. It is also the case that we have a record number of people in work and real wages are rising. Under his leadership and that of the Prime Minister, anyone nostalgic for the ’80s would say that, actually, what we have once more is economic success delivered by a Conservative Government putting the national interest first.
I am happy to give way to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, but then I will make progress.
The Secretary of State is making a very strong argument against no deal and the damage that it would cause. The purpose of the votes today and tomorrow is to establish the default position. If we do not have a deal in place—and we do not have a deal in place with the majority behind it in the House—what will the default position be on 29 March? Will he clarify his position on this, as it is not clear in the motion? If there is no deal in place by 29 March, does he agree that the default position cannot be simply to leave without a deal?
That is exactly what the motion today is designed to assert, and that is why I hope that people will support it.
No. I wanted to stress that in underlining all these challenges and by emphasising that we are doing everything that we can to mitigate them, it is not the case—I made this point earlier, and I want to underline it for the benefit of all—that we are taking no deal off the table. The only way that that can be done is either to revoke article 50 and decide to stay in the European Union, or to conclude an agreement. That is an inescapable fact, and that is why we face a series of unattractive choices. Many of the alternatives that have been put forward would undoubtedly be worse.
On that point—
No. The Labour party is now committed to a second referendum, and indeed there has been no more impressive and articulate advocate of that position than the hon. Gentleman—
No, nay, never—[Interruption.]
Order. The Secretary of State has made the position clear. Let me conduct the very briefest tutorial for the benefit of the illustrious Chair of the International Trade Committee of the House of Commons. It is unseemly, to the point of being disorderly, to try to speak one’s intervention by mouthing it before permission has been given to undertake it. It is a point that is so blindingly obvious that, as I often observe, only an extraordinarily sophisticated person, possibly from Na h-Eileanan an Iar, could fail to grasp it. Secretary of State.
On a point of order—[Interruption.]
Secretary of State.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Once again, I am grateful that you are in the Chair.
The Labour party is now committed to a second referendum, but many of its leading spokespeople have made clear what they thought of a second referendum in the past. The shadow Education Secretary said that it would be a mistake and would show disdain for democracy. Indeed, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), when asked about a second referendum, said, “No, we don’t think that’s right. If we went for a second referendum we would be saying to people, ‘We think you’re stupid. We think you made the wrong decision. We’re going to do something else.’” Now that she embraces a second referendum, I am afraid that having once sneered at the flag of St George, she now confirms that she wants to tell the British people that they are, in her view, wrong and stupid. That may be a view popular in Islington South, but it is not the view of the Government, who are determined to honour the votes of the British people and who will not dismiss their sovereign decision as either wrong or stupid.
This is worse than Jeremy Corbyn.
I will tell you one thing that is worse than Jeremy Corbyn, and that is the prospect of an independent Scotland with the gaggle of, as I said earlier, part-time partitionists in favour.
There is one thing that is better than Jeremy Corbyn, and that is the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle).
I take compliments wherever I can find them. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have said at the Dispatch Box, previously and today, that the House is very good at striking down things that are on the table but very bad at putting forward alternatives. I have noticed in recent days that both of them have been doing exactly the same thing; they spend a lot of time striking down any other proposition that is mentioned from across the House, but the one they are sticking to has also been decisively struck down more than any other—twice, in historic proportions. If we carry on doing the same thing, we are going to get the same result. Is he suggesting that he will bring the deal back again and again and again, or will he show the leadership expected of somebody in his position and someone in the Prime Minister’s position and change course, listen to other propositions and engage with people who are trying to compromise?
I said before the hon. Gentleman was better than Jeremy Corbyn and he proved by his intervention that he is much, much better than Jeremy Corbyn. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on everything, but I do think it is right that we have dialogue across this House. We are in an uncomfortable position. I was an enthusiastic supporter of the Prime Minister’s deal. It commanded more votes last night than it did at the first time of presentation, but it did not command a majority in this House. That is why it is the responsibility of us all not only to listen and reflect, but to recognise that none of us can dodge choices. The choices before this House as a result—
No. The choices before this House as a result of the decision not to endorse the Prime Minister’s deal last night are unattractive, and I have laid out just how unattractive some of them are. Another proposition has been put forward—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State has just made it clear that the Government’s intention is to keep putting the same deal back to the House over and again, even though it has been decisively defeated twice, possibly ad infinitum. Is that not out of order?
There are historical precedents for the way in such matters are regarded. I do not need to treat of them now and no ruling is required now. There may be people who have an opinion about it. I am not really preoccupied with that, but a ruling would be made about that matter at the appropriate time, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding me that such a ruling might at some point in the future be required.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. For the benefit of the hon. Lady, let me say that I am simply making it clear that as a result of last night’s vote we face a series of unpalatable choices. The Government have put forward a motion tonight that I hope right hon. and hon. Members will support. It would ensure that we do not leave on 29 March without a deal, but this House has to decide—it has to decide what it wants—and that is why I agreed with the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). This House has been very good at saying no and insufficiently statesmanlike in supporting the Prime Minister in her efforts. It is now make your mind up time for this House. It is crucial that Members on all sides respond appropriately.
Can the Secretary of State explain to the House why it is democratic to keep bringing back to the House a proposition that has been overwhelmingly defeated on two occasions, but it is somehow undemocratic to suggest that the British people should be asked whether they want to change their minds?
I point out two things on that. First, the proposition that was put before the House was significantly different from the one that was put before the House beforehand. [Laughter.]
You can’t be that stupid!
The hon. Gentleman taxes me about stupidity. I will return to his comments in just a second. The key thing is that the proposition was different, but of course we did not secure support for it and the House now has to decide. I respect the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) very much, as he knows, but it was the official position of his Front-Bench team not to endorse a second referendum and they have done what might inelegantly be called a flip-flop or U-turn. I was merely pointing out to the House the nature of that flip-flop and U-turn.
My right hon. Friend keeps saying that when we reach 29 March, we will not leave unless we have a deal, and he has been considering the alternatives, because currently doing nothing means that, by law, we will leave with no deal. He keeps suggesting revoking article 50. Is that because we could seek an extension, if by then the House has some idea of what it is seeking an extension for, but the EU might then refuse it? Is he prepared to contemplate and is it the Government’s position that if the EU refuses an extension, we will revoke article 50, no doubt with the intention of invoking it later, once Parliament and the Government have decided what it is we are seeking for our future?
The Father of the House makes an important point, but we cannot revoke article 50 and then invoke it again later. The European Court of Justice has made that absolutely clear, which is why—
Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?
No. This is why we need to come to a decision.
If the Government are serious about engaging with alternatives to the deal that we voted on last night and serious about listening, why will they not grant a series of indicative votes, as recommended by the Exiting the European Union Committee, on which I serve and which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), to determine the will of the House?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Depending on how the House votes today, we may have an opportunity to vote on that proposition tomorrow. It is important is that we find consensus as quickly as we possibly can.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the Secretary of State has got confused between the ruling of the Court of Justice and the preliminary opinion of the advocate-general. It was the preliminary opinion of the advocate-general that suggested that once article 50 was revoked, it could not be implemented again, whereas the opinion of the Court of Justice does not say that. Given that it is a judgment of the highest court in Europe, how can I put the record straight? The Secretary of State seems to have misunderstood the judgment.
That attempted point of order suffered from the material disadvantage of not being a point of order. The hon. and learned Lady has made her point. Legal exegesis as between a court and an advocate-general is not a matter for the Chair. I would go so far as to say that it is well beyond my limited capabilities. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for elevating me to a level of prowess that I cannot profess.
That was revealing of the Scottish National party’s position: it wants to be in and then out, in the same way as it wants to be in the European Union but out of the common fisheries policy. We now know that the SNP is the hokey-cokey party—in, out, shake it all about.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
No. I think we have had more than enough from the collection of circus acts of the Scottish National party.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished member of the House of Commons Commission, and I therefore hope that his point of order is authentic and genuine.
It is as authentic as almost every else’s. Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State just said that we know what the SNP is, what it believes and what its positions are; how can he know that if he refuses to engage in debate, and instead simply behaves like a little primary school bully, refusing to take proper engagement and hiding behind the big boys who are sitting behind him?
Perhaps the Secretary of State is invested with psychic powers—I have no way of knowing—but I am bound to say to the hon. Gentleman that in my dealings with the Secretary of State, I have never regarded him in any way as a bully. He is sometimes insistent upon his point of view, but I must say that I have never found him remotely pressurising. Dealing with him is not difficult at all.
Thank you very much for that generous encomium, Mr Speaker. I am always happy to debate with the SNP.
What I am not happy to do is to allow the time of this House, when there are so many other serious speakers who want to make their points, to be absorbed by repetitious and self-serving chicanery from the representatives on the SNP Benches.
I wish to turn to one other proposition that has been put forward as an alternative, and that is the position of the official Opposition, which, while not shaped by an amendment today, is their policy, which is that we should be members of a customs union. What is striking about the position that they put forward for the customs union is that they say that, in that customs union, we should be able to offer businesses state aid, which we are not able to offer in the EU. Well, that would be illegal. They also say that we should have a voice in that customs union in the EU’s negotiation of trade deals. Well, no such voice for any member of the customs union who is not a member of the EU exists. They also say that we should have independent trade remedies separate from those that the EU provides.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I will take the point of order in a minute.
I was very generous to the Secretary of State. We all enjoy his rhetorical flourishes and I will not repeat the precise words, but he used a little formulation a moment ago that was very, very borderline as far as the procedures of this House are concerned. I very gently say to him that what passes muster at the Oxford Union might not be acceptable in the Chamber of the House.
My point of order very much follows on from that. This debate is about whether this House believes that we should leave with no deal, yet the Secretary of State has spent quite some time discussing anything apart from that. I just wondered whether we could get your advice, Mr Speaker, about when this debate is actually going to go back to the terms on the Order Paper.
Those addressing the House from the Treasury Bench get a degree of latitude, but I do note what the right hon. Lady says and I hope that contributions will focus on what the debate is supposed to be about, for if that were not to happen, there would have to be another debate on the matter in order to meet the terms of the commitment that has been given. That might be inconvenient for some people, but that debate on that matter will take place, and about that there need be no doubt on any Bench—Back or Front.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I hope that I was able to outline earlier some of the real difficulties in leaving without a deal on 29 March. It is perfectly open to Members to take different views on that matter.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, no, no.
I hope that people recognise that I have tried to take as many interventions as possible, but we must now move on to hear from the principal Opposition spokesman and, of course, to make sure that as many Back Benchers as possible have their voices heard.
It is important that all of us in this House recognise that, as a result of the vote last night, there are no easy options, no attractive choices, left. I hope in the debate today and, inevitably, in the debate that follows tomorrow, we all take the responsibilities of representing our constituents as seriously as possible. We all need to recognise that leaving on 29 March without a deal would impose economic, political and constitutional challenges and risks for this country that I do not believe that we should undertake. I therefore think that it is important that we all work across this House, and across old divisions, to try to seek a consensus—a consensus that could unite all four nations of the United Kingdom and could unite all our citizens in making sure that we honour the referendum mandate and we leave the European Union in a way that is economically sensible and democratically legitimate. That is why I commend this motion to the House.
Order. Just before I call the shadow Secretary of State, I have now to announce the results of today’s deferred Divisions. In respect of the question relating to environmental protection, the Ayes were 315 and the Noes were 235, so the Ayes have it. In respect of the question relating to immigration, the Ayes were 314 and the Noes were 276, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
I welcome today’s debate. The Prime Minister is leaving; I know she wanted to open this debate and we understand why she cannot; I send our best wishes for her speedy recovery. I am sure that goes for the whole House.
