Customs duties

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 20th December 2017.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 7:30 pm, 20th December 2017

As for new clause 54, it would be strange if Ministers did not want to support the Prime Minister’s words. I suspect that, if they did not support them in tonight’s vote, that would amount to a rebellion. We know that had the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs been here, they might have led such a rebellion, but I doubt whether junior Ministers would want to be responsible for a rebellion that would set aside what the Prime Minister said in her Florence speech.

My main purpose is to refer to amendment 120, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which amounts to a request for a vote on the deal. I am sure that, if there were time, I would give way to a great many interventions about the will of the people, but the will of the people as expressed on 23 June last year is not necessarily the will of the people as expressed today. It is because I respect the will of the people that I believe that the people should be given the chance to vote on the final deal that the Prime Minister secures. There is absolutely no doubt that the final deal will look very different from the deal that they were offered on 23 June last year.

I promise not to refer too often to the £350 million that was offered on the side of the bus, but people will remember that pledge, and it is not going to be honoured. They will also remember a pledge about a significant cut in immigration. There has, in fact, been a drop in immigration, but I think that it has happened because the UK economy has shrunk rather than for any other reason. It has certainly not happened in respect of non-EU citizens coming to the United Kingdom, because over many years the level of non-EU immigration has remained consistently high—and, of course, every Member will know that that is something of which our Government are in complete control.

Finally, there were the threats made about the 5 million people who were supposedly going to arrive in the UK as a result of our membership of the EU, and our Foreign Secretary who talked about opening the borders to Turkey and the claim that there would be marauding gangs of armed criminals out and about threatening people in our towns and villages.

I welcome the fact that Stephen Gethins used conciliatory language in describing his position on the idea of having a vote on the deal, but I recommend to him, and perhaps others, that the Liberal Democrats are first adopters of this policy, with the Green party, and I hope he will develop an appetite for it—and, indeed, that some Labour Members might as well. It would require legislation, followed by a three-month election campaign, and then a vote that would have to take place before we finally leave the EU, but that is perfectly possible.

I conclude by saying that that would enable the UK population to have a vote on the deal; they would be able to express their views on whether they still want to accept now what they were offered on 23 June last year.