The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. If the deal is rejected and we start looking at other possibilities—on a more consensual cross-party basis, I hope—then clearly whatever route we take leads to the deadline, and an answer to that may well have to be to extend the article 50 period. I am very pleased, looking back over a year ago now, that some of us in this place decided to ensure that the Government were not able to restrict the timing of the article 50 period, and so that will be a possibility.
Rather than add to the fudge, let me explain why and how, if this deal fails, Members of all parties should coalesce around a Norway-plus option, and why the “plus” element—being in a customs union with the EU—is a good thing. First, most business wants a customs union because it allows free movement of almost half our exports between Union members without tariffs and checks and paperwork. Opponents say that this would stop the UK forging its own trade agreements, but, to my mind, the benefits of the EU customs union are far greater. We must keep in mind that the EU has some 250 FTAs with some 70 countries, and the UK plan is to “roll over” those deals, meaning that, at best, we would have the same—not better—terms as the EU with one third of the world’s countries. There would be no advantage of being outside the EU. That is, of course, assuming that we are able to make those deals happen, which we know is proving somewhat elusive, as Mr Leslie explained.
Secondly, the chances of negotiating better FTAs as a country of 50 million, rather than a bloc of 500 million, is realistically and simply not how it normally works. Thirdly, there will be significant costs of going it alone on FTAs, from being forced to take US genetically modified crops to issuing visas to countries, as currently requested by Australia and India. Fourthly, FTAs take a long time to negotiate—an average of seven years.
Fifthly, the claim that Commonwealth countries will prioritise us over the EU is unrealistic, not least considering that the Czech Republic currently has four times the trade with New Zealand than we do and that the Swiss do much more trade with India than we do. Sixthly, “most favoured nation” clauses in our rolled-over EU agreements and the integrated nature of world trade will significantly reduce our ability to get commercial advantage. Finally, high levels of foreign input into our manufactured goods will create huge problems under the so-called rules of origin.
In conclusion, my view is that we shall be better off with a customs union arrangement with the EU, and the deal on offer presents the best opportunity of securing future prosperity for our companies and employment for our people. We should support it.