[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 7:53 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon 7:53 pm, 9th January 2019

I was fortunate to speak in the December debate, so I will do my best to be brief. It is a tremendous honour to follow Gavin Robinson. He has made a very powerful case and he demonstrates his tremendously strong rhetorical skills.

I listened to the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union very closely. In his words, he said that this is not a vote about Labour’s proposals; I agree. We are voting on the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. I agree with the withdrawal agreement and I will be supporting it. I listened to Labour’s desire for a customs union and for a close relationship with the EU to protect our vital Union of the United Kingdom and to protect business and jobs. The shadow Secretary of State agreed with the Government Front-Bench team that there must be a withdrawal agreement to protect citizens’ rights. I echo the words of the Minister for the Cabinet Office that this should not be about semantics. This is not about Labour’s plan, but that is because there have been so many versions of Labour’s plan. The Government have had to come up with a finely negotiated plan, which we are now trying to get through this House.

The shadow Secretary of State said that he had agonised over voting for article 50. That set off a time-limited process, which we had to negotiate with the EU, and here we are; we have nearly arrived at the end of it. During that time, I have never heard a concise, cohesive plan from the Opposition. I can only conclude that despite the deal’s perceived faults—to avoid no deal, and to protect jobs and citizens’ rights, as the shadow Secretary of State agreed a deal should do—and recognising that there must be a withdrawal agreement and, I am afraid, a backstop, Members on both sides of the House, following on from article 50, support the deal. It is the next step so that we can negotiate our future with the EU and the rest of the world. This is in stark contrast with those who simply do not agree with Brexit, although I respect that that is what they campaigned on.

The SNP rejected Brexit pretty well in the same way that it rejected the result of the independence referendum. SNP Members quote figures of doom and gloom, which is disappointing because we are here to be optimistic. My hon. Friend Alex Chalk said that that those who oppose this deal could be the handmaidens of a hard deal—of no deal. This disappoints me, because back in 2014, as a consequence of possible separation, the SNP was happy to negotiate with the EU as a third party. That is in tremendous contrast with the suggestion of Armageddon, when we would have to negotiate with the EU as a third party.

Industries in my Gordon constituency have embraced Brexit. In good faith, they expect elected politicians here actually to get on with it, so I implore the SNP and others who reject Brexit to think again, to deliver on what we pledged and to respect the Brexit referendum with a deal that works for business and jobs. These industries want us to make progress and move on to the next step, because the political declaration leaves a great deal of scope. There are not many Members present on either side of the Conservative side of this debate, but the political declaration would allow scope for a deal that would very much accommodate what both sides of the debate on the Conservative Benches and the Opposition are arguing for.

The Government are making no-deal preparations. The Treasury Committee heard from the Bank of England that the financial system is robust in all situations. That is a very good thing and that is what the stress-testing was; it was not suggesting that the economy would drop by 10%. We cannot go back. The country has moved on, but it seems that this place is frozen in time while the rest of the country is moving on, including my constituency. I heard on the radio this morning the chairman of the port of Calais, who said that the trucks will keep moving under all circumstances. The rest of the world and the rest of Europe is moving on, while this place is frozen—stuck back in the EU referendum.

We know that the currency markets and the stock market have built-in risk, and that companies have pent up investment in their balance sheets; as we heard on the Treasury Committee, their balance sheets are in rude health. My good and hon. Friend Stephen Kerr said that he is a pragmatist. Well, I am an optimist and I believe that there can be a positive result from Brexit, so next week let us give the economy and the mood of a nation a lift. Let us support the Prime Minister’s deal and get on with Brexit.