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I beg to move,
That this House
recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK;
believes that there should be a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU;
and calls on the Prime Minister to ensure that this House is able properly to scrutinise that plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked.
I will start with something I think we can all agree on. The decisions that will be taken by the Government over the next few months and years in relation to exiting the EU will have profound implications for the future of this country, its economy, its people and its place in the world. We have probably not seen a set of such significant decisions since the end of the second world war. Today’s debate is about the proper role of Parliament, and this House in particular, throughout that process. It is about scrutiny and accountability.
There was one question on the ballot paper on
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
The majority of those voting voted to leave. That result has to be accepted and respected, notwithstanding the fact that many of us, including myself, campaigned for remain. However, that is not the end of the matter. The next question, and one that is increasingly pressing, is: on what terms should we leave the EU? That question was not on the ballot paper. Nor was it addressed in the Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto—there was no plan B in the event of the referendum concluding with a leave vote. Nor did the Prime Minister set out her terms for Brexit before assuming office, because of the nature of the exercise by which she assumed that office. Nor do we have a White Paper setting out the proposed terms. Instead, hiding under the cloak of the prerogative, the Secretary of State has, until now, declined to give the House a meaningful role in scrutinising the Government’s opening terms for negotiations, and that matters.
I am glad to see that a Government amendment—amendment (b)—has been tabled. This implies that the Government are taking a step in the right direction towards scrutiny.
I am sure that, like me, the hon. and learned Gentleman welcomes the half U-turn from the Government, allowing a debate before article 50 is invoked, but what about an actual vote? I am concerned that the amendment does not mention a vote in this House before article 50 is triggered, and that is crucial.
I will come on to the important question of a vote, but let us take one step at a time.
There is scrutiny and there is accountability. The first question is whether the Secretary of State is prepared to put the plans before the House so that Members can see them and debate them. The next question is what the House can do about them, and that is a matter of accountability. I hope that amendment (b) indicates that the Government will go further down the route of scrutiny than they have been prepared to do so far. If they are, I will not crow about it, because it is the right thing to do and it is in the national interest. We all have a duty to ensure that we get the right result for the country.
I will answer the first intervention, please.
We are not in government and our manifesto did not have a referendum without a plan for exit. We need to be clear at the beginning of this exercise where responsibility for the position in which we find ourselves lies. It lies with a previous Prime Minister and a Government who had no plan for a no vote. That is why we are here today.
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the terms of our exit and also national interest. I come from a business background, and I would love to get a sense of his approach to a successful negotiation. Does he believe that the national interest would be best served by the Government coming to this place and explaining in precise detail all their negotiating positions before we have even walked into the room?
I will deal with that, because that is an essential question that we need to discuss. In a sense, this should not be about point scoring across the House.
I will not give way, no. We are debating a fundamental question, which is whether the basic plans for the negotiating position will be put before the House. That really matters. Of course there is a degree of detail that cannot be discussed. Of course there is a degree of flexibility that must be there in any negotiation. Of course the starting position may not be the end position. We all accept that; we are all grown up. The question here is whether the basic terms should be put before the House.
“At the moment if the commentary was to read into what we’ve heard so far, it’s that we’re heading to something of a cliff edge in two and a half years.”
Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise, as I do, that there are many people in business who are very, very concerned about the lack of commentary and lack of direction from the Government?
I am grateful for that intervention. There are two aspects to today’s debate. Partly, there is the political aspect: what is the role of Parliament. There is also the question of uncertainty. It is absolutely clear that, across business, across EU citizens and across the population as a whole, there is great uncertainty about what the plans are, and that uncertainty simply cannot be kept in place for the next three years. It is growing uncertainty.
There is different scrutiny for different treaties and provisions. One example is the scrutiny that was provided in relation to the original decision to go into the European Economic Community, because then, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, Command Papers were put before the House. An economic impact assessment was also put before the House, and some of the Command Papers were voted on. The idea that scrutiny cannot be done and that it was not done in the past is wrong.
My hon. and learned Friend mentions uncertainty. I have been contacted by a business in my constituency that has, until recently, been growing very rapidly, and had plans to announce a £100,000 expansion this autumn. That has now been cancelled because of the uncertainty about our future in the single market and because of what it sees as the Government’s headlong rush to a hard Brexit. What can he say about Labour’s position to reassure those businesses across the whole of Britain that are worried about our future in the single market?
I will make some progress if I may. I have only got to page 2, and I have taken about 10 interventions already. If Members will bear with me, I will press on.
On Monday, the Secretary of State confirmed that the Prime Minister will invoke article 50 no later than the end of March next year. Unless Parliament has a meaningful role in shaping the terms of Brexit between now and then—a maximum period of just five-and-a-half months—it will be too late. I can see what will happen. Once the negotiating process has started, there will be a claim by the Secretary of State that it would be inappropriate to put anything before the House by way of detail. Once the process is over, the risks of any debate will be purely academic.
On a point of information, that is not correct. I have already said that it is not correct. In talking to the Lords Committee in September, I said that the House would have at least the information available to the European Parliament. What the hon. and learned Gentleman says is just not the case.
I am grateful for that intervention. I read the transcript of the Secretary of State’s evidence to that Select Committee. What was put to him was that, on one view, the European Parliament would have more answers than this Parliament. In 2010, as he knows, there was a framework agreement between the Commission and the European Parliament. It states:
“Parliament shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the negotiation and conclusion of international agreements, including the definition of negotiating directives.”
That goes a long way further than I understood the Secretary of State’s position to be on Monday, and in his first statement. I would be very pleased to hear from him if he can confirm now that at least that part of scrutiny is guaranteed.
This is a matter not just of process, but of real substance. Both those who voted to leave the EU and those who voted to remain recognise that different negotiating stances under article 50 could provide radically different outcomes, each of which carries very significant risks and opportunities. That is undoubtedly why there is a keen debate going on behind the scenes on the Government’s side. Everybody recognises the potential consequences of adopting the wrong opening stance.
My hon. and learned Friend is making an excellent case. Does he agree that the British people may have voted to leave the European Union, but what they did not vote for is for their food to become more expensive, for the wages of low-paid workers to be hit and for jobs to be lost in the manufacturing, agricultural and banking sectors, which is what we are in danger of if we choose the wrong exit from the European Union.
I agree, and that is what is causing such great anxiety around the country. I doubt whether any Member has not been approached by constituents, either individuals or businesses, with real concerns about the situation. There are different concerns—
I am halfway through a sentence. There are different concerns from different businesses and different individuals. I certainly have not met anyone without them—if there are MPs who have, well, so be it—and I think that the Secretary of State would recognise the deep concern across the business community and among a number of individuals, groups and communities about the uncertainty about the future .
I am sure that I am not alone in having many representations from individuals among the millions of EU citizens living in this country and, of course, Britons living abroad who are deeply insecure about their position. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is deplorable to discuss those individuals in terms of being bargaining chips and cards that we need to play in negotiations? Do we not need to make a priority of ensuring that those individuals, with their businesses and their lives, have the security that they deserve?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and again, many of us have had anxious conversations with EU citizens who simply want to know what their position is and want some guarantees about the future.
I will make some progress. Some models for exiting have been much discussed. The most cited are the Norwegian model, the Swiss model, the Turkish model and the Canadian model. It is unlikely that any deal reached between the UK and the EU will replicate any of those models—nor should it—but in negotiating our future relationship with the EU, the Government will be defining the future of our country, so the terms matter hugely. It is frankly astonishing that the Government propose to devise the negotiating terms of our exit from the EU, then to negotiate and then to reach a deal, without a vote in this House. This is where my opening remarks become important because, in the absence of anything in the manifesto, in the absence of anything on the referendum ballot form and in the absence of any words from the Prime Minister before she assumed office, where is the mandate? Nobody—public or in the House—
No, the referendum is not the mandate for the terms. We have been round this block and everybody understands the distinction. I have stood here and accepted that there is a mandate for exit. There is no mandate for the terms. It has never been put to the country; it has not even been put to the Secretary of State’s political party; and it has not been put to the House. Where is the mandate on the terms?
Reference has been made to the Lisbon treaty, which may provide a rather useful precedent. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the policy on that treaty was debated repeatedly on the Floor of the House, beginning with the abortive European constitution. The then Government were accountable to the House for the view that they were taking towards the treaty, and the treaty itself was then debated for days on end on the Floor of the House, with repeated votes at several stages in that process. Nobody mentioned the words “royal prerogative” throughout the entire process.
Is not the prerogative absolutely key here? In 1924, when there was a Labour Government, we insisted that all treaties would be laid before the House for 21 days, so that the House and the House of Lords could take a view on them. That was the Ponsonby rule. When there was a Conservative Government, they got rid of it. When there was a Labour Government again in 1929, we put it back, and in 2010, we put it on the statute book. Is it not really worrying that Ministers have been going to the House of Lords and this Chamber and relying solely on the prerogative in relation to treaties?
It is, and I will deal with the prerogative in some detail because it is not fixed. The prerogative changes over time, and in any event, even if it may legally allow the Executive to proceed without scrutiny and accountability in the House, it does not prevent that scrutiny and accountability. It does not require the Government to proceed in that way. It is being used as cloak to avoid the scrutiny that is needed.
Some of us were here during the Maastricht treaty debates, when there were many votes and the Government forces of the day were brilliantly whipped by the present Secretary for Brexit in favour of the Maastricht treaty. Just to be quite clear, is the hon. and learned Gentleman—I am very much minded to support his motion—calling for a vote, not just an examination, on the terms before we send the Secretary of State off to negotiate?
Absolutely, but I take this in two stages because both are important. Scrutiny—putting the plans before the House—really matters. There is a separate argument about a vote, and I say that there should be a vote, but we must not get to a situation where, to resist the vote, the Secretary of State will not even put the plans before the House.
Is not the convention very clearly established that a major treaty change has to be triggered by an affirmative resolution of the House? The fact that that may only be a convention is still something that must be respected. After all, there are lots of conventions, such as the convention that a Government resign if they lose a vote of no confidence. That is no more than a convention, but Members might be a bit surprised if a Government were not to go in those circumstances.
The prerogative has come up so often that I will deal with it now in substance. Prerogative powers, of course, developed at a time when the monarch was both a feudal lord and Head of State. That is the origin of prerogative powers, but they have changed over time, yielding where necessary to the demands of democratic accountability. There are plenty of examples, as the Secretary of State will know, in the courts of that change in accountability, but there is also the example of the prerogative power to commit troops in armed conflict. In theory, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet retain the constitutional right to decide when and where to authorise action, but in practice Governments in recent times have ensured parliamentary debate and a vote.
Responding to the Chilcot report earlier this year, the then Prime Minister made the point during Prime Minister’s questions when he said:
“I think we have now got a set of arrangements and conventions that put the country in a stronger position. I think it is now a clear convention that we have a vote in this House, which of course we did on Iraq, before premeditated military action”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 612, c. 881.]
A strong political convention modifying the prerogative has thus been set.
I will just complete this section on the prerogative.
The underlying premise of the development of the prerogative is clear and obvious. The more significant the decision in question and the more serious the possible consequences, the greater the need for meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. That lies at the heart of this, and it is hard to think of a more significant set of decisions with very serious possible consequences than the terms on which we leave the EU.
I will press this point because all this is well known to the Secretary of State. After all, he tabled a ten-minute rule Bill in June 1999 that was concerned with
I shall quote his approach to the prerogative. When he introduced that Bill on
“Executive decisions by the Government should be subject to the scrutiny and approval of Parliament in many other areas... The Bill sets out to...make” the prerogative
“subject to parliamentary approval, giving Parliament the right of approval over all Executive powers not conferred by statute—from the ratification of treaties to the approval of Orders in Council, and from the appointment of European Commissioners, some ambassadors, members of the Bank of England”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 333, c. 931.]
So he has changed his position. Back then, he recognised that the prerogative ought to be subject to Parliament. It was 20 years ago, but progressive movement with the prerogative is usually in favour of greater accountability, not less, so the fact that he argued that 20 years ago is not an argument against doing it now. That Bill did not proceed, but the principles are clear and set out. The prerogative is not fixed; parliamentary practice and convention can change the prerogative, and have done so in a number of ways. In any event, I fall back on my primary point: even if the prerogative permits the Government to withhold the plans from Parliament, it does not require them to, and political accountability requires the Government to put their plans before Parliament.
The hon. and learned Gentleman misses one rather important fact: there has been a vote of the British people—a vote delegated to them by the terms of the European Union Referendum Act 2015. This is the question that he has to answer: suppose there was a vote in this House; how would he vote? Would he vote against article 50 invocation, or in favour? Just give a straight answer to that.
I will not take long responding to that, because I have made the point, which is that the mandate on
There is the question of how Members would vote, what they would vote on, and what happens if Parliament does not like the terms. The Secretary of State, in his statement on
“strive to build national consensus around our approach.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 614, c. 38.]
The question for the Secretary of State is: how will he build consensus around his approach if he will not tell the House what his approach is?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is, of course, a first-rate lawyer of international renown, and it is a real pleasure to hear him develop his argument. I am interested in what he said about the devolved Administrations. Does he agree that the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations should have a central role in negotiations on the UK’s terms for exiting the European Union, and will he and his party throw their weight behind that argument?
I do agree with that, absolutely, and we will throw our weight behind it. In fairness, the Prime Minister signalled that by her early visits as soon as she assumed office. I was hesitant to answer that question in case I got relegated from second to third or even fourth-rate lawyer. I will press on—
I was just about to say that the hon. and learned Gentleman will remember from Monday that I reiterated the support for his standing as a lawyer.
I am going to. May I unreservedly withdraw the allegation that I made on Monday, only on the basis that it was clumsy? It was not meant about him; it was meant about advice. I do not for one moment doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman’s capabilities as a lawyer.
I am grateful for that, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that I was not in the slightest bit concerned, though I am very grateful to so many people who were concerned. I consider the matter closed.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was important for the Government to come before Parliament, specifically to lay out their negotiating position. He says that there was a simple question on the ballot paper on whether we should leave the European Union or not. Will he tell us what the simple definition is of leaving the European Union? Is it the non-application of European law?
No. There are very different models for leaving. We have to be clear about what is actually happening, because that is important when we come to the point about treaties; we are leaving one treaty and almost certainly signing new treaties, so this is not just about exiting one treaty. I have not yet met anybody who suggests that there should be no relationship between the UK and the EU. [Interruption.] No, seriously, speaking as someone who has spent five years dealing with counter-terrorism and serious criminal offences across Europe, it is inconceivable that we will not sign new treaties with the EU; to do otherwise would undermine our security.
I will press on, because I am conscious that very many people want to come in on this debate, and I have sat on the Back Benches and been irritated by Front Benchers taking up all the time.
We are talking about a matter of parliamentary sovereignty, but this is not just a political point, albeit an important political point. By proceeding in this closed and secretive manner, the Government are causing huge anxiety. In the 2015 Conservative manifesto, there was a commitment to
“safeguard British interests in the Single Market”, yet in recent weeks, the Government have emphasised that membership of the single market may not be a priority for Brexit negotiations. On Monday, the Secretary of State said that it was “not necessary” for the UK to remain a member of the single market. Then there was a telling exchange between him and my hon. Friend Wes Streeting, who put to him the words of the Foreign Secretary on EU citizens. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union answered—I will give the full answer, because I was struck by this at the time—as follows:
“The simple answer is that we will seek to get the most open, barrier-free market that we can. That will be as good as a single market.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 615, c. 65.]
It is always hard to know when the Secretary of State is busking, but if that is the position, that is a significant statement and position, and it elides with the approach apparently taken by the Prime Minister, who increasingly appears to have extrapolated from the leave vote that there is an overwhelming case for a hard Brexit that does not prioritise jobs or the strength of our economy.
I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman on taking a factual tone in this important debate. I would like to reassure him that many of us on the Government Benches will do all we can to preserve the benefits of access to the single market for our local businesses. May I remind him that seven out of 10 Members from his party represent constituencies that voted to leave the EU? The pragmatic, rather than procedural, approach is in the Government’s amendment, which suggests that it would be negotiating madness for this House to give blow-by-blow scrutiny to the terms of exit. Why does he not vote for the Government’s amendment, which achieves what we all want—not a hard or a soft Brexit, but a smart Brexit?
