Retaining Enhanced Protection

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 17th January 2018.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons 1:45 pm, 17th January 2018

That is possible. The idea that the Germans find membership of the European Union a disadvantage in their economic performance in the modern world is, of course, a rather farcical fallacy. If we weaken our attractiveness to inward investment and if we weaken ourselves as a base for trade with the rest of Europe, we will attract less investment and less trade with the wider world, too. I entirely agree that that is a risk.

The Lancaster House speech transformed things by suddenly making the Government’s policy particularly dependent, apparently, on leaving the single market, leaving the common market and, incidentally, repudiating the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which I will not go into because I have never been able to work out why the work of those judges, including the excellent British judges we have had on that Court, is particularly criticised. That is another matter.

I have never heard any Government Front Bencher attack the single market in itself or the customs union. When we hear speeches from Ministers about a bespoke new trade agreement, it sounds very much like an unbroken continuation of all the access we have to the rest of Europe under the single market and the customs union. The only objection to the single market, and the Prime Minister once expressed this to me at Prime Minister’s questions, is the four freedoms that go with it, including the free movement of labour. I still imagine that other countries would quite like to address the free movement of labour.

I think free movement of labour does us good—I would not want to get rid of it—but we do not need to run it in quite the lax way we have been running it for the last 20 years. The only other objection to a customs union, and I do not regard it as an adequate reason—staying in the customs union would solve the Northern Ireland and Irish Republic problem practically overnight—is that it stops the Secretary of State for International Trade going out and negotiating marvellous new trading arrangements with all sorts of places. Negotiating such arrangements would, of course, produce a hole in the common customs barrier that the customs union creates.

If anything, I am afraid the world is more protectionist than it used to be. The last great attempt by those of us who believe in a rules-based order in the global system was the Doha round, in which we tried to get the WTO rules to move on from their present rudimentary condition after what was then the triumph of the Uruguay round. The Doha round went on for years and years, and eventually it went into the sand. It was never completed to the satisfaction of anyone who agrees that there are benefits to all societies from having properly regulated and protected free trade.

I have already addressed the idea that, when we are no longer negotiating as a member of the EU, Trump’s America will be more likely than Obama’s America to throw open its doors to unfettered access to whichever goods and services we wish to send. The Brazilians are ambiguous. The EU has everything to gain from dealing with Brazil, but the difficulties are that Brazil insists on exporting food products on a grand scale and the internal economy of Brazil does not naturally lend itself to free trade. Mercosur, as a group, is almost incapable of agreeing on any common position.

I will not go on but, much though some in the present Administration would wish otherwise, I do not think India is yet ready for free trade agreements with countries such as Britain. I wish I could feel more confident it were otherwise, but I think the Lok Sabha will daunt anyone who tries to take on the various pressures in India in order to have a free trade agreement. I have been to India myself to try to get it to open up to legal services, with considerable support from a lot of Indian businesses that would like some of our countries to provide international quality services in Delhi so that they do not have to come to London to get their advice, but protectionism in every aspect of Indian society is not to be understated. We are not going to get far. I will not go on about China, as I said I would not go country by country.

This is all an absolute illusion. I would prefer to stay where we are, but apparently we are moving out. We are demanding a bespoke arrangement but, as yet, we have not been clear what that bespoke arrangement is, which is a considerable difficulty. This has been debated already and we have got some concessions, although they are not yet good enough, but when we finally reach a stage where the British Government intend to ratify a proposed deal, it is perfectly obvious to me from all our past constitutional conventions that they should come to Parliament to get its approval for that ratification. There was a key vote in 1972 when we joined the European Union. There was approval in principle of the deal that was proposed, which attracted Jenkinsite support to give the then Government a majority over their imperialist rebels, who were voting against it. But we started legislating in 1972 only when we had the approval of the House of Commons, by quite a comfortable majority, to ratify on the terms that were presented and explained. The same should happen here.

Given my strictures about the referendum debate, and some of the others we have had, I think that the more we can do to make sure we have an informed debate on whatever trade, investment and other deal is proposed with the EU, the more likely we are to uphold the duty we all have in this House to apply our judgment of the national interest, to think a little of the future as well as the short-term politics and to decide whether or not this vital consent of Parliament is to be given.