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[3rd Allotted Day]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 5:59 pm, 6th December 2018

Reflecting on the recent debate in this House and in the country, I wish to open with the words of Sir Winston Churchill from 1934:

“all down the centuries, one peculiarity of the English people…has cost them dear. We have always thrown away after a victory the greater part of the advantages we gained in the struggle. The worst difficulties from which we suffer do not come from without. They come from within…from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians…Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told.”

Sadly, what has characterised these negotiations has been exactly that spirit. The Government have approached Europe as a supplicant, accepting a series of conditions that have led inexorably to this place. At the heart of that lies the backstop, but I will not rehearse arguments that have been well echoed this afternoon about why it simply does not work. Our own Ministers, the Irish Government, and the EU have all made clear that under no circumstances will there be a hard border in Ireland. If this is a prison, it is one into which we will lock ourselves if we sign up to this deal.

Despite the Government’s best efforts to convince us otherwise, the EU clearly wants us in the backstop—why wouldn’t it? It would have total control of our trade and customs policy; it would have our £39 billion. It would have ensured that we cannot out-compete it through level playing field provisions, and it could offer unilateral access to our economy and its trade negotiations with third countries. That must be rejected. It may be that our doing so will finally prove to the European Union that, as the Prime Minister long insisted, no deal is better than a bad deal. I continue to believe there is a better deal to be done, but we must face the possibility that that may not be possible.

In such a case, I am clear that we should leave on 29 March next year on World Trade Organisation terms, in accordance with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I do not say that lightly. It will require courage and resolution, as well as a dynamic policy response that should include exciting ideas such as free ports. For reasons that are bewildering to me, the Government have failed to initiate serious preparations for that scenario when there was good time to do so. That was not due to negligence; rather it was a conscious policy unless—God forbid!—the Europeans understood from our making such preparations that we really were resolved to leave in earnest. That has been a lamentable failure and must change now, for every day is of value.

That must be accompanied by a wider change of policy. If the deal is rejected by the House, as I hope it will be, the ghosts of “Project Fear” must be excised. They have offered bad counsel for far too long, seeking always to reduce the path of negotiation to a minimalist and apologetic legal separation, rather than a great nation setting forth into the world.

My final words are to those colleagues who seek to prevent a clean Brexit through amendments tabled to that effect. I say simply that they should think well upon it, because without a clean Brexit we truly would be hostages to fortune, choosing only between the Scylla of a bad deal and the Charybdis of a second referendum, and that latter scenario would do untold damage to people’s faith in democracy. People in forgotten parts of Middleborough and East Cleveland voted to leave. They still want to leave, and they want to leave properly, preferably with a good deal agreed in honour, but if necessary, by trusting in our strengths, and with resolve to succeed as a global free-trading powerhouse.