[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:46 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden 1:46 pm, 6th December 2018

Before I attempt to pick up on the shadow Chancellor’s final views on where we are going, rather than on where we are, I draw the House’s attention to a wider issue, which I think goes to a quite important set of facts that Stewart Hosie was talking about in terms of Scotland’s export arrangements. When economic historians look back on this time in 100 years’ time, I suspect that they will view Brexit as small by comparison with what has happened with the entire global trade. In the last third of the century, we have seen a huge transformation in the wealth of the world off the back of free trade. About a quarter of the world’s population, or well over 1 billion people, have been raised out of absolute poverty—$2 a day or thereabouts—by free trade. It has been a magnificent story over about one third of a century.

In that time, this has had an impact on us, too. We have gone from having 60% of our trade with the European Union and 40% with the rest of the world 20 years ago to nearly the other way around—in a couple of years, 60% will be with the rest of the world and 40% will be with the European Union. I am loth to quote forecasts, given the bad name that they are being given at the minute, but the projection—not a forecast—is that that will continue.

To pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee East, if we take the top three markets for British goods, or UK goods, in the rest of the world versus Europe, the top European ones of Germany, France and the Netherlands are dwarfed by our sales to America, China or Australia—our top three in the rest of the world. I take his point that we have to look very carefully, as we did when I was in government, at the regional balance of some of these exports, but the aggregate picture is very clear. Our trading future is more in the rest of the world than it is in Europe. This has huge implications—massively underestimated by Treasury and Bank of England forecasts over and again—for the need to keep our freedom to do trade deals to maximise our ability to exploit that.

I am not going to spend very long on the actual proposal that the Government have put in front of us, because it seems to me very clear that it will not survive the end of this debate. Very quickly, the Attorney General’s advice tells us that the backstop would endure indefinitely and that it would tie us to the customs union with no escape. That has massive implications for what I just said. The deal would still leave us, whatever the Chancellor says, subject to the rule of the European Court of Justice, albeit by a back-door and concealed route. It would see Northern Ireland carved out of the United Kingdom and tied to the European Union single market and the customs union, and it gives away £39 billion in exchange for the vaguest of political promises on a future deal. Because of all that and because we would be locked in at the discretion of the European Union, it puts us in a formidably bad negotiating position for the future. In my view, other than the constitutional issues, that is the most serious practical aspect of what is proposed. I do not believe that it will survive, which means that the shadow Chancellor’s question, “What are the future options?” is the central question of the debate.