The negotiations over our exit from the European Union are fundamental to our future. It is no exaggeration to say that they will shape everything we want to achieve as a country over the coming years and decades. We are doing nothing less than refashioning Britain’s place in the world. Our success or failure will determine and shape all our futures, so it is obviously a great responsibility but also a great opportunity, and it falls on all of us in this place—every one of us in this Parliament—to make a success of it. If we work together and we succeed, we can ensure a strong and growing economy that spreads prosperity and opportunity around the country, underpins well-funded public services and secures a better future for us and our children.
I have always made it clear that after Brexit the United Kingdom will continue to be the outward-looking global nation it has always been. Indeed, it should be more engaged in the world than ever before, for I firmly believe that last year’s vote to leave the EU was not a call for retrenchment—a call to look in on ourselves. The UK has the means, the ambition and, now, the freedom to play a more positive role in the world.
I believe that the opportunities provided by Brexit will mean a global Britain. Does my right hon. Friend agree that leaving the customs union and the single market will allow us to forge trade links with countries such as China and the United States, which we cannot do on our own while we are members of the European Union?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, to which, if he will forgive me, I shall return a little later.
As I was saying, we have the means, the ambition and the freedom to play a more positive part in the world, which is demonstrated by our commitments on defence and international aid. The UK is the only country in the world that meets both its NATO pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defence and the UN target of devoting 0.7% of our gross national income to development spending. That ensures that we defend our values, work to tackle poverty and conflict, and help to protect the most vulnerable in the world.
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about our commitments to defence and our commitments to the rest of the world in respect of international aid, and I agree with what he has said about both, but what about the Government’s commitment to Wales? Before the Brexit debate, Andrew R. T. Davies said:
“I will make it my mission to ensure that Wales continues to receive at least every penny of the aid money it has historically received via the EU—we deserve and are entitled to no less.”
Will Wales get what it deserves?
Of course. Indeed, Wales is represented on the Joint Ministerial Committee, which has met several times, and that issue has arisen in the committee. The main funding streams for Wales stem from the common agricultural policy and structural funds, both of which have been underpinned by the Treasury until the end of the current financial round.
Not for the moment. I will make some progress, and then give way again. I must be fairly disciplined about giving way, because we have a very tight timetable.
After exiting the European Union, Britain will still be a country that steps up to its role as a world leader, and that means continuing to help to protect and secure our wider European continent. We want to deepen co-operation with other European states, and to bring European Union policy into a wider global framework. As we have said, we seek a deep and special partnership with the European Union: one that reflects our shared values and history, one that works for all parts of the United Kingdom, our overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and one that delivers for the special circumstances relating to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, because no one wants to see a return to the hard border. It should be a partnership like no other. It should be underpinned by ambitious agreements on free trade and customs, covering goods and services and seeking the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade.
There has been much talk about transitional arrangements. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that if such arrangements are put in place there will be legally binding agreements on trade and customs arrangements, as well as the removal of those arrangements from the remit of the European Court of Justice?
Yes, indeed. One of the things that we will endeavour to achieve is the establishment of such legally binding arrangements. I shall return to that point in some detail in a moment, if I may.
I appreciate what the Secretary of State has already said about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Does he accept, however, that if security information indicates a radicalisation of people in the Republic, security considerations will always predominate in respect of the border issue?
Security considerations pretty much always predominate when it comes to the control of immigration and control of migration generally, and there will be no difference in this case. We obviously treat the security of all our citizens, and all our allies’ citizens, as paramount. There should be, for instance, a broad security agreement covering all aspects of our current collaboration, including defence, foreign policy, justice, home affairs, law enforcement and counter-terrorism, which should be supported by continued co-operation and open access in highly regulated areas such as aviation, financial services, data, transport and nuclear.
We recognise that such a wide-ranging partnership will require fair and uniform implementation. It must also be long-lasting. That is why we must ensure that mechanisms exist to manage the evolution of our regulatory frameworks to maintain a fair and open trading environment and minimise non-tariff barriers.
At the weekend, the Secretary of State said that he was “pretty sure” that he would get the sort of trading deal that he wants. Does he think that language of that sort provides the assurances that our businesses and our economy need?
The question that was put to me was whether I was 100% sure. The first thing that one ought to learn in this business is to be honest about such matters. I do not think that saying at the beginning of a negotiation that one is 100% sure of exactly what the outcome will be would give confidence to anyone. It certainly would not give confidence to me, even if it was said by the hon. Gentleman.
The whole point of a negotiation is that one must be prepared and ready not to do a deal, because one can then ensure that one has strength in the negotiations. To that extent, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important for us to be ready to “do customs” at places such as my constituency of Dover, deal or no deal?
No. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I must make some progress.
A large part of my job—almost the invisible part—is ensuring that we are prepared for contingencies, and that is happening as we speak.
We have also made clear that the new partnership must be overseen by a new and independent impartial dispute mechanism. That cannot and will not be the European Court of Justice. No nation outside the European Union submits to the direct jurisdiction of the ECJ, and neither will the United Kingdom. We will start to move towards the new partnership by securing the rights of citizens on both sides. I know that everyone in the House will agree with me that European Union citizens make a huge contribution to our society. We have heard today from the Prime Minister about what the approach will entail, but the overarching principle is that European citizens living in the United Kingdom will continue to lead their lives in exactly the same way as British citizens with the same rights and responsibilities.
I have given way quite a lot so far. I am going to be disciplined. No! I am practising being masterful.
Not everything in these negotiations will be easy. They will be complex, and I have no doubt that at times they will even be confrontational. However, I am convinced that both sides want to secure close co-operation and a deep new partnership.
No, not for the moment. In a moment.
Last year, in the referendum, we received a national instruction, which we will undertake in a way that serves the national interest. The instruction from the British people was for us to take back control of our borders, our money and our laws. Both the Conservative party and the Labour party campaigned on manifestos that promised to exit the European Union and end the free movement of people. Those two manifestos received more than 80% of the popular vote, so failing to deliver on that instruction is not an option for those of us who count ourselves as democrats. Ending the free movement of people means leaving the single market, as the EU has made abundantly clear to those who have cared to listen.
The Secretary of State said that countries outside the European Union would not be directly within the remit of the European Court of Justice, but several countries outside the EU indirectly have arrangements with the European Union whereby the European Court of Justice or an equivalent body is established. Is that what the Secretary of State is aiming for?
No. What the hon. Gentleman is describing is something like the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association States—the EFTA court—where there is a parallelism. That is not the aim. The aim is to have an independent arbitration arrangement, as is normal. For instance, the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement does exactly that. It has nominees from either side, and an independent chair. That is the sort of thing that we have in mind.
No. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has to learn some discipline at some point in life. I thought discipline was his thing, but there we are.
Ending the free movement of people means leaving the single market, as the European Union has made abundantly clear to those who have cared to listen. We all accept the need to protect existing UK businesses in the European Union. Leaving the single market does not mean losing access to that market, which is why we are proposing a new, ambitious free trade agreement. But this is not just about protecting existing markets, as my hon. Friend Henry Smith said. To deliver the national interest, we must seize on our new freedoms in terms of trade to create jobs and lift living standards. Britain must get out into the world, forge its own path and be a true beacon for free trade.
That means leaving the customs union, so that Britain will, for the first time in over 40 years, be able to take full advantage of growing markets across the world and determine a trade policy that is fashioned not around the interests of 28 countries but around those of one country. We will have a trade policy that suits this country and this country alone.
The European Commission itself says that 90% of the future growth in world trade will come from outside the European Union. This has already been reflected in the long-term decline in the share of British goods that go to the European Union, while our global trade has increased dramatically.
I have just come from the European Parliament. Does the Secretary of State agree that many colleagues across Europe want a deep trading partnership with Britain, based on keeping strong standards for consumers and other such standards, and therefore a special, bespoke relationship for our trade?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on what I think is her maiden intervention. It was delivered brilliantly, as I would expect, and she is exactly right. We want a deep, special, bespoke arrangement to maximise our trade opportunities.
As I was saying, the 90% growth outside the European Union means that our relative share of trade in the EU has gone down. In services, for example, we are now 60% outside the EU and 40% inside it, and all of this is without preferential trade agreements for much of our trade. Just so that the House understands, the best academic data that I could find show that creating a new trade agreement increases the amount of trade by about 28%. If the House wants an individual parable, in the first seven years of its operation, the North American Free Trade Agreement increased trade by 40%. These are really significant items of policy that we can exercise.
On the question of academic research, can the Secretary of State confirm what the most recent research says about the cost to the British economy of coming out of the single market and the customs union?
That research would depend on what the actual deal was. It is madness to make an estimate without knowing what the deal is. If the deal involves a comprehensive free trade area with no tariffs and no non-tariff barriers, there will be zero effect. It is rather daft to try to cite some non-existent academic issue.
If the House wants a Brexit deal that drives prosperity and living standards and if it really wants a Brexit for jobs, it must put its faith in free trade and ensure that our exit means that we can embrace the opportunities to the full. Let us move beyond the platitudinous propaganda of hard and soft Brexits. Let us instead discuss how we shall fashion our new place in the world and start to act together truly in the national interest. I will give way to Chris Bryant now.
This is obviously the start of a very special relationship. The Secretary of State will know that the Prime Minister earlier published a document about EU citizens living in the UK. The one thing she failed to mention in the House was that all those EU citizens would not be functioning exactly as they are now. They will have to have documentation with them; they will effectively have to have an ID card. I am surprised: surely this Secretary of State is not going to support ID cards for EU nationals living in the UK.
You know, I was right not to give way to the hon. Gentleman in the first place. He has got it wrong; it is not an ID card. We are talking about documentation to prove that people have the right to a job and the right to residence, but they will not have to carry that around all the time. It is not an ID card; it is rather like your birth certificate. It’s not an ID card! Good heavens!
I shall turn now to the legislative agenda—
Does my right hon. Friend not think that those, such as the Liberal Democrats and others, who want to remain in the European Union should ask their constituents whether they really want the United Kingdom indefinitely to remain part of an undemocratic system that is governed by majority voting that takes place behind closed doors and that is moving towards integration with a common defence policy, a common Finance Ministry and further moves towards a political union in which we would be in the second tier of a two-tier Europe dominated largely by one country?
Nevertheless, it was a crisp characterisation of an argument that my hon. Friend has been making for many years, Mr Deputy Speaker, and he is as right about it today as he was when he first made it.
An extensive legislative agenda is necessary to prepare the UK for its new place in the world. Working together in the national interest will be crucial as we go through the process in this House and the other place to put the necessary legislation in position to ensure that our laws work effectively on the day we leave the European Union. For my part, I am willing to work with anyone to that end. The sheer importance of this issue makes that essential. The eyes of the country will be on us all, and we will all be judged on our willingness to work pragmatically and effectively together to deliver the verdict of the people in last year’s referendum.
Nothing is more central to this than the so-called great repeal Bill. The principle is straightforward: it is to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and to transfer existing European Union law into UK law. To answer a question that my opposite number, Keir Starmer, has raised, these rights and freedoms will be brought into UK law without qualification, without limitation and without any sunset clauses. Any material changes will be dealt with by subsequent primary legislation.
I cannot stress enough to the House and to the nation the importance of this Bill in ensuring that we have a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union. Every part of the United Kingdom needs to prepare its statute book to ensure that it can function after we leave the European Union. The repeal Bill will give the devolved Administrations the power to do just that, to ensure a smooth and orderly exit for all. As we have also said repeatedly, we expect there to be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved Administration once we exit the EU. That is why, given that the Bill will affect the powers of the devolved institutions and that it legislates in devolved areas, we will seek the consent of the devolved legislatures for the Bill. We would like everyone to come together in support of the legislation, which will be crucial to delivering the outcome of the referendum.
In an earlier incarnation, Michael Gove, who is now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, assured the people of Scotland that Scotland could expect to have devolved power over its immigration policy after Brexit. Does the Secretary of State still agree with that undertaking?
No, I do not remember that, and I have not seen it. I will look into it and come back to the hon. Gentleman. I did not have an earlier incarnation in this job.
The Secretary of State talks about an extensive legislative agenda, but he is still missing out anything to do with the environment. There is no environment Bill here. Simply saying that we are going to transfer environmental legislation in the repeal Bill does not work, because the legislation will need to be updated and it will need to be enforceable. Without the Commission and the ECJ, there will be no clarity as to how that legislation would be enforced. Why is there no Bill?
With respect, when it is transferred across, there will be stages in this, as I have explained, in which we will create—through statutory instruments or primary legislation—the relevant administrations and regulatory bodies to run the new legislation. Of course, development beyond that will come later, but at the moment we are talking about bringing the whole corpus of EU environmental law into British law. That is not nothing, by any stretch of the imagination.
No. I have some progress to make.
When we designed our approach to the repeal Bill, we endeavoured to strike the right balance between getting our statute book in order for the day that we exit the European Union and ensuring full parliamentary involvement and scrutiny. Indeed, it is the only viable plan that has been put forward in this House. While I have heard the Opposition raise some concerns, I have heard no alternatives or any detailed proposals on how they would approach this crucial matter. As I said to the Opposition spokesman when I presented our White Paper on the repeal Bill, if in the next two years we find that we have missed something, we will put it right, and that offer still stands not only to the Opposition, but to the entire House. We must get this right. We must be able to deliver a functioning UK statute book by the day we exit the European Union. When the House of Lords Constitution Committee examined the issue, it found few alternatives, and its recommended approach aligns closely with that which we have set out. It is vital for businesses, workers and consumers across the United Kingdom that this House undertakes the difficult but eminently achievable task of working together responsibly in the national interest to provide certainty and stability.
No, not for the moment.
While the repeal Bill is the centrepiece of our approach, it is far from the only piece of exit-related legislation that we will be putting through. The Government are bringing forward a first tranche of Bills—I say to Caroline Lucas that it will not be the last—on areas affected by our exit from the European Union, including trade, customs, immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture, and fisheries. I have told the House several times that we will not make significant policy changes without first passing primary legislation, which will be thoroughly debated and voted on in both Houses. Those Bills deliver on that promise.
This initial tranche of Bills also has a further purpose. I am sure that many across the House will agree that it is the job of a responsible Government to prepare for all eventualities. I make it clear yet again today that we want a close new partnership with the EU that works for everyone, as mentioned a few moments ago by my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke. However, we must also ensure that we have a functioning statute book and functioning national systems—no matter what and for all outcomes. The Bills will help to provide that. As I think my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt put it when he was Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, not doing so would be a “dereliction of duty”. We must and will be prepared for any outcome.
However, I remain confident that we can get the right deal from the negotiations. Doing so is fundamentally in the interests of both the UK and the EU. A strong and prosperous EU, capable of projecting its values and continuing to play a leading role in the world, is in the United Kingdom’s best interests, just as a strong and prosperous United Kingdom is the European Union’s best interests. The task ahead will no doubt be challenging, but it is a task that the British people set us in last year’s referendum—a national instruction. It is our duty in this House to pull together and deliver on that instruction in the national interest. If we do, we can deliver a better and brighter future for the entire United Kingdom—a future in which we step on to the world stage as a champion for free trade, a firm advocate of the rule of law, and a true beacon for democracy.
When Britain voted in the referendum one year and four days ago, the question on the ballot paper was narrow and technical—to remain in or to leave the European Union—but the vote was far from narrow and technical. People saw different questions behind those boxes. Above all, the referendum was a vote on the state of the nation, just as the general election turned out to be. The nation is fed up with inequality, fed up with low wages, fed up with under-resourced public services, fed up with the imbalances between our nations and regions, fed up with austerity, and fed up with politics and politicians. If ever there was a need for a Government capable of transforming the country both economically and politically, it is now. Britain needed a transformative Queen’s Speech last week, but this Government are too weak to deliver it. The Queen’s Speech is threadbare and lacking in ambition. There is no detail, and there cannot be, because the Prime Minister gambled and lost. A majority has become a minority. All bets are off for the future. Just when we needed strong government, we have uncertainty and fragility, and I suspect that history will be a harsh critic.
It does not end there. When the Prime Minister made her statement calling for the general election, she said:
“Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain…Every vote for the Conservatives will mean we can stick to our plan”.
She wanted a landslide; she ended up in a mess—her own description. She now has no majority, no mandate, and no authority, and it tells.
The outcome of the first round of negotiations showed how unrealistic the Government’s rhetoric has been. The Secretary of State promised before the election that there would be the “row of the summer” over the Commission’s proposed timetable and schedule for the negotiations. By lunchtime on Monday, he had folded. The Government have also managed to get on the back foot in relation to EU citizens. Had they acted quickly and unilaterally, as Labour repeatedly said that they should, they could have set the agenda. The EU did so instead and stated its position in April: full rights as they are currently enjoyed to be guaranteed and underpinned by the European Court of Justice. The Government’s position is now seen by the EU as an inadequate response.
