I very much support the amendments that are designed to increase parliamentary scrutiny and I have put my name to many of them. I also support those amendments that would give the right to remain to EU nationals now here. That is a moral issue, which should be guaranteed now, not some kind of transactional calculation.
I wish to raise the issue of transitional arrangements, which has not yet been discussed and which is covered by my new clause 36. I welcome the White Paper’s recognition that, if a deal can be successfully secured within a two-year period that starts when article 50 is triggered, we will not leave the EU literally overnight. There will be a phased implementation to give businesses the chance to adapt. That is not the same thing as needing a period of transition should two years not be sufficient time to reach an agreement. To have no idea of what that agreement will be is a glaring omission and that is what my new clause seeks to address. It would put in place a transitional arrangement to govern UK-EU trade relations during the period, if necessary, between when the UK leaves the EU and when a longer term agreement is concluded.
Given the short time available—it is expected to be two years, but in reality it will be more like 18 months given the requirement to bring the deal before MPs, the European Parliament and so on—the only option available if a deal has not been secured is to send Britain over a cliff edge. We would face having to leave the EU effectively overnight, crashing out of the EU on WTO-only terms. The Government have stated clearly in their White Paper that they want to avoid cliff edges, but at the moment they have done nothing to stay away from this one—perhaps they have been too busy looking the other way over the Atlantic and have simply not noticed it.
My new clause would provide a safety net. Given that both France and Germany will be preoccupied with national elections for much of this year and that the UK team has limited negotiating capacity and relative inexperience, it seems likely that two years will not be sufficient time to get the best deal for Britain. If we come to the end of the two-year period, we need a plan that is not just the default option of the wild west that is the WTO.
The Prime Minister says that she has unanimous agreement with the other 27 member states, and that getting that unanimous agreement is an option. We need to know that the option of continuing the negotiations has been specifically discussed, and we need to know it before we trigger article 50, otherwise we risk yet more uncertainty for our economy, for the citizens living in the EU and for all of our constituents. It is like jumping out of a plane to escape someone we have fallen out with but failing to double check that there is a parachute in the pack strapped on our back. What possible reason would anyone have for being so complacent or foolhardy?
Exiting the EU is really about two separate processes—