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Leaving the Eu: Customs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 16th May 2018.

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Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South 4:46 pm, 16th May 2018

It is a great pleasure to follow Colin Clark. He said in the middle of his remarks that he would not expect the Government to expose their negotiating position to the people with whom they are negotiating. I was under the impression that the Government did not have a negotiating position, because the Cabinet certainly cannot agree on one. They would expose the position that they have no negotiating position.

Why are we discussing the release of papers? Let us look at the substantive issue. We are six months away from having to have on the table a final deal, which will then have to go through the EU27 and, indeed, through this place, if we are to have a meaningful vote. There are only two more formal EU summits left until this process has to conclude. The Government triggered article 50 with no idea about which direction they wished to go, and the journey has certainly taken them down many cul-de-sacs and dead ends.

We still do not even have a Cabinet position on this issue. To a certain extent, I can agree with the Minister, who spoke for 20 minutes and did not mention the Government’s position on the customs arrangement at all. I can appreciate slightly that he would not want what the Cabinet were saying to each other in private to be released, but all we have to do is pick up a copy of The Daily Telegraph or, indeed, run close enough—if we can run slowly enough—to the Foreign Secretary and listen to what he is saying to journalists as he briefs them behind the Prime Minister’s back. This is a Government and a Cabinet in complete and utter chaos.

We have the unedifying spectacle of the Prime Minister trying to push her favoured customs partnership model to the Cabinet, but the Cabinet cannot agree on it. We then have the Brexiteers in the Cabinet saying that they would rather have this maximum facilitation—we are back to facilitation again, whatever that would mean in a customs context—and the Foreign Secretary calling the Prime Minister’s goals “crazy”. The Prime Minister is too weak to sack or gag the Foreign Secretary—the worst Foreign Secretary that this country has ever had bestowed on it.

Amid all that, the EU negotiators had, in their words, subjected to

“systematic and forensic annihilation” both proposals on which the Cabinet cannot even agree. We have a situation in which, to all intents and purposes, the Prime Minister could persuade the Cabinet to back her customs partnership or, indeed, fold to maximum facilitation, but the EU is saying, “Well, we’re not going to agree to it in the first place,” so all that effort was in vain.

It is really important for the public to see the evidence, the economic indicators, the discussion and the trajectory of the Government for the simple reason that this will cost jobs and economic growth. Even the Brexit Secretary’s special adviser has said that it will cost the country £25 billion a year to 2030. Indeed, the Treasury itself has said that it could cost up to £55 billion a year by 2033 if we follow World Trade Organisation rules. That is why we need this information in the public domain and why I have been championing a people’s vote on the final deal. It does not matter whether someone voted remain and was a strong remainer, or voted leave and was a strong leaver, because, if we have the evidence in front of us, it would be democratically right for the public to be shown that evidence, so that they can compare it with what we have now and, in the light of that evidence in front of them, we can ask them whether they wish to go down the route that this chaotic Government are trying to negotiate.

The reason why the Government are not putting these papers out has nothing to do with confidentiality of Cabinet discussions. It is because they have nothing to put out, because, first, they cannot agree and, secondly, even if they could agree, it is not in the best interests of this country. As we have always seen with this Conservative Government, they put party and ambition for No.10 first and the country second.