I am grateful for that intervention, and for the indications about the single market. I know that there is a lot of shared concern across the House about the terms of exit. Obviously, I have looked at the amendment; may I make it plain that nothing in the motion is intended to undermine or frustrate the vote on
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, and for some of the points that he has made. Will he use this opportunity to outline clearly the Labour party’s position on single market membership? Yesterday in the Evening Standard, there was a warning from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, against a “hard Brexit”, and he has said that a departure from the single market would be “deeply irresponsible”; I agree fully. Two weeks ago, in the National Assembly for Wales, we had the Labour Government voting with the Tories and the UK Independence party against single market membership. What is the Labour party’s policy on single market membership?
Best access to the single market.
I was on the subject of uncertainty. There has been understandable uncertainty in business, universities, and trades unions, and among investors, including among people on both sides of the referendum divide. The head of the CBI has warned that hard Brexit could
“close the door on an open economy”.
An open letter signed by business leaders cautioned last week that
“leaving the EU without any preferential trade arrangement and defaulting to trading by…WTO rules would have significant costs for British exporters and importers”.
It is not just institutions that are concerned. So far, the Government have made broad statements on the principle of protecting the rights of EU citizens already living here. In his statement to the House on Monday, the Secretary of State suggested that the Government are doing everything possible to underwrite and guarantee the position of EU citizens resident in the UK, and at the same time seeking to do the same with British nationals living in other parts of the EU. That constructive tone is at odds with statements made by other Government Ministers, most notably the Secretary of State for International Trade. Speaking at an event at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last week, he told party members that
“we would like to be able to give a reassurance to EU nationals in the United Kingdom”, but that that depended on the way in which other countries proceeded. He said that
“to give that away before we get into the negotiation would be to hand over one of our main cards”.
That is treating EU citizens as bargaining chips. That is not good enough: many EU citizens have been in the UK for years or even decades, and they deserve better treatment.
The Government should end this uncertainty in the market and among the people. They should set out their plans before the House at the earliest opportunity. We accept that concern about immigration and freedom of movement was an important issue in the referendum and that, in light of the result, adjustments to the freedom of movement principle have to be part of the negotiating process. We must establish fair migration rules as part of our new relationship with the EU, but no one voted on
A clear majority in Ashfield voted out, and I respect that. Ashfield is an ex-mining community. The good economic times never felt as good up there; the bad times were felt. We do not have enough good jobs, so is it not imperative that we do not lose the good jobs that we do have?
I really do not think I can be criticised for not taking enough interventions.
Concerns over freedom of movement must be balanced by concerns over jobs, trade and the strength of our economy. Striking that balance and navigating our exit from the EU will not be an easy process, and it will require shrewd negotiating. The Government must not give up on the best possible deal for Britain before they have even begun. They must put the national interest first and not bow to pressure from Back Benchers for a hard Brexit. That means prioritising access to the single market, protecting workers’ rights, ensuring that common police and security measures are not weakened, and ensuring that all sectors of our economy are able to trade with our most important market. It also means bringing the British people together as we set about leaving the EU.
I touched on the tone of discussions on Monday. Many people are appalled at the language that has been used in relation to exiting the EU. An essential step in that process is to publish the basic plans for Brexit and to seek the confidence of the House of Commons. The motion is intended to ensure that scrutiny and accountability. I will listen, of course, to what the Secretary of State says about his amendment.
The motion before the House is clear about scrutiny, which is the first part. There is a question of a vote, and I will make it absolutely clear that I am pressing for a vote. This exercise will obviously go on for some time, and we will have plenty of skirmishes. I am anxious that, first, we have proper scrutiny and also a vote. What I do not want to do is jeopardise the scrutiny by a vote against the vote. Anyone on either side of the House who wants scrutiny can happily support the motion, and I will listen carefully what the Secretary of State says about the amendment.
This is a serious challenge, and these are the most important decisions for a generation. The role of the House is a fundamentally important issue, and we have to ensure that it is compatible with scrutiny and accountability.
I beg to move amendment (b), at end add
and believes that the process should be undertaken in such a way that respects the decision of the people of the UK when they voted to leave the EU on
I am glad to hear that the Labour spokesman accepts that we must respect the decision of the people. That is important progress. Of course, it comes from somewhere, but where is not at all clear. I will come back to that in less than a minute. He went on to say that he did not want to see point scoring, and I rather agree: this issue is too important for point scoring.
The House should know that this morning I received a letter, signed by the shadow Secretary of State and his predecessor, which was extremely flattering about my history of standing up for the rights of Parliament and so on. It went on to pose 170 questions about our negotiating strategy. To give the House an idea of how much of a stunt that is, it is one question a day between now until the triggering of article 50. Worse still, some of the questions in that long list are requests pre-emptively to concede elements of our negotiating strategy.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way—the shadow Secretary of State would not give way—so I can now ask my question. I have listened carefully to the debate. The shadow Secretary of State talked about respecting the vote on
My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is the premise on which we are advancing. That is not to say—[Interruption.] If Toby Perkins waits a moment, I will give way. We will have proper scrutiny, and I will deal with that in a minute. We will not allow anyone to veto the decision of the British people—that is the point.
If it is really the case that article 50 is the start of the process and we begin scrutiny after that, why is it being triggered nine months after the vote? Surely that is because a huge amount of preparatory work is required, and that is what we want to scrutinise.
If there is no parliamentary assent for the negotiating position that the Secretary of State takes into the negotiations, how can there possibly be parliamentary assent for the result of the negotiations, unless he pulls off the remarkable trick of getting a better deal than he is asking for?
I will go through the stages of assent later—the right hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point.
I am determined—[Interruption.] I will give way once more, but then I must make progress.
As a long-standing Brexiteer not wishing to make points, may I take the Secretary of State back to the reasons the Government want to trigger article 50 so early? What is behind that, and is there any possibility that that statement might take on the colour of the Home Secretary’s statement about foreign workers?
No, I do not think so. The right hon. Gentleman asks a serious question. Part of the reasoning is that the Prime Minister feels, quite reasonably, that the people want the process to be under way. Indeed, if one believes opinion polls, that is what is going on. However, we do not want to do it immediately, unlike the leader of the Labour party, who said on
I am determined, as would be expected, that Parliament will be fully and properly engaged in the discussion on how we make a success of Brexit. I therefore broadly welcome the motion, but with important caveats, and that is why the Government’s amendment is necessary. The first key point is that we must ensure that the decision that the people made on
The negotiation will be complex and difficult, and we should do nothing to jeopardise it. As I said in my statement on Monday—Keir Starmer quoted me several times—the sovereignty of Parliament and its restoration is at the very heart of why the UK is withdrawing from the European Union. For decades, the primacy of the UK Parliament has been superseded by decisions made within EU institutions, but now, following the clear instruction of the voters in the referendum on
That is exactly why we announced plans for a great repeal Bill last week; it is a clear commitment to end the primacy of EU law. It will return sovereignty to the institutions of the United Kingdom, because that is what the referendum result was all about: taking control. Naturally, Parliament will oversee the passage of the Bill, which will allow us to ensure that our statute book is fit for purpose on the day we leave the EU. It will then be for Parliament alone to determine what changes to law best suit the national interest.
I have long heard the right hon. Gentleman voice his support for parliamentary scrutiny. Will he therefore bring forward a vote in Parliament on the Government’s opening position and the terms that they will present for negotiation to the European Union?
I will come back to some of that later. I will not allow any party to have a veto on the decision to leave the European Union. That is the first key decision.
I find this argument that Parliament somehow wants to thwart the will of the people a complete straw man. As has already been pointed out, seven out of 10 Labour MPs represent constituencies where a majority of people voted to leave. As a democrat, I cannot ignore that and I accept the result. Therefore, why is the right hon. Gentleman running scared of parliamentary scrutiny?
I am hardly running scared of parliamentary scrutiny. As has already been noted, I have made two statements to the House and appeared twice before Select Committees, and today there is this outing, and all within two and a half weeks of the parliamentary Session.
Let me return to a comment from the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras. Let us be clear that we agree that leaving the European Union is a momentous decision. With such a huge turnout—72%, with over 33 million people having their say—there is an overwhelming mandate to put the will of the British people into practice. I have spoken at length about our plan to make a success of Brexit. As I set out in my statement on
First, we want to build a national consensus around our position. I have already promised more than once to listen to all sides of the debate and ensure that we fight in our negotiation for the best deal for the country. We cannot do that in an air of secrecy, but I will come back to that later. Secondly, we will put the national interest first and listen carefully to the devolved Administrations. Thirdly, wherever possible—it is not always possible—we should minimise uncertainty. That is what the great repeal Bill is about: bringing existing EU law into domestic law upon exit day, and empowering Parliament to make the changes necessary to reflect our new relationship. Finally, by the end of this process, when we have left the European Union, we will have put the sovereignty and supremacy of this Parliament beyond doubt.
Fundamentally, the issue is that although we all want scrutiny, the eyes of the world and of the financial markets are upon us. I am extremely concerned about what has happened to sterling and interest rates since the Prime Minister’s comments at the party conference last week. The problem that the Secretary of State is not acknowledging is that many people in this country do not think that there is a policy to put the national interest first; they think that there is a policy to put people’s narrow ideological interests first. He should be setting out clearly how we will protect British jobs and businesses and putting ideology in the past, where it belongs.
He is right. Nobody involved in this exercise from the other side of the argument has ever pointed out quite how odd it is that fellow democracies—indeed, allies—threaten to punish each other for the exercise of democratic rights.
I want to take up the point made by my hon. Friend Claire Perry, because there is undoubtedly a big task ahead of us and people naturally want to understand where we are headed. We have been pretty clear on the overarching aims—not the detailed aims, because we are not yet at the point at which that is possible. The overarching aims are: bringing back control of our laws to Parliament; bringing back control of decisions over immigration to the UK; maintaining the strong security co-operation we have with the EU; and establishing the freest possible market in goods and services with the EU and the rest of the world. I cannot see how those are not very clear overarching strategic objectives.
It would help businesses to have as much clarity as possible on the likely future trading arrangements. I was concerned to hear VTB Bank’s announcement yesterday that it intends to locate its activity outside the UK. The more clarity we can give—without, of course, prejudicing our negotiating position, the better it will be for British businesses, because there is a danger that some may make decisions in the next three or four months.
I take my hon. Friend’s point. The issue that we must bear in mind, however, is that we can give clarity as we go along in the negotiating strategy—in grand terms but not in detailed terms—but what we cannot do is tell anybody, businesses or others, where we will arrive at the final stage, because it is a negotiation. We have to face the fact that it is a negotiation and, therefore, it is not entirely under the control of one country.
George Eustice said on “The Politics Show” at lunchtime that it is likely that the Government will publish a Green Paper or a White Paper with their proposals to form the basis of consultation before triggering article 50. Is that the latest handbrake U-turn? What does the Secretary of State have to say?
The answer is no. By the way, I think that a half U-turn is a right turn. One of the reasons I gave way to the hon. Gentleman was to say that one of the things that we have sought to clarify early on, and that does not have an associated cost in negotiating terms, is the treatment of employment rights for workers. We made that very clear very early, just as I tried to do with the status of EU migrants here. We can do those things earlier, but we cannot, as he well knows—he has negotiated any number of deals in his time—give away all our negotiating strategy early.
Not at the moment. Let me just finish this section of my speech before giving way to one of my colleagues.
We have these fairly obvious, overarching strategic aims. They are very clear; they are not remotely doubtful. It must be that Labour does not want to recognise that because it finds some of those aims uncomfortable. I am not entirely sure what Labour’s policy is on European immigration. It is completely unspecified.
The hon. and learned Gentleman can wait until the later part of my speech, when I will give him the exact answer. He will have to wait for that.
The reason this has not been promised before the end of March is that it takes time, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will understand. We are meeting organisations from across the country, from the creative industries, telecoms, financial services, agriculture and energy, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Universities UK and the TUC. All those organisations are putting their concerns to us. Some of those are incredibly serious concerns, which we have to deal with. We are focusing on dealing with those concerns, establishing what opportunities there are—there are significant opportunities, too—and then devising a negotiating strategy that serves the interests of the whole country: all of them, not one at a time.
My constituency has the third highest level of financial sector employment in the UK. Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that while employees in that sector do not hear the detail of the Government’s position on negotiations, they do hear—as we have just heard from his party’s Back Benchers—from employers who are looking, over time, to move out of this country?
I am afraid that in the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave there was an extraordinary outpouring almost of grief—a “blame Brexit” festival, if you like. It ranged from the Italian Finance Minister blaming us for the state of his bond markets to, more significantly, banks in this country saying that they were laying people off because of Brexit, which, of course, turned out to be entirely untrue. I would have sympathy with employees made nervous by employers who are guessing the worst outcome.
I urge the Secretary of State to take a more constructive approach with those who have sincere anxieties about the future. Some 58% of the north-east’s exports go to EU countries. However people voted in the referendum, they did not vote to lose jobs. The terms of Brexit are absolutely essential. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that parliamentary scrutiny is therefore also essential?
I started by saying that I was in favour of parliamentary scrutiny; I will widen that out later. Part of the reason for that—not the only reason, by any means—is a recognition of people’s concerns about their job futures. There is no doubt about that. That is why we said in terms that we want a free trade arrangement that is at least as good as what we have now, with both the European Union and outside.
May I tempt the right hon. Gentleman to put some flesh on the bones of the immigration issue? Have the Government arrived at a decision to give EU citizens currently here the rights that they had on
Let me deal with the first issue that the right hon. Lady raised: the treatment of current EU migrants. I have said in terms—I was quoted by the shadow Secretary of State—that we seek to give them guarantees as good as they have now. The only condition is that we get the same guarantees for British citizens. Far from making people bargaining chips, treating them as a group, collectively, avoids making them bargaining chips.
On other aspects of immigration policy, my task is to bring control back to the UK, not to decide what eventual immigration policy will be. It must be decidable here, in this House, by the British Government, subject to parliamentary oversight and control.
I will make some progress and give way again in a moment.
I return to the Opposition’s motion. They say that there should be
“a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU”.
I agree. At the same time, I am sure that we can all agree that nothing should be done to compromise the national interest in the negotiation to come; I think the shadow Secretary of State said that in his opening speech.
I could list the 100 questions that we have answered, the oral statements, the appearances before Select Committees; the House knows all that. As a Department, we are not being backward in appearing in front of the House. The House may not be overwhelmed with the detail of the answers yet—that is hardly surprising: we are only a few weeks into the process and six months away from the end of it. The simple truth is that we are appearing regularly in front of the House and seeking to give as much as we can.
The right hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that the great repeal Bill will give us some certainty, so may I ask him for certainty on environmental legislation in particular? Even when EU legislation has been enshrined in UK law, we need to know, first, the extent to which any future changes to environmental safeguards will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and vote; and, secondly, what kind of accountability mechanisms he imagines will be in place. Once we are out of the EU, we lose access to the European Court of Justice and the Commission. How will that environmental legislation become judiciable?
The legislation is judiciable and subject to amendment in this House. It will be entirely subject to the will of the House. Any Government seeking to alter it will have to get the permission of the House through a vote in the House. That is very plain. It will also be under the jurisdiction of the British courts; that is the other aspect that the hon. Lady asked about.
I am afraid that that intervention is rather a demonstration of one of the problems that we have with the language on this issue. People have been talking about “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit”, which mean very little. Attempts have been made to pigeonhole what could be any one of a whole range of outcomes in market terms. We have not yet started a negotiation with the European Union and there is a whole spectrum—from free trade area, to customs union, to the single market arrangement. The shadow Secretary of State was laying out some of those possibilities. We are not going to go for a Norwegian, Turkish or Swiss option—we are going for a British option, which will be tailored to our interests and better for our interests than any other option.
The right hon. Gentleman’s non-answer to the reasonable question asked by Anna Soubry illustrates the point. The reason he is struggling today can be found in the words of Sir Andrew Cahn, who said in September:
“I find it…shocking…that David Cameron as Prime Minister prohibited the civil service from doing preparatory work…I think it was a humiliation for this country that our partners in Europe should say: ‘You’ve voted for this, but you have no idea what you want’”.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give any plausible explanation for that serious dereliction of duty by the former Prime Minister?