If the Prime Minister had opened the debate, I think she would have engaged seriously with the points being made by others, rather than hurling easy insults and not engaging with the points. This is a serious debate about a very serious matter, and it needs to be conducted in the right way. The debate is long overdue. On this side of the House, we have never accepted that there should be a binary choice between the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal—“very bad” or “even worse” is not a meaningful choice and would be a very sorry end to the negotiations. Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly voted to reject the Prime Minister’s deal, which is the first of those options. Today, we have the chance to reject the second, and we should do so with as big a majority as possible. The mantra of “My deal or no deal” needs to be dead and buried tonight.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I will in just a moment. Labour has always opposed a no-deal outcome. We have repeatedly warned that it would be catastrophic for jobs, for the economy, for security, and for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland, and I will come to those points later.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, but I implore him to use the language of moderation when talking about no deal. He will remember the dire economic warnings during the referendum campaign of, for example, 500,000 extra people unemployed by Christmas 2016. Those things did not come about. So bad were the predictions that the Bank of England had to publicly apologise afterwards. He should not rest his case on predictions. Economic reality is dictated by comparative advantage, such as lower tax rates and more flexible labour markets. That is why the economy is doing so well, despite the prospect of no deal.
Lots of things were said by both sides in the referendum that should never have been said, some of them by Members who have already addressed the House.
One of the things that was said time after time was that there would be no consequences for peace on the island of Ireland. We have heard today from the Dispatch Box—the Secretary of State may want to come back on this—that a consequence of the Government not ruling out no deal tonight is, potentially, direct rule. That is a major shift in the Government’s position. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those are not fears, but the actualities we are dealing with?
I will come to the position in Ireland, because it was and has been treated casually, as if it is all a technical question of a line in the road. Anyone who has spent any time in Ireland in the past two years will realise the impact that Brexit is having on the politics of Ireland, which go well beyond the technicalities of the customs union and the single market.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I was going to complete my answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, because I accept that we have to deal with the facts as they are. One of my concerns is that because so many things were said in the referendum, there is now a licence to pretend that real risks and outcomes will not happen by simply saying that other things did not happen. That is a real cause for concern.
I did say I would give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I am very grateful. Following on from the point that the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), made to the Secretary of State and the legal correction that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) made, we are in a situation where the European Union will not give any other deal. There are 16 days to go. There will be no extension beyond the end of May. The question that the Secretary of State and a lot of other MPs need to answer is whether they are going to go for no deal or for revoking article 50. That is what it will come down to in the end. I was in Brussels last week, and the European Union is fed up with the childish antics of the UK Government. The choice is between those two things. I am not sure whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is there yet, but he and everyone else really need to choose between no deal and revocation. That is the game. Brexit is a busted flush.
I have spent a lot of time talking to officials in Brussels over the past two years, and I have been discussing the question of an extension for six months, because it occurred to me back then that we would be in this position. We will need to address that in tomorrow’s debate, but, for my part, I have not received the message from Brussels that there is no prospect of an extension—quite the contrary.
I will just make some progress and give way again in a minute.
The Prime Minister used to tell us that no deal would not be the end of the world. Past Brexit Secretaries even talked up the merits of leaving on WTO terms or told us how crucial threatening no deal was to the negotiations. But Labour Members have been steadfast in insisting that no deal is not a viable option. Why? It is hard to know where to begin. First, there is the economy. On this, the vast majority of businesses and the trade union movement speak with one voice—and that does not happen very often. I have been to meetings with businesses all over the country, and I have spoken to trade unions in those businesses, and I have taken notes of what they tell me. At the end of those meetings, one could almost rub out the identity of who was in the meeting and have the same read-out of their level of concerns. That persuades me that they have a very good point and a very strong case.
Only today, Carolyn Fairbairn from the CBI said that no deal would be
“a sledgehammer to the economy.”
Frances O’Grady from the TUC said that a no-deal Brexit
“would be a hammer blow to our manufacturing industries and the communities they support.”
A no-deal Brexit could be terminal for Britain’s manufacturing and the thousands of skilled jobs it provides. As the son of a toolmaker, I remember when manufacturing was in the doldrums, but now there has been a revival. Manufacturers operate a just-in-time regime that relies on open borders, and they do so successfully. No deal poses a huge risk to them.
The shadow Secretary of State has been talking about what may happen. It is very obvious to me, following his hon. Friends’ exchanges with the Secretary of State, that the Government are intent on bringing the withdrawal agreement back for yet another go. May I make a small prediction? They will go to the European Council on 20/21 March and plead for some additional concession, however small. They will come back to the UK; rerun Maastricht; declare game, set and match; and then try to persuade the House to vote for it. For 50 quid for Help for Heroes, I bet that the third meaningful vote will be on Tuesday 26 March. Will he take my bet?
I don’t gamble.
Earlier the Secretary of State referred to the 140,000 or so companies that trade exclusively with Europe, only about 40,000 of which have registered and got their EORI numbers, which is necessary in order to do so. The business community has pointed out that there is no reason why HMRC could not give companies an automatic EORI number if they are VAT-registered, as most of them are. It is very worried that the Government are trying to shift the blame for a chaotic no-deal Brexit from their own lack of support and on to business.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. That is a real cause for concern. In all my discussions with businesses in the past two years, but particularly in the past three to six months, I have detected that while some of the bigger businesses have had the resource to do some planning for no deal, most of the small and medium-sized businesses have not. They have said to me, “We simply do not have the resource to do it, and therefore we haven’t done it.” That is among the reasons why I have always said that a no-deal Brexit is not a viable option.
My right hon. and learned Friend has said that he is not a gambling man, but it seems that the Secretary of State for Wales might be, because he is refusing to rule out supporting no deal. If one considers Wales’s agriculture, manufacturing industry and so much more, that is absolute madness, in my view. Does the Secretary of State—not quite the Secretary of State yet, but the shadow Secretary of State—agree?
I do, and it is a real cause for concern.
My constituency voted to leave. I am a democrat, and I respect the result of the referendum, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a no-deal Brexit would not be in the interests of my constituents or this country?
I do not think that a no-deal Brexit would be in the interests of constituents anywhere in the United Kingdom.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I will give way in a moment, but I have given way a lot, and I need to make progress. I am aware that others want to contribute to the debate.
I was dealing with the impact on manufacturing. Some of the large manufacturers have told us what the impact of no deal will be on them. Ford was clear that it
“would be catastrophic for the UK auto industry and Ford’s manufacturing operations in the country”.
Airbus used similar language, saying that it would be “absolutely catastrophic for us”. More recently, Honda said:
“If we end up with WTO tariffs, we’d have something like 10% of costs in addition on products shipped back into Europe”,
which would impact its “productivity” and “competitiveness”. This is not exaggeration. These are companies speaking about their businesses. This will impact on their businesses, and real people’s livelihoods will be at stake.
We do not have to only take the word of businesses and the trade unions, though it is a powerful voice. We can also look at the Government Benches. The hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks), who I believe is still a Business Minister in the Government, said that no deal
“would be completely disastrous for business in this country”—
no doubt because, like me, he has been talking to those businesses. He then took a novel approach to collective responsibility by saying:
“I am very happy to be public about”
the dangers of no deal
“and very happy if the Prime Minister decides I am not the right person to do the business industry job.”
He was backed up by the Business Secretary, who said
“no deal is fully acknowledged—certainly by me and the industry—as being ruinous for our prospects”—[Official Report, 4 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 68.]
The Government’s own figures show that no deal would mean a reduction in the economy of between 6.3% and 9% over 15 years, and every region would be poorer—Wales by 8.1%, Scotland by 8% and the north-east of England by 10.5%. Anybody who votes tonight to keep no deal on the table needs to explain to their constituents why they are taking that risk with jobs and our economy.
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has mistaken my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) with my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is important to make that correction.
What businesses are saying to me is that their key enemy is uncertainty. If they do not have certainty over the future terms of trade, investment decisions will continue to be postponed. There is certainty over those terms of trade if we leave the European Union on 29 March either with the Prime Minister’s agreement or moving to World Trade Organisation terms.
As for the anxiety of businesses over uncertainty, and their yearning for certainty and the impact it is having on their decision making and investment, that is absolutely true. It should be a cause of great concern to all of us. None of the businesses I have spoken to—I have spoken to thousands in the last two years—has suggested that the certainty they want is no deal. They all say to me that they do not want no deal, and they normally point out the consequences of no deal.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making the point that the worst deal is no deal. He has talked about manufacturing, and this issue has been raised with me by GMB, Unite and other unions. Does he agree that the uncertainty over the trade agreements between other countries and with the EU, which we trade under and which account for about 12% of our imports and exports, is already causing great problems for manufacturing, imports and exports and jobs in our constituencies?
Absolutely. They have real concerns about that, and they raise them regularly.
I have great confidence in my right hon. and learned Friend, and he is making a very good speech. When this all started, those in my manufacturing sector were saying, “Surely, intelligent people on the Benches across the House could come to a solution.” They have now changed, and they are calling for me to push here for a second vote or a people’s vote.
I am grateful for that intervention, because it takes me to a point that was repeatedly made by the Secretary of State, which is that it is somehow somebody else’s fault that the deal is not going through and that the Government do not bear any responsibility for failing to bring the House with them.
No. I want to make this point because it is important. The Government have failed to get the House behind their deal, and they cannot get away with simply saying, “That is somebody else’s fault. It’s not our responsibility. We’ve done nothing wrong.”
No. I want to make this point because it is a really important point. The Prime Minister and the Government had a choice two years ago. They could have invited this House to express a view on the type of deal this House would accept, and they refused to do so—repeatedly refused to do so. Anybody in the Government must have been able to foresee the divisions on their own side. They must have been able to foresee that. In those circumstances, they would have been much wiser to seek the consensus two years ago that they may look for now. Having been blinkered, and having red lines that never came about, for the Government to come here now and say that it is other people’s fault for rejecting the very thing they said for two years that they would reject is not to take responsibility for their own actions.
I am going to make some progress.
I have been concentrating on the economic issues, but there are wider issues in relation to no deal. There is Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State spoke about Northern Ireland, and we all know how serious the implications are for Northern Ireland. No deal is a risk to the Good Friday agreement. The Government’s own EU exit paper makes that clear.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
No! [Interruption.] I did not mean that rudely; it is just that I do need to make some progress.
The “EU Exit” paper from the Government last year said that
“WTO terms would not meet the Government’s commitments to ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
A hard border cannot be allowed to happen, and I do not think this Prime Minister or the Government would countenance that happening.
On security and counter-terrorism, as hon. Members know, intelligence and evidence passes across EU borders in real time every day and it saves real lives. That can only happen subject to agreements with the EU27—that is the basis for passing such information and intelligence—but we also need agreements to decide to what use we can put that evidence and intelligence and, crucially, to plan joint operations. I know that because for five years, as the Director of Public Prosecutions, I was part of that exercise in Eurojust. I know how seriously the Prime Minister takes this because I worked with her when she was Home Secretary, and she knows full well how that such provisions save real lives. A no-deal puts that at risk. No responsible Government would take that risk, and if they did take such a risk, they would not remain in government for long.
Given what my right hon. and learned Friend said a moment or two ago, which was absolutely right, about the Government’s repeated failure to seek consensus to get us out of this Brexit mess, will he please reaffirm Labour’s firm commitment to our policy of supporting a public vote, with remain being an option on the ballot paper?
I will. Back in 2017, we made it clear that we would respect the outcome of the referendum, and we set out in our manifesto what we would seek to negotiate if we were elected into government, which was an agreement that would have the benefits of the customs union and the single market. However, in that manifesto, we also said as a party that we would reject the Government’s red lines, rip up the White Paper and reject no deal. We lost that election, and because we lost we voted to trigger article 50, notwithstanding how we had voted in the referendum, and we allowed the Prime Minister to start the negotiations. Consistent with our manifesto, we conditionally said what deal we would accept when it came back.