Although the Prime Minister struggled to give an adequate answer to my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State and I know, and our EU partners know, that the rights of family reunification currently enjoyed by EU nationals will change, and they will be subject in future to financial and other qualifications that apply more generally. The rights will change, and that is perhaps why that question was avoided. I hope that we get an agreement on EU citizens and on UK citizens, and I hope that we get an early agreement to settle the anxiety, but the Government’s approach to date has made that harder to achieve than it should have been.
On a point of information, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman—congratulations by the way—whether it is now Labour policy to support the rule of the European Court of Justice within the United Kingdom?
Let me deal with that in relation to EU citizens first. I will discuss it more generally when I get to that part of my speech.
As far as EU nationals are concerned, we need to understand the worries of our EU partners. Whatever agreement is put in place, they recognise that it has to last for the lifetime of EU nationals here—the lifetime. In some cases, that will mean 50-plus years. They know how our system works. They know that no one Government can bind the next. Their concern is understandable. What is given in good faith and assured today can be taken away in a year, two years, five years or 10 years, yet their citizens want to live their lives here for decades. That is why they want some mechanism, external to our parliamentary regime, to underpin those rights. It is no answer to their concern simply to say, “We have the best judges; we have the Supreme Court,” because, as the Secretary of State understands, if the law of this country changes in five years and these people’s rights are reduced, our Supreme Court will have to apply the legislation as it is then rather than any agreement that is reached now. That is their concern.
When pressed on the matter last week, the Prime Minister made it clear—I think this is in the document that was produced today—that this will be an international agreement and will therefore be subject to international enforcement. It is a pretence that this can all be done within our courts and our own jurisdiction. I will come to the wider question later, but if we are talking about honesty and proceeding in a grown-up way, it would be far better if the Government recognised the EU’s core concerns and found a way of ensuring that they are met, because this is about the lives of real people for decades and decades.
I will make some progress, if I may.
Back home, the divisions are obvious. The Chancellor’s Mansion House speech last week was clearly an attempt to spike the Prime Minister’s Brexit approach. Thus he spoke of a “jobs and prosperity first” Brexit. That reflects the Labour party manifesto, in which we spoke of a “jobs and…economy first” Brexit. The Chancellor also spoke of an
“early agreement on transitional arrangements” and no “cliff edge” for the economy, and that is in the Labour party manifesto, which said we would
“negotiate transitional arrangements to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’”.
He has clearly been reading about our position.
The Chancellor spoke of a “management of migration”, not shutting it down. The Labour party manifesto spoke of
“fair rules and reasonable management of migration.”
Was his speech a personal view, the Government’s view, or the view that he hopes the next Prime Minister will take? Clearly we cannot go on like this.
I will in just a moment.
This approach is damaging our reputation abroad and weakening our position. Like the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, I was in Brussels last week. The talk in Brussels is, “What is going on? How long are this Government going to last?” We have put ourselves in the worst possible starting position.
While we are on the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s manifesto, will he clear up an important point? Directly after the general election, having fought on a manifesto that made it clear that the Labour party would take back control of the borders, his leader, the shadow Chancellor and Ms Harman made it clear that Labour’s position was to take back control of our borders, and to leave the single market and the customs union. Subsequently, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has gone out and said that leaving the single market and the customs union are not absolutes and are on the table. Will he clear up what the Labour party’s position really is?
That is not an accurate reflection of what I said. I will come to that in due course—[Interruption.] I will come to it when I get to that part of my speech.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State need to acknowledge the effect of the general election on their Brexit strategy. If the general election was an attempt, as the Prime Minister said, to strengthen her hand on Brexit, the outcome is a powerful case for a rethink. It is time to press the reset button. First, the tone and approach have to change. The belligerent, hostile attitude to date has alienated our allies and left Britain isolated. We need a more constructive and responsible approach. We share values with our EU partners, with whom we have a shared history. We will continue to share values, and we want a shared future: not membership of the EU—that was decided last year—but a full and meaningful partnership, based on principles of co-operation and collaboration. [Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary does not understand. I am talking about tone and approach, which is particularly pertinent for him. Anyone who has been backwards and forwards to Brussels knows very well how badly some of his comments have gone down with our EU partners. This is about building an environment in which we can get the best deal for our country, which is in all our interests.
Speaking of tone and approach, may I request that the right hon. and learned Gentleman changes his tone and approach to something a bit more positive? Brexit is an opportunity for our country to grasp, not a crisis to manage. It is hypocritical and arrogant of him to look behind what the British people voted for last year.
One of the biggest risks to these negotiations is utter complacency—the failure to realise the risks and complexity of the negotiations. It is quite right for the Opposition to challenge the Government at every twist and turn to ensure that these negotiations go as well as possible.
I will make some progress.
In addition to tone and approach, the second thing that needs to change is that we need to drop the “no deal is better than a bad deal” mantra.
I will make my point and then I will give way.
No deal would be a miserable failure. As the Chancellor said last week, no deal would be a very, very bad outcome indeed, but it is what happens automatically on
Not all, but most of it. The Secretary of State knows this very well and he should not belittle it. If we do not reach agreement, we will have nothing in place to replicate current arrangements for passing across security, intelligence, counter-terrorism and counter-crime information—[Interruption.] There is no point in the Foreign Secretary giving that pained expression. No agreement will also mean that we have not reached an agreement on aviation, the Northern Ireland border or EU citizens. That is what no deal is; no deal means no agreement.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said that we must be honest in this debate. He must know in his heart of hearts that no deal is an untenable position for the United Kingdom to find itself in in 2019, so let today be the day when we bury the phrase, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
For the shadow Secretary of State to be balanced in his view on no deal, he also needs to talk about what no deal means for the EU27. We looked at this on the Foreign Affairs Committee and, actually, the experts say that no deal is as harsh for the EU27 as it is for the United Kingdom. A bit of balance in the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s words would go down well in developing a common policy on this issue.
I readily accept that not only do we need a deal but that the EU needs a deal, which is why we should not talk up no deal as a viable strategy or adopt the Foreign Secretary’s position that no deal is perfectly okay. No deal is not a viable or tenable option. No deal means that we have not agreed anything.
Does the shadow Secretary of State accept that by adopting a narrative that is so wholly uncritical of the European Union, he leaves himself and his party open to the charge that they wish to subvert the will of the British people? Does he hold to page 6 of his own manifesto, which says we wish to leave the European Union?
I do not think that shooting the idea that no deal is viable, tenable or, honestly, a position we could possibly arrive at in 2019 is adopting the position of the EU. It is actually adopting the position of the UK. The UK needs a deal to safeguard its interests. This is a point made in the national interest.
It is realistic to imagine that we will not get a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU when we leave and that interim arrangements will persist under WTO rules, which may well be zero-tariff rules, but we would have to believe the EU was seriously insane if it wanted to ground all flights between the UK and the EU, if it refused to offer the products and standards arrangements it has with 100 or more other countries—whether or not it has a free trade deal with those countries—or if it wanted to check every Mini exported to the EU to see whether it fits the EU’s definition of a car. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman really think the EU is so insane that it would want to do that?
This mischaracterisation of the point I am making does not help. This is not the EU demanding here; if we do not have a lawful basis for these activities in the UK, we do not have the authority to do this. It is no good talking up a “no deal” as if it is a viable, tenable option.
I am going to press on to my third point about the reset: we need a razor-like focus on how we retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union. The Secretary of State stood at that Dispatch Box on
Our manifesto was absolutely clear about retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. As for membership, although almost everybody who wants a progressive new relationship with the EU wants to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union, almost everybody accepts that that cannot be done in an unreformed way, because of the rules of the single market as they now are. The question of whether we start from reform of the single market or from a bare agreement and then work up is secondary to the outcome we want to achieve. The outcome we want to achieve is: no tariffs for goods going across from us to the EU, and vice-versa; no new red tape at customs, including rules of origin; and a deal that works for services as well as for goods.
We have to recognise the concerns of the EU, and two in particular. First, the main concern is that if we are released from all obligations of a regulatory nature in relation to moving goods and services across Europe, we will be able to undercut EU countries economically. Secondly, if we strike free trade agreements that are released from any of the standards and regulations that they apply, there is the prospect of flooding the UK with goods and products from other countries which do not meet those standards and/or go into Europe. Those are the issues we need to negotiate.
I want to deal with this point, because I know it is an issue of real concern to my party. We have said that the outcomes are what matter, not the model for achieving them.
I listened carefully to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman was saying, and he said he does not want to have to adopt rules of origin. How will we avoid doing so unless we are in a customs union relationship with the EU?
I have said on a number of occasions that we should leave being in the customs union on the table. What the Government have done is to sweep these options off the table without evidence, without facts and without assessing the risks. We have said that what we should do is focus on the outcomes. One of the best ways to achieve tariff-free access across Europe is to have the customs union on the table at least as an option to consider.
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s flow, but the leader of his party said a couple of hours ago in this House, when I believe the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in the Chamber, that he wanted to strike free trade deals around the world. How is that possible if we remain a member of the customs union?
I am just considering how I respond to a cry of “chaos” from a Government who two months ago had a majority but now have a minority and are going into a grubby deal with the DUP. The Secretary of State will have heard exactly how I put it: we focus on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union—the exact same benefits, to use his phrase. [Interruption.] I am answering the question. The Secretary of State talked about the “exact same benefits” of the customs union. How is that to be achieved? [Interruption.] You did. You know you did, because we have put it to you several times since. My answer was not a fixed position saying, “We must have this model when we start the negotiations.” My answer is: focus on the outcomes and leave options on the agreement until we have some assessment of the risk and costs of the different options. One thing we do not have from the Government is any assessment of the risks and costs.
Order. I am not sure what part of the words “I am going to press on” right hon. and hon. Members do not understand. The Opposition spokesman has made it clear that he intends, for the present, to press on, and that should be respected until such time as he changes his mind.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. If we are to obtain the exact same benefits of the single market and the customs union, it would be a good start if the Government would now accept that the negotiations will not be complete by March 2019, that transitional arrangements will be needed if we are to avoid a cliff edge and that transitional arrangements must safeguard our economy and jobs, and provide certainty for business. This also means that by the time of the final agreement at the end of transitional arrangements, a model or framework will have to be have been agreed which truly does deliver the exact same benefits as the single market and the customs union. We also need a recognition—if we are being honest—that in the end if we are going to have a meaningful and ongoing relationship with the EU, a court-like body will be needed to settle disputes. I refer not just to state to state disputes, but business to business disputes and individual to individual disputes.
We need to address a further issue on reset: the involvement of Parliament. For the first six months after the referendum decision, the Government fought in the courts to prevent this House having a say even on the triggering of article 50. They then called a general election to crush the opposition to their Brexit strategy, and that approach has to change. There needs to be a much stronger role for Parliament; we need to strengthen scrutiny and accountability, not push it away. Let us start in the following way—I hope and believe this will be agreed: this House needs a formal statement from the Secretary of State after each round of the negotiations, so that we can hear how he reports on progress and we can ask questions. I ask him to set that precedent now and agree that he will come to this House to report in a formal statement.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the answer is yes, I will. The only reason we did not do this today is that we had a statement from the Prime Minister on, in effect, the same subject and, I was hoping, a whole day’s debate on it now.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that, and I understand the point he makes about what happened today—we had a discussion about it earlier. I am grateful that he will set the precedent for the future rounds, the dates of which we know, to come back to this House at the earliest opportunity to make a statement so that we can debate it and question him here.
Let me turn to the repeal Bill. We recognise the need to entrench all EU rights and protections in our law—I said that when the White Paper was published and I say it again now—hence our manifesto proposed an EU rights and protections Bill designed to that end. How it is done matters. As proposed, the repeal Bill would contain sweeping powers for the Executive, with no enhanced safeguards. The statutory instrument procedure has no enhanced safeguards. That is far too sweeping to be accepted across this House. I hear what the Secretary of State says and I take him at his word when he says that there will be no limitations, no qualifications and no sunset clauses. I hope that that message is getting through to his Back Benchers, because many of them campaigned to leave the EU on the very basis that those rights should either not exist or be much reduced or limited. I look forward to seeing a strong three-line Whip through this Bill, making sure that there are no limitations, no qualifications and no sunset clauses.
The repeal Bill does not include the Charter of Fundamental Rights—I hear what the Secretary of State says about that—or any future proofing to ensure that we do not fall behind our EU partners as standards evolve, particularly in the workplace. There are at least seven other Bills, but there is no detail about them because no agreement can be reached on what to put in them.
The Prime Minister called a general election saying that it would provide “certainty and stability” as we enter the Brexit negotiations. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need a deal, and a deal that works. We have started the negotiations in the worst of all circumstances. Britain deserves better than that.
Order. Before we move on to the next speech, may I announce that, to begin with, there will be an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches? Almost inevitably, that will have to be reduced still further later in the debate.
Where I agree with Keir Starmer is on the fact that the decision that was taken just over one year ago was probably the most momentous political decision taken in my lifetime and that it will have profound consequences for this country. Obviously, it is essential that we should try to get the best possible deal. Unlike him, though, I campaigned in favour of a leave vote and I continue to believe that the decision that was taken is in the best interests of this country and offers huge opportunities for us both to reassert the supremacy of Parliament in our becoming an independent self-governing nation again and to take advantages of the opportunities that are opening up to us around the world.
Negotiating many of the detailed issues will be the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and the talks are just beginning. I do not agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he says that no deal is necessarily worse than whatever bad deal we may get. It would be crazy for us to go in at the start stating that we could not contemplate not reaching a deal. That is a guarantee of not getting the best outcome. I do not want to spend too much time on the negotiations. I hope that, if I am successful in re-joining the Select Committee under the chairmanship of Hilary Benn—if he is chosen as the Chairman—we will be seeing a great deal of the Secretary of State.
The opportunities that come from our decision are set out very clearly in the Queen’s Speech, and the first is the repeal Bill. I would have thought that everybody in this House welcomed the fact that, as we are going to leave the European Union in two years’ time or thereabouts, the repeal Bill will give certainty as it ensures that European law, which currently applies, will be transferred into British law. It also gives us the opportunity to consider at our leisure each of those individual measures to decide whether they are most appropriately framed and whether we could reduce some of the burden, or, in some instances, perhaps even increase the protection if we think that that is the right thing to do. The repeal Bill is not necessarily about reducing regulation— although there may well be plenty of examples where it is sensible to do so—but about giving us back the control to decide for ourselves the most appropriate level of regulation.
The immigration Bill will allow us to design our own system of determining whom we should welcome into this country and to whom we should say that we simply cannot accommodate them given the need to reduce the overall level. It means that we can create an immigration system that is fair to all and that does not discriminate in favour of European citizens against non-European citizens. We can judge everybody on the basis of what contribution they can make.
The agriculture Bill will allow us to design a system of support for farmers that is tailor-made for the benefit of British agriculture. It is not a one-size-fits-all system, which has to accommodate Greek olive growers just as much as it does wheat farmers in Essex. I hope that it will mean that we can deliver more support to British farming, and at a cheaper price as we will not have to be sending the money across to Brussels to have it judged, recycled and sent back to us.
On that point, my right hon. Friend will surely agree that the common agricultural policy is one of the most environmentally destructive pieces of policy in the history of policy. Repatriating the common agricultural policy gives us an opportunity to ensure that, as we dish out vast quantities of taxpayers’ funds to landowners, we get something in return, including biodiversity and general benefits for our natural environment.
Before the right hon. Gentleman responds, let me make this appeal to the House. There are 37 speakers and a number of Members waiting to make their maiden speeches. If there are lots of interventions, we will be down to a three or four-minute time limit. I appeal to Members on both sides of the House to reduce their interventions.
I accept your stricture, Mr Amess. I agree completely with my hon. Friend, whom I am delighted to see back in his place in the House of Commons. British farming is already doing a great deal to support the environment. In designing a new system of support, we should emphasise that farmers need to be rewarded for what they are doing to conserve the landscape for future generations.
The fisheries Bill allows us to right a wrong that was done about 40 years ago. Many fishermen in this country feel that they were sold out when we joined the European Union and were the price that we had to pay for membership. This Bill will allow us to restore their traditional fishing rights.
The trade Bill allows us now to reach new agreements with the countries that offer the greatest opportunities—the countries that are experiencing the fastest growth and where there is the most likely demand for British exports and British goods. It is no coincidence that there is no European trade deal with China, India, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, or the United States of America, and yet all those countries want to do business with us and trade with us, and this gives us the opportunity to do so.