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend.
May I nail this lie once and for all? The other day, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee took evidence from Sir Jeremy Heywood, who confirmed that senior civil servants were meeting before the referendum to discuss the outcomes, including the possibility that the country would vote to leave the European Union. Plans and preparations were being made by the British civil service before the referendum.
I will now move on to the question of scrutiny itself.
The House already has plans to put in place the so-called Brexit Select Committee, which will take effect next month, and we will be appearing in front of it regularly. It would be surprising if we appeared in front of that Committee and did not talk about some of our plans. I expect to attend the Committee regularly, just as I will attend the Lords Committee—its equivalent, effectively. We do not shy away from scrutiny; we welcome it. Members will know that I have continually welcomed and championed the extension of Select Committee powers since the publication of the Wright Committee report in 2009. The public expect Ministers to engage with Parliament in this way, and we will continue to do so.
In a moment.
I also made a commitment in September that this Parliament will be at least as informed of progress in our negotiations as the European Parliament. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not appear to believe it when I told the Lords, but it was also made plain to the Foreign Affairs Committee. We are setting up administrative procedures to ensure that, when this becomes relevant in a month or two, these things happen and happen quickly, so that we do not have to go to an EU website to find what we want to know. That will be the minimum, but Members should understand that we will be going considerably beyond that.
In a moment—a very Scot Nat way of getting attention.
I made the commitment that Parliament be kept at least as informed as, and better informed than, the European Parliament. I have also asked the Chief Whip through the usual channels to ensure that we have a series of debates so that the House can air its views. Again, it would be very surprising if we had those debates without presenting to the House something for it to debate.
I refer back to the question from Anna Soubry, which I do not think the Secretary of State answered adequately. You are either a member of the single market or you are not. It is clear now that the Government need to spell things out: are they in favour of being members of the single market or are they not? Inform the House.
It is astonishing how linear, or black and white, some Members think this is. We have Norway, which is inside the single market and outside the customs union; we have Turkey, which is inside the customs union and outside the single market; and we have Switzerland, which is not in the single market but has equivalent access to all of its productive and manufacturing services. There is not a single entity, but a spectrum of outcomes, and we will be seeking to get the best of that spectrum of outcomes.
The Secretary of State will know that, throughout the country, when this issue was being discussed, the British public knew that membership of the single market meant free movement of labour. That was one of the basic principles behind why people, in their millions, voted to leave. Is it not time that we straightforwardly said that we want the fullest possible access to the single market, but that we cannot, if we are going to stop free movement, which is what the people of this country wanted, be members of the single market?
Broadly, the argument about full access and control of our borders is an argument that the Prime Minister has already made in the last few weeks, so I do not think I need to elaborate on it. However, let us understand something about this—sometimes, we seem to be arguing over which end of the egg we open first. The argument between us is where the dividing line is on what we tell Parliament about. The hon. and learned Gentleman recognised in terms, I think, that we could not give every detail to Parliament and that, despite his letter, we could not give a blow-by-blow account—that we could not have Parliament dictate how we dealt with the trade-offs, the terms and so on. [Interruption.] Despite the noise to his right, it is fairly plain that that is what the criterion is; that is where the problem is.
Let us be clear how this applies. If someone tells their opposite number in a negotiation exactly what their top priority is, that will make that top priority extremely expensive. Ordinary people, in their ordinary lives, probably do one big transaction themselves, and that is the purchase of a house. If someone went to buy a house, and they looked at only one house, told the owner that they were in love with that house and made a bid for it, I suspect the price would go up.
In a moment—I have a lady over here who wants to make an intervention.
Similarly, if someone makes pre-emptive indications that they are willing to make a concession on something, they reduce the value of that concession. Therefore, in many, many ways, we cannot give details about how we will run the negotiation.
My right hon. Friend is right that negotiations are a fragile process. I welcome his support for scrutiny. My Select Committee—the Women and Equalities Committee—is looking closely at the impact of Brexit on equality protections, which I am sure is not high on his list at the moment. We want to do some of the work on that with him. Will he undertake today to work with us on that and to contribute to our Select Committee inquiry? At the moment, we are finding it difficult to secure that contribution from his Department.
I see no reason not to help the Select Committee on that basis; that seems an eminently sensible use of time and of the Select Committee’s expertise, so of course we will do that. However, this will be an issue right across the board; pretty much every Select Committee in the House of Commons will have an interest, one way or another, in the progress of Brexit and in what the outcome will be.
May I ask the Secretary of State about timing? As I understand it, the Government intend us to have left the European Union by
That is why we made plain at the beginning of this process that we would have the great repeal Bill, which will put into UK law—or domestic law, more accurately—what is currently the acquis communautaire. That is the start position. Then it comes down to the House to amend that under the guidance of the individual Departments. There may be, for example, a fisheries Bill; there may be some other legislation of that nature. That will have to be argued through at the time. It is pretty straightforward.
The Secretary of State said a moment ago that it would be a mistake for the Government to illustrate what its top priority in the negotiations was, but is it not the case that every speech at the Conservative party conference indicated that the top priority was the control and limitation of immigration from within the European Union?
That, frankly, will be within our own control. If you leave the European Union, that gives you control over that issue. How you deal with the European Union, and trade with it, then comes on from there, so that is not an issue that actually meets that.
The simple demonstration of the point I am making is this: in Northern Ireland, where we have the really important issue of soft borders to resolve, both sides of the decision-making process—the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government—have a similar interest. As a result, we can be very open about that issue, and we have indeed been very open about it; indeed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was quoted in The Guardian on Monday in detail about what he is trying to achieve in terms of customs arrangements, cross-border arrangements and the common travel area. All of those things were very straightforwardly laid out in some detail. Why? Because that does not give away any of our negotiating cards, as this is between two people with the same aim. That is a much better example of how we have to be careful about what we say as we go into the negotiations.
The Secretary of State mentions taking back control of fisheries, so is it an area that might be devolved to the Scottish Parliament after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union? Will he rule out—unlike the Secretary of State for Scotland, who seemed to be unable to do so earlier today—any power being repatriated from the Scottish Parliament to this place as part of the Brexit process?
I would not expect that as part of the Brexit process. To take the serious point, we need to discuss with all the devolved Administrations how to address sectors—such as fisheries, farming, hill farming—the legal basis of which will alter as we bring things back to the United Kingdom.
The position or the status quo, as the Secretary of State well knows, is that everything is devolved to Scotland unless it is reserved. Agriculture and fisheries are not reserved; therefore, they are devolved. Unless the Government intend to change that position, agriculture and fisheries will automatically go to the Scottish Government.
This is an area on which we have not talked to the devolved Administration yet. We will do so before we get to bringing such things back.
Such an attitude on the details of the negotiations is not taken simply by the Government. The Lords European Union Committee concluded:
“It is clear…that parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations will have to strike a balance between, on the one hand, the desire for transparency, and on the other, the need to avoid undermining the UK’s negotiating position.”
This is hardly rocket science. It should hardly be controversial; it should be straightforward. At every stage of this process, I want this House to be engaged and updated. As I have made clear, we will observe the constitutional and legal conventions that apply to any new treaty on a new relationship with the European Union.
I will give way in a moment.
I want to address the final part of the motion about this House being able properly to scrutinise Government plans for leaving the EU before article 50 is invoked. Article 50 sets out the process by which we leave the EU, which has been decided by the British people. Invoking it is a job for the Government. Leaving the EU is what the British people voted for on
I welcome the terms of the Government amendment, which seems entirely sensible. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree, and is my understanding right, that he now accepts that those of us raising concerns about the level of debate necessary ahead of the triggering of article 50 are by no means seeking to frustrate the will of the people—we recognise the instruction from the British people that we should leave the European Union—but seeking a full understanding of the Government’s broad negotiating aims?
I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that. In truth, scrutiny of our strategic aims is what debates such as this are about, as is parliamentary engagement of the kind I have mentioned—debating the issues that will inform our negotiating position, and holding the Government to account. However, such scrutiny has to be at the strategic level; it cannot be at the tactical level or enter into the detailed negotiation.
Is this not one of those strange debates in which both sides actually agree with each other—in this case, that we will have parliamentary scrutiny? If the Opposition are against such an approach, they can have Opposition days, hold Back-Bench business debates, table urgent questions, ask questions during statements and have Westminster Hall debates. All those are in the power of Parliament. We are absolutely not disagreeing; in the end, we will all agree with the amended motion. There is a lot of general noise, but Parliament is actually agreeing that the process should go forward, and we will scrutinise it properly. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is the gist of it?
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned hill farming, the agricultural sector and the fisheries sector. I happen to be a crofter, and many crofters will be wondering whether there will still be financial support for hill sheep farmers and the rest post-Brexit. Indeed, fishermen will be asking the same about the assistance for purchasing and upgrading fishing boats. On those two things, can we be sure that the money coming from Europe will be replaced by the UK Government?
I think the hon. Gentleman will know that we have already made undertakings in relation to the 2020 round, which is of course the end of the European guarantee. Beyond that, I am quite sure the Treasury will be looking very hard at the necessary economics of such industries in all the devolved Administrations and, indeed, in England.
No, I will not give way.
Let me be clear: the Opposition spokesman said that the British people did not vote for any particular model of Brexit—I think that is pretty much what he said—but they voted to “leave the European Union”, which were the words on the ballot paper. It is reasonable to think that they did not make an assumption about soft Brexit or hard Brexit, or any other specification of Brexit; they assumed that the British Government would set about negotiating to get the best possible result for all parts of society, all parts of the United Kingdom—including all the devolved Administrations—and all industries, sectors, services, manufacturers and so on. [Interruption.] Emily Thornberry says, “Yeah, yeah”. We know her view of the British working class. She has really had a very good time on that, has she not? I take a much more serious view of the fate of the British working class under a Government that she would support.
The simple truth is that the British Government are setting out to achieve the best possible outcome on security, on control of our borders and in democratic terms, as well as for access to markets across the whole world: the European Union and all the opportunities outside it. The British people voted for that—17.5 million of them.
I welcome the new Opposition spokesperson, Keir Starmer, to his role. We very much look forward to working with him during these crucial few months. I thank him for bringing this motion to the House. The Secretary of State has shown that he still has a long way to go to meet the doubts and questions that the hon. and learned Gentleman raised, but securing such a debate is a step in the right direction.
The talks and negotiations during this crucial period will have an impact across every policy area in every part of the country, but we are seeing very little in the way of detail. I fear that this lack of detail has more to do with a Cabinet who cannot agree among themselves than with any ideas about the negotiating strategy. I am a new Member of Parliament, but other hon. Members may be able to tell me whether it is normal for a Secretary of State—we welcome him—to spend so much time at the Dispatch Box without actually telling us anything. He spent a lot of time at the Dispatch Box, and I am none the wiser about where we are at the moment, which seems remarkable.
I wonder whether the Government can tell us something else about the negotiations. They tell us they will have the negotiations, but when my hon. Friend Neil Gray brought up the issue of the single market—other hon. Members have asked other key questions—they have shown that they cannot answer a simple question. That is striking. When they sit down with our European partners and start the negotiations, what will they say? What can they possibly tell our European partners? We do not even have a starting point.
I just want to make this point. The Secretary of State told my hon. Friend that this is like buying a house. It is not; it is a democratic process that will have a significant impact on our citizens, and it should be subject to the most intense scrutiny of this place and of the devolved Administrations.
I know that the hon. Gentleman and his party are resisting the will of the people as expressed across the United Kingdom in this referendum, but what does he find difficult about the Secretary of State’s assurance that when it comes to trade—just to take the single market issue—the Government are seeking to ensure maximum exposure to the European market for British manufacturers and service industries, which is the aim of the negotiations? What is so difficult about that?
Many of the hon. Gentleman’s own constituents—57% of the people of Northern Ireland, in fact—voted to remain part of the EU, for many reasons, one of which was an act of irresponsibility committed by the Secretary of State and others, who campaigned to leave the European Union based on a blank sheet of paper. I have said in this House before, and will say again, that when we campaigned for independence my right hon. Friend Alex Salmond had the decency to produce a 670-page White Paper. People knew what they were voting for, and it was not the kind of mess that we are seeing today.
I am sure that the farmers and fishermen of Northern Ireland will be as worried and concerned as the crofters and fishermen of the Outer Hebrides that there are no guarantees for their funding post 2020. That is a real case of material concern for people in all parts of the UK.
My hon. Friend raises a very good point. Funding is a significant concern for fishermen, farmers, universities and others who rely on our relationship with the European Union. We are dealing with an act of negligence from the Government, who are providing us with no detail; that builds on an act of gross irresponsibility by the Vote Leave campaign.
I am very grateful. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned that his party produced a 600-page dossier ahead of the Scottish vote, but when asked which currency would be used under independence, it simply had no idea, nor any clue about the consequences of independence.
That is remarkable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon set up a fiscal commission working group to look into that, covering a whole range of arguments. I am sure we can make that available to the hon. Gentleman. We had all the details. There were two Nobel laureates on that group. How many Nobel laureates do the Government have? Zero. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr MacNeil, you are an exceptionally boisterous fellow, and in the course of your boisterous behaviour appear to be chewing some sort of gum. It is very eccentric conduct. I have great aspirations for you to be a statesman, but your apprenticeship still has some distance to travel.
If the House will forgive me mixing my cultural references, the three Brexiteers and their friends have got us into another fine mess, and cannot tell us how they are going to get us out of it.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon raised a very significant point about the devolved Administrations that, like most points put to the Secretary of State, was not answered. Fishing and farming are not a matter of negotiation in these islands, so will responsibility for fishing and farming go straight to the Scottish Parliament after Brexit? Or is there going to be a change to schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998? There is no answer. But that is not a matter of negotiation. It is a matter of fact—and it is facts that the Secretary of State cannot give us.
The situation is extraordinarily disappointing for the devolved Administrations, who have gone from being involved to being consulted. Will the Secretary of State tell us, as the Prime Minister told us previously, whether there will be an agreed position with the devolved Administrations? Perhaps someone will take a note of that for him. What will be the formal role of the Scottish Parliament?
This place and the UK Government do not have a particularly good track record when standing up for fishermen, farmers and others. Mr Carmichael has raised the point, as has my right hon. Friend, that when we went into the European Union Scotland’s fishermen, and fishermen across these islands, were described as expendable.
This intervention will give the Secretary of State the opportunity to consider my hon. Friend’s question. In the days after she took office, the Prime Minister met Scotland’s First Minister and seemed to assure Scotland that article 50 would not be triggered until there was an agreed position with the Scottish Administration. It is very fair for my hon. Friend to ask whether that is still Government policy or whether the Prime Minister has been countermanded by the Secretary of State for Brexit.
I apologise for having to intervene to give this answer. The Prime Minister showed very clearly how important she considered the devolved Administration in Scotland. She went to Scotland first after coming to power, and said, plainly, two things. One was that we will consult and have detailed discussions with the Scottish Administration, and those in Wales and Northern Ireland, before we trigger article 50 and bring the great repeal Bill to the House. But we cannot give anyone a veto. We consider ourselves bound by the decision of the British people. No one can say, “No, you can’t do this”, but we will do everything possible in our power to meet the needs of the Scottish people and the other devolved Administrations.
Yet more time at the Dispatch Box for the Secretary of State, but with even less information. We were told that there would be an agreed position with the devolved Administrations. He seems to be backtracking on that. Perhaps in due course he will tell us whether there will still be that agreed position. However, I do not want to get him into trouble yet again, so will leave him to chat to the Prime Minister about that.
I will make some progress. There is a valuable point that this place has to learn. Democracy in the United Kingdom does not begin and end in this Parliament, and has not done so for some time. Yet at the moment, we are in a situation where the unelected House of Lords along the corridor will have a greater say on what happens next than the elected devolved Administrations.
I will set out some questions that I know those in the devolved Administrations will be asking themselves. What happens to the coastal communities fund, upon which fishing communities depend? What happens to the CAP—an issue raised not least by my hon. Friend Mr MacNeil? What happens to the renewables obligations, where Scotland is streaking ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom, along with our climate change obligations? What happens to our world-leading universities—I have to mention the University of St Andrews and its outstanding work in this field?
