May I start by paying tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for your longevity in sitting through the business today and last night? I think your presence throughout the whole debate shows the importance of these deliberations. As many Members have already said, these are perhaps the most important votes we will ever face in our political career. I think we can safely say, Mr Speaker, that your bladder is considerably stronger than mine.
There is little doubt that people were misled during the referendum by those purporting to suggest that a land of milk and honey awaited if leave won. Two years later, reality bites and the British Government have been forced into signing a humiliating agreement and a political declaration that means that the British state, due to the intransigent policy pursued by the Prime Minister, will leave the European Union with absolutely no idea what the future trade arrangements with its largest trading partner will be after the transition phase.
At every step, the British Government have been outwitted by the European Commission. Its priorities were threefold: first, get the British Government to commit to paying their outstanding liabilities; secondly, preserve the Good Friday agreement, leading to the backstop; and thirdly, negotiate formally only the divorce proceedings before the end of the article 50 period. The British Government, on the other hand, seemed to think that they would be able to negotiate the terms of the final relationship and settle Brexit before the end of the article 50 period. The withdrawal agreement and the accompanying political declaration indicate that what the British Government are claiming as a diplomatic coup is nothing of the sort—it is a capitulation.
All this does not bode well for the detailed negotiations that will happen from March if the current policy is adopted. During those negotiations, the British Government will be a third country, outside the European Union and in a far more vulnerable position. I am not a professional trade negotiator, but it is crystal clear that in those circumstances, the larger participant in the negotiations—the European Union—will be able to squeeze the smaller participant. International trade is a brutal business, where the size and wealth of the market matters. Brexiteers point out that under current arrangements, EU countries collectively export more to the UK than the UK exports to the EU. That shows a gross misunderstanding of how international trade negotiations work. During the negotiations, the European Union’s objective will be to increase that disparity in its favour at the expense of UK producers.
Despite the stark economic reality, we face a Brexit policy being driven by the British Government and the Labour Opposition on the basis of scrapping freedom of movement, regardless of the fact that it is a reciprocal right that works both ways. British subjects will lose the right to work and live in 27 European states. In her obsession with curbing immigration, the Prime Minister set out red lines in her Mansion House speech that made the current shambles inevitable. Because of that, my colleagues and I voted against triggering article 50. From the very start, the Prime Minister has prioritised party management above the greater good. Like a salmon poacher, the approach of the British Government has been to massage the fantasies of Brexiteers, as opposed to being straight with the people of the UK that they were sold a false prospectus and that if Brexit was to be delivered, it would mean making people far poorer, with the poorest and most vulnerable hit worst.
In the September withdrawal agreement debate, I warned the British Government to take no deal off the political table. It served no purpose as a negotiating tactic with the European Union, which knew that the British state would never be willing to accept the economic damage of no deal or able to get itself ready for the eventualities of no deal by March. I also warned that threatening no deal would not bribe MPs into supporting the Prime Minister. We will wait to see whether my prophecy was correct on Tuesday evening next week. The House’s support for the amendment tabled by Mr Grieve last night effectively takes no deal off the political table in any case.
Right hon. and hon. Members and our constituents should be aware of the ruling of the advocate general in the European Court of Justice yesterday recommending that article 50 is revocable unilaterally by the British state. If that recommendation is adopted by the Court, it will clearly indicate that the Prime Minister put forward a false argument that it is a choice of her deal or no deal. This House or the British Government have the power to stop no deal at any time of their choosing. Considering the dire warnings of the British Government over recent weeks, the game of chicken that they have been playing with Members of the House now rebounds on them.
If the British Government’s policy is implemented, it will effectively mean leaving the European Union with absolutely no idea what the long-term future relationship will be following the end of the transition phase. The British Government have utilised the vagueness of the political declaration to try to appeal to kamikaze Brexiteers who favour the WTO option and more sensible politicians who seek a more formalised association-type agreement by saying that everything will be up for grabs during the transition phase. I have outlined the vulnerability of the negotiating position of the British state in those circumstances. The negotiations will be far more complex than the withdrawal agreement, with far more at stake.
Writing in the Western Mail last month, I described the events of the last two years as a tickle fight compared with what would await us if the British Government’s policy was carried. Labour’s policy of trying to use the crisis to force a general election is a complete distraction. I will not waste my time eviscerating their position, but two words come to mind: incoherence and cynicism. With the House of Commons effectively in control of Brexit policy, the Labour party must decide what it wants, a softer Brexit or a people’s vote. Those are the only two options facing us that are palatable to me and many others.
Should we aim for a people’s vote on the British Government’s policy, or the status quo? If the House of Commons cannot agree a way forward, the people must be asked once again to cast their verdict. The only other solution I can see is to support moves towards a formalised association status with the European Union by staying within the economic frameworks—namely, the single market and the customs union. For Wales, that would end the cynical power grab of our powers by the British Government, except in policy fields not within the EEA-EFTA agreement, such as agricultural measures.
The vision that I and my colleagues have for Wales has no time for the narrow-minded British nationalism at the heart of the Brexit project. Ultimately, as we emerge from the current wreckage, the people of my country need to start asking ourselves serious questions about where our best interests lie and what future we seek for our people—the splendid isolationism of British nationalism, or an outward-looking Wales playing its full part in the world. I know which future I choose.