European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:57 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 2:57 pm, 7th September 2017

I am afraid that time is now rather limited.

I am very much in favour of our Parliament making these decisions. The admirable principles we are discussing will often be reflected in British law. They are already reflected in many of the bits of legislation that are the subject of this Bill, and our judges will often be informed by them. If the judges start to use a principle that we do not like very much, it is in the hands of those of us who are in Parliament to issue new guidance to those judges— to say that we are creating more primary legislation to ensure that we have a bit more of this principle and a bit less of that—on our area of disagreement with them. In a democracy, it is most important that we have independent courts, but also that, ultimately, the sovereign people through their elected representatives can move the judges on by proper instruction; in our case, that takes the form of primary legislation.

Much has been made of how we implement whatever agreement we get, if we have an agreement, at the end of the now 19-month process in the run-up to our exit on 29 March. I think people are making heavy weather of this, because the main issue that will eventually be settled—I fear it will be settled much later than the press and Parliament would like—is how we will trade with our former partners on the date on which we depart.

There are two off-the-shelf models, either of which would work. In one, the EU decides, in the end, that it does not want tariffs on all its food products and cars coming into the UK market, and it does not want us creating new barriers against its very successful exports, so it agrees that we should register our existing arrangements as a free trade agreement at the World Trade Organisation. That would be a ready-made free trade agreement.

I do not think that there is time to make a special free trade agreement that is not as good as the one we have at the moment. Either we will have the current arrangements, as modified for WTO purposes, when we are outside the Union, or we will not. If we do not, we will trade on WTO terms when we are on the other side of the EU’s customs and tariff arrangements. We know exactly what that looks like, because that is how we trade with the rest of the world at the moment as an EU member.

The EU imposes very high tariff barriers on what would otherwise be cheaper food from the rest of the world, but if it decided on that option, its food would, of course, be on the wrong side of that barrier as well. We would have to decide how much we wanted to negotiate tariffs down for food from other countries around the world, which may offer us a better deal. It would be quite manageable; food is the only sector that would be badly affected by the tariff proposals under the WTO. More than half our trade would not be tariffable under WTO rules, and services obviously attract no tariffs. I have yet to hear any of the other member states recommend imposing tariffs on their trade with us, or recommend a series of new barriers to get in the way of other aspects of our trade. We will have to wait and see how that develops.