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Leaving the Eu: Customs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 16th May 2018.

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Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 6:41 pm, 16th May 2018

Call me old-fashioned, but what is wrong with the House having papers, presentations and economic analyses on the Government’s post-Brexit preferred customs arrangements, including a customs partnership and maximum facilitation? What is wrong with that? What we have is a Government who are waiting, like Mr Micawber, for something to turn up. That is what it is.

Lee Rowley asked why we have this Humble Address motion before us. I will tell him why: it is because this Parliament is getting stitched up and gagged by the Tories. They would not allow amendments to the law in the Finance Bill. They have threatened the House of Lords. They have statutory instruments coming out of their ears and ministerial diktats will follow. That is why we have this motion. Paul Masterton told us that this Humble Address was a Mickey Mouse motion. Well, I tell you what: Mickey Mouse is 80 years old this year and he is a well-respected, popular icon—respected by generations and millions of people. If this is a Mickey Mouse Humble Address, I will have them every single day.

Colin Clark said, “Get on with it,” but what are we supposed to be getting on with? The Government do not actually know. My hon. Friend Mr Lewis said that this is a shambles, that we are a laughing stock, and he is absolutely spot on. Martin Vickers said that we are undermining our negotiating position. Well, we do not have a negotiating position, so how can we undermine something that we do not have? It was particularly bizarre.

My hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill talked about the threat to manufacturing in her constituency, which the Government do not care about. It is as simple as that. Ross Thomson referred to Adam Smith and “The Wealth of Nations”. Let me remind him that before “The Wealth of Nations” came “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”. Well, there is nothing moral in what this Government are doing on this particular issue. There is secrecy, intrigue and furtiveness, and there is nothing moral about that whatsoever.

As for Mr Clarke, what we want to know is: what did he have in his right pocket? Was it a Rubik’s cube or a redacted Brexit Sub-Committee minute? Get it out and let us have a look. Chris Green mumbled something and then sat down. I think some of his hon. Friends should have done exactly the same thing and we might have been able to move on. Vicky Ford said that we need to take time to get it right. Well, we do not have the time because the Government have been dragging their feet for a year or more.

My hon. Friend Alison McGovern said the Government were in chaos, and she was absolutely spot on. Rachel Maclean said she wanted to deliver a sensible Brexit—well, get on with it then! We will join them, if they do want to deliver a sensible Brexit, but there is no suggestion they do. My hon. Friend Jo Platt called it shambolic, and it is shambolic. It is as simple as that. My hon. Friend James Frith said there was nothing heroic about putting people out of work, and he was absolutely spot on. My hon. Friend Ruth George said the Government were not listening, which sums it up, and we are losing business because of it.

In contemporary parlance, the Prime Minister is “shook”—totally unable to stand up to the right-wing press and back the only sensible way forward, which is Labour’s plan for a customs union. That is what we want. Instead, the Cabinet has been offered two options to decide between. First, we have what the Prime Minister calls a customs partnership. As my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer has mentioned, this partnership would require UK officials to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU for any goods coming to the UK that are travelling onward to an EU state. As hon. Members have said, the Prime Minister’s plan has been described as “crazy” by the Foreign Secretary and as having “significant question marks” by the Environment Secretary, while HMRC sources have called it “unviable” and suggested that Ministers are “having a laugh”.

Perhaps the Minister can clarify: is the Prime Minister’s preferred option “crazy” or merely “unviable”? It cannot be forgotten that HMRC resources have been decimated, with staffing and resourcing slashed by 17% since 2010. Nevertheless, the Government now think it appropriate to use what little resource is left to protect the EU’s customs union for it, without the UK receiving the full economic benefits. This feels like the worst of all worlds.