[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee 4:49 pm, 6th December 2018

It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this important debate. It is also a pleasure to follow Ian Paisley. He and I come at this from a different perspective, but that is because I am concerned about the interests of my constituency.

My constituency voted very narrowly to remain in the European Union. I have always been a supporter of being a member of the European Union. I campaigned for remain, I voted to remain, and I would do so again. I do not believe that we will be advantaged by our leaving. However, we cannot wish away the outcome of the referendum. I stood on a manifesto at the election that said that I would endeavour to implement the outcome in a way that protected the interests of the businesses and jobs of my constituents. From my constituents’ point of view, the most important thing is to ensure continuity and business stability.

The largest proportion of the working population of Bromley and Chislehurst—some 36%—works in firms in and connected with the financial and professional services sector. London is the leading European centre for those businesses. A manageable Brexit, all those who work in those sectors tell me, would be an economic blow: we would not be as well off as we were, but it would be manageable; it could be contained and we would then, in due course, be able to build up opportunities and fresh markets elsewhere. But the one thing that would be disastrous for the financial services sector—which underpins the whole of our economy, it is worth stressing—would be a disorderly, no deal Brexit. WTO terms are of no assistance at all to the services sector, and since we are an 80% services economy, we should not forget that.

That is why although the deal is imperfect, because all compromises are, I will support it. I will support it because I am a Conservative on the grounds that I believe in free markets and capitalism; I am unashamedly a supporter of that system. I also do so because I am unashamedly a Unionist. I genuinely believe that the Prime Minister has used her very best endeavours to try to reconcile two very difficult, conflicting tensions within our United Kingdom in a way that is honestly intended to try to enable the Union to be preserved, but equally to enable us to have a sensible and organised departure from the EU, and a basis on which to build on our future relationship.

I would like to see more about services in the future relationship, but I accept that that is a compromise I must make. The key thing is that everybody in the sector says that this deal gets us into transition. There are very complex technical matters that we will need to sort out around the whole of the services sector. I mentioned financial services but I also mention legal services. The Justice Committee recently did a report on this. There are significant technical issues that we will need to sort through. That cannot be done in a matter of months, as has been said—40-odd years of integration will take time to unravel—but the transition period gives us the opportunity to do it in a constructive way. Otherwise we potentially put at risk billions of pounds of important trading revenue coming into this country, and therefore important tax revenue for our public services as well.

That is why I will put aside such qualms as I have and support the deal. I appreciate that the backstop is an issue for many of my colleagues. I do not much care for it, but I take the view of the Attorney General that we need to look at the balance of risks. Something that may not, at the end of the day, ever be needed—as I suspect will be the case—has to be balanced against the certain risk of the disruption to key elements of our economy of no deal, and the risk of further division in our country if we do not accept the outcome of the referendum and find a new basis on which to go forward.