Legislating for the Withdrawal Agreement

Part of Yemen – in the House of Commons at 8:21 pm on 10th September 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 8:21 pm, 10th September 2018

The Prime Minister said in relation to the Chequers agreement that she was restoring collective Cabinet responsibility. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what I genuinely think: I admire people who have principles. I admire him for his principles, and I admire my right hon. Friends who decided to give up positions at the Cabinet table because of their principles. As someone who has principles that he holds dear, that must be something that the right hon. Gentleman can relate to.

As I said, this is not the Britain that I recognise. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s visit to Africa has been mentioned. Possibilities exist not just for those nations that she visited—I also had the privilege of visiting Kenya at the start of the summer recess—but for us to work with those nations and to see their development. These countries, particularly Kenya, have fast-developing economies, and they would be new consumers and trading partners for our businesses. By trading and working with our African allies—this is an example of the growth in world trade that we will see as we leave the European Union that will come not from the European Union, but from the rest of the world—it will show that we can be not only participants in this renaissance of Africa, but a force for good in the world while helping our own economy in the process.

I recognise that Britain is ready to grasp these opportunities. I want our country to be a global player in the fullest sense of the word. I recognise the Britain that our European friends want to be partners with. I refer the House to a statement that was made by Donald Tusk in March:

“I propose that we aim for a trade agreement covering all sectors and with zero tariffs on goods.”

That was a very significant statement. Europe does want to make a deal with us, whether it be French wine producers, German car manufacturers or Spanish holiday companies. The prospect of a no deal is as bad for them as it is for most of us in the House. There is a mutual interest here—a win-win possibility. I want the Government to conduct these negotiations from a position of strength.

I hope that the Government will not persist in trying to sell the unsaleable with those bits of the White Paper that the European Union will not accept. The Prime Minister has played a canny hand so far, and I sincerely hope that she and the Government will now pivot away from the unsaleable elements of the White Paper, especially in relation to the common rulebook and the facilitated customs model, and refocus our future commercial relationship around what is possible, namely this unprecedented bespoke free trade agreement between the EU27 and the United Kingdom.

I cannot conclude without saying something more about Scotland, but before I do, let me say that I associate myself with many of the comments that have been made by Conservative Members about the £39 billion that we have seemingly committed. We should definitely question the value for money behind that kind of exchange of currency.

It has been said by people from all parties that somehow or another Brexit presents a moment of stress for the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The truth is that that is the Union that matters the most to me. I often say that I did not sleep very much in the weeks leading up to the referendum in 2014. That was a time of intense worry and concern for me, and I felt nothing like that before the June 2016 vote. The Union that matters the most to me and to millions of Scots is the Union that we have with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Here are the realities to stem any thought—other than the flight of imaginative fancy that we hear from nationalist politicians in Scotland and in this place—that there would be any desire to break up this hugely successful Union of nations that we call the United Kingdom: Scottish exports to the United Kingdom are worth £46 billion; Scottish exports to the rest of the world are worth £17 billion; and Scottish exports to the EU27 are worth £13 billion. According to the Fraser of Allander Institute, 125,000 Scottish jobs are related to EU exports—I do not want to lose one of them—but 529,000 Scottish jobs are related to business with the rest of the United Kingdom. These are the economic facts of life.

I was sent here by the people of Stirling to help to deliver a deal that will make the best of Brexit, which is an issue of paramount importance. If we get this wrong, it will haunt British politics for a generation and do lasting damage to our standing in the world and to our economy. This is a time for self-confidence, not self-doubt. We have good cards to play in these negotiations, and it is time for our Government to play them and play them well.