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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee 3:50 pm, 11th September 2017

My right hon. and learned Friend sets out the common ground we should all be on. However, the debate was not assisted by Tony Blair, who was on the television yesterday speaking about how to deal with this issue. He said:

“Paradoxically, we have to respect the referendum vote to change it.”

There is an understandable suspicion among Conservative Members that some people have not really accepted that we are leaving the European Union. The fact that the official Opposition have chosen to vote against the whole Bill underlines that they are rather reluctant to accept the decision the British people have made.

Before I move on, I should re-emphasise that the Hansard Society proposals have a lot to them, and we should be able to discuss them. I hope that, behind the scenes, colleagues will talk across parties on these matters, as one or two of us have already suggested we should.

However, let me put this in the much wider context, because we are getting rather lost in the detail of the Bill. We are forgetting what the Bill is for and the context it is being discussed in: we are leaving on 28 March—or whichever date it actually is—next year. It might be helpful to have the exit date on the face of the Bill at the outset, to provide additional clarity that negotiations are in progress, or should be.

I think everyone is getting a bit disappointed that there has not been more substantive discussion about the issues that really matter. The European Union’s position is beginning to look more and more unreasonable as it refuses to discuss the end state of the relationship that we all want to see, insisting on an up-front payment, or promise of payment, before it will discuss those matters. I have absolutely no doubt that the EU is playing for time for some reason, possibly because of the German elections, and is likely to crumble on that, and to start to talk seriously about the issues that we need to discuss.

We can talk too much and too glibly about cliff edges; I notice that even the Government have put the term “cliff edge” into their documents. Let us face it—the United Kingdom does not want a cliff edge. We are offering the rest of the European Union seamless trade, as far as possible, no tariff barriers and mutual recognition for products and services.