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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 51, amendment (b) thereto, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 1, amendment (a) thereto, and Government motion to disagree and Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 2, amendment (a) thereto, and Government motion to disagree and Government amendment (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 5, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 53, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 4, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 3, motion to disagree, and amendments (c), (e) and (d) in lieu.
Lords amendment 24, Government motion to disagree, amendment (i) and Government amendment (ii) to Government amendment (a) in lieu, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendments 32, 6 to 9, 33 to 36, 38, 40 to 42, 159 to 161, 163, 164, 166 to 168 and 170.
I rise not only to move amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51, but to support the other Lords amendments that we are considering today. May I start by thanking the other House for its work? In particular, I wish to record our thanks to our Labour Lords team, led by Baroness Hayter and Baroness Smith, who have worked extremely hard to improve this Bill.
The amendments in this group this afternoon, as with yesterday, cover a number of crucial issues, such as enhanced protection for EU-derived rights, environmental safeguards and the charter of fundamental rights. In many respects, that should not be controversial, and I will return to those issues later on.
Let me start with Lords amendments 1 and 2. These amendments, if upheld here, would require a Minister to lay before both Houses of Parliament a statement outlining the steps taken in the article 50 negotiations to negotiate our continued participation in a customs union with the EU. I do not suppose that it is the making of a statement that the Government object to; it is the negotiation of a customs union with the EU. In fact, so determined are the Government not to accept a customs union with the EU that they have gone to extraordinary lengths to dream up alternatives.
When the so-called partnership agreement and the so-called maximum facilitation options first saw the light of day last summer, nobody really took them seriously, not even the Brexit Secretary. Within two weeks, he was describing the customs partnership as blue-sky thinking. Thus, when the Prime Minister resurrected them in her Mansion House speech earlier this year, many of us, including myself, were genuinely surprised. Since then, it has become increasingly apparent that neither option is workable, that neither is acceptable to the EU and that neither will get majority support across this House. The Foreign Secretary calls the customs partnership “crazy”. The Business Secretary says that the maximum facilitation option would cost thousands of jobs in manufacturing. It is no wonder that a Cabinet peace summit is planned for July.
The proposal in Lords amendments 1 and 2 that the Government should seek to negotiate a customs union with the EU as part of the future arrangement is a sensible one for many reasons.
I will come to that issue, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that free movement has nothing to do with the customs union.
Given the reports that we are hearing just now that No. 10 has rejected the agreement that was made yesterday with sensible Conservative MPs on the Grieve amendment, at least the third part of it, there is no guarantee now—absolutely none—that there will be a meaningful vote. Is it not absolutely essential that a loud voice goes out from this House today to say that we want the least damaging Brexit possible—in the customs union and in a single market?
I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen the news that is just coming through. If that is the case, it is extremely concerning. A strong message needs to go out from this House about the proper role of Parliament in the article 50 process and one that argues for the best possible outcome in terms of a close economic relationship with the EU.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. We need to be very clear about this. Something may have happened, but I heard the Prime Minister saying very clearly from the Dispatch Box that an amendment would be forthcoming, that it would largely incorporate much of the amendment that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve tabled yesterday, that discussions and negotiations are continuing, that that amendment will be tabled in the Lords in due course and that the job will be done on a meaningful vote involved for this House.
I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen whatever news is coming out, but having observed the proceedings yesterday and the various interventions, it seems to me that what Mr Grieve was saying was very clear for us all to hear. He spoke about the specific paragraphs that were of huge importance, and we heard about what the proposed amendment in the Lords would contain. Obviously, we will have to wait and see what the wording is, but, from my point of view, as someone who was observing it, I thought that it was pretty clear what was being said from the Front Bench about what was likely to happen in the course of next week.
I will, but I must say that I was not anticipating spending the whole afternoon on re-interpreting yesterday, but let us see how we get on.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, though it was fun yesterday, the truth is that, if this House wants a meaningful vote, there are ways and means by which we will have a meaningful vote irrespective of what the legislation says?
I could not help noticing yesterday that, as my hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook was spelling that out, the Government’s position was that, should article 50 be voted down, they guarantee that they will make a statement within 28 days and that that was not particularly convincing—the Brexit Secretary himself found that to be a cause of some amusement. That is certainly not enough. What is needed is the opportunity for this House not only to vote on the article 50 deal, but to have an appropriate and proper role if the article 50 deal is voted down. I am afraid that we are rehearsing yesterday’s argument, but we on the Labour Benches voted for the amendment, which would have given not only a meaningful vote, but a proper role for Parliament afterwards to decide what happens next.
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is completely innocent in this matter, but he has, almost unavoidably, been diverted from the path of virtue as a result of interventions. I simply want to remind not just him but the House that we are supposed to be focused on amendments that relate to the European economic area. What we must not do is have a replay of yesterday’s proceedings.
Well, that is very generous of the hon. Gentleman—
I will press on, make my case and take some further interventions later on.
I was saying that the proposal in Lords amendments 1 and 2 that the Government should seek to negotiate a customs union with the EU as part of the future arrangements is a sensible one for many reasons. The first is the economy. Over a number of decades, our manufacturing model has adapted to the arrangements that we currently have with the EU, including the customs union. Thus, typically, we see, across the UK, thousands of manufacturing businesses that operate on the basis of a vital supply chain in goods and parts from across the EU. The car industry is an obvious example, but not the only one.
Such businesses operate on the basis of a just-in-time approach. Whereas years ago there were stockpiles of parts and so on, these days there is a just-in-time approach. Parts come in and are assembled, and the finished product then goes quickly and seamlessly across the UK and/or out to the EU. That is the manufacturing model that this country has operated for many years, and MPs across the House know that that is what goes on in their constituencies.
The outgoing president of the CBI said today that manufacturing sectors, particularly the car industry, would be severely damaged if the UK did not stay in a customs union with the EU. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those comments are very concerning?
One of the risks for Members taking interventions is that the very next point we are about to make is stolen, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will just remind the House that the president of the CBI this morning said:
“If we do not have a customs union, there are sectors of manufacturing society in the UK which risk becoming extinct... Be in no doubt, that is the reality.”
This is at the heart of the debate. If we destroy the manufacturing model that I just described, we destroy a vital part of the economy and job losses will be considerable. That is why there are such high levels of concern across the business community about the Government’s current approach.
For the benefit of the House, I am going to go through the customs union argument before moving on to discuss the EEA and the single market, and then I have other remarks to make. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will deal with his point when I deal with the EEA. I am currently dealing with the customs union.
Is Labour in favour of staying in the customs union, or a customs union that approximates to a customs arrangement that would allow us to make free trade deals with states other than the EU—the customs union, or a customs arrangement?
The current customs arrangements are in the membership treaty. Therefore, if they are to be replicated and if there is to be a customs union that does the work of the current customs union, there needs to be a new treaty. That is why we are in favour of a customs union, but a customs union that does the work of the customs union that we are currently in. Although this was a point of great heat and discussion weeks and months ago, I think most people now understand that there will have to be a new agreement that replicates and does the work of the current customs union.
I am going to make some progress; I have taken a lot of interventions and I will take others later.
The concern about the customs union is not confined to the business community. It inevitably extends to trade unions, on behalf of those they represent; those who depend on the manufacturing sector; and those who work in and operate our ports and places of entry and exit. I have visited Dover to look at the operation there and to talk through with management and staff the impact of any change to the current customs arrangements. I have also visited Holyhead, the second biggest port, where there are high levels of concern.
I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to separate out the customs union from the single market, but we cannot separate those two things if we are talking about frictionless trade and just-in-time deliveries. Checks would be required not just for customs and rules of origin, but for product regulations and conformity with standards. Further to the question from my hon. Friend Mr Clarke, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore willing to accept free movement of people as the price of access to the single market?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will discuss the single market and the EEA, and I will deal with his question then. At the moment, I am making a case on the customs union, although I accept the proposition that the customs union on its own does not produce frictionless trade, and nor does it answer the question, “How would you prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland?” I will specifically deal with this matter later in my speech, and I will take further interventions then.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Dutch Government and the European Commission have begun to advise businesses not to take car parts produced in the UK for export because of concerns about rules of origin. Will today’s proposals address that?
I had heard that. It is not an isolated example; there are others. This is deeply troubling, which is why the amendments before the House today are so important.
My right hon. and learned Friend has already reminded the House that the Cabinet has not made up its mind on what sort of customs arrangement it wants. Is it his understanding, as it is mine, that the maximum facilitation option would entail infrastructure on the border in Northern Ireland, so it would get us back to the hard border that everyone says we want to avoid?
The main problem with maximum facilitation is that it involves technology yet to be invented and certainly yet to be made to operate. Nobody knows quite what it is, whether it can be developed and delivered, and if so, when. On the Northern Ireland border—although I will speak about Northern Ireland later—the commitment is to no infrastructure, no checks and no controls. I will come to that point specifically when I deal with Northern Ireland.
My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the permanent secretary of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs indicated that the implementation costs of maximum facilitation would be £17 billion to £20 billion a year. This information was shared across Whitehall, so Ministers are well aware that it would be damaging to our economy.
Yes, I did see that figure. It is deeply concerning that those sorts of costs are even contemplated for that option in relation to technology that has not been developed or, in many respects, even invented. That is why there is such a bitter dispute going on in the Cabinet.
I am going to press on, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I will take other interventions later.
I realise that all sorts of fanciful promises about new customs arrangements were made during the referendum and have been made since, but we have a duty to protect our economy, jobs and the manufacturing sector across the UK. That is at the heart of today’s debate. The only way to uphold that duty is to negotiate a customs union with the EU.
There is, of course, another important aspect. In December last year, our Government made a solemn promise in the phase 1 agreement: no hard border in Northern Ireland. And that was spelt out—no infrastructure, no checks and no controls. Now, in all the to-ing and fro-ing yesterday, what may have been missed is that one amendment that went through, without any dissent from the Opposition, was a Government amendment to Lords amendment 25 for that obligation to be legally binding in UK law. That is a very significant amendment; after the political commitment in December to no hard border, no infrastructure, no checks and no controls, we now have a binding law to that effect. This goes to the issue of maximum facilitation, because if maximum facilitation does involve infrastructure, checks or controls, it would be unlawful under the provision passed yesterday. Therefore, it cannot happen.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. We did not get to debate that amendment because we ran out of time yesterday, but it is huge. It means that, logically, we will have to come to a customs union agreement, partnership—[Interruption]—I’ll do that. I do not care what we call it, but that is what we will need to avoid any border at all in Northern Ireland. It is great progress.
It is a significant amendment, and it was also a significant amendment in the Lords. Even as amended—taking it back to being closer to the wording of the phase 1 agreement—the amendment is still a very significant measure.
It also goes further than that, does it not? Not only will we have to stay in a form of customs arrangement amounting to a union, but we will also have to have a high level of regulatory alignment. Otherwise, the life that takes place along the border will be impossible because of different regulations on either side.
I agree, and I will develop that argument, because a customs union alone will not solve the conundrum of how to keep to the solemn commitment to having no hard border in Northern Ireland.
I will not repeat what my hon. Friend Heidi Allen and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve have said, because I was about to make the same point. It was the most significant thing that happened yesterday, but given the circus that surrounded everything and the timetable that stopped us debating it, nobody so far has taken any notice. However, it does bear on today’s debate, because yesterday’s legally binding commitment extends the needs of the Irish border to the whole United Kingdom. We are talking about Dover—and we settled that yesterday—and we are not having a border down the Irish sea. The United Kingdom has therefore got to negotiate an arrangement with the EU as a whole that has no new frontier barriers. Effectively, we are going to reproduce the customs union and the single market, and the Government will be unable to comply with yesterday’s legal obligation unless it does so.
I am grateful for that intervention. When the phase 1 agreement was reached in December, I thought that commitment was the most significant thing that had happened since the referendum, with regard to indicating what our future relationship with the EU would be. I think that it is clear to everyone who has considered this and visited Northern Ireland to talk it through that the only answer to having no hard border, in the end, is a customs union and high-level single market alignment, and that is why yesterday was so significant. The fact that that was accepted by the Government and turned into domestic law gives it a status that it did not have until yesterday, because previously it was a political agreement at international level. I am not suggesting for one moment that it was not solemnly entered into by the Government, or indeed that they would resile from it as a matter of international negotiation, but it will now become a matter of domestic law. It is probably the most significant thing that happened yesterday.
May I just remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the vast majority of people, not only at the referendum but at the general election—85% of those who voted—voted to leave the customs union and the single market? It was a very clear result. Let me ask him this one straightforward question, for clarity: in their search for a customs union, are the Opposition willing to sacrifice our ability to negotiate trade deals outside the EU in order the achieve that customs union with the EU?
We all want new trade deals. At the moment we have got an excellent trade deal with the EU, and we have 37 additional agreements with 67 countries through our membership of the EU. The first thing we need to do is preserve that. Lots has been said about new trade agreements and how they will be fast and how we will get much better terms than would be offered to any other country in the world. In fact, we are told that they will be queuing up to give us preferential treatment, and quickly. I think the Brexit Secretary said that by March next year we will have had trade deals with countries in an area that is geographically 10 times larger than the EU. Well, he has only a few months left to pull that one off. The Opposition consider that if new trade deals are struck together and jointly with the EU, we have a better chance of getting quicker and better trade deals.
On Monday I was in Ireland with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and I think that what happened yesterday will be welcomed across the island. I remind the House that many things that happened in Northern Ireland over the past 40 years did not necessarily arise because of a border; they arose because of civil rights discussions across the island. The House must be mindful that, as we go forward in these discussions, we need to be careful when talking about our relationships across the island, both north and south, and within the United Kingdom.
This is a matter that I know every Member across the House is really concerned about. The commitment to having no hard border in Northern Ireland, which was set out in the Good Friday agreement, was not just a question of how technically one might get people or goods across a line in the road between the Republic and the north, and nor is it as we go forward; it is a manifestation of peace. I had the privilege of working for the Policing Board in Northern Ireland for five years, implementing some of the Good Friday agreement. Having talked to both communities consistently over those five years, I know that this is deep in the hearts of everybody there. This is more than a technical issue; it goes to the heart of what was achieved 20 years ago. We must always bear that in mind.
My right hon. and learned Friend speaks truthfully and eloquently about preserving peace in Northern Ireland, and of the centrality of the border to that. He also says that in order to achieve that we must effectively be in a single market and a customs union. Does he accept that one of the concrete ways we might deliver that is to be in the customs union and the European economic area, which is entirely possible, as Michel Barnier pointed out yesterday?
I assure my hon. Friend that I will come to the EEA later and take interventions on it, but first I want to deal with the customs union.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He referred, quite rightly, to his service to the people of Northern Ireland through the Policing Board in earlier years. I am aware that he visited Northern Ireland recently and met the present chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He will therefore be aware that the chief constable has recently withdrawn from sale three unused border police stations and asked for funding for an additional 400 police officers to deal with the border arrangements after Brexit. Can he throw some light on why on earth the chief constable would do that if we are not going to have a hard border?
I did go to Northern Ireland recently and I did have a meeting with the chief constable, who I know in any event. We spoke in confidence, and I will not break that confidence, but the facts about staff, posts and buildings, as the hon. Lady has just laid out, are right. Although having no hard border was a political commitment made in December, and it is now a legal commitment, there is a concern that that should be delivered. That is not a concern solely of the Police Service of Northern Ireland; it is a concern across the piece.
May I just bring the right hon. and learned Gentleman back to the question from my hon. Friend Mr Baron? My understanding from his answer, as it tailed off, is that he is only in favour of trade deals severally and jointly with the European Union. Is he not aware that currently the EU has trade deals in operation with under 10% of the world’s economies? Is he saying that under Labour’s vision we would be unable to secure trade deals with the other 90%? Does his vision also include the fact that at the moment four fifths of the tariffs collected under the customs union are paid to Brussels? Does he want to see that sort of arrangement continue under his vision?
The EU has trade deals with 67 countries through 37 agreements. It has a further 49 agreements with developing countries. There are 200 countries in the world, 28 in the EU, and 67 are already in extra agreements with the EU, and there are 49 in the developing country agreements. That is a considerable number of countries in the world.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the crux of today’s debate is whether we want a close working relationship with our neighbour and social, cultural and economic partner, the European Union? Ultimately, that is why so many of us—including the business community, trade unions and many Opposition Members —want a customs union.
I just want to finish this point—[Interruption.] I do not think that anybody could accuse me of not having taken interventions. I need to move on.
Order. I am extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. There was a less than wholly polite chunter from a sedentary position. I warn Mark Garnier that I might need to have a word with family members of his who live in my constituency, who would expect him to behave in a seemly manner. I simply say to the shadow Brexit Secretary that I am listening to his disquisition with great interest, and will do so, but I know he will be sensitive to the fact that although we have six hours for debate, there is a very large number of Members wishing to contribute.
I am grateful for that, Mr Speaker.
To finish my point about Northern Ireland, I think that the conclusion of the vast majority of people who have considered this in great depth and with concern is that there is no way of delivering on the solemn promise that there should be no hard border in Northern Ireland unless the UK is in a customs union with the EU and there is a high level of single market alignment. The so-called backstop argument that has been going on in recent weeks is testament to that, because the Government are trying to find a post-implementation period phase when in truth we will be in a customs union and in high-level regulatory alignment with the single market. For our economy, and to enable us to keep our solemn commitments on Northern Ireland, I urge hon. and right hon. Members to vote to uphold Lords amendments 1 and 2.
I now turn to the EEA and amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51, which is in my name and those of other shadow Front Benchers. I understand why their lordships have become so concerned about the state of negotiations that they want an amendment to cover the single market. The Prime Minister’s red lines of October 2016 were a profound mistake. If we are to keep to our duty of protecting our economy, including the manufacturing sector and the services sector, and our solemn promise in relation to Northern Ireland, we need a customs union with the EU, and we also need a strong single market deal based on shared regulations and institutions.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend explain the tangible difference between us being in a customs union with full access to the single market and our being members of the EU, other than the fact that we will not be electing Members of the European Parliament?
Obviously, politically, we will not be in any of the institutions, and we will not be a member of the EU. We are dealing with the question of whether we should have a close economic relationship with the EU, which everybody recognises is a critical issue, and working through the best configuration for that. I do not think that the mere fact that there has been a vote to leave the EU can be interpreted as the wish of anybody who voted to make our economic relationship with the EU any worse. I do not think that anybody was voting to harm the ability of businesses in this country to do business.
I am going to press on and then I will give way again.
The EEA has a number of real benefits with regard to shared regulations and shared institutions, but it also presents real challenges. I have taken this option very seriously. I went to Norway to discuss it with that country’s political leaders, trade unions and businesses, and I also visited an EEA border—the Norway-Sweden border—to see what it was like.
The EEA undoubtedly works well for Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but their economies are very different from ours, as is their size—Norway has 5 million people, Iceland has 300,000 and Liechtenstein has 37,000. Those countries chose not to be in a customs union with the EU. The European Free Trade Association is, after all, a free trade association, and those countries have struck trade deals in their own right as a group. I am sure that those trade deals work well for them, but I think that the 37 trade deals that the EU has struck work better for the UK than the EFTA trade deals would.
I will just complete this point.
The EEA excludes agriculture and fisheries, which presents a problem in relation to the solemn commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland. When I went to the border between Sweden and Norway, there was infrastructure, checks and controls—not for people, but for goods. The EEA also provides very little flexibility on the four freedoms, including freedom of movement and the way in which single market rules are implemented. Some say that those challenges can be overcome. I will continue to listen to those arguments, because there is no doubt that, in addition to a customs union with the EU, we need a strong single market deal, but I do not think we can ignore those challenges.
Despite their small populations, Iceland and Norway represent the two biggest catch sectors in Europe’s fishing industry. If the exclusion of the common fisheries policy is so bad in terms of UK membership, how on earth is it that Iceland and Norway, which depend heavily on fishing, are still in the EEA and benefit from it?
I am obviously not making my point in the right way. If the question we are trying to answer is how we ensure there is no hard border in Northern Ireland, it is very difficult to see how we can answer that by adopting the EEA model as it is, because agriculture is outside of the agreement that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have struck. That is the point I was trying to make.
It seems to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, in effect, making the same argument on this issue as the Government, which is that we want to negotiate a free trade deal without the bureaucracy or the regulations—in other words, to have the best of the EU and the single market but without the downside. That is a very valid position to take, but can he confirm that he is in concurrence with the Government’s position on that?
No, our position is not the same as the Government’s at all. I recognise that we need a strong single market model. All I am saying is that I think there are challenges in the EEA model, which is not the only model, and that we would be better off with a model that does not tie us to a particular deal that another country has done. However, and this is why our amendment is important, that model should ensure full access to the single market and no new impediments to trade, with common rights, standards and protections as a minimum, underpinned by shared institutions and regulations. That is a long way from the Government’s position because they are not prepared to sign up to those commitments. The frustration in the negotiations is that nobody yet knows, because the Cabinet is still divided, whether the Government really want to negotiate something that is close economically to the EU, which will require shared regulations and institutions, or if they want to negotiate something else altogether.
