[2nd Allotted Day]

Part of Immigration (Time Limit on Detention) – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Conservative, Sevenoaks 3:41 pm, 5th December 2018

I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I continue.

I would like to see the deal improved in four crucial and already well-known respects. First, on the backstop, a sovereign country cannot be placed in a position in which we are denied, in the end, a unilateral right of exit. That is all the more important because the protocol acknowledges that the backstop might remain under “alternative arrangements”, even in part. Others have already made the case as to why a backstop should remain, and I find that argument rather odd. We have been told this week that the European Union does not like the backstop any more than we do and that Ministers in other countries do not actually want the backstop to remain. If that is the case, why should they not agree that it is in everybody’s interests—theirs and ours—to set a date by which the backstop at least falls away? I am not encouraged by all this lawyerly talk of “good faith”, “best endeavours” and endless arbitration. If we are going to have a backstop, which I do not like, let us have a date and set the clock ticking.

Secondly, the absence in the political declaration of any commitment whatsoever to the frictionless trade that the Prime Minister promised us is not acceptable, unless we have some clearer idea of the extent to which some freedom of movement will be required and of the extent to which there will be areas beyond state aid and procurement where we will have to respect European Union competition policy. The Attorney General told us on Monday that this is one of the “outer boundaries” that will have to be considered, but he did not attempt to set those boundaries. We need to be much clearer about exactly what the European Union is likely to accept, in respect of both the skills cap that we are contemplating and the competition policy that we will have to accept.

Thirdly, on the extent to which we will be allowed an independent trade policy, the political declaration is at least clear on this point: our future economic relationship must

“be consistent with the Union’s principles, in particular with respect to the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union”.

That does not leave us any clarity on whether we will be allowed to reduce much or even part of our common external tariff. Indeed, the Attorney General told us that we cannot have an independent trade policy and belong to a conventional customs union. Again, that commits us to complying with one boundary set by the European Union without any clear understanding of where the other might be set.

Finally, there is Northern Ireland. If a different regulatory framework is to continue—there are currently some elements of difference—it is clear to me that, inside our own single market, that can be done only with the continuing consent of the Province itself, or in other words of the Executive and the Assembly. The agreement should have been explicit in that regard. There may well be further checks that would enhance the protection of the whole island, but they can be put in place only with the agreement of all communities in Northern Ireland.

Without those improvements, this so-called deal is a gamble: we put all our cards on the table and all our money, and we wait for another two years for the European Union to set the rules of the game. That is a risk too far.