My hon. Friend is clearly in need of a better education.
What happens to the environment and our air pollution targets? What happens to the social protections? All those questions are unanswered—and we still do not have an answer on what will happen on the single market or to European nationals.
I chair the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The hon. Gentleman is raising very legitimate points on the very legitimate basis that democracy exists in other parts of the United Kingdom somewhat independently of this House. We therefore need a respectful and constructive dialogue between the United Kingdom Government and the Administrations in the other parts of the UK, as well as between this Parliament and the other Parliaments of the United Kingdom. I have already visited the Scottish Parliament with my Committee to that end, and am offering to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament on those questions and how we should address them. I hope that the dialogue he wants will be in that spirit of co-operation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising those points and for visiting Edinburgh. I encourage him and his colleagues on the Committee to interact with their colleagues on the Committees of the Scottish Parliament. I am glad to be able to say this time that I think he has made a very fair point. I agree that that is what should happen.
I want to make some progress.
Key questions need to be answered, for example, on the single market. I want to talk about European nationals for a moment. European nationals have made this country their home. They contribute significantly to our social and financial wellbeing. They make our society all the richer by being part of it. For the International Trade Secretary to describe them as “cards” was utterly unacceptable, although I note the Brexit Secretary is rowing back from that.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government cannot even be straight on the structural funds, which he mentioned? The Chancellor’s letter earlier this year refers only to funds allocated already, but not to the huge amounts of funding for the north-east, for example, that is yet to be allocated. Even on that there is confusion. If it is not the full amount, the north-east, like other regions, could lose hundreds of millions of pounds.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and that situation affects universities, businesses and so many others, including cultural organisations such as St Athernase church in Leuchars in my constituency, which is 850 years old, and which was looking for European funding to help keep that jewel standing. It must now think about where it goes next, without any answers. We need to plan well beyond 2020, so he makes an excellent point.
Not at the moment.
That point reminds me that the Institute for Government has said:
“There is a gaping void in the Government negotiating strategy.”
There is also a gaping void in their policy. They are responsible for negotiating on behalf of all of us, which should concern us. We have not seen any more details. We have not seen a Green Paper, although I am not sure whether Ministers have.
We should think about the impact. The Fraser of Allander Institute says that in Scotland alone—I know hon. Members from elsewhere in the United Kingdom have concerns—there will be 3% fewer jobs by the time we leave the European Union, which could mean 80,000 jobs. Real wages could be 7% lower, which will affect households. The Treasury—these are the Government’s own figures—warns that the cost of leaving the European Union could be £66 billion.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the financial services sector in Scotland supports 150,000 jobs, many of which are in my Edinburgh South West constituency. He will also be aware that there is concern in the sector about whether passporting rights will be lost or kept as a result of Brexit. Does he agree that, if the Government are not successful in negotiating passporting rights for the financial sector, many jobs are likely to leave Scotland and go to the European continent?
“significant negative impact on the Scottish economy”, which rings true with my hon. and learned Friend’s point.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a moment ago that people wanted certainty beyond 2020. Is he aware that the multi-annual financial framework will not be renewed until 2020, and therefore that there is uncertainty even if we remain within the European Union as to how funding will continue after that date, including for the crofters of Mr MacNeil?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar correctly. The hon. Gentleman is right about 2020, but universities, businesses, regions and local authorities will negotiate and collaborate with one another well beyond that. They are currently not certain of membership of the European Union, the single market and the continued benefits of those programmes. I therefore do not agree with him on that point. That is a significant amount of uncertainty.
I will not give way yet.
Over the coming little while, much of the debate should be about scrutiny—we should be able to talk about our constituents who are affected—but it should also be about vision and the kind of country we want to see if the rest of the United Kingdom leaves. I was proud, as I am sure every member of my party was, that 62% of people in Scotland voted to remain.
I will not give way at the moment.
That 62% represented the biggest gap between leave and remain in any part of the United Kingdom. For me, that speaks of a positive vision. That is the vision of a country that wants to take its place in the world. I joined the Scottish National party because I believe in a Scotland that is equal in this family of nations throughout the European Union. I believe in a Scotland that should co-operate on an equal basis with our partners in the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, France, England and Wales—[Interruption]—and indeed Northern Ireland, which is among our closest friends and partners. I believe that the EU nationals who have made Scotland their home are welcome and should stay and make a contribution.
I am proud to be part of a group that draws members from across the United Kingdom and beyond. We want a country that is outward looking and co-operating with our European partners. That is why so many people in Scotland and elsewhere are turning away from the United Kingdom and a Conservative Government who are being led by the nose by UKIP, talking about EU nationals as “cards”, and talking about firms drawing up and putting out lists of foreigners. I do not subscribe to that, and nor does any SNP Member.
Order. We will begin with a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, from which a number of hon. and right hon. Members will benefit, but I give due notice to the House that that limit will have to be sharply lowered, probably relatively early.
Sadly I was not able to attend the Conservative party conference this year, but I followed its proceedings very closely, or as closely as I could, through reports in the media. I was rather surprised to find that some very clear statements of policy on the subject of Europe were made from the platform that I was not totally expecting. One was that we would not trigger article 50 before the end of March at the latest. I rather approve of that. This is such a portentous decision that a long and careful preparation of a policy within the Government, whom I fear probably do not yet have an agreed policy, is important. When I say that they should take as long as possible about it, I do not mean to be sarcastic. I do not underestimate the sheer scale of the task facing them to agree the strategy.
Other announcements were made, however. It was made absolutely clear that freedom of movement of labour with other European countries will be over. That conjured up the vision of work permits and so on, and possibly quotas. It was made perfectly clear that the control of all the rules and regulations that currently enable free trade within the single market will be taken back into our jurisdiction. No Brexiteer at the moment is able to name any very important rule that they wish to change, but we are taking it back into the British Parliament, and will then be free to change such rules of the market as Parliament agrees it wants to change.
We will also no longer submit to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The way in which the European Union has worked, and the reason it has lasted and still lasts as a 28 nation state organisation with common rules, is that there are institutions for enforcing those rules. Indeed, Britain used the European Court of Justice extremely successfully to preserve the passport for financial services when attempts were made to take it away by some of the new eurozone members.
I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that there are a number of things we want to change pretty quickly. The common fisheries policy needs to be changed in the interests of Britain, and we would like to impose our own VAT on the products we think appropriate.
If anybody has an alternative fisheries policy that they have worked out, I look forward to a full debate on the subject, but I will not go into that area at the moment.
The point I am making is that those three decisions were all interpreted as making it clear that it was the Government’s intention to leave the single market and leave the customs union. Those three decisions, on the face of it, are totally incompatible with the principles defended by successive British Governments, alongside other nation states, ever since the Thatcher Government took the lead in creating the single market. We have always been extremely forceful in our demands that other member states should follow the principles that we were repudiating at the party conference.
I have right hon. and hon. Friends in this House who agree strongly with all three of those propositions, but what surprised me was that those propositions were announced as Government policy without a word of debate in this House of Commons, and, I think I know, without a word of collective discussion in any Cabinet or any Cabinet Committee. They were just pronounced from the platform. That was not a very good start, in my opinion, on this difficult subject. We all saw the consequences of the perfectly sensible reaction outside: that this meant the starting point of the negotiations was leaving the single market and the customs union. I take them to mean that. The three statements are incompatible with everything that has been there before. If I was a French, German, Polish, Spanish or Italian politician, I would look at that list and declare to my Parliament, “Well, that makes it perfectly clear that the British are going out of the single market and the customs union, and we are going to have to determine on what basis we can go back to some lesser access.”
The reaction in the markets was only too obvious. It has continued ever since with continued pronunciations of uncertainty that are holding things back very badly. The pound has devalued to an extent that would have caused a political crisis 30 years ago when I first came here, and not for the first time.
Well, that was regarded as a political crisis. I am sure my hon. Friend did not welcome the ERM and say what a triumph it was to see sterling collapse as it did.
The present position is uncertainty. Although we have to go to March, we need to clarify some things. The uncertainty is not helping. Nobody is going to invest in this country in any international project until there is some clarity about our relationship with the outside world. To anybody who just thinks that devaluation is a good thing and Black Wednesday was White Wednesday, I could not disagree more. The situation is that we have now devalued by 40% since 2006 and we have the biggest current account deficit in this country’s history. So the stimulating effect to exports has had its limitations so far. I think we should ask ourselves the question: what is raised by all this?
It is said that it does not matter: we have had the referendum, the public have spoken and all these things were determined. Indeed the Secretary of State, who shifted quite a bit from where I thought he was going to be a couple of days ago when I first saw the Government’s motion, still starts by saying, “The people have spoken” and that all these things have been decided. Well, I do not accept that. These issues were not addressed during the referendum. In the national media, the debate on both sides was pathetic. The questions about how many millions of Turks were going to come here, how far income tax was going to go up and health service spending cut, depending on which way you went, achieved rather more prominence than the details of the customs union, and the single market and its effect on any part of our economy.
No two Brexiteers agree, even today on these Benches. There are firm Brexiteers who think that we obviously need the single market, and there are firm Brexiteers who think, “Oh no, we don’t have to do that. It is so important to German car manufacturers and wine exporters that we can stay in the single market.” Actually, that more reflects the debates I have had with Eurosceptics over the years. The one thing I have never previously disagreed about with any of my Eurosceptic friends in the Conservative party is free trade. They absolutely enthuse with their belief in open markets, free trade and the removal of barriers. Indeed, the other new Secretary of State, who will be responsible for trade relations with the rest of the world, made a speech about the benefits of free trade and globalisation, which made me sound like a protectionist only a few moments ago.
I do not think there is a mandate for saying we are pulling out of the completely open access we have at the moment to a market of 500 million sophisticated, wealthy consumers, and that we feel perfectly free now to go on a voyage of discovery to see how much of that we can retain. My constituency voted in favour of remaining, but anybody who tells me there was a mandate in favour of that, among the leave camp and the 17 million people who voted to leave, is, I think, going to be greeted with a certain amount of disbelief. I therefore think it is a pity that the Secretary of State was obviously still quite unable to say whether the objective of the Government is to stay in the single market and the customs union or not. He gave great assertions. I am delighted to hear that they will be seeking to negotiate to maximise the best interests of the UK and the British people—that is very reassuring—and he hopes to get the best terms he can possibly get on access. Every other member state, however, will make it quite clear to its Parliament and its people what attitudes it is taking during these negotiations towards the single market. We are not.
We are making progress—I will conclude on this point and keep to my limit—and the Government amendment is a step forward that I did not expect to see. I welcome that. I would have voted for the Labour party’s motion. We still have no offer of a vote and we need clarity on the policy the Government are going to pursue, because the Government are accountable to this House for the policy it pursues in negotiations.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Clarke. I will try to pick up where he left off because of the time limit. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer on, if I can put it this way, a first-rate speech from the Labour Front Bench. I also welcome the progress that has been made, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe said, in the past 48 hours. In my view, however, we still have a significant way to go. I believe that nothing less than a vote on the Government’s negotiating strategy before the commencement of the negotiations will do. I want to explain why to the House.
Mr Bone intervened earlier and said that this is a fuss about nothing, or that some people might say it is a fuss about procedure. This is not about procedure; this is about the country and whether Brexit works for the country or not. I want to address those on the Government Benches in particular, because they, along with those on my side, will have a decisive role in determining whether we get the scrutiny and the vote.
I want to start where we should begin, which is with the state of the country. Let us be honest about this: the state of the country is deeply divided. We were divided by the referendum and we still are divided. Many leavers were delighted by the result but are anxious about what is going to come next. Many remainers are desolate about the outcome and fearful of the demons that have been unleashed. Both sides have reasons for their feelings. Let us be honest: this is not a good state of affairs for the country.
The Secretary of State and the Government say they want to create a national consensus. I agree that we need to create a national consensus. It is up to all of us to try to heal the divisions and create a consensus of the 52% and the 48%. Let us be honest, that will be difficult, but it is what we should try to do. From my side, remain, and for my part, I believe it means we should accept the result of the referendum as part of trying to bridge that divide. People voted and we should accept the result. But, if I can put it this way, the humility of those who lost should be matched by the magnanimity of those who won. So as I think about my responsibilities, I absolutely do think, as my hon. Friend Emma Reynolds said, about my constituents who voted to leave the European Union. I say to the people who voted for leave and were successful that they should think about the remain people in our country—I am sure they do—who feel lost and wonder whether there is a place for them in Britain after Brexit.
Responsibilities lie on both sides and, if I may say so in passing, we should stop impugning each other’s motives. The vast majority of people who voted to leave did not do so because of prejudice. And, if I can put it the other way, those who are now advocating proper scrutiny and consent from this Parliament are not doing so, as the Daily Mail says today, because we want to reverse the vote. It is for much deeper reasons than that: it is about the mandate from the referendum. We need to put the labels of remain and leave behind us, but that is the beginning, because if the Government are serious about creating a national consensus, then how do we that? We have to take the country with us on this new journey. This cannot be the political equivalent of the country being put to sleep for two years on an anaesthetic and waking up in a magical new land. That has never been the way our democracy worked and it will certainly not work on an issue as big as this.
We need a Government willing to be transparent and consultative with the people and, indeed, this House. The Secretary of State is not here now, but I think even he believes that, because it is significant that three days before his appointment he was saying that we should have a pre-negotiation White Paper. He even implied in that article, which bears reading, that that would strengthen the Government’s negotiating hand. I think it actually would, particularly if there was consent from this House for the Government’s position. Would it not also be an irony if the main act of those who argued in the referendum for the sovereignty of Parliament—I do not doubt their motives and beliefs—was to deny the sovereignty of Parliament in determining the outcome of the Brexit negotiations?
I want to deal with the four arguments that have been adduced for why Parliament should not get a vote over this referendum, because I do not think any of them stands up to scrutiny. The first argument is, “Well, we’ve had a referendum.” Correct: we have had a referendum, but as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras said so eloquently, the referendum determined that we are leaving the European Union. To those who say that the form of Brexit we would have was absolutely clear, I point this out. The Secretary of State himself advocated in 2012 that we should remain a member of the customs union. If it was so clear that we were leaving the customs union and the single market, why was he advocating the opposite position just four years before the referendum took place?
The second argument is an Executive power argument. Of course, the Secretary of State cannot make that argument with a straight face, because he published a Bill—it is an extraordinary Bill, as my hon. and learned Friend said, and should be distributed to all Members of the House—all about the need to control the Executive and the fact that, unless it was set out in statute that the Executive had this power, the consent of this House would be necessary. On something as big as this, with these huge questions about our membership of the single market and our place in the world, surely the consent of the House is necessary.
The third argument is the secrecy argument. I think this is, as the Foreign Secretary might say, baloney as well, because the reality is that, as sure as anything, these negotiations will leak and we will end up in the position where the only people not knowing what our starting position is will be us. We will find out by reading in the newspapers. If there was ever any abuse of the House of Commons and its place, that would be it.
That is a very simplistic question, but on the substance of it, my position would be that we should do everything we can to stay members of the single market, but that we should also seek adjustments to freedom of movement. The Government’s position is the opposite. As far as I can see, it is that the only thing that matters is immigration and never mind if our economy goes off a cliff. I do not think that is a very good position.
The fourth argument is the red herring of the great repeal Bill. I think the great repeal Bill should be renamed the great entrenchment Bill.
Why do I say that? It is because the plan, as John Redwood knows—he is nodding from a sedentary position—is actually for the great repeal Bill to entrench European law into British domestic law. All these laws that the leave campaign have honourably objected to for so many years will actually be put into British law. The notion that that is a proper means for this Parliament to take a view on the eventual outcome of the negotiation is also baloney, if I am allowed to say that in this House.
