It is with a sense of trepidation that I stand to speak from the Back Benches for the first time in six years and for the first time since I resigned last Friday in order to vote against this withdrawal agreement. I loved my job. Innovation, scientific endeavour and our universities represent the best of Britain, and they underpin our future and our place in the world, so I did not take the decision lightly. At this point, I would like to say congratulations and good luck to my successor, my hon. Friend Chris Skidmore, and wish him all the best in that job.
I carefully considered the deal, which has been described as having a remain flavour. Even as a remainer, it became clear to me that it was not politically or practically deliverable, and that it would make us poorer and risk the Union. I encourage everyone to look at the deal and come to their own decision. I believe that whether we are leavers or remainers we are all first of all British and that it is the national interest we care most about, but the political declaration is not a deal; it is a deal in name only. It is a framework for negotiation with a lot of aspirations. Yes, it has all been hard fought for and hard won—I give the Prime Minister and her team the credit for that—but, now that it is in front of us in Parliament, we have to look at it as parliamentarians. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary admitted at the Dispatch Box that the deal might not be perfect, almost implying that this was like trying on a pair of shoes that were not the right colour and perhaps a bit tight, but getting on with it and life would be fine. However, this deal is like a pair of shoes with holes in the soles. It is fatally flawed.
There are three big reasons for that. The first is that all the big issues, whether they relate to security, home affairs, agriculture, fishing, our independent trading policy or frictionless trade, have been kicked into the long grass. While the public are being told that this is almost like the end of the process, we are actually just finishing one process and about to begin on another long and arduous process. We will be doing that at a time when we will have given up our vote, our veto and our voice, and will have no leverage whatsoever.
The ultimate fall-back position in this deal is the Northern Ireland backstop. We will be negotiating with the clock against us, with a fall-back position that is existential for us and not existential for the EU, and we will be expected to get the best deal for Britain. I doubt very much that we will. I believe that, in voting for this deal, we will be losing and not taking control of our destiny. We must be clear-eyed as we go into these negotiations because they have been set up for failure. The EU will manage the timetable, it will manage the sequencing of the negotiations, it will set the hurdles and it will tell us when we can progress to the next stage. That is what happened in the first phase of the negotiations and that is what will happen in the second phase. We will always be in a position in which we have to walk away or fold, and I know what will happen: we will always fold because the clock will be ticking.
The EU elections next year will pose a big problem for us. In 2019, everyone in the EU will be focused on those elections, so I doubt that much progress will be made during the first year of our initial two-year implementation period. At the end of that year there will be a new Commission and a new Parliament, which will not be party to the political declaration on which we will vote in the House. A new Trade Commissioner will be appointed. We will then have one year, as part of the first implementation period, in which to negotiate or go for an extension. In all likelihood we will go for the extension in June-July that year, so we will trip into the second implementation period and pay a significant amount of money for the privilege. We will go into the second period with a general election on the horizon, a Northern Ireland backstop that no one in the House wants, and yes, whatever assurances we are given, in all likelihood we will pay any price that the EU asks of us in order to get out of that backstop. So what do we have? We have “best endeavours” to rely on.
In my previous job as science and innovation Minister, I was involved in the Galileo negotiations. The EU stacked the deck against us time and again. Before the ink was dry on the transition deal, we were served notice that we could not participate in the security aspects, although when we were negotiating the deal we were led to believe that we could. We were then served notice that British industrial interests could not bid for contracts, even though British companies had built the encryption and security elements of Galileo—or, rather, they could do that, but they would have to move to countries within the EU in order to do so. We threatened to use our veto. The date of the vote was moved, and during the interregnum the EU changed the rules to involve simple majority voting, so our veto did not apply. Galileo is a foretaste of what is to come in these negotiations. We are setting ourselves up for failure by going down this route.