It is a huge privilege to be called to contribute to what I believe is the most significant debate to be held in this Chamber for approaching half a century. The decision we come to on its conclusion will determine nothing less than whether the United Kingdom takes its place in the world as a free and independent country once again, or whether it becomes the fragmented client of a foreign power and subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign court.
I was an enthusiastic campaigner for a leave vote in the 2016 referendum. It was clear to me then, and it is clear to me now, that at least in the part of the world that I represent there is strong support for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The referendum was decisive. The House has a mandate from the British people—indeed, an absolute duty—to restore British sovereignty. The way to do that is set out in article 50 of the treaty on the European Union. It shows the way. It provides that any member state wishing to leave must give notice of its desire and that at the end of a maximum period of two years the European treaties cease to apply to it.
Ceasing to be part of the EU means, essentially, ceasing to be part of the arrangements established under the European treaties, which means ceasing to be part of the single market and the customs union and, most importantly, ceasing to be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the institution in which the sovereignty of the EU resides. The Prime Minister acknowledged that in her excellent speech at Lancaster House last year. In that speech, she specifically rejected partial or associate membership of the EU or anything that left us “half in, half out”, as she put it. She said:
“We will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.”
That speech demonstrated a perfect understanding of what it was to be part of the EU and how we should leave, but the withdrawal agreement is so utterly different from what was envisaged by the Prime Minister at Lancaster House that it is with great sadness that I must say that I cannot support it. As many other right hon. and hon. Members have set out, the key problem is of course the backstop. It is ostensibly designed to ensure that there is no hard border in Northern Ireland, but the reality as far as the United Kingdom is concerned is that we are at huge risk of remaining confined in the customs union indefinitely and consequently unable to conclude our own free trade agreements with third countries around the world. That deeply disturbing state of affairs will continue until it is replaced by an undefined political agreement, an agreement that may well never be concluded, in which case we remain in the backstop.
As it stands the withdrawal agreement is hugely beneficial to the European Union. It preserves tariff-free access to the fifth largest economy in the world. It enables the EU to deploy the strength of the UK economy in any treaties it may wish to conclude with third countries. I have therefore no doubt that, contrary to what we have heard earlier from other hon. Members, there is every incentive for the European Union to keep the United Kingdom in the backstop. In other words, we would remain locked into this arrangement at the pleasure of the European Union. We would effectively become a client state of the European Union and our freedom to depart would be impossible. Furthermore, the agreement establishes a state of affairs under which an integral part of our sovereign territory, Northern Ireland, effectively becomes a colony of the European Union, subject in large measure to the single market and the customs union and ECJ jurisdiction, and legally semi-detached from the rest of this country. As a Unionist, I cannot support that happening to Northern Ireland any more than I could support it happening to the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Skye or the Isle of Anglesey.
This is a thoroughly bad deal. There are many aspects of concern in it, not least the £39 billion, which we would, for some reason, be paying for this false Brexit, but the single biggest objection must be that it robs the United Kingdom of its sovereignty, of its freedom of self-determination and, potentially, of a large and important part of its territory contrary to the wishes of its people. For that reason, with a heavy heart, and recognising the efforts of the Prime Minister, I am afraid to say that I cannot support the agreement and I shall be voting against it on Tuesday.