I hope that all of us who support Brexit wish the UK to have access to the single market on the terms we have now, with the conditions about regulation that will follow from that. A key part of the campaign was that we should have control of our borders and not be subjected to foreign courts. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that we might have to pay for the privilege of gaining free access to the single market but controlling our borders?
I accept that freedom of access was bound up with the referendum, and that is why every time I have stood at this Dispatch Box, I have said that we accept that freedom of movement will end when we leave the EU. The question is: what comes next, what does it look like and how do we negotiate it with the EU? That does not make things easy, but I think the Government’s approach, which was to abandon any argument for the customs union or the single market at the outset for fear of having that discussion with the EU, was wrong in principle.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that, when we leave the European Union, freedom of movement should end, and this is about what comes next. Does he agree that the EEA Norway-Liechtenstein-Iceland model does not allow us to have control over how freedom of movement will change and ties us in to “no say”? Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland have signed up to having no say over freedom of movement.
I have looked very carefully at the provisions in the EEA agreement, and there has been a lot of discussion about articles 112 and 113 in particular. I have to say that my reading of those articles is that they are what are called “in extremis” provisions, which actually do allow some flexibility on all obligations under the EEA agreement, but only in extreme circumstances and for a short period. The argument that others have put to me is that there is a different interpretation, but we are still discussing that matter.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the EEA would become a viable option only if Britain were able to negotiate fundamental changes to the EEA agreement, which would be a huge challenge for the United Kingdom?
In fairness to those who advocate joining the EEA, there is a recognition that the EEA agreement, unamended, would not be the right deal for the UK, but the argument is that it could be amended.
I am going to press on because I have used up far too much time.
Our amendment (a) puts forward a strong single market proposition—[Interruption.]
Order. I say very courteously to Vicky Ford that we cannot have an intervention by what I would call “proffered chunter” from a sedentary position. If the right hon. and learned Member who has the Floor wishes to give way, it is open to him to do so. [Interruption.] Order. The blame game taking place between Mr Vaizey and Mark Garnier about who else chuntered, with each pointing at the other, is not altogether seemly.
I am going to press on because I have taken lots of interventions and engaged with them. I have been on my feet for nearly 45 minutes, which is not fair to colleagues on both sides of the House who want to speak.
Our amendment is a strong single market proposition. It sets out the kind of new relationship we want to achieve with the EU—a close economic relationship, with full access, while ensuring there is no lowering of common standards and protection, and recognising that shared institutions are required to achieve that. It is a million miles away from the Government’s position on the single market. It does not set a narrow route; it sets the parameters of the new single market relationship we want to achieve, and it leaves options open to achieve that. I urge all Members on both sides of the House to support it.
Let me turn to the question of human rights and other protections. Lords amendment 4 sets out enhanced protections for employment, equality, health and safety, consumer standards, and environmental rights and standards. The argument is very simple; it was very simple at the start and it is very simple now. At the moment, these rights have enhanced status because we are members of the EU. They are being converted into our law—the Government said they would convert them and they are converting them; I will come on to the charter of fundamental rights in a minute—but not with any enhanced protection. All the amendment says is that if those rights and protections are to be changed, that should be done by primary legislation.
The amendment is not contentious, and it does not even say that the Government cannot change those rights. It just says that if they believe in these rights and think they should have enhanced protection, they should for heavens’ sake put them into a form that means that if they want to change them, they have to use primary legislation to do so. The only reason I can think of for resisting that is that somebody thinks it might be a good idea to chip away at these rights without doing so through primary legislation.
The Solicitor General shakes his head. If that is not the case, he should accept Lords amendment 4 and get on with it. This is the same argument we have been making since the Bill started its life back in September 2017.
There is good reason to be concerned. I know these are old examples, but they are real ones. The Foreign Secretary has complained of “back-breaking” EU workers’ rights, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has claimed that the Government should
“have the potential to...if necessary rescind” employment protections after Brexit. Such examples give Opposition Members, trade unions and working people across the country huge cause for concern that, in the absence of enhanced protection, these rights will be vulnerable.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a very powerful case. I can tell him that Government Members should also be concerned about this matter. I am sure he agrees that it is perfectly possible to carry out Brexit—without incorporating the charter of fundamental rights, which I know is a subject of difficulty—while at the same time securing these rights through this perfectly sensible amendment.
I am grateful for that intervention. I would have thought that this is not controversial. The Prime Minister said that she did not want to reduce these rights, and we take her at her word, but if the Government convert them into a form in which they lose their protection, they make them vulnerable. I would have thought that any Government who want to change these rights would have the decency to do that through primary legislation so that this House can carry out the proper scrutiny process. It is very straightforward.
I now turn the charter of fundamental rights. Through the Bill, thousands of EU provisions are being converted into our law—only one is not being converted. All the others can be converted, changed, modified or brought into our law in some shape or form, but the charter apparently cannot be converted, and that is wrong in principle.
I am very interested in my right hon. and learned Friend’s point, particularly in relation to the charter of fundamental rights. Does he agree that amendment (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 3 —it talks about environmental principles, and potentially rights, being put into primary legislation—may leave us in the anomalous position of having more environmental rights after Brexit than social and civic rights? Is that not a disgrace?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. She makes the case very well and powerfully. As far as the charter is concerned—
I will make this point about the charter and then I will give way.
The charter has enabled the evolution of important rights, adding significantly to the fields of equality and non-discrimination, especially lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and the rights of children, workers and the elderly. As Liberty, Amnesty International and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have argued, excluding the charter from the Bill
“will lead to a significant weakening of the current system of human rights protection in the UK”.
Human rights develop over time. This country and the House have played long and distinguished roles in that development. Brexit should not be used to end that tradition or to reduce our human rights protection in the UK. We therefore call on right hon. and hon. Members across the House to vote for Lords amendments 4 and 11.
I shall now come on, briefly, to the environmental provisions. Lords amendment 3 seeks to maintain environmental principles and standards as we leave the EU. The amendment has our full support. The EU’s environmental principles are hard-wired into the treaties, and they underpin all its environmental policies and laws, which are then enforced by EU institutions and agencies. These environmental principles and the enforcement mechanisms that uphold them must be retained and replaced if Brexit is not to weaken protection for our natural environment.
I know that amendment (c) in lieu, tabled by Sir Oliver Letwin, is designed to address some of those concerns. If it is supported by the Government—I assume it will be—it will introduce some helpful developments in the Government’s policy, including proposals to enable the watchdog to initiate legal proceedings. However, it does not go far enough, so we urge Members to support Lords amendment 3.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with me that the amendment, as it stands, asks the Government not to act in accordance with the duty on them, but only to have regard to it, which is a much less stringent legal test? Does he also agree that while it creates the ability to initiate legal action, it does not provide a legal remedy or access to justice for UK citizens?
I agree with my hon. Friend, which is why I am saying it is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough on its own and more is needed.
I turn finally to the question of refugee family reunion. I am pleased that Lords amendment 24 is before us, and I pay tribute to Lord Dubs for his tireless campaign on this issue. Labour supports Lords amendment 24, which is long overdue. We recognise that some concern has been raised about the scope of family reunion that qualifies under the Government’s clause, and I would welcome any clarification from the Minister on that issue. However, in general, Labour will support the amendment.
In conclusion, the Lords amendments address crucial issues. Along with Labour’s single market amendment, they would be a huge step forward in improving the Bill and protecting jobs and rights. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will support them today.
It is a pleasure to rise in this debate to set out the Government’s stance on these important amendments. Keir Starmer was properly concerned about the effluxion of time. I share that concern; there is a lot to go over, and I will do my very best to cover all the amendments before us and, of course, to take interventions, as I always strive to do.
May I first echo the opening remarks made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who talked about the important role of the other place as a revising Chamber? There is no doubt that in some instances the other place has made some constructive improvements to the Bill, which the Government have every reason to support. However, on other matters, which were debated at length and agreed to by this elected House, the other place chose to ignore decisions that were taken here. Instead, we have a set of amendments that, I am afraid, are not properly thought through and would have a negative impact on our plan for a smooth and orderly exit.
We heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras that the Opposition do not accept Lords amendment 51, which seeks to make continued participation in the EEA a negotiating objective for the Government. Well, we are sure about his position, but we are not so sure about that of certain other Opposition Members. However, on this issue, we are certainly in broad agreement.
This country is party to the EEA agreement by virtue of its membership of the EU. After the implementation period ends, that agreement will no longer apply to the UK. Seeking to participate in the EEA agreement beyond that period does not pass our test—that our future partnership with the EU must respect the referendum result. It does not deliver the control over our laws, and indeed other aspects of our domestic policy, that we seek. On borders, it would mean that we would have to continue to accept all four freedoms of the single market, including the free movement of people.
May I just pick my hon. and learned Friend up on his point about law? We are signed up to thousands of treaties in international law that bind us, and including on international tribunals. Membership of the EEA does not require any direct effect of that law in this country, so I fail to see how, on that point, the Government can be right. It is perfectly plain that we can be a member of the EEA without any direct effect from the European Court of Justice.
I am sorry, but with respect to my right hon. and learned Friend, I do not agree. He knows that the EEA is a creation that came after what were the European Communities. As I will go on to explain, we have significant concerns about what will happen not just to the EEA as it stands now, but with the inevitable development of EU rules, which will mean that we have little say. The issue of being law takers rather than lawmakers is particularly important to me.
No, I will not give way.
I made that point during the long debates in the referendum campaign. As a dedicated and fervent remainer, I said that when we leave the EU, it means we leave the whole shebang—there is no cherry-picking when it comes to not only the attitude of the UK but, importantly, the position of our negotiating partners.
I entirely agree with the Solicitor General. Does he agree that a customs partnership—a customs union—is a non-negotiable nonsense that the EU thinks comes with all four freedoms? Will he further confirm that we have many fine industrial companies in this country, with complex supply chains operating just in time, importing components from non-EU countries?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to draw our attention to the wider world and the reality of trade in the United Kingdom. I absolutely understand the point about just-in-time supply, representing, as I proudly do, large motor manufacturing companies in Swindon. I get the point, which is why the Government’s policy to seek trade that is as frictionless as possible has been at the very heart of everything we have set out to do right from the beginning of the negotiations.
Representing a constituency that voted by a margin of almost seven to three to leave the EU, I am getting a little tired of hearing people who lost the referendum try to write the terms of our exit. To be totally clear on this, the Solicitor General is absolutely right that it was not just the issue of free movement that was of concern to my constituents and others in the north of England who voted in huge numbers to leave the European Union. There was also the issue of parliamentary sovereignty— being in control of our own laws. Therefore, I am afraid that being a rule taker has to be 100% out of the question on our exit.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about democracy. One of the complaints that was constantly levelled against our membership of the EU was the lack of democracy, and I am pretty sure that if we end up in the position of a rule taker, those arguments will only grow louder and longer.
Therein lies the problem with amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51, tabled by the Labour Front Benchers. What precisely does that amendment mean? Everybody should ponder that question, because I do not think that even they can answer it. The truth is that we are back to the old chestnut of access to the single market, and that in truth means subjection to the four freedoms.
During my time chairing the Internal Market Committee in the European Parliament, there were many occasions when Norwegian officials came to ask me to lay amendments to legislation on their behalf, particularly in areas such as offshore oil and gas and financial services. There were other sectors where their interests and our interests were more closely aligned with those of Europe, and alignment made sense. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the Government’s position of continuing close alignment on issues such as medicines, chemicals and aviation makes complete sense, but that having regulatory co-operation and dialogue in other areas also makes sense?
My hon. Friend speaks with considerable experience from her time in the European Parliament. I agree with the approach that she urges; that is, of course, the Government’s approach, and it is understood not just here but, importantly, by those with whom we negotiate. It is vital in these debates for us never to forget that we have to put ourselves in the shoes of our negotiating partners and to understand what they will accept, before we become too carried away with positions that quite frankly—I say this with respect to Members on the Labour Front Bench, and particularly to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras—just cannot be sustained.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for giving way. Does he accept that disrupting complex supply chains in the motor industry can lead to economic disaster, but when we disrupt complex supply chains in medicines, I am afraid it means that people will turn up at their pharmacy and the drug they need might not be available on the shelves? The public will never forgive us for that. I am really sick and tired of hearing some colleagues say that that those who “lost” the referendum have no right to have any say in the type of Brexit we have.
As my hon. Friend knows, I was one of the 48%, and I do not forget that. That means that I do listen to the voices of concern about the supply of important goods and life-saving medicines. That is the Government’s position. That is why we are striving to make sure that we achieve trade that is as frictionless as possible.
I have to say, I have never been given quite such a greeting for an intervention, but I am very grateful to the Solicitor General for giving way. Will he confirm that this is all about immigration? Immigration is the cold beating heart of his Brexit. What is he going to do about nations such as Scotland, which require immigration to keep our economies competitive?
Welcome back. The hon. Gentleman clearly does not know me very well when describes the Brexit that I and many other colleagues want to achieve as some sort of cold Brexit. We want to achieve the openness and willingness to trade that embodies the spirit of what it is to be British. That includes immigration that we can truly control in a way that the British people will accept. Frankly, although it is nice to see him back, I do not think I will be taking any more interventions from him.
I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. Since one of the Government’s objectives is to maintain membership of the European Medicines Agency, to which Dr Wollaston referred a moment ago, will he confirm that that will require the United Kingdom to abide by the rules of its operation and to accept judgments of the European Court in respect of its operation? If that is the case, has he not just confirmed that we are in fact going to be a rule taker?
The right hon. Gentleman, as ever, makes a pertinent point. [Interruption.] Well, I am being polite to the right hon. Gentleman, because I think that is what he deserves. I say to him that questions about participation in international institutions will be made on the basis of the United Kingdom being a third country and the status of the United Kingdom becoming somewhat different from that which it currently enjoys. The point is that the consent to such further international ties will lie here in Westminster. That answers the point that has been raised, quite properly, by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, on the signing of treaties and the fact that the United Kingdom has, on many occasions in its history, chosen to share the power it has enjoyed and participate as a full and vigorous member of the international community.
There is no need for a commotion. The Solicitor General is usually extremely felicitous of phrase. I think the word for which he was unsuccessfully groping was “long-standing”.
I ask that the record be corrected.
As my right hon. Friend knows, the White Paper published some months ago sets out the options the British Government have been looking at. Option 1 is the proposed new customs partnership, and option 2 is the streamlined customs arrangement. Currently, two ministerial groups are taking forward work on those models. We accept that the precise form of any new customs arrangements will of course have to be the subject of negotiation.
It is obvious, as we listen to the debate, that there is a real tower of Babel in this place in Members’ different views. I listened very carefully to my hon. and learned Friend yesterday, when he was replying to questions posed to him by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve. Is my hon. and learned Friend quite clear—this is a very serious and important question—that there is no way, given the complexity of the negotiations and the likely outcome, that the Government will allow the House of Commons, by a voteable resolution, to influence, unpack or defeat those negotiations?
Mr Speaker, I might risk straying into yesterday’s business, but I will briefly say that my hon. Friend knows that I have said repeatedly that we do not support or endorse the notion of this House mandating or directing the Government by resolution. We believe in full, vigorous democratic accountability, but that, frankly, is not the way that negotiations are conducted or treaties signed.
The shadow Secretary of State dealt with the question of Northern Ireland in some detail. We of course recognise the unique circumstances that apply to the border with the Republic of Ireland, and we have been consistent in our commitment to avoid a hard border. We believe that our joint report commitments can be fulfilled through the overall UK-EU future partnership, but it is necessary to ensure there is a backstop solution for the Northern Ireland border that avoids a hard border and protects the constitutional integrity of the UK internal market. No Prime Minister could ever sign up to the solution for Northern Ireland and Ireland that, I am afraid, the Commission has set out, because it threatens the constitutional and economic integrity of our United Kingdom. We are Unionists and we are proud to be so.
I am very grateful to the Solicitor General for his remarks. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s remark about no British Prime Minister being able to accept the EU version of the backstop was also what the shadow Secretary of State said, when he said that the Labour Front Benchers could not accept such a proposition. I welcome that. Yesterday’s amendments apply to the powers in the Bill itself. Having said that, nobody in Belfast, among all the parties in Northern Ireland, or in London or Dublin, is advocating a hard border in the island of Ireland. Our point has been that what is agreed must not come at the expense of a border down the Irish sea, or of hiving Northern Ireland off into a special set of rules. In terms of taking back control of our borders, laws and money, the EEA proposition is clearly defective. Does the Solicitor General therefore share my surprise that one of the parties in Northern Ireland that does not want a hard border is actually advocating that proposition, despite what the shadow Secretary of State has quite properly enunciated today?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am surprised that there can be that level of divergence on what is a most important point. He makes the vital assertion, which I think is right, that the important amendments considered yesterday, which were outlined very carefully, relate to the powers in the Bill and how the Bill will operate. Of course they are consistent with Government policy, and there is absolutely no question but that their terms are entirely consistent with what the British Government want to achieve. It is important to note, however, that they relate to the powers in the Bill: a correcting power, the withdrawal agreement power, consequential powers and transitional powers.
The issue of the border will apply to the length and breadth of our United Kingdom. I have no doubt about that. I think Nigel Dodds made the proper point that we do not want a hard border in the Irish sea between one part of our kingdom and another. That is a different point, I think, from the one made by Hywel Williams.
In the light of what the Solicitor General has just said in response to Nigel Dodds, and given that no one wants a hard border on the island of Ireland—the new IRA dissidents would become very active along the border, it would agitate Sinn Féin to campaign for a border poll and it would do the United Kingdom no good at all—may I urge him to tell the Prime Minister to stop using the phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal”?
I was with the hon. Lady until her last point. We need to make sure in these negotiations that the other side understand where we are coming from. When negotiating, one must negotiate hard, one must negotiate tough and one must negotiate in a way that advances the interests of the whole United Kingdom. She is absolutely right to talk about a border poll. I am not glib about that—I am far from complacent about what might happen. Both she and I understand that.
I am very clear: I do not want to see a hard border on the island of Ireland or down the Irish sea, not least because of the implications it would have for Welsh businesses and ports. Is the Solicitor General aware that Labour’s sister party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, which does not have a voice in the House at present, has made it very clear that it urges the House to support Lords amendment 51 because EEA membership allows the regulatory alignment that would enable us to avoid a very hard border?
I say to our friends and colleagues in the SDLP—I think in particular of Margaret Ritchie, the former Member for South Down, who, as we know, is rather unwell, and who was a dear friend and colleague prior to the election—that I must respectfully disagree with them on this issue. A commitment to the EEA is, I am afraid, a problem in the sense that I have outlined—it is a gateway to the four freedoms.
I want to deal with the issue of Liechtenstein and other countries. Liechtenstein has, of course, negotiated an immigration quota system, but it is a country of only 37,000 people. It is probably less than half the size of most of our constituencies. I do not see a permanent exemption on free movement being afforded to a country of the size of the United Kingdom, and that is why the intervention from Caroline Flint was so important. For all those reasons, we cannot accept amendment (a) or the original Lords amendment on the EEA.
One consequence of free movement is that we restrict unskilled migration to Europe. Is it not the case that if we no longer have free movement but have a single immigration system, unskilled migration will, by definition, have to be open to people from anywhere?
“To provide UK business with guarantees of full and equal access to the single market without equal acceptance of EU regulatory structures would require not so much a skilled negotiating team as a fairy godmother specialised in trade law.”
The hon. Gentleman is normally a great optimist and a man of sunny disposition who never lets anything get him down, least of all some of his local issues, which I know he has undeservedly suffered from in the past. He needs to have the courage to understand that in these negotiations there are interests on both sides—the UK and our friends in Europe—that must drive us towards the sort of arrangement or deal that will not only facilitate trade from our country to theirs but will protect, preserve and enhance the important business in goods and services that exists between us and other EU members.
One group that has made its position very clear is the North East England chamber of commerce, which represents 3,000 businesses in my region. It has said that the north-east is hugely reliant on the EU for global trade, that 62.3% of exports go to the EU and that remaining in the EEA will reduce barriers and give chamber members the best chance to make a success of Brexit. Should the Government not be listening to the creators of thousands of good jobs in my region?
Of course we are listening to the job creators—I have mentioned that in the context of my own constituency experience, which is not dissimilar to the hon. Lady’s—which is why we have committed ourselves to the most frictionless possible trade. That said, any deal will have to represent Britain’s position as a third country rather than a part of the EEA structure.
May I return the Solicitor General to what seems to have been the Opposition’s first admission that they are seeking a customs union that would not allow us to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU? They might be pessimistic about the way forward—they have quoted the CBI—but many people out there are saying that, provided we can negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU, the future is very bright. It is a vital point that Labour would let down the electorate by not allowing us to trade.
My hon. Friend is right to remind us of one of the key planks of the Government’s policy: that important freedom to negotiate free trade deals that comes from being in law a third country.
Not yet. I always enjoy interventions from the hon. Gentleman, who is a king of YouTube, but I will stop there—and perhaps draw a veil of charity over that.
On the customs union, I want to reiterate the commitment given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House last week that the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill will be brought back the House by mid-July at the latest, which will give all right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity to have the debate that I know they are itching to have on these important issues. I am sure that they will therefore forgive me if I move on to deal with the other important points the amendments raise.
