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Leaving the Eu: Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:02 pm on 10th July 2018.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Leader of the Liberal Democrats 2:02 pm, 10th July 2018

We did press for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, as it happens. That was not the view of a majority in the House at the time, but we had no problem with the concept.

Let me try to be a bit more positive about what the Government are trying to do. The first remark I want to make is about the conduct of the Prime Minister. I was going around the radio and television studios yesterday following Conservative MPs and commentators, none of whom had a good word to say about her. It is important to put on the record that she has pursued her course of action, however misjudged it may be, with a grim determination that is rather heroic. I have some admiration for the way in which she is going about her job. She may be wrong, but she is pursuing it in a rather steadfast way.

The second point I will make is about the content of the Government’s announcement. It is clearly an advance on where they were before. There is a recognition now that the Irish border question has to be addressed and that there has to be frictionless trade for industrial and agricultural products. That is now understood. The Government appear to have heard the message from the Jaguar Land Rovers of this world, which have complex supply chains, that it is not possible to stay in the UK if there is interruption of trade, so industrial and agricultural products will have to flow freely.

There is also an implicit acknowledgment that the default position of crashing out of the European Union is less and less plausible, and the reason for that is the changing international environment created by our visitor on Friday. The idea that the UK can fall back on World Trade Organisation rules in the default position is made increasingly untenable by the fact that the WTO has progressively less authority. The United States is not willing to abide by its rulings or to staff its judicial panels. As an organisation, it is completely hollow. Were we to fall back on WTO rules, we would effectively be falling back on anarchy. There is at least some recognition in Government of the dangers of that approach.

Those are the positive things. There is one other positive achievement by default, which is that the Government have effectively scuppered any prospect of reaching a bilateral trade agreement with the United States.