Eu: Future Relationship White Paper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:11 am on 12th July 2018.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 1:11 am, 12th July 2018

I think the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs went on one of the television shows on Sunday morning and said that the great thing about the Chequers compromise is that it has united the Cabinet—just hours before the Brexit Secretary started penning his letter and then the Foreign Secretary did the same—so I will not be taking too much advice from him.

As for the new Secretary of State, I am sure the House would like to know when he was first shown the contents of the White Paper. He was not at Chequers, so when did Olly Robbins tell him that this was the policy he now had to sell? That is an important question, because it appears that two White Papers are being published today: the one before the House, and the alternative one apparently drafted by his own Department. That is now available in instalments on “ConservativeHome”. In fact, it beat this White Paper to publication.

I listened very carefully to what the Secretary of State said earlier on the “Today” programme and in his statement, when he described this White Paper as “innovative”. For the record, can he confirm to the House that he does actually agree with everything in the White Paper he is presenting?

Turning to the substance, obviously we will have to look at the detail of the White Paper. The purpose of the short Chequers statement issued on Friday was to hold the Cabinet together. It clearly failed in that objective, unravelling within 48 hours. If this White Paper is more of the same, it will undoubtedly share the same fate.

Across the business community, among trade unions and, I genuinely believe, across the House, there is growing unity that the UK should remain economically close to the EU. That means negotiating a comprehensive customs union with the EU27 and a single market deal with the right balance of rights and obligations, tailored to the UK. That combination is also the only way of delivering on the solemn promise of no hard border in Northern Ireland. The White Paper falls a long way short of that.

I would like to ask the Secretary of State for a simple answer to a simple question. Is this White Paper the Government’s starting position in the next phase of the negotiations, in which case we can expect further evolution of the Government’s position, or is it the Government’s final position and as far as they are prepared to go—new red lines?

Let me develop that theme. The White Paper sets out proposals for a facilitated customs arrangement. [Interruption.]