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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Co-Leader of the Green Party 5:58 pm, 11th September 2017

I will keep on for a little bit longer.

We need to transfer explicitly into UK law the key general environmental principles that are enshrined in the EU treaties: the precautionary principle, for example, and the “polluter pays” principle. A further regrettable omission from the Bill relates to animal welfare. The protocol on animal sentience which is so vital to our animal legislation was incorporated into article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, but the text of that treaty is not itself covered by the Bill, so the wording of that article is not replicated. I intend to table amendments on that issue.

Thirdly, and more substantively, I am deeply concerned that schedule 8 effectively ends the UK’s membership of the single market and the customs union. That is yet another masochistic red line from Ministers who are intent on leaving the EU whatever the cost to the UK’s economy, and regardless of the damage to the country’s long-term prosperity. Analysis indicates that leaving the customs union would result in a £25 billion-a-year hit to the UK economy and a Brexit bureaucracy bombshell for UK firms. So much for Brexit’s leading to a bonfire of red tape.

Ministers seem to think that they can just conjure up, in a few months, a customs union that is not “the” customs union, but which will deliver exactly the same benefits as those that we have now, and all that without paying for membership of the EU. I look forward to seeing how they plan to achieve that amazing feat, as I am sure that quite a few of my constituents would like to enjoy the benefits of institutions in Brighton without having to bother to pay the membership fee.

Far from transferring all EU law into UK law, the Bill fails to preserve the right to freedom of movement. Let me be very clear: my party’s policy on freedom of movement is unequivocal—we believe that it not only benefits our economy but, crucially, benefits our communities as well. Being able to work, study, live and love in 27 other member states is a precious gift. It is one that we should be extending to an increasing number of our own young people, not shrinking—not closing down their horizons; not denying. I also believe that we should say loudly and proudly that we celebrate the contribution of EU nationals who come to make a life here: they enrich our society.

I believe that, as people become increasingly aware of the human and financial costs of Brexit over the coming months—those costs were never made clear during the referendum campaign—they should have the right and the opportunity to change their minds, if they choose. When people take out phone contracts, for heaven’s sake, they have a chance to look again and to revisit their decisions. Why would we deny them that possibility when it comes to the biggest decision that this country has made in generations? That is why my party is committed to the proposal of a ratification referendum: a chance for people to judge the final deal that comes back from Brussels in the light of all that we are learning now about the costs of leaving, which were never apparent during the referendum campaign.

People who voted leave did not vote for falling wages, lower living standards and rising inflation. I do not believe that they voted to trash environmental protection, to create massive staff shortages in our hospitals and care homes, or to see food rotting in the fields because of the lack of workers to cultivate it. I do not believe that they voted to slam the door shut on our centuries-old tradition of proudly welcoming people from overseas. The very real consequences of Brexit were never spelt out in what was surely the most mendacious, toxic and cynical referendum campaign that we have ever seen, and that is why I shall vote against the Bill’s Second Reading.