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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 just want to make this point. We need to understand why this document is so flimsy. It is not just an accident. It is not just that people were not working hard. It is not just that the civil servants, who have worked really hard in all this, were not doing their job. It is for two primary reasons.

The first was that the Prime Minister laid down her red lines in autumn 2016 without consulting the House and, I think, without consulting the Cabinet. She said that those red lines were: outside the customs union, outside the single market and no role for the European Court of Justice. She added the suggestion that

“if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”

That was an interpretation of the referendum—we can argue whether it was a good or bad one—by a small team of, I think, three of four people. That was not even the interpretation of the Cabinet, and certainly not of this House. We only have 26 pages on the future relationship, because that got us off to the worst possible start to the negotiations. Those were political choices, not necessities. They were the Prime Minister’s choices, which set her on a path, and this is where it ended.

Add to that the fact that we only got the Chequers proposal in June last year. Anybody who visited Brussels between the triggering of article 50 and June 2018 will have heard the same complaint that I heard: “We don’t know what the UK is actually asking for, and therefore we can’t really advance the negotiations.” When we first got the Chequers proposal in June last year, those in Brussels acknowledged that at least there was now a plan on the table. Of course, Chequers did not unlock the problem, because it was a plan that led immediately to Cabinet resignations, that MPs were quick to say they opposed and would not agree to in any circumstances, and that the EU rejected. That is why there are only 26 pages, which expose the thinness of the proposals.