[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:31 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 2:31 pm, 6th December 2018

I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for her dedication, hard work and resilience in these extremely difficult negotiations with the EU.

I start by making it clear that I have always been a supporter of European co-operation. The EU has been an important economic expression of the western alliance. In the 1980s, when countries looked to the west for freedom and security, they were looking partly for important economic freedoms, which they saw as being represented by the EU.

I had no doubt when the referendum came that I should support staying in the EU. I was a founder member of ConservativesIN. I campaigned hard, and I said throughout that I would accept the national verdict, but I was as disappointed as my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames when we lost the referendum.

I will be voting for this agreement next Tuesday. I never thought I would do such a thing, but I will be voting for Brexit. It will be hard for me to do that, but I am compromising because I think I have to do so, given the vote of the people. I am a democrat, and this is something I just have to do, but it will not be easy.

My area relies on advanced integrated European manufacturing, and we have enormous businesses. For example, we have Johnson Matthey, a FTSE 100 company, in Royston. It is a world leader in catalysts and chemical technology, and it has 2,000 employees in Royston. The company is desperate that we should have an agreed deal, and the CEO has written to me this morning:

“Our business relies on just-in-time supply chains, closely aligned regulatory frameworks and access to scientific cooperation networks…any disruption will adversely affect the competitiveness of our business and…future innovation, trade and investment…an agreed ‘Deal’
is better than ‘No Deal’…It allows us to work with our customers and suppliers to maintain business and plan strategically for future trade scenarios.”

Johnson Matthey is not a company that took sides in the referendum. My hon. Friend Ms Dorries might like to know that the company is optimistic that we can build a globally competitive Britain post-Brexit, but the point it is making is that we must avoid the disruption of a no deal Brexit.

The Attorney General has done a marvellous job of explaining the legal position on the backstop to the House. He did it in an exemplary fashion while also defending client privilege and the Law Officers’ convention. It is true that the backstop arrangements are unsatisfactory, but the legal basis for it is a temporary one, and there is no question but that, if it comes to a point where negotiations have broken down, there are things that can be done—a joint conference and independent arbitration—to resolve the matter. As the Attorney General made clear, performance in good faith is a key concept of international law. For rule-of-law countries not to perform a treaty in good faith would be extremely damaging to their international reputation and standing.

Above that, permanent continuation of the backstop would be vulnerable to legal challenge in international law, on the basis that the treaty purpose had ended in that no agreement had been achieved, and could not be achieved. That would allow a challenge under article 62 of the Vienna convention of 1969, and under EU law because article 50 provides a legal basis for a temporary arrangement only, namely an orderly withdrawal. I am confident that the backstop could not last forever.

When the Attorney General was asked this question by my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, he said that, no, it would not be permanent. He has to make a decision, as I do, on how to vote, and he said he would look at the legal risks and, having assessed them, he will vote with the Government, because he believes that the risks are such that it is still better to follow this agreement. I share that view. Overall, my judgment, like the Attorney General’s, is that we should support the Prime Minister in this.

Britain is a strong country, capable of weathering storms, but that does not mean we have to call down the heavens upon us. We must deliver a Brexit that brings out better weather, gives the UK the opportunity to put a spring in its step and puts the storm clouds behind us. It is time for a deal. It is time to compromise.