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[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:21 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 4:21 pm, 6th December 2018

I welcome the constructive tone set by David Morris.

I wish to pick up a telling point made by my right hon. Friend John McDonnell when he opened the debate for the Opposition. It is the case that an inevitable consequence of trying to leave the European Union in a way that minimises the economic damage—that is what the Prime Minister has been trying to define—is that we will end up complying, across the board, with large quantities of rules over which we will no longer have any say at all. It is particularly ironic that that is the outcome of an initiative that was designed to take back control.

The situation is very well illustrated by the arrangements on data protection, about which I asked the Prime Minister in the House on Tuesday. We all know about the general data protection regulation. The Prime Minister made it clear, I think in her speech in Munich, that she wanted the UK Information Commissioner to keep her place on the European Data Protection Board—quite rightly—so that we can continue to influence, as we have done, the development of GDPR policy and the rules that we will certainly have to continue to apply so that data exchange between the UK and the EU can continue. That was the Prime Minister’s objective, but the agreement but does not provide for that continuing place on the board. Under the agreement, the UK Information Commissioner will lose her seat on the board at the end of March, when we are due to leave the EU, and we will lose our say and influence on rules that we are certainly going to have to continue to apply.

The problem is particularly clear in that case, but there will be a lot of examples of that kind right across the board. When I asked the Prime Minister about this issue on Tuesday, she made the point, correctly, that we will continue to have our place in global standards bodies. That is true, but on data protection, with the GDPR, on chemicals regulation and in a whole host of other areas, it is the EU that is setting the pace on global regulation. Under this agreement, we will lose the influence that we have been able to wield in the past through our influence over those EU rules.

It is absolutely right that balancing national autonomy on the one hand with prosperity on the other is the nub of this debate. The Prime Minister has tried to reconcile those two conflicting objectives. I readily acknowledge that she has worked very hard over nearly two years to bring that about. She recognises just how damaging leaving the EU without a deal would be. Some people in this debate have denied that, so I was pleased to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer robustly argue that case in this remarks earlier.

In my view, given that a referendum kicked all this off, we now have to ask the people what the right way forward should be. The Prime Minister has negotiated a deal designed to minimise the economic damage. The question now is: should we leave the EU on the basis she has negotiated, or should we stay? That question has to be answered by the people who took part in the initial referendum, either through a general election, at which the parties could set out their stools, or, if that is not possible, through a people’s vote.