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EU Exit Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:42 am on 15th November 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 10:42 am, 15th November 2018

I want to thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement.

The withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration represent a huge and damaging failure. After two years of bungled negotiations, the Government have produced a botched deal that breaches the Prime Minister’s own red lines and does not meet our six tests. The Government are in chaos. Their deal risks leaving the country in an indefinite halfway house, without a real say. When even the last Brexit Secretary, who, theoretically at least, negotiated the deal, says that

“I cannot support the proposed deal”,

what faith does that give anyone else in this place or in this country? The Government simply cannot put to Parliament this half-baked deal that both the Brexit Secretary and his predecessor have rejected. No deal is not a real option, and the Government have not seriously prepared for it. The Government must publish their full legal advice, the Treasury a full economic impact assessment of the deal and the Office for Budget Responsibility an updated economic forecast.

The withdrawal agreement is a leap in the dark—an ill-defined deal by a never defined date. There is no mention of the Prime Minister’s favoured term “implementation period” anywhere in the 585 pages of this document. And no wonder, as there is precious little new to implement spelled out in either the agreement or the political declaration. Article 3 of the agreement states that transition can be extended to end by “31 December 20XX”. Can the Prime Minister confirm that this permits an extension to be rolled on until 2099?

Can the Prime Minister confirm that if the UK Government cannot agree a comprehensive future relationship by January 2021, which few believe will be possible and which the last two years give us no confidence the Government can do, those negotiations would have to be put on hold, because the focus would then inevitably shift from negotiations on the future relationship to those on an extension of the transition period, including further payments to the EU? Article 132 sets out that process fairly clearly.

How confident is the Prime Minister that a deal can be done by the end of 2020, and can she confirm that if a new trade agreement is not agreed by 31 December 2020, article 132 will apply—meaning our paying a huge financial contribution to extend the transition period—if we are to avoid triggering the backstop, as the Prime Minister insists is her position? Should the backstop come into force, there would be no time limit or end point, and if either party requested a review and there was no agreement, it would go to independent arbitration. The backstop locks Britain into a deal it cannot leave without the agreement of the EU. Restrictions on state aid are hardwired into the backstop, with an arbitration mechanism, but no such guarantee exists for workers’ rights.

Can the Prime Minister confirm that the backstop applies separate regulatory rules to Northern Ireland, creating a de facto border down the Irish sea, as Northern Ireland would be subject to the customs union but not the rest of the UK? That is despite the fact that the Prime Minister said this was something

“no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to”—[Official Report, 28 February 2018;
Vol. 636, c. 823.]

It is another of her red lines breached. In fact, the list of EU measures that continue to apply to the UK in respect of Northern Ireland runs to 68 pages of the agreement. This affects VAT declarations and rules of origin checks.

Moreover, it is clear that the Prime Minister’s red line regarding the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice has also been torn up. By 2021, under the Prime Minister’s plan, we will either be in a backstop or still be in transition, continuing to contribute to the EU budget and to follow the rules overseen by the ECJ. It is utterly far-fetched for the Prime Minister to say this plan means we take control over our laws, money and borders.

After two years of negotiation, all the Government have really agreed is a vague seven-page outline of political declarations, which looks like a substantial dilution of the Prime Minister’s previously declared negotiating priorities. There is only the scantiest mention of workers’ rights, consumers’ rights and environmental protection; there is no determination to achieve frictionless trade, or even trade as frictionless as possible; and no ambition to negotiate a new comprehensive customs union that would protect trade, jobs and industry, so uncertainty continues for businesses and all those who work in them. That risks investment decisions being deferred even further, costing jobs and living standards. Many companies might decide that the lack of certainty simply means they themselves will Brexit. There is no clear plan to get a strong deal with the single market to ensure continued access to European markets and services, merely a vague commitment to go beyond the baseline of the World Trade Organisation. The First Ministers of Wales and Scotland made it clear to the Prime Minister that participation in a customs union to protect the economy and jobs was essential.

Likewise, there is no ambition to achieve continuation of the European arrest warrant or an equivalent, and no clarity on our status with Europol, Eurojust or even the Galileo project. There is no clarity either on a future immigration system between the UK and the EU. Following the Windrush scandal, many EU nationals here will have no confidence—no confidence at all—in the Government’s ability to deliver a fair and efficient system.

The Brexit Secretary promised a “substantive” document; he is obviously no longer here, so can the Prime Minister inform the House of when that detailed framework agreement will be with us?

This is not the deal that the country was promised, and Parliament cannot, and I believe will not, accept a false choice between this bad deal and no deal. People around the country will be feeling anxious this morning—about the industries they work in, the jobs they hold and the stability of their communities and their country. The Government must now withdraw this half-baked deal, which it is clear does not have the backing of the Cabinet, this Parliament or the country as a whole.