This debate about hard Brexit versus soft Brexit is a complete fiction. Soft Brexit does not exist. Apparently, it means remaining within the single market and customs union, which means that we will not be able to set our own immigration policy or our own trade policy and that we will still be subject to the European Court of Justice. Frankly, soft Brexit is worse than remaining a member of the European Union. The reasons that we wanted to leave the European Union require us no longer to be a member of either the single market or the customs union. Therefore, I strongly support the approach taken by my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister.
I am pleased to see the Foreign Secretary in his place. He may know that I have taken a long-standing interest in events in Ukraine, and I am delighted that he will be meeting the Prime Minister of Ukraine next week. Ukraine may have passed out of the headlines, but the conflict going on in that country is still raging. About 2,700 troops have died since 2014 and nearly 10,000 have been wounded. This is a country on the mainland of continental Europe, part of which is still under occupation in the Crimea by Russian troops. In another part, a separatist movement supported by Russia is waging war. We support the Minsk process to try to put that right, but we do have a responsibility as one of the original signatories to the Budapest memorandum, which guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine. I very much welcome the attention that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is paying to this, and I hope that he will take the opportunity next week to express once again the very firm support of the British Government for the people of Ukraine.
I welcome the counter-terrorism review that has been initiated, but there is one aspect that I want to highlight in the hope that my right hon. Friends will draw it to the attention of the Home Secretary. Many people were quite distressed to see in the streets of London very recently the flags of Hezbollah in the al-Quds day rallies. Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation. The military wing is already proscribed in this country, but there is frankly very little distinction between it and the so-called civilian wing, the political wing. I know the Home Secretary has said she will look at this. It is already proscribed in many countries such as the United States, Canada and the Netherlands. Given the distress that was caused by seeing the flags paraded through London, and people calling for the extermination of Israel and supporting what is a terrorist organisation, I hope she will look at that matter urgently.
I start on a European theme, which is apt. The Prime Minister called the election because she was concerned about the opposition to her ideas on our future relationship with Europe. In response, the electorate made politics in this place that little bit more European: no one party holding a majority and parties being forced by the electorate to work together is common in other European legislatures and it is an idea that we certainly welcome. At long last, this place seems to be catching up with ideas that have caught on elsewhere in the UK, with minority Governments in both Edinburgh and Cardiff at the moment. Once again, Westminster appears to be playing catch up with both the devolved Administrations and our European partners.
No party in the House, not least mine or others, has a majority of wisdom or all the good ideas. Big decisions will be made that impact on us all and are the responsibility of this place, devolved Administrations and local government. I have said before that democracy no longer begins and ends here, and the same should be true of decision making, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks earlier about a legislative consent motion. If I may say this to him, I do not expect the devolved Administrations to give the Government a blank cheque, and nor should he expect one.
Only two parties in this Parliament won a majority of the seats in which they stood at the election: the Democratic Unionist party and the Scottish National party. I hope that they will be listened to in equal measure on these issues. In spite of our clear mandate, we are prepared to listen and work with other parties.
I also recognise the loss of some our finest parliamentarians at the last general election. After all, Angus Robertson—I have heard the chuntering from those on the Labour Benches, but they could learn a thing or two from him about providing effective opposition to that lot—was a parliamentarian who managed to show up the Prime Minister long before the Labour party managed to do so.
Alex Salmond is a political giant and one of the few parliamentarians with extensive experience of minority government. The UK Government may wish to reflect on the fact that the former First Minister led a Government for a full term, passing historic measures on free education, world-beating climate change measures and measures on universal services that remain the envy of the rest of the UK, with just 47 out of 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. That is something that they will perhaps reflect on.
We on these Benches stand on the shoulders of giants, and if I might be permitted to say so, Mr Deputy Speaker, that includes our former leader and the former Member for Dundee, East, Gordon Wilson, who passed away yesterday. It is easy to forget in these days when some in this Chamber claim that a majority of Scottish seats is somehow a failure that our former leader sat in a group of two. In spite of those numbers, he provided Dundee and Scotland with a powerful voice. We on these Benches, and I think elsewhere, owe him a huge debt of gratitude. We think of him and of his wife, Edith, at this moment.
Given the dynamics of Parliament, the SNP group will use its position to work with others where we can. That will be especially important in terms of our future relationship with our European partners. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of those negotiations to each and every one of us. It is fair to say and abundantly clear that this Government do not have all the answers on our future relationship with Europe. They have taken up the “whole lotta nothing” provided by Vote Leave and built on that with a year of not much in the way of progress. I am afraid to say to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that the talks have not got off to the best of starts, as the Labour spokesperson, Keir Starmer, said. The Secretary of State promised us the “row of the summer” over whether trade talks should start at the same time as talks on agreeing the cost of Brexit. That has turned into the “sound of silence”—the new quiet man, indeed, of Conservative party politics. It would be comical if it were not so serious.
The whole Government must have some culpability for the vacuum that has been left in our relationship with Europe, and none more so than the Foreign Secretary, who sat at the heart of the leave campaign and has spent a year in the Foreign Secretary’s chair giving us not much more detail than we had previously.
A minority Administration leaves all of us in this Chamber, not least those of us on the SNP Benches and Members across the Opposition Benches, with an opportunity. May I give credit to my colleagues from across the political divide who have put aside political differences to table amendments such as that which stands in my name and that of other colleagues, and I include in that the hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)? We will not agree on everything, but where we can agree we should try to come together.
We certainly agree that we should try to retain our membership of the single market and the customs union, and provide both a role for devolved Administrations and security for EU nationals, which, frankly, they deserve and which we should have given them long before now. That respects the referendum result. In fact, in July last year, just after the EU referendum, the Secretary of State for Scotland, no less, argued:
“My role is to ensure Scotland gets the best possible deal and that deal involves clearly being part of the single market.”
We had a referendum that delivered a narrow win for leave and a general election in which no one won a majority, but there was certainly a rejection of a hard Tory Brexit, so where we can come together we should do so. There has to be—I will say it clearly—a four-nation, cross-party and cross-institutional approach. That is the clear mandate that we have been given from the electorate across the UK.
In terms of the devolved Administrations, it is important that the Government do not turn the great repeal Bill— or rather the repeal Bill now—into the power grab undermining devolution. As my hon. Friend Peter Grant pointed out, whatever happened to the promise from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that it would be “for Scotland to decide” its immigration levels? For the avoidance of doubt, and there seemed to be some from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that came from the DEFRA Secretary just before, on “Good Morning Scotland” no less.
I am a passionate pro-European and our relationship with the EU is one that gave me many opportunities. It has made us all safer, healthier and wealthier, and the UK’s departure is bad news for our EU partners, but worse news for us in the UK. In fact—I see Nadhim Zahawi in his place—it was our Foreign Affairs Committee report that found that although no deal would be bad for our European partners, it would be much worse for the UK. That was the conclusion that we collectively came to.
I would not want the hon. Gentleman accidently to misrepresent our report. What we precisely said was that there would be mutually assured damage if there was no deal and that in absolute terms the damage would probably be greater to the 27 than to us, because that is where the balance of trade and the money flows sit, but that in relative terms the damage would be greater to the UK. I think that is a full summary of the conclusions of our report, which we fairly reported.
I thank the, at the moment, former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee for that intervention, but what he makes clear and what we came to a collective decision on was that this will be damaging for the UK. It is damage that we are causing to ourselves, and that we can do something about it. We are willing to compromise. The Scottish Government’s publication, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, provided a route towards a mid-way option. That openness, despite the fact that Scotland and my constituents voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the EU, shows the way we have to go.
I want to touch briefly on a couple of other issues apart from Europe. We are undergoing the worst refugee crisis in European terms and global displacement stands at almost 60 million people—its highest ever level. UK foreign policy must bear some responsibility, and I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will reflect on some of the measures that we should be taking. Not least, we have those fleeing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the open door that is the failed state in Libya. In Syria, which is so closely linked to the refugee crisis, we need a coherent, long-term strategy. With regard to Yemen, we on the SNP Benches will continue to ask questions about arms sales to those involved in the conflict.
I was glad to hear Mr Whittingdale mention Ukraine. With regard to Russia, we must continue to work with our European partners, not least in relation to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the Caucasus and elsewhere. I am grateful to him for making those points.
All the party manifestos committed the UK Government to retaining the 0.7% aid target, but does my hon. Friend share my concern about some of the language in the Conservative manifesto, which seemed to suggest that the Government could simply redefine aid and spend it on whatever they wanted?
My hon. Friend, as usual, makes an excellent point. In this Parliament we will seek to build on the good work he did in his previous role as our international development spokesperson, especially with reference to the 0.7% commitment. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary will also mention that.
In conclusion, my appeal is that we continue to work together. Our European neighbours remain our closest partners, not just geographically, but economically, culturally and politically. That reality needs to start seeping in. We will work as constructively as we can with colleagues in other political parties, but there must be an openness and a willingness to do so.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak so early in the debate. It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Gethins; I enjoyed listening to his speech and appreciate the spirit in which he made it. I think that many Members on both sides of the House will wish to return to the theme of working together pragmatically. It will certainly inform some of the remarks that I make in the next few minutes.
I have not taken many of the opportunities that we have had in this House over the past 12 months to speak about Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. In part that is because I had campaigned strongly for us to remain and on referendum day found myself part of the minority in the country, and certainly in my constituency, which voted strongly to leave. I have spent part of the past year trying to understand what drove that vote, not least in my constituency and across Wales, and how the debate is evolving. I have one or two observations to make.
First, I have been deeply impressed by the pragmatic and assiduous approach taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State over the past 10 months. I think that it has been appreciated on both sides of the House and, judging by what people on the continent tell me, deeply valued in the discussions with our European counterparts. Listening to his remarks today, and to those of the shadow Secretary of State, the newly right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), I was struck by the fluidity and room for manoeuvre that exists in both Front-Bench positions.
That fluidity might reflect different shades of opinion within the Government, and certainly within the Opposition, on how we should take forward the Brexit negotiations, but it also reflects a level of pragmatism. Listening to both Front Benchers this afternoon, I asked myself whether a pragmatic centre ground might be emerging around which Members on both sides could coalesce. One of the things I took from the general election campaign is that the country remains hopelessly divided on this issue. If we in this Chamber are to do anything over the next two years, it should be to provide some kind of leadership that helps bring the country together.
No tariffs; frictionless trade; the best possible access to, but not membership of, the single market—is not the truth that there is vanishingly little difference between the strategic priorities of those on both Front Benches? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would help our constituents, and indeed our negotiators, if all parties were to make that clear?
Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I appeal again to the House, because the more interventions there are, the less time there will be for the very many Members who wish to speak, including those who wish to make their maiden speeches.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I was about to say that I was also struck by how similar the strategic objectives of both Front Bench positions actually are. The outlines are emerging of what I hope will be a pragmatic, sensible Brexit deal that can command widespread support across the country. The Government and the Opposition are united in wanting to prioritise jobs and prosperity and to protect workers’ living standards and the interests of our business community—I do not think that there is any dispute about that. However, getting an outcome that actually delivers that will require more direct honesty about some of the trade-offs that need to be made.
In particular, we need to be far more honest with the public about the trade-off between maximising access to the single market—that is not the same thing as retaining membership of the single membership—so that we can enjoy as many of the benefits of those trading relationships that we currently enjoy, and the posture we adopt towards future EU workers wishing to come to this country. We had a good discussion earlier today about the offer being made to EU citizens currently living here, and we debated it at some length. Again, the point needs to be made that, despite the acknowledgment that clearly important details have yet to be resolved, we have the outlines of a deal with the European Union, which is a big step forward. If we carry the same spirit of pragmatism and generosity that has informed that offer into our negotiations on future EU workers, while also keeping an eye on the economic importance of people coming from overseas to work in this country—we do not debate that enough—there is a deal to be done that will give us a good chance of maximising trading access to the single market and protecting our economic interests as far as possible.
Over the past year I have looked at different economic sectors and asked myself which group of EU workers, whether in the NHS, the road haulage industry or our agri-food sector, should not be here in a post-Brexit scenario. The truth is that one cannot put one’s finger on any significant group of EU workers currently here and contributing to our economy about whom we would say, “It would be better for this country if they weren’t here, and actually we should design a Brexit that will stop them coming here.”
By focusing on our economic interests and being honest with the public—there is a particular challenge on my side of the House to us to debate this with our constituents in a more direct and honest way than we have perhaps been willing to do in recent years—I think we can move some of the opinion in the country that undoubtedly opted for Brexit a year ago because people thought that that was the change button for reducing immigration. The truth is that it is not, and we need to be honest about that.
I am optimistic, having listening to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, that there is a pragmatic and sensible centre ground that can emerge and around which we can coalesce, that will command the support of the business community—which at the moment feels that its voice needs to be louder in the Brexit discussions—and trade unions, and will reassure British workers and give us the best possible chance of enhancing, not diminishing, our prosperity in the years ahead.
The Secretary of State was characteristically confident about the Brexit negotiations when he spoke, but even he would recognise that things are rather different now. Following recent events, the Prime Minister is clearly weaker than she expected to be, and the EU is stronger than many thought it would be. The non-appearance of the “row of the summer”, referred to a moment ago, reminded us all about who is actually in control of these negotiations as we listen to the ever-insistent ticking of the article 50 clock.
In her speech on Wednesday, the Prime Minister promised that she would seek to “build a wide consensus” on Brexit. The words sound good, and our divided nation certainly does need to come together on this great matter. But let us be frank—the last 12 months have been spent doing anything but forging a consensus. Quite the contrary: we got no running commentary when people asked about the Government’s negotiating objectives; it took a recommendation of the Brexit Select Committee to get the Government to publish a White Paper; there was resistance to the need for transitional arrangements, although now almost everyone recognises that these will be necessary; and there was an initial reluctance to concede that Parliament will have the final say on any deal. I would like to think that this new commitment has come because Ministers have reflected on their behaviour and listened, but I suspect that it has much more to do with the outcome of the general election and the chaos that has ensued.
Like my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Secretary of State, I cannot understand why we continue to hear the argument that the Government would be prepared to leave the EU with no deal, given that we now know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not agree with that proposition. He made that absolutely clear in his interview a week ago, when he talked about leaving with no deal as
“a very, very bad outcome for Britain”.
He is right. I gently say to Ministers that the chances of this Parliament’s agreeing to leave the European Union with no deal have melted away, along with the Government’s majority. The question is how this consensus can be built. I echo what Stephen Crabb said a moment ago.
I welcome the greater detail announced today on EU nationals, although the families affected still need answers to questions, including about what the new simplified system will look like, the cut-off date and how family members, including children, could join them. Earlier, the Prime Minister said:
“After the UK has left the European Union, EU citizens with settled status will be able to bring family members from overseas on the same terms as British nationals.”
In responding, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that in such cases, after March 2019, that will involve meeting an income threshold? That is what British citizens currently face. On the oversight of the arrangements and the rights of UK nationals, which we must of course protect, I personally think that a court made up of UK and European judges would be a very sensible way forward.
But let us be clear—the issue of EU and UK nationals is meant to be the simplest, to be sorted out at the start of the negotiations, compared with all the fundamental questions so important to the future of our economy and our country: our trading relationship with the EU; access to the single market; how we will ensure that we continue to have the skills we need for economic growth; public services and the tax revenue that we need to pay for those services; the future of co-operation on foreign policy, defence, security, the fight against terrorism and science and research. On that latter issue, I do not understand Ministers’ reluctance simply to say that they wish to remain part of the Horizon 2020 programme.
Given that the Government’s central aim—indeed, it is the aim of the Opposition—is to maintain tariff-free and barrier-free trade, I also do not understand why the Government have turned their backs on the simplest means of achieving that, which is to remain within the customs union, especially as that would solve the problem of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Perhaps the Government have chosen this path because in practice they know that Britain will probably remain a member of the customs union for some time to come. The Chancellor’s speech at the Mansion House gave a strong indication of that.
No one I have met, Ministers apart, believes that negotiating a new trade and market access agreement will be completed between now and next October. The best that we can look to is an agreement in principle to negotiate such a deal and then transitional arrangements that will cover the period from the end of March 2019 to the conclusion of these negotiations. In the meantime, as the Secretary of State knows, all this uncertainty is profoundly bad for business confidence, as is talking about leaving with no deal.
On the great repeal Bill, Parliament faces a huge practical task in transposing the regulations and decisions, but Ministers need to understand, in the spirit of the new consensus, that the House will enable that to happen only as long as it is crystal clear that no attempt will be made to remove, erode or undermine any of the workers’ rights, consumer protection or environmental standards that the British people have come to value.