We have now got to a hopeless end, and it is a hopeless end. To lose by 230 votes eight weeks ago and then to lose by 149 votes is a hopeless end. The Government cannot just blame others for that; they need to look at themselves and ask why it happened. In those circumstances, both the things that we ruled out in our manifesto—the Prime Minister’s red lines and no deal—are the only things on the table, which is why we support a public vote, to protect against those outcomes. I am proud that we are doing that at this stage in the exercise, and it is obvious why we need to do so.
All of us who believe in a people’s vote are grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend—he is my friend, in a legal sense—for what he has said. Were such an amendment to be tabled, would he and his party now support it and get a people’s vote up and running?
Two weeks ago on Monday, the Leader of the Opposition made it clear that we would support an amendment to that end or put one forward ourselves. Obviously, the timing depends on discussions across the House and with others, but that is the clear position that we have put down.
I am aware that other Members wish to intervene. I am not being rude, but I really must press on.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to intervene?
I will give way to the hon. Lady, for obvious reasons.
That is very gracious of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and no surprise; it is characteristic of him. He has been a great friend to Northern Ireland. He mentioned Northern Ireland earlier in his comments, but he did not spend enough time talking about his assessment of the constitutional risk faced by Northern Ireland if—heaven forbid—the United Kingdom were to leave the European Union without a deal. Will he reflect upon his assessment of that risk?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the opportunity to do so, because there is high anxiety in Northern Ireland, and indeed across Ireland as a whole—across all different communities—about the prospect of no deal. The people of Northern Ireland know that the open border is a manifestation of peace, and there is great concern that if anything happens at the border, that could put back the good work that has been done over the past 20 years. That anxiety is being debated while some of those elected to this House are not here to make known the views of those whom they were elected to represent. I do not say one way or another whether that voice should be here, but it is not in this debate. The Northern Ireland Executive are not functioning, so the constitutional circumstances that prevail in Northern Ireland, for a variety of reasons—I am casting no judgment—are such that there could hardly be a worse time to have this discussion. It has turned into a discussion about the very future of the island of Ireland. That is why I am impatient with those who think that we could somehow deal with the issue with a drone and a camera, because we could not.
I am grateful for that opportunity to speak about Northern Ireland, but I must now press on and talk about the impact on health matters.
A no-deal would have a huge impact on our health service. It would put real strain on an already underfunded NHS, by disrupting medical supplies, access to medicines and the ability of hospitals to hire staff. Niall Dixon, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, has said:
“A ‘no-deal’ without alternative arrangements to protect patients is simply not acceptable and could put lives at risk.”
No, I am going to make progress.
Farming would also be badly hit. The National Farmers Union has been clear—I think it set this out this morning—that the proposed tariff regime would be a disaster for UK agriculture, stating that
“everything must to be done to avoid a no deal Brexit, and the catastrophic impact this could have on British farming.”
I am not quoting the voices of politicians here; I am quoting the voices of those in the field in each of these areas.
Finally, as if the Transport Secretary has not struggled enough already, imagine how he would deal with a no-deal scenario, which would bring chaos to transport. Hauliers would face hours of delay as new checks would be put in place at borders, and family holidays could be jeopardised by a no-deal Brexit as British travel companies lose their current access and rights.
I am going to make some progress.
For all those reasons and more, Labour will act tonight and oppose no deal. We support amendment (a), tabled by the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), because we believe that it is the cleanest and clearest way for the House to express its opposition to no deal.
We recognise, however, that simply opposing no deal is not the end of the story. It is necessary but it is not sufficient. The House needs to have a chance to debate the steps necessary to move forward, and I think there is growing consensus that that needs to happen. The Labour party supports a close economic relationship with the EU and, as I have just said, we also support a public vote.
I give way to the former Attorney General, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve).
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the difficulty with the Government’s motion is that it is in fact inaccurate? The fact is that the default position, indeed, applies only if we do not ratify or choose to revoke, which one could do either by our own motion or after a referendum, for example. That is why—he may agree with me—suspicions have been raised in the House that the motion is slanted. That may be unintentional, but of course it is within the power of the Government potentially to remedy that with a manuscript amendment to their own motion before this debate is over.
I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s intervention and agree with his interpretation. I think it would be helpful to have the motion amended. One thing that has not helped is the House making a decision only to find weeks later that the decision we thought we had made is called into question. I invite clarity on that, so that we can express a clear view.
Further to the intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), and with a view to trying to avoid the no deal that the majority of this House want to avoid, when the Government enter into discussions about the extension of article 50, the other side will want to seek a purpose. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it would be helpful if this House expressed a view, subject to the Labour party’s public support for a public vote, in advance of the European Council on 21 March?
If the vote tonight is to reject no deal, and I think it will be, and the vote tomorrow is to seek an extension of article 50, and I think it will be, but it is only to seek an extension of article 50, the question of purpose will be absolutely central. That will be a test for the Prime Minister in the first instance, because she will have to make a decision whether that is the point at which she drops her red lines and her blinkers and opens up the debate to other options.
I want to finish this point because it is very important. The Prime Minister needs to decide, if it goes that way tomorrow, whether she is a Prime Minister who is willing and able to do that and to embrace other options, or whether she will press on only with her own deal. If she presses on with her own deal, I think we will still have to go on and look at other options and get a common purpose. If the Prime Minister forces us down that road, she will be forcing us down the road where the majority will be forcing a view on the Executive, and there are constitutional implications for that.
I accept the force of the point. The test will be tomorrow night, if it gets that far, when we hear from the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box as to what her attitude will be. If it changes from the attitude of the past two years, we might be able to proceed more quickly to find that common purpose. We need to find that purpose, we need to find a majority for it, and it needs to be a sustainable majority, not just for one night or one week. That is what we should have done two years ago.
I do not mean to pause the right hon. and learned Gentleman for too long, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) specifically asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who opened the debate, whether he would agree to revoke article 50. His answer was clear: it is not the Government’s policy to revoke. On the logic of voting to take no deal off the table and the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s policy of a referendum, if the other side—an EU country or countries or the Parliament—rejected a proposal to delay, would Labour’s policy, in extremis, then be to revoke article 50, in the sense of the question asked by my right hon. and learned Friend?
I believe in addressing each problem as it arises, but let me deal with the question of policy. The right hon. Gentleman makes it sound as if extension is a policy choice of the Labour party. It is not a policy choice of the Labour party. It is driven by necessity because of the situation we find ourselves in. We need to deal with no deal today, and with extension tomorrow.
I am going to make some progress.
No deal should never have been an option. It is the worst possible outcome. Businesses know that, unions know that, and I suspect most of the Cabinet know that. It is extraordinary that the Government have acceded to a free vote on a matter of such importance today, and for them not to have a position on whether this country should exit the EU without a deal. It is the latest evidence of the Government not governing and that they cannot act in the national interest. I urge colleagues to support amendment (a). We can speak clearly and with one voice that this House will not accept leaving the EU without a deal, and we can bury that so deep that I hope it never resurfaces.
It is almost three years since we had the referendum, and we have reached this extraordinary moment. Effectively, we are back to square one. There is absolutely no consensus within the Government, within the main Opposition party, within this Parliament or among the public on exactly what leave means. We are having to have a debate today on the question whether, after three years of futility, in 16 days’ time we just give up and leave and see what happens, although many of us know and fear the combination of things that are likely to happen if we do so.
This is bizarre because it is also still not totally clear how, if the House votes as I think it will by a large majority to rule out no deal tonight, we propose to guarantee that we deliver that conclusion. It sounds as though more attempts will be made to reach an agreement. I have voted for it twice, but the Government’s withdrawal agreement is dead in the water. Any kind of agreement must now find alternative routes.
We will get there somehow in 16 days. Tomorrow, we will probably vote for an extension, but we have to be clear: extension for how long, and extension what for? The whole thing is dependent on 27 other Governments, all of whom are fed up to the back teeth with the state of British politics, and with trying to negotiate with a British Government who cannot say what they want because they cannot even agree internally on what they want. We depend on the approval of those 27 countries to avoid this disaster, so as we debate no deal, we must consider further things.
The Father of the House signed amendment (b) with me. Is not the reality of the situation that the only two choices in the hands of this Parliament are no deal—walking over the cliff—or revocation, a luxury that exists for only another 16 days because after 29 March it is gone too? The only certain choices are those two choices.
We have 16 days left. The hon. Gentleman and I have tabled an amendment that faces up to something that I think very few Members are facing up to. I have discovered in a fortnight that things change very rapidly—I did not anticipate 16 days ago that we would be in this debate—and anybody who forecasts with confidence the state of British politics in 14 or 16 days is being a little reckless. Unless somebody has an alternative, the only way of guaranteeing not leaving with no deal is to revoke article 50, as our amendment suggests.
We will have no other method to follow. I will not go back into the legalisms. I had this discussion with the Attorney General, who kindly sent me his opinion. He is a much superior lawyer to me—I am a very out-of-date criminal lawyer—but I do not altogether agree with him. It is the advocate-general who has expressed doubt about whether we could be said to be acting in good faith if we revoked and then invoked again. I think that is very arguable. I think we would be acting in extremely good faith if we made it clear that we were in no state to leave and would invoke again if and when we decided what we were pursuing.
I really should get on. I am not a Front-Bench spokesman, and lots of people want to speak. I am tempted to give way and debate—I would like to— but, knowing myself, I know I would take too long if I did.
I do not wish to intrude on tomorrow’s debate, but we need to agree as quickly as possible what we are now seeking and the reason for the delay that I think the majority of the House is going to seek. It is important that we do that. Not only is opinion polarised here—lots of factions are pursuing their own preferred ways—but the public are even more polarised than at the time of the referendum. They hold the House in near contempt for the confusion they see, and the sooner we decide what the majority here wish to pursue as an alternative to leaving without a deal, the better, and to do that we may need some time. I have been calling for indicative votes for a very long time, and the Government have been resisting and avoiding them. The only way to proceed now is to explore and demonstrate the view of the House.
I have a suggestion for what might placate the public, satisfy a lot of leavers and remainers and command majority support across the House. If I was outside speaking on a public platform to a less well-informed audience, I would suggest reverting to leaving the political European Union and staying in the common market, which nowadays means the customs union and the single market, or something very much like it. I think that quite a lot of the public thought that that was what they were voting for when they voted leave. If we put that proposition to the public now, it certainly would not be as polarising as some of the arguments we are having inside and outside this House, which are having such a dramatic and catastrophic effect on the nation’s political dialogue.
The Father of the House is making the case for membership of the customs union and single market while being outside the EU. Isn’t the problem with that approach that we would have no decision-making rights over any trade deals that the customs union might agree or over single market regulations to which we might be subject?
I am being drawn outside this debate. The best deals with other countries are achieved through the EU—that is the basis on which British Government have proceeded for years—and it is a disaster that we are in danger in 16 days of falling out of some of the most favourable trade deals, which the British Government have played a part in negotiating. I think that if we insist on that proviso, and if we insist on tackling the problem of our no longer being directly part of a regulation-making power, we are powerful enough to be allowed more consultation than countries that are outside the EU and are part of, say, the European Free Trade Association or European economic area arrangements. We have to tackle the problems that arise from the fact that we are giving in to the idea of leaving the European Union politically, and leaving its institutions.
I think that these problems are grossly exaggerated. I have never heard anyone argue against the EU trade deals that we have with other countries. The Japanese deal was a tremendous stride forward. It is the biggest free trade agreement in the world, and we are about to fall out of it after only a month or so. We talk about losing our powers, and about the threat posed to our sovereignty by the fact that we are not allowed to pass our own different laws on product quality, consumer protection, health and safety, animal welfare and the licensing of products, but I have yet to hear a Brexiteer advocate the reversal of any European regulation that we have passed so far. Members of the public tend to demand higher regulatory standards, and I am lobbied for new regulation more than I ever am for sweeping away what we have.
