[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

No, I really am going to make some progress now because I have been giving in—hopefully, I have been giving way, though I may have been giving in as well!

I have made the point about this being the same proposition on the table, but let me just go to the heart of the problem of why we are so stuck on this question of the backstop on which I have been challenged. At the heart of the problem is the future relationship document. The truth is that there has been barely any progress on the future relationship. It is a flimsy 26-page document. In truth, it is an options paper—a 26-page options paper—which could and should have been written two years ago. Paragraph 28—I know that everyone has marked it up, but it is worth having another look at—covers the implications for checks and controls. This is the future relationship. It says:

The Parties envisage that the extent of the United Kingdom’s commitments on customs and regulatory cooperation, including with regard to alignment of rules, would be taken into account in the application of related checks and controls, considering this as a factor in reducing risk.”

It then goes on to say that there is a “spectrum of different outcomes”. What it is saying is that we do not know yet what the commitments on customs and co-operation will be. We do not know what the alignment will be. If it is close it might lead to one result; if it is not close it might lead to another result—a spectrum of different outcomes.

The document has 26 pages, at the heart of which is a “spectrum of different outcomes”. We keep calling it a deal, but this is not a deal; it is an options paper. It is an options paper that has been written by others. We have all mocked up an options paper, as have various academics. Let me contrast this with what the previous Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, said. We were challenging him over the summer about the future relationship and trying to get an assurance from him that we would have a precise and detailed document that we could vote on so we know where we are going. He said this:

“What is important is that it is clear and specific enough”— the future relationship document—

“that we are not talking about options for negotiations”— that is what it would not be—

“but we are clear on the choice of model”— so it is a clear model that he said we would have—

“and therefore that it reads as a direction for the UK and the EU to get on with it—that we are really implementing heads of terms for an agreement.”

This is miles away from that. This is not a deal, and that is the cause of the problem.

The cause of the problem is this: whatever the Secretary of State says, nobody but nobody who is serious about this thinks for one moment that this document will turn into the future relationship and come into force on 1 January 2021. Nobody credible thinks that. It is a complete myth. It is precisely the same as the myth that this would all have been negotiated by now, which is why there is such anxiety about the backstop. The backstop should never have been the driving force—the focus. We should have been so far advanced in this part of the negotiation that the backstop would have been a bit of a non-issue.