After two wasted years of wrangling with her own Cabinet and her own party, the Prime Minister has come back from Brussels with her deeply flawed and unacceptable EU withdrawal deal. And she has achieved the impossible: she has united the country in horror against it. According to all the official forecasts, this is a draft treaty that will make our country poorer. Far from taking back control, the deal we are debating today gives away both our sovereignty and our influence. And as the Attorney General’s advice has confirmed, this treaty gives the EU a veto on our leaving a temporary customs union arrangement even if talks on a new trade deal have irreparably broken down. This is a deal that transforms us from rule makers into rule takers and diminishes our influence in the world.
The Prime Minister promised to provide a detailed and substantive document on our future relationship with the EU alongside the draft treaty. She has actually supplied a half-baked 26-page wish list of banal aspirations that was cobbled together at the last minute and has no legal force. The failure to outline the nature of our future relationship with the EU makes this agreement a blind Brexit, and that is completely unacceptable. The Prime Minister expects this House to endorse her deal without any clear idea of what our future trading arrangements might be. She asserts that there is no alternative to her deeply flawed deal apart from a catastrophic no-deal Brexit, which we know would decimate our economy. This negotiation is an abject failure by a Government who have wasted two years negotiating with themselves rather than doing the right thing for our country.
This could all have been so different. The Prime Minister has badly mishandled the Brexit process from the beginning, making a series of catastrophic misjudgments, and she is now reaping what she has sown. As a newly installed Prime Minister, she could have shown some real leadership. She could have recognised that although the country had voted to leave the European Union in 2016, there was no instruction from the people as to what sort of Brexit the Government should pursue. She could have launched a national process of debate and reconciliation to build consensus around the best way forward as a way of healing the raw divisions that the referendum exposed. She could have involved the Opposition parties in this endeavour, recognising that her predecessor in Downing Street had done nothing to prepare the country for what would happen if the leave campaign won. But she did not.
The Prime Minister chose instead to kowtow to the irreconcilable Brextremist ideologues in her own party. In place of a national debate and a hope of reconciliation we were told, “Brexit means Brexit”. In her first conference speech as party leader, she set the tone by lambasting citizens of the world as citizens of nowhere, insulting and worrying EU citizens working in the UK. She has since accused them of jumping the immigration queue. Absurdly wrapping herself in the Union Jack to appease her own Eurosceptics, she then set a course in her Lancaster House speech for a hard, “red, white and blue” Brexit. The Prime Minister interpreted “taking back control” as centralising power to herself and her increasingly dysfunctional Government. Far from reaching out and respecting the sovereignty of Parliament, she attempted to ride roughshod over the constitutional role of this House. She had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to Parliament by the Supreme Court, which confirmed that legislation was required to invoke article 50 and fire the starting gun on the withdrawal process.
Once the Prime Minister had triggered article 50, she promptly called a general election in the expectation that she would win by a landslide—