Despite what the Prime Minister said, we have to be honest and recognise that there is not currently a consensus on the type of Brexit that we should seek, so the Prime Minister’s commitment will have to be given form through the Government’s actions. I urge Ministers to start demonstrating this new approach to the House, the British people and British businesses. I urge them to listen to the voices of the many and not just those who shouted loudest for leave during the referendum. I urge them to be flexible in their approach. Since we all want tariff-free and barrier-free trade, why do they not at the very least leave the prospect of remaining in the customs union on table, given that the Secretary of State—with, as he described it, his characteristic honesty—said on Sunday he is pretty sure but not certain that he will get the deal that he wants? I also urge Ministers to understand that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Secretary of State said so eloquently, if their confidence is misplaced, the unhappiness—indeed, the anger—that gave rise to the referendum result will return as people discover that the things that they were promised fail to materialise.
If Ministers do all the things I have mentioned, we may find a way forward. If they do not, this Parliament, be it long or short, is going to be very hard work for them. That is not where we should want to be, given the scale of the task that we face as a country as we all seek to get the best deal that we can on behalf of all the people who so recently sent us here.
Our great country is about to embark on a journey of national self-determination, rediscovering and building our identity as a great trading nation, an outward-looking nation and a nation that has every reason to be confident in its future. The Government have rightly rejected staying in the customs union and the single market. If we are to realise our aspiration of becoming a self-governing, global-facing democracy, we cannot remain signed up to the single market or customs union.
Contrast the Government’s position with what we have heard from the shadow Secretary of State today: confusion and an illogical position, as he stated that membership of the customs union remains on the table. Contrast that with what the shadow Attorney General said this weekend: we will not necessarily be able to control our immigration policy. But that was what people voted for last year. If Brexit is to mean anything, it must mean control of our borders, our immigration policy and our trade.
Why has the customs union not served our purposes? There are four main reasons. First, it has not served our country’s trade interests. The EU has a laughable track record on securing trade agreements with the more flourishing parts of the world. Since 1999, our trade deficit with the EU has grown from £12 billion to £71 billion. That is in contrast to our growing trade surplus with the rest of the world—we have gone from a deficit of £4 billion in 1999 to a surplus of £34 billion in 2016. There is therefore an amazing opportunity for our country to forge trade links with the rest of the world, rather than being reliant on the declining market of the EU.
We will be able to strike new trade deals only if we are out of the customs union. The alternative is impossible because of the common commercial policy, which binds all its members. The Labour manifesto says that it wants to
“work with global trading partners to develop ‘best-in-class’ free trade and investment agreements that remove trade barriers and promote skilled jobs and high standards”,
but that is simply not possible as long as we are members of the customs union.
Secondly, EU protectionism harms British consumers. We are denied products such as cheaper sugar from developing states because protectionist tariffs favour less efficient farmers in northern Europe. The EU customs union has pushed up the price of food and clothes by an estimated £500 a year for each household. By opening the market and lowering barriers to entry for new competition, prices will fall and consumers will benefit. Choice and quality will increase as producers will no longer have a captive market or a monopoly.
Thirdly, the EU’s trade agreements have focused too much on goods. When 80% of our GDP is from services, we need to realign our trade policy. Lastly, the customs union severely penalises farmers and workers in developing countries when they export to the EU. The tariffs are unequal and discriminatory, and that really is an enemy of fair trade. If we want to, we can develop more opportunities to support African countries to become more sustainable and to industrialise.
In conclusion, Brexit is not a crisis to manage, as the Opposition would have us believe. It is a golden opportunity for us to seize. I implore them to get behind the Government and support Brexit in all its forms.
This Queen’s Speech is not a plan for a Government at the height of their powers with a refreshed mandate. It is a legislative programme for a Government in a holding pattern, led by an isolated and humiliated Prime Minister who has been shorn of her authority after a bruising encounter with the electorate in an election that she chose to call three years early. She flunked the test spectacularly, hobbling her premiership, and weakening rather than strengthening her hand in the EU negotiations in the process. Far from gaining the landslide victory that the polls indicated would be hers when she called the election, the Prime Minister has managed to turn a Tory majority into a hung Parliament. Her much vaunted deal with the DUP has only just been concluded in the nick of time, 18 days after the general election. Meanwhile, No. 10 is beginning to resemble the Mary Celeste.
Anyone who doubts the truth of the Prime Minister’s predicament need only peruse the weekend’s front pages to see the unseemly jockeying for position that has already begun in this most weak and wobbly of Administrations. The programme is defined more by what has been missed out than by what it actually contains. The Leader of the Opposition pointed out in his speech that the Tory election manifesto has disappeared in its entirety from the party’s website. That gives us an insight into the real motivation for the Government introducing a new right to be forgotten in the data protection Bill.
There is no mention in the Queen’s Speech of the triple lock on pensions or the abolition of winter fuel payments. The Prime Minister’s highly divisive personal pet project—introducing new grammar schools—is not referred to, nor is the possibility of allowing a free vote on fox hunting any time soon. The dementia tax proposals have gone, as have the police cuts.
The election result destroyed any mandate for an extreme Brexit. Parties holding extreme positions on Brexit—whether the UK Independence party or the Liberal Democrats—were rejected emphatically. For the first time in decades, the Tories and Labour together received 80% of the votes. There is no appetite for the hard Brexit that the Prime Minister has tried to pursue since the referendum. She interpreted the decision in the referendum as giving the Government alone the power to decide how to proceed. The Supreme Court rightly interpreted the constitutional reality and disabused her of that vanity. She then asked voters to give her a free hand to drive though her own personal hard Brexit, and the British people disabused her of that vanity.
Two things must now happen. First, we need a cross-party council, comprising expertise and experience, to advise the Government on how to progress. Scrutiny benefits from a plurality of opinion. Good decisions require managed dissent. Secondly, the Brexit council should work out what a baseline acceptable deal would be and put that in place. That deal might look something like the Norwegian model—that is, to agree to Britain entering the European economic area. We could then work out which incremental elements we need to get a deal to strengthen that base. Working from a baseline, we can build a genuinely successful deal with the best chance of safeguarding jobs and building prosperity for the future.
This is a defining Parliament for Britain’s place in Europe and in the world, and Parliament will fail in its duty if it does not preside over the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, and doing so in as good order as our 27 partners and negotiators enable. This entails the historic amount of legislative activity announced in the Queen’s Speech to convert the acquis communautaire into UK law. Much of the work will be detailed and technical, and it is important that we get it right, but hopefully it will not be controversial. However, the diplomatic activity that we undertake in the coming months and years will be important for Britain’s future and must not play second fiddle to our legislative challenge.
I welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech that Ministers will ensure that the UK’s leading role on the world stage is maintained and enhanced as it leaves the European Union. Few in this House, regardless of their position on the referendum question that we resolved a year ago, want the United Kingdom to be anything other than open and internationalist in its outlook. Now more than ever, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will have a central role in maintaining our networks and alliances, and in developing our political, security and economic ties around the world.
In the previous Parliament, the Foreign Affairs Committee, which I chaired, as I hope to do again in this Parliament, repeatedly called for the FCO’s capacity to be boosted. Immediately after the referendum, we reported that there was an urgent need substantially to increase
“the funding available to the FCO commensurate with the enormity of the task it now faces.”
Since then, the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade have been created, but the diplomatic task required in all European capitals and beyond will outlast the withdrawal process and is discrete from the trade agenda. I reiterate that just protecting the FCO budget is wholly inadequate for the task in hand.
Events will continue to develop with serious consequences for our interests. The current crisis in the Gulf and the potential for a hot or protracted cold war on the Arabian peninsula threaten the stability and prosperity of key British partners and have undermined the effectiveness of the Gulf Co-operation Council. There are calls for the United Kingdom to play a role as a third party in the implementation and monitoring of any future agreement. We should do so, particularly by offering our expertise in auditing any counter-terror financing measures, and indeed on what the ground rules might be for political Islamists to take part in developing democracies. That would be in the interest of all parties. It is vital that we are ready and properly resourced to carry out such work if requested.
Inevitably, I would like to be able to say much more in this debate about: our current operations in Syria; the future of liberated territory in Iraq and Syria; the authorisation of the use of force; a new sanctions regime as we leave the European Union; our involvement in the European Union’s future common foreign and security policy, and common security and defence policy; and, importantly, possible Brexit transition options. Finally, I want to make the point that 2020 would be a suitable date for the state visit of President Trump, which was notably omitted from the Queen’s Speech. I regret that people will now have to look at my website to see the full text of the remarks I had hoped to make in this debate.
This Queen’s Speech shows the extent to which Brexit will dominate our legislative agenda. We have the repeal Bill, and Bills on trade, customs, fisheries, agriculture and more. No matter what outside events may say, we now have a single-purpose Government and a single-purpose legislative programme. The Prime Minister called the election because she said that she could not get Brexit through Parliament. How ruefully she must reflect on that statement now. Before she said that, the article 50 Bill had gone through this House with a majority of 372 votes. The other place had not tried to block it. Given that that legislation went through, the election was never called because Parliament was blocking Brexit. It was called because the Government wanted to cash in on big opinion poll leads.
The backfiring of that political gamble has left the Prime Minister leading a minority Government, dependent on the deal with the DUP that was announced today, at an immediate cost of £1.5 billion. When I was a child, we had a programme on television called “The Six Million Dollar Man”. I thought that that was a lot of money at the time, but the DUP has guaranteed far more than that for each of its representatives in this House. We enter the most important negotiations the country has conducted since the war weakened, not strengthened, with the authority of the Prime Minister shot to pieces, her Cabinet divided and her position sustained by nothing other than fear of another election.
As these negotiations begin, we are reminded of a salutary fact. We have discussed Brexit far too often in the past year as though it was something Tory Ministers could define—we have heard that it would mean this, it would mean that and it would mean the next thing—but this is actually a negotiation between the two parties around the table; it is not a Tory wish list.
When the Secretary of State was asked yesterday what he thought of Mr Barnier, he gave an insight into the level of preparation undertaken when he said, “He’s very French.” With that level of preparation, it is perhaps no wonder that the first demand, repeated four times in the article 50 letter—that the future trade negotiations take place alongside the article 50 negotiations—did not survive the first meeting on the first day. That reminds us that this is a negotiation between two parties, not a Tory wish list.
In substance, what does that really boil down to after the election? As other colleagues have said, the thing that should go is this mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal. No deal would be damaging for the European Union, but as the past and perhaps future Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee said, it would, relatively speaking, damage us more. We know the consequences: tariffs on cars and bigger tariffs on agricultural produce. It would make it impossible to have no hard border, at least in economic terms, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is, in relative terms, a gun held to our heads, not to the European Union’s head.
Ultimately, this negotiation will come down to a choice for the Prime Minister: will she do as the Chancellor wants and put economic interests first, or will she put the hard Brexiteers first? In other words, will it be the national interest first or nationalism first? That is ultimately the choice that faces us.
It is a great honour and pleasure to follow Mr McFadden. I agree with much of what he said and, indeed, with the excellent speech from my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb. As ever, I also endorse much of what was said by Hilary Benn.
People right across this House, and indeed this country, have to be utterly realistic and honest about this and accept that everything has now changed. In my constituency, I found very few angry remainers—I know there are many angry remainers, but it tends to be a London-based thing, and the results in London for the Conservative party say it all. However, in my constituency, there are very few angry remainers. What there is is an acceptance of the result and almost a sense of resignation—it is not agreement, and it is not a welcome. That is especially true of constituents who run their own businesses, who did not welcome the result and who do not welcome the fact that we are leaving the European Union. However, people have accepted the referendum result, and their message and their plea now is that we should come together and get the best deal we can in the national interest.
That is why I am so pleased that we are already seeing changes in the approach being taken, and many other hon. and right hon. Members have expressed that view. I repeat much of what was said from the Opposition Front Bench about the need to change the tone. Those on the Government Front Bench need to wake up and understand that things have now changed. The rhetoric has to be dropped. The slogan that no deal is better than a bad deal is nonsense, and it has always been nonsense. The British people know that, and that is why they voted as they did on
Nobody likes somebody being very smart, but I am going to have to say this: I stood up in this place—on this spot—on two occasions, and I warned hon. and right hon. Friends of the dangers of ignoring the 48%, and the young in particular. The expression I used was that many young people who voted remain believe an older generation have stolen their future, and the result was there on
Of course it is profoundly ironic that people who voted remain then voted for the Labour party and the Leader of the Opposition—a man who gave remain a very lukewarm seven and a half out of 10. If I may say so, Opposition Members, too, now have to wake up and accept the reality of the situation, because they have promised many of these people things they may not be able to deliver on. When they talk about the customs union, the single market and immigration, they now have to say what they mean, and they should stop being cowards about it: if they think they want the benefits of the customs union, they should have the—I nearly said a very unparliamentary word—courage to stand up and say that. They should make the case, and make the argument, just as we now need to make the case and make the argument about the benefits of immigration.
Finally, this is a great country. We still have a very good economy. We have a great and bright future. That is not because we are leaving the European Union, but despite it. We now need to make sure we have the education and training to seize those opportunities.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today.
The recent election campaign was punctured by a number of tragic events, from Manchester to London. In Wales, there was another sad event, which brought together the nation. The loss of our former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, was felt in homes across Wales. Some may remember his time here representing Cardiff West, as well as his wife, Julie Morgan, who represented Cardiff North, and who still represents the constituency in the National Assembly. Julie and Rhodri were a team for over half a century. Rhodri was always a close friend and wise counsel. He is much missed, and I am sure Members will join me in extending our love and sympathy to Julie and the family.
The history of the modern Cardiff North is a history of how industry and people changed and revolutionised the city and the whole of south Wales. But it is industry that has defined the modern part of the capital that I represent. It was the wealth created by the traditional industries of south Wales that created the gothic splendour of Castell Coch, and it was this same industry that brought people to create Cardiff and that led to the growth of Whitchurch, Rhiwbina, Llanishen, Pontprennau, Heath and Llandaff North, to name only a few of its communities.
That industry also created a cosmopolitan, multicultural city that is home to Cardiff’s first Welsh-medium secondary school—a school where my daughter learns through the medium of a language that is growing and that will be spoken by 1 million people in the coming decades.
It is the people of Cardiff who voted to remain in the European Union. The vote in many parts of Wales was not a vote against Europe or the concept or the reality of the European Union; it was a vote against politics—against the reality of the decisions taken here. The cumulative impact of benefit cuts and reductions in public spending has hit the poorest hardest, so I intend to use my time here to speak up against a failed austerity where the richest people have forced the poorest people to pay the price. The UK Government seem to have abandoned austerity for Northern Ireland today: what about the rest of the UK? The UK is weaker and less united this evening than it was this morning. I also hope the UK Government understand that it is important that the whole of the UK is represented in these talks and negotiations. At present, the UK Government are in danger of losing the argument not only in Brussels but in Cardiff as well, with a disunited kingdom where jobs and livelihoods, workers’ rights and action on climate change are sacrificed in the pursuit of an impossible imperialist fantasy.
During the business statement last week, Mr Deputy Speaker, you were kind enough to allow me to raise the issue of the loss of over 1,000 jobs in my constituency because of the closure of a Tesco customer care centre, and I am grateful. Since then, I have had the opportunity to spend time with and speak to many of the workers who have been told they have lost their jobs. They are devastated; many have two or three members of the same family working there. Over the weekend, one of them wrote to me. Her words speak for everyone affected there. “Please fight for us”, she said, continuing:
“Each and every single one of those 1,100 people are heartbroken and terrified as we face uncertain futures for ourselves and our families. Anything you can do, anything at all—we all will be forever grateful”.
Those are her words, not mine, and they are a challenge to us all. It is those people and their voices that are in my mind today and will be guiding me.
My fear is that if this Government are allowed to drive through a Brexit where the jobs and livelihoods of the people we all represent are treated with disdain and indifference, then these will be the stories we hear every day, every week, and every month. I intend to use my time to stand up against failed austerity measures and for a more prosperous, fairer and more equal society. I look forward to working with my colleagues here. Thank you.
I thank Anna McMorrin for her contribution today. It is a pleasure to follow her, and to thank her for her kind and generous remarks about her predecessor, Craig Williams. I am sure that we all wish her every personal success serving in the House of Commons.
As the UK leaves the European Union, the British people and Parliament will again have the right to make our own decisions in our own national interest. With our freedom restored, our nation will boldly make its own way in the world just as our forebears did throughout the centuries. The benefits of trade and the sharing of culture should not require the United Kingdom to be locked into a political union. On the contrary, upholding every essence of our sovereignty and democracy is what the people of these islands have fought for for nearly 1,000 years. The measures outlined in the Queen’s Speech will lay the foundations for a better future for all parts of our nation. All of us must now accept that the ultimate ambitions of the European Union do not run with the grain of the British people; our historical development and approach have always been different. Our energies must now surely be focused on working to construct a new British-European bilateral relationship that I certainly believe is not only possible but will eventually prove to be the right path for our nation.
