EU Withdrawal Agreement

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 3:09 pm on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 3:09 pm, 18th December 2018

What I think is happening—it saddens me to say so—is that the Government are running down the clock in order to put maximum pressure on Members to face what the Government will present as a binary choice between the proposed deal that is before us and no deal. That is the only purpose left in this delay. Yes, it would help a great deal if we could have clarification now that no deal is not a viable option. It would allow us to focus on other options and to take the necessary steps to advance those options in the time that is available. I call on the Secretary of State to give that clarification if he feels able.

If the Government had ever been serious about delivering a no-deal outcome, they would not be panicking like this at the 11th hour—they would already have had extra staff trained and resources in place. They would already have had the vast infrastructure that would be needed at UK borders and ports.

It is all very well those on the Government Front Bench shaking their heads—[Interruption.] If they will just listen, I will quote their own Chancellor, who said two weeks ago in response to a question from Charlie Elphicke that

“if we were to end up having a WTO-type trading arrangement with the European Union”,

that

“would involve some very significant infrastructure works that could not be done in a matter of months;
they would take years to complete.”

If I was making that point, people might say, “Well, that’s just the Opposition,” but that is the Chancellor’s assessment. When the Chancellor says that, what is the answer from the Prime Minister or those on the Front Bench? What is the answer from the Government?

In a report in October, the National Audit Office said:

“The government does not have enough time to put in place all of the infrastructure, systems and people required for fully effective border operations on day one”,

and that

“organised criminals and others are likely to be quick to exploit any perceived weaknesses or gaps in the enforcement regime. This, combined with the UK’s potential loss of access to EU security, law enforcement and criminal justice tools, could create security weaknesses”.

The NAO has also said—this is a serious point that I have raised a number of times but not heard an answer from the Government on:

“If customs declarations are required for trade between the UK and the existing EU, HMRC estimates that the total number of customs declarations could increase by around 360%, from the 55 million currently made on non-EU trade to 255 million.”

That is an increase in customs declarations from 55 million to 255 million three months from today, in a no-deal Brexit. What is the answer to that?