Future Relationship Between the UK and the EU

Part of Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:26 pm on 18th July 2018.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 6:26 pm, 18th July 2018

I am very happy to say that I agree entirely with the point the hon. Gentleman has made. We need to make sure that the City can continue to operate and that we are able to attract the skills we need.

The subject of this debate is the future relationship between the UK and the EU. I am very clear, and this will not be a surprise to anybody, that I would like us to stay in the European Union. I believe that that is still going to be possible, but for it to happen people will clearly have to vote for it in a final say on the deal. How do we get to a final say on the deal?

The first thing we need is for article 50 to be extended. I know the Prime Minister has said on a couple of occasions that that is not going to happen, but the likelihood of securing any sort of deal before March 2019 is for the birds. It is simply not going to happen, so an extension will be required. An extension would be needed to enable the legislation required for a final say on the deal to be passed, as well as to enable such a campaign and the votes at the end of it. I think it is perfectly possible that the EU may be about to offer to extend article 50, or the UK could of course seek to do it.

The other thing that is clearly required if there is to be a final say on the deal and a people’s vote is to take place is that a majority—I would say a clear majority—of people have to vote to stay in the European Union. At the point that such an election campaign took place, there would in reality be only two options: either voting for whatever deal the Government had secured, which I suspect would probably be no deal at all; or voting to stay in the European Union.

Why would people vote to stay in the EU? First, there is Trump. Frankly, if Trump is our friend, then who needs enemies? Trump has made the world a more dangerous place. In my view, he cannot be counted on to provide security. We and, yes, others in the European Union will have to step up to the plate to do that, but I do not think he can be counted on to do so.

We need to develop an offer that appeals not just to remainers, but to those who voted to leave. That will require some movement on the question of freedom of movement. I am sure that Members are aware that the issue of migration within the EU is a really big challenge for its members. At the European Council a couple of weeks ago, that was what they were worried about. Frankly, they were worried not about Brexit, but about migration within the European Union. They are very focused on that, and progress on it might be possible.

We also need to be able to demonstrate that the UK would be an active member of the EU and fighting to reform it, so that it would not simply be the EU carrying on as it was, but an EU subject to change. Of course, we would need to sell much more effectively than we have ever done before the advantages of EU membership. The Government sometimes try to claim the credit for things that the EU have done. Most recently, for instance, they have done so in relation to strengthening the rights of millions of British citizens who take package holidays or book linked travel. Our Government have claimed credit for something that the European Union had actually done. When the EU does things that are positive, we need to make sure that we talk about them.

The other thing we need to do is to set out the impact of voting for the Government’s deal. I am afraid that what the Government are offering as a result of the Chequers statement is no deal. Notwithstanding the point made by Mr Baker, I am afraid that it is very clear that the purpose and objective of ERG members is to leave us in a position where we have no deal. That is what they are trying to achieve, and that was the purpose of their amendments, which comprehensively trashed the Chequers statement. I am afraid to say that the Prime Minister is so weak that she had no alternative but to walk into their trap.

What does no deal mean? Some Members seem to think that no deal would be a temporary aberration that would cause us a few problems for a couple of weeks, but that is clearly not the view of the port of Dover and Airbus or, for instance, of people concerned about medicines coming into the UK, their availability and how quickly they come to market. No deal will not cause problems just for a few weeks or so. I suspect that it will mean five years of difficulties for the United Kingdom.

One thing we will not do is allow the Brexiters to say that this is the European Union’s fault—the hon. Member for Wycombe made this very clear. The Brexiters claimed that this would be a straightforward process that would all be over and done with overnight. They said that it should be very simple, and that trade deals would be struck with a landmass 10 times the size of the European Union, which would, of course, probably need to include a few planets as well, as that is not physically possible. They made that claim. They pretended that it was going to be straightforward. If we end up in a no deal scenario, a catastrophe for the United Kingdom, that is their fault and we will not let them get away with it.

To adapt the words of the outgoing Foreign Secretary, it is not too late in my view to save the United Kingdom. We can provide the people with a way out of this ideological folly. I am not too scared to test the will of the people and I am not too scared to be bound by the result. Why are Ministers?