The four reasons that I have heard offered for why this House should not provide consent do not stack up. There is another reason, which could be the case—I really hope it is not—which is that the Government do not like the answer they will get if they ask this House for its consent. In other words, they do not believe there is a majority for hard Brexit in the House of Commons, so the thing they are desperate to avoid at all costs is getting the consent of this House, because they think they will end up in a negotiation in which they do not like the thing they are negotiating for. Well, I am afraid that is tough, because they need the consent and the confidence of this House on an issue as big as this, when there is no mandate from the referendum, certainly no mandate from the manifesto—which, let us remember, said yes to the single market—and no mandate for a Prime Minister who, let us not forget, was a remainer. I know she was a relatively silent remainer, but she advocated remain. She did not advocate leave and suddenly get swept to power, surfing on a wave of euphoria because she was in the leave campaign. She was in the remain campaign.
Does my right hon. Friend think there might be another explanation for the Government’s reluctance to put the matter to the House, which is that they cannot agree themselves what their opening position is?
That might well be the case. We only need to read the newspapers to see that if debates are not taking place clearly about the Government’s position in this House, they are certainly taking place clearly in the Cabinet, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to be in a slightly different position from some of his colleagues.
I want to conclude—because there are other people who want to speak in this debate—by returning to where I started. This issue goes so far beyond party politics and so far beyond whether we were for remain or leave in the referendum. It also goes so far beyond our tenure in this House, because the decisions we make in the next two or three years will have implications for decades to come, so I implore Members in all parts of the House, particularly those on the Government Benches. I know there will be pressure not to speak out—some of them have honourably done so—but I hope we will hold to the best traditions of this House as we think about our duties, because our duties are not about procedure.
I can give the right hon. Gentleman an absolute, categorical assurance that, as far as I am concerned, my duty to my constituents transcends duty to party in this matter. I agree with him totally that as the effect of this change is so major, we each have to look at how we achieve the best result for our country.
I am going to conclude, because I want others to be able to speak.
That is the point I will end on. This is about getting the right outcome for the country. This is about creating the national consensus that the Government say they want. I am certainly going to play my part in doing that and I urge other hon. and right hon. Members to do that too.
I must say, in response to Edward Miliband, that there are of course those who do not and never will accept the outcome of the referendum and who will use almost any means at their disposal to try to overturn it or mitigate the result, while constantly and disingenuously stating their respect for it. That is abundantly clear.
This historic vote was an emphatic vote to leave the European Union. That was what was on the ballot paper. It was clear, and it follows from the fact that we are going to leave the European Union that Brexit does not just mean Brexit; it means the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, which incorporates and absorbs all the laws and all the judgments of the European Court and all the matters that have come into this House and been imposed upon us by the 1972 Act.
There has been some talk about the Conservative manifesto. I have it here, and I mention it because it is relevant not only to some remarks off by some of my colleagues but to the future conduct of this matter in relation to the House of Lords. Our manifesto states:
“For too long, your voice has been ignored on Europe.”
That was stated in 2015 and put to the British people. It further stated that the Conservative party would
“give you a say over whether we should stay in or leave the EU, with an in-out referendum by the end of 2017”.
It then qualifies that—the precise date of the referendum was not known in 2015—by making some perfectly reasonable comments. It commits in the meantime or in parenthesis, as it were—it does not say that, but that is what it implies—to
“keeping the pound and staying out of the Eurozone”, which is fair enough, and to
“reform the workings of the EU”.
So long as we are in the EU, we obviously want to reform those workings, because it is
“too big, too bossy and too bureaucratic”.
It goes on to state that the party will
“reclaim power from Brussels on your behalf and safeguard British interests in the Single Market”— and I should hope that we would during that interim period, and
“back businesses to create jobs in Britain by completing ambitious trade deals and reducing red tape.”
That is what the manifesto said, and it provided the basis on which not only the general election but the referendum took place. The words in the question were quite clear:
“Do you want to ‘remain’ in or ‘leave’ the European Union?”
I do not disagree with that, but the hon. Gentleman has skirted over the fact that the manifesto on which he stood gave a commitment to remain in the single market. Where is that now?
It is clear from the wording I read out that safeguarding British interests in the single market applies to the intervening period between the result of the general election, the introduction of the EU Referendum Bill and the referendum itself. Indeed, we are going to have to continue to do that until we get to the later stage.
I must disagree with my hon. Friend. I have the manifesto with me, too, because I shall refer to it in my remarks. It very clear states:
“We say: yes to the Single Market”— and there is no mention in the wording that my hon. Friend cited of there being an interim period in which Britain remains in the single market.
My right hon. Friend has, I think, a slight problem here. I understand from remarks made by Members on both sides of the House that when we repeal the 1972 Act, as we intend to do, some will not want to resist it—I see my right hon. Friend nodding her head, for which I am grateful. It is simply not possible for us to be in the single market on the one hand and on the other hand repeal the laws that are implicit in the 1972 Act. We cannot be in the single market and repeal the jurisdiction of that Act.
My hon. Friend will doubtless agree with me that over the next three to four years we will get out of one treaty and replace it with at least another, if not a multiplicity of treaties—part of the 13,000 by which we are bound internationally at present. He might also agree that Norway provides an example of a country that participates in the single market without being a member of the European Union. Does that not completely destroy the argument that my hon. Friend has just put forward?
It does not, because I said implicitly that we would not be able to go into the European economic area for that very reason. The British people have spoken in the referendum, and everyone in the Chamber says that they respect the views of the British people, yet at the same time we hear these weasel words that somehow imply that it is possible to leave the European Union, repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and still remain within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That is just nonsense—political and legal nonsense.
I have given way enough for now, and I want to continue with what I have to say. I shall come back to this issue on another occasion, but my position is abundantly clear and correct: we cannot both be in the single market and repeal the 1972 Act.
What is the meaning of the answer to the question? It meant that, by the consent of the voters given by the sovereignty of this House, this Parliament agreed to give to the British people the right to transfer from Members of Parliament in their place today and beforehand to them the decision on whether we remained or left. That decision was taken by a majority of something of the order of 6:1. In my judgment, it is unseemly if not absurd for the same Members of Parliament to say, “Oh, well, we did not like the outcome of the result” and then to say “We are now going to mitigate or try to overturn it”.
No, I am not giving way at this stage.
We are debating whether under the terms of this motion we will get a decision or a vote on the issue of trade negotiations before the triggering of article 50, so let me make this point, which is at the heart or at the least surface of the debate, about the Labour party and the Labour Government. No decision was taken by the then Labour Government to have a similar kind of condition imposed on the negotiating deal back in 1975, or indeed in October 1971. Neither in 1975 nor 1971 was there any attempt to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations, which I think speaks for itself.
The hon. Gentleman has accused Labour Members of being disingenuous and unseemly if we express concerns about the consequences of leaving the European Union. I represent the Erdington constituency, which is rich in talent but one of the poorest in the country. It is home to the Jaguar factory, which has doubled in size over the last five years and has transformed the lives of thousands of local people. It is absolutely correct for us express their concern and that of the company that unless we remain in the single market, Jaguar Land Rover, which produces 1.6 million cars a year, 57% of which are exported to the European Union, and its workers will face very serious consequences.
I am so glad to hear the hon. Gentleman standing up for his constituents so well, which I always admire and try to do myself. In my constituency, about 65% wanted to the leave the EU; the hon. Gentleman referred to Birmingham, where the vote was also to leave. I hope that he will have due regard to what his constituents have said, because they were in favour of coming out.
Let me deal with the assertion that there could somehow or other be a diminution in parliamentary accountability and parliamentary scrutiny. Of course there will be questions, debates, and Select Committees. We all know that a motion for a new Brexit Select Committee is before the House and that a new Chairman will be elected to it. On the idea that this Parliament will not scrutinise or hold the Government to account on all these matters, I do not have the slightest objection, and nor should anyone else, to the questions being put today or indeed on any other day. This is what Parliament is all about.
Some parts of Parliament do not like the outcome of the referendum, but the question itself and the vote to leave were emphatic. In my judgment, that should not be gainsaid by attempting to reverse the result. We all know who the usual suspects are, and I am not looking at one in particular. All I am saying is that there are people—loads of them on the Labour side—who cannot bring themselves to accept the result. [Interruption.] In that case, when the Labour Front-Bench team winds up the debate, I expect to hear a categorical and unequivocal assurance that under no circumstances will any Opposition Member vote against Second Reading or try to undermine the repeal Bill. It sounds to me as though the bottom line is that they will not give that assurance, but I shall be interested if they do.
This historic vote gave the people of this country the opportunity to make a massive decision, one of the biggest decisions taken for generations. We have a democratic sovereign Parliament, which decided to give the vote to the British people. The position is much simpler than it sounds. This was not about the shenanigans over whether Vote Leave misrepresented people, or whether Project Fear did so. This was a decision by the British people, and in my view they paid a great deal less regard to the campaigns than to their own judgment. The British people got it right, and it is our job to respect that.
Having heard the remarks made by Sir William Cash, I am reminded how many fixed points in British politics have changed, and changed utterly, over the last few months. When I used to stand at the Government Dispatch Box, I could always rely on the hon. Gentleman and many other fervent Brexiteers to marry their loathing of the European Union to their passion for the traditions and prerogatives of this House. That was their raison d'être: they hated Brussels as much as they loved the House of Commons. They still hate Brussels, but they now appear to be completely tongue-tied, mute, silent, when they have an opportunity to speak up for the traditional prerogatives of the House.
A few minutes ago, my old friend and foe Mr Bone—it is a pity that he is not in the Chamber now—was reduced, poor man, to presenting an obsequious, feather-duster question to the Secretary of State, rather than taking the opportunity to say that this place, in keeping with the greatest traditions of the mother of all Parliaments, should hold the Government to account for what they are now going to do, because the Government do not have a mandate on how to exit the European Union following the referendum on
Who would have thought it of a Government of the Conservative party, the party of tradition and the venerable principles of parliamentary representative democracy? As they tiptoe away from the great traditions that they once espoused, they are doing two things: they are reinventing history, and they are wilfully ignoring precedent. I want to say a few words about both, but I shall begin with the reinvention of history.
We heard it today, and we heard it from the Secretary of State on Monday: apparently, the referendum on
But the reinvention of history continues. Now, it seems, the Government—unique in this land—have a telepathic ability to tell us all the reasons why those 17.4 million people voted for Brexit. That is extraordinary. It is particularly extraordinary given that they have never deigned to tell a single member of our wonderful country what they think Brexit means, because they could not agree among themselves then, and they still cannot agree. Nevertheless, with astonishing, telepathic hindsight, they can tell us why everyone voted as they did—and apparently everyone voted, en masse, for exactly the same thing.
Will the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the one thing that Brexit means is that we are leaving the European Union, and will he not say on the Floor of the House that he will not try to contravene or subvert that?
As the Secretary of State said earlier, being outside the European Union, like Turkey, Switzerland and Norway, means a multitude of different things. That is now the challenge for the Government. That is what the Brexiteers cynically withheld from the British people in the run-up to
But, not happy just with reinventing history in terms of the so-called overwhelming vote, which was actually very close—not content just to have, apparently, this telepathic wisdom, with hindsight, about why everyone voted—the Government have cast aspersions on 16.1 million of our fellow citizens who did not agree with them. I find it quite extraordinary that the Prime Minister of our country, with no mandate of her own, had the gall to get up in front of her own party conference and basically imply that if you believe, as I believe, that we have a natural affinity not just with one another here, not just with our constituents and not just with the communities that we inhabit in this country, but with people living in other countries, other time zones and other hemispheres—if, that is, you feel that there is something called British internationalism, which I believe to be a proud, liberal, British tradition—you are a citizen of nowhere. I do not think that any Government who insult more than 16 million of their fellow citizens are capable of uniting a country that was so starkly divided on
There seems to be a developing theme that the people who voted to leave were not clear about exactly what they were voting for. Does the right hon. Gentleman not recall the very clear warnings given by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and the then Prime Minister that voting to leave meant leaving the single market? Does he not accept that leaving the European Union cannot mean the continuation of free movement and the application of European law that membership of the free market would require?
Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly. I personally take the unfashionable view that with a bit of fancy diplomatic footwork and some political intelligence, the Government could negotiate retention of our membership of the single market along with curtailment of freedom of movement. What the Government cannot do—and, funnily enough, the hon. Member for Stone was correct about this—is have membership of, or untrammelled access to, a marketplace of rules and not abide by those rules. That is what is impossible, but it was not a contradiction on the part of the British people; it is a contradiction on the part of the Government, and a self-inflicted one.
Let me now say something about precedent, for precedent is very important. Many people have talked about the history of this place, and the history of the relationship between the legislature and the Executive, but why has no one on the Government Benches cited what is, in my view, the very important precedent of John Major? When he was Prime Minister and was faced with a very tricky negotiation on the Maastricht treaty, he made the courageous decision—and it was not a risk-free decision—to come to the House and say, “This is what I want to negotiate on behalf of the United Kingdom; do you agree or not?” There was a debate, and then a vote, on 20 and
I shall make some progress, if I may. I want to cite one final precedent, which has not been mentioned in the debate so far but of which I have personal experience, and which I think has a direct bearing on the debate.
When I was Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition Government, a Secretary of State—I shall come to who it was in a minute—came to me and said, “Look, I have to negotiate, on behalf of the Government, a very tricky deal with the rest of the European Union.” It was all to do with the so-called JHA opt-out, on which I am sure the hon. Member for Stone could deliver a great treatise. As he will remember, under provisions negotiated by Tony Blair, the United Kingdom fell automatically out of a bunch of measures on crime-fighting—the so-called judicial and home affairs co-operation measures—and we had to decide, as a country, which ones we were going to opt back into.
There was a great tussle and argument between the two parties in the coalition. I wanted us to opt into more measures, and the Conservatives did not. However, I was told by the Secretary of State that the one absolutely indispensable requirement for that Secretary of State was, at the beginning of the negotiations, a full debate and vote on the mandate on which the coalition would then negotiate with the other member states, and at the end, another debate and vote. Those took place, and I can give the House the dates, which I have here on my scrawny little piece of paper. On
That is significant, and my final question for the Ministers is this. If it was justifiable for the House of Commons to have not only a debate but a vote at the beginning and the conclusion of a negotiation on the significant but none the less comparatively narrow matter of the JHA opt-out, why on earth are the Government not coming here today and granting the House exactly the same rights and prerogatives for something that is immeasurably more significant and that will, as so many people have said, have a bearing on life in this country for generations to come?
Some colleagues have already said that it must be our duty now to try to knit our nation together, to put the heat and fury of the referendum campaign behind us and to see how together we can build a prosperous and successful future for the United Kingdom as the country leaves the European Union. I think that that will be easier than the tone of this debate so far would give people to believe, because I have great confidence in the British people. I have spent a lot of time talking to remain voters, both before and after the referendum, as well as obviously encouraging the leave voters, whose cause I helped to champion.
The good news is that the remain voters are not, on the whole, passionate advocates of the European ideal and the European project, and that is why we will be able to put this together. According to polling, around 10% of all voters in Britain really believe in the whole European project—a perfectly noble vision of integration, political union, monetary union, a borderless society and so forth—but they are a very small minority in our country. I am afraid that we cannot easily build a bridge to those who want to be part of a united Europe, because it was clearly the view of both sides in the referendum that Britain did not want to be part of the single currency, the political union, a borderless Europe and so forth.
However, this does mean that an awful lot of the remain voters—the overwhelming majority, in fact—voted remain not to join the full project but because they had genuine fears that when we came out of the union, we would leave the single market. They felt that that could be damaging to trade, investment and business prospects. It is on that narrow point that the House of Commons has to concentrate its activities over the next few months, because it is on that central issue that our discussions with our European partners need to concentrate.
I am conscious that the business community has one aim above all others, which is to reduce or eliminate uncertainty. Having been in business myself, I know that business is about managing uncertainties all the time, but it is of course good if we can get the politicians to make their contribution to lowering uncertainty rather than increasing it. It is important that we all work together to try to reduce the uncertainty and shorten the time in which that uncertainty exists.
I am also conscious that we can lower uncertainty in two ways. As we approach the negotiations, we must first show that we are going to go at a lively pace, because the longer they drag on, the more uncertainty will develop, the more obstacles and confusions will arise, and the longer will be the delays that can hurt. So we need pace. The second thing we can do to reduce the uncertainty is to say that we need only to discuss a limited number of things. We can narrow the framework of the negotiation. There are many consultants and advisers out there saying, “We must scope and chart every aspect of all our relationships with other European countries, be they technically single market or EU or wider. We must put them all on the table, then throw them up in the air and discuss which ones should change and how stable they are going to be.” That would be a disastrous way to proceed. It would take too long, and it would offer too many hostages to fortune.
