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Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is always a pleasure to follow Meg Hillier. By my calculation, I am the 93rd speaker in this debate, so the challenge is clearly to find something new to say. This is an issue that excites high passions, and sometimes destructive and dangerous ones, but if Parliament is to do its job—this institution is being tested as much as possible—we need to temper those emotions with calm judgment.
The root of our difficulties is the fact that the referendum result was 52% to 48%. How do we turn a binary referendum result like that into a treaty and legislation? We need to do two things. The winners need to see that they have won. I say that as someone who campaigned as hard as anyone on what was the losing side. But at the same time the settlement of that win needs to aim at uniting the country, as the Chancellor said. I have come to the conclusion that the best way to do that is to support the deal that is on offer. There are many positive aspects to the deal, including the free trade area to which the Chancellor referred. Also, it meets the needs of EU citizens here and of UK citizens in EU countries.
The financial settlement is a considerable improvement on the €70 billion to €100 billion we were originally told we would owe. Some of our negotiating has been extremely successful. Indeed, I appear to think that it was more successful than one of the previous Brexit Secretaries thinks it was. I am also, unfashionably, an admirer of Ollie Robbins. One of the key things we have negotiated is the transition period, which is not only sensible but essential for the future economic health of this country. However, to have the transition period, we have to have a deal. No deal means no transition. We are three and a half months away from a completely new set of rules, for which no one is prepared. So we should now, logically and unemotionally, work out which is the best possible deal on offer and also, among the hierarchy of things on offer, work out what is the worst possible one. Contrary to what the previous Brexit Secretary believes, I believe that no deal is by far the worst thing on offer.
I recently visited the port of Dover to receive a practical briefing on the implications of any disruption to the Dover-Calais crossing for the approximately 10,000 trucks a day that pass through the port. This is not so much about complaints about the British Government’s preparations for no deal; it is more about what would happen on the French side. I shall give the House one small but vivid example. A lot of the trade that goes through the port involves food, and if we have no deal, the French will want to check that our food meets their health standards. In order to do that, they will have to stop many of the trucks, first to check whether they are carrying food and then to inspect it. There would be queues within hours, and within days the whole of Kent would be gridlocked. It would be a disaster for my constituents and for the country. That has nothing to do with any preparations in this country; it is about the preparations in France.
The Dover-Calais crossing is one small example of what the Chancellor was saying about industries around the country, and I believe it illustrates that the result of no deal would be chaos, dislocation and huge economic difficulties. I will no doubt be accused of promoting “Project Fear”. If I am, it is because I am afraid. I am afraid for my constituents and my country if no deal is where we find ourselves in March. And to those who are advocating trade deals, I would gently point out that if trade deals are so good, which I agree they are, why are we starting the process by wanting to pull out not just of a deal with our largest trading partner but of all the other trade deals it has negotiated around the world?
This vote is about more than the economy. It is about Britain’s role in the world. It is more than 60 years since an American friend observed that Britain had
“lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”.
Today, the country has decided to lose its EU membership, but it is nowhere near finding a new definition of our national purpose. Global Britain is a good slogan and a great aspiration, but at the moment it is nothing more than that. We need to find a new national purpose, and we need to do so as quickly as possible. I will be supporting the Government and I urge the House to do the same.