Our future lies, as it always has, beyond the shores of Europe, with the rest of the world, and particularly the Commonwealth and the English-speaking nations. I speak as co-chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly when I say that the very special and enduring relationship between the people of the United Kingdom and Ireland must be secured in any new arrangements—most particularly, the common travel area and access for trade, hopefully unfettered, across the two borders. It is possible to be outside the European Union and at the same time have beneficial bilateral relations without compromising sovereignty, as our Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have demonstrated, and Her Majesty’s Government has a responsibility to defend and secure their rights and interests. The same applies to the subjects of the British overseas territories who depend on the United Kingdom to look after their wellbeing, and we have a duty to defend their rights as well.
However, the people of Gibraltar are, I have to say, rightly nervous at this time. I welcome the announcement that His Majesty the King and the Queen of Spain will soon come to the United Kingdom on a state visit, but there was nothing in our Queen’s Speech that gave any public reassurances that Gibraltar’s economy and sovereignty will be safeguarded. I therefore call on Her Majesty’s Government to do just that. We must never let down the people of the Rock, who have time and again demonstrated their undying loyalty to the British Crown and the United Kingdom.
Let us embrace the fortunes that this historic moment offers by securing an agreement that exemplifies the bold ambition of our nation to be a great economic and cultural centre of the world again. This is what the British people expect of Her Majesty’s Government, so let us all unite behind that great vision for our United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Rosindell, who ended on the subject of Gibraltar. I am glad that he did so, because I want to highlight the fact that there is a major problem with not only Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic but with what will happen to Gibraltar. It is quite possible that there will be a real problem getting any agreement because of disagreement with Spain over Gibraltar. The Government of Gibraltar interpret clause 24 of the guideline document produced by President Donald Tusk of the European Council as potentially leaving their position uncertain and unsettled after any deal. The question will be whether the British Government are prepared, in order to get an agreement, to sell out Gibraltar and its interests, or, if they do get an agreement, whether it will be worth anything after we have left the EU, when we will no longer be able, within the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, or through other measures, to protect the interests of Gibraltar, and when there will be a member state in the EU that has another agenda. Similar issues would apply elsewhere, but Gibraltar is a fundamental sticking point and problem in these negotiations. The Foreign Secretary and the British Government need to come clean and state publicly what their position will be.
We have heard reference to the state visit by the King of Spain. There was of course no reference to the state visit of President Trump. I draw attention to the early-day motion that my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty and I, and others, tabled on this issue. The British Government, if they are serious about being honest and open, should say now whether the hand-holding is over, and whether President Trump will be welcomed here this year as was originally intended or his visit is put off indefinitely. The former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, said that it should perhaps take place in 2020. I suggest that it would best take place after the presidential election in which Donald Trump’s successor has been elected, during the period in November to December before the inauguration of his successor.
In the interests of others, it is not fair that I take an intervention.
As other Members have said, there is a fundamental problem in the Government’s approach: our country will be poorer, weaker and less influential on the world stage if we leave the European Union. We have seen, in the past few days, a vote at the General Assembly of the United Nations relating to the Chagos islands and Mauritius where EU countries did not line up alongside the UK. That is pretty unprecedented. Usually, EU countries work collectively in the General Assembly to defend each other’s interests. That did not happen and we will see a lot more of that in the future. I pledge to fight this hard Brexit and I will do so throughout this Parliament.
It is an incredibly humbling experience to have been elected to this place. I hope that, however long or short my time here may be, I will be able to serve West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine with the same dedication and purpose as my predecessor, Stuart Donaldson, did for two years.
I am fully aware that I walk in august footsteps: Sir Robert Smith held the seat for 18 years; George Kynoch sat here and represented the equivalent seat of Kincardine and Deeside for five years; and, of course, the still much respected and fondly remembered Sir Alick Buchanan-Smith held Kincardine and Deeside and, before that, Angus North and Mearns from 1964 until his death in 1991. That was 27 years, and I am only on day 18.
Members will, I am sure, get fed up of my 12—yes, 12—Scottish Conservative colleagues insisting that their patch of God’s own country is the most beautiful in the entire UK. Although I do, of course, sympathise with them, it is quite clear that the most beautiful, unique, attractive and downright brilliant constituency in the entire country is West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine—from the Cairngorms National Park around Braemar, down through the Dee Valley and Royal Deeside, to Ballater, Aboyne and Banchory, skirting the edge of the granite city itself, taking in Blackburn, Westhill, the subsea capital of Europe, and down to the North sea cost at Portlethen and north Kincardine. There is also the picturesque, pastoral Donside, Corgarff, Strathdon, Alford and Kemnay. Stonehaven and the villages in Howe of the Mearns were made famous, of course, by Lewis Grassic Gibbon in what was the favourite novel of my grandfather, an English teacher, “Sunset Song”.
In the old rhyme,
“the twa peaks you can see frae the sea, Clachnaben and Benahie”,
are both in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, although I should admit to having to share the latter with my hon. Friend Colin Clark.
What other seat has such history? I could—but I will not, because time will not permit it—tell the gripping tale of how the Honours of Scotland were smuggled out of Dunnottar castle in a creel basket by a minister’s wife, to save them from the clutches of the marauding army of Oliver Cromwell; or of the romantic but ultimately doomed 1715 Jacobite rebellion, which began at Braemar with the raising of the standard of James VIII and III; or of Victoria, Albert, John Brown and how Deeside became Royal Deeside; or of the Monymusk reliquary, thought to be 1,300 years old and which held the bones of St Columba and was carried in front of the victorious Scottish army at Bannockburn. I could tell those tales, but I will not.
It would, of course, be entirely remiss of me to speak today without mentioning how I, in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, now have the immense honour of representing Balmoral castle. In fact, as Members from Scotland will be aware, the residence in the north-east of Scotland is now represented by a Conservative not only in this place, but in the Scottish Parliament by my friend and colleague Alexander Burnett. With Ruth Davidson herself representing Holyrood palace in Edinburgh, Her Majesty will, I am sure, be delighted to know that she now has three elected Conservative representatives on whom she can call. It is an honour to represent Balmoral, even when, if canvassing, it is an extremely long drive to walk up only to find that the resident is not on the electoral roll.
I have 33 seconds left, so I will canter through the rest of my speech. Today we continue to debate the Queen’s Speech, specifically how it relates to Brexit and foreign affairs. The speech last week stated that a Bill would be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and provide certainty for individuals and businesses.
Last Thursday I attended the royal highland show in Ingliston. I met many farmers, including from West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. In between lamenting how appallingly poor the Scottish National party has been at managing the common agricultural policy system north of the border, they wanted to make one thing abundantly clear. What farmers and all in the agriculture sector require—what they need now more than anything else—is certainty and stability in our country and our economy, and a clear way ahead so that they can plan and grow their businesses, not just for the next five years, but for the next 10, 15 and 20 years.
What the farming sector and, indeed, this country do not need is further uncertainty in the shape of another referendum on Europe or another general election, and they certainly do not need another referendum on Scottish independence. Why not all come together, in the national interest of the United Kingdom, and support the Government this week? That is what my constituents need me to do, and that is what I will do.
This will obviously be one of dozens of debates on Brexit during this Parliament, and the brevity of the Queen’s Speech is evidence that the plethora of necessary Brexit legislation is already detracting from the day job of governing. It will also undoubtedly detract from our ability in this place to debate and address vital issues that will continue none the less to affect people’s lives, regardless of Brexit. I propose that the suggested Brexit legislation even fails to respect the interests of this House, the constitutional framework of our country and the concerns of real people, and it is on that that I will focus my comments.
As the Government have now acknowledged, they do not want to create even more uncertainty and risk derailing the Brexit negotiations further. They must respect all of the opinions represented in the House, from all of the UK’s nations. In the Queen’s Speech, the Government committed to working with devolved Administrations, as well as others, to build the widest possible consensus on the country’s future outside the European Union. For a decision of that magnitude, which affects almost every aspect of the way in which we live our lives and will affect generations to come, that process and approach seem eminently sensible. The four-nation approach is what Plaid Cymru has insisted on since the beginning.
I note, however, that there was not a single piece of proposed legislation in the two-year Queen’s Speech that specifically delivers for Wales. In actuality, the proposed Brexit legislation seeks to take power away from Wales, shredding our constitutional settlement. Pursuant to the Sewel convention, the UK Government have a duty to gain the consent of all the devolved Administrations before legislating on a matter that is already devolved. As powers are repatriated to Westminster from Brussels through the repeal Bill, those powers that sit within the framework of the National Assembly for Wales must be presented to the Welsh Assembly to be decided on. The democratic voice of Wales should not and will not be weakened by Westminster.
It is vital that the National Assembly for Wales is provided with the right to give or withhold its consent in relation to legislation that is so central to its constitutional position and to the future of our country. Wales has unique needs during the Brexit process and beyond. Our economy, agriculture, funding and public services are our own, and it must be up to us to decide how they are governed outside of the European Union. A real four-nation approach to our exit from the European Union means genuine input and tangible representation from the devolved nations.
I noted the Secretary of State’s commitment earlier to seek the consent of the national Parliaments of the UK on the repeal Bill, but I make it clear to him that Plaid Cymru will not support any legislation that hordes powers, taking them from our devolved areas and back to Westminster. Will he publish full details of how each UK country will be involved? Will he also confirm that he will ensure the support of all the four nations before signing the final exit deal with the European Union?
It is a pleasure to follow Liz Saville Roberts.
I welcome the fact that most of the legislation in the Gracious Speech was devoted to equipping our country for its departure from the EU and to the forging of a new place for us in the world. I am proud that the Government are fully committed to delivering on the will of the British people, so that our laws may now be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.
We can no longer doubt the instructions given to us by the electorate. The Secretary of State rightly spoke of the 52% who voted to leave the EU last June and the more than 85% who voted for Brexit parties at the election. There are, of course, lessons that the Government urgently need to learn from the outcome of the election, but one thing I hope we can all take away is a commonality of purpose on the part of all Members across the House who were elected to this place on a manifesto pledging to make Brexit a success. We must deliver on that because, with two successive mandates for leaving the EU in under a year, the damage that would be done to the reputation of elected politicians if we were seen to undermine the electorate’s wishes would be severe.
It is no secret that the current parliamentary arithmetic is not what I wanted to see in the wake of the general election, but the Conservatives are the largest party by a considerable margin. However much the Leader of the Opposition defied expectations on
Given the Parliament the people have chosen for us, I refer once again to the commonality of purpose I spoke of earlier. If we are to make Brexit work for all our citizens, whether they voted for the Conservatives, Labour or any other party, we need to show a united front in this House and give the Brexit team the backing they need. I am not saying at all that Members across the House should desist from offering the Government constructive criticism at this most vital of times, but a Parliament that offers opposition for opposition’s sake, rather than well intentioned advice is one that will undermine our position in the eyes of our interlocutors and harm the negotiation process.
If Members will not take it from me, I invite them to listen to the comments made by the former EU commissioner and ardent remainer, Lord Hill, before the Foreign Affairs Committee in the last Parliament. He said that the best chance we have in these negotiations is if we show a united front and band together around the Prime Minister. So I put it to the House: do right hon. and hon. Members care more about opposing the Prime Minister and her team, whatever they do, than about pulling together to ensure there is a successful Brexit deal? For me, the priority will always be a successful Brexit, so I hope that as many colleagues as possible join me in refraining from undermining the negotiations in the hope of short-term political point scoring and get behind our team.
Being elected as the Member of Parliament for my home constituency of Bristol North West is deeply humbling. It is humbling for me personally, as a working-class kid from a council estate in Lawrence Weston in my constituency. To be able to speak here on behalf of my friends, my family, my community and, indeed, my country is a great honour.
Let me pay tribute to my predecessor, Charlotte Leslie. The Member of Parliament for seven years and a candidate for three further years, Charlotte’s decade of local leadership was held in warm regard by my constituents and by me. We thank Charlotte for her public service.
From the earliest evidence of human habitation in these British Isles on the shores of the River Avon near Shirehampton to the eighth-century monastery of Westbury-on-Trym, granted by King Offa of Mercia, to the Roman settlements at Sea Mills and Lawrence Weston, and the Domesday reference to the parish of Henbury, and now, so I am told, to the first ever Darren elected to this House of Commons, Bristol North West is an historic and fascinating constituency.
But the successes of my home and its people, from jobs at the port and advanced manufacturing, to research and development, to the professional services, rely on our trading relationship with the European Union. That is why my first priority during this Brexit Parliament is to fight for Britain’s membership of the European single market. Because in times of peace our first priority must be prosperity for all. That is why the politics of holding on to power for power’s sake, or political positioning to win internal ideological battles, must stop. We are all here to do what is right for the country. For if that is not the case, I do not know why we are here at all.
So I stand here humbled by my election, with a sense of urgency to tackle a hard Brexit but also with a sense of sadness—sadness because the world feels more fragile than it has in the past, with Britain seen as weak and uncertain in high-risk times, and with fast-paced technological change, shifting geopolitical power, young people frustrated by the country, old people increasingly left alone and public services allowed to slowly die by a thousand cuts.
Politics is hard work, but it is the only forum through which we can provide hope. Whether I am an MP for four months or four years, and whether my actions bring success or failure to my own political career, I will always put my constituents and my country first. In this mother of Parliaments, let us do all we can to show that a modern and just Britain can rise from the ashes of our current dismay. We are merely shepherds of the nation, standing on the shoulders of giants, tasked with leaving a country to our children that we can be proud of.
This Brexit Parliament will define the future of our country. Let us not self-harm and cause pain, but let us instead unite and act with sense, as well as with patriotism in our hearts, for a national renewal after the dark years of austerity, for the birth of a new British chapter that works for the many, not just the few, and for a new dawn for a new Britain. It is for us now to seize that opportunity and to avoid the risks of failure, but we can do it only by working together in this Brexit Parliament—leavers and remainers—in the national interest.
I congratulate Darren Jones on his maiden speech. Like him, I am fortunate to represent my home constituency, which is a great privilege, and I wish him much personal success in his career. As a committed Brexiteer, I will not agree with him on everything, but I would like to discuss an issue on which I feel there is much common ground.
As Members, we all sit here thanks to our constituents engaging in the democratic process and putting their faith in us to represent them in this Chamber. Over the course of this Parliament, however long it might be, we will do our utmost to make our constituents’ voices heard, to help fight their battles and to provide reasoned and hopefully enlightening additions to these debates. However, when all is said and done, after our most impassioned efforts and earnest contributions, that may not be enough, and those same constituents who gave us this great privilege may opt to bestow it on someone else. That is right and proper; it is the democratic process working as intended.
I believe, with the Brexit negotiations occurring as we speak, that democracy is our greatest export. My admiration for the principles of democracy that the House upholds—representation, accountability and liberty—is what lies behind my support for our withdrawal from the EU. I am sure that all Members would support those principles and fiercely defend them, but where is the same vigour when it comes to the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, to whom we have ceded more and more of our sovereignty with each passing year? These unrepresentative bodies are not in the habit of giving back powers once they have taken them, and as recent history has shown, the EU has strived and will continue to strive to become bigger, more centralised and more powerful.
As we begin the process of our withdrawal, it is vital we ensure that whatever deal arises, there is a clean cut from the shackles the EU has attempted to hold us in and that we take back ownership of our laws, leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and remove the excessive bureaucracy that has been strangling business here. There has been an endless tide of regulation emanating from Brussels, and it should be no surprise that a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation does not work, as there are 28 different countries, all with differing needs and wants.
Now we have the time and opportunity to design policies tailored to our specific needs and remove rules that are holding Britain back. For example, the agriculture Bill will provide an amazing opportunity to develop our own legislative framework that will provide support for farmers who need it most, incentivise farmers to work in a way that further safeguards the environment, help to ensure the long-term sustainability of the food and farming sector and protect our important rural communities.
Leaving the customs union will create opportunities for relationships with global markets and for trade agreements to be reached. In doing that, it is important that we ensure that our farmers and businesses operate on a level playing field. Brexit presents great opportunities for the growth of global trade. These must be seized with both hands—hands that would otherwise be tied with red tape from the continent.
It is an absolute pleasure to follow Dr Johnson and also three fantastic maiden speeches, which were powerful, lyrical and passionate, from my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) and for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), and
As Anna Soubry said, when it comes to Brexit, everything has changed. All of us in this place need to recognise that. That is why I greatly great regret that the Gracious Speech did not rule out withdrawal without a deal, did not give a categorical guarantee on a parliamentary vote or, indeed, a role for our devolved Administrations, and did not set out transitional arrangements that would give some certainty and guidance to our businesses and all of us in this country. Instead, we get: “Pretty sure we’re going to achieve some sort of deal.” What sort of certainty is that for businesses and all those striving in our economy? The Gracious Speech does not set out proposals to remain in the customs union and the single market, which is what I fervently believe would be best for businesses and the people in my constituency.