The Government are right to say that in order to have a successful negotiation that lowers the scope for danger and downside, we need to take those discussions at a pace and ensure that we do not say too much in advance about any possible weaknesses in our negotiating position. We should not open up issues for negotiation that do not need to be negotiated, and we should take on board only those issues that are a genuine worry to those on the other negotiating side and that need to be taken seriously because they have some powers over them.
The United Kingdom has voted to take back control. That was what Vote Leave was all about. That was the slogan throughout the campaign, and when asked to define it more, the leave side said that we were voting to take back control of laws, money and borders. So we know what cannot be negotiated away. We also know that the main area of uncertainty is how we are going to trade with the single market when we cannot technically be part of it because it includes freedom of movement and wide-ranging law codes over things that go well beyond the conduct of trade and commerce. It is not a segregated, integrated whole within the European Union; it is a central part of it and part of a very big consolidated treaty.
The Secretary of State said something very interesting earlier when he said that he hoped to negotiate a better economic deal than membership of the single market. As a prominent Brexiteer, can the right hon. Gentleman explain how that will be possible?
I do not recall the Secretary of State saying that at all. He was saying that we could have a better relationship than simply relying on World Trade Organisation rules. I have good news, however. If we were to have to fall back on WTO rules, this country would be able to trade perfectly successfully with the rest of the EU and would be free to have much better trade deals with the rest of the world, which we have been impeded from having all the time we have been in the EU. Should there have to be tariffs, there would be many more tariffs collected on European imports into Britain, so we would have a lot of money to spend. We could give that money back to British people, so they would not actually be worse off as a result of the tariffs. Whereas, if we went the other way, the tariffs would be a great embarrassment to our European partners. I am very optimistic about our European partners. I think that they will want tariff-free trade. I do not see Germany or France queueing up to impose tariffs on us, so I hope that we will be able to get through this quite quickly and reassure them that we do not want to put tariffs on their trade either.
Is it not also incumbent on the Government to be mindful that article 50 was not put into the Lisbon treaty to make it less complicated to leave the European Union? If we try to include too many things under article 50 that stray into mixed competences, we will finish up with an agreement that requires unanimity? That would lead to a far more protracted negotiation than if we try to keep things simple. In fact, it would be an advantage to business if we could complete this in a much shorter period than the two years specified under the article 50 process.
Indeed. This is not a prediction, because I know that a lot of people have lots of good and bad reasons to want to delay and make this more complicated, but it would be quite possible to negotiate the trade issue very quickly.
We have two models available. My preferred model would be to carry on trading tariff free without new barriers, as we are at the moment. That is the most sensible model to adopt, and I think it makes even more sense for our partners, who are much more successful at selling to us than we are to them. I have not yet heard them say that they want to impose barriers. Then there is the WTO most-favoured-nation model, which would also be fine. If one wishes to have a successful, quick and strong negotiation, one should not want anything. We do not want anything from our former partners. We want them to get on and develop their political union in the way that they want, in which we have been impeding them, and we want to be free to run our own affairs in an orderly and friendly way.
We want to have even more trade with our European partners. We want more investment agreements, more research collaborations, more student exchanges and more of all the other good things we have. Those things are not at risk, and there will be an enormous amount of good will from a more united United Kingdom. [Interruption.] Opposition Members want to split us up by saying that everything has to go wrong. If they want us to negotiate successfully, they should show confidence and optimism—let us show that we can do this and be good friends with our European partners.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we have a mutual interest with other European countries in continuing research projects and university collaborations. However, those things are part of the EU budget, so if we are going to do them, he will have to get off his high horse about not making any contributions to the EU budget.
We will behave like all other independent countries of the EU and have lots of collaborations with them. We will have agreements on those collaborations as the need arises. The important thing is that we will have taken back control.
I urge the Labour party to understand that I and people like me are passionately in favour of parliamentary democracy. That is why we waged the long campaign that we had. I have every confidence that Parliament will rise to this occasion. Today is a good example of that. The Opposition had time and allotted it to this crucial subject. They could have tabled a motion about the position they would like us to strike in the negotiations, but they are not yet ready to do so. I understand that, but it was in their power to do so. They could have tabled a motion to try to veto an article 50 letter, had they wanted to, but they were very wise not to do so because many of their constituents would have seen it as an attempt to thwart the will of the people in the vote. There is nothing stopping this great Parliament from doing those things.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State has already made two statements and given evidence to two Select Committee investigations. He was here in person today to answer the Opposition debate. We do not always get the courtesy of having the Secretary of State before us in an Opposition day debate. That augurs well for there being more scrutiny.
I am pleased that the main way we will leave the European Union is by repealing the European Communities Act 1972, because that means that the central process will be a long constitutional Bill—not long in length or wordage, I hope, but in terms of proceedings, as I am sure SNP Members will want to cavil over every “and” and comma, and they have every right to do so, up to a point. Parliament will consider that legislation and vote accordingly. That is exactly as it should be. It will be a great celebration of our parliamentary democracy, which the majority voted to strengthen, that we do it by parliamentary means.
Edward Miliband, the former leader of the Labour party, correctly said that all the European law will at that point become British law—that is the irony of it—but we will do that for the purposes of continuity. Thereafter, we in this House will be able to judge whether it is wise or necessary to repeal or amend any part of that legislation. If it would have a direct bearing on our trade with the European Union, it would not be a good idea to do that without knowing that the EU was happy or that it would not react unreasonably. For example, when selling into a market, one needs to meet the product requirements, and things like product standards will be part of that continuation of the legislation.
The only thing about the single market that is really worthwhile—it is mainly very bureaucratic, expensive and pretty anti-enterprise—is that it provides common product specifications and standards, so that if a washing machine is saleable in France, it is also saleable in Greece. The great news is that when we are out of the EU, that will still be true. It is an advantage for an American exporter into the EU, just as it is for a UK exporter into the EU. When we are in a similar position to America—a friendly independent country trading with the EU from the outside—we will get the full benefit of that.
Let us bring the country together. Let us show that we can be more prosperous and more successful. Let us show that our trade is not at risk. Let us be confident in our negotiation. Let us not use this place to make all manner of problems that will give those who want to wreck our negotiation good comfort, support or extra research. Let us show how everything we do can create more jobs, more trade and more investment.
After the next speaker, the time limit will drop to six minutes.
The debate thus far has demonstrated that some Members find it rather difficult to leave behind the arguments and stances taken during the referendum. We must, as my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband pointed out, respect the decision of the British people. We have to implement it and negotiate an agreement that works for the whole country. In seeking to do that, we have to try to heal the wounds and calm the fears that have been created, in particular on the part of the 48%.
I think the House is grateful for that history lesson. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not take his advice either on some of the arguments that he has advanced in his speech this afternoon, although I respect the position that he has long held.
I support the calls from all parts of the House for proper scrutiny and accountability, especially given the scale of the task that we face, which was set out very clearly by my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer. I am talking about the basis on which we will trigger article 50, continued access to European markets for our industries, future arrangements for immigration and maintaining co-operation with our European neighbours in areas where that co-operation has benefited both of us.
There are four things that we need to consider as we undertake that task. One is to minimise uncertainty—a word that we have heard a great deal of in this debate. The second is to be clear about the timing and the content of the negotiation. The third is to protect the things that we value that have come from Europe, and the fourth is to think creatively about how we build a new kind of relationship with Europe as we leave the institutions.
The Secretary of State said that he wanted to minimise uncertainty. He must reflect on that and give himself marks out of 10 on how he thinks he is doing at the moment. Let me take one example: the British Chambers of Commerce in Germany is hosting a conference here in Westminster tomorrow on the impact of Brexit on the City of London and the financial services sector. One issue preoccupying them is that of passporting. It is uncertainty on that issue that is already creating a situation in which bad decisions are being made on employment and investment in this country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in these crucial areas, the Government must address uncertainty?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I shall come on to address it in a moment.
I was just going to say that some of the uncertainty is inevitable and will not be resolved until the negotiating process has been concluded, but some of it is the result of different things being said by different members of the Government—one has to acknowledge that—as well as the things that have been left unsaid, which may lead others to draw conclusions and then act on them in the absence of clarity.
The announcement by Nissan that it will not invest any more in this country without guarantees from the Government is indeed unwelcome, but it is entirely understandable. What car manufacturer—my hon. Friend Jack Dromey talked about Jaguar Land Rover—will invest in additional capacity if there is still some doubt that we might leave with no agreement on trade and tumble out on World Trade Organisation terms, which would lead to those cars facing a tariff? I accept that, in the end, we are likely to get an agreement in which there are no tariffs on manufactured goods, and, frankly, the sooner that that can be made clear, the better. There are those who argue that it would be perfectly possible within the two years provided by article 50 not only to negotiate the mechanics of our withdrawal—and that is quite a task—but to conclude a new trading agreement that will give access to the single market for our goods and our services, which have not been much talked about but my hon. Friend made the point that 80% of our economy depends on services. Those who argue that may be right, but I somehow doubt it.
I will not take any more interventions, because there are many other colleagues who wish to speak.
If that is the case, we will clearly need a transitional agreement to cover the time after we have left the European Union until the moment when a final agreement on trade and market access has been reached. I listened very carefully to what the Secretary of State had to say about that when I asked him a question on Monday. The Government need to say now, explicitly, that if we have not been able to conclude such an agreement by the end of the two years—there is absolutely no guarantee that all 27 member states will agree to extend the period—we will seek that transitional arrangement, because that would help to boost business confidence.
The second aspect of uncertainty is its impact on people. Unfortunately, in the past couple of weeks, a number of statements have been made about EU nationals and overseas workers here in the UK. I welcome the fact that it now appears that there will not be a requirement on companies to publish lists of overseas workers, but a reference was made to overseas doctors, who make a huge and important contribution to the NHS, being able to stay here for an interim period until such time as we have trained more doctors in Britain, which is a good thing. It was unwise to talk about overseas students as if they are a problem to be cracked down on, and it was a mistake to describe EU citizens who are living here, working here and paying tax here as a card to be used in negotiations. Words matter. They are not a card; they are people; and they listen intently to what is said because they realise Ministers are talking about them, and they take it personally and they feel unwanted. That is very damaging to our reputation as a country that has always welcomed people who want to come here to work, to study and to contribute.
I accept that the 52% of people who voted to leave sent us a message about their wish to control immigration from the EU, although many of the people I spoke to during the referendum campaign who made that argument accepted that there would be a continuing need for workers to come, to bring their skills and to contribute to our society in so many different businesses and sectors. So I encourage Ministers to offer as much reassurance as possible now to those EU citizens about their likely future status, while recognising, because it is in our self-interest to do so, that the way in which we approach that matter will have an impact on the spirit in which the other 27 member states, from which those people come, approach the negotiations that we are about to embark on, and to provide some clarity about how the Government plan to balance the desire to control free movement with continued access—
I think that I have run out of my minutes, so I hope that the right hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not.
We need clarity about how the Government propose to handle that trade-off in relation to access to the single market, given that we know from statements that have been made and signals that have been sent that the EU wants to set its face against any change to the four freedoms, and it has also made it pretty clear that it wishes to demonstrate to us and, through our experience, to others that there is a cost to leaving the EU.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a very grave danger when we talk about immigration of extrapolating from the referendum result that there is a desire to reduce immigration? The two great cities that have benefited and have overwhelming immigrant populations—London and Leicester—voted to remain.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right and brings me neatly to the point that I was about to make about one of the great industries in our capital city: the impact on the services sector, including financial services, and the City of London, which is a network built on relationships, technology and agreements with the EU and, through it, with other countries. I would describe it as a delicate ecosystem, part of which is built on managing risk. Members should not be terribly surprised if those who manage risk for a living, looking at the risks that they think that they might face from not getting an agreement that would allow them to carry on what they have been doing, draw their own conclusions about where they will put their business, where they will do their business and where they will employ their staff in future.
On the great repeal Bill, mentioned by my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, I have christened it the great incorporation Bill. Entrenchment, incorporation—are there any more suggestions? I trust that the Bill will make it clear to workers that their employment rights will be protected and to people who care passionately about the environment that the environmental protections that have come from our membership of the EU will be maintained in future.
Now, in all this, there must be transparency. I accept the argument that it would be unreasonable for the Government to reveal their detailed negotiating plan and their tactics before advancing their case in those negotiations, but that is not the same as being unwilling to answer questions about what our negotiating objectives are, and it is not the same as being unwilling to share the assessments that the Government have made about the possible consequences of leaving the EU.
On the first, the questions are very simple. Do the Government intend to remain in the Euratom treaty? Do they wish to continue to be part of the European Medicines Agency—which, by the way, is based in London—Europol and the European arrest warrant? What about the European Aviation Safety Authority, the European Patent Office and the European Banking Authority? Those are very straight questions about the Government’s negotiating objective when they talk to the other 27 member states.
On the second, we all saw the story on the front pages of The Times and The Guardian yesterday about the alleged draft Cabinet Committee paper that talks about the loss of GDP that we can expect and the detrimental impact on tax revenues. It is good that the Government are making assessments; it would be nice if they could be shared with the House, as well as with The Guardian and The Times, because we need to know the consequences of the different options that are being looked at.
My final point is about a new relationship with the European Union in the areas where co-operation has been to our mutual benefit—in particular, security, defence and foreign policy. It is essential—think of the debate that we had on Aleppo and Syria yesterday—that we continue to co-operate closely with our European neighbours, even though we are leaving the institutions of the European Union. This will be a very complex and daunting process, and I do not envy Ministers, because having to do this on top of meeting all the other demands of a ministerial job is not something that any of us would relish, but it is the responsibility of Members in all parts of the Chamber to make sure that we scrutinise and hold the Government to account as they give effect to the decision that the British people have made.
The point has been made that as one of the main reasons advanced by those who said that we should leave was that it would restore the sovereignty of the House, Ministers cannot now argue that exercising sovereignty should not extend to the biggest challenge that the country has faced since the end of the second world war. Ministers need to understand that when we get to the end of the negotiations, this House will and must take a view on the nature of the agreement that the Government have negotiated, because it will affect every single one of us, our children, and all the generations that will come after us.
It is a pleasure to follow Hilary Benn, who will, I suspect, play a key part in scrutinising, on behalf of this House, the negotiations with the EU over the next few months, years and decades.
I have managed to avoid debating the European Union, though debating it has been a customary habit of many members of my party for a number of years; I did so by becoming a Minister, although I was the EU budget Minister and enjoyed undergoing scrutiny by my hon. Friend Sir William Cash as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee.
Let me make it very clear, as hon. Members in all parts of the Chamber have, that although I wanted us to remain a member of the European Union, I accept the result of
Clearly, the key question will be about access to the single market, and balancing that with the issues around freedom of movement and immigration control. I was struck by the fact that the words “single market” were nowhere in the Secretary of State’s statement to Parliament on
As I have already said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, the Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto is clear about what we want from Europe. We—that is, all Members of Parliament elected on the Conservative party manifesto in 2015—say yes to the single market. The Prime Minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference, said very clearly that we want
“to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the Single Market”.
For anyone to say that the single market will not be part of the discussions, and that just because we are repealing the European Communities Act 1972 we will not discuss the single market, is not correct.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is impossible for us to repeal the 1972 Act on the one hand, which is the endgame, and on the other to remain subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court within the single market? We trade into the single market, but we are not in the single market; that is the point.
I thank my hon. Friend very much indeed for that intervention. The European Communities Act 1972 was introduced a long time before the single market was envisaged by, as we have heard, a former Prime Minister. As someone who was engaged in commercial negotiations for 16 years before I came to the House, I think that anything is possible in a negotiation, as the former Deputy Prime Minister said.
I want to make three quick points. First, I want to pick up the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke. I was concerned to hear that last week in an interview given by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the Cabinet had not been consulted on the timing of the triggering of article 50, and that that had been decided by a small group of people as something to be announced at the Conservative party conference. We have been arguing that Parliament must be involved in scrutiny decisions, but the Cabinet must be kept fully informed of key decisions on our leaving the European Union.