If the virtue of no deal is meant to be leaving to have a trade agreement with, say, the United States, I can tell the House that I have been involved in trade negotiations with the United States under President Obama, and it is protectionist. The Americans are not dying to open up any of their market to us; they will want us to open up our food market to them. We will not be making regulations here. The Americans will not let the House of Commons decide on animal welfare or food standards. Those are nothing to do with us. We made an agreement. The House of Representatives and the Senate, along with the powerful American food lobby, will decide what the welfare standards for animals and the standards for food should be. We will not get a trade deal with the United States unless we agree to that.
I am being drawn into the merits of the basic argument, but I think it should be underlined that we must look at realistic alternatives to no deal. No deal was not being advocated by anyone at the time of the referendum. I do not think that it was being advocated by more than a handful of people until a month or two ago. Most Brexiteers were not in favour of it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is nodding. Even those who campaigned for us to leave were not campaigning for us to leave with no trade arrangement with our greatest partner. This is just an accident that has loomed because the House of Commons is not able, and the Government are not able, to solve problems in a way that we can agree with the other 27. We are drifting into it, which will be a catastrophe.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I am going to be very brief—as brief as I can be. I have already taken longer than I intended.
The argument is that these matters were settled by the referendum, but one of the problems is that the debate at the time of the referendum does not resemble the debates that we keep having, with ever more frequency, in the House. That is not because we are out of touch with the real world. It is because the referendum was conducted in the most bizarre, broad-brush terms, with the leading figures on both sides using ridiculous or dishonest arguments in order to make their case, which had nothing whatever to do with the merits or otherwise of being in the European Union.
Remainers, I am afraid—the key remainers, David Cameron and George Osborne—decided to raise all those fears of immediate catastrophe, which did not actually materialise. That has led people now to say that every future warning from every major business lobby in the country, from the Treasury, from the Government and from everyone else is to be ignored. That is a classic case of crying wolf: one day the wolf actually arrives, and we cannot conduct the government of this country on the basis that we ignore every expert piece of opinion we have, which most of us in fact agree with because we think their warnings are correct.
The referendum gets invoked in all our other debates, too. When I ask my constituents who are leavers—most of them, I am glad to say, voted remain—it is clear that the idea that they were expressing a view on the Irish border and the problems of the Good Friday agreement when they voted to leave, or that most of them were expressing any opinion on the single market or the customs union, is absolute nonsense. Indeed when I talk to members of the public now—who are all expressing anger about the state of affairs we are in—they are still not lobbying me about the Irish border and the single market and all the rest of it. We are having to be engaged in this because our duty is governance; our duty is the medium and longer term better governance of this country, and we have to address the real world of a globalised economy and today’s systems of regulation and the international order in which we have to earn our living against a background of bewildering technological change.
All the arguments about the damage to business and the threat to Ireland, including its constitutional position, and so on have already been addressed by others and I have agreed with every word that has been said. However, I want briefly to give my reaction to that handful—I think it is no more—of Members who seem to think now that no deal is positively desirable and that it is an objective we should have sought from the first. They make it sound very respectable by describing it as “WTO rules”, but I strongly suspect that many who argue that point had scarcely heard of the WTO at the time of the referendum, and I do not think most of them understand what WTO rules actually comprise. I will not go into too much detail, not least because I have not refreshed my own memory too greatly, but there is no developed country in the world that seeks to trade in today’s globalised economy only on WTO rules. They are a fall-back that cover all that international trade that is not governed by recognised free trade agreements. They are designed to ensure that there is no discrimination among countries with which we do not have an agreement. That is why they require a schedule of tariffs, to be accepted by the WTO, and then those tariffs to be imposed on all those countries with which there is no agreement. That means the EU is obliged by WTO rules, now much loved by Brexiteers, to impose the same tariffs on us that it imposes on other third party countries, and we are obliged to impose the same schedule of tariffs on the EU and all other countries with which we do not have a deal.
There are WTO rules that do not allow countries to abdicate a thing like the Irish border. We cannot say we are not going to put any border posts in, so we are going to have organised smuggling become the major industry of the island because we have no idea how we are going to enforce it all. Not only would the Republic be under great pressure from the rest of the EU, but WTO rules would require us to co-operate with policing our border, collecting tariffs, regulatory checks, customs checks and all the rest.
My main worry, however, is not entirely about these short-term consequences, catastrophic though they would be for some sections of our economy including agriculture and the motor industry. My main worry is that, whatever happens in the global economy, the effect of leaving with no deal in the medium and long term and on the comparative economic strength of this country will be that we and the next generation will be made poorer than we would otherwise be. That will be the result if we cannot move away from this no deal nonsense, and I hope a big majority settles that tonight.
Finally, I just want to be totally clear what the Government’s intentions and motives now are. I hope I have been reassured that, if we pass this motion tonight, the Government will in all circumstances take whatever steps it is eventually necessary to take in 16 days’ time to avoid our leaving with no deal. I do not want them to come back in a fortnight’s time saying to the House, “It’s your fault, because you will not vote for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, so sadly we are going to have to leave with no deal.” We are ruling this out. That really means having indicative votes to give us some idea of what the British are going to negotiate over the next two or three years. Failing that, it means revoking article 50. Speaking as someone who is a diehard European—
My right hon. and learned Friend and I do not agree on referendums, but we agree on practically everything else. As he is a close political ally and a good friend of mine, I shall give way to him.
In the spirit of trying to encourage the Government to be clear with the House, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the difficulty with the Government’s motion is that the revocation route is not acknowledged? The Government may not want it, and of course there are different ways of reaching it—one is through a referendum; another is through a revocation by this House alone—but the difficulty with the Government’s motion as tabled is that it pretends that that route does not exist. It seems to emphasise a binary choice. Does he therefore agree that getting clarity on that, and possibly a correction, would be immeasurably helpful? Otherwise, it gives the impression that the Government are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend entirely. I have no idea why the Government thought it necessary to put the second half of the motion on the Order Paper. I have been reassured, however, so let me try to reassure him on this. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State opened the debate, he referred several times to revocation as the alternative—he is now nodding in the affirmative—and I think that if forced to do so, he would revoke. I take comfort from remembering the Prime Minister occasionally saying—normally to the right-wing nationalist members of my party—that if they were not careful, the alternative to her deal would be no Brexit, which amounts to the same thing. I would prefer the wording on the Order Paper to make it perfectly clear that we are ruling out no deal, but I take it that we have been given a guarantee that if no one can think of any better and more sensible way of resolving things, we are going to revoke article 50 and start all over again, because as I said when I began, we have got absolutely nowhere after three years of effort since the vote was announced.
It is always a privilege to follow the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I also join the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) in wishing the Prime Minister a speedy recovery. We entirely understand why she is not here for the debate, and, fair play to her, she came along and did Prime Minister’s questions as well as spending time at the Dispatch Box yesterday. It was good to note that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said so many kind words about her, but then again, the Tories are often kind about those who used to lead them.
What a situation to be in—debating a no-deal exit. Next week, we will be 1,000 days on from the EU referendum. Today, we are 993 days on from it and, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe rightly pointed out, 16 days away from exit day. It is a shame that the International Trade Secretary has left the Chamber, because Vote Leave backers told us that this would be the easiest deal in the world and that we had nothing to worry about. Well, like much else from those who backed leave, those promises were not kept. It is good that the DEFRA Secretary is in his place, because he must take a huge degree of responsibility for the mess that we are in today. Not only has he had the 1,000 days since the referendum; he has had his entire political life to plan for this, yet 16 days out, we are planning for the worst kind of exit—the kind that we were told would never happen because this would be the easiest deal in history.
Can the hon. Gentleman think of any circumstance in which a consent form would be valid if it were signed 1,000 days beforehand without the signatories knowing the exact procedure to which they were giving their consent?
The hon. Lady makes a valuable point, as she often does.
Before an election or referendum, we are expected to publish manifestos, White Papers and discussion papers—you name it—so that those who win can be held to account for the promises they made, critically, before any vote was cast. That is a fundamental of our democracy. The mess that we are in just now—and it is a mess—shows why Brexiteers such as the DEFRA Secretary avoided scrutiny during the EU referendum. Then, after being presented with the cold, hard reality in government by civil servants who work hard and present the facts, the promises were denied, often by those who used to be in post, including some of the DEFRA Secretary’s former colleagues.
In the few examples where we have some concrete proposals, the promises were not kept. I am not just talking about the extra £350 million for our NHS that was never forthcoming, because the DEFRA Secretary himself promised that Scotland would get immigration powers. We need those powers, which would be good for our nation and good for the economy. I have raised that matter in the House on several occasions, as have my right hon. and hon. Friends and others, yet we are told that it is not a matter for the Government. The DEFRA Secretary is a senior Minister. If we cannot hold him to account, who do we hold to account for the promises that were made and broken? Who do we hold to account for Vote Leave? That is a basic part of our democracy, and our democracy has been let down badly. This is a situation of his making and he is responsible.
I was late to emojis, but they have come in handy. I do not know where I would be without the unicorn emoji. Any right-thinking politician worth their salt will have found it extraordinarily handy during this debate. It is the must have accessory for a decent-thinking politician in 2019. Here is a lesson: politics is about each and everyone one of us taking responsibility.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will give way to my hon. Friend, who is good example of that lesson.
The DEFRA Secretary has told me from the Dispatch Box on at least a couple of occasions that other European countries will be looking enviously at the United Kingdom’s withdrawal agreement. That can surely no longer be the case, so does my hon. Friend think that that may explain why the Secretary of State was so unwilling to take interventions from me and so many of our SNP colleagues today?
This is the thing: just like that promise, every other promise fails to stand up to scrutiny, which is exactly why the DEFRA Secretary would not take any interventions from SNP Members. We have a clear position and know what we want, and the DEFA Secretary should be ashamed of the role played by Vote Leave and the promises that have not been kept.
The DEFRA Secretary also said that the House has been good at saying no. I want to remind him and other Members about something to do with taking responsibility. After the vote, the Scottish Government took the responsible step and put together a group of experts—the SNP still thinks that it is worth listening to experts from time to time—including diplomats, academics, colleagues from other political parties with something to say and a former European Court of Justice judge, to consider the ways forward, and they came up with a compromise deal two and a half years ago. Did the Government respond to that deal? Nothing of the sort. It was the most thought-out plan for this mess and certainly a lot more than we have had so far. No wonder, then, that we are talking about no deal. The House should reflect on that and think about the economic disaster and the social impact on the future opportunities of our young people. Almost 1,000 days on, we are still discussing a no-deal scenario that should have been taken off the table the day after the referendum.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case. Does he agree that to be prepared to deliberately and willingly inflict no deal on the people of this country, given all the hardship and chaos that it would cause, is really the action of a rogue state? It is bewildering that some Conservative Members still think that Brussels will be intimated by the sight of us putting a gun to our own head. That strategy is not effective.
As usual, the hon. Lady makes an excellent point. Hers is one of the few sane voices that we have heard throughout the debate, given her interventions and the way in which she stands up for her constituents and others in the United Kingdom.
I noted the other night, with regard to the no-deal situation that we are in, that one Conservative MP—in fact, the longest-serving Conservative MP in the House—described the “headbanger” wing of the Conservative party. I am not sure what the names of the other wings are, but I was taken with that: the party’s members are talking about a headbanger wing, which must be a sizeable proportion of the party. While we are talking about no deal, I note the words of the Dutch Prime Minister, who is alleged to have said that a decision to vote for no deal was
“like the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way”.
The Chancellor seems to get this, and in his spring statement today, he talked about a smooth and orderly transition that would be threatened by no deal. He knows that it would threaten jobs and wages, yet we still debate it and we still have not ruled it out.
I am not sure which wing the Secretary of State for Scotland belongs to, whether the headbanger wing or some other wing, but he claimed the other week—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber—that the SNP wanted no deal. I do not have his experience, but I remind him that the SNP was the first to come up with a compromise, as I have outlined; we were the first to ask for an extension; and last week, we even tabled a simple parliamentary motion on ruling out no deal. I know that the Tories are trying to turn democracy on its head and claim that defeat is in fact victory, as we have just heard from the DEFRA Secretary, but that is surely a step too far. We wanted to rule out a no deal, and he could easily have voted for our simple motion.