Nor does the Gracious Speech set out or respect the competences of our devolved Administrations, as Liz Saville Roberts said, whether that is to do with their competences under the devolution settlement or with regard to funding the needs of our devolved Administrations. I spoke about this earlier today, but it seems remarkable that the Government can find £1.5 billion and possibly more for Northern Ireland in the DUP deal, yet we in Wales cannot get guarantees of what the funding for Wales will be after Brexit happens. There is great anger in Wales at the deal that has been done today.
The Gracious Speech does not provide categorical protections. We have heard all sorts of mixed answers today about the situation of EU nationals and UK citizens abroad. This matters to the people of Cardiff South and Penarth, particularly all the young people who voted in the recent general election. What will their opportunities be in the future? What will the future be for businesses in my local community? Where will we get the fairer funding deal for Wales? Will we keep the crucial labour and environmental protections? Will the rights of EU citizens in my constituency—a very diverse constituency—be respected or will those individuals be merely pawns in this game? I welcome all efforts and the cross-party co-operation of those across the House who seek to put this minority Government on the spot on those issues over the weeks and months to come. Everything has indeed changed.
What matters abroad matters for all the people in Cardiff South and Penarth and all of us in this country. I have said it in this House before, and it is not just about Brexit and the future nature of our trading relationships. It is about the family links and concerns of the many diverse communities in my constituency; the care that many show locally for those fleeing conflict and persecution and for the human rights of others around the world; the care that they show on global issues such as climate change; their opposition to the threats posed by extremism and the undermining of our values; and, indeed, the concerns of the many locally with family members who are serving or have served in our armed forces bravely around the world, in many different contexts.
That is why the issues that I intend to raise in this Parliament and in the debate about foreign affairs include the situation in Yemen and our continued sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, helping to fuel that conflict; the situation in Syria, where we must continue the fight against the barbarous Daesh operatives, but also seek to protect civilians; and the situation of Somaliland, a country that has many connections with my constituency. Will Britain and other countries finally recognise Somaliland and also provide crucial support for the upcoming elections later this year? Will we continue our spending commitment of 0.7% on international development? Will we stand up for our principles on climate change and oppose those such as President Trump who would undermine them? Will we do right by our armed forces and support a strong Army, with the right levels of recruitment, the right deal and the right armed forces covenant, which it so fully deserves?
I am honoured and humbled to have been elected by the residents of Mansfield as the constituency’s first ever Conservative Member of Parliament. The seat has been held by Labour since 1923, so that is a huge vote of confidence and faith that I must strive to repay in full over the coming years.
In this my first speech, I must pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Alan Meale. Sir Alan was the MP for Mansfield for 30 years. That means that he was its MP for longer than I have been alive, which, in itself, is some achievement. As his knighthood would suggest, over those years Sir Alan contributed to many causes, including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and also played a role in the Blair and Brown Governments. Between them, the last three MPs for Mansfield represented the area for a total of 76 years, and I can only hope to be able to emulate their longevity.
I am sure that I am not the only new Member sitting on these green Benches to have wondered at some point over the last few weeks how on earth I have ended up here. Looking back, I have realised that after working as a landscape gardener and as a recruiter, I actually found my calling and inspiration—as so many people surely do—in the bin. I was so frustrated by the local council’s failure to empty my household bins for a full month because of just one day of snow that I simply had to act. I could not rest until there was action on the issue, so I stood for the council myself. I was duly elected and have been banging on about household waste management ever since to the limited audience who will listen.
Mansfield is an area that has been sustained over centuries by great industry. The first cotton mills and frame-knitting factories sprang up many centuries ago, and many of the landmarks that exist today are named after them. There is the hospital, King’s Mill, the football stadium, Field Mill—although it is currently known by a sponsor’s name—and many other examples. Legend tells that, in the 12th century, King Henry II got lost in the woods while hunting in Sherwood Forest and found his way to one of the local mills. The miller and his family thought that he looked a clean and decent kind of chap, and offered him a bed for the night. In the morning, when the King finally announced himself, the family dropped to their knees to beg forgiveness for being so familiar. He promptly knighted the miller, there and then. The Sir John Cockle pub now stands as a landmark to that event, and was a favourite haunt of mine during the election campaign—for that purely historical reason!
If the end of the old mills and factories led to unemployment and decline, so did the end of the mining industry through the 1980s and 1990s. Coalmining was the centre of local communities throughout much of the 20th century, not just for work but for all kinds of other support. It is a heritage of which people are rightly proud, and I shall be supporting calls for the creation of a new museum in the town centre to protect that heritage and ensure that future generations know and understand it. The regeneration that the area desperately needs has been slow in coming. Market Warsop no longer has the kind of thriving market that gave the town its name, while empty shops around the town centre are prevalent, and it has taken far too long to revitalise.
Having said all that, I firmly believe that in recent years Mansfield’s potential has been heading steeply upwards. Now, huge collectives like Maun Valley Citizens, bringing together schools, churches and countless other groups, are working towards united and shared goals such as reducing homelessness and improving the lives of vulnerable people. Fantastic institutions like West Nottinghamshire College—one of Europe’s largest colleges, offering everything from technical and vocational courses to university degrees—are providing opportunities for young people in Mansfield to gain new skills and qualifications, and to improve their prospects for the future.
If I may, I will end where I began—with the election campaign. Of all the many factors that were prevalent on the doorstep during the campaign, the one about which I heard most often was Brexit, and that was why I chose to make my maiden speech during today’s debate. My constituency voted 72% in favour of leaving the EU, and in favour of Britain’s setting its own course in the years to come. What has been made very clear is that residents of Mansfield simply will not accept any deal that does not involve taking back control of our borders. That is a red line that must not be crossed. It is not about individuals who usually contribute to our society; it is about the sheer weight of numbers, which affects our local services and jobs.
The other key message from the campaign has been that no one has been speaking up for Mansfield down here in Westminster, and banging on the doors of Ministers looking for support. My pledge during the election was to shout up loud and shout up often, and I intend to fulfil that promise.
I congratulate all those who have used today’s debate to make their maiden speeches. It is a great pleasure to follow Ben Bradley, and I look forward to finding out even more about how the bin collections are going in the months to come.
There has been much discussion about the eight Brexit Bills in the Queen’s Speech, but a Bill on environmental protection is conspicuous by its absence. Given the significance of the EU’s role in environmental protection, I think that that is a particularly grave omission on the part of the Government’s Brexit team. Effective and robust environmental protection relies on well-funded and well-staffed institutions to monitor compliance with environmental law. It also needs powerful regulators and courts to ensure that breaches of the law are challenged and the law is enforced. For the past 40 years, that system of enforcement has been grounded in the legislation and institutions of the EU, notably the Commission and the European Court of Justice. That structure has meant that the UK Government can be held to account for their actions, and there are countless examples of that taking place. For example, since 1981, the Commission has received more than 200 complaints about the UK under the nature directives, thus protecting wildlife and habitats across the country. Let us be under no illusion: it is precisely the threat of fines from Brussels that has finally concentrated the Government’s mind on acting on issues such as air pollution. Domestic legislation simply did not go far enough to do that.
It is therefore rather astonishing that, beyond a few offhand comments from Ministers, we currently have no details of how this important system of checks and safeguards for the natural environment will be replaced. We do not yet know if the Government intend to rely on existing regulators to fill the gap, but if they do, let us remember that those agencies have seen their budgets slashed over recent years and their capacity to hold the Government to account has been greatly diminished.
When it comes to the repeal Bill, let us be clear that the process will be a lot more complicated than simply cutting and pasting a whole set of EU legislation into UK law. When the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs appeared before the Environmental Audit Committee, she acknowledged that fully one third of environmental legislation would be extremely hard to transfer in that way. Moreover, once that material is transferred, it will become effectively unenforceable— so-called zombie legislation—due to an absence of monitoring and enforcement. Without the Commission and the European Court of Justice, we will not have the necessary legal architecture. People say, “Don’t worry, we’ll rely on the UK courts instead,” but we must recognise that the threshold to access UK courts for judicial review is very high and involves considerable expense. That system will simply not be as effective as the current one.
Let us also be honest about the fact that a small but vocal part of the right wing sees Brexit as an opportunity for mass deregulation. A fight is coming, and it feels particularly necessary given that the new Environment Secretary has previously suggested that we scrap vital EU environmental protections and described one of the centrepieces of that legislation, the habitats directive, as “absurd”. Michael Gove also has a track record that involves voting against measures to halt climate change and attempting to wipe the subject from the education curriculum. I hope I will be forgiven for not having much confidence that the environment will be safe in his hands post-Brexit.
That is why the amendment that I have tabled to the address asks for an environmental protection Act. Such an Act would cut through the political ideology on the right and the left that all too often sidelines the environment, and would instead require a long-term evidence-based approach. Crucially, it would do so via primary legislation, thereby guaranteeing a proper degree of parliamentary scrutiny and oversight. No one voted on
It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Lucas and the four superb maiden speeches that we have heard today. I am quite pleased with the progress that the Government are making in the transition from being part of the European Union to leaving it. First, they held the referendum. Then, seeing the right result, they committed to delivering on Brexit. They triggered article 50 and are now setting a clear, strong agenda in the Queen’s Speech.
It is important to reflect that when we had the referendum a year ago, the result was that we should leave the European Union. There was no lack of certainty in that, yet to hear people today, we might almost think that the general election had cancelled out the referendum result. We still need to leave the European Union, yet elements of the political establishment seem to be doing whatever they can, in a kind of war of attrition, to undermine the decision of the British people. It is a deliberate redefining of what Brexit means, and we have seen the invention of the notions of hard and soft Brexit, which never existed before the referendum. There is no such thing.
This reminds me of when the British people voted in the referendum in 1975 to remain in the European Economic Community, which people understood to mean the common market. Since then, year in and year out, more power has been accrued to what is now the European Union, which seems to be on the verge of becoming a united states of Europe. Just as the European Union’s identity and nature have changed profoundly, the nature of the argument and debate in Britain has also changed, but the decision of the British people has not changed: we should still be leaving the European Union.
However, some people have worked to undermine the views and opinions clearly expressed by the British people. One argument is that people did not know what they were voting for, as though the British people are ignorant. Some people say that it was all about immigration, but that was just one of several different reasons. Despite that, there has been a clear inference that anyone who voted leave is a racist and that people were unable to distinguish between and understand the arguments. So much of why people voted was based on their lived experiences over the past 40 years, not the few weeks of the campaign.
The Queen’s Speech builds on the positive attitude and outlook of the leave campaign. We have a positive vision for the future of the country. We want to go out to the world. We want a fantastic relationship with the European Union, and there is no reason why we cannot have that. However, the continuity remain campaign seems to be a rather depressing place, full of depressing arguments. Other than dumping the Members of the European Parliament, it seems as though it wants no change whatsoever—remain in all but name.
I would like some clarification on the Horizon 2020 programme. We are still part of it and will be part of it until the end, but we need clarification on the successor programme. The British people voted to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money, and that is what we have to deliver.
It is a great privilege to stand here on behalf of Plymouth. Plymouth is my home. It is where I was born and it is where I live. I stand here mindful of the political greats who have contributed not only in this Chamber, but to my city. Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat in this Chamber, represented Plymouth, Sutton from 1919 to 1945. Michael Foot represented Plymouth, Devonport from 1945 to 1955, rebuilding our city after its devastation in the second world war. Then there was David Owen and his defection, and Alan Clark and his diaries. More recently there was David Jamieson, Linda Gilroy and Alison Seabeck, to whom my city owes a great deal. I have a lot to live up to, but luckily there is a lot to do to get Plymouth its fair share.
I want to thank Oliver Colvile, my predecessor, for his service. Mr Colvile represented Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport for seven years. In that time, he always conducted himself well, with decorum and generosity, describing himself as “jolly Olly”. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing Mr Colvile a speedy recovery from his time in hospital since the general election. Many hon. Members will know of his passion for hedgehogs. I hope that someone will pick up the protection of those little prickly creatures, but that will not be me. There was, however, one campaign on which he and I co-operated and worked together. In 2014, we joined forces to campaign for one of the new Type 26 frigates to be named after Britain’s ocean city—an HMS Plymouth—and I intend to continue that campaign.
As the son of a Devonport-based submariner, I grew up knowing how important strong defence is to my city and our country. Plymouth is home to Devonport, the largest naval base in western Europe, the nation’s amphibious assault ships, the submarine and surface fleet re-fit facilities at Devonport dockyard, and the Royal Citadel and the historic home of the Royal Marines at Stonehouse barracks—two bases that are facing closure. With the aircraft carriers coming on stream soon and the enormous demand that they will place on the Royal Navy, with regard to both personnel and escort frigates, it is time for us to think again about how many frigates our nation needs. Brexit and international uncertainty mean that we need a larger Royal Navy. Orders for Type 26 frigates have been cut from 13 to eight, and the new Type 31 frigate is still early in the design stage. The 1997 strategic defence review called for 32 frigates and destroyers. We now have just 19, so I want the Government to increase orders not only for frigates, but for offshore patrol craft. More frigates, modularly constructed and supporting marine engineering and shipbuilding businesses, large and small, in Plymouth, across the south-west and across our nation, are exactly what our country needs.
During the Prime Minister’s statement on Grenfell Tower last week, I received the news that tests showed that the cladding on the Mount Wise tower blocks was combustible. I immediately called for the unsafe cladding to be removed, and that will happen. There can be no compromise on safety. I am pleased that we now have cross-party support for that in Plymouth, with the hon. Members for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) and for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) joining me in asking the Government to pay for that emergency work.
Plymouth is one of the UK’s great cities, a grand bastion of parliamentary democracy from the Sabbath Day fight during the English civil war on Freedom Fields to the modern day. Plymouth has seen the pilgrim fathers setting sail on the Mayflower, a fleet setting sail to defeat the Spanish armada and Captain Cook setting sail on his voyages, and there are many more examples. As a base for marine research and expertise, we are second to none. That is why I want not only a ministry of maritime affairs to be set up in Plymouth after Brexit, but Plymouth Sound to be designated as the country’s first national marine park.
Plymouth’s great contribution has not always been matched by us receiving our fair share. The poor deal that we have at the moment as a city is not one that I will accept or vote to cut further. Progress towards Plymouth achieving its fair share has happened, but not quickly enough. It must now up a gear.
It is a pleasure to follow the maiden speech of Luke Pollard. We have a shared interest in the voyage of the Mayflower, on which I look forward to working together. I like to think of Boston as where it started. Some people would say that Plymouth was merely a stop on the way across the Atlantic, but we can have that debate later.
Brexit defines not only the election we have just endured but the state of my constituency over the past 10 to 15 years. It is right that Brexit is, in large part, the focus of this Gracious Speech. Thinking back over what has happened to my constituency over that period, we have seen huge changes. In some ways, the agricultural industry has been supercharged by the huge number of new migrant workers and by changes in industrial practice, but we have also seen huge changes to the town of Boston, in particular, and to Lincolnshire as a whole.
Those changes did not come with the democratic consent of my constituents, and the changes placed huge pressure on the public services in my constituency. It is a testament to all previous Members of this House that we did not even have an argument about the benefits of being in the European Union, never mind win it. Now, the fact is that if we were to seek to vote down this Gracious Speech, or indeed to undermine much of its content, we would be undermining democracy itself. I do not say that in a bid to ask people not to oppose it, but, overall, the fact that we are leaving the European Union was not only in the manifestos of both major parties but is very much on the minds of my constituents. Seventy-six per cent. of those constituents turned out to vote in the referendum, with 76% of them voting to leave. We must respect that result as we look to the future.
With that in mind, I pose two questions. First, what will the future of our country outside the European Union mean for the farming industry? That is closely linked to my second question, which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, on what many of my constituents tell me was the No. 1 issue when they voted to leave the European Union: immigration.
I plead that we acknowledge that the process we are going through will, in part, supercharge an ongoing process of mechanisation. I believe that the changing availability of labour will see more and more farmers in my constituency invest in more and more machines that enable them to be infinitely more productive and require less labour, but the fact is that they will require significant amounts of labour in the future. Before being a member of an expanded European Union, we had a successful seasonal agricultural workers scheme, and I hope that that work permit scheme can, in some form, be quickly reconstituted to provide stability for the agricultural industry, just as today we heard the Prime Minister seek to provide stability for the many of my constituents who came from eastern Europe to make their home in Boston and Skegness. I hope that today they find themselves in a better position than they were in earlier this week.