I want to deal with amendment (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 3, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin and which we support, as I think I have already indicated to him. It enjoys support from many corners of the House, and I would commend it as a clear commitment to what is after all the Government’s policy. It respects the position their lordships took about the need for a report, and we urge the House to vote for it.
I had better not. I have to move on, I am afraid, and I have taken an intervention from my hon. Friend already.
I want to deal with the charter of fundamental rights, which was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras. We continue to strongly believe that it would not be right to retain rights of action based on incompatibility with the charter or the general principles of EU law after we have left. To keep these in our domestic law, as Lords amendments 5 and 53 seek, would undermine two crucial principles. First, it is not consistent with the proper restoration of parliamentary sovereignty if legislation, including primary legislation, can continue to be disapplied or quashed by the courts on the basis of elements of the EU legal system intrinsically linked to our membership and obligations.
I will deal right away with the comparison made with the Bill’s treatment of the principle of the supremacy of EU law. It is not a comparison that I accept. I would draw a clear distinction between the need to maintain, in a strictly limited sense, a rule that has been central to the hierarchy and interpretation of our statute book for over 40 years and the charter itself.
The latter document came into effect in 2009. It was expressly intended only to reaffirm rights that exist elsewhere, as protocol 30—signed up to by the United Kingdom and Poland—made clear. Suddenly to remove the principle of supremacy would have significant and unintended consequences and would be likely to result in a confused and incoherent statute book. It would merely introduce more uncertainty to the law’s meaning and effect.
Has my hon. and learned Friend not just highlighted the problem himself? Supremacy carries with it implications that the law, by its very nature, can override other laws. The reason why the general principles of EU law existed before they were incorporated in the charter was a wish to ensure in part that such laws could not apply abusively; yet we are keeping the supremacy and removing the mechanism by which the abuse can, in exceptional cases, by challenged. That seems a very strange thing for a country that wants to enhance its freedoms to do.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I have debated this matter before, and I do not want to repeat the issues that were raised then. Let me simply say to him that what we are doing is bringing back retained EU law, which will be an ever-dwindling body of law. It is not now the case that, as was feared by my hon. Friend Sir William Cash and others, the law will constantly expand and increase to fill the spaces. I think that certainty must trump other considerations here.
As I was saying, the charter is really a catalogue of rights, rather than something that is integral to the way in which the entire legal system functions. Those very points were made with considerable eloquence and persuasive force by many experienced and expert peers, not least a number of former Law Lords. I cannot put it better than Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, a former Justice of the Supreme Court, who strongly opposed what he called both the “constitutional incongruity” of keeping the charter when we leave the EU and the “striking vagueness” of many of its articles. Lord Brown argued that, if the amendment were passed,
“certainty and clarity…would be very far from advanced. This would be wonderful for the lawyers, but frankly, for few others.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 790, c. 1350.]
I entirely agree.
Those arguments were echoed by a considerable number of other Members of the other place from all sides, including Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Faulks, Lord Howarth of Newport—from the Labour Benches—Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice, Baroness Deech and, of course, the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Lord Mackay said:
“once we are out of the EU, surely the fundamental part of our constitution should be respected—that is, that the courts of Westminster Hall, as they were, and the courts of justice of our land have no jurisdiction to set aside Acts of Parliament.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 790, c. 1361.]
I wish that I could replicate Lord Mackay’s wonderful Scottish brogue, but I dare not do so in the presence of true Scots.
In the Exiting the European Union Committee, we heard that absolutely the opposite was also the case: that not retaining the charter would create a great many legal uncertainties. The position remains that if we are taking EU law into our law, the underpinning of that EU law—the charter—should be part of that as well.
I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I disagree with her. I think that the arguments in the Lords were very finely balanced. I am sure she has read parts of the Lords Hansard and will have noted the force of the arguments that were put against the position that she occupies—and, indeed, the view of the House of Commons when we dealt with this issue in Committee and on Report.
I was disappointed that the Lords were not even willing to consider our own significant amendment in respect of the general principles, which I will come on to. I understand fully the concerns that have been raised about the protection of rights. It is, of course, vital that as we leave the EU, we do not see any dilution of domestic protections for our rights and liberties. I do not, however, accept that these amendments are necessary to the realising of that aim.
The charter did not create any more rights. It reaffirmed the rights that were already recognised in EU law—the law being retained in the UK under the Bill. The charter applies to EU institutions and member states only when they are acting within the scope of EU law. It is not—I repeat, not—as broad a body of law as the European convention on human rights and should not be compared to it.
Article 26 of the charter concerns disability rights. Liberty and Amnesty International specifically say that it
“goes further than domestic laws and provides for specific measures to ensure the ‘independence, social and occupational integration and participation’ of disabled people in community life.”
That provision is stronger than domestic law. How will the Government ensure that it is protected?
The hon. Lady and I share an interest in—indeed, a passion for—the position of people with disabilities in this country. However, I think that that analysis is wrong: I do not think that article 26 enhances rights in the way that both she and I would understand. It does not give any extra domestic remedy to people with disabilities who might face discrimination or other injustices. I know that she is familiar with recent important Supreme Court decisions relating to benefits. We already have an important and vigorous domestic legal system whereby people who live with lifelong conditions or, indeed, other disabilities can challenge the authorities and seek redress of grievance.
With respect to the hon. Lady, I must press on.
I am concerned that some people—including no less than the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith—seem almost to be contradicting themselves 10 years on. Lord Goldsmith, who was the Attorney General, made his position absolutely clear to Parliament:
“The United Kingdom’s position, like my position, has always been that the charter affirms existing rights, it does not create any new justiciable rights in any member state and does not extend the power of the courts.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 702, c. 427.]
It was not the noble Lord but, I think, Keith Vaz who described the charter as having no more significance than a copy of The Beano. I simply ask: what has changed? For that reason, I do not accept that the rights contained in the charter will add anything to the rights of individuals in our country. Equally, I do not accept that rights saved by the Bill will not be justiciable if general principles challenges are excluded. Other sources of rights will continue to exist and operate in UK law.
None the less, we have listened to the concerns that have been raised, particularly in relation to accrued rights. We want to get the balance right. When we last debated the matter here, I agreed to a change that delayed the prohibition of certain rights of challenge on general principles grounds, when the cause of action arose before exit day, for three months after exit. This week, we tabled an amendment in lieu that goes considerably further. It delays that prohibition for three years, subject, of course, to the normal statutory limitation periods, which will continue to apply.
Having had a gentle dig at my hon. and learned Friend a moment ago, I now thank him, because I know that it was his personal intervention which at least secured that. It is a great improvement, and I think it will be greatly valued. It is likely to apply in very few cases, but it provides a higher level of support.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I have listened to representations from him and from other Conservative Members on the issue. I believe that we have now struck a reasonable and fair compromise between the concerns and arguments raised by Members in all parts of the House, and I urge Members to support the Government’s amendment.
It is the Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than that in which we found it. That is what we owe to our children and our grandchildren, and that is why the Prime Minister said in January:
“We will use the opportunity Brexit provides to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections—not to weaken them”.
The trouble is that there is a huge gulf between the lovely statements that the Environment Secretary has made and the reality of this amendment. Mary Creagh has already pointed to some of the criticisms of it, but there is also a major criticism that it only focuses on the role of central Government; it does not cover local authorities or arm’s length bodies, and moreover it seems to address only policies, not day-to-day activities. Those are two big problems.
The hon. Lady deals with the nub of the issue, and I shall address those particular points in turn. While she makes an important point about the reach of this provision, my main intention is to try and replicate what were general EU principles in the same way, to create the framework in domestic law that both she and I would embrace and which will allow the development of statutes here in Parliament and the policies that will I think in very large measure deal with the issues she is concerned with. [Interruption.] I am sorry that she is shaking her head; I am doing my very best and I will explain in further detail.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that we will bring forward an environmental principles and governance Bill in draft form in autumn of this year to deliver those proposals, with the introduction of a Bill early in the second Session of this Parliament. For this reason we warmly welcome the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin in lieu of the amendment tabled by Lord Krebs. Despite the good intentions behind Lords amendment 3, we cannot accept it. It would create legal uncertainty; it does not take into account that a significant proportion of environmental legislation and policy is devolved.
That is one of the issues I wanted to address directly to Caroline Lucas. As we have seen today, we have already had a number of tensions about devolution, and the Government therefore tread very carefully in the field of domestic law before expanding too widely upon policy areas that are rightly the province of Edinburgh, of Cardiff and indeed, when the Assembly sits, of Stormont.
Not at the moment.
Lords amendment 3 would create a risk-averse approach to the design of better and more effective environmental standards. For example, it would require the Government to extend the scope to all public authorities—the hon. Lady’s point. That goes much further than the European Commission, which can take action only against a member state, not individual public authorities within that state. The Government therefore have instead proposed that the body should focus on national Government, to retain that focus on the most significant national issues. The requirement of a direct duty in Lords amendment 3 to apply those environment principles listed in the amendment across a wide range of Government activities goes far beyond the way it works at EU level currently. Such a far-reaching duty does not exist anywhere in EU law, so instead of replicating and bringing down those principles, we are in danger of creating some intended consequences that would cause concern to Members across this House. However, we recognise that an early reassurance of our intentions is needed, and we therefore move to support the amendment in lieu.
I was tempted by their lordships’ amendment, but I do think we have managed to produce something that can satisfy everybody in this House, because, as my hon. and learned Friend has just said, there is subsequent legislation that we can build on. This is the framework; the principles will be in the Bill and we will be able to construct a national policy in the way that my hon. and learned Friend has just outlined.
My right hon. Friend is right. He was an outstanding Minister in the Department and I am grateful to him for his continued passion for the causes he represents so eloquently.
On that point of timing, there is a real problem, particularly if we end up with no deal, because then we would not have a watchdog and the principles in place fast enough; we would have a yawning governance gap. What measures is the hon. and learned Gentleman planning to put in place as a contingency in the event of no deal, and in particular will he look at having a shadow body, just as there was a shadow climate change committee, that would get up and running as soon as possible?
As I have said, the backstop is six months—no later than—rather than the full period, and in any event I can reassure the hon. Lady that the domestic framework of environmental law, which is, rightly, among the most stringent in the world, will continue to apply. What we are talking about here are the general principles of EU law, which will be replicated domestically; it is not about the directly effective remedies, very analogous to the position regarding disability, that I know she and others will be concerned about. So I have no doubt that those existing frameworks carry on, whether there is a deal or no deal.
Order. Before the Solicitor General does so, I gently remind him that he had indicated to me that he might speak for up to an hour, and if that his intention, so be it, but he will realise that he is now into the last quarter of that allocation. He is a very courteous and considerate fellow and would not want a situation to evolve in which significant numbers of hon. and right hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate were prevented from doing so on account of too lawyerly speeches, whose eloquence and erudition were equalled only by their length.
I call Mary Creagh.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I have almost forgotten my point now, but I will try to grab it back. The Solicitor General raised a couple of issues. The first is the applicability to local government. At present, all agencies of government have to act in accordance with the environmental principles. Can he confirm that that will be the case with the new body?
The Solicitor General also mentioned the issue of fines. At present the Government are taking action on air pollution only because of the threat of fines from the European Court of Justice. What remedy will citizens in this country have if the Government pollute with waste and water pollution after we leave the EU?
I am grateful to the Committee Chair and I reassure her that we are seeking to replicate the framework that currently exists. There is going to be legislation and the consultation is, of course, a vital part of that. I know that the hon. Lady will play a vigorous and active part in that. We can get this right and deal with many of the concerns and issues she so strongly puts forward, not only today, but on all occasions when she speaks on these matters.
Does the Solicitor General accept that with the new powers of Ministers to change things as appropriate they could reduce our air quality standards to below that required by the EU, and we would not have the institutional framework to fine the Government and enforce those standards even if they were lower?
No. That is not true, I am afraid. Perhaps I will be a bit more polite to the hon. Gentleman and say that he raises a proper concern, but I can reassure him that that is not the case, and it is certainly not the approach of this Government.
May I now deal with the issue of the protections?
No; may I develop this point?
This amendment will deliver robust protections. In particular, it acknowledges that there may be circumstances where the new environmental body should be able to take the Government to court; this is the important enforceability point. That power will be proportionate and appropriate, and used only as a provision of last resort, supplementing established processes including parliamentary scrutiny.
The amendment also requires that the Government list the environmental principles, such as the “polluter pays” principle and the precautionary principle, in the proposed draft Bill. The draft Bill and forthcoming policy statement will provide further details of how these principles will be interpreted and how they will apply. It will also set out that the principles should have an effect in the UK after we leave the EU that is equivalent to that before we leave. It will ensure that their primary focus will be on the formation of policy at a national level. In addition, the statutory policy statement will set out how, as at EU level now, the environmental principles will be considered in the context of the Government’s wider policy objectives. That includes the applicability of the principle of proportionality.
A policy statement will be presented here in Parliament for scrutiny before it comes into effect. As at EU level, the principles will also be considered in the context of wider objectives to ensure balanced decision making, meaning that Ministers of the Crown will also be required to give proper consideration to other important policy objectives, such as delivering a thriving economy and building the homes that people need, when making decisions. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset for tabling his amendment, and I urge hon. Members to support it.
I want to move on to the important issue of refugees—
Please forgive me, but I need to press on.
The Government recognise and share the strength of feeling in this House and beyond on the important matters of asylum and refugees, not least in relation to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I should be clear that what we are discussing here is the situation concerning asylum seekers—that is, people who have made an application for international protection and have not yet had their claim decided. That is entirely distinct from the equally important issue of refugees: people who have had their claims considered and been found to be in need of protection.
We as a country can be proud of the role that we have played in supporting children affected by the migration crisis. Since the start of 2010, we have granted more than 51,000 children resettlement, refugee status or alternative forms of protection. Our resettlement schemes have provided protection to more than 6,500 children. These are among the most vulnerable refugees, who the Government, with the UNHCR, have brought directly to the UK from conflict regions, together with their family members, so that they do not have to make appalling, perilous journeys to Europe, often in the hands of traffickers or smugglers.
I am pleased that the Government have decided to back the amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper, which mirrors the amendment that I tabled on Report to the extend the provisions on family members in accordance with the Dublin III regulations. Does the Solicitor General also realise that there is a further amendment here that the Government have not yet backed? It would ensure that children seeking asylum could be reunited with their brothers or sisters who might be under the age of 18, who might be their only surviving family members and who might be in good, stable, loving foster care in this country? Under the current terms, those children would not qualify. Surely it must be the intention of the Government to extend this?
In addition to providing protection through those schemes, we have taken a leading role in international efforts to address the root causes of the global crisis with our £2.46 billion of humanitarian aid in response to the Syrian conflict. We have also pledged £30 million to the Education Cannot Wait fund, to deliver better education to more than 4.5 million children in crisis regions. Leaving the EU will not change our international obligations under the UN convention on refugees and the European convention on human rights. We are absolutely clear that our co-operation with our EU partners on the important issue of asylum will be critical in order to ensure that those in need of international protection are able to access it effectively.
Before I address the substance of the amendment, I must remind hon. Members that we are dealing with the arrangements for negotiating a reciprocal agreement, so nothing in the Bill will directly confer leave to enter or remain in the UK. It is the basis on which we will enter negotiations with the EU, and nothing can be achieved unless and until we reach an agreement. It is the terms of the agreement itself, and if necessary its implementing legislation here, that will dictate who shall enter the UK and on what terms.
I want to place it clearly on record that this Government will seek a new reciprocal agreement with the EU to allow unaccompanied asylum-seeking children present in an EU member state to join close family members here in the UK, and vice versa, where it is in their best interests to do so. Any such agreement will be to allow an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child to reside with family members while their claim is being considered. That will not automatically confer long-term status here, or mean that that person will be granted refugee status. As with all claims, the UK will examine those claims in line with our international obligations and domestic rules and legislation—the due process that is such an important element of this.
Turning to Lords amendment 24, I know that Lord Dubs tabled this amendment with the very best of intentions, and I share the tributes that have been paid to him. However, we wish to ensure that the clause is phrased in such a way as to best enable the Government to deliver the intended outcome. We have a number of issues with the current drafting of the amendment, which is why we have proposed alternative wording.
First, as a consequence of leaving the EU, it is likely that we will no longer be a participating state in the Dublin III regulation. Indeed, the EU is currently finalising the negotiations on what will probably be the fourth iteration of the Dublin scheme. The clause as currently drafted would tie the UK into negotiating to maintain access to part of, but not all of, the current regulation, which would create uncertainty as to what would happen when the EU moved on to the fourth iteration. We remain absolutely committed to providing a safe, legal route for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to join close family members in the UK, but, with the greatest respect, setting up a negotiation that ties the UK to a specific outcome—specifically, one part of a regulation that is likely to be replaced soon—is not the way to do that. What we envisage with this amendment, and what we have committed to on numerous occasions, is to seek to establish a new, bespoke arrangement that safeguards our commitment to these children, while being distinct from what is after all an internal EU process.
Secondly, even if the Dublin regulation was not undergoing significant renegotiation, there is no capability within Dublin’s article 8 mechanism—which covers family connections—for it to be applied in isolation to a third country, as will be the UK’s status when we leave the EU. While the EFTA states do participate in the regulation, they do so in its entirety, rather than in the partial manner envisaged by the noble Lord’s amendment. When we leave the EU, it will be more sensible and far more effective to have a new relationship that deals specifically with these issues. It is no good trying to shoehorn us into the existing system.
Finally, the amendment as drafted implies that the UK Government must take further actions in addition to negotiation with EU, but it does not specify what these actions are. This House has a responsibility to pass legislation that is clear and unambiguous. We need to avoid costly litigation wherever possible and provide maximum legal certainty. I go on about legal certainty a lot, Mr Speaker, but as a Law Officer, I believe that it is very much at the heart of our constitutional obligations, and I make no apology for that.
For these reasons, the Government have tabled their amendment in lieu. We have listened to concerns in the other place, and we do not disagree with the substance of Lord Dubs’s amendment. Indeed, we have provided assurances in this House and in the other place that it will our priority in the negotiations to safeguard the rights of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and I am pleased to confirm that we will accept amendment (ii) to Lords amendment 24, tabled by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.
I welcome the Solicitor General’s acceptance of my amendment (ii). I also pay tribute to Lord Dubs for tabling the original amendment, and to my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee and to Members on both sides of the House who have pressed for this change. May I urge the Solicitor General again, however, to accept amendment (i) as well? I have a case involving a 12-year-old from Eritrea who was in an adult hostel in Italy and whose 17-year-old brother was in foster care here in Britain. The foster carers had said that they would take his 12-year-old sister as well, so I wrote to the Home Office. It accepted that, under the Dublin III arrangements, those two siblings should be reunited. They have been through all sorts of awful things that none of us would want our teenagers to go through. Under the Solicitor General’s current provisions, however, those teenagers would not be covered, so I urge him to accept amendment (i) as well.
I anticipated that the right hon. Lady would come back for more, and I quite understand the position that she and my hon. Friend Tim Loughton have put forward, but the key consideration here must be the best interests of the child. Bringing children to join underage relatives might well be in their best interests sometimes, but not always. It is highly unlikely that the relative would be able to provide care, and there is an issue about pressure on our domestic care system—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] No, no—we have to be careful to maintain the balance between the need to support families and allow family reunion, and unintentionally incentivising the sort of dangerous journeys that everyone in this House is extremely familiar with. That is why it is important to understand, as we approach the negotiations on the basis that is currently the requirement under the Dublin regulation, that extended family members—grandparents, aunts and uncles—will need to be able to demonstrate that they have adequate resources to care for the child effectively in order for a transfer to be made.
While I understand that the interests of the child should be at the heart of everything we do, this is just about a little piece of legal text to say that if it is in the best interests of the child, they should be able to join their sibling. For the limited number of cases that the Solicitor General is talking about, I can see no reason whatsoever why that would not be a kind, compassionate, logical thing to do.
The hon. Lady is kind and compassionate, and I think that all Members of the House are kind and compassionate people, but the interests of the child in our domestic law lie at the heart of the courts’ consideration. The paramountcy of the best interests of the child is what the Children Act 2004 is all about, and I have to apply that.
I respectfully disagree with the right hon. Lady. There is still an issue with the applicability of that particular amendment and with how it would mesh with our domestic law. We must not forget that such changes are not about the conferral of rights. The passage of such amendments does not confer direct rights upon people. This is about the Government’s negotiating position. [Interruption.] I cannot give way anymore, because I must bear in mind the Speaker’s strictures. I have gone a minute beyond the hour and still have more work to do.
Moving on to Lords amendment 4, one of the key principles of the Lancaster House speech and, indeed, the Government’s manifesto was to maintain and enhance workers’ rights—[Interruption.] I have been more than generous in giving way. I pride myself on giving way to Members from whichever corner of the House they may come, and I am sorry if hon. Members feel that I am being ungenerous, but I must respect time, too. That is why I want to press on.
The Bill deals in many places with the status of retained EU law, but much of our debate has turned on how that retained EU law is amended once we have left the EU, hence the core of the concerns about Lords amendment 4. The Government and Opposition are more united than divided here. We both clearly want to maintain the protections and rights that are established in EU law. Our amendments in the Lords have done this for EU regulations and for all the directly effective rights established in the treaties by making them akin to primary legislation—the highest protection we can possibly give in the UK system.