Let me remind DEFRA Secretary—I hate to break it to him—that Tories lost the last election in Scotland, again. The SNP won the last election in Scotland, again. Guess what? Unlike the Tory party, we kept the majority of our seats, so if he wants to talk about democracy and winning, he is welcome to take some lessons from us. On negotiating tactics, if we are in a situation of no deal and hearing what the Chancellor said today, it as if the Prime Minister has shot herself in one foot, then wants to shoot herself in the other foot, just to show everyone how terribly serious we are.
Today’s trade tariffs will hit our industries, not least the food and drink industry on which jobs in my constituency and others rely and for which the DEFRA Secretary has responsibility. [Interruption.] The Trade Secretary is back. He promised that the UK would
“replicate the 40 EU free trade agreements that exist before we leave the EU so we’ve got no disruption of trade”.
Secretary of State, how is that going? Not going well? No, it is not going well, is it? This is not just a political problem for the Conservative party, as Ministers seem to suggest—it is a problem for public services; it is a problem for jobs; and it is a problem if we want to look forward to the future. It is not just a Tory civil war that is being waged among Tories—it is a problem for us all.
Can I take the hon. Gentleman back a few sentences? He discussed the general election. I do not want to delve into the success of the SNP or whatever, because he made an important point. In the 2017 general election, the Government lost their majority. Does he agree that, on that basis, they also lost any mandate for a hard, no-deal Brexit?
I hope that the right hon. Lady does not mind my saying that she and I will clash every now and again. She said the other week that there are times I might regret her sitting behind me, and she may well be right, but she makes a powerful point, one that she made on the night of the election as well. This Government lost a majority and lost support, yet they want to do untold damage. It is no wonder the DEFRA Secretary is walking away now. They want to do untold damage to jobs and the economy, and he cannot even sit here and listen. The Scottish Government have looked into this—
This will be good. Let us hear it then. If you can defend why you lost your majority and still pursue this nonsense hard-deal Brexit—
I did not lose my majority. Mine went to a record level of 25,725, albeit with no main party opponent.
The Conservative party’s share of the vote went up considerably and the Scottish National party lost a third of its seats at the last election. I wanted to raise a more serious point. The hon. Gentleman and the shadow Secretary of State have drawn attention to some of the dangers and risks of a no-deal Brexit. It is not the Government’s desire to see a no-deal Brexit, and it is not mine either. But by ruling out a no-deal exit entirely, people are, by definition, deciding either never to leave or to accept terms no matter how bad. Which of those two is the hon. Gentleman advocating?
I thought that would be good. I wish I had my democracy for dummies book here. In terms of the vote, the SNP won, the Tories lost. Let us just nail that straightaway. In terms of no-deal, the SNP tabled a motion last week that was voted on, and Members across this House voted for it. It sought to take a no-deal exit off the table in any circumstances. The hon. Gentleman could have voted for that, but did he? No chance. So he could have done it and he did not. On no deal, the Scottish Government have had the courage of their convictions and published their analysis. What we have seen from that is the devastation that the Chancellor has warned of. The hit would be the equivalent of more than £1,500 for every man, woman and child in Scotland; a drop in Scottish exports of up to 20%; a hit in migration and a hit to our EU nationals as well; opportunities gone for young people, through the lack of freedom of movement and Erasmus gone; and the UK being pushed into recession again.
Given that nearly 50% of the people across the UK voted to stay in the EU, that most businesses, if we asked them, would prefer to stay in the EU and that the Secretary of State today evoked the prosperity of this country as a member of the European Union, does the hon. Gentleman not believe it is absolutely unacceptable that staying in the EU is seen as an unpalatable option?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Staying in the EU is the best deal. The best deal is the one we currently have as a member of the European Union.
On public services, this Government are spending £4.2 billion on preparation for a no-deal exit, which we could have taken off the table 1,000 days ago. That is £4.2 billion that is not going into hard-pressed public services. It is £4.2 billion that is going into Government mess-ups—ferry contracts that we do not need. Public services will be further hit by a no-deal Brexit and overall by Brexit. This will hit the most vulnerable people in society. It will hit our public services, which have already been dealt a blow by a decade of austerity from parties of every colour in this House.
Before I conclude, I will give way one final time, to the hon. Gentleman, because I respect him.
Having said that this should have been taken off the table 1,000 days ago, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain why he put his name to a conclusion of the Foreign Affairs Committee report published two years and a day ago, which said:
“Making an equivalent mistake”—
and not preparing for no deal—
“would constitute a serious dereliction of duty by the present Administration.”
Just how much could we have saved had we taken that off the table; the Government had not taken the responsibility of taking no deal off the table as they should have done. If the hon. Gentleman wants to refer to that report, I should point out that it was also the report that said that, yes, a no-deal exit would be bad for our European partners but it would be worse for the UK. That is something he put his name to, as did other Brexiteer colleagues from across the House. This said that they would be prepared to hit the UK economy—they would be prepared for that hit—and he signed up to that very report. I know what was in that report.
It is strange that all we hear about now is not the benefits of Brexit; rather, we are limited to Ministers telling us that it will not be that bad. I heard one of the increasingly poor excuses last night, which was that we are in a Parliament of remainers. I am a remainer whose constituency and nation voted to remain, and it certainly does not feel like a Parliament of remainers to me. The extremists will never be happy.
This is about damage limitation. The Brexiteers, including the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, have blown it. I will not vote to make my constituents poorer and less well off because of their mistakes. Let me remind them that it is through the single market that we are wealthier, through its rules in areas such as workers’ rights and parental rights that we are fairer, through joint action on climate change that we are greener and through work with the European Medicines Agency, sadly departed, and air-quality agreements that we are healthier.
The impact is being felt now. Even yesterday, a report showed that £1.2 trillion—an eye-watering sum—had been relocated from the UK, mainly to areas like Dublin. It is no wonder that similar-sized independent and sovereign states such as Denmark, Ireland and Finland see their futures as part of the European Union.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) will press her amendment to a vote tonight. That is important because we need to have no deal taken off the table, given the untold damage that it will do to public services and to our democracy. We have two different views. One is of a state being like our neighbours, and being joined, pooling our sovereignty and working together as an independent sovereign state. The other is of a UK that is isolationist, poorer, more remote and going backwards. Nothing emphasises that more than the fact that the Government have not taken no deal off the table. Let us push the amendment and take no deal off the table tonight.
Order. We have just over an hour and a half and around 35 people want to speak, so there will with immediate effect, I am afraid, be a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
Last night, I voted in support of the Prime Minister’s deal to deliver Brexit. The deal would mean the UK would leave in an orderly fashion, honouring the result of the referendum. It was described as “good enough” by local businesses and would help us to move forward, so I was really disappointed that not enough colleagues supported it. I am no fan of delay, because time costs business money and that costs jobs. People really expect better of Parliament. Many people will be listening to us this afternoon, and I think of those who will hear us trying to rehash the referendum arguments or start up the blame game. None of it is helpful. They want us to put the national interest first. We must honour the referendum result, but to do so without a deal in place would be, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said, a moral and political failure.
A constituent who lives in Chelmsley Wood, a large council estate in my constituency, wrote to me yesterday. This is what he said:
“Tonight I am in disbelief how 391 MPs have a complete disregard towards the will of the British people and over 17.4 million votes in 2016…I wish you could read this email in parliament. I have some strong points as a citizen of this country, the public ‘17.4 million’ we are nobodies, we do not matter, we are just a tax code number, we do not count, we do not have any rights in our democracy and our democracy in this country is now proven to be dead.”
These are his words.
“There is constant talk of a 2nd referendum…or no Brexit at all…In 2016 I and all my family voted in the referendum. We were promised this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and more importantly our vote mattered. The UK had the biggest turn out in history with over 17.4 million giving the instruction to leave the EU…Mrs Spelman I can tell you this (and wish you could read it to all MPs), I’m done with voting. As are my family and in conversation on social media tonight many of my friends are done with voting too.”
This constituent has never contacted me before. I do not agree with everything that he has said, but, my goodness, those words did resonate. I may not agree with him, but I do believe that if this House cannot back a deal that takes us out of the EU, we will be letting millions of ordinary people down. Quite frankly, we do not deserve their votes if we do that.
The House knows that I do not support the UK leaving without a deal in place. It would be disastrous for the economy, especially in my region. The manufacturing industry employs very many people in the west midlands and has given many young people that start of a well-paid skilled job. We are already losing jobs in my region, in part through Brexit. Now, more so than ever before, we face the real possibility that we might leave without a deal by accident. If that comes to pass, we will all bear some responsibility.
The Secretary of State for the Environment did set out clearly what the consequences are of leaving without a deal and it was good to hear that from him. The stark reality of this is revealed by the Government proposals on temporary tariffs if we leave without a deal. Already the automotive sector is telling me that this regime would thoroughly undermine manufacturing in the UK. It said that the proposed rates are
“damaging, divisive and add extra complexity.”
Of these proposed tariffs, the automotive trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said that the move does not resolve the devastating effect of a no-deal Brexit on the automotive industry. No duty-based measures could come close to compensating for the disruption, the cost and the job losses.
This House has demonstrated clearly that there is a majority against leaving without a deal. The Government accepted that and said that they cannot take us out of the EU without a deal without the explicit consent of Parliament. I am really pleased that the Prime Minister has brought forward a motion to rule out leaving without a deal on 29 March.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I cannot give way because of the time limit.
The opportunity afforded by the Government motion of obtaining a really large majority in this House against a no-deal Brexit is greater than that afforded by my amendment, which was carried on 29 January. I really appreciate the offers of support from other parties, but I will be withdrawing my amendment. We cannot just be against something; we must say what we are in favour of. I hope that the result of tonight’s vote on the Government motion will reassure my constituent that we have heard him and that we are capable of working together to deliver his hopes for our nation.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I will come to the right hon. Lady’s point of order in a minute.
May I gently say to the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) that she cannot withdraw her amendment? Her amendment has not yet been moved. Her amendment is, frankly, in the hands of the House of Commons. If she puts forward an amendment and then chooses not to move it, that is for her judgment and people will make their own assessment of that. It is perfectly possible for other signatories to it who do stick with the wish to persist with it to do so.
I come now to the point of order of the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).
No? I have treated of the point that was concerning the right hon. Lady.
I am very glad to hear it.
Yesterday, the House rejected the Prime Minister’s deal for the second time. Today, we must reject leaving with no deal, and tomorrow, assuming that we vote that way tonight, we will have to ask the European Union for an extension to article 50.
Today is the moment when two and a half years of repetition of that nonsensical slogan “No deal is better than a bad deal” will finally be defeated in its fight against reality. It was always a slogan; it was never a policy. That is why the Prime Minister will have to vote against her own slogan when she comes to the Division Lobby tonight.
The arguments for rejecting no deal are really very simple: it would inflict the greatest damage on our economy; it is strongly opposed by businesses and trade unions; and it would mean a huge step into the unknown, the chaotic and the potentially dangerous.
I will give way once.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can explain why five of his remainer colleagues serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee signed up to this conclusion two years ago:
“It is possible to envisage scenarios in which ‘no deal’ might be better than a bad deal, as the Government has suggested; such as, for example, if the eventual proposed agreement only involves payment of a large sum to the EU in settlement of UK liabilities, with no provisions for any preferential trade arrangements or transitional arrangements towards a mutually beneficial future relationship.”
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I cannot speak for those colleagues. My view has consistently been clear that no deal cannot be a policy for this country. By the way, no deal is not what those who campaigned for leave in the referendum ever argued for, so I do not quite understand why someone should now be arguing for it when they did not argue for it then. No one who has spoken so far—I am not talking about intervening—has stood up and argued why no deal would be a good idea. It is not surprising why they have not. In responding to the schedules that have been published, Carolyn Fairbairn said this morning:
“This tells us everything that is wrong with a no-deal scenario…This is no way to run a country.”
