[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 3:21 pm, 9th January 2019

I can deal with that because, as Members know, I have been talking to the EU and the EU27 for quite a long time now, not to undermine the Government’s position—it was actually facilitated by the first Brexit Secretary of State in some respects—but to explore what other options are possible. At present the customs union operates on the basis that the Council sets the mandate for the Commission, the Commission does the negotiating, and Parliament then has a role. So if we want a customs union that replicates the benefits of the current customs union and we want the UK to have a say in that we must find something that is similar to that, but obviously not the same as it, and the central question I have been addressing is whether the EU would be interested in a discussion about what that sort of working customs union would look like. [Interruption.] I actually had the discussion. [Interruption.] It is very easy for Members on the Treasury Bench to chunter, but I have been responsible and actually gone and had the conversation asking whether there is a basis for a discussion about a customs union that would work in that way. I have been very clear that if it ended up as something akin to the Turkey customs union—which works for Turkey—that really would not be good enough.

As for a single market deal, my own view is that there are advantages in what we call the Norway model but that there are also disadvantages in that, and therefore it must be possible—again, I have had discussions—to explore a close economic relationship that keeps alignment, with, of course, oversight and enforcement mechanisms to go with it, but which is not simply the EEA.

I say all that in some detail in order to reassure Sir Oliver Letwin that when we talk about a close economic relationship, a customs union with a say, and a close single market deal, we are talking about concepts that I have surfaced only after I have had discussions with EU27 countries and the EU about their possibility. I am not going to stand here and pretend that that will be easy; rather, I am standing here saying that we have been pressing for at least 12 or 18 months to have that. One of the major problems—this is at the heart of the debate and the fractiousness about it—is that the Prime Minister and the Government have pushed Parliament away. They had a choice—