I cannot give way, because I really must press on.
We are committed to proper scrutiny and engagement with Parliament and the public on our corrections to EU law and future changes. In addition to all the changes we have already made to the Bill, there will be a presumption in favour of engagement or consultation where it is proportionate and sensible to do so. Of course, Departments will consult where there is a statutory duty to do so. Departments across Whitehall have already undertaken engagement or consultation with stakeholders for active discussions on areas where that has been proportionate and sensible, and that will only increase.
Most of those who have supported Lords amendment 4 are well intentioned, but some must have known that it would have hugely detrimental effects on how we could deliver a functioning statute book ahead of our exit and in the future. Instead of protecting the law in the crucial areas of employment, equality, health, consumer standards and environmental protection, it would weaken it. By calling this amendment “enhanced protection”, some are seeking to hide a great danger.
By limiting the changes that delegated powers could make to retained EU law relating to the specified policy areas to only those that are deemed technical, the amendment would fundamentally limit our ability to properly correct deficiencies. That risks dramatically increasing the amount of primary legislation that needs to be enacted ahead of our exit, putting more pressure on this place ahead of Brexit. Even the changes deemed to be “technical” enough to be achieved through delegated powers would still face a lengthy enhanced scrutiny process, which the Lords could force to be as long as the 18 months required for legislative and regulatory reform orders. In other words, our statute book could not be made ready for exit by
I note and understand the points made by my hon. and learned Friend, but the intention behind the amendment was not to create difficulty for the Government, but to find an easier way of providing enhanced protection for areas of law. That suggests that the Government should have come back with an amendment in lieu.
I hear my right hon. and learned Friend. Both he and I have had anxious discussions about the definitions within the amendment. We are seeking to allow protections to be carried forward through our existing framework, so that the sort of changes that need to be made can apply to a whole range of areas. Changes could relate to the trade in seal products—cruelty to seals—or to protecting people on offshore oil and gas installations from fire and explosions, which is in the working time regulations, or to the protection of the marine environment. We need that element of flexibility.
That is not a way of avoiding the procedures of the House; it is about making the law clear, certain and usable to protect all the different categories that we are dealing with. I am worried that we would be kneecapped, not just as a Government, but as a Parliament. There is a lot of work to be done ahead of Brexit, and we need to concentrate on what is fundamental and what will involve change. Lords amendment 4 fundamentally affects how we can do that, so we must oppose it.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union left the House in no doubt yesterday of the importance of this legislation. The Government listened in the other place and showed flexibility by tabling amendments that genuinely improved the Bill, but we rightly held firm on those areas where amendments proposed would have an adverse effect. I am somewhat downhearted that the House of Lords has not shown the same level of respect that we show to them and has sought to overturn decisions taken here on important issues relating to the protection of rights. I therefore ask the House to stand behind the Government tonight in ensuring that this legislation is fit for purpose, respects the referendum result, and respects the constitutional role of this House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] As you can tell, there is huge strength of feeling on this issue across the House of Commons, and that is right, because what happens here has a significant impact outside this place. That is why SNP Members will continue to make the case for our constituents in this place. This matters. We have a clear and coherent position on such issues, unlike the two biggest parties in this place. We know that the customs union is important to trade, that the single market is important to jobs, as the UK Government’s own analysis has demonstrated, and that the fundamental rights that we enjoy as European citizens are critical to our constituents. People deserve their voices to be heard well outside this place.
I have heard from Government Members that this is just procedural, that we should just roll over and that we should not have a voice in this particular debate. Well, that is not what we are here for. Even if we just left this to the Government, they are not making much of a job of persuading even their own MPs.
The hon. Gentleman and I share a friendship as members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I welcome him back to the Chamber. People watching these proceedings will have seen that the Minister took more than an hour to make the Government’s case.
We have to be here to represent our constituents, and Stephen Gethins will be as disappointed as I am that the Scottish National party had five questions at Prime Minister’s questions today that, incidentally, went to Government Members, because SNP Members had walked out and were not here to ask them.
Order. The House must calm down. I do not think the hon. Gentleman will be entirely surprised that his rising to his feet occasioned an immediate response from colleagues—he is a grown up and he can look after himself—but, that said, he must be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I remind Ian Murray that, in 1987, Scottish Labour Members marched out of this Chamber because they did not think the Government were taking Scotland’s interests seriously. It is remarkable: the Government have not changed in their attitude, but the Labour party certainly has. That is why there are so many fewer Labour MPs.
What my hon. Friend will see, as I see and the people of Scotland will observe right now, is representatives from Scotland being shouted down the minute they get to their feet to put the Scottish interest. It is no surprise and no wonder that the people of Scotland find all these unedifying scenes appalling and repellent. That is why we will continue to put the voice sof Scotland.
I will teach Members a lesson on the matter at hand, and maybe they will learn something. If the Government are proposing a very significant change that affects everybody—it affects generations to come much more than it affects anybody in this Chamber—which is what is happening with the EU withdrawal Bill, they should have the courage and the confidence to campaign on more than a blank sheet of paper, which was all the leave campaigners did. They should set out their arguments in a detailed White Paper, for example, and get experts together—maybe even some Nobel laureates—to discuss the key issues, perhaps in a fiscal commission working group. They should then look at the challenges we have, and bring politicians and practitioners together in, say, a sustainable growth commission. That is a sensible way of preparing.
We are in this situation now because two years—two years!—have passed since the EU referendum, but we still do not know what leave looks like. We still cannot get agreement from Government Members. I know that we are to blame the Prime Minister for all this, but I will briefly say something kind about her. Regardless of her failings, those who spent years arguing for leave have had their entire political careers to prepare for this moment, yet they did not lay the groundwork, which has led us into the mess that not just this place and the devolution settlement have been left in, but our economy has been left in, according to the Government’s own analysis.
I take the hon. Gentleman back to the question about immigration that Pete Wishart raised earlier. Perhaps this was in the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report but, when we have net migration to the United Kingdom of over 200,000 people, why are so few of them choosing to make their home in Scotland?
My constituency is rich in immigrants who make our community richer, and not just financially—we welcome them. The hostile environment created by the Government is an abomination that should shame us all.
From the very start—from before the 2015 general election—this has been nothing but an exercise in Conservative party management, and not a terribly successful one at that, yet we all pay the price. Farmers do not know whether they should plant their crops for next year—indeed, the National Farmers Union of Scotland has called for the UK to remain in the customs union. Young people do not know whether they will have the same opportunities that we had, with uncertainty about programmes such as Erasmus. Researchers do not know the kind of collaboration they will be able to rely on, but we all benefit from such collaboration.
Just this week I opened a conference at the University of St Andrews, where Professor Stephen Gillespie, Dr Wilber Sabiiti and Dr Derek Sloan are at the forefront of the international fight against tuberculosis—the conference was held using EU funding. We know that Brexit will be economically devastating—the Treasury has told us that. The Scottish Government have shown that every single Brexit scenario makes us worse off. The Fraser of Allander Institute has also reflected that Scotland is set to lose £8 billion over the rest of the decade.
Before we get catcalls from Government Members, I should say that FAI director Professor Graeme Roy says that the rest of the UK could be even harder hit. That is not something that we or others want to see. That means less cash for public services, and the situation is made worse by the Government’s other policies on immigration, with 2,500 doctors refused visas in the first five months of this year. It is a hostile environment. That is why the Lord Dubs amendment—it is being debated today—on the rights of unaccompanied minors and child refugees, the most vulnerable in society, is so important.
Scotland voted to remain, and we know that every Brexit scenario is damaging. That is why the Scottish Government proposed the compromise—the least worst option—of staying in the single market and the customs union. Last night, we had 19 minutes to discuss devolution in the context of legislation that will have the biggest impact on the devolution process since its establishment. That smacks of a lack of respect.
The 2017 general election gave all Members an opportunity. When the Prime Minister asked UK voters for their views on Brexit, they returned a hung Parliament. Only the SNP—and the Democratic Unionist party, to be fair—was returned in a majority of the seats in which we stood. But there should be an opportunity to reach out. Some of the SNP’s best policy achievements came during a period of minority Government between 2007 to 2011, when Scottish Government Ministers were required to work constructively with other parties and needed other parties to work constructively with them. No one got everything they wanted in that particular set of circumstances—I know that Jamie Stone was in that Parliament—but that is something that we can all learn from. [Interruption.] I hear chuntering from Government Members saying that we lost. Actually, the SNP gained an unprecedented majority having pursued those particular policies.
There has been a particular impact on Ireland—[Interruption.] Government Members would do well to listen to this. The Good Friday agreement has been undermined by Government Members, and right now, we should be listening to Ireland. The best friends anyone can have are honest and we all rely on critical friends. Frankly, right now the UK has no better friend than Ireland. In fact, the UK has benefited from Ireland being a full member state of the EU, as it would if Scotland was a full member state. I have heard so much about how canny the Commission is and how we cannot trust its negotiating position. No one is trying to pull the wool over Brexiteers’ eyes; it is just that they have come up against the brick wall of hard reality, and that is clear two years on.
All this comes at a time when politics in this place, as has been demonstrated today, could not be poorer. Notwithstanding some fine individuals whom I respect on both sides of the House, we have the most ineffective and incompetent Government in living memory, and they are let off the hook only because they are shadowed by the most ineffective Opposition most of us have ever known, and hopefully will ever know. We want Labour Members to be doing better and we rely on them to be doing better, but at just the time when we need an effective Opposition and Government, we have neither. Given the devastating impact that leaving the EU is having on jobs, the economy and those who have made the UK their home, the UK is on the cusp of becoming a failed state that does not represent its constituent parts and, for the first time ever, leaves the following generation worse off than the ones that came before it. One way or another, there is a better way to do this.
Mr Speaker, an English Member may restore some of the calm that has not accompanied the Scottish exchanges—thank you very much for calling me. I will try to be as brief as possible. We have a ridiculous situation thanks to the programme motion—we have about three hours left to cover amendments on a whole variety of different subjects that have all been lumped together. In the interests of time, I will confine myself to discussing the future trading arrangements of this country with Europe and the rest of the world, and the Government amendment seeking to get rid of the reference to “a customs union”. Obviously I will not follow all the Front-Bench spokesmen in being extremely generous in giving way. I apologise in advance, because I do not think I will give way much, if at all, because otherwise a large number of other Members will wind up speaking, as they did yesterday, with three-minute time limits and other absurdities that this House has inflicted on itself by accepting the programme motion.
I come to the issue that we are currently addressing most vigorously, although there are many, many more to come: our future trading and economic arrangements with the rest of Europe and the world. My views are well known, and I set them out in Committee. I wish to see absolutely no new barriers to trade and investment erected between ourselves and the rest of continental Europe. I do not think such barriers are necessary to fulfil Brexit. I certainly do not go along with some of the more extreme advocates, who seem to be positively relishing the idea that we should erect new barriers of all kinds between ourselves and 27 nation states on the continent, while having the most open and exotic free trade approach to the rest of the world, reducing barriers of every kind to other trading nations. In today’s globalised world and rule-based order, free trade is particularly essential to the British, and we have to minimise the damage that might otherwise be caused when we implement Brexit.
Let me deal briefly with the argument that is bound to be raised by some—“the moment you mention this, you are defying the referendum.” Again, I shall not repeat what I said yesterday, but I do not think the referendum remotely addressed the important subjects we are debating today; it was a yes/no question on a very broad-brush issue. I took part in a lot of debates up and down the country, doing one or two against Dan Hannan MEP, whom I know well. He is a difficult man to debate against. In my opinion, he is one of the most articulate and informed of the Brexiteer campaigners. I disagreed with him, but I got the clear impression that Dan Hannan was not against the single market and the customs union—that was not his view at all. None of that came through in the debate.
Unfortunately, the national media reporting of the referendum debate was pretty pathetic; it was all about Turks and how much money was going to go to the health service and so on. All this argument about trading arrangements was brought to a head only after the referendum, when the Prime Minister was induced by her then special adviser, Mr Timothy, to give the unfortunate speech at Lancaster House. Suddenly, new red lines were introduced: we were leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and rejecting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I will not go further on that, as I made the same point yesterday.
I do not remember any ordinary member of the public asking me anything during the campaign about the customs union and the single market. To this day, when I go to my constituency nobody is quizzing me about the customs union and the single market. Nobody is following these debates, except when there is reference to the fact that if we get this wrong, we could do immense damage to the livelihood and wellbeing of very many people. If we do get it wrong and unintentionally create borders to trade, we will make the prospects for future generations even more difficult. In this debate we have heard great vehemence about the customs union and “the single market” and how appalling they are, but the arguments used against them are very narrow.
The Prime Minister has been absolutely consistent for months. She does not say, “Oh, we’re against the single market”—and not surprisingly, because it was the Thatcher Government who created the whole institution in the first place. Although the Prime Minister is not a Thatcherite entirely, on economic policy she and I both believe in open, free markets. There is nothing undesirable about the single market arrangement, except that it allows the freedom of movement of labour. That is the only objection to it that most Conservative Brexiteers ever raised, unless they are of the hard-line head-banging variety, who go much further than that. That is the only objection that they have.
On the customs union, to which today’s amendments are most relevant, nobody says that there is anything wrong with it. Nobody says that it is undesirable that we currently have open borders. Presumably, they all accept that it is hugely beneficial to wide sectors of our economy. The only thing wrong with it is that we cannot do trade deals with the rest of the world. I would have thought that the debate should concentrate and focus on those two points.
No, because I have almost taken longer than I intended already.
Let us address freedom of movement. Personally, I do not have any hang-ups about freedom of movement—people coming to work here, contribute to the economy, provide skills that we do not have or do unskilled work that British people will not do—but it could be tightened up. People should not come here for benefits and so on, or hang around if they have lost their job. I am sure that we could start to negotiate on the basis of tightening that up.
If I start giving way, we will go back to where we were before.
Similarly, on trade deals with the rest of the world, if anybody can devise a method of trading with other countries on our own that is consistent with a sensible customs arrangement and better than the deals that we have now used very successfully for a long time—with our being the leading nation pushing for EU deals with the rest of the world—that is fine, but let us not accidentally drift into a position in which we are making absurd demands of the EU that mean our leaving not only the customs union and single market, but losing all the advantages that particularly the best and most competitive sectors of our economy have by way of their existing access to the European market.
Some people seem to think that we can have an altogether different and better type of trade deal with other parts of the world. Quite irrelevant statistics are misused to make the case, such as that growth is faster in the rest of the world than it is in Europe. It is an underlying truth that growth in emerging and developing markets, which was very poor until we got going with the rules-based order in the 1990s, is faster than that of developed countries such as our own, and it is always going to be faster. There is also the argument that there is more of the outside world than there is of Europe. That is indeed the case, but for the past 20 years in particular, the United Kingdom has been the most influential player in the European Union in insisting on the steady attempt to negotiate trade deals with the world in general, and the numbers keep growing.
On the British Government’s behalf, I was involved on the fringes of the constant efforts to get an EU deal with the US—the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It did not fail because there was something wicked about the EU; the fact is that, unfortunately, protectionist influences in America are very strong, and were even under the Obama Administration. One cannot get any response. I have been involved in all these things—I have talked about trading openings with India and Brazil, which are of course where the population is. It is absolutely absurd to think that there are no protectionist pressures in India and Brazil and that it is simply a question of our present Foreign Secretary walking in, with his bonhomie, and saying, “You will of course now throw your markets open to us”.
It is also absurd to argue that somehow this approach will produce deals with less damage to our sovereignty and fewer constraints. I do not understand those arguments. What is the nature of a treaty embodying a trade deal—or any other treaty, come to that? Both sides agree mutually binding obligations. They agree on tariffs, and remove them where they can. But what is far more important in trade with developed countries, such as the US—I personally think that the few tariffs left there could be abolished both ways with no disadvantage—is talking about regulatory alignment.
In the EU, we have achieved regulatory harmonisation. What one wants is mutual recognition. We agree to say, “We will abide by arrangements on regulatory standards, on which we both agree, and we, the British, will not change them in our House of Commons. We will not go back on them, and you won’t go back on them.” If we listen, again, to the more zealous Eurosceptics, they seem to think that the world will throw open its doors when we arrive saying, “We want a trade deal with you—open trade.” “Fine”, say the Australians. So we say, “The rules are that you agree to this, this and this, and you take this, and we take that.” But then we say, “Of course, we may change the rules—we may change the scope occasionally. We do not, of course, undertake to fetter ourselves by any lasting obligation to what we have agreed with you.”
There are no such deals. It is fanciful, as the Secretary of State for International Trade discovered when he went to America. He no doubt believed, as they all did just after the referendum, that the doors were about to be thrown open and that we would get a deal with the Trump Administration by Christmas. He found, as indeed I did in my dealings with America, that things are different. The current President is hopeless. He wants to reduce the amount that we and others export to America, and he wants to use force in what he says are easy-to-win trade wars to get us to open up more of our markets to exports from the United States in sensitive areas. That is what he is about.
What is a constant in America—it is also true in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, thinking of some of the bigger and easier markets—is that they are always anxious to have access to our market for their farmers. They produce food on an industrial scale to lower standards of animal welfare and food regulation than we have. President Trump will say, “We are going to sell you our beef and our chicken and some of our cereals on a bigger scale.” What will those countries want us to get rid of? They will want us to abandon the European regulations on animal welfare and food standards and take up theirs. It would cost us the European market if we did that, and we would have to have border guards everywhere because nobody would let us export to the rest of Europe or to Ireland, or be a route for, chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. Australia has hormone-treated beef; it is not just the Americans. I will not go on, because I think I have made my point.
People are of course dismissed any time they try to point out the consequences of our ignoring reality in the modern world and what might happen to our economy—to Scotland and the rest of the UK—if we accidentally put all kinds of new barriers in the way of our trade. Unfortunately, the public have been persuaded by the Eurosceptics to ignore the Bank of England, the Treasury, the CBI, chambers of commerce, and people from key sectors of the economy such as the car industry and pharmaceuticals. It is all scaremongering, apparently —so we are told.
Actually, I do not see how anybody can argue that erecting new barriers between ourselves and the biggest, richest international free trade market in the world can do anything other than make us poorer than we were. That is why I do not understand why the Government are resisting the not very strong or compelling Lords amendment 1, on customs union, at all. They are only being asked to report on what efforts they are making to get there, and I think they are going to have to make efforts to get there.
The amendments in lieu are an attempt to devoid substantial amendments of any meaning. I would not vote with the Government on the meaningful vote yesterday, because I could not see that any commitment had been given; nor could I see any argument against what was on the amendment paper. I was very worried, because I thought that some of my close hon. Friends and colleagues were going to be very angry when they discovered that they had been fobbed off with an agreement just to discuss the possibility of changing the provision. They may yet have the last laugh on me—I am getting to be a cynic in my old age—as this morning they appeared to be getting somewhere in getting a more substantial system put in place, but we have yet to see the Brexiteers mount their full counter-attack. I will wait and see.
I will come back to the subject of this particular debate, as you will want me to do, Mr Speaker. What is being offered as an amendment in lieu, to use the jargon, is pathetic and utterly meaningless. We could save a bit of public money by saving the paper involved in putting it in the amendment paper and printing it. That probably explains why the amendments in lieu have been tabled by an extraordinarily wide range of Conservative MPs. As well as the Secretary of State, the list includes my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan, my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg and so on. I know all these people and I do not believe that they agree on anything that has anything to do with the European Union, so what has induced them all to do this? I quite accept that there is a sense of deep loyalty to our party, which I assure the House I actually feel in every other way myself. I think that this is an excellent Government if it were not for their policy on leaving the European Union, but there we are.
What are we being asked to sign up to? The amendment says that it is “a customs arrangement”. Well, that covers anything. It is a phrase that the Prime Minister, for reasons that I have always understood, has slipped into several times because she cannot get the members of her Cabinet to agree on her using any other form of words. So for the time being she has been obliged to slip into talking about “a customs arrangement”. But that includes absolutely everything, from the kind of arrangements that would suit my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset to those that would suit my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, but everything in between as well. It is a bit of a waste of a statement, coming back to say what efforts they have made to reach that extremely amorphous destination. Of course, that takes us back to the root of the whole problem, which is trying to arrive at a border policy.
To end on a more optimistic note, I think that most of us have noticed that a most important stride was made yesterday, as I have said, with an amendment tabled by the Government that was described as the Irish amendment. It is part of dealing with the argument about the Belfast agreement, and actually embodies the Belfast agreement in law. It goes further by reinforcing what the Prime Minister has actually been saying for some time, if we have been listening to her—that we are going to have a customs union, in effect, in Ireland, because there is going to be nothing new and no checks on the border. We are, in effect, going to be in the single market as far as Ireland is concerned, because we are having regulatory alignment. We agreed that. I think that the Cabinet agreed it—although some of them do not seem to have noticed—not too long ago, back at the time of the draft withdrawal agreement, which the Government are now trying to finalise. I actually think that that is where we should go.
