Customs duties

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 20th December 2017.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons 6:45 pm, 20th December 2017

Parliament will have an opportunity to give its assent to the Government’s approach to the transition deal, which they are on the point of trying to negotiate over the next few weeks. I have never known a Government go into an international agreement and start negotiating something towards a conclusion without giving the House the opportunity to express its views and without subjecting themselves to the judgment of the House on the objectives they are declaring.

This transition deal—I think that this is agreed on all sides—is probably going to be agreed in the next month. We are about to go away for Christmas. Everybody is hoping we will have a clearer idea of the transition or implementation deal by the end of January. As things stand, I do not think this House has ever discussed this—it has never had a debate on the subject. No motion has been put before this House to approve what the Government are seeking to do. If the Government have their way, we are simply going to discover, when they come back from the next step in the negotiations, what exactly they have signed up to.

The reason it is important that we should put down this marker is that I want to stick with what was set out in Florence, which was a Government policy position. At this moment—over the course of this week—the Cabinet is having a discussion. There is an attempt to keep this secret, but, unfortunately, leaks are coming out in all directions, and I sympathise with the Prime Minister on that. The Cabinet is debating whether everyone is prepared to be bound by the Florence speech or whether some of its members want to reopen it and start modifying it. That is why this new clause is a chance to say that if that be the case, the overwhelming majority of Members confirm and approve what was set out in the Florence speech.

I hope that we will not see the extraordinary spectacle of the fear of right-wing Eurosceptics meaning that such lengths are gone to that the Government put a three-line whip on their Ministers and all their Back Benchers to cast a vote against the Florence speech, so that some room is left for them to be able to negotiate further with the Environment Secretary, the Foreign Secretary or whoever it is wanting to reopen it again. The Foreign Secretary made a speech before the Florence speech in which he tried to undermine the Prime Minister’s position going there. When she had made the Florence speech, he wrote an article a few days later—I think that I have this the right way round—putting out a starkly different interpretation of what she had said. This House of Commons has not so far had the opportunity to express an opinion, which is what new clause 54 is about.