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It is a pleasure to follow Mr Lewis. There is a better plan and a better future than this friendless withdrawal agreement, one free of fear. The way to unify, as he said, is to lead and to show what that alternative is. It is not, however, Norway plus a customs union. That would make us a rule taker with no autonomy. It would be against the referendum result and our manifesto pledges. We would continue to pay money and there would continue to be freedom of movement. It would still require a withdrawal agreement, which we all hate, and it would not settle the issue. It would just create more uncertainty for business and for the people in this country.
We need to go for an advanced free trade agreement and replace the protocol on Northern Ireland with something that will still give confidence to communities on the island of Ireland. We can provisionally apply such an agreement if a plan and a schedule are agreed for zero tariffs, so that that can persist after the end of March. It can have efficient cheap processes for all our borders, which business can deal with, and free trade rules that cumulate, so that supply chains do not suffer dislocation. It is a future that we can have, but we need to ask for it and not give in.
That does not mean that we have to leave in a disorderly way. We can continue to talk constructively about how we can be friends and allies, and what the best arrangements are for that. For me, money can remain on the table—that is fair enough; give and take and compromise are okay by me—but we must do this as separate, sovereign jurisdictions. Both sides must now prepare. When the EU hear that, I think there will be relief on their side. They will know what they are dealing with. They will have interlocutors with whom they can have frank and constructive dealings, knowing that there are limits. The EU are not bullies—that disrespects them—but they are what they are, which is a bureaucracy whose natural imperative is to push limits. If we do not show them where those limits are, they will have no reference point for where to stop. We have to stand strong at this point.
The truth is that the withdrawal agreement is not a compromise, but a capitulation made out of misunderstanding and fear, and out of letting the EU make the running by letting it set the schedules, agendas and the texts. This, sadly, is what has led our country and our democracy to the chopping block, trussed up for the EU’s feast. It is a tragic misconception of the economics and the practicalities by those who I think have never really properly applied themselves. Yes, I have been very critical of the Cabinet and those on the Government Front Bench. I think that that is justified and I am not afraid to say why.
There is certainly a better way to do this. The forecasting has been wrong. The countries that have offered us free trade have been rebuffed, and experience and knowledge within Government Departments and the civil service have simply been ignored. That makes me wonder why. Is it because we have a Government full of EU ideologues, or are they just afraid because they do not understand how trade can be really efficient and how cross-border supply chains can sit well in a trade agreement framework outside the EU? It is not really a case of whether the perfect is the enemy of the good. The point is that there is a better plan and I am afraid that the Prime Minister’s deal is in no sense good. It really is a very bad agreement. It is not something that the Government have modelled because I do not think that they dare.
We have heard about a lot of things in the backstop element of the withdrawal agreement that are not good. The joint decision that is required in the Joint Committee, unless there is a superseding agreement, pretty much guarantees pain for this country. In the backstop, our interlocutors will have massive leverage and they will have hostages to fortune. They will have us where they want us and we would be just wrong to say that it will be uncomfortable for them. I believe that is naive, delusional or worse. It would put us as a captive into a customs union with antiquated procedures. There would be wet stamps, for goodness’ sake, on physical pieces of paper—Toyota will not like that one bit. The Government should be embarrassed by the deal, because it really is that bad. Has the Treasury modelled what it would cost industry to do this wet-stamping process? When we look at third country trade on current EU rules, the cost is only about 0.3% of the value of consignments, but the Treasury is forecasting 11% for the car industry. It must have wet stamps in mind, because in modern customs, it ain’t that expensive, or anything like.
This really is a matter of trying to see what we can do now. There are other hostages—I have mentioned before that I have discovered that state aid would apply to our defence industry in the backstop. That is an outrageous change and it gives our sovereign ability in defence wholly to the EU to decide how competitive that is. I have asked five Cabinet members now whether they know about this. None of them does, and I think that people need to read the agreement properly. I will be circulating a note about this later tonight so that Members can make up their own minds, but this concerns 123,000 jobs all over our country, in Labour constituencies, SNP constituencies—it affects all of us. This is just not an acceptable state of affairs for our national Government to be putting us into.
I implore colleagues to say no to this humiliating servitude that has been served up for us. It would be the cause of shame for generations to come. There is a better way to do this.