The Government are still talking about frictionless trade. Unfortunately, thanks to the rows there have been, the slogan is now “as frictionless as possible” trade, which no doubt cheers up the Foreign Secretary. The truth is that we will have to have genuinely frictionless trade through arrangements on customs and regulatory alignment that preserve the benefits of all this for Ireland. Actually, the one thing that I think every Member of the House agrees on is that we do not want new barriers down the Irish sea. Northern Ireland is part of the Union—I am as Unionist as anybody here—and we are not putting up new barriers between the mainland and Northern Ireland when we leave.
That means that what we all signed up to yesterday as a legal obligation on the Government actually applies to Holyhead, as was raised by Hywel Williams, to Dover and to the whole United Kingdom, and we would make better progress if we enabled the Government to be a little more open and to settle down to that process. Having wasted two years, we might even be able at least to begin the serious negotiations with the other member states of the European Union, because we have to persuade 27 other Governments, 27 other Parliaments and the European Parliament that we have come back to reality on the subject and are prepared, in our mutual interests, to accept open borders, customs alignment and regulatory alignment, and to trade in the modern world.
I was prepared to listen and go along with the idea of a customs partnership, which was meant to be a way of combining customs union with trade deals with other countries, if we can get them. The difficulty is that “customs union”, unlike “customs arrangement”, has a meaning. Put simply, it means that we have no tariffs or other barriers between us; we have a common barrier around the outside, of tariffs and customs procedures for things coming in. That is why, in principle, we cannot have deals with anybody else, because we cannot have each member state punching a hole in the barrier because it wants to have a trade deal with Brazil on different terms. That is why the sensible thing—it is what we have always done whenever I have been in government—would have been to encourage more EU activity to get deals for all 27 member states.
If the customs partnership—all this stuff about collecting different tariffs and refunding British businesses if theirs are lower—can be made to work, fine. I have my doubts about that. I think the “max fac” idea is utterly ridiculous, because it is incompatible with any open border, and it will not even be invented for some years anyway. I might welcome the backstop if I thought that the present system would continue for 10 years while Brexiteers search for the new technology, but I think that they are unlikely to go along with that too happily. Serious negotiations have to be on the basis that we have described, which for some reason the Government are trying to push away in the Bill with their so-called commitment to an absolutely amorphous customs arrangement.
As I said yesterday, in the present situation this House must give some signals, some messages and some steer. It is not only the Government but the country, businesses and our economy that need us to have a policy on exactly what our patterns of trade will be once, sadly, we have left the European Union, which I am afraid we are doomed to do.
Order. The last speech without a time limit—although I know that he will be sensitive to the demands of time—is from Hilary Benn.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Clarke. I shall also follow him in not taking interventions, because many Members wish to speak. I wish to talk about the EEA amendment tabled by our Front Benchers and the EEA amendment that came from the House of Lords, and to explain why I shall be voting for both.
Time is running out, not just in the debate this afternoon but for the country. For far too long over the past two years, we have wasted time with a lot of dreaming—dreaming about the easiest trade deal in history, dreaming about us holding all the cards and dreaming that we will get the exact same benefits. The moment when that finally came to an end was when the Prime Minister spoke at the Mansion House and admitted that it was not really going to be like that. This is the moment when we need to tell each other the truth: there are choices that we face; there are trade-offs that we have to accept; and there are decisions that need to be made, which is the point just made by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe.
If I may use an analogy, it seems to me that we have decided as a country to disembark from a liner in the middle of the ocean, and we have two basic choices: we can jump into the sea, which is what a hard no-deal Brexit would mean, or we can climb down into a lifeboat and decide where we are going. What are those in the Cabinet doing at the moment? They have spent two years arguing, first about how to create a deep and special lifeboat. They are trying to come up with a lifeboat that will not breach their red lines, and they have broken up into working groups, probably discussing the size, colour and shape of the lifeboat. The only thing that has not happened yet is a Minister getting up at the Dispatch Box and announcing that no lifeboat is better than a bad lifeboat. I tell you, Mr Speaker, it is not funny. The truth is that it is extremely serious indeed.
What does all of this mean? It means that we have not yet agreed as a country what we want for the future of the relationship. Not only is the promised White Paper now not going to appear until next month, but we learned this week that there will be a two-day away day in Chequers where the Cabinet tries to thrash things out. That means there will be one European Council left on
We are in a perilous place. Business is losing patience; we know that. The EU is frankly bewildered about what is going on in this country. The British people, to judge by the polls, think the whole thing is going very badly. Anna Soubry made the point really well—it is true—that in this place and outside, people have whispered conversations in which we say, “What on earth is going on?”
The consequences of getting this wrong for the country will be deeply damaging for our future and for the jobs, livelihoods and public services that depend upon our economic strength. That is what we are debating. There is so much at stake that it is frankly difficult to overstate it. Let me say it plainly: we have had enough of management in the party interest. What we desperately need now is leadership in the national interest.
That brings me to the EEA amendment and the question of our future relationship with our biggest, nearest and most important trading partner: the 27 countries of the EU. The truth is that on both sides of the House we are all debating, and sometimes disagreeing on, what kind of framework would be best. The Government now accept that we will be staying in a customs union and, in all likelihood, aligning with the rules of the single market for quite some time to come, because nothing has yet been agreed that can possibly replace the benefits we derive from both.
The same outcome will inevitably result from the proposed Northern Ireland backstop, although it is currently silent on the question of regulations and the internal market, which is why I described it last week as half a backstop. That omission will have to be remedied between now and the end of this month, because half a backstop will not do the business when it comes to getting the European Council to agree with it. And by the way, it is ludicrous to debate whether the backstop is time-limited, because the truth is terribly simple: the backstop will remain in place as long as necessary, until something else comes along that can replace it and achieve the same objective, which is maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I am afraid that was about politics, not about policy.
That is also true of the debate about maximum facilitation and the customs partnership, although both ideas strike many people as costly, bureaucratic, burdensome and reliant on technology that is not yet in operation. However, being a generous soul, let me say that even if the Cabinet, on its away day, manages to reach agreement on one or the other, and even if the EU negotiators said, “Okay, let’s give it a go”—I do not think there is any prospect of that whatsoever—we all know that neither of them could be put in place by December 2020. It is too late: too much time has been wasted. That is why the transition period, or a transition period, is going to have to be extended by one means or another, whether that is with the backstop or an agreement on a way forward. That is where we are heading by default, so the question is: what form should the next transition, from January 2021 onwards, take? This is where the EEA comes in, because that would be one way of doing it.
Let me turn to the amendment moved by my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer and Lords amendment 51 on the EEA. Both are about a future framework and the internal market, and the difference here—apart from the free movement issue, which I will say a word about in a moment—is really quite small, and I very much welcome what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend, who leads for the Opposition, about having an open mind. I will of course vote for his amendment, because who could argue with the notion of full access to the single market? If it is not successful, I will vote for the EEA amendment, because we need to keep our options open. To return to my analogy, it has the one great advantage that it at least looks like a lifeboat, and I have to say that the closer we get to October, the less inviting the cold sea appears to those thinking of jumping off the side of the ship.
I am the first to acknowledge that the EEA option is not perfect. I do not want us to be like Norway, and I am not arguing that we should have a deal like Norway’s. Apart from anything else, we want to remain in a customs union. As Michel Barnier repeated yesterday, it would be an option to have the EEA plus a customs union. Let us acknowledge that.
We should seek some changes to the way in which free movement currently operates. Some of those could be made within the current rules of the European Union, which we will be leaving. Others would involve discussion of the emergency brake, which is why my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper and I have tabled amendment (b), which refers to “safeguard measures”. The Exiting the European Union Committee, which I have the honour to chair, drew attention, in its report on the future UK-EU relationship, to the possibility of additional flexibility on free movement. We need to make sure that our agricultural and fish exports can continue to move freely.
I will not give way, because of the time.
Who knows whether the EEA option may turn out to be a temporary state, but as a potential starting point, with a customs union, it would provide a means of solving the Northern Ireland problem, keep goods flowing freely, ensure common standards, maintain the flow of data, protect employment and environmental rights and enable us to continue to co-operate in really important areas such as aviation, consumer safety, medicines and space research. Crucially, it would also gain us a place in the room when some future decisions are being taken. In the EEA, not all EU legislation has to be transposed, and there are consultation mechanisms and a separate court. When it comes to EU agencies, in many of which UK regulators have led the way, we could continue to influence what happens because we would be part of the conversation, even though we would not have a vote, which is not the case under the transition period that we will shortly be entering.
The EEA option would diminish in part—I acknowledge that it would do so only in part—the rule taker problem. However, given that we are leaving, I see no outcome in which the United Kingdom will be a rule maker. We will have to follow the rules of our biggest export market for goods and services because so much of our prosperity depends on doing so. I think the Solicitor General accepted that in his answer to my earlier question, although he tried to couch it—and I see the argument—in terms of us, as a free sovereign country, being able to choose to follow the rules of other people. Indeed we can, and the same is true of the European Court of Justice and any other part of the agreement that we may seek to reach.
EEA/EFTA is also something the Brexit Committee said could be an alternative, and I just want to read what we said in our fourth report:
“Should the negotiations on a deep and special partnership not prove successful, EFTA/EEA membership remains an alternative and would have the advantage of continuity of access for UK services. The EEA option is available off-the-shelf and could be negotiated relatively quickly.”
For me, the other attraction of the Lords amendment is that it uses the word “enables”, not the word “requires”, referring to an agreement
“which enables the United Kingdom to continue to participate in the European Economic Area after exit day.”
In other words, it gives us a choice. Now, that may not be the definitive answer, although I note that several right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches have tabled a similar amendment to the Trade Bill, which we will come to later in the summer. However, at the moment, when we are not entirely sure what options we have available to us, it would be very unwise to discard this amendment.
I finish by making two points. First, to those who say that this would mean Britain staying in the European Union, I repeat what I said yesterday: we are leaving the European Union, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe acknowledged, at the end of March next year—that is what the referendum decided. Secondly, however, is anyone seriously arguing that Iceland, which is an EEA member, is a member of the European Union? It is not. So the argument holds no strength at all.
To finish, I somehow suspect that the EEA amendment may not survive the vote later today, but their lordships may come back with something in its place, and I hope that next time there is a proposal before us all of us who know just how much is at stake—now, here—will have the chance to rally round.
Order. For a short period there will be a 10-minute limit, but I emphasise that it will be short. I call Mr Dominic Grieve.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall be brief, because I am endeavouring during the course of this afternoon to finalise agreement with the Government concerning matters we debated yesterday, so I have every incentive to be out of the Chamber. However, I would not wish to leave without pausing for a moment to deal with two issues—one of a rather more specific nature, and one of a wider nature, which has already been touched on by Hilary Benn and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke.
Let me start with the specific matter. We have had a very interesting debate during the passage of this Bill about what we do with retained EU law and human rights. We have felt our way through this, and at the end of his speech my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General made some sensible points about the difficulties around the charter of fundamental rights. I do accept that it sits uneasily with a situation in which we bring laws back to this country, although I highlighted to him the inconsistency of having retained EU law without having general principles potentially to override it, because it itself can override other of our domestic laws. That was the justification for it, and I regret that we are not going to keep it, but I welcome the fact that we are at least going to keep it for three years. To that extent, we have made a little progress; I am genuinely grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, and I will accept that.
That still, however, leaves amendment 4—that of Baroness Hayter in the other place—which sought to provide some enhanced protection for certain areas of EU law. These are areas of EU law that I think many Members of this House would recognise as being of special significance, including
“employment entitlements, rights and protection” and
“equality entitlements, rights and protection”— something that has featured more and more in our jurisprudence. In the recent case, for example, of Benkharbouche, a lady was discriminated against in an employment setting within an embassy and succeeded, by going to the Supreme Court, in setting aside our existing laws on diplomatic immunity, because they in fact went beyond what was required under the Vienna convention. Those are real areas of progress for our legal system.
Those things will be lost without the charter and the general principles. The worry is that, while I certainly do not think my right hon. and hon. Friends want to diminish areas of equality, employment, health and safety law or consumer standards—we have covered environmental protection, interestingly enough—they have given no protective status whatever to those areas. At some point, the House will have to come back to this and consider whether we should amend the Human Rights Act 1998, which we could do, to do this in a way compatible with our parliamentary tradition and our parliamentary sovereignty. Until we do that, they do not enjoy protection.
Baroness Hayter’s amendment would at least give them this protection: that they could be altered only by primary legislation or by subordinate legislation, which would have to be subject to an enhanced scrutiny procedure to be established by regulations made by the Secretary of State. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General will say that that is massively unwieldy, but actually it is not. All we need is to have a set of regulations that distinguish between technical amendments, which can go through just like that, or other amendments, which would have to be dealt with in a more enhanced form. The flexibility, therefore, is in fact there in the amendment and I do not think it is as unwieldy as the Government suggest. I am afraid that the truth is that, for reasons of their own, the Government just do not want to go down this road. We discussed and debated it at great length in Committee, and although we received delightful and repeated assurances that there was an understanding that these were areas of law that really matter, I am afraid that we did not succeed in getting any further.
I am afraid, because I do not like to have to rebel against the Government line, that I will vote for amendment 4 to retain those protections, when the Government seek to remove them. It is as simple as that. It is, perhaps, a gesture, but it is a gesture designed to put down a marker to say that we cannot ignore this issue for the future. We have pretty consistently ignored them, with the one great exception of what my hon. and learned Friend secured over the three years on the general principles. Respectfully, I will differ from the Government’s approach.
The second issue, which was touched on with great eloquence by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, concerns our future relationship structure with the EU, encapsulated in the EEA Lords amendment, the amendment tabled by those on the Labour Front Bench, and, to an extent, the amendment relating to the customs union or a customs union or a customs arrangement.
Mr Speaker, I do despair. I listen over and over again—every time I stand up in this place, I receive streams of emails—to angry people insisting that the sovereignty of this country is linked to the single issue of being free of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, free of any form of customs union, and free, above all, to keep people we do not like out. That is all very well, and of course one can do those things, but the first thing that completely ignores is the fact that we are subject to myriad international laws, which we observe to the letter—because we are a rule-of-law state—quite cheerfully, and which greatly enhance our commerce, peace and security. We do it all the time because that is the way the world works in a globalised environment, but we have got ourselves so angry and so fixated that we cannot see the wood for the trees anymore.
The consequence of that, which I thought was beautifully put by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, is that we are careering off trying to do a deal on leaving the EU which entirely ignores the reality of the relationship we have. We have been discussing Ireland’s role. We have dealt with the Irish border issue very well and I am pleased with that. I hesitate to say this here, but I remember once going to Dublin and a very nice Irish economist with the Irish Government said, “Of course, we may not like it here, but the reality is that the subzone we operate in is the British economic zone and it dictates how we operate.” That is of course why we have a common travel area. Similarly, we are—for all our 65 million people, being the fifth largest economy in the world and all the other things we like to trot out, and our pride in our nation state—part of the European economic zone. That is where we trade and where our commerce goes, and although I would love it if we could enhance it, trade elsewhere and encourage the EU to trade elsewhere, that will never be a substitute for where we are.
I have a lot of sympathy with the points that my right hon. and learned Friend is making, and indeed those that Hilary Benn made earlier about the EMA, but will he not agree that the purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the continuity of the law at the moment? We have a Trade and a customs Bill coming after the summit. Is that not where these issues should substantively be addressed? In my view, these are mischievous amendments dealing with substantive issues with which I have a lot of sympathy, but this is the wrong Bill to give effect to them.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I understand it—it is a feature of this place that we sometimes debate and vote on issues that are peripheral to the main point—but there comes a point when one has to stand up and be counted. If it is not this week, it has to be next week, and the truth is I am really anxious for my constituents and anxious about our general direction of travel. I respect the decision in the referendum, but we are closing off options as to how we conduct future relationships, in ways that are utterly damaging to ourselves. In a sense, some of our debates yesterday, and the negotiation I am going to conduct—successfully, I hope—in a moment, are all linked to these fixations, and the consequences for us are really damaging. Yes, of course, the EEA amendment is rather flawed, but it has the merit, unlike Labour’s “motherhood and apple pie” amendment, which I cannot possibly support because it is motherhood and apple pie, of at least having some bite, and today is the day I shall be voting for it.
I will start with Lords amendment 24 and the point I raised when the Solicitor General was speaking. This is not a remain or a leave issue. This is not a party political issue. He will have heard the support from both sides of the House for simply continuing with the family reunion arrangements for child refugees that we have right now. I am unable to put my amendment to the vote, because of Standing Orders and the ludicrous programme motion, but I think if I did it would command majority support across the House. It would help a very small number of some of the most vulnerable child refugees, so I urge the Minister to look again at that amendment, simply to continue with the existing arrangements. Whatever arguments we have on both sides of the House about Brexit structures and options, surely we should be able to come together with a humanitarian agreement not to allow Brexit to turn the clock back on this vital help for child refugees.
May I just record that some of us who voted leave joined my right hon. Friend on this point? We have always had a good policy. We know, in looking after these children, that there will always be abuses, but they are far outweighed by the importance of looking after the most vulnerable.
My right hon. Friend is right. There is agreement across leave and remain, and I hope that this is an issue that can unite the House and that the Government will reconsider.
Last Thursday, I was in Berlin discussing Brexit with a German Government Minister, and he asked me what I thought the Government would do next on customs and trade. It was hard enough to talk about—would it be max fac, buffer zones, double-hatted regulations, backstops, front-stops, any possible customs arrangement or partnership, and so on? What was even more embarrassing, however, was that, even as we were speaking, I had to admit that I did not know whether by the end of the meeting the Brexit Secretary would still be in place—he was in and out of No. 10, apparently about to resign—and the Foreign Secretary was promising meltdown and telling us all, “Don’t panic!”. We are embarrassing ourselves across the world with this “Dad’s Army” version of Brexit. We are in danger of turning ourselves into a national joke by not facing up to the real issues.
The Government say they do not agree with the Lords amendments on the customs union and the EEA, but we still do not know what they want instead. As others have said, the new customs arrangements amendment is a further fudge that just kicks the can down the road again, even though the road is running out.
Ministers should accept that, although they have been wrestling with this issue and with each other for 18 months, none of their customs options works, either for Northern Ireland or, crucially, for manufacturing industry, which is the spine of our economy. The technological max fac will not be ready for years; it does not solve the problem of rules of origin checks, nor can it avoid camera infrastructure at the Northern Ireland border. It will leave businesses with what Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs now says could be a £20 billion annual bill for the bureaucracy involved in explaining where all the ingredients and components come from in a fully integrated supply chain.
The customs partnership is both bureaucratic and incomprehensible. Only a customs union will give manufacturers the deal that they need. Manufacturing towns across Britain voted to come out, not to lose out. This week, Yorkshire and the Humber CBI and TUC joined local businesses and representatives—both leave and remain—to argue for a customs union as the best deal for Yorkshire manufacturing. Moreover, only a customs union will even give us a chance of addressing the issue of the Northern Irish border. We are the custodians of a peace that was hard won, not by us but by so many others who came before us. We must not be the ones who carelessly throw it away.
Let me now say something about the single market, because we have not yet debated it properly in the House. I will refer to various Lords amendments, and to both amendment (a) and amendment (b), tabled by my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn.
At the heart of the single market is the concept of the level playing field, enabling businesses to compete on equal terms, giving workers proper rights so that they are not undercut, and protecting environmental and health and safety standards. I understand why the hardest of free marketeers will oppose that. It is also the case that people voted to be outside a political union, and outside membership of the EU. However, I still believe that there is a majority across the country and across the House—and there would probably be a majority in the Government if individual Ministers were allowed to be honest about the issue—in favour of a close economic relationship, even from outside the EU. That means some version of single market participation: not just access but participation, or as close to it as we can get in the negotiations.
Some Members on both sides of the House have concluded that they cannot support either the EEA or any single market model, because they believe that we need immigration reform and because of the European Commission’s response that the four freedoms must be indivisible. I understand that position. For many years, as well as calling for more support for refugees, I have called for reform of free movement, even from within the EU. While I believe that immigration is crucially important to our future, I also continue to believe that change is needed. I believe, for example, that we need to tackle the problem of some employers’ use of free movement as a reserve pool of low-skilled labour to undercut terms and conditions; and we need reforms to rebuild consent and consensus around the immigration system. However, instead of turning that into a reason to rule out trying to get as close as we can to full participation in the single market, we should be having a serious debate about what the real options and objectives for our country might be, and the difficult choices and trade-offs that might be involved.
Our Select Committee, the Home Affairs Committee, is trying to do that. It is looking into immigration and trade options and trade-offs. It concerns me greatly that so far we have had nothing from the Government in that respect, although immigration was one of the central issues debated at that time of the referendum.
Yesterday the Committee heard about a range of immigration options that might be compatible with single market participation in some form or other. We heard about safeguarding measures, including emergency brakes under article 112 of the EEA agreement; permanent safeguarding measures and caps negotiated by Liechtenstein; the current measures negotiated by Switzerland, with requirements to advertise jobs locally first; the previous immigration caps operated by Switzerland in 2012 and 2013, based on its 1999 negotiation; the separate arrangements for Ukraine as part of its association agreement with the EU; new options for emergency brakes or safeguards, put forward by Professor Ambühl, himself a former Swiss Foreign Secretary; the registration scheme operated in Belgium; the benefits regime proposed by Germany; reforms on posted workers proposed by France; reforms on agency workers; and labour market measures from Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, and even Germany and France that prevent undercutting.
