It is always a pleasure to follow Stephen Timms, who made the point about becoming a rule taker in a very good area of policy.
I have not spoken in the numerous debates over the past year on Brexit as my views are well known to my constituents and others on what I believe delivering a new relationship with the EU should mean, if it is to be respected as a real Brexit. Delivering a new economic partnership with good relationships in sectors of mutual interest and benefit was always going to be a huge job. Forty years of intertwinement takes some time to unknot, as anyone who has ever tried to disentangle string knows.
The critical challenge was always going to be how the EU chose to engage in these negotiations for a new relationship and, most importantly, what its attitude to the devolved settlement would be. Would it work on a fair and equitable basis, or would it feel the need to show its strength and authority as a Commission—that overarching legal entity whose purpose is to drive forward the EU integration project to create an economic, political and military union? To those who say that the EU is somehow an ogre or bully working against UK ambitions, I say that is unfair. Its sole mission in any negotiation should be, and always is, the self-interest for the project’s success. Jean de La Fontaine’s poem about the cat, the weasel and the little rabbit, which my mother used to read to me, reminds us all that the strong are apt to settle disputes to their own advantage, but the UK should not acquiesce to an unreasonable new relationship.
The British people asked us to reboot our trading relationship so that we could be free to be a global-facing sovereign nation once again. I will not be able to endorse the withdrawal agreement—this proposed treaty that sets the new legal relationship with the EU, alongside this non-binding political declaration, which sets out a broad-brush picture of the new relationship the Prime Minister and the EU would like. I fundamentally disagree with some of those plans, both the unacceptable unlimited Northern Ireland backstop protocol, much discussed already today, and the many proposals that limit our nation’s future success and opportunities as a sovereign nation once more, with economic advantage restored to us. Nowhere is that clearer than the Prime Minister’s proposal for building our defence and security in the new relationship.
It is a constant concern and surprise to me that, for all the modelling the Treasury has done, the risk to our economic flows due to the closure of waterways has not been modelled—perhaps no one wants to think about that. We must look very closely at the proposed post-Brexit relationship with the EU. We must consider whether to accept what is clearly beneficial to the EU and whether it carries a significant risk of detriment to the UK, our defence industry, our control of our own defence and security forces and our ability, independently and with sovereign capability, to protect our economy our and constituents’ security in the decades ahead.
The language of the political declaration does not fill me with confidence. The reality is that we must be able to maintain our sovereign capability, industrial autonomy and freedom to protect our defence industry as we believe necessary and beneficial. This has not been an issue historically because the military union was only an idea. That is no longer the case. I am profoundly concerned that the proposal in the political declaration poses unacceptable risks to the United Kingdom’s defence and security flexibility, tying us into European projects when we might prefer to choose wider global partners. I am afraid that the supplicatory and subservient nature of the proposed treaty and future relationship cannot command my support.