Secondly, we heard from the right hon. Member for Leeds Central about the status of EU citizens. I was heartbroken to receive an email from a constituent—I suspect that it is not the only one that I or, indeed, many of us will receive—who has moved here from elsewhere in the EU. She has gone through a difficult court case on the custody of her children, and has settled in the United Kingdom. There are restrictions on where those children can travel within the EU. She said to me
“Yet as EU citizens, it is becoming increasingly clear that it will become near impossible for us to continue living in the UK. I, for one, will have great difficulty finding employment”— she has a PhD, awarded here—
“and using my expertise because I am not British.”
That is not the country that I want to see. I do not think that this is the country that the Government or Parliament wants to see. That is not the message that we want to give about this country, which has been built on the skills of those who have come here for generations. I suspect that many of us in the Chamber are here because our forefathers moved to this country and took advantage of the safety that we provide.
Finally, those who are asking questions about the scrutiny by Parliament of these fundamental negotiations are not trying to thwart the will of the people. I resent that implication—I resent it from newspapers, I resent it from Ministers, and I resent it from the briefers and spinners at the centre of Government. It only encourages me to ask more questions, and I will work with colleagues in the Government and colleagues across the House to ask those questions. It is Parliament’s duty to scrutinise the Executive. I have stood at the Dispatch Box, and I have been scrutinised by Parliament—rightly so. Now I am on the Back Benches I will scrutinise the Executive. Our constituents send us to Westminster as Members of Parliament to ask the questions that they cannot put to Ministers themselves. Colleagues, we must take every opportunity to ask those questions to get the best possible deal for this country as we leave the European Union.
It is a pleasure to follow Nicky Morgan, who gave a powerful speech. I agreed with everything she said, and I want to reiterate something that she said at the end and the beginning of her speech.
Like the right hon. Lady, I campaigned to remain in the European Union but, like her, I accept the result of the referendum. Although the Prime Minister and her Ministers have spent the past few months parroting the mantra, “Brexit means Brexit”, that is simply meaningless tautology. People voted leave for many different reasons, and Brexit could take many different forms. A majority of my constituents voted leave for various reasons, but they did not vote leave to become poorer, they did not vote leave for their wages to drop, and they did not vote leave to lose their job. I urge the Government to bear that in mind in everything they do.
Members on both sides of the House, from different corners of our country, have a hugely important job to do. Our job is not to rerun the referendum, nor is it to block our exit from the EU. It is to hold the Government to account and make sure that they secure the best possible deal for the country and our constituents.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. She, like me, represents a midlands constituency, and therefore she, like me, will want some answers on what the Government’s future relationship with the single market will be, bearing in mind that it was a previous Conservative Government who took us into it. More importantly, companies such as Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan want to know those answers for the purpose of future investment, because Jaguar Land Rover has invested a lot of money in the midlands. Years ago Nissan was going to invest in Coventry but could not get regional aid, and that is why we went into the single market.
I agree entirely. Jaguar Land Rover is also a very important company in my constituency. Those companies want clarity from the Government. The Brexit Minister told the House earlier today that he has made several statements and appeared before several Select Committees, but he has said almost entirely nothing. We need clarity and proper parliamentary scrutiny. That does not mean seeking to thwart the will of the people, as the right hon. Member for Loughborough said so powerfully.
I will focus my remarks on three tests that I want to put to the Government. First, are they driven by the national interest or their party’s interest? So far, regrettably, their record is not good. Was it purely a coincidence that the Prime Minister’s announcement that we would invoke article 50 by the end of March 2017 happened to be on the first day of the Conservative party conference? Was it just a coincidence that she wanted to reassure her party faithful that she, having been a lukewarm remainer, actually thinks that we should leave the EU?
Equally, the Conservative party’s interest was uppermost in the Prime Minister’s mind when she claimed that
‘there is no such thing as a choice between ‘soft Brexit’ and ‘hard Brexit’’, because she knows that her party is divided on the issue. That is not only bizarre, but wrong. If there was no such distinction, why did the pound slump to a 31-year low days after the Tory party conference due to fears of a hard Brexit? If there is no such distinction, why has the Treasury said that a hard Brexit could cost £66 billion a year in lost revenue and that the economy will be between 5% and 9% smaller than it would be if we stay in the single market? If there is no such distinction, why has Nissan said that there will be no further investment in its UK plants if it does not know whether in future it will face tariffs on its exports to the rest of the EU?
It is clear to me that some Tory Members—we have heard it already today—are happy to trade with the rest of the EU, which is still our main trading partner, on WTO terms. Worryingly, the International Development Secretary seems to be in that category. However, other right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches disagree. Anna Soubry called it “bonkers.” She is right, because it would mean tariffs on our exports: 10% on cars, 20% on beer and whisky, and obviously non-tariff barriers on trade.
The Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto—the right hon. Member for Loughborough has already mentioned this, but it is worth repeating—stressed:
“We benefit from the Single Market…We are clear about what we want from Europe. We say: yes to the Single Market.”
That is the basis on which the Conservatives were elected to government. They were right last year, which is why the Government must push to retain access to the single market.
Secondly—this is a really difficult test—can the Government mitigate the risks of leaving and maximise the opportunities? Again, so far the record is not good. Many right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches seem to believe that there are only upsides to leaving the EU, but it is obvious that there are some fundamental risks to our economy if we get this wrong. The Government should level with people and say, “Exiting the EU will not be straightforward; it will be difficult, sensitive and, indeed, risky.”
I believe that the Government must aim for a soft Brexit. That means having the best possible access to the single market without tariff and non-tariff barriers, and retaining workers’ rights, environmental and consumer protections and the security measures that are so vital to keeping our country safe. But I also believe that we need to look at some restrictions on free movement. I had many conversations with constituents in Wolverhampton who voted to leave the EU. They did so for a variety of reasons, but one of those was immigration. Some say that reconciling the two issues is impossible, but within the European economic area Norway has an emergency brake on free movement and Liechtenstein has controls over it, and within the four freedoms of people, capital, goods and services in the EU, there is not absolute free movement of services.
My third test—I will be brief, as I am going to run out of time—is that the Government should not be in denial about the point made by my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn. We need to negotiate a transition period. If we are to negotiate a free trade deal with the rest of the EU, there is going to be a cliff edge between exiting, including closing the article 50 negotiations, and the conclusion of that free trade deal. That will take years; it will be a mixed deal and national Parliaments throughout the 27 member states will have to ratify it. I hope that the Brexit Secretary of State will not be in denial about that issue, which is one of the most important aspects of our renegotiation. I also hope that the Government will start to do a lot better.
I start by saying that I wholly endorse and support the wise words of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke and my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan. I also wholly endorse and support the wise words of my new friend, Edward Miliband. Before anybody listening to this speech or reading about it elsewhere has a problem with that, I should also agree with the short intervention made by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve.
Get real. We are living in extraordinary times, and incredible things have happened. Who would have believed a year ago that we would be here having this debate after all that has taken place? Increasingly, and rightly, many of us will now be taking a cross-party approach to these issues. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said, as we leave the EU—I accept the verdict, the referendum result—we face difficult, dangerous times. Putting our country and the interests of all our constituents first transcends everything, and that includes the normal party political divide.
I pay handsome tribute also to the wise speech—except for when it got partisan—made by Keir Starmer. I agree with him. We are in difficult, dangerous times and we tread with great care. As he rightly said, there was one question on that ballot paper and it is wrong to assume that a whole series of mandates flow from that one simple and straightforward question. With great respect to the Prime Minister, her Cabinet and all those in government, we are using the answer to that question as an excuse for other mandates. That is simply wrong.
I am concerned about the extrapolation—a new buzzword, perhaps—that involves our just saying, “Oh well—52% of the British people apparently voted for controls on immigration.” Emma Reynolds mentioned people concerned about immigration. She should tread carefully. When people said they were concerned about immigration, I suspect that what they were really asking for was not control—that might make it go up—but less immigration.
I gently say to the hon. Lady that we have to be true to what we believe in. It is so important that, in the debate now unfolding about immigration, we are brave and true to what we believe in and take people on. My right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough and I stood in Loughborough market on the day of the referendum and had that debate, but the tragedy was that by that time it was too late. The British people at heart are good and tolerant; if we make the debate, they will understand the huge benefit that migration has brought to our country for centuries.
I agree with many of the things my right hon. Friend has said about immigration, but did she not stand in 2015 and, I believe, in 2010 on a clear Conservative party manifesto commitment to reduce net immigration to tens of thousands?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I accept what he says, but let me say here and now that we have to abandon that target; we cannot keep it. We know the reality: people come here to work. In simple terms, Sir, who is going to do the jobs of those people who come here? There seems to be some nonsensical idea that, with a bit of upskilling here and a bit of upskilling there, we will replace the millions and millions of people who come and work not just in those low-skilled jobs, but right the way through to the highest levels of research and development—the great entrepreneurs. We should be singing out about this great country of ours; we should be making it clear that we are open for business and that we are open to people, as we always have been, because they contribute to our country in not only economic but cultural terms. We are in grave danger if we extrapolate in a way that I believe is not at the core of being British.
I agree with a lot of what the right hon. Lady has said, and I made the same arguments to people during the referendum campaign. All I would say is that there is a spectrum here; there is a space between no free movement and free movement in its entirety. I am not arguing for no European immigration—I think these people have made great contributions to our country—but I do think we need to look at restrictions in some sectors and some areas. I think that would be respecting the mandate.
I am not going to demur from what the hon. Lady says.
What all this really proves is the absolute need for this place to do what the motion and the Government amendment say, which is to have these debates as we go forward, to shape our new relationship with Europe. All these issues have to be debated, so I fully agree with everything that has been said, and I will go one step further: the more I hear, and the more I think about this and listen to the learned and wise words of people such as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, the more I am coming to the perhaps very quick conclusion that this place must vote on article 50. I really think that it is imperative that we do that.
In the short time that is available to me, I just want to add one thing. We do not come here just to have these rather esoterical debates. A lot of people listening to this debate might think that, yet again, this is politicians talking in terms and in ways that do not relate to what is really happening out there in the real world. What is happening out there in the real world is that British business is in a very difficult and serious predicament. We have heard about the value of the pound, which is at this record 30-year low. What does that mean? It means that a friend of mine sent me a text last night to say that her small business is now on the verge of going under—that is the reality of what is happening. It means that a great company such as Freshcut Foods in my constituency is seeing its best EU workers leaving; they feel, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough says, that they have no place here. People are finding, as the University of Nottingham has said to me, that they can no longer recruit. The university has lost some of its best academics because those people no longer feel welcome and valued in our country. I am sorry, but it has to be said: we should be holding our heads with shame that that is the feeling of real people—real constituents of mine—and I will continue to speak out on their behalf.
I cannot. I am so sorry.
I also want to say this, because it is really important. We talk about wanting to build a consensus, and Members such as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North have said that if we want to build a consensus, we will have to bring in the 48% who voted for us to remain in the European Union. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend John Redwood when he said that they were rejecting the European Union. Absolute nonsense! They were positively voting for our membership of the European Union, and that included membership of the single market and free movement of workers. We ignore those brave, good people at our great peril, but so many of them feel that they have been forgotten. They are invariably abused on social media. I have no difficulty in standing here and saying that I will not give up on the 48%, and I will go further. I think there is a real movement now among many people who voted leave; as Brexit unravels, and they see the reality of that referendum result, many are regretting their vote, and there is a good chance that the 48% may in due course actually become the majority.
Finally, I say gently to my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, that there is a real danger in our country. Some 75% of young voters voted remain, and many of them feel that an older generation has robbed them of their future. Our job is to make sure that everybody is involved and we get the best deal for everybody in our country as we now leave the European Union.
Unlike some of the fantasists and ideologues on the Government Benches who believe that Brexit is somehow a pain-free process, I live in the real world. We do not deny that the British people have voted to leave the European Union, but Labour Members are determined to achieve a Brexit for working people—not a hard Brexit or a Brexit at breakneck speed, but a Brexit that does not damage Britain’s national interests, the interests of our economy and the interests of our workers.
We are also determined—I pay tribute to Anna Soubry for her outstanding speech—to ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to call the Government to account during the next stages. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, who is an outstanding lawyer. Quite rightly, he has led on the argument that this House should call the Government to account.
I want to make three points. First, on Jaguar Land Rover, may I tell a story? About three months ago, I was getting out of my car in Edwards Road, and I heard a voice call, “Jack”. It was Warren, a big bear of a man with a beard. I first met him at a jobs fair we organised four years ago, and he got an apprenticeship at Jaguar Land Rover. He said, “Come with me. I want you to meet my partner and her mum and dad.” He showed me a little Edwardian house. He said, “Jack, I can’t believe it. We are moving into the house of my dreams, I am with the woman of my dreams, and it is all because I’ve got a good and secure job in the Jaguar plant.” Forgive me for saying it, but this is what drives me on. As I said earlier, in an area which is rich in talent but one of the poorest in the country, I do not want to see the Warrens of this world let down during the next stages.
I was deeply involved in the drive to secure the future of Jaguar Land Rover back in 2010. It has gone from strength to strength ever since. For example, the new engine plant in Wolverhampton employs 42,000 people. I want to pay tribute to the workforce, but also to one of the most outstanding, if not the most outstanding, chief executive with whom I have ever worked, Ralf Speth. It is a world-class company, and when it expresses concerns about the consequences for it of hard Brexit—not being able to sell without tariffs into the European Union—its voice must be listened to.
The second point is about workers’ rights. The Secretary of State said, “Don’t worry. All will be okay.” I do not believe that. I was a Brexiteer back in the 1970s. What changed my mind was social Europe in the 1980s. I remember taking the case of the Eastbourne dustmen to the European Court of Justice, because the then Conservative Government had refused to extend TUPE to cover 6 million public servants, with the terrible consequences that tens of thousands of jobs were privatised without protection, pay was cut in half and the workforce was sometimes cut by a third.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Now, as in the 1980s, some of the leading Brexiteers are the ones who talk forever about red tape. I call that workers’ rights. When they say, “Trust us”, I reply, “What? Trust the same people who ran a disreputable campaign?” They promised £350 million a week for the national health service, when they knew damn well that there was no possibility of delivering it.
My third and final point is on the very difficult debate about immigration. I must say that the way that some in the Brexit camp played the race and immigration card in the referendum campaign was nothing short of shameful with, on the one hand, that infamous poster with Nigel Farage, and—dare I say it?—on the other hand, the current Foreign Secretary talking about the tens of millions of Turks who might come to our country. The consequences have been very serious. There has been a rise in hate crime in my constituency. Poles in Erdington High Street have been told, “Go back home.” An Afro-Caribbean man who has been here for 40 years was told, “Go back home.” So was a Kashmiri taxi driver who has been here for 35 years. An Asian train guard was threatened by a large aggressive white man. The guard was shutting the doors when the man told him to hang on because his mates were five minutes away. The guard said that the train had to go. The white man pointed his finger an inch from the guard’s nose and said, “Oh no you don’t. We make the rules now.”
I thought that that kind of brutish behaviour was something of the past. Forgive me for raising this. My dad came from County Cork to dig roads, and my mother came from Tipperary to train as a nurse. I was 13 years old when my dad told me for the first time—and I could not believe this, because I adored him, but he could not look me in the eyes, and was looking down at the floor—about what it was like, when he arrived, looking for lodging houses in Kilburn and Cricklewood and seeing those infamous signs: “No dogs. No Irish.” I thought that we had fundamentally changed as a country, but this country has been scarred by the way the referendum campaign was conducted.
I recognise that during the next stages there will be a difficult debate. On the one hand we have the needs of the economy and the national health service, but on the other we have to listen to the voice of the millions who, from discontent, voted Brexit. We have to ensure that no one in our country is left behind. Getting that balance right will be immensely difficult. I hope all parties—certainly this is what we in the Labour party will do—will make sure that we do not have a repeat of the shameful, divisive rhetoric. The consequences of that rhetoric for the people we represent are very serious indeed. When I go into a local secondary school to meet a diverse group of 16 and 17-year-old pupils and am told that on the day after the referendum they were asking whether they would be sent back home, and that the following week some of them were racially abused in the street, it is clear to me that we have to stand together and say that while we must absolutely have a debate about the future, it must never again be a debate scarred by racism.