I congratulate the five Members who have made their maiden speeches in this debate: the hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew C. Bowie). They spoke with good humour, giving us an insight into everything from the history of their constituencies to the best tourist spots and pubs. I am sure we will agree on some issues and not on others.
One issue on which I particularly agree with the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine is the need not to have a second independence referendum. Although I will disagree with him on many issues in this place, I welcome the fact that the election result in Scotland means a greater diversity of voices in this place; it is a truer reflection of the diversity of views in Scotland.
It is two years and three months to the day since my last contribution in this House, and I am delighted to be back. In the intervening period, John Nicolson spoke from the Scottish National party Benches for East Dunbartonshire, and although we had profound disagreements on Scotland’s place in the UK, I pay tribute to his work, particularly on equality issues—and LGBT rights especially. I know he would share my concerns, as many of my constituents do, about the Conservatives’ deal today with the DUP and, in particular, what it might mean for LGBT rights, climate change and women’s rights.
At the start of the general election campaign, Brenda from Bristol struck a chord with many when she said that there was “too much politics”. If she had lived in Bearsden or Bishopbriggs, she might have had even more cause to say that, because in the past three years there have been no fewer than seven elections or referendums in Scotland. However, in East Dunbartonshire we still have great enthusiasm; in 2014, we had the spectacular turnout of 91%, with 61% of people voting to keep Scotland in the UK, and two years later 71% voted to remain in the EU. East Dunbartonshire wants a Scotland in the UK and the UK in the EU, and that is what I will advocate as its representative in this House.
Brexit will, of course, be the overarching issue for this Parliament. From my time in government, I can well imagine the treacle of Brexit that civil servants and Ministers will be wading through. There is a real risk—indeed, it is probably a near certainty—that Brexit will divert attention from other important issues. The Government’s response to this election result is very disappointing; there is no mandate for that extreme vision of Brexit. Instead of looking at this balanced Parliament and reaching out in a spirit of compromise to try to find genuine cross-party agreement and consensus, the Government are sticking rigidly to their mantra of “No membership of the single market or the customs union.”
Recasting our relationship with the EU throws into sharp relief our relationship with the rest of the world. It is a volatile world and we will discuss in detail the global developments, risks and threats. I do not share the rose-tinted view of the Brexiteers that it is all going to be jolly wonderful, because on the cross-cutting issues of human rights, democracy and climate change it is often our EU partners who most closely share our values. This is the worst possible time to be loosening ties with our European neighbours, as we have a White House so at odds with UK interest. We are forced to roll out the red carpet for President Trump, a man who demonises a whole religion, shows disrespect for others in the words he uses about women and poses a real danger to the world by withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate change agreement. I urge the Government to think again and to look for genuine cross-party consensus as they approach the difficult issues we face.
May I say what a pleasure it is to follow Jo Swinson and how lucky we have all been to have listened to so many outstanding maiden speeches, from Members from all parts of the House? They have all described their constituencies with passion and poetry.
I am also honoured to be returned to this House to represent the people of Witney and west Oxfordshire on whose behalf I pledge to vote in the time ahead. There is a great deal to mention in the Gracious Speech, but, sadly, time will not permit that today. I wish to concentrate on one aspect of the Brexit negotiations. It is a fact of the election that 85% of the people who voted supported parties, which, in their manifestos at least, support withdrawal from the single market and the customs union.
In the brief time available to me, I would like to focus on the important matter of the customs union. It is important to remember how the European Union, which should be a beacon for free trade, operates as a protectionist bloc, and it is that that troubles me the most because I believe in free trade. I do so because of the power that it has for our economy and because of the help that it gives to the poor across the entire world. It is for that reason that we must have independent control of our own trade policy. In that way, we can focus on the great and emerging markets of the world.
Six members of the G20 have already expressed an interest in having talks and a possible free trade agreement with us in the future. They are: Australia, South Korea, India, Brazil, China and our greatest single trading partner, the United States. It is a fact that British trade has been moving away from the European Union for many years to the extent that we now have a trade deficit, particularly with regard to services. Markets worth only $4.8 trillion have been opened up to the UK by the European Union, but $35 trillion have been opened up to Switzerland in free trade arrangements. These smaller groups tend to be more favourable to services, and, as we all know, services are a very important part of the UK economy. We are talking about only 68% with the European Union, but up to 90% with these smaller bespoke agreements.
Free trade is not just about the interests of finance—important though that is to the UK economy—but about helping the poorest around the world and in our society, too. It is anticipated that free trade, which is the greatest tool for reducing poverty that history has ever seen, could reduce the annual food bill for people in the United Kingdom by up to £361 per household. That is a prize worth considering. It may be that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. I urge the Government to look around the country and the world to see whether there are existing arrangements that we may be able to accede to. It may well be that the North American Free Trade Agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership would welcome a dynamic, outward-looking free trading Britain, and we should seize those opportunities if they are out there.
Although I am very aware of the challenges that exist—in west Oxfordshire, there are challenges with regards to agriculture, defence and finances—I wish to emphasise the positives, such as US components, and the fact that we can take the brightest and the best from all over the world and that we can replace the common agricultural policy with a policy that works for us to improve the environment. There is everything to play for. I urge the House to be positive and support the Queen’s Speech.
I wish to start with a statement that will cause anger and disbelief on the Conservative Benches:
“Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU.”
Those are not my words; they are the words of the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. In other words, he has admitted that the notion of taking back sovereignty to this Parliament is nonsense. Some of us have a much more democratic tradition. We believe that the sovereignty that is exercised in this place belongs not in this place, but in the people who have sent us to represent them here. For me, that principle of the sovereignty of the people is a red line, on which neither I nor the SNP will ever budge an inch. That is why 62% of our sovereign citizens say that they want to stay in the European Union. It is not about being defeatist, remoaner or continuity remain, but about respecting the will of the sovereign people. If the nearest we can come to that is to retain our membership of the single market and customs union, then that is what we will do. If that has to mean Scotland looking for a differentiated deal, as has already been guaranteed to Northern Ireland, or having to ask for a special deal as well, that is what we will ask for.
I have one ask for when the Government sum up: will they tell us exactly what is going to happen now with the Joint Ministerial Committee, because there seem to have been two JMCs operating since the Brexit vote? The Government have attended a JMC that was wonderful and so constructive—everybody had a great time and thought that it was very helpful—but the Governments of the devolved nations have attended a JMC that was a total and utter waste of time, for they went and spent 45 minutes being told what the UK Government had decided, and if they were very lucky they might get the chance to decide whether they wanted milk and sugar in their tea or coffee. That is the extent of the consultation we have had so far. It is not enough.
I was delighted to hear Anna McMorrin insist in her maiden speech that the Government of Wales must be part of these negotiations. I look forward to the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Lesley Laird, using her maiden speech to make the equivalent demand on behalf of the people of Scotland.
Membership of the single market is not the same as access to the single market. Anyone who does not understand that difference really needs to get themselves better informed before they take part in this debate. Those who understand the difference but deliberately try to pretend that they are exactly the same thing have no place in this House or in any other House of politics, because they are simply trying to con the electors.
Access to the single market means you can sell your tomatoes, plums, beer and whisky in Europe. Membership of the single market means the Europeans have got to accept your produce on exactly the same terms as everybody else’s. The difference between membership and access is exceptionally great. As my dear friend the former Member for Gordon, Alex Salmond, used to say, the international guild of Patagonian shoemakers has access to the single market, but that does not do it any good.
Access to the single market on its own is worthless, so unless we can retain membership of the single market and of the customs union, we could be looking at 80,000 job losses in Scotland. That price is not worth paying simply to meet this Government’s continued obsession with immigration. They tell us that we cannot be in the single market or the customs union because we have to get immigration down, but not a single word has been spoken in this debate to explain why cutting immigration is essential. Cutting immigration to the levels that the Tories are obsessed with will cause immense damage to our health service, our public services and our economy. Worse, it will make these nations far less attractive and far less pleasant places to live.
The people of Bristol West are, mostly, remainers and proud of it, and we want the closest possible relationship with the EU, but my constituents also want me to press the Government on global concerns—climate change, trade justice and the refugee crisis. Climate change is a clear and present danger, and global temperatures have risen to 1° warmer than pre-industrial revolution levels. Change across the world is accelerating and our commitment under the Paris 2015 agreement is to limit further rises to no more than 1°. We need carbon dioxide emissions to peak before 2020 and fall to zero by 2070 by weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, and we need to press our international ally across the Atlantic also to honour its commitment.
An unprecedented 63.5 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide due to conflict. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, I spend a lot of time on refugee policy: only a fraction of refugees ever come to the UK and the global system is broken because, designed for cold war circumstances, it leaves refugees either trapped in their own country or stuck for years in camps in neighbouring countries, without work. Small wonder that some will, out of desperation, risk very dangerous journeys to other shores.
This is also economically and geopolitically dangerous. If refugees are not allowed to work, they cannot provide for themselves. They also lose skills and experience, which will be necessary to rebuild their own countries post-conflict to help return them to stability.
In Uganda, refugees are allowed and supported to work or to start businesses. We have much to learn from other countries about responding to refugees, and we also have much to contribute.
The Secretary of State referred earlier to doing trade deals for the benefit of one country only. On behalf of the people of Bristol West, I urge him and his colleagues to think more widely and about least-developed countries in particular, and to integrate environmental protection, workers’ rights, human rights and the impact on developing countries into all trade deals.
In conclusion, we in Bristol West want the Government not to become so distracted by Brexit that they neglect vital action on climate change, we want reform of the international refugee system, and we want trade agreements to contribute to, not detract from, social justice, because this beautiful planet and everything and everyone on it, from humans to microbes, cannot wait.
I was about to call Ian Paisley, but I cannot see him in the Chamber. We are impoverished by that. In the meantime we will hear from Kate Green.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker; the Chamber’s loss is my gain. Before turning to the main topic of the debate, may I say what a pleasure it has been to listen to the maiden speeches of so many hon. Members? I congratulate them on their lucid and articulate speeches and look forward to hearing many more such contributions in the months and years ahead.
I want to take a moment or two to touch on another aspect of the Gracious Speech. The issue of schools funding is particularly important to my constituents. Trafford has traditionally been an underfunded authority, so I initially welcomed the Government’s intention to develop a new funding formula. But the formula brought forward towards the end of the previous Parliament has been holed below the water line by the lack of overall funding in the pot. Trafford stands to see real-terms budget cuts of over £14 billion by 2019-20, which will mean the loss of teaching and support jobs. I say to Ministers that rearranging the deckchairs by treating the deprivation funding as in some way double funding simply will not do, because it will put schools in my constituency with very disadvantaged intakes under very significant pressure. We need to ensure that there is enough money in the total pot and then have a new funding formula that meets the needs of all pupils in all schools, especially those who are disadvantaged.
Let me turn now to the main topic of the debate, which is Brexit and foreign affairs. Over the weekend I asked my constituents what they thought the main focus of this Parliament should be. Overwhelmingly, those I spoke to were clear that the focus should be getting the best Brexit deal we can. I am not surprised that they considered that to be of such significance. After all, our constituency has a long history of manufacturing, distribution and trading. We recognise the jobs and trade that have come to us from our membership of the European Union. Many businesses in my constituency have integrated, EU-wide operations. Goods are manufactured in my constituency and then transferred to the Republic of Ireland for packaging, and then they come back to the UK for distribution. Those are integrated operations that cannot face the costs and difficulties of new barriers and tariffs being placed in the way.
In the year since the referendum, my constituents have also spoken, as have many businesses across my constituency, about the importance of being able to access the widest possible labour pool. Industries in my constituency, from paper making and hospitality to health and social care, need to be able to access an international labour pool. Indeed, I have heard the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union acknowledge on many occasions the importance of not shutting the door on the European labour pool, and of the time it will take us to build up the skills and capacity we need in our own labour market.
All of that tells me that, as my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer said, we need to keep the option of remaining in the customs union on the table. Indeed, I would go further and say that we also need to remain in the single market. If those are the benefits that across the House we think are important—and I think we have heard tonight that by and large we do—why not just take on board the fact that we already have structures in place within the European Union that would deliver them? I hope that we will not knock off the table ideas that can continue to work or that can be made to work simply out of a misreading of the referendum result or a misreading of what is in the interests of the Conservative party but not those of the country as a whole.
Finally, I was pleased to hear that legislative consent will be sought from the devolved Administrations.
I add my congratulations to Members who have made their maiden speeches this evening—particularly those who have hung around and listened to the rest of the debate.
I once drove through a snowstorm to get from Darlington to Jedburgh. I clearly remember driving up Carter Bar, which leads over the border between Scotland and England. When I reached the top, I was chuffed to bits: I had manoeuvred a rear-wheel-drive automatic through difficult terrain in a snowstorm. Then the reality dawned on me: the second half of the journey would be the hard bit. A steep decline, twisting and turning with no road markings and every chance of running off the road—that is what lay ahead, and that is my Brexit allegory.
The Prime Minister and her cohorts, blinded with power, have marched us to the top of the hill, only to discover that in this case it is a cliff edge. Over time, plenty of people have negotiated difficult journeys but I fear that the Brexit journey that lies ahead will be particularly dangerous. Those leading it will not admit just how hard it is going to be. They should be seeking out every pitfall and identifying all the hazards—instead, we are being fed a diatribe of jingoistic clichés.
The situation was a mess before the Prime Minister called a general election but now her selfish actions have complicated matters beyond anyone’s wildest nightmare. No one will form a coalition with this precarious Government; the Democratic Unionists have chosen to provide their votes when it suits them, supplying a billion pounds’ worth of tissues when it all goes wrong.
This brave new world seems to be based on an, “We did it before and we can do it again” empire mentality, flag waving and patriotism. As we turn our backs on the European Union and seek to create new trade agreements, we will require diplomacy and negotiating skills, which so far have been conspicuously absent in the whole Brexit mess. That is one reason why I have been delighted to hear that politicians across the EU have in increasing numbers been prepared to add their support for Scotland to remain in the EU and the single market. While the UK was committed to the EU, those same voices remained silent: they respected the UK and its position. However, by serving article 50 to leave the EU, the UK has turned its back on the EU and the single market. As a result, the loyalty of previous partners has been lost.
Where is Scotland’s influence in these negotiations? While Scotland makes up only 8.6% of the population of the UK, the Scottish fishing zone represents over 60% of UK waters—the fourth largest sea area in EU core waters. Scotland has 32% of the UK’s land area. We provide 40% of wind, wave and solar energy production; 47% of the open cast coal production; 62% of the timber production; 65% of the natural gas production; 81% of the untapped coal reserves; 92% of the hydro-electric power; 96.5% of the crude oil production; and 100% of the Scotch whisky industry. Yet we have no voice. If these negotiations are to have any credibility, the Scottish Government must have a place at the negotiations. Anything less is a flagrant disregard of the democratic standings of the United Kingdom.
When the Foreign Secretary makes his concluding remarks, I hope he will make it clear that the discussions are not going to be contingent on what the devolved Assemblies do. He will certainly take their view, but they will have no veto over the will of the British people across the entirety of the United Kingdom.
A lot has been said in this debate about the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and in the next three or so minutes I want to focus my comments on the Republic. It stands to lose most out of Brexit—not Northern Ireland, as some in this debate have tried to imply. I agree that we must have a frictionless border, which is good for Northern Irish trade, but the border must not become the weak link in security terms. We must not sacrifice the security of any of the peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland —or, for that matter, the people of the Republic of Ireland —for an open border that does not protect our people.
Last week, I informed the House that security analysts had made it clear that levels of radicalisation are worryingly high in the Republic of Ireland. If that is the case, let us face up to it and address the matter. The five issues that President Tusk and Monsieur Barnier wish to agree with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—a unique relationship between our two countries; the avoidance of a hard border; keeping the common travel area in place; no harm to the Republic’s trading relationship with the United Kingdom; and the maintenance of the peace between our two nations—are almost exclusively within the gift of Monsieur Barnier. The House should recognise that. He can do more to ensure that those five things are maintained than anyone else in the discussion. I urge the Republic of Ireland, therefore, to take the same position as the United Kingdom because it cannot afford to remain uncritical of the EU. The EU should not blackmail the Republic of Ireland, as it should not be allowed to blackmail Northern Ireland.
“If the Government of the Republic of Ireland is so foolish as to seek to stay in the EU when Northern Ireland and Britain leave, it is the Republic, not the UK, that will be putting the Common Anglo-Irish Travel and Trade Area at risk.”
Those are very important comments because the onus is actually on the Republic of Ireland to address its problems with Europe. It is not for Northern Ireland to address those issues. Since 2014, the Republic of Ireland has been paying €1.7 billion to be a member of the EU.
Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that there is another border between the European Union and the UK, and that is between Gibraltar and Spain? What is his view on that one?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I fully support Gibraltar, but I do not have time to deal with that issue at this point.