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said:
“No-deal would be catastrophic for the automotive industry. It would end frictionless trade, add billions to the cost of manufacturing and cost jobs.”
We know why.
I will not give way, because time is so short. We know that if there is any disruption to the lorries that keep those car factories going every single day, it will affect the production line. The car industry has had enough bad news in the past two months without it being added to by people standing up saying, “No deal is a jolly good idea.”
A professor from one of our major institutions of higher education, whom I happened to bump into on the underground this morning, said to me that no deal would be “catastrophic” for the institution, its research funding and its ability to recruit staff. The truth is that these conversations are repeated in thousands of workplaces up and down the country, in thousands of sectors of the economy. That is why the twelfth report of the Brexit Select Committee said explicitly that leaving with no deal
“cannot constitute the policy of any responsible Government.”
If Members want to read the argument, they can go and look at that report, but I draw attention to the problem faced by a company that makes signs and exports them to Europe to be fitted by its workers. The company asked me what would happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I have referred to that in a previous speech. Since then, I asked a written question, to which I received the answer:
“UK nationals travelling to the EU for the purposes of work may be subject to extra conditions. Businesses will need to check individual Member State immigration rules for whether there are any requirements or conditions around supporting documentation, work permits or visas. Businesses should also check whether there are any restrictions on the provision of services, such as whether a UK professional qualification is recognised in the country in question.”
What use is that reply to a business that has worked hard to create jobs? There are those in this House who will stand up today and argue that that business’s future should be thrown into doubt, but what use is an answer like that? It basically says, “You’re on your own.”
The final point I want to make is this: given what happened yesterday, today’s vote is the next step required before tomorrow’s inevitable decision to apply for an extension to article 50, which the Brexit Select Committee report—it was published this morning with commendable speed after the events of last night—says will be necessary. Given the rather unhelpful coda, if I may put it that way, to the Government’s motion tonight, I think the House will vote to reject a no-deal Brexit on 29 March this evening, but Ministers need to recognise, be aware of and acknowledge that this House will never vote to leave the European Union without a deal, whether at the end of March, the end of June or the end of October. We are not prepared to take that risk with our economy, our jobs and the livelihoods of the people we represent—not today and not ever.
Amendment (f) stands in my name and the names of an eclectic and wide-ranging group of right hon. and hon. Friends from three separate parties. Many of us have perhaps not found ourselves signing amendments together much in the past. The purpose of the amendment is manifold, but one of its purposes is to avoid what may face us at the end of this month—a cliff-edge, no-deal Brexit for which it is clear that the country as a whole and, in particular, many of our major industries are not prepared, as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has just repeated.
I am conscious that some who will support this amendment are sanguine about an immediate no-deal Brexit, so I should set out my own position. I think that no deal on 29 March would be a disaster for the economy of the country, a particular threat to manufacturing industry, and, in practical terms, a particular threat to the day-to-day lives of my constituents and everyone else in east Kent. That is why I oppose it.
I have the utmost respect for my right hon. Friend, but I will be opposing his amendment. Is it not somewhat strange that the very people who voted last night to kill Brexit for 29 March this year are now signed up to voting, and will vote this evening, to delay Brexit? This will only be the first delay, of course, because there will potentially be others in future. We are in a very strange place at the moment.
The one point in that intervention I agreed with is that we are in a very strange place at the moment. I think the whole House can agree with that.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will allow one more intervention—the hon. Lady.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. I would like him to explain in some detail whether or not the proposals that he is asking the House to vote on tonight protect the Good Friday/Belfast agreement in all its parts, and particularly the consent principle, which is guaranteed in the withdrawal agreement—the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal—on page 307.
That is an extremely valid point. I believe that they do. I will come on to what is actually in the amendment shortly, if I may.
As I hope I have made clear, I am as keen as anyone to reject an immediate no deal. I will support the Government’s motion this evening. Indeed, this amendment is deliberately designed not to replace the Government’s motion, as many amendments do, but to act in addition to it. But this House should not deceive itself. Voting against no deal does not mean that a deal will magically emerge. This House has to agree a deal, and that deal needs to be acceptable to the EU. We can pass motions ruling out no deal until we are blue in the face, but it will make no difference unless there are options that this House will support. That is a piece of realism that the House has not yet fully addressed. I voted for the deal last night, and indeed in January, and I am happy to assure the Government that I will do so again if they wish to try one more time.
More broadly, I campaigned for remain, but I respect the result of the referendum. I therefore draw the conclusion that I should vote for a deal that delivers Brexit. My principal aim in all this, and the aim of those of us who support this amendment, is to make sure that Brexit is as smooth as possible for the citizens and businesses of this country. This seems to me to be an honourable aim whatever view you took during the referendum. It is a view you can hold if you believe that Brexit is the best opportunity Britain has had for generations, or if you believe that it is a mistake whose damage has to be mitigated. From both those viewpoints, you can arrive at the same practical conclusion.
That practical conclusion is what lies behind amendment (f). It has four separate parts. I was grateful that the Prime Minister accepted at least two of them in full earlier today at Prime Minister’s questions.
The first one that the Prime Minister accepted, and which the Government have already implemented, is the publication of the tariff schedules that we will need. I make no comment on the individual merits of each schedule—those are clearly a matter for legitimate debate—but the need for information as early as possible is paramount, and I am glad that the Government have taken that step, which is urged in the amendment. The second one is unilaterally guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens resident here. That has been a desire of Members on both sides of the House since the referendum, and I am glad that the Government are on board with that.
The third key element of the amendment is that the Government should seek an extension of article 50 until 22 May—the latest date possible to avoid European elections, the prospect of which brings out the Brenda from Bristol in all of us. That would be a useful delay, and it would give business more time to prepare for the new tariff regime.
The fourth and largest part of the proposal is to offer money and standstill agreements in a range of areas to the EU, in return for a period between now and December 2021 in which we could negotiate the future relationship. In other words, it provides a gentle glide path to that new relationship, instead of the cliff edge that might otherwise threaten us. The future relationship is, of course, much more important than the withdrawal agreement, which this House keeps turning down. It will decide our future prosperity and security. This amendment focuses on that long-term goal, given the obvious difficulties of the short-term goal of a withdrawal agreement.
I know the objections; I have heard them. The first is that Monsieur Barnier has already said that he will not have it. It seems to me that if we do not proceed on a path just because Michel Barnier has said he will not have it, we will never get anywhere in these negotiations. The second is that this is a managed no deal. As I say, I would much prefer a deal, but if we cannot sign one, it is better to have a plan B that avoids chaos and gives us years to craft a proper trade deal as part of a future relationship.
I urge colleagues on all sides, whatever their views on wider European issues, to look favourably on this amendment. We live in a free vote world these days, so if necessary, they should ignore their Whips—they can be nice to them tomorrow. We need ways out of this impasse. This is one.
We have only two weeks to go, and businesses do not know whether they need to pay tariffs. We do not know whether public services will face shortages, and families do not know whether their food bills are about to go up. Nobody can plan. As the British Retail Consortium said today, there are ships already on their way to our great trading nation that do not know what kind of customs paperwork they will face by the time they arrive on our shores.
Police officers who are midway through important investigations to stop serious criminals and organised gangs operating across borders have no idea whether the European arrest warrants they have out on those criminals are about to ripped up, which would mean they had to start again. Border officials who rely on European criminal databases to screen, with the flick of a passport, for sex offenders, child traffickers or organised criminals do not know whether those databases will be denied to them.
We should be standing up for British manufacturing and ensuring that it has a level playing field to compete in the world. Instead, no deal would be a hammer blow to the heart of our manufacturing base. In my constituency, we have manufacturers such as Haribo, which depends on ingredients from abroad and does not know what delays it will face; and Burberry, which does not know whether its goods will face tariffs as a result of no deal. Are we really going to say to small businesses that depend on imports that their livelihoods could be at stake because this House is prepared to accept no deal in just two weeks’ time? Think of the florist who gets up early in the morning to collect a delivery, before any of us are even awake, who does not know whether they will be able to get their supplies and whether they will be able to trade. That is why we have a responsibility to say that we will not accept no deal on 29 March.
The Government have tried repeatedly to get their deal through, and they have failed, so we have to face up to what the default position should now be. The Environment Secretary said very clearly in his answer to me that, if we do not have a deal in place, the vote tonight will mean that the default position is no longer leaving the European Union with no deal on 29 March. I would really appreciate it if the International Trade Secretary could confirm that when he speaks tonight, because there have been different and confused interpretations, and it is really important to be clear.
The reason why we asked for and sought these debates was to be clear. We have a responsibility now—two weeks before Brexit day—to be clear about the default position. The Government have maintained for all this time that the default position is no deal, but that is not on any more. We have to decide now and vote tonight to change the default position: to say that we will no longer have no deal as the default position because it is too irresponsible. Tomorrow, we will take decisions on the way forward.
For clarification and for the benefit of many of us in the House who want to support amendment (a)—the right hon. Lady is one of the lead names on that amendment—will she be pushing it to a vote this evening?
I have listened to the hon. Lady, and I have to say that I still support that amendment, which I think is the right amendment. I think we should hear the views of the House and the view of the International Trade Secretary, but my personal view is that, if that amendment is pushed to a vote, I will certainly vote for it. The International Trade Secretary needs to make this clear. We do not want any fudging about this, because it is really important. We are today ruling out no deal on 29 March. That has to be the purpose of our vote, with support for it from all parts of this House.
We will then need to move to the issue of what happens tomorrow on the extension of article 50. That has to be an extension for a purpose. It cannot simply be for more of the same, with the Prime Minister going back to Brussels, saying the same things about changing the backstop and having the same discussions we have already had many times before. We cannot just have the same meaningful vote on the same things when they have been rejected, so it has to be for something different. I would say to the Government that I think they should now put forward a timetable and a process to make some proper decisions on what the future partnership will look like. We still have no idea whether this is going to be Norway or Canada, or nearly Norway or close to Canada. We have no idea, and the Government have never come forward with that so that we can have proper debates and proper clarification.
Two big failings underlie what the Government have done: they have never sought consensus—the Prime Minister has never sought consensus and never sought to build agreement—and the Prime Minister has never sought clarity. She has deliberately sought a political declaration which simply fudges the future and gives us no clarity. We need clarity and we need consensus. That is why we should have a series of indicative votes. The Government should themselves put forward their own negotiating mandate for the future partnership and the future relationship, which we can then again have votes on and amend. That would actually give this House the chance to make some decisions about how we get clarity on the way forward, and also about how we get consensus on the way forward.
Whatever our different views about what the right position should be, I hope that this whole House can come together to rule out no deal. The Government’s basic responsibility is to keep this country safe, to make sure people can afford their food bills and to make sure that those who are sick can get their medicines. All of those are put at risk if there is no deal, and we should reject it tonight.
Order. On account of the level of interest in the debate and my desire to accommodate it as best I can, the time limit on Back-Bench speeches will have to be reduced to four minutes with immediate effect.
I resigned from the Government two weeks ago over the issues that we will be debating in the days ahead. Since Parliament has now taken direct control of events and decisions in this negotiation, I wanted to be free to participate in that debate and to make the case publicly on the Back Benches that I have made privately within the Government over the past year.
I fear that Parliament has set us on a dangerous course. We are in real danger, today, of signalling to the European Union and others that we are too scared to leave without a deal and, tomorrow, of ordering the Prime Minister to go on her hands and knees, and cap in hand, to Brussels—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not give way.
We may be ordering the Prime Minister to go cap in hand to the European Union to beg for an extension to article 50, and we do not know what counter-offer it may make. It may demand that that extension must be for two years, and it may demand a large financial charge for that extension. It may even say that it will not give an extension, but that it is open to us to revoke article 50. Members in this House may face a very difficult, very uncomfortable decision in just a couple of weeks’ time.