I want to return to the topic under debate, which is how this House will scrutinise the Brexit process. To do that, we need to go back to first principles. What is the power and authority of this House? What is the sovereignty of Parliament, and where does it come from? Here, I take a view that will be popular with the SNP. I believe that the sovereignty of Parliament is delegated by the British people. We do not have sovereignty in this House in a vacuum. It is not that God suddenly created the House of Commons and said it would be sovereign over the United Kingdom. Every five years, the British people delegate their sovereignty and rights to us, to implement as we see fit; we then present ourselves for re-election when that period is ended.
Within that, we have had a referendum. It is fascinating to hear from all sides, left, right and centre, that everyone has accepted the result and that the will of the British people must be obeyed, respected and followed—[Interruption.] That is the will of the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which, I am glad to say, includes the good people and crofters of Na h-Eileanan an Iar. That needs to be put into practice.
We also know, because this is the legal advice that has gone unchallenged, that the only legal way of leaving the European Union is to exercise article 50. We therefore know that the vote on
The hon. Gentleman and I are in rather similar positions. The Rhondda voted to leave, but I support remain; North East Somerset voted to remain, but he supports leave. Given what he has said about sovereignty, does he fully accept that all of us in this House are sent not as delegates but as representatives, and owe to our constituents our conscience as much as our vote?
The hon. Gentleman should check the record. Unfortunately, North East Somerset was not counted separately; we were infected by the votes of people in Bath. I am pretty confident that the wise people of rural Somerset voted to leave while the urbanites in Bath voted to remain.
Once Parliament has used that delegated authority to ask the people, who after all are our employers, what their will is, it must be followed. Everybody accepts that, so we come to the point of debating when we will put the notice under article 50 to the European Council so that it knows that that is our decision.
That is properly determined by the Government, which is where we get into the constitutional norms. You, Mr Speaker, have raised the standard of parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive in the past six of seven years to a proper height. I am strongly supportive of that continuing. We should all, particularly Back Benchers of the governing party, remember that we are here to hold the Government to account, and not just willy-nilly to support it, but within that we must recognise that there is a proper and constitutional sphere for Government activity. There is and long has been a separation of powers. The Government introduce their policy and their legislation to get it through, and they have the clear responsibility for the negotiation of treaties.
Against that, no Government can exist unless they have the confidence of the House. As I understand it, if at any day the Leader of the Opposition chooses to table a vote of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, Mr Speaker will take it urgently. Therefore, if the House resents or opposes any part of the negotiation or discussion, the Government may be removed and a new one put in their place. That does not mean that we should prevent the Government from exercising the proper role of the Executive. The Government are answerable to us in how they use that power. How often that happens has already been shown: we have had two statements from the Brexit Secretary; and a Select Committee has just been set up—it was voted for last night—that will hold the two new Departments to account and have hearings.
As it happens, I think there will be a vote on article 50. May I draw the House’s attention to Standing Orders Nos. 143(1)(ii) and 143(1)(vi), which provide for the type of documents that go to the European Scrutiny Committee for consideration? It is very hard to see the exercise of article 50 falling outside the definition listed in
The great repeal Bill is an interesting approach but a very sensible one that the Government have decided on because it gives certainty. We have heard calls for certainty from the Opposition Benches again and again.
The voice of Scunthorpe speaks and rightly calls from a height for business certainty. Business will have certainty because the law will not change on the day we leave. All the laws will have been repatriated. They will be our laws rather than laws that are domesticated, as they currently are, through the European Communities Act 1972. It then becomes a matter for routine political debate as to whether we keep the regulations that have come from the European Union or get rid of them. I have a feeling that I would want to get rid of rather more than Opposition Members would, but then I must put that to the electorate of North East Somerset, and the hon. Gentleman must put it to the electors of Scunthorpe, and we will find out what the people want.
That is the great prize of Brexit. For as we debate how this House will scrutinise, suddenly we are in charge of scrutinising everything. We have not delegated our powers to Brussels to determine how we are regulated with a mere cursory glance over the top when the rules come pouring in. We have given back to this House the right to determine how we are governed.
The motion, therefore, is misplaced and misfires. It suggests that there will not be proper scrutiny of the Executive in the process of leaving, which is wrong. There is, every step of the way, going to be considerable scrutiny, which has already started. It implies that the situation might be worse than it was before, when there the reverse is true. We suddenly recapture that ancient power we have had: to seek redress of grievance, because the Government cannot say “Not decided here”; to legislate, because our laws cannot be overturned by judges in a foreign land; and to hold the Government to account on behalf of our electors.
That is the great democratic prize and it is from this that our prosperity will come, because we know that our prosperity does not exist in a vacuum. It comes because of our constitutional systems that allow for stability, business, the rule of law and capitalism to flourish. When we are doing it for ourselves, it will be better, it will be stronger and it will be more democratic.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Rees-Mogg, his mellifluous tones and his unbridled optimism for the future of the country, which some of us do not share in quite the same rose-tinted way.
Leaving the European Union tears up a 50-year-old strategy that sought to replace our imperial past with closer economic and political co-operation with the European Union democracies. One thing is now certain: unravelling 45 years of economic integration and political co-operation with our nearest neighbours is not going to be easy and it is certainly not going to be cost-free.
The new Administration has made a very worrying and dangerous start: the meaningless chant of “Brexit means Brexit; the imperial-style announcements from on high at Tory party conference; and the spectacle of Mr Davis sneering that parliamentary sovereignty is “micromanagement” now that he has graduated from the Back Bench to his ministerial limousine. This arrogance ill-suits an Administration with no mandate for pursuing a hard Brexit by diktat, with no mandate to take us out of the single market landing us with tariffs on our most important export market, and an economic shock that leaked Treasury documents yesterday put as high as 10% of GDP.
There are many ways to leave the EU. The result of the referendum does not give the Government carte blanche to choose the most damaging one. Surely we have not “taken back control” only to surrender it to the Prime Minister and her increasingly absurd three Brexiteers, while Parliament becomes a spectator? Surely it is only right that we start a national conversation about the best way forward for our country in these new circumstances? Surely we need a cross-party agreement on the best way forward, because the results of the Government’s decisions on how we leave will affect our prospects for generations to come. Who can argue against that, with the pound now trading at a 168-year low?
Worse still, the xenophobic noises coming out of Birmingham last week and the failure to reassure EU citizens who are living and working in the UK, or indeed UK citizens living and working in the EU, is causing needless anxiety and fear. The rise in racist and homophobic hate crimes in the aftermath of the vote is shaming our nation and besmirching our international reputation.
I offer some principles on the way forward, which are clear and pressing. I will mention here only a few. Workers should not pay the price of Brexit. The poorest and most vulnerable should not pay the price of Brexit. We welcome the Chancellor’s guarantees on existing EU funds, but we need more details of what is actually being protected. There is some £200 million of vital investment at risk in Merseyside alone. We should avoid a race to the bottom by guaranteeing that our worker and corporate regulations do not deliberately undercut EU standards, and maintaining goodwill and links with what will still be our largest market. We need to think ambitiously about what would constitute a modern industrial base that would allow us to compete in a changing world.
The hon. Lady is reading out an admirable list. There is also another fantasy that is peddled on the Government Benches: that the UK, alone outside the single market, will get tariff-free access to the single market. If it were so easy to get tariff-free access to the single market, there would be a whole host of other countries with tariff-free access. They do not, they will not and they cannot, and Government Members are misleading the people with that.
I am afraid I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. He is right to make that point.
We also know that entrepreneurial activity—risk taking and creativity—will be crucial in driving Britain’s future success, alongside an active state that both rewards success and leaves no one behind. However, the uncertainty about our future trade arrangements in this context is extremely damaging, and it is damaging our interests now. We must ensure that the enormous globe-spanning corporations pay their fair share of taxes, so that we can invest in opportunities for all Britons. This will require increased global co-operation, not less. Britain must therefore be at the forefront of international institutions that set the rules by which business is done across our globe.
It is now imperative that the Government set out the tests against which any deal to leave the EU must be judged, because we have not heard them yet. How does our future relationship with Europe bolster and underpin a more activist national industrial strategy that delivers more jobs for the future and greater investment and growth in our economy? How will we heal the divisions in our country, which set city against town, young against old and communities against each other? How can we maintain and enhance the collective security of Britain and its allies and maintain the current co-operation that allows cross-border crime and terrorism to be thwarted and prosecuted? How can Britain remain an engaged and influential world power that has a seat at the table, setting the rules by which nations and corporations have to abide?
Leaving the EU is a complex process that will cause great damage if it is botched. This is a challenge that will require the Prime Minister to unite a divided nation. She cannot succeed locked in a room with a few advisers. She will need us all to play our part as Members of Parliament. She will need this place to play its part. She will need citizens to play their part, too, helping us to reassess from first principles who we are, who we want to be, how we can make our way in the world, how we can be prosperous and how we can achieve our ambitions. If she carries on as she has started, she will not succeed. It is not too late, though, for her to change course and approach. For the sake of my constituents in Wallasey and for all our constituents, I hope she does so.
It is a pleasure to follow Ms Eagle, who has grasped and conveyed the extent of the debate and discussion we are now in.
I am delighted to get the chance to speak. Like my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan, I have had fewer occasions to speak about Europe over the years than I might have wished, following a very enjoyable ministerial career. I particularly missed not being able to say something in the Commons before the referendum. I would like now to put on record what I told my electors: that, contrary to popular opinion, not all Conservative MPs are reluctant Europeans. I believe that this country prospered in the European Union. I believe that our sovereignty and independence were always intact. I believe that we were enhanced by our membership of the European Union, just as the European Union was enhanced by our membership of it. With a political lifetime of relationships with colleagues in different European parties and different European countries, and remembering what they went through over the past century to build the European Union and all that it meant, I listened with despair and sometimes shame to the mischaracterisation of the EU and, for too long, to the drip-drip of poison from the lips of those who should have known a damn sight better. I did not get a chance to say that in the House before the referendum, but I say it now.
I do not want to concentrate on the detail in this debate. We have heard a lot about the detail of the negotiations that are going to come, and the House and the country are now getting a sense of just how complex they will be. Rather, I want to concentrate on why the process that is set out in the Opposition motion, agreed to and enhanced by the rider offered by the Government, is so important.
The context of the referendum is different from the context of a general election. We were not looking at delivering a complete manifesto, which a political party is elected on and then must defend to the death. The people made a decision. Neither the Government nor the Opposition won, but we must collectively put into practice what the people told us to do. I, like others, accept the decision of
One thing was clearly revealed to us during the referendum campaign: a disdain by the public for the political process, in the main. People said how they felt excluded by the process. They did not like the campaign, because it exaggerated in all cases what could or could not be done; people thought that both sides told downright lies in order to enhance their case. It was not our finest hour, and that fitted with the people’s view of how they think this place, party politics and Westminster work.
The referendum gives us an opportunity to do things differently because we have an opportunity to engage the people in a different way. If we carry on in the same old way, we will not take the people with us, and we will not be able to build a consensus of the 52% and 48% as we look towards a new future. If it is the same old story, the public will still feel removed from us.
We have made a good start today. The natural inclination of any Government is to reject an Opposition motion outright, but they did not do so, to great credit. There is a listening exercise going on, but we need to go on from there, and I believe Select Committees have a great role to play. Let us bring people in front of our Select Committees to explain in detail what they think about the process to come, because they are affected. As I said to the Secretary of State the other day, what I most want is a process in which what we hear from people who are affected has some influence on the path taken by the Government. That is what engagement with this place needs.
What sort of things might be considered? I met Peter Kendall of the National Farmers Union, who was very concerned about not just agriculture, but welfare, environment—they are all wrapped up together. When people come before Select Committees or the House in a way that is not party political, and there is an authority that has been gained over recent years, that will matter to the public, because they will feel that it represents more of their voice and more of the truth.
There is a tone that the outside world and Parliament can bring to the negotiations. I, too, bitterly resent the way in which this has been characterised as adversarial, “us versus them” and “we have got to win”. To make a small point, does anybody not believe that those sitting around the negotiating table with the United Kingdom have their own interests as well, and will fight for them? The argument over whether we should stay in the EU was not just about economics; it was about politics, our sovereignty and taking back control. Do we not think that Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande also have political reasons for believing that the European Union needs to be protected in some way from the poor or adverse effect that Brexit might have, and that they will put those views forward as well? It is not all about us. Those from outside can bring that view to us.
If we can bring people together and give the public a sense that we are not doing business as usual, but are being more co-operative and more consensual here as we drive things forward, both we and the political process will have gained hugely by showing that it is not the same old story.
Between the date of the referendum and the start of the Conservative party conference, not a lot was clear about the Government’s intentions. There were various statements from the three Brexiteer Ministers, and they were slapped down one by one over either the customs union, the single market or the timing of the invoking of article 50. However, that lack of clarity changed at the Conservative party conference. One thing became clear: the Government had decided that limiting immigration from elsewhere in the European Union must be the driver of everything else. That is their overriding priority as they approach the negotiations. All other considerations, be they economic, security-related, trade-related or in any other field, must take second place.
The Government’s policy is immigration first, economics and everything else second, and the markets have expressed their views on that priority. The pound is plummeting; its slide began with the referendum result, and has been sharpened since the Conservative party conference. As we heard from my hon. Friend Ms Eagle, there are reports that it is now trading at a 168-year low, and the nonchalant attitude of Ministers to that is woefully complacent.
A recent newspaper article quoted the Prime Minister’s description of her modus operandi, which was as follows:
“I don’t just make an instant decision. I look at the evidence, take the advice, consider it properly and then come to a decision.”
Perhaps, when he sums up the debate, the Minister will tell us what economic assessment was made for the stance taken by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members at the party conference. What impact will this hard Brexit have outside the single market and the customs union? What impact will it have on our manufacturing industry, our financial services or our agriculture? What impact will it have on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic? What were the papers of which the Prime Minister spoke? What was this careful process? Is not the truth that there was no process at all? There was no looking at the evidence, no taking advice, and no considering it properly. Instead, a desire for headlines and for appeasing the hard Brexiteers in the Prime Minister’s own party took priority over the national interest.
Let me now deal with the substance of the motion. The 170 questions published today by my Front-Bench colleagues are entirely legitimate questions to ask on behalf of our constituents. The public have a right to know about our future trading arrangements, security arrangements, border arrangements, and so on. The Government cannot shut down legitimate questioning of their policy by proclaiming that anyone who questions their direction or intent is trying to deny the result of the referendum. That is simply not the case. The sight of these erstwhile champions of parliamentary sovereignty desperately pleading that the Executive now be given a blank cheque for anything that they want to do may be amusing on one level, but it will not hold in terms of how this process will be conducted.
Of course she is entitled to her view, but when that mask slipped, it was cheered on the other side. Do those Members really accept the will of the voters, or is this actually a ruse to thwart Brexit?
The attempt by the right hon. Gentleman and others to shut down questioning of the Government’s intentions is simply an attempt to shut down discussion and scrutiny, and it will not stand. Let us ask ourselves for a moment what would have happened if the result had been the other way round. What if it had been 52% to 48% in favour of remaining? Do we seriously think that the Members who supported a leave vote would have stopped asking questions about the Government’s EU policy, and would have said that all future decisions relating to the EU were purely a matter for the Executive? No, they would not, and such a proposition is totally absurd. I welcome the Government’s partial climbdown in the amendment, but Ministers must realise that Members on this side will keep pressing for the facts, for discussion, and for a parliamentary say in the terms of Brexit itself.
I want to make one more point. It is reported that, in another context, the former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, “If you break it, you’ve bought it”. That is sometimes referred to as the Pottery Barn rule. Well, those who led the leave campaign, many of whom are now Ministers in the Government, should remember that phrase, because what has been broken is our membership of the European Union, and they now own the consequences. They own the drop in the pound. When a great company such as Nissan says that it will suspend investment, they own that suspension. They own the promises, such as the promise of £350 million extra for the NHS, which will not be forgotten or set aside. That phrase, “If you break it, you’ve bought it”, is not just a phrase for today’s debate. It will ring through every decision and every consequence in the years ahead.