Post-Brexit, the Republic of Ireland will be required to pay even more to make up for the UK leaving the EU. All the trading issues between the Republic of Ireland and the UK show very clearly that the Republic of Ireland can do far better by leaving the EU along with the UK. I hope that the Republic of Ireland gets that message loud and clear, and recognises that it can do more for our common citizenship by leaving the EU along with us.
It has been a pleasure this afternoon and this evening to take part in a debate with such excellent maiden speeches from both sides of the House.
A year ago, the country voted very narrowly to leave the EU. The Prime Minister has spent the past year trying to articulate her version of Brexit. In calling the election, she sought very explicitly to strengthen her mandate to deliver a hard Brexit. The country looked at the Prime Minister’s version of Brexit and did not support it. On her own terms, she failed, and she has no mandate to negotiate the hard Brexit for which she sought support. My constituents voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and I stood in the general election on a firm promise that, if re-elected, I would continue to be a strong voice for their firmly pro-remain views. I am pleased that my constituents gave me that mandate. More than 50% of the total registered electorate returned me to this House, and I stand firm in my commitment to represent them and to speak up for a continued relationship with the EU that reflects our values of tolerance, diversity and internationalism, protects our jobs, public services, environment and rights at work, and enables the UK to play the fullest possible role in working for peace and security in an increasingly unstable world.
Although the country voted to leave the EU, not a single person in the UK voted to become poorer, to damage our public services or to live in a country that is less fair or less safe. Yet we are seeing those impacts in the fall in the value of the pound, increasing inflation and the calamitous drop in the number of EU nationals applying to fill nursing vacancies in our NHS or study at UK universities. Brexit is harming the UK. It is the duty and responsibility of this House to scrutinise the Government’s approach to it and to call a halt to any aspects of the process that will result in material damage to our country.
I have some clear questions for the Government. Will they accept that leaving the single market and the customs union are not inevitable consequences of leaving the EU, and put them back on the negotiating table? The single market and the customs union are vital for British jobs and businesses because they provide tariff-free access to the largest international market for our goods and services. They are also important, however, because they are based on shared values and are governed by a framework of rules that create not only the largest, but the fairest, international market. They provide a basis for trade that ensures protection for workers in relation to employment rights and health and safety at work, and that ensures protection for our environment.
Will the Government provide assurances that, in seeking to negotiate additional trade agreements with other economic communities, they will place environmental protection, employment rights, and health and safety centre stage, or will they sacrifice our high standards in a race to the bottom to enable the UK to compete in markets where costs are lower because key protections are not in place?
Finally, the Prime Minister made it clear today that EU nationals living in the UK are still pawns in the Government’s negotiating strategy. The Government should make an unconditional commitment to EU nationals, who make a vital contribution to our economy and our communities. Even if the Prime Minister is able to secure a deal along the lines she has set out today, it is still not clear on what basis the EU nationals we urgently need to work in our economy and public services will be able to come to the UK in the future. I call on the Government today to urgently set out a positive and welcoming approach to immigration and to explain how the key workforce needs of the UK—of our NHS, construction industry, agriculture and scientific research—can continue to be met in the future.
May I start by saying how delighted I am that the Foreign Secretary is actually taking part in this debate on foreign policy? During the election, I turned up to a number of foreign policy debates—one at the Royal United Services Institute, one at Radio 4 and another at Sky—and he was nowhere to be seen. Chatham House, Channel 4 and “Newsnight” had to cancel their debates because he refused to take part. However, I saw him having regular debates—indeed, wrestling matches—on television with my good friend the shadow Communities Secretary, my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne, and I have to admit that I felt what can only be described as a pang of jealously, because I thought to myself, “When is Boris going to try and wrestle me?” But I am very glad that he is involved in the debate today.
It is also good to see so many new Members present for this important debate. We have had some excellent contributions from those making their maiden speeches. My hon. Friend Darren Jones spoke with great eloquence about the Brexit Parliament. I have always believed that this House could do with more lawyers—particularly those from council estates—and he has clearly showed why.
My new hon. Friend Luke Pollard delivered a speech of great passion, talking about the importance of frigates to our national defence, and demonstrating his pride in his home town. I think the people of Plymouth will be equally proud to count him among their MPs.
My hon. Friend Anna McMorrin showed what a powerful voice she will be in this House, not just for her constituents, but particularly for the heartbroken and, as she said, terrified Tesco workers who have lost their jobs. She also spoke on behalf of citizens of the whole world when she dealt with the reality of climate change—a theme I will return to in my speech.
We also had maiden speeches from the hon. Members for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew C. Bowie), who gave a confident and entertaining performance, and for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), who told us about his passion for bins. In my current spirit of generosity, may I also—I never thought I would hear myself say this about a Liberal Democrat—welcome Jo Swinson back to this place?
I congratulate all the new Members. I only wish that their maiden speeches had been made debating a Queen’s Speech that was truly worthy of its name. Let us be honest: this was not one. The Prime Minister promised us a Government that would tackle the big issues facing Britain; instead, we got a Queen’s Speech that ducked every one of them. It is timid on domestic policy. It is vacuous on foreign policy. And on Brexit, we have just a bunch of Bills whose titles we now know, but whose contents remain a mystery.
However, I do want to praise the Foreign Secretary, because at least he was the only member of the Cabinet who had the foresight to put absolutely no policies in his section of the manifesto, so he was not in the embarrassing position of having to abandon them later in the Queen’s Speech. Indeed, in the 2,285 words in the Tory manifesto devoted to “Global Britain” in an “Uncertain World”, only one nation was actually mentioned by name, and that, of course, was Donald Trump’s United States. Russia? Korea? China? Not a word. Iran? Iraq? Afghanistan? Yemen? Syria? Daesh? None of them mentioned.
I hope Conservative Members realise how unprecedented that is. This was only the second Tory manifesto since the Yom Kippur war not even to mention the middle east. In the same sections of the 2015 Tory manifesto, separate policies were set out on 23 different countries. Now the Government are down to just one. The question is why. Why is the Tory manifesto and this Tory Queen’s Speech such a blank space with regard to foreign policy? The answer, of course, is clear: their sole foreign policy ambition is to stay in lockstep with Donald Trump, whatever hill he chooses to march us up next. That means we are left with a Government who no longer know their own mind on foreign policy because they are beholden to a President who keeps changing his.
Nowhere was this more pathetically exposed than on the Paris agreement on climate change. In November, two weeks after Donald Trump’s election, I stood at this Dispatch Box and urged the Foreign Secretary to make Paris the first priority in talks with him. What did he say in response? He said that my concerns were “premature”. At the end of March, I stood here again and said that we must tell Donald Trump that Britain would not stand by in silence while he wrecked the Paris agreement. What did the Foreign Secretary say? He said that I was being “far too pessimistic”. He said:
“We have heard the mutterings of the right hon. Lady;
let us see what the American Administration actually do. I think she will be pleasantly surprised.”—[Official Report,
Well, we have now seen what Trump has done. I was not very surprised, and it definitely was not very pleasant. What made it so much worse was this Government’s frankly spineless response. Rather than join the legion of world leaders, US mayors and governors, and business chiefs around the world in condemning Trump’s withdrawal from Paris, our Prime Minister would say only that she felt “disappointed”. The Foreign Secretary explained that it was not for Britain to “wave fingers” at the US President. Well, if he gets a chance to organise Donald Trump’s state visit, he will see how British people feel about waving fingers.
This whole sorry episode prompts the question that is at the very heart of today’s debate: “If this Government cannot persuade Britain’s closest ally to stick to the Paris agreement, and if they cannot even stand up to him when he refuses to do so, what chance have they got of getting the rest of Europe to give us the deal we want on Brexit? The answer is, “None.” If they continue down their current path, the inevitable result will be Britain crashing out of Europe in just over 600 days in a state of total chaos, with millions of jobs and half our trade in jeopardy. I have absolutely no doubt that the Foreign Secretary will stand up in a moment and tell me that I am being premature, that I am being overly pessimistic, and that I will be pleasantly surprised. All I have to say to him is, “That’s what you said about Paris.”
If we are hoping for a different outcome on Brexit, with this Government, with this Queen’s Speech, and with the same crack team of negotiators sitting on the Government Front Bench, we might as well give up now. Yet it does not have to be this way. We could have a Foreign Secretary and a Brexit Secretary working night and day to get the best deal for Britain, not fighting like cats and dogs about who is going to be the next leader. We could have a Government leading the country to a better, more prosperous future, not a Queen’s Speech devoid of ideas, hope or vision. We could have a Prime Minister of principle and strength able to stand tall with European leaders and stand up to Donald Trump, not a hopeless Tory leader just trying to make it through the summer. With all that in place, we could have a Britain that actually has a foreign policy of its own—a Britain ready once again to be a beacon of strength and security, prosperity and values for every country around the world. This Queen’s Speech does nothing to advance that. This Government are doing nothing to advance that. They are too weak, too shambolic and too divided to take this country forward, and it is about time we had a Government who can.
This excellent debate has been landmarked by a succession of first-rate maiden speeches. I single out Anna McMorrin, who spoke passionately in the cause of social justice for her constituents; my hon. Friend Ben Bradley, who showed exactly why he is the first member of our party to capture that seat for 100 years; Luke Pollard, who spoke movingly of his predecessor’s campaign for hedgehogs, as well as a rather important matter relating to that great port; and my hon. Friend
I have to say that, after about 37 speeches, my abiding impression is that there is far more that unites this House—both sides of the Chamber—in our approach to Brexit than divides it, and there is more confidence in this country’s future than we would expect given some of the coverage in the media. I was particularly pleased to hear my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry, who I am delighted to see in her place, saying that we have a great economy and a bright future. She is entirely correct. My hon. Friends the Members for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), for Witney (Robert Courts), for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), and many others, raised their voices in favour of free trade and free trade deals.
Not a single Labour voice—not Keir Starmer nor Stephen Gethins, and certainly not Emily Thornberry—dissented from the point made so powerfully earlier by the leader of the Labour party, who said that it was his ambition to make sure that Brexit delivered new free trade deals around the world. None of them dissented from that, and of course the logical consequence of that is coming out of the customs union. There is far more agreement—[Interruption.] Well, this chap—the hon. Member for North East Fife—is not a Labour MP, as far as I understand the constitutional position. None of them dissented from that essential and fundamental understanding about Brexit. There is far more that unites us than divides us.
I think that confidence is right and justified in our country, because the ideal of and belief in free trade continues to lift billions of people out of poverty around the world. In 1990, 37% of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty. That figure has now gone down to 10%, and it is falling.
Wherever there is a crisis in the world—wherever there is terror or conflict—we will find that it is the United Kingdom that is at the forefront of trying to tackle those scourges. In Iraq and Syria, we should all be proud that the RAF is delivering more airstrikes against Daesh than any other air force apart from that of the United States. In the face of a revanchist and resurgent Russia, it is the UK that has kept up the pressure for sanctions over what it has done in Ukraine, as my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale rightly pointed out. In the face of the blood-curdling threats from North Korea, it is this country, in the UN, that has helped to marshal a coalition against what Kim Jong-un is doing. I am delighted to say that that coalition—hon. Members may have followed this—includes, for the first time, the Chinese, which is an important and hopeful development for our world.
In one of the most grizzly conflicts currently taking place in sub-Saharan Africa, it is this country that is sending 400 peacekeepers to South Sudan. We can be proud of what they are doing. If we think about the crisis that has just broken out in the Gulf—an unwelcome dispute between some of our closest friends—I can assure right hon. and hon. Members that it is to the United Kingdom that the world is looking to help to resolve it. That will take some time, but I have absolutely no doubt that we will get there. It is because the world looks to Britain, and it is because the work of the UK overseas is so vital for global security and stability, that it is absolutely vital that we resist the temptation to run down our defences and abrogate our responsibilities to our friends and partners around the world.
As the hon. Lady knows very well, the United Kingdom holds the pen at the UN in trying to bring a resolution to the crisis in Yemen. As the Prime Minister said earlier today, of course a humanitarian disaster is taking place, but it is folly and an illusion to believe that that humanitarian disaster is in any way the responsibility of the United Kingdom. On the contrary, the policy the hon. Lady advocates of disengagement and not being involved at all would void us of any influence or any role at all in bringing about a peaceful resolution in Yemen, although I understand and appreciate the point that she makes. We can be justly proud of the work that has been done in the UN and elsewhere in trying to solve the Yemen crisis.
As my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt pointed out in his excellent speech, we should be proud of our entire diplomatic network and our superb armed forces. Members on both sides of the House spoke well about the strength of our armed forces, including the hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport. Of course, our intelligence services are also admired around the world.
The Queen’s Speech said that we will take new powers to set our own sanctions policy. I have alluded to the importance of sanctions in respect of Ukraine and other areas. I trust that that Bill, in the spirit of unity we have seen for much of this debate, will attract cross-party support.
Do not forget that this country is the second biggest military power in NATO, with a new aircraft carrier putting forth to sea today that is, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence acknowledges, the biggest ship ever built in this country—I believe it is longer than the Palace of Westminster. But even more important than our military role—do not forget that our military forces are engaged in, I think, 33 countries around the world, which is far more than any other European country—
I have already congratulated the hon. Gentleman on his remarks about our armed forces. I am glad that he at least among Opposition Members supports our armed forces. He will know that we are committed not only to spending 2% of our GDP on defence, but to a further 0.5% increment every year until 2020. As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has pointed out, we will maintain the size of our armed forces, which are superb and the best in the world.
Even more important than our military firepower and throw-weight, however, and even more important than our vast aid budget, is Britain’s soft power—[Interruption.] Liz McInnes interjects from a sedentary position to suggest that our aid budget is not vast. Having spent a year in this job and having flown around the world, I can tell her that the world is lost in admiration for how much this country spends on international development and for the efficacy of British aid spending. She should be proud of what the Department for International Development does. It is a huge, huge sum of money. By the way, the only question is how we can ensure that that wonderful aid budget is used so as to deliver the political and economic objectives of this country more effectively, and that is what we are working on.
Even more important than our vast aid budget is our soft power—the sometimes invisible network through which this country’s ideas and values are projected around the world. It can be seen through our partnerships and friendships in Europe, and with the overseas territories and dependencies. A couple of hon. Members asked about the future of Gibraltar. Let us be absolutely clear that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is inviolable and will remain so for as long as this Government are in power.
The right hon. Gentleman is probably aware that the question for Gibraltar is not sovereignty, but what its trading relationship will be, and how people will be able to move backwards and forwards from Gibraltar to Spain and continue to trade. It is the continuing economic position that is important.
As the right hon. Lady will understand, we are absolutely bound to protect the economic interests of the people of Gibraltar, not least—this point can be made in respect of the whole argument about Brexit—because of course a strong Gibraltar and a robust Gibraltar economy are in the interests of Andalucia and the rest of Spain. We will get that done.
We have many networks around the world, not only in the territories and dependencies, but in the 52 Commonwealth nations that will come to London next year for a landmark summit, and through our languages, universities and broadcasting. It is a stunning fact that we sell £1.3 billion of TV programmes abroad. That is almost 10 times as much as the French, I am delighted to say—without in any way wishing to be chauvinistic about this. Indeed, our biggest single market for UK TV programmes in Europe is France. I am absolutely delighted that it is.
We project ourselves through our music, and the broadcasting of that music and great musical festivals, in which this country specialises. When this weekend the BBC broadcast Glastonbury around the world—[Hon. Members: “Glahstonbury?”] It is “Glahstonbury”; it is in the south-west. Of course, I know it was perhaps different for the people who spent £285 to go and be among the crowd there to watch elderly people such as Kris Kristofferson, but I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that when those extraordinary scenes on the stage at Glastonbury were broadcast, friends and admirers of this country around the world were genuinely alarmed that at a time of such uncertainty, the leader of the main Opposition party in this country should have exercised such an orphic spell on those who had previously been his opponents that they have meekly acceded to his desire not just to run down our defences but, as he said on the stage of Glastonbury—“Glahstonbury”—to scrap our nuclear defence. That was what he said, and it will have gone around the world.
It will have gone around the world that the leader of the main Opposition party in this country is actually committed to getting rid of the fundamentals of our nuclear defence, imperilling—this is the crucial point—not merely our own safety, but the safety of our friends and allies. That is not this Government’s way, and that is not the right way for this country. That is why we need a strong, open, confident, outward-looking and global Britain—for the good of our people and for the good of the world. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Craig Whittaker.)
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.
If Members insist inexplicably upon leaving and denying themselves the opportunity to hear the Adjournment debate, perhaps they will do so quickly and quietly, so that the rest of the House can attend to the words and messages of Mr Jim Fitzpatrick.