EU Withdrawal Agreement

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 4:01 pm, 18th December 2018

It is a pleasure to be called in this debate and to follow Hywel Williams. I congratulate Ian Blackford on securing this debate. I always thought that it was relatively simple for an Opposition to get a coherent motion down and secure a debate in the Chamber, but we have seen over the past 24 hours that that seems to be a challenge for the Labour party.

I am not usually the sort of person who rushes to retweet the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, but I did retweet her last night when she said that if it is only the Prime Minister in whom the Labour party does not have confidence, which Conservative Member is the Labour party looking forward to taking over? [Hon. Members: “You!”] Well, I hear Members say me, but I will be slightly modest and say that that is not really me, although I appreciate the comment. It could be the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend Stephen Barclay, who just gave an excellent speech. This is about the absolute nonsense of the Labour party playing a parliamentary panto game when it should either have been making its view clear or moving on—I do not see the numbers in this House for a general election—and being honest.

I listened carefully and with some interest to the speech from Keir Starmer. He spent a lot of time dissecting no deal, saying that it would be disastrous and ruling it out as an option. He then spent a lot of time criticising the deal that is on the table, even though the leader of the Labour party spent the first half of his response to the Prime Minister’s statement saying that there was really no point her negotiating because she was not going to get any other deal.

That brings me then to the only logical conclusion, which is that the preference of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is actually the one set out in the Bill presented earlier by Geraint Davies: no Brexit at all. If that really is the policy of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he should at least be up front about it. The Scottish National party has been clear about its preference for no Brexit, and I respect people when they are up front about what they think. I do not agree with that position, and it is not how my constituency voted. However, there were not many people who stood up before the referendum and said, “If this referendum goes the way that I do not like, I will disrespect it.” In fact, the strongest argument for respecting the referendum result before it was known came from those who were planning to vote remain, not leave. For me, this is about being clear.

The substance of this motion is about the ongoing EU withdrawal negotiations, and I think it is right that the Prime Minister is getting on with the job that the people have asked her to do. There was an irony last week that a meeting with the Irish Government to talk about the backstop was cancelled due to the actions of those who demanded that the Prime Minister go to talk to the Irish Government and European leaders about how the current wording on the backstop is unacceptable to many in this House.

For me, it is about being clear about the change we want to see. Extraneous issues—matters totally irrelevant to whether the border is kept open in Ireland, as all Members agree is important—could be used to veto future trading arrangements with the European Union, which would result in our staying in the backstop. None of us would think it is genuinely best endeavours if we ended up sitting in a backstop arrangement because, for example, a future Spanish Government did not think they had enough on Gibraltar or a future French President did not quite like the fishing agreement. The Northern Ireland backstop would not cover the common fisheries policy—I know the Scottish National party’s enthusiasm for staying in the European Union’s common fisheries policy—if we were forced into it.

We must make sure we can be confident that we will move forward and that there is not a return to the hard border of the past in Ireland. None of us wants to see the progress of the past 20 years undone, whatever view we take on Brexit. It is about being clear, which is why I welcome the fact that the Government are getting on with what this House asked them to do. It is bizarre for shadow Ministers to demand the vote now because they want to vote it down. Having the vote now would have been an argument if they wanted to vote it through, not vote it down. Such a vote would not move us forward.

Rather than playing games with procedural nonsense, it is time for the official Opposition finally to come clean on what their policies actually are. To be fair, the SNP and the Conservative party have, and it is for others to reflect over Christmas that there are choices to be made and it is time to make them, not to play procedural games.