I am not today advocating any particular measures, because our Select Committee inquiry is still under way. Nor am I claiming that each and any of them is either the answer to British challenges or achievable in negotiation, and I do not pretend that any of them will give any one of us exactly what we want, but compromises are going to be needed, and the point is that those with some of the most experience of negotiating on free movement in Europe told us yesterday that they think these options could potentially be part of a single market deal. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central, the Chair of Brexit Committee, and I have tabled our amendment which adds “appropriate safeguard measures” to the EEA amendment to make it clear that the Government’s objectives can and should include both a close single market relationship and immigration reform.
Let me turn now to whether the EEA is the right option or the best model. From the evidence we heard yesterday, it is clear that the EEA as it stands is not the ideal arrangement for Britain, that it would be better to have our own version, and that there are real challenges that have to be addressed on future rule taking. especially on services. But we may have more flexibility, as witnesses recommended to us yesterday, in a bespoke arrangement as Switzerland has, or an association agreement as the European Parliament has suggested. However, this will draw on, and have parallels with, much of the existing EEA regime. I also do not think we should be ruling out the EEA as the backstop, especially if the future partnership takes longer to resolve. It would prevent us from crashing out not just in 2019 but in 2021, without a new deal in place. We accept that we need a backstop for Northern Ireland, but we should be looking at a backstop more widely for all the other issues as well.
I accept that we are not heading towards consent or consensus on this today, however. This reminds me a bit of a 2003 debate we had on reform of the House of Lords. There was an overwhelming majority in favour of reform of the House of Lords, but seven options were put to Parliament and everybody voted in different ways on different ones, and none of them got through, and we have had no reform of the House of Lords since then. That is similar to the situation we are in now, and we are going to have to work harder if we are going to reach consensus among those of us who believe in a close economic relationship and come up with something that can pull us together rather than divide us. I accept that people are interpreting this amendment from the Lords in different ways—either as the objective or as the backstop, as I think it should be—but if we are going to make progress we must work at achieving consensus.
My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer the shadow spokesperson on Brexit has asked us to abstain. This is a difficult decision for me, and I feel very uncomfortable in doing so. However, in the interests of getting that consensus at the next stage when something comes back from the Lords or when we get to the Trade Bill, I will do as he asks today, although I have huge sympathy with those who will choose to do differently. But I ask my Front-Bench team in return to look very seriously at this issue of the backstop, because this is crucial and the clock is ticking. The Government keep kicking the can down the road; we cannot all keep kicking it down the road as well. We cannot carry on like this; we have a responsibility.
Order. I am afraid that, on account of the level of interest in the debate, the time limit on Back-Bench speeches will be reduced to six minutes with immediate effect.
I shall try to be brief, Mr Speaker.
I want to touch on three amendments. The first relates to the customs union or customs agreement. Since the referendum, I have always said that I am not wedded to the customs union. I do not care what it is called as long as we achieve something close to what we have today: frictionless trade, a borderless barrier and free trade with the EU. I do not care whether it is a partnership or an agreement—I really do not care. However, I take great comfort that, when we couple that with yesterday’s successful amendment on Northern Ireland, which we have already spoken about today, that is the ultimate backstop. A commitment to avoid a hard border in Ireland, given that there appear to be no solutions to the technology issues whatsoever, tells me that somehow in all this we will come through with a customs agreement, union or partnership.
I think that the Bill is in better shape than when it was first drafted. We now have in the Bill—potentially after today—a customs union or agreement, and we have no hard border in Northern Ireland. I am therefore fairly happy with the direction of travel; we are finally starting to get there. We also have the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill coming back next month, so let us see how the Prime Minister gets on at the end of the month, because there will undoubtedly be more opportunities to debate that—and many Conservative Members will not shy away from doing so if we need to, because frankly we cannot deliver the Good Friday agreement and ensure that there is no hard border in Northern Ireland without a customs agreement or partnership.
Staying on the customs theme, Lords amendment 51 deals with negotiating continued access to the EEA. I see that, plus joining EFTA, as a sensible lifeboat. It is far inferior to the bespoke customs arrangement that I know the Prime Minister is determined to seek, but if she does not achieve that, we will need this as a plan B. I have already put my name to an amendment to the Trade Bill relating to the EEA, and it is fair to say that I will be keeping my name there and abstaining today to draw a line in the sand to signify that we should not throw this option out. We need to keep every possible option on the table, because I for one am not prepared to plunge into the sea with no lifeboat whatsoever. The majority of Members, and of the British public, do not want to leave the EU with no deal and no lifeboat. That would be absolute economic suicide. The EEA-EFTA option is not my first preference, but it is a possible plan B, so we would be absolute fools to write it off. Let us see where we are with the Trade Bill and find out how the June Council goes, because this could be the lifeboat that we should all grasp with both hands.
Finally, I want to speak briefly to Lords amendment 24—the Dubs amendment. I am pleased that the Government have come a long way on this, thanks in large part to the leadership of Lord Dubs and to the amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper. Enshrining in law the inclusion of aunts and uncles in the definition of family members that child refugees can come to is huge, and no one could be prouder than I of what we have achieved as a country in relation to Syria and the region. We have provided unparalleled financial support and taken in large numbers of refugees, and the fact that we are prepared to take on the Dublin regulation, which we would otherwise have lost when we left the EU, is massive.
I cannot begin to imagine the hell and trauma that those children and families have gone through, but I can imagine that family is everything, so I still do not understand the Government’s position on amendment (i) to Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 24, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford. Will the Solicitor General look at that again? Why can we not extend the provision to siblings under the age of 18? It would affect so few children, but it would be the final piece of the jigsaw with the Dubs amendment. This is a question of competent government and legislation. When we can legislate for the smallest detail, it can have a real effect on individual people’s lives. The amendment is now near-perfect, and I urge the Solicitor General and the Government to look at this again. In relation to EEA-EFTA, we will have the Trade Bill coming back, and in relation to this question, we will have the immigration Bill, so if we do not succeed today, let there be no doubt that Members on both sides of the House will again push hard to achieve this aim. For me, this is the important missing piece of the jigsaw. One small tweak could make a tremendous difference, and I urge the Government to look at this again.
I want to speak to Lords amendment 51 and the amendment to it tabled by those on my own Front Bench. These amendments focus on our future trading and economic relationships, and our aims on this side of the House are clear. We want to secure frictionless trade with the EU, and we do not want to see new barriers or a race to the bottom on workers’ rights, environmental standards or consumer rights, and nor do we want a hard border in Northern Ireland. How can we achieve those aims? My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer has already said that we are committed to a customs union but, as he also said, a customs union on its own will not achieve those aims. In modern trade, we need to do more than just get rid of tariffs; we need to ensure that multinational supply chains and crucial manufacturing industries—including the automotive and aerospace industries that are so crucial to the west midlands—are not affected by other, non-tariff barriers.
Crucially, 80% of our economy is accounted for by services—we are a country whose economy is dominated by services—and those are governed by common rules and regulations, not by tariffs. In the west midlands alone, service industries account for £93 billion a year of GDP and 74% of our local economy. In the north-west, services account for 75% of the economy and £125 billion. When it comes to trade, we sell over £100 billion of services to the EU every year at a surplus. It is essential to have an agreement that covers both manufacturing and services. The bottom line is that any serious Government party or any Opposition party that aspires to government must care as much about the creation of wealth as about its fair distribution. That is why these questions are so central.
Turning to the significant features of the EEA, the first one—this is not a facetious point—is that that agreement exists. It has been in operation for more than 20 years. We have seen countless forms of words from both Front-Bench teams about the “exact same benefits” and other laudable things but, whatever their merits, they do not currently exist. The idea of taking off the table the only existing model of full participation in the single market while not being a member of the European Union would be unwise and rash. The EEA covers both goods and services, as well as workers’ rights and consumer rights. I ask hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, whether we would rather have those workers’ rights enshrined in an international treaty, or entrusted to the tender care of the members of the European Research Group, who have railed against European regulations for years.
Let me turn to one or two of the common objections to the EEA agreement. On the rule-taker objection, it is of course true that non-EU members do not have as full a say as those who are members, but as we voted to leave the EU, we voted to leave our seat at the table where many such rules are decided. That is not intrinsic to the EEA agreement; it is intrinsic to the decision to leave the EU, and that applies not just to the EEA. As an example of rule taking, look at what the Government are about to do. Next March, we will engage in a transition period during which we will have to abide by the whole acquis without any say, and all the talk of transitions and backstops have been about that. The Government’s decision and the timetable that they have put in place for next year will form the biggest voluntary surrender of national sovereignty in modern European history. That is rule taking.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be extremely irresponsible of any Government to exclude options that could ultimately lead us away from long-term economic decline?
I agree. It is irresponsible to exclude options—that is what I am saying.
The second big objection to the EEA agreement is that there is a customs border between Norway and Sweden, but that exists because those nations have chosen not to be in a customs union. It is our policy to be in a customs union. It is not a matter of irreversible legal necessity; it is a matter of choice. Michel Barnier said just two months ago:
“It was the UK’s decision to leave the EU, but it is not obliged to leave the single market and the customs union because it is leaving the EU.”
As my hon. Friend Owen Smith said, Michel Barnier confirmed yesterday that it is open to us to be in both the EEA and the customs union. If Members are against the EEA, they should be against it because of content, but they should not be against it due to spurious arguments about having to choose between the customs union and the EEA. That is not the case.
The situation in Northern Ireland cannot be dealt with purely by being in a customs union, because it requires regulatory convergence on goods and services that are exported. That fact is clear to our sister party, the Social Democratic and Labour party—sadly it is no longer represented in this House—which wrote to us last night with a heartfelt plea to keep the EEA option available and to vote in favour of Lords amendment 51.
I cannot give way anymore because so many Members want to speak.
I know that there is a great deal of working-class disaffection behind the Brexit vote, and that people want action on migration and free movement. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras read out a list of things we can address, and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke about others in his speech last week. There are things that we can do, and we need to address working-class discontent, but we do not take the first step in doing so by voting for a path of making our country poorer, and of not generating the wealth required for the public services, regeneration, housing, and the better chance in life that our working-class communities need.
Before speaking in support of Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendments 1 and 2, to which I have put my name, I will briefly touch on the issue of immigration, which has been mentioned a number of times, particularly by the Scottish nationalists.
My education was very international. I did not return to start my education in this country until the age of 11. I suggest to those who say that Brexiteers tend to be anti-immigration that what many of us want is an immigration system that no longer discriminates against the rest of the world outside the EU. We are getting a little tired of the line that, somehow, we are anti-immigration. We want a controlled immigration policy, but we also want a fair immigration policy.
I suggest to Opposition Members that a controlled immigration policy—one that is fair to all and that no longer discriminates against any particular region—would actually help the wages of many in this country, because wages are a simple function of demand and supply. If we introduce a system of controlled and fair immigration, as Lord Rose admitted just prior to the referendum when questioned by the Treasury Committee, wages would rise faster but big business may not like it. Labour would be well advised to bear thought on that issue.
In addressing Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendments 1 and 2, I will focus on the nature of the negotiations themselves. We have discovered today from Keir Starmer that the price that Labour is prepared to pay to be part of a customs union or the customs union is to sacrifice the right to negotiate trade deals with other countries outside the EU. That came from the Labour Front-Bench spokesman, and I hope that Ministers take that on board, because it is an important deviation from what the Labour party promised at the last general election.
Putting the referendum to one side for a moment, the Labour party’s manifesto actually said that we will be leaving the customs union and the single market. Labour seems to have conveniently forgotten that point, and we must drill that home because Labour is betraying its core support by ignoring what it put in the manifesto on which it stood at the last general election. We should also remember that 85% of those who voted at the general election—the 43% or 44% we got, and the 41% the Labour party got—actually supported that policy.
On the business of tying the Government’s hands in the negotiations, those who have conducted any form of negotiation will understand that that makes for worse outcomes. There is no getting away from that point. It also flies in the face of precedent. It is an accepted practice that Governments negotiate treaties, as was the case at the time of the European Communities Act 1972, and with the Lisbon treaty, the Nice treaty and so on. I do not remember any argument that Parliament should undertake negotiations on those treaties being made by people who today are arguing that Parliament should dictate the Government’s course of action in international negotiations. There is an absolute contradiction on that policy.
We often hear those who campaign on this issue, or who challenge the Government’s position, quoting the EU or Michel Barnier as though their words are gospel. What they should remember is that we are party to a negotiation. What is said publicly in a negotiation does not always translate to reality in the negotiation itself, so I do not think that we should take at face value this talk of, “Oh, Michel Barnier said that and therefore it must be true.” Let us have a bit more questioning, particularly when a negotiation is being undertaken. All too often, the remarks of the EU and Michel Barnier are taken at face value, and that is wrong. It is all part of a negotiation.
Finally, turning to the amendments, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke—we agree on many things, but not necessarily on European matters—was absolutely right that this is a pragmatic compromise. A customs arrangement can cover all manner of different scenarios, and we will undoubtedly revisit this topic at a later stage, notably with the Trade Bill. A Bill concerning how the law will apply post-Brexit is not best suited for a discussion of our future trade arrangements. He is absolutely right that it is meant to get us to that stage. This is a pragmatic compromise so that we can do that and then discuss these issues in more detail when the time comes. I therefore urge all Members to support the amendments.
I rise to speak to my amendment (e) in lieu of Lords amendment 3. If we want world-leading environmental protections, we need a world-leading environmental watchdog. Today, we awoke to warnings that one fifth of Britain’s wild mammals, our beloved wildcats, hedgehogs and water voles, are at high risk of extinction within the next 10 years. The EU’s role in monitoring, updating and enforcing environmental law will be lost after exit day. The Environment Secretary’s proposed watchdog does not backfill those functions, and it has no teeth. It has three major gaps: an enforcement gap, a climate change gap and a citizen gap.
First, the watchdog has an enforcement gap, because it cannot start legal proceedings and issue fines, unlike the European Court of Justice, whose threat of fines is the only thing to have galvanised Government action on air quality. Amendment (c), tabled by Sir Oliver Letwin, would give it the ability to start legal proceedings against the Government but is silent on the remedy to be applied.
Secondly, there is a climate change gap. The Committee on Climate Change warned that its omission from the watchdog’s remit
“would be artificial and potentially create problems”.
The Committee on Climate Change will hold the Government to account on the Climate Change Act 2008, but there will be no enforcement of our other climate change obligations. Who monitors progress towards our legally binding targets under the EU’s renewable energy directive? What happens to our EU emissions reduction targets? Will there be a gap if we leave the EU’s emissions trading system? Amendment (c) does not address that.
Thirdly, there is a citizen gap, because the watchdog does not provide access to environmental justice for UK citizens, who at present can go to the European Commission when there is a breach of environmental law. They can petition their Member of the European Parliament, who can then ask the Commission to investigate, and ultimately, the European Court of Justice to issue fines. There is nothing in the Government’s proposals or amendment (c) on that, so there are three gaps.
I turn to the environmental principles, which have cleaned up our rivers and beaches and reduced our reliance on landfill and dirty, polluting industry over the last 40 years. Under the Bill as introduced, they would be lost after exit day. Amendment (c) puts the principles back in the Bill—although a very important one, the principle of non-regression, is missing—but the Government would only have to “have regard to” them, rather than act “in accordance with” them. That is a much less stringent legal requirement, thereby creating the legal uncertainty that the Solicitor General said at the Dispatch Box he wished to avoid. It does not mention local government and public bodies, only national Government, and it is silent on how the body’s independence from Government will be guaranteed and how it will be protected from the fate of Thomas à Becket if it is too effective, after the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government abolished the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Sustainable Development Commission in 2011. Previous Governments have form on abolishing environmental watchdogs whose criticisms of Government are a little too uncomfortable and tart. We do not want to set something up only for a future Government to shut it down.
My amendment (e) in lieu would close those gaps with a watchdog with the scope, remit, powers, independence and money to do the job. It would deal with all environmental law, including climate change, and be charged with enforcing environmental principles and advising on how to embed them in policy making. It would cover all public authorities, including local councils and arm’s length bodies, and it would order public authorities to comply with the law. If they did not, it could apply for an injunction or issue fines. It would give citizens the ability to raise complaints against the Government without the expense of a judicial review, and it would respond to requests from this House to investigate failures to implement environmental law. It would have the form and funding necessary to do the job, protected from Ministers who might want to muzzle it in the future.
The Environmental Audit Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, warned a year ago that one third of EU law cannot be cut and pasted into UK law, and that we would be left with zombie legislation, no longer monitored, updated or enforced—and so it came to pass. Amendment (c) is a valiant attempt, but, after the Government’s attempts at cakeism and cherry-picking, there is a dangerous, new and highly addictive food on the parliamentary scene—fudge. We saw how long yesterday’s fudge lasted. It was delicious at the time and did the job, but was inclined to leave the children bickering on the back seat of the car about who got the biggest piece just one hour later. The Environment Secretary said that the environment needs to be protected from the “unscrupulous, unprincipled or careless”. I wonder who he meant. His proposals will not do that, and amendment (c) will not do that, so I urge the Government to accept amendment (e).
It is great to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Yesterday’s was very entertaining and we did make a piece of fudge, and I am pleased to say that my side of the House got the biggest piece—I just want to put things beyond any doubt. Of course it was a fudge, because a lot of this is about compromise. Today’s debate is perhaps less entertaining, because we are debating far more serious issues to do with our economy, jobs and human rights.
I wish briefly to inject a slight note of reality into the debate and perhaps allow my constituents to contribute to it. I was emailed the other day by a small manufacturer based in my constituency on the subject of how it exports to the European Union. Some 60% of its manufactured goods, with an average price of about £150, go to countries in the EU. It told me that it was not necessarily worried about customs charges, but it is very worried about customs delays. Its customers in Germany and France know that if they order from this firm they get their goods in two or three days. Nevertheless, the costs are real. Its product costs 40% more for Norwegian customers than for Swedish customers, and 50% more for Swiss customers than for German customers. This company sends out 30,000 parcels a month. It is a great British employer, but the punchline is that its new distribution centre is going to be based in the EU, because of the 15% costs that are going to be added to its business by our decision to leave. The reason it has to compete is that its competitors are based not in the United States, Norway or Switzerland, but in Germany, France and Italy, and Brexit has given them an immediate advantage.
That is the reality of what we are talking about. We hear a lot of bluster. Whenever people who urge caution or realism about Brexit stand up, they are told to be optimistic and, indeed, patriotic. One prominent member of the Government compared Brexit to Y2K, which was an issue when, 18 years ago, double-digit computers were switching from the 20th century to the 21st. Apparently, Y2K was a ridiculous scare story and absolutely nothing happened. [Interruption.] This was the millennium bug; sorry, I am so old that I call it Y2K. A constituent emailed me to say that it is true that nothing happened with the millennium bug, but that was because, as he pointed out, thousands of people—he was one of them—delivered millions of lines of code, planned for it for five years and implemented the changes for two years, giving up their nights and weekends. The message to Government Front Benchers—perhaps the Foreign Secretary—is that changes of this nature are complex and difficult, and they take time and require planning. That is why the amendments we are debating are important and why a spirit of compromise and pragmatism must be injected into the debate.
To a certain extent, I am on repeat mode: I always like to have a bit about free trade deals in my Brexit speeches. We have already heard one speech saying that the EU is absolutely rubbish at free trade deals, but if we look at the large trading blocks’ free trade deals, I think it compares pretty well. It certainly compares well at the moment with the United States, which has come out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is bitterly renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. The United States does not have a free trade deal with India or China, so we cannot really castigate the EU. The EU has free trade deals lined up with Japan and Singapore. Indeed, as the trade envoy to Vietnam, my instruction from the Department for International Trade is to secure a trade deal between the EU and Vietnam so that we can piggyback off the back of it.
As I have always said, trade deals are not easy to negotiate, but the EU can hold its head up high. We are often told that the EU holds back developing nations; it does have trade deals with developing nations and encourages them, but it quite rightly expects some give and take—for example, high labour standards, so that there is not unfair competition—and perhaps to have a voice in those countries on issues such as human rights.
I am not a dyed-in-the-wool Euro-fanatic, and I echo what my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke said when he cited Dan Hannan, because we all know that as a pragmatic Brexiteer, Dan Hannan has said repeatedly that we should try to stay in certain elements of the single market—that is in black and white. The ideology has to be stopped, and we have to look at things. That is not to say that the EU itself cannot reform. It should take Brexit as a signal of how it should be more flexible, and its legally based approach to the negotiations is unhelpful. Although I appreciate the irony of the Brexiteers who campaigned against Galileo now saying that we should have our own Galileo, for me it is an example of European Union inflexibly. The amendments are important, and I shall continue to listen to the debate. I look forward to further developments.
