Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will try most sincerely not to be too indiscreet, but before Christmas—I believe it was September or October but my detailed, copious notes are at home and so not available to me—I was asked by a very senior person what the political consequences would be of choosing an EEA-lite deal. I explained that it would be a political cataclysm for the Conservative party and there would be a great political explosion if such a thing were chosen. We discussed it at some length.
Shortly after Christmas, after the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend Suella Braverman, joined the Department, I will reveal that we had a ministerial meeting at which all the Ministers looked at the proposals in advice, and we all agreed we should build from a free trade agreement Canada-style rather than take an EEA-lite deal. Yet, despite proceeding on that collective basis in our Department, here we are with a proposal before the House that requires a mandatory degree of high alignment to EU rules. It is an EEA-lite proposal, not a Canada-plus proposal, if I may put it in those terms, despite a long history of Ministers rejecting that.
I have to conclude that it has long been the intention of those providing advice that we should arrive at such a relationship. Those proposing this category of close relationship, with the up-front choice of mandatory alignment, have two profound problems. First, the project of the European Union is in real difficulty. I take no pleasure in that, and no one need take my word for it—Jean-Claude Juncker said on
“Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.”
Monsieur Macron said in Strasbourg on
“There is a fascination with the illiberal, and that is growing all the time…Month after month we are seeing views and sensibilities emerge which call into question certain fundamentals. There seems to be a sort of European civil war.”
That is the most of extraordinary thing to have been said, yet it was said by a man who supports the European project. George Soros, who famously supports the project, has said:
“The European Union is mired in an existential crisis. For the past decade, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.”