I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the advance sight of his statement—both the advance copy of today’s statement, which I received a few hours ago, and the statement that he made on
It was nice to spend some time listening to Ministers from a united, competent Government who very much have the citizens of their nations at heart and to listen to political disagreements being heard and debated in a respectful and consensual manner—but then I had to leave the Scottish National party conference early to come down here, and everything has changed.
We still do not know what the Government intend to propose to the European Union in respect of Northern Ireland. We know the litany of what they are not going to do—it has to be thrown over every time to keep the Democratic Unionist party on side—but we do not know what is being proposed on Northern Ireland. We are running out of time and need answers very quickly indeed.
There was a brief update on the EU’s response to the trade package in the Chequers proposal. The EU did not raise concerns about it, it said that it will not be acceptable to its member states. It is not going to happen. Chequers has been bounced. The Government should take it off the table and try again.
May I gently correct the Secretary of State and say that the single, simplest and easiest way to achieve everything that the Government say that they want to achieve through Brexit is to stay in the customs union? We welcome the progress and the commitments that have been made on citizens’ rights, but the rights of those citizens would never have been under threat had it not been for the unilateral decision to come out of the single market. If they are that worried about the rights of future generations of citizens, they should stay in the single market. Why cannot we do that? It is because of an unnecessary, dogmatic, unilateral decision that was taken by the Prime Minister almost before the negotiations had even started. From day one, the approach has been dictated by hardliners who, if they are lucky, constitute one in five of the parliamentary Conservative party; they could not manage one in 10 of the membership of the present House of Commons. Those Members would happily go for a hard no deal Brexit, although they say that that is not what they want—I am talking about those who are serried, appropriately enough, to the far right of the Secretary of State right now. An entire dogmatic approach is still being driven by a tiny minority of this House. We could almost say that the tail is being allowed to wag the dogma.
What assessment have the Government made of the cost to every business in the UK of complying with the avalanche of technical advice that they are now being expected to follow? Has any assessment been made of that, and, if it has, will we be allowed to see it this time? Will the Secretary of State confirm that, whatever some who prop up this Government may tell him, peace in Northern Ireland is not expendable, it is sacrosanct and it is not negotiable under any circumstances whatsoever?
Will the Government reject once and for all the demands of the hard-line minority? Will they accept that it is now time to listen pragmatically and constructively to the compromises that were offered almost two years by the Scottish Government and to the compromises being offered by others in this House right now? Will he agree to talk to those who might have an answer before we all crash off the cliff edge together?