I rise to speak in support of Lords amendments 1 and 51 on the customs union and the EEA. To be clear, I regard Brexit as rather like the hay fever from which I am currently suffering: it is consistently horrendous and there is very little that can mitigate the appalling effects. But I am absolutely clear that if we are to leave the European Union, the least worst option is for us to continue to participate in those two entities. All the evidence shows that, and many British businesses support it.
The arguments for the customs union have been well made by the Opposition Front Benchers, so I shall concentrate on the EEA. It is not the perfect model—I have never claimed otherwise—but it should be the starting point of any discussion if we say, as both main parties do, that we seek in any deal the exact same benefits as the single market. As has been said, the EU is clear—Michel Barnier said it yesterday—that we can be part of the customs union and the EEA. It is true that we would no longer have a vote on EEA rules at the EU Council; rather, we would be a rule shaper that served on the committees that draw up those rules.
Let us be honest, though: none of that really goes to the heart of where most concern about the EEA lies, which is with immigration and the continuation of some form of freedom of movement. Those are the big issues—the two elephants in the room. I am the son of an immigrant and I represent a constituency in which the majority of families are of an immigrant background, but I acknowledge that many of the communities that the Labour party represents are the opposite.
There is concern about immigration out there; we cannot duck it and we cannot ignore it. If we are honest, views are just as strong, if not stronger, in relation to non-EU immigration as they are in relation to EU immigration. There are parallels between the discontent in some of our traditional seats about EU immigration now and the discontent that there was about the Commonwealth immigration in the 1960s of which my late father was a part. There was, after all, a form of free movement from the Commonwealth until 1971, and there is now, of course, a form of EU free movement and would be if we were in the EEA. I do not deny, and I have never denied, that immigration can pose challenges, both economic and cultural, to communities, but it need not be that way if we implement the right policies.
As has been said, our former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has put forward a six-point package to address some of the concerns and better manage immigration, which includes acting to prevent the undercutting of wages by immigrants; removing newcomers after nine months if they fail to find a job; and putting in place a bigger fund to help mitigate the impact of migration on local communities. However, we need to do far more to help immigrants to integrate into their local communities, to speak English, to learn about the culture and so on. My father was so successful at that that he married an English woman and had mixed-heritage children.
My father does not speak perfect English, but I do not know what more integration he could have done when one of his sons is a Member of the British Parliament. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in all this talk of immigration, we should be very moderate in how we reflect on it? Immigration has been of enormous benefit to the United Kingdom, when his own family and succeeding generations came to this country. Does he agree that British citizens living in Italy and elsewhere also need to be thought of?
Let me encourage colleagues, please, to make brief interventions. There is very, very, very little time.
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman.
All the things I was talking about can be implemented now to better manage migration while we are part of the EEA, and I support them, but what are the real underlying causes of concern here? Not enough decent affordable housing; a shortage of school places; an NHS in crisis; and not enough well-paid and decent jobs. Let us not pretend that all these problems will disappear or be mitigated if we cease participating in the EEA. As hon. Members have said, they will get worse, because there will be less revenue going to the Exchequer to pay for those things.
Those underlying problems are no more the fault of European immigrants now than they were the fault of the Commonwealth citizens who came here in the 1960s and 1970s. Let us make no mistake: people in traditional Labour voting areas were saying exactly the same things about the Windrush generation, about south Asian immigration, and about the likes of my father from west Africa being the cause of our problems way back then, as they do now in respect of EU citizens. Curbing Commonwealth immigration then and ending EU free movement now did not and will not solve these problems, and we know it. That is why Labour Governments have always addressed those problems by properly funding the NHS, by having a national minimum wage, by investing in our schools and so on. That is why I will vote for the amendment tabled by my party’s Front-Bench team, and also for Lords amendment 2.
A colleague came up to me in the Tea Room yesterday. She represents a seat in the north-west and, to my surprise, she told me that she would also be voting for the Lords EEA amendment. I asked her how come she was doing that. Despite the issues and the challenges that I know that she and many of my colleagues have to deal with in respect of that issue, which I do not have to deal with in my own constituency, she said, “Yes, there are big concerns about immigration, certainly compared with your area, Chuka, but the bottom line is that we have nothing like the amount of immigration from the EU or from outside the EU as you do in your constituency. I know that the cause of our problems is not that immigration, so I will not go around saying that I agree with any claim that that is the case, because I know what that will do. It won’t help us deal with any of these problems, but what it will do is deprive people of jobs.” That is why I say to my Labour colleagues that we should not ignore this issue of immigration, but let us deal with the problems and underlying causes in a Labour way. That is what our history dictates.
First, let me put this in context. As hon. Members know, I have been in the European Parliament for many years and witnessed many intense times in European negotiations, including the negotiations on the banking crisis and the eurozone crisis. It is utterly normal that all the discussions intensify and accelerate and that new ideas come forward, as the European Council meeting gets closer. That is to be expected; it is normal.
On Second Reading, I made it clear that I thought the Bill was far from perfect and that it would require many amendments. Many amendments have been made, both in this place and in other place. We should not be scared of the need to make amendments because this is legislation of a kind that has never happened before. I have been very glad to add my name to the amendments on environmental protections, which is a very important issue for many of my constituents, who write to me saying that they want to ensure that we keep a long-term focus on protecting the world’s environment.
I am very glad that the amendments to Lords amendment 25 were passed last night on the issue of Northern Ireland and respecting the Good Friday agreement. It is absolutely fundamental that we hold the United Kingdom together, but that we also respect our international agreements. Passing that amendment on the Good Friday agreement and Northern Ireland is key to finding a solution to customs, because ensuring that our border with Northern Ireland is truly frictionless and that that truly frictionless arrangement works for the whole UK is key to finding a long-term solution.
On that basis, I am prepared to accept the amendments in lieu of Lords amendment 1 and 2 on customs union that have been tabled today. The amendments call for further work, because this is not the last time that the issue will come back to this House. I am expecting the Government to deliver a truly frictionless border—one that does not just take the friction from the border and put it back in the warehouse and one that does not mean that companies in Britain or Europe have to face silly bureaucracy with rules of origin. That is the type of detail that manufacturers asked me to secure, and that is what I expect the Government to fight and negotiate for. If we do not see it here, we will put it in the customs Bill.
On the EEA and Norway, I wish it was as easy as colleagues say to stay in the EEA, but I remember Norway’s Minister of Finance flying to out to meet me in Brussels to ask me to table amendments for Norway. We could not be left in a situation where our Chancellor has to go and ask a French MEP to do that on his behalf. We have to find a bespoke solution. It is fine to be a rule taker in areas where our issues are aligned, but we cannot have it everywhere. I understand the calls from those who say, “Let’s try and find a lifeboat now, because no deal is not a good deal,” but we need to let the Prime Minister go into this round and negotiate, and she is right to fight for a bespoke deal.
The debate on the meaningful vote last night was meaningful. In my eight years of experience in Europe, I saw again and again that a first vote was needed to make a statement, but it was often not actually the final vote. We often need a second chance to have a vote, and that is what we bought with the compromises last night. It was a fudge, but it was a very important and meaningful one.
Hilary Benn used an analogy about the ship approaching the iceberg. He seemed to suggest that there are only two options: jumping off the side into the freezing cold water or taking to the life raft. There is indeed a third option, which is consulting the passengers about whether they would like to change the direction of the ship to avoid the iceberg in the first place. I hope that that is eventually what this country will do.
Keir Starmer criticised the Government for adopting the European Research Group-inspired red lines. We have heard from the Minister that, for instance, the EEA does not pass our test. Well, that is the Government’s test. I cannot remember it being a test on
Neither do I think that Labour’s amendment—another huge dollop of fudge—will withstand the heat of the kitchen. I hope that at some point Labour will be able to explain how the UK can have full access to the internal market of the European Union with no new impediments to trade and common rights. Well, good luck with that. I think that is completely unachievable, and that it would be intellectually dishonest for anyone to support it today. Labour cannot have its cake and eat it, any more than the Government can, in relation to our departure from the EU.
The logical conclusion of many of the speeches we have heard today, by sensible Government Ministers and Labour Front Benchers, is that we should stay in the customs union and the EEA or, even better, stay in the customs union and the single market. Why not go the whole hog and simply stay in the European Union? Instead, we have this bizarre situation in which the Prime Minister, when I asked her earlier today whether there was any damage that Brexit could inflict that would cause her to change direction, is unable to say “No, there isn’t.” She said that she is committed to doing this, even though she, who was a remainer—many Government Members were remainers—knows that it will cause huge damage. That is something for which they will be held to account in future, as will Labour Front Benchers, who in many respects are equally complicit in delivering Brexit.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to go into any depth on the other amendments. We will be supporting Lords amendment 5, on the charter of fundamental rights; amendment (e) in lieu of Lords amendment 3, which is about environmental principles; and the family reunion proposal, which is amendment (i) to proposed amendment (a) to Lords amendment 24, because I am afraid the Minister gave no explanation at all why he would not support it.
In conclusion, the whole process for scrutinising these amendments brings shame on the House, and I hope that the much-maligned House of Lords will be able to do a much better job and that it will have much more time for scrutiny than we have been allowed in this Chamber.
One thing that my constituents in Dover and Deal were absolutely clear about when they decided to vote by a large majority to leave the European Union was the need to take back control of our borders and to end uncontrolled EU immigration—to end free movement. It is not just in my constituency; it is regions across the country, including Labour leave areas, which I know feel the same way. It should therefore be a red line for this House to ensure that, whatever happens, free movement comes to an end, because our constituents up and down the land have been very clear about that.
We must also ensure that we take the full opportunities that leaving the European Union will afford this country. That is why we need to leave the customs union and why we cannot stay in the EEA. The truth is that 90% of future economic growth in this world of ours will come from outside the European Union. In recent decades, the share of global GDP represented by Europe has halved, from about a third to just about 15%. Europe is in relative decline. We do not have to go that way ourselves. We can jump forward to explore, trade and participate in the fast-growing areas of the planet. I am not saying that it will be easy, but it is an instruction that has been given to us by our constituents and by this nation. What is more, when it comes to trade in goods, it is important to remember that the European Union sells us £100 billion more goods than we sell to it. It is therefore in its interests to ensure that there is frictionless trade, more so than it is in our interests.
We need to ensure that we are fully prepared for every eventuality and every single kind of deal that we might do. That is why I am making the case that we need to modernise our systems. We have needed to modernise them for years, so it is no-regrets spending. We should modernise them because the border is no longer as it was in the 1950s, where we checked every lorry; the border is a tax point. With the systems in place that technology now enables, trusted traders could be required to account for their loads and we could ensure that there was no need for any checks at the border whatsoever. That includes Northern Ireland.
Those who are opposed to us leaving the European Union like to cite Northern Ireland, but the truth is that we do not need any infrastructure or any checks at the border. We can have frictionless trade through the border, with audits in workplaces and computer systems that ensure there are proper audits. Singapore has such a single-window system in place, and countries around the world have such systems. We need to take advantage of that, because that is the kind of future we can make, and that is why I have been making the case for that investment to be made.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Has he read the report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee? Members of that Committee went all around the world and could not find anywhere where there was the frictionless trade of which he speaks. They include a number of leavers, but they came to that conclusion. He has to face up to that reality and tell us how he will to deliver the borders of which he speaks.
That is exactly why I have been setting out the case for how we can use technology and these sorts of system, with a trusted traders scheme, and how we can build on the WTO’s trade facilitation agreement, to which the European Union has signed up. We should be making this investment—we should have been making this investment many years ago.
On either side of the Irish border, excise duties are different, VAT is different and the currency is different, and we have had a common travel area since 1923. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no need to have friction with trade if we have a free trade agreement?
My hon. Friend makes the perfect case, and it is the case I have made in a report in which I set out how we can achieve that and manage it positively. We need to use technology and to engage with European member states across the water. After all, customs arrangements and the accounting of customs are not done by Brussels; they are bilateral. We can have bilateral discussions with the French and with the Belgians at the port of Zeebrugge. We must realise that there is no need to have a search point at the border and that the border is a tax point. That is the essential point, and it is the same in Northern Ireland.
That is why I am personally confident that we can and should invest in this. That means investing properly in the road infrastructure on the way to the channel ports and investing properly in computer systems. It means investing in systems to ensure that checks can be carried out away from the border. It is no-regrets spending, and that is why the Government should be making that investment now, not waiting for whatever the deal is to do it.
Since the referendum, the debate has often been polarised in this place and outside it between hard-line Brexiteers who feel that we can walk away without a deal and walk off a cliff edge, and hard-line remainers who do not accept the result of the referendum and want to find whatever way possible to stay in the EU. That is why I am not supporting Lords amendment 51. The essential choice for Parliament is whether we accept the outcome of the referendum and the article 50 process and agree that the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019, or whether we seek to subvert that process. Perhaps the Norway option—the European economic area—suits that purpose.
The EEA agreement helped three small countries that could not persuade their people to adopt EU membership and that accepted having no say in return for single market membership. They accepted the role of rule takers, not rule makers, with second-class membership of the European Union. Much has been said about Michel Barnier saying this morning that he will give us membership of the EEA plus the customs union. Of course he would—he would bite off the Prime Minister’s hand for that deal, because apart from leaving without any deal, it is the worst deal for the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Lady says, “Shame!” I am afraid to say that it is that sort of contribution to this debate that is so unhelpful and divisive, because we have to reach consensus on the way ahead. I believe that we have to be as close as possible to the single market and that there should be a customs arrangement. Importantly, however, I recognise that there is an issue of immigration, which has been overlooked for at least 15 years, since we first let in the A8 countries. I am afraid that the right hon. Lady she does not reflect that on behalf of her constituents.
May I say to my right hon. Friend that, although she and I may disagree, she is making an excellent speech? She is right about the tone of this debate: it must be done properly.
I thank my hon. Friend. There will be a point, when we leave the European Union, at which Opposition Members will have to work out what our policies are for the challenges ahead for our country, and I know that on those areas we will come together.
There is no precedent for a country the size of the UK leaving the European Union. It is new ground and demands a new relationship, but that should not be a replication of Norway’s. The terms of EEA membership clearly do not allow the sort of changes to freedom of movement that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have suggested. The only provision affecting migration is the Liechtenstein solution, which is a temporary brake on immigration in the event of an economic crisis. That was a provision for a country with a population half the size of that of my constituency of Don Valley. This is not an adequate response to the public concern about the lack of control the UK has had over EU migration since 2004.
I say to my hon. Friend Chuka Umunna that many people from the black and minority ethnic community voted leave and are also concerned about free movement. To move forward, we cannot just cobble together ideas as in the EEA amendment. There has to be an end to freedom of movement, just as my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer has suggested, and after that we can decide what sort of migration we want in the future.
Those of my constituents who voted leave have been insulted, day in and day out, by comments made in the place and outside. They are not against all migration, but they want a sense that we can turn the tap on and off when we choose to do so. They also want us to answer the questions: “Why hasn’t Britain got the workforce it needs, why has social mobility stopped, why do we train fewer doctors than Holland or Ireland, and why are these jobs dominated by those in the middle and upper classes so we don’t get a look in?”
I will be voting for the Labour amendment, because although it is not perfect, it seeks to delete the EEA option; and if that is lost, I will vote against Lords amendment 51. I urge the House to reject that amendment and to begin to face up to the policy challenges of life after Brexit.
Order. I appeal to colleagues. I understand there are raging passions on these issues, but please let us try to treat each other with respect. Other Members are right hon. and hon. Members who happen to hold opinions that differ.
As you will remember, Mr Speaker, I said how much I respect the right hon. Lady for so much of her work, but on this I profoundly disagree with her.
I will be voting for the very good amendment—Lords amendment 51—written and beautifully advocated by the noble Lord Kerr. I urge hon. Members to read it, because I agree with everything it says about the value of a customs union. In due course, the Bill about a customs arrangement will come back to the House. I ask British businesses to write to their local MP to explain why it is so important, just as my right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey said that one of his businesses had explained to him in good, simple, plain terms why having a customs arrangement is so important to his constituents, their jobs and the future of their children and grandchildren.
I will be voting for the EEA amendment because, as I have said many times in this place, I believe in the value of the single market. I say to the right hon. Member for Don Valley that I am appalled that she, as a member of the Labour party, has stood up and shown that she does not understand and appreciate the considerable value that immigrants have brought to our country. These are human beings—[Interruption.] I will take an intervention when I want—I am not afraid of a debate, and I will take one now.
I would urge the right hon. Lady to look at the record in Hansard. I made it very clear that I am not against all immigration, and I also said very clearly that nor are my constituents, but they want to feel that we have better systems in place and that immigration is fair and managed, and that is something they have not felt for a long time.
The right hon. Lady represents an area of the country that I know quite well; I am from north Nottinghamshire—from Worksop—and I also represent the constituency of Broxtowe. It is often quite peculiarly unique, and perhaps a little bizarre, that those who complain most about immigration are in areas where there is actually very little of it. That is the point: it is about the fear of the stranger—the fear of the unknown—and we have a duty as Members of Parliament to make the positive case in our constituencies for immigration and to have these debates with our constituents.
It is true, and I agree, that in some parts of our country a large number of people have come in, but these are invariably Polish people, Latvians and Lithuanians who do the work that, in reality, our own constituents will not do. It is a myth that there is an army of people sitting at home desperately wanting to do jobs. The truth of the matter is that we have full employment, and we do control immigration. How do we control it? It is called the market. Overwhelmingly, people come here to work. When we do not have the jobs, they simply do not come.
Now, it is right, and I agree—this is a sad legacy of previous Labour Governments—that there has not been the investment in skills that this Government are now making, and they have a proud record on apprenticeships, by way of example. However, I say to the right hon. Lady that she must speak to the businesses in her constituency, and she must ask them, “Who are these people? Where have they come from? Why have you not employed locally?” I have done that with the businesses in my constituency, and some have told me that they have probably broken the law. They have gone out deliberately and absolutely clearly to recruit local people, and they have found that, with very few exceptions, they have been unable to fill the vacancies. They take grave exception to anybody who says that they undercut in their wages or do not offer people great opportunities. It is a myth, as I say, that there are armies of people wanting to work who cannot work because of immigration.
The huge danger of the argument being advanced by some Opposition Members, as Chuka Umunna said, is that people play into a narrative that, instead of looking at other factors in life, turns to the stranger and—history tells us the danger of doing this—blames the foreigner, the unknown and the person with a different coloured skin or a different accent, when there are actually other reasons for the discomforts and the problems people have in their lives.
I say to Opposition Members that they should be proud of their fine tradition. What they should be doing is making the case for immigration and then saying this: “Suck it up!” No alternative has been advanced in this place other than the customs union and the single market. Let’s grab it—let’s do it and move on.
It is a pleasure to follow Anna Soubry. I rise to speak to Plaid Cymru’s amendments to Lords amendment 2, which would clarify that “a customs union” was the customs union. Plaid Cymru campaigned to remain, and we have been consistent in our support for remaining within the customs union and the single market and, for that matter, for looking at the EEA.
The Government and the Labour party are facing some pretty difficult problems, and that is because reality is intruding. Labour is split, as the Secretary of State said the other day, and I am sure we all marvelled yesterday at the bit of negotiation in the Chamber between the Solicitor General and the former Attorney General, Mr Grieve. That shows me that both parties are intent on pursuing their own internal conversations as well as the matter in hand.
It is not quite one minute to midnight, but it is pretty close. Our European interlocutors are asking us to tell them what we want and they are still not getting an answer. I can say that for industry in Wales, for universities in Wales and for health in Wales, we certainly need an answer, and pretty sharply too. The question for us is this: what is happening in respect of divergence as time progresses? We are getting no real answers.
Last night, I was here late and I took a taxi home. On the way, I asked the taxi driver what he thought of yesterday’s proceedings. His answer, predictably, was, “Why haven’t we left yet? Just get on with it.” I then asked him what he would do about the Land Rover jobs and the problems with the Galileo programme, at which point he said, “You’re from Wales aren’t you? I went up Snowdon once.” That suggests to me that he has a promising career ahead of him as a Brexiteering MP evading the real questions that face us.
As I said in an earlier intervention, the arrangements for the north-south border in Ireland will be very instructive for the arrangements between the EU and the United Kingdom in general. We will see the adoption of certain north-south arrangements, which will inevitably mean that they are adopted in the rest of the UK. I think all Unionists would agree with me in that respect. I asked Pascal Lammy, when he gave evidence to the Brexit Committee, if he knew of any two countries with two customs regimes for different parts of their states. Of course, he said no. To me, that means the arrangements between Dublin and Belfast will be the same as the arrangements between Dublin and Holyhead, and for that matter between Dover and Boulogne. By the way, he was also asked about the effect of having no controls at all, which has been suggested by some Conservative Members. Quite reasonably, he said that abandoning all controls means we would have nothing to bargain with in trade negotiations.
We have heard of a cake Brexit, a red white and blue Brexit, a hard Brexit, a Brexit for jobs and a green Brexit. My suggestion is for a Welsh cake Brexit, which would entail staying in the single market and the customs union. We have been consistently in favour of that, and it would suit our economy and the requirements we have for health, industry, universities and so on.
Today, the Labour party has an opportunity to defeat the Government. I think we would all love to see that. Instead, however, it seems to have decided to try to water down the Lords amendments and pave the way, eventually, for the Tories to steamroller through a hard Brexit. I do not think we will be supporting them in that.
