Future Relationship Between the UK and the EU

Part of Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:36 pm on 18th July 2018.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon 6:36 pm, 18th July 2018

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

We are where we are, and this White Paper is the first time, in all fairness, that those with whom we seek to negotiate will have some idea of what we seek to negotiate. That is important in itself. We need to learn the art of compromise. We did not get a clear indication one way or the other either in this House or in the country, and we should now compromise and do what is it the best interests of the British people. It seems to me that this is the best we have so far.

The most important thing to me is business certainty. This country has had an extraordinary record of inward investment, and that is a climate that we have unfortunately begun to damage through all these deliberations over where we are now heading. We have heard perhaps too much from the big businesses and multinationals, all of whom employ huge organisations or have people to represent them, such as the CBI. We heard very little from small businesses. Those are the businesses of our constituents. This is often forgotten, but there are only 2,000 plcs in this country; 0.3% of UK business, employing 2.6 million people and providing 8% of the workforce. There are 4.8 million family-run businesses in this country, and they make up 87% of all UK private sector businesses —5% are manufacturing firms, and 19% are construction firms. They employ 12.2 million people, 38% of the 32.2 million UK workers. That is 46.5 % of UK private sector employment in these smaller, often family-run companies. They generated £149 billion in tax in 2016. These are the companies that we seek to protect. These are the companies that need to grow. These are the companies we need to enshrine in a framework with the EU that ensures they can continue to prosper. They are the lifeline of the economy and the lifeblood of our constituencies.

I shall end soon, Mr Speaker, but let me just say that those who seek a second referendum basically want to introduce a new range of questions and to overturn what the British people decided the first time. We saw second referendums in Denmark on Maastricht and in Ireland on the Nice treaty. In 2008, the first time that Ireland was invited to reflect on the Lisbon treaty, 53.4 % rejected it, versus 46.6%. Lo and behold, a year later, after negotiations with the EU, the Irish people were invited to vote again and voted in favour. You know what? They were told at the time that they did not understand the question. They were told that it was too complicated for the people—the same accusations that people make in a very condescending way against those people who voted to leave. I voted to remain, but the difference is that I abide by the wishes of the British people—I do not question them, as Tom Brake did—and that is what the rest of the House should now do.