I believe that we must be willing, if necessary, to take our freedom first and talk afterwards. We know that the European Union—I worked closely in a lot of the preparations for no deal—is already seeking what is, in effect, an informal nine-month understanding.
There have been a number of points over the past two years when I think the Government could have reappraised their approach to the negotiations. Personally, it became clear to me a year ago, at the point at which the implementation period was agreed, that our negotiations were getting into a little bit of trouble, and that we were in danger of drifting along a path of least resistance, only to find that we had an agreement that Parliament would not accept. At about that time, something else interesting happened.
I am extremely and sincerely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can I take it that he has made a point of speaking to the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who has warned consistently about the dangers of no deal, of a hard Brexit and of a hard border on the island of Ireland?
I have not spoken to the Chief Constable, but I have been involved in a lot of other negotiations on the DEFRA front.
On 22 March last year, when I was visiting Oslo for some fisheries negotiations, our then ambassador to Norway told me that she had had a busy week, because she had been placed on standby by the Foreign Office to deliver a letter by hand to the Norwegian Government giving 12 months’ notice of our intention to quit the EEA. In the end she was stood down, because of the transition agreement, and this country took a conscious decision not to give notice of an intention to quit the EEA.
That made me curious, because up until that point, and indeed since, the Government have always maintained that when we leave the EU our agreement under the EEA will automatically fall away. If that were true, and if it were the only possible interpretation of the EEA treaty, why was our ambassador armed with that letter to deliver to the Norwegian Government? After much probing, I established that there is indeed more than one interpretation that could be adopted, and the Foreign Office was concerned that, in the absence of giving that notice, we could be subject to challenge under the Vienna convention.
For me, that opened the prospect of a different approach: relying on our existing EEA membership, asserting our rights under that treaty, and simply applying to join the EFTA pillar of the EEA agreement. That arrangement means we would have had no customs union; control of our fisheries and agriculture policy; an independent trade policy; no need for an implementation period; no need for a backstop; and no need to worry about whether we have a codicil or a protocol, since we would be able to quit at any time, with 12 months’ notice in writing.
I have tremendous respect for my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and was initially very encouraged when he picked up that idea and ran with it. However, as hon. Members who know him will know, he also has a tendency to overcomplicate things, so a simple and clean EEA model that could have given us an easy pathway out of this became Norway-plus, then the customs union 2.0, and then a backstop was added as well. The result is that it has alienated many Members on the Government side of the House who might otherwise have supported it.
In conclusion, my view is that, first, we need to unhitch the customs union and the backstop from any proposal based on our existing EEA membership. That might require us to be ready to leave without an agreement. Secondly, we can dynamically align our regulations over the next nine months. Finally, we can have the dynamic alignment as a bridge to a new arrangement in which we apply to join the EFTA pillar.
As we are moving dangerously closer to Brexit day, but with no deal yet agreed, it is finally time to bust the myth of “the will of the people.” Opinion polls tell us that there is now a majority in the country in favour of staying in the EU. However, the Prime Minister and her Government insist on Brexit because they say it is the will of the people. I recently asked the Prime Minister how many of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave in 2016 voted for her deal and how many voted for no deal. She could not answer the question.
Yesterday only 242 Members voted for the Prime Minister’s deal. Today a different and probably rather smaller number will vote to leave the European Union without a deal. According to the Prime Minister’s use of language, both votes deliver the will of the people. The Brexit camp cannot agree what the will of the people is.
It is alarming that Members on the Conservative Benches have given up the argument that leaving the EU is good for the country. The only reason they put forward is that we have to respect the will of the people. Surely that means that they should support every Brexit vote, but they do not do so, and the reason for that is that they are reading into the referendum result their own opinion about Brexit, which has nothing to do with the will of the people. The will of the people is a fig leaf for Members in this House to pursue their own Brexit agenda. We need to see the mantra of the will of the people for what it is: a false argument. It is fake.
There is now a majority in the country for staying in the EU. I am on their side, along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru, the Green party and the Independent Group. We are united in our view that our future is in the European Union. We stand for peace, collaboration and solving problems together, including the big issue of climate change. Although we represent at least 50% of the people of this country, our side of the argument has been completely sidelined in the past two and a half years. It is now time for Parliament seriously to consider the possibility of staying in the European Union.
In January the Prime Minister’s deal was voted down by 230 votes. Yesterday almost the same deal was voted down by 149 votes. At least 40 Members have changed their minds within two months, not because the deal has essentially changed but because it has been clarified, amplified and explained in more detail. The 2016 referendum took place more than two and a half years ago. Many things about the EU and our membership have been clarified, amplified and explained. The people’s vote coalition on our Benches understands that in a democracy people can change their minds and have a right to do so, just like MPs in this House.
On the false pretence that it is the will of the people, let the Conservative party and the Labour party stand for Brexit. We are standing up for the UK remaining a member of the European Union and for the right of people in this country to have a final say and to change their mind if they so wish.
Clearly time is short, so I do not plan to take any interventions unless someone objects to anything important I have to say.
May I start by telling my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) how much I appreciate the time and service he gave? It is a great pity that he is no longer in post, for reasons he has made clear.
I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade, who is sitting on the Front Bench, that I clearly cannot support the idea of taking no deal off the table, because I have always believed that ultimately that is not up to us, unless, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has said, we are prepared somehow to revoke. If we are not prepared to revoke, we will put ourselves in the hands of the EU, which may decide that it does not want us to extend. Where would that leave us? It would leave us having to leave without the withdrawal agreement. The idea of no deal is a bit of a misnomer, because in actual fact a whole series of things are taking place right now in the EU and even here that amount to deals, arrangements and agreements. I will not go through the list, because time is very short.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I was not planning to give way, because others want to speak, but I will give way briefly to my hon. Friend.
During the course of the debate I have received a message from David Campbell Bannerman MEP, who says that the European Parliament in Strasbourg has today voted through no-deal measures on social security, road freight connectivity, basic air connectivity, the fishing fund, fishing vessels authorisation, railway safety and connectivity, and, on road haulage cabotage, the right for UK hauliers to operate within certain territory—and on it goes. Is it not the case that the Malthouse compromise—plan B—is emerging through the fact that both sides are taking sensible contingencies in their mutual interests?
I agree completely with my hon. Friend. That is my point on the concept of no deal versus managed exit. That is how I would refer to the process: we do it either by a completely upfront withdrawal agreement, or by a series of agreements. My point is that it is about managing the process of leaving.
That is why I put my name to amendment (f), which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green). I fully agree that it is not perfect but it seeks to find a way in which hon. Members with completely different views can come together, recognising that the people voted to leave and that our job is to deliver that. Is there a way to deliver it if there is not the chance of an agreement?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Forgive me, but I will not give way. I am sure the hon. Lady will ask the same question. The answer is that I have not spoken to the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, but I take very serious consideration of that issue.
I do not believe that the Government’s deal is dead. What made it almost impossible for some of us to vote for was the Attorney General’s paragraph 19, which seemed to contradict the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments the night before. That is why the Malthouse compromise has gone forward. It covers both categories—making the deal, or being unable to make the deal—and that will allow us to reach an agreement.
The key is finding a way to replace the backstop as it exists now with alternative arrangements, which are listed in amendment (f)—I will not go through them now. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford is correct to say that we have essentially asked for four elements, behind which lie a great deal more detail that has been discussed in a series of meetings with my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. We reached what I thought was a pretty good agreement. I credit the Prime Minister and others for having bound in those alternative arrangements. They were not bound in absolutely but they did make big progress in the deal she laid on the table, which will help enormously, because if we replace the backstop with the Malthouse alternatives, we get rid of the risk of the backstop being an imprisonment or an entrapment. It would become customs arrangements that allow all sides, including Dover and Calais, to trade successfully without too many problems. That is really the point.
I know that some of my colleagues are concerned—rightly—about extending for the sake of it. I am not in favour of that. In any case, I believe that will be rejected by the European Union because there needs to be a purpose. The point of the extension we propose is to meet the practicalities of getting the arrangements in place ready for the process of managed withdrawal without a withdrawal agreement. I would not vote for an extension with no purpose because all we will do is kick the can do the road, as the Prime Minister has said, ending up with exactly the same decisions to make only a few months later.
I recommend the Malthouse process because it allows us to manage the process of leaving carefully with practical solutions, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford laid out. It allows us a period of time in which to create that. I recommend it to my hon. and right hon. Friends and Opposition Members. If we come together and vote for amendment (f), we offer two things: the opportunity to get an arrangement that allows us to leave with a withdrawal agreement or, in the event of not having such an agreement, we can manage the process of leaving in a way that takes away the fear of having no deal.
This is the first time I have spoken in any of the Brexit debates, although I have a way of making my opinion well known to the public elsewhere. I am really sick of the way the Government have gone about this. They are now saying, “It is my way or the highway.” The highway is rocky and bad. They are asking hon. Members to walk down a road that has no surface, and we cannot see the end of it. They use the cover-all of saying, “We care about the national interest because we have got this really bad plan and you are not walking down it.”—as if we do not all care about the national interest.
Conservative Members do not own the national interest. It is not the same as nationalism. We all care about the national interest very deeply. I do not know how the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs could stand in front of us today and tell us how our food prices would go up, and how it would be awful for agriculture, and then not move every fibre of his being to end it.
The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) talked about revoking, but let us be serious. If we cared less about being elected and more about the national interest, we would be having a deeply serious conversation about making this stop and talking about the things that people where I live talk about. Others have touched on the will of the people. We in this House are terrified of the people in this country. Why are we so terrified of them? People in this place say: “17.4 million think this because I think this and I am going to lay my opinion on to them”. We have nothing to be scared of because we have a responsibility to inspire people out there and to lead them somewhere. What has been missing from the very beginning of this horrid and torrid affair in British politics has been any semblance of the leadership and courage needed to take the country somewhere.
The reasons people voted leave are plentiful, and I will not pretend they all agree with me, but I am not scared of the people who voted leave in my area. I believe in parliamentary democracy, and if they do not like what I say, they can get rid of me. I am not frightened of that prospect. I only wish the Prime Minister had not been frightened of the people sitting behind her. She is certainly terrified of the people in the country. In the event of a no deal, people where I live will face not only the same levels of poverty and the same unstable jobs market, but much, much worse; they will be unable to afford food, which they can precious little afford now, and they will look up and say, “I thought there was going to be a golden era”, and then they will be angry. That is what people in here should be scared of. We should not be scared of the country.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, but, having studied this matter carefully, like she has, I take the view that the Prime Minister is respectful of those people, not frightened of them.
The right hon. Gentleman knows the Prime Minister considerably better than I do. If she had ever tried to talk to me about any of this, or anyone else with a seat like mine, perhaps we could have had a much better conversation in here. I do not know her, but to me she looks like a rabbit in the headlights. She looks unwilling to state the real facts and to say that this is really bad for the country. We hear it in briefings and in bars in Brussels instead of directly from a woman who should have the courage to say that she is terrified of all the things outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). She should have the courage to say, “I’m terrified of the implications for security, for food prices and for trade, and you know what? You might not like it, and I might lose my role as the Prime Minister, but I am going to do what is best for you”. That is what courage and leadership are.
I respect deeply the people where I live, but I notice how selective the ERG are when it comes to caring about their needs: they want them when they back up their idea of northern town leave voters, but not so much when they need to give them welfare.
Some 17.4 million people voted to leave. They were told by both the Government and the remain campaign that that meant leaving the customs union and the single market. They were told that many things would be damaging or wrong if we left. There was a series of very bad short-term forecasts for the first year after the vote, and the public said to the experts, “We don’t believe you”, and they were right about the short-term forecasts: jobs figures went up, not down; growth went up—there was no recession; and house prices performed reasonably well. This was a specific forecast for the year after the vote and before we could conceivably have left.