This may sound breathtakingly naive to some Members, but I think there is an opportunity to reboot the debate on immigration. I think what concerned many of our constituents was the inability to control the numbers coming in. Now that they, rightly, believe there is an opportunity to have that control, it is up to us, on all sides of the House, to make the case for the reasoned and controlled immigration from which our economy and society benefits.
I rise to talk about environmental measures. In all the weighty subjects discussed today, some may say that is a trivial issue by comparison. I would say that it is not trivial at all: it is about the air we breathe, the rivers from which we get our drinking water and the kind of society we bequeath to future generations. Mary Creagh, who is sadly not in her place, is a magnificent champion of the environment. She and I started on this issue from exactly the same point: we felt there was a lacuna, a vast hole or governance gap as some have called it, in the Bill.
In my few remarks on Second Reading, I talked about the importance of putting into British law the regulations and laws that have seen our beaches cleaned up and our rivers start to get to a stage where we can be proud of them, where they are achieving what they are supposed to as functioning ecosystems. We are protecting landscapes and doing something to reverse the disaster, the tragedy and the crisis of species decline. We need to replicate, in a bespoke British way, the kind of measures we have benefited from in recent years. The Lords had a pretty good pitch at it, but there were flaws in their amendment.
I want to take this opportunity, which might be my last, to say that what we have done here is scrutiny. We have done our job. We as politicians and Members of Parliament have held the Government to account and scrutinised the Bill. This is not some fifth-column activity, as one peer said, or a betrayal of Brexit. This is improving the Bill. The crucial environmental principles will be in the Bill thanks to the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, which I am happy to be associated with and for which we have the Government’s agreement, the Secretary of State having now signed it.
Not only does new subsection (2) set out the principles on which our environmental protections have been laid, but we have a detailed description of what this public body will look like. The crucial point, however, and the one where I differ from the hon. Member for Wakefield, and perhaps Caroline Lucas, is that the amendment sets a framework on which we can build, as legislators, under future legislation, such as the environmental governance Bill that the Government have announced will soon be laid before Parliament. I think we have got it right, therefore, and I urge Members to support amendment (c) in lieu of Lords amendments 3.
I rise to speak in favour of Lords amendment 51, on the EEA. I will focus on the main argument against the EEA and its single market, which I believe to be free movement and immigration more broadly, but I will not argue that the EEA is a perfect arrangement for our country after Brexit. It has its flaws—many have already been highlighted—but although I am not blind to those flaws, I am not blind either to the reality that our country finds itself in today. If there is one message from my contribution, it is that we do not have the luxury of choosing between perfect options. It is time to engage with the real choices.
There will be colleagues on the Labour Benches who disagree with my position, and there will be those who still do not know what to think. That is okay—we are all entitled to our views—but there is one opinion that unites Labour Members, the country and perhaps even Government Members: the Government are making a royal mess of Brexit. That is the central fact from which all our decisions must follow.
The Labour Front-Bench amendment to the Lords amendment has many merits, and I sincerely thank my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer and his team for how they have engaged on this issue. They do not have an easy job, but the way they carry it out is a credit to each of them. Their position today would have been an excellent place for a Labour Government to start the negotiations, but I say gently to colleagues that we are not at the start of the negotiations. We are nearly at the end, and our choice will be either to accept or reject a Tory Brexit deal that will tear up many of the economic relationships that have made this country strong, impose new border arrangements in Ireland, pull us out of key agencies and regulations, and leave us scrabbling to put in place new arrangements for which the Government have totally failed to plan.
In rejecting that deal, we will need to propose an alternative that is realistic within the timeframe, and that is where I have a slight difference with Labour Front Benchers, because their amendment is not quite enough. It leaves too many questions unanswered. The EEA as a backstop is appealing not because it is perfect in itself, but because it is infinitely preferable to a Tory deal or no deal. It is just not likely that other options will be deliverable in the time we have.
I turn now to immigration. I am a supporter of immigration and believe it has made us strong. To move to another country to work and live is a fundamentally decent, dignified and brave thing to do—it is the story of my family and the story of our country—but I understand the hesitation of many colleagues. It would be a rare Labour MP who did not understand the strength of feeling that exists in many parts of the country about levels of migration and the perceived lack of controls. I understand that many Members here are just trying to represent their constituents’ views, and that is to their credit, but I would say to those who are hesitating, “Yes, the EEA may be uncomfortable, but it is significantly less uncomfortable than any of the other realistic approaches that are available.” The reality is that a complete red line on free movement will put us on a road that leads to support for either a Tory hard Brexit deal or a no-deal Brexit, and I do not think that that is a road that we want to go down.
Ultimately, this comes down to one question: does concern about immigration trump all other concerns? We must ask ourselves, very honestly, whether it is worth shutting ourselves off from the rest of Europe to deal with the problems of immigration in this country. I do not believe that it is, and that is why I will be supporting Lords amendment 51.
So far, I have not put in my twopenn’orth at any stage of the Bill, largely because I believed the assurances from both parties at the time of the general election that the votes of my constituents would be respected. As I said in an intervention, nearly 70% of them voted to leave the European Union, and I believed that the vote by the country to leave the EU would also be respected. What is clear from this afternoon’s debate—it was clear from proceedings in another place—is that some people are intent on wrecking and overturning that result. There is no doubt about that.
I want to focus on the EEA and the customs union, but first I want to say a little about immigration. A smear has repeatedly been used against my constituents and the people of this country who dared to vote against the political class and against the establishment by voting leave. That smear is that the people who voted leave did so on the basis of some racist, anti-foreigner sentiment. My constituents voted leave, and my constituents are not racists. They are not people who have a problem with immigration; they are people who have been subjected to, and have been at the receiving end of, large amounts of immigration—particularly from the European Union—over a very short period, and that has had a big impact on our community.
My constituents do not resent those who have come to this country. If I walk through Goole, for instance, they say to me, “The people who have come here have worked really hard, but there is no doubt that immigration has put pressure on our housing, has made it easier to employ people in the gig economy”—there is no doubt about that—“and has put huge pressure on our health services.” My constituents do not want to see those people leave the United Kingdom, but they want to know that there is a system that controls immigration properly.
I want us to go out and make the argument for immigration once we have left the European Union. As Caroline Flint pointed out, we can make the case for it only once we have some control over it, so that the public know that their elected representatives are the people who will determine the appropriate net migration and immigration figures for each year. That is what countries such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand manage to do.
I am sick of hearing the suggestion—we have heard it again today—that people who voted for Brexit only did so because of immigration, and that that was only because they were racist. I am also sick of hearing the suggestion—we have heard this today as well—that they did not know what they were voting for. That is a complete and utter insult to the good, hard-working, decent people of the north of England, and particularly to my constituents, who voted leave for very good reasons. One of those reasons was to do with control of our laws and our parliamentary sovereignty.
The one argument that I think the remain campaigners won was that leaving the European Union also meant leaving the single market. That is why I think that the EEA model is not acceptable. Before the referendum, some leave campaigners suggested that the two were separate, but by the end of the campaign that had ceased, and we heard what I thought was an honest debate about the fact that leaving the European Union meant leaving the single market.
I want to say something about the customs union. In this instance, I think that things are a little bit more nuanced. There is no doubt that customs arrangements were not a big part of the referendum campaign. Let me say this in the 30 seconds that are left: I am not a hard Brexiteer, and I am sick of hearing from people who are at both extremes of this debate. Let me associate myself with my parliamentary neighbour, the right hon. Member for Don Valley. I agree that we need to reach a sensible customs arrangement, and the two tests we should apply are, “What is in the economic interests of the UK?” and, “What is in the best interests of maintaining the integrity of the UK?” There should be less debate at the extremes, and more common sense in the middle.
The responsibility that we all have, which I take as seriously as everybody else, is to try to balance the concerns of our businesses and our constituents, including some that they might not have had at the time of the referendum. That is what I have tried to do. Another factor for me, as a former Northern Ireland Minister, is that I am not prepared to see the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland destroyed by a hard border, and nobody has yet come up with a solution for avoiding that. They are the principles and I shall take each in turn.
In Knowsley we voted to leave in almost exactly the same proportion as the rest of the country. However, over the past week or so, constituents who have contacted me have wanted me to vote for all the Lords amendments, which I do not intend to do. Some wanted me to vote down all the Lords amendments, although there was a slight majority on this occasion for supporting the Lords amendments, and therefore presumably for a remain-type position.
I have consulted businesses. A business roundtable organised by the Knowsley chamber of commerce last Friday was a really interesting event. Most of the 10 businesses that attended were involved in trade with Europe, in one way or another—either by exporting or by importing raw materials. What they had to say was fascinating.
I will say a word about immigration. I almost always agree with my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint—
Mainly out of fear. My right hon. Friend had a point, in that we do need a much better managed migration process in this country, but some of the businesses I spoke to in Knowsley said they rely on skills that simply are not available in this country, such as specialist engineering and construction skills. If we cannot fill those vacancies without some migrant labour for particular skills, we cannot create the wealth that would otherwise be created.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern in our food production sector right now that crops, fruit, vegetables and other produce will not be harvested this season because of the chronic shortage of migrant labour to pick it?
My right hon. Friend is right. As he will appreciate, we are not an agricultural community in Knowsley, although we do have some farms and we have the estates of the Earls of Derby. However, I know about the concern he raises and I share it.
Having listened to what businesses and my constituents say, I now must make a choice about which, if any, of the amendments to support. I agree with my hon. Friend Alison McGovern about the amendment on the customs union tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer. I am happy and comfortable to support it, and that fulfils one of my obligations to my constituents and businesses in my constituency. However, I also feel that I need to go further and support the EEA Lords amendment. I will refrain from using the analogy employed by my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn about sinking boats and lifeboats, because I am supporting it on a slightly more practical belt-and-braces basis—if one approach does not succeed, we might have the other to fall back on.
I believe that there are practical implications for businesses, and therefore for jobs, if we do not address some of the concerns that businesses have. All we have at the moment are aspirations from the Government. Some of them are lofty aspirations, but we need more than that—we need hard solutions to the real problems that we are going to be confronted with.
A key question coming out of today is whether we wish to deal with the customs union and EEA issues now in this Bill or later, in the Trade Bill and the customs Bill, after the June EU summit. As things stand, there are reasons for immediate concern. We were promised a White Paper, planned for a few weeks ago. Not only has it not materialised but we are now being told that it will not appear until after the June EU meeting, when I thought the main negotiations were meant to be happening. Let us not forget that we are meant to be signing a deal in November, which is only five months away.
It is always a challenge in Brexit negotiations to decipher what is going on, but as I see it, the Government seem still to be arguing for a customs partnership with a high degree of single market regulatory access that would fall somewhere short of the EEA. Along with that, there would be the customs backstop proposal, which itself would need some form of regulatory agreement in order to work. It is clearly impossible to go firm with an opinion on this, but I would venture to say that we seem to be heading towards something that is in the realms of an acceptable final deal—appreciating as I do the fact that no one is going to get everything that they want.
On that basis, I accept that now is not the time to be mandating the Government to join the EEA under the terms of Lords amendment 51. If negotiations fail, or if they seem to be going nowhere after the June EU meeting, this would be an appropriate issue to be decided in the Trade Bill. Until that point, however, the Prime Minister should be given the chance to negotiate fully and to come back with her proposals for us to consider.
One reason why we need to make a decision now is that businesses are already relocating. International broadcasting contributes £1 billion to this country and it is prominent in my constituency. It dominates Europe, and it will move to Europe because it will not be able to get the licences that it needs in this country. That is happening now. We cannot wait three or six months.
I accept that business wants consistency and answers, and that it wants to know which way it is heading. However, even under the amendment it would not have that, so I still say that we should stick with the Prime Minister, who has her plan.
The Lords amendment on the customs union is a more complicated scenario, as it does not mandate us to join a customs union, as the amendment to the Trade Bill would. Rather, the Lords’ proposal in this Bill is simply that a Minister should lay a report outlining the steps taken to negotiate a customs union. In theory, therefore, the Minister could comply simply by reporting that steps had been taken, even though they were leading nowhere. On the other hand, I appreciate that having this amendment would give some comfort that the Government had not written off a customs union as a fall-back if Brussels were to reject the Prime Minister’s proposals. It also makes a statement that this House rejects the concept of a hard Brexit—a lesson that needs to be understood by many Members of this House.
However, it has been put to us by the Prime Minister that any vote on this issue will, in her opinion, seriously undermine her negotiating position in Brussels. I was told directly that such an amendment could lead Mr Barnier to throw out the Government’s negotiating proposals on the basis that the EU could say that it was being manipulated by them. I would dispute that interpretation, but I also accept that it is ultimately the Prime Minister who is going to negotiate for us on what I believe will be a fair basis.
Furthermore I recognise the Government’s concession a couple of days ago, after no little debate, in allowing the Lords amendment if the words “customs union” were changed to “customs arrangement”. That also needs to be put into the context of the Government’s concession on Northern Ireland in the amendments to Lords amendment 88. Importantly, those amendments require everyone to act with regard to the December 2017 UK-EU joint report. So I suggest that, if we add the “customs arrangement” wording to the Irish compromise in the joint report, which will need to be applied throughout the UK, and throw in the Irish backstop proposals for good measure, we will be much closer to a customs arrangement resembling a customs union than we were before. I note that Keir Starmer and various other hon. Members have made the same point.
For all those reasons, and despite all the confusion, the lack of policy and the Brexiteer antics, I have decided to back the Prime Minister in her June EU meetings, and I will vote with the Government on these amendments.
I rise to put on the record my support for all seven still contested Lords amendments, but given that we are so short of time I will primarily focus on Lords amendment 3 and the environment. I am surprised that the Government have not accepted the amendment given that all it does is seek to give effect to the Government’s own much-vaunted environmental ambitions. In a written statement to the House in January, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs explained that the Government’s 25-year environment plan will be underpinned by
“a world-leading environmental watchdog, an independent, statutory body, to hold Government to account for upholding environmental standards.”
To me, that means at least a watchdog with a bite as well as a bark, not a toothless, neutered, three-legged mutt of a watchdog that cannot even impose financial penalties, much less launch legal action. However, that was all that the Environment Secretary’s overhyped and deeply underwhelming consultation was able to offer when it was belatedly published on
Lords amendment 3 seeks to give the watchdog at least a few teeth by giving effect to the claim repeated by Government Members that withdrawal from the EU will not lead to any dilution of environmental standards. Given, I genuinely do not understand why the Government are objecting to the Lords amendment and instead supporting amendment (a) in lieu, which represents a significant watering down of what the Lords amendment contains.
The amendment in lieu makes no provision to guarantee the independence of the environment watchdog, so we may well end up with a green poodle, not a green watchdog. We need clear guarantees that the replacements for the Commission and the European Court of Justice will be protected from Ministers’ whims. The amendment in lieu massively limits the watchdog’s remit. By deleting the overarching subsection (1) of the Lords amendment, we will lose all the essential requirement for the Government not to remove or reduce any of the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, remedies and procedures that currently contribute to the protection and, crucially, the improvement of our environment. For example, there is no explicit guarantee that we will have a freely accessible citizens’ complaint mechanism. All such things are all vital components of an effective governance system for protecting the environment. They are not optional add-ons to this lazy attempt at standing up for nature.
As I mentioned earlier, the amendment in lieu limits the scope of the watchdog to central Government, which is absurd given that local authorities are so much responsible for areas of compliance. Ministers would be compelled only to have regard to vital environmental principles, not to act in accordance with them. All those things are good reasons to have grave concerns about this weakening of Lords amendment 3 and to say to the Government that we are running out of time to get the joined-up approach to the environment that they have promised us.
In the minute I have left, I want to make a comment about the single market and customs union. It is notable that every single economic scenario that the Government have produced shows a country that will be worse off by leaving the EU. The only real protection for jobs and the economy is staying inside the single market and the customs union, which is also the only way of achieving a frictionless border in Northern Ireland. It is quite extraordinary to see the Government proudly and loudly leading the country to a poorer future, and it is almost as extraordinary to see the shadow Front-Bench team pretty much complicit in that. The Opposition’s amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51 would not be accepted by the EU and they know it, so I make this plea: do not give this shambles of a Tory Government a free pass to a hard Brexit. It is not too late to reconsider and to back Lords amendment 51. History will not judge kindly those who put party politics first at this crucial moment, when it is precisely those with the least who most need their politicians to be brave.
It was a pleasure to listen to the thoughtful and considered speech of Caroline Flint. She made some sensible points about immigration, on which I will focus in my remarks. Many Members have spoken in favour of joining the EEA but, as I said briefly at Prime Minister’s questions, immigration was one of the most important issues that decided the referendum result, so we need to take that into account. Like the right hon. Lady and my hon. Friend Andrew Percy, I want immigration, but I want immigration to be controlled by Parliament. I want us to decide that we want people with the skills and talents that will make a contribution and increase this country’s wealth, and they will be welcomed as a result. Immigrants themselves often want a properly controlled immigration system, because they know that they will be welcomed, they will be supported and they will not be scapegoated, as happens when we lose control of the system. The voters told us that they do not want a system in which we have no control, or very little control, over who comes to our country.
I have listened to a number of contributions. Those who think the European Union will fundamentally renegotiate free movement are living in another world. I worked closely with the former Prime Minister David Cameron when he tried to renegotiate the terms of our membership, and he worked incredibly hard with every single European leader to try to get some movement on free movement, because he knew how important that would be to the case he was going to argue for our staying in the European Union. I have to tell colleagues on both sides of the House that, frankly, those European leaders were not willing to engage seriously with David Cameron on any meaningful reform. If they had, I suspect the country would have made a different decision. Even with our country having made that decision, European leaders are still not prepared to make any meaningful reform. They might talk about little tiny tweaks here or there that will not make any significant difference, but meaningful reform is not going to happen.
We should not think the EEA is a solution, and we should control our immigration policy. We can then have a generous policy, and we can argue for what we think is the right shape for our immigration policy. That is why I oppose Lords amendment 51 on joining the EEA, and why I support the sensible approach that the Government have set out.
I want to say a few words in favour of Lords amendment 51 on the European economic area.
Staying in the single market and the customs union is critical to jobs and prosperity. Trade figures published only last week show that 62.3% of the north-east’s exports go to the EU. The president of the CBI has said today that the UK car industry is facing extinction. Such comments should worry us all, but they should send a chill around every community in the north-east of England. The north-east is home to Nissan, which exports many of the cars it builds. It directly employs around 6,500 people, with more than 25,000 people employed in the supply chain. Everyone in the north-east knows someone who does something for Nissan.
I have never been one of those who say that companies like Nissan will close on Brexit day, but I worry about the long-term investment opportunities in industry in my region. In the north-east we know what happens when an industry is faced with slow but inevitable extinction.
The north-east has been neglected for far too long. Much of what needs to be done in our region could be addressed by our own domestic Government if they chose to do so. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, if we crash out of the European Union with an extreme form of Brexit, the people we represent will be poorer as a result?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She knows from her experience as a north-east Member of Parliament that Europe has been very good to the north-east of England as far as trade is concerned and in the investment we have had into the region from the EU.
The coal industry once dominated the north-east of England. Today, all the pits have closed, but they did not close overnight. The dozens of collieries that closed did so over several decades because their reserves were depleted and because of the lack of investment.
My father was twice made redundant because the collieries he worked down closed over the space of a decade. Just like Nissan today, and probably more so, back then everyone knew somebody who worked down the pits or at the National Coal Board. With the closure of the coalmines, communities were left behind. Some have not recovered, and the resentments they harbour played into the Brexit vote. There is a message in that for the decisions we are making now on the post-Brexit world. My region has seen industrial extinction in the past, so we have to make sure it does not happen in the future. Therefore, with 62% of our trade being with the EU, it would be a catastrophic mistake to put up barriers to trade if we can avoid it, and I believe the EEA amendment would help to avoid it. The vast majority of Labour MPs in the north-east knew what the economic consequences would be, and the majority of us campaigned to remain in the EU. The vote went the other way, but the economic consequences of leaving remain the same, as do the grievances in some of our communities.
The Government’s own economic impact assessments for the north-east portray a major reduction in our region’s GDP and economic growth in the coming years, whatever the deal. I do not know how making people poorer will lift the grievances felt in some of our communities. Surely they will stay, and I fear that our communities will look for even more simple answers to complicated issues when Brexit turns out not to be the panacea that people believe it to be. The Government have estimated that the difference in public borrowing between an EEA-type agreement and from a free trade agreement is about £38 billion a year. If we are prepared to borrow that much every year, why can we not be in the EEA and use that money to invest in our communities that we love so much? I will be supporting Lords amendment 51 today.
I will confine my comments to the EEA and customs union. We have heard just about every side of the spectrum from the Opposition today: some want the EEA; some want the customs union; and some want both. So I am none the wiser now about exactly where the Labour party currently sits on this issue than I was at the start of the debate five hours ago, but what is clear for many is that it is a barely disguised attempt to keep Britain in the European Union in all but name. It is a barely disguised attempt to say to the 17.4 million people and to the 66% of constituencies across this country, “You were wrong. You little people did not know what you were doing a