Future Relationship Between the UK and the EU

Part of Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 18th July 2018.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 5:48 pm, 18th July 2018

I answered it. I do not know how the hon. Lady voted yesterday, but the customs union amendment would have been a way of providing much greater certainty to those with whom we are negotiating.

On Northern Ireland, the White Paper basically says nothing more about the backstop, and the reason why we do not yet have a withdrawal agreement is that there is no backstop proposal. All the discussion about the facilitated customs arrangement and the political declaration is for later, because if we do not get a withdrawal agreement, we will not get on to that, and we will not get a withdrawal agreement until we have a backstop proposal from the Government. They produced one in June and said, “There’s a bit missing,” which related to the rules on regulation, so will the Minister say whether, now that the Government have embraced a common rulebook, they plan to apply that to the backstop? It would be helpful if we could understand that.

On services, I echo what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras said. Free movement apart—I accept that issue—I do not really understand why the Government have turned their back on a common rulebook for services, especially given what the Prime Minister said in her Mansion House speech about trying to maintain the same approach. On the free movement of people, we will obviously have to wait for the White Paper, but that is one of the single most important issues raised with the Exiting the European Union Committee by those who have given evidence.

The question of sovereignty goes to the heart of all of this, because the objection is that we are somehow going to enter into a state of vassalage—a word that I was not familiar with before it was uttered by Mr Rees-Mogg. However, the truth is that this country, which has never ceased to be sovereign, chooses to enter into agreements with other countries in which we agree to abide by the rules of the relevant organisation. That is true of the United Nations, it is true of the European convention on human rights, and it will be true of the WTO if we end up retaking our seat as an independent country. Are we really going to impale the future prospects of the British economy on red lines that arise from an utter state of dispute about the question of our sovereignty and how we need to exercise it?

The Prime Minister now needs to build a consensus, but she will not do so by giving in at the first rustle of incoming letters to the chair of the 1922 committee. I believe that there is a natural majority in the House for a sensible Brexit that ensures frictionless trade, protects the economy, keeps an open border in Northern Ireland and maintains sensible co-operation on defence, foreign policy, security, the fight against terrorism, consumer safety, scientific research, the exchange of data and broadcasting. Our task now is to enable that majority—there is no majority for no deal—to give expression to itself. The sooner the Government seek that out, the better it will be for the country’s future.