[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change) 2:36 pm, 6th December 2018

The Government projections that came out recently reveal that the proposals will probably impoverish the UK economy by about 3.9% over 15 years, removing some £100 billion from the economy. To those who say that the UK continues to grow, I would simply say that, if they systematically starve their children, they may well grow but they will end up much shorter than they might otherwise have been had they been fed properly.

That figure is significant in several ways. There was no hint of it in the referendum. The talk was of sunny uplands, of a Brexit dividend and of Britain booming through trade across the world. We now know that to have been a bare-faced lie. We know that the replacement of substantial elements of our trade arrangements with the EU by bilateral world deals would replace only a fraction of what might be lost. It is not a manageable loss, as the Chancellor says when he tries to defend the deal. It is a serious and permanent shrinkage of the UK economy over a sustained period. Of course, not only is it a permanent shrinkage but it is a shrinkage of those parts of the economy that need the economy to work most. London may well survive the shrinkage, but other parts of the country will not do so well. Indeed, many of those places were attracted to Brexit because they thought it would be good for the country as a whole.

That all brings me to the central question. The analysis was published relatively recently, but the Government surely knew much of the content previously. A disastrous series of red lines informed the negotiating process. The eschewing of the single market, the avoidance of the customs union and a number of other starting prejudices shaped the negotiations and led to the pitiful outcome that has now been presented to us. They were conceived in the knowledge that what would transpire from those positions would impoverish the country to the extent that is now apparent.

That is what we have in front of us: a group of politicians who negotiated all along knowing their stance was wilfully leading to a national impoverishment, yet they persisted and kept up a pretence of it being otherwise while they proceeded to throw away the country’s prospects and future in pursuit of a deal they thought could square away the arch-Brexiteers in their midst, who thought, even more catastrophically as it turns out, that salvation lay in crashing out of the EU in an unco-ordinated way—and they still apparently think that, despite all the evidence now before us. That is just an unacceptable way of going about dealing with the future of our country. No one went to the polls knowingly willing to do grievous damage to our country’s future economic welfare.

So here we are now, four months before the self-imposed timetable for exit is due to expire, with a half-cooked deal that will damage our country substantially. We all know now that it is not fit for purpose and will be roundly rejected by Parliament, and we are facing the need to pull something positive out of the wreckage into which this incompetent Government have plunged us. It is imperative that negotiations are restarted on the basis of known parameters that will not harm the UK economy. We know that the economy will be harmed if they continue to be ignored. I refer to membership of the customs union and close association with the single market—in other words, getting the best out of a disadvantageous situation rather than pouring petrol on the flames and making it worse.

Of course, the final rather obvious observation that goes with this is that an imperative first step in any plan to recover from this disaster is to put in for an extension to article 50 to enable meaningful negotiations to proceed. The fact that the Prime Minister keeps repeating that that is not going to happen just underlines how out of touch with the realities of the current position she appears to be.

Given what I have described, it is hard to see that anyone should have any confidence in the Government to conduct such future negotiations, and it would be preferable for someone else to do them. However, I know that is not the way things always happen, and it may well be that we will have a Government who have the “confidence” of the House but are practically unable to do anything: a zombie Government who are unable to respond properly to public concerns about the future of our country. If that is the outcome, it will be essential to test what the public think of all this. It will be evident that Parliament, for all its best endeavours, may not be able to resolve matters. That is where I think, in the end, a test might need to be effected: a half-baked non-deal against perhaps remaining in the EU and fighting for the changes that the country wants from the inside, rather than outside its structures.