1st Allotted Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 9:10 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 9:10 pm, 4th December 2018

Next Tuesday will be the House’s opportunity to have its say, and I rise to move amendment (c), which stands in my name and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends and colleagues.

I want to begin by acknowledging the effort that Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and civil servants have put into trying to negotiate a deal. The fact that so many of us object to what has been brought back reflects not on that effort, but on the decisions that the Government have made. First, as we have heard, the Government embarked on the negotiations with the cries of those who argued for Brexit ringing in their ears. We need to remember the point made by my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett. We were told that

“we will hold all the cards”; that this

“will be one of the easiest trade deals in history”; that

“getting out the EU can be quick and easy”; that

“within two years...we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU”.

How slowly the truth has been revealed, and how painful a process it has been.

Secondly, while the referendum result made it clear that we would leave the institutions, it did not determine the future of our economic relationship. Thirdly, I believe that history will record the Prime Minister’s red lines to have been an absolutely catastrophic mistake, because they created the problem of the border in Northern Ireland and removed the Government’s room for manoeuvre. They boxed the Prime Minister in. These illusions and decisions resulted in the plague of disagreement that affected the Cabinet and led to so many ministerial resignations, including the loss of not one but two Brexit Secretaries. Goodness me! They exited the Department before we even exited the EU.

The Government spent two years trying to agree what to ask for, and the result was the contortion that was the Chequers proposal—an attempt to keep the border open and save friction-free trade. The problem was it was rejected by the EU. The Prime Minister spoke about home truths. Now is the time for some honesty. If we wish to maintain an open border in Northern Ireland, we will have to stay in a customs union and observe most, if not all, of the rules of the single market, but not a single Minister is prepared to acknowledge that truth.

As was demonstrated by Boris Johnson in his contribution, those who argued for Brexit have been exposed as having absolutely no plan for it at all. A Canada deal would fail to solve the Northern Ireland problem and would not give us friction-free trade, and as to the suggestion that we should leave the EU on WTO terms—no deal—I will turn to that in a moment.

The problem with the deal is the political declaration. We were assured that it would be substantive and detailed. It is not. It is merely words and aspirations that have no legal force. We have no idea where we are going, no idea where we will end up, no clarity and no certainty, and for business and future investment, which hate uncertainty, what kind of a deal is that?

The Prime Minister was questioned by my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, about security. She was asked why there was no reference to ECRIS or SIS II in the deal. In 2016, the police in Britain made 100,000 requests to ECRIS. In 2017, we made 500,000 queries to SIS II. That tells us how important those two sources of information are to the protection of our security, but neither is mentioned in the political declaration.

What about services, foreign policy co-ordination, policing and information-sharing, taking part in EU agencies, fisheries, data, recognition of professional qualifications, broadcasting rights, intellectual property, public procurement, consumer safety, aviation, freight, energy, medicines, scientific co-operation, and lots of other things? What is the answer on all those? “We do not know.” “We cannot be sure.” “It is yet to be sorted out.” The truth is that that will not do.

The Treasury figures published last week, showing the reduction in GDP that would result from a no deal compared to what would otherwise happen, are sobering and speak for themselves. Those who try to wave all that away by saying, “It would not be the end of the world”, or “There would be some disruption initially”, simply fail to do justice to the economic consequences of taking such a highly damaging step. They pay no heed to the fears and concerns of businesses that know it would be a disaster, and they do not respect the importance of the Good Friday agreement and the open border in Northern Ireland.