I give way.
Order. Any interventions from now on are perfectly legitimate, but if Members intervene, they will be preventing others from speaking. I just want them to know that.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how anyone can trust this Government? We were long told it was the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal, but that is clearly not the case because the House could revoke article 50 if it so chose.
I do not agree. I think that that is exactly where we are: either we leave with the withdrawal agreement, or we leave without the withdrawal agreement. That is what the House voted for when it voted to send the article 50 letter, and that is what the House voted for when it enacted the withdrawal Act.
I am not here to recreate the arguments of the referendum. The public are heartily sick of Parliament’s going over and over the same arguments in which we have engaged for three or four years now, in the run-up to the referendum and subsequently. They expect us to be purposeful, serious and sensible, and to sort out the issues and problems arising from the decision to leave the European Union. That is exactly what we should be doing, and I come here in that spirit. I understand that remain voters have real concerns, although I think that some of them are exaggerated. It is up to us, working with the Government, to show that all of them can be managed and that there are many upsides, to which we are looking forward and which leave voters clearly had in their minds.
I want to reassure the House. Calling certain views certain names is not helpful to a grown-up debate. It is not a no-deal exit that we are talking about; it is a many-deals exit. As we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), a series of measures have been enacted recently in the European Parliament. On both sides of the channel, serious work is being done to ensure that lorries can move and planes can fly. Goods will move across borders, and there will be an understanding about what happens in relation to customs and other checks. The drugs will come in, and the food will come in.
I think it is quite wrong to scaremonger and frighten people by pretending that none of that work has taken place—that German pharmaceutical companies will refuse to send their goods any more, or that the workers at Dover will get in the way and block them from coming in. It is not going to happen. We have heard very good news from Calais and Dover about all the work that has been done at both ports to make things work.
So let us come together and be practical, and let us understand that certainly all Conservative and Labour MPs were elected to this 2017 Parliament to get Brexit through. We all stood on national manifestos that said we would do that. The public cannot believe that so many Labour Members in particular are now saying, “We did not really mean it; we do not care about that; we want to stop it; we want to delay it; we want to redefine it in a way that means it is no longer Brexit.”
Brexit means taking control of our own money and then being able to spend it on our priorities, and the sooner we do that, the sooner we will have the boost to our economy which taking that measure would bring about. It means having tariffs that make sense for British industry, and for importers who might like some tariffs to be removed. I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has slashed tariffs from a load of imported goods that do not involve our competing actively in the United Kingdom. That will be better news for all the consumers who will not have to pay those tariffs any more once we have our own tariff schedule.
I have a big idea for the Government. I entirely understand that very many people in this Parliament want a bigger deal, or more deals, than what is currently on the table. My idea is that, even at this late stage, the Government should offer the European Union a comprehensive free trade agreement based on the best of EU-Canada and EU-Japan, perhaps involving more services, because we already have alignment with services. If the EU would agree just to talk about that—as I suspect it would—we could leave on 29 March without having to impose any new tariffs or non-tariff barriers on each other, and proceed, under GATT 24, to negotiate a free trade agreement. That, I should have thought, would unite a lot of moderate remain voters with most leave voters, and I strongly recommend it to the Government. Parliament must allow us to leave on 29 March, otherwise it will be the people against the Parliament.
I think that I have heard only one Member utter that profoundly silly slogan, “No deal, no problem”, although I did notice some rather prosperous-looking people outside the Palace this afternoon brandishing posters to that effect. The rest of us, even the most sanguine adherents to no deal, concede that there would be some economic pain—“in the short term”, some say. I would say that there would be no pain for the comfortably set up. It is the squeezed majority who would feel the pain, and no deal would be particularly damaging to Wales. My party will vote tonight to take no deal off the table, and, in our opinion, it would be best to do so permanently.
Amendment (c), which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends, seeks to extend article 50, and it seeks a referendum.
I want to refer to some of the problems we foresee for my country if we follow the no-deal course. It would of course endanger public services and put people’s health at risk. According to Welsh Government analysis a no-deal Brexit would wipe £5 billion off the Welsh economy, meaning fewer jobs and lower wages. Some 60% of Wales’s exports go to the EU; in that respect, we stand out among the countries of these islands in that we have an exporting economy.
With the economy in decline under no deal, public services would be endangered in Wales. The number of EEA nationals in the social care workforce in Wales has grown by over 50% since 2011; without a deal, EU citizens’ rights to work here will be in question, at best, putting further unwarranted pressure on the NHS and the social care sector.
On health, people in the UK rely heavily on medicines imported from the EU; for instance 99% of the insulin used in the UK is imported, largely from the EU. The British Medical Association has estimated that no deal could lead to delays of between 12 and 24 months for life-saving drugs.
One concern that I have raised in the House—I did so last week—is the effect on agriculture. NFU Cymru president John Davies said this afternoon:
“There can be no doubt that a ‘no deal Brexit’ would be incredibly damaging to the Welsh agricultural sector and that eventuality should be avoided at all costs.”
In that respect, he agrees entirely with Glyn Roberts, president of the Farmers Union of Wales. We have two farming unions in Wales, and on this they agree.
The Secretary of State for Wales puts great store by saying he is the voice of Wales in Westminster, and he has the opportunity tonight, given that there is apparently a free vote, to stop playing games and come out strongly against the calamity of no deal.
I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that a no-deal Brexit is somehow eminently liveable with; it plainly is not. From looking at my own constituency, talking to the pharmaceutical companies that are there and looking at the costs already incurred by them to try to face up to the prospect of no deal and the risks they run if no deal goes ahead, it seems plain to me that no deal would be very damaging to this country indeed: damaging in the short term because of the chaos that will accompany it, and damaging in the medium to long term because I believe we will be seriously economically disadvantaged by it.
I find it genuinely very troubling that as we come closer to the crunch there seem to be more and more people who may previously have advocated a deal but, not seeing that there is a deal around, suddenly decide that no deal is the option because they cannot get what they want or the form of deal they might desire. It is an extraordinary form of frenzy: they smash up the china first, and when they are not satisfied with the china they have smashed, they decide to smash some more. That is what we are facing, and it is my duty to do everything I possibly can to prevent it, and I will continue to do that for as long as the opportunities for doing it present themselves.
My right hon. and learned Friend talks about smashing up the law; does he not accept that section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 makes it abundantly and expressly clear that we will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 on exit day?
It may do, but it lies within our capacity to change it, and we will have to change it; indeed, it is inherent that it will be changed in the next fortnight, and I will move on to that in a moment.
I do not want to dwell on the risks of no deal in practice because I do not wish to repeat what others have said perfectly eloquently. So then we turn to this process, and I simply point out that it is very unfortunate that instead of what I understood yesterday would be a clear opportunity for this House to express itself against the principle of no deal and make clear that we do not want it before moving on tomorrow to discuss what we might do to prevent it, which is a real issue, the Government have tabled a motion that gives the distinct impression that, like children, we will be offered the same pudding, if not eaten at lunchtime, at tea time, supper time and now for breakfast, when it is perfectly clear that this House has rejected this pudding in its totality.
As a consequence, something that might bring us together in reasoned debate has started to be undermined by a suspicion that the Government are interested only in forcing a binary choice between no deal and accepting their agreement. Listening to the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box earlier, I began to realise that perhaps that was not the case, but then why was the motion ever tabled in this fashion? I cannot understand that. In fact, the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) was correct in trying to identify and deal with that mischief.
The Government have a point, however. I agreed with a lot of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) said, and there is an issue here. This House has lived under the protection of our party system for a long time. I am now beginning to see a distinction on my Benches, and actually on the other Benches, between those of us who have in a sense exposed ourselves and as a consequence get a huge amount of threats, flak and invective, and those of my colleagues—I do not include the Prime Minister in this, because she has many a burden—who are hiding behind the party system to avoid making the difficult choices. We cannot go on doing this. The party system might restore itself—I rather hope that it does—but as things stand at the moment, it is blown to pieces.
We have to make the decisions. Are we going to find a motion to accept the Prime Minister’s deal being offered up again? I do not want that, because I think that it is a poor deal, despite her best efforts. Are we going to find some other deal? Or are we going to revoke? Revocation is not something that I would wish to do without going back to the public, because in the light of the referendum, that would be a rather draconian and dangerous step. However, we will have to address that question because, otherwise, we will go round in circles and the Minister is right to say that we will eventually run out of time. We will simply have pushed back the cliff edge. We will have to resolve this, but at the moment, the Government are not helping by tabling motions of this tendentious character. I really urge my colleagues on the Front Bench to face up to their responsibility and to ensure, first, that we get some clarity from them tonight, and secondly, that we can take this debate forward.
It is always a great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who speaks with such wisdom on this issue. If the social and economic catastrophe that is no deal were being caused by some kind of natural disaster, there would be a collective outpouring of grief and concern. They would be a huge amounts of Government action to try to mitigate it, and there would no doubt be offers of international aid as well. The fact that this catastrophe is being so actively, willingly and even, by some, enthusiastically chosen is the height of masochistic self-indulgence. Doubtless psychologists will spend many years analysing exactly why this psychosis came to infect so many members of our ruling class at this time and exactly how we ended up with this concept of masochism as revolt.
The desire to create such chaos, and the exhilaration that comes from it, is perhaps understandable in those who will not be affected by the results—those who can move the investments they might be lucky enough to have to Ireland, to take a random example—but this is certainly going to hurt our constituents, who are in many cases already struggling to get by. It is even more shocking that this is being deliberately embraced at a time when we know of the illegalities associated with the leave campaign and the evidence of Russian interference. I was looking at Twitter a few moments ago. As we are here debating no deal, people like Aaron Banks—the biggest donor to the leave campaign; the biggest donor ever in British history—is busy going round the European Governments and lobbying them to block any UK request for an extension of article 50. So let us be clear that we are being played for fools here and that we will be responsible for this if we do not wake up and notice it. And the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has some gall to stand at the Dispatch Box as though he is completely independent of all this and as though he is not complicit in it and was not an architect of it. That is the height of absolute shamelessness.
We have heard so much about the economic costs of a no-deal Brexit, and the effect on constituents in Brighton will be no exception. I have been lobbied by so many individuals, families, businesses and universities. The University of Sussex, where one in four staff is an EU citizen, is already having problems with recruitment and retention, research grants and so on, and the same goes for both big and small companies.
This is about much more than the economy, however. I worry that a no-deal Brexit would make it harder even to begin to address some of many reasons why people voted to leave in the first place. Of course, people chose to vote to leave for many different reasons, but a good many of them were voting to say that the status quo is intolerable, that the inequality in this country is grotesque and that they want their communities to have a say in the future. The idea that any or all that will be easier to address if we leave with no deal is fanciful and irresponsible.
We need an honest conversation with the people of this country. We need to level with them. We need a new social contract, better jobs, higher-quality public services and investment in the green economy. We need people of all backgrounds and communities to be treated with respect and given the opportunity and the power to thrive. We need genuinely to give back control to people. We need to put young people at the heart of all this. We need that kind of future. We need a green new deal, not the Prime Minister’s failed deal or, worse still, no deal.
When this House voted overwhelmingly to invoke article 50, we knew that the default position was that we would the leave European Union on 29 March with no deal. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs opened this debate with his usual enthusiastic and energetic manner, but his words will have struck horror into the hearts of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave and Conservative activists and members across the country. Our manifesto said that no deal is better than a bad deal, and the Prime Minister has said at the Dispatch Box on over 100 occasions that we are leaving the European Union on 29 March with or without a deal. Where does that leave our democracy or belief in politics?
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) spoke at length, as he is wont to do as Father of the House, and I respect him for his consistent opinion on the European Union. He mentioned that the referendum was three years ago, which seems a long time, but he led the remain campaign in the east midlands while I led the leave campaign. I remember well that we debated, we were on television, we were on the radio and we went out to hustings, but when the votes came