Debate resumed (Order,
Question again proposed,
That this House approves for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House on Monday
May I begin on a personal note, Mr Speaker? I am very, very grateful to Members on both sides of the House, from all parties, who very kindly contacted me or sent messages over the course of the Christmas holidays following my son’s accident. I am very grateful for the kind words that many sent. My son is recovering well and I just wanted to register my appreciation.
A second brief point I want to make is that I want to ensure that as many colleagues as possible have the opportunity to intervene during my remarks. I recognise that we will be addressing a number of important issues today, not least the vital importance of maintaining environmental protection and the protection of workers’ rights, but I also recognise that many colleagues wish to speak, so I will try to keep my answers as brief as possible.
It is perhaps appropriate, Mr Speaker, given that this is a debate on European matters, that we should be emulating what happens in European football competitions by having a second leg of this debate following the first one. In hotly contested European matches, strong views are sometimes held, not just about the merits of each side, but about the referee, but all I want to say is that I am personally grateful to you, Mr Speaker. You sat through the whole of the first leg of this debate and intend to sit through the second, which is an indication of how important this debate is and how seriously you take your responsibilities. Across the House, we all owe you thanks for how you have facilitated this debate.
I also want to thank the many civil servants in my Department and elsewhere who have worked hard to secure the withdrawal agreement with the European Union. Officials, negotiators and others sometimes find themselves in the firing line but unable to speak for themselves, so let me speak for them: the dedicated public servants in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Exiting the European Union and other Departments have worked hard to honour the referendum result and to secure the best possible deal for the British people. I place on record my thanks and those of my Government colleagues for their wonderful work.
As everyone acknowledges, the deal that we have concluded is a compromise. Those who are critical of it recognise that there are flaws, and those of us who support it also recognise that it has its imperfections, but how could it be otherwise? There are more than 600 Members, all with different and overlapping views on Brexit and its merits, and on how it should be executed. Some 17.4 million people voted to leave—a clear majority—and we must honour that, but we must also respect the fact that 48% of our fellow citizens voted to remain, and their concerns, fears and hopes also have to be taken into consideration.
We are dealing in this negotiation with 27 other EU nations, each with legitimate interests, with which we trade and many of whose citizens live in this country. We consider them our friends and partners in the great enterprise of making sure that a rules-based international order can safeguard the interests of everyone. Inevitably, then, we have to compromise. I recognise that during this debate many principled cases for alternatives will be advanced. I will respect, and have respected, the passion and integrity with which those cases are made, but it is also important to recognise that those who support this compromise, including me, are passionate about delivering on the verdict of the British people in the referendum in a way that also honours the interests of every British citizen. That is what this agreement does. It honours the referendum result while also respecting the vital interests of every part of the United Kingdom and every citizen within it.
The difficulty is that we do not know the extent of the compromise because negotiations on the future agreement have yet to begin, and because we will have paid the money upfront and will be unable to walk away from these negotiations, so we will be in a weak position. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me about the level of compromise that is likely to be made?
I very much take on board my right hon. Friend’s point. As I will explain in greater detail in my remarks, I think we are in a far stronger position than many allow. The £39 billion that we will be giving to the EU is in part settlement of our obligations and in part a way of ensuring we have a transition period so that we can adjust to life outside the EU. The backstop that has been negotiated—let us all remember that originally the EU wanted a Northern Ireland-only backstop, but we now have a UK-wide backstop—allows us, as a sovereign nation, freedom in critical areas. These are freedoms that honour the referendum result and create real difficulties for European countries, which I will explore in greater detail in a moment.
It is critical that we recognise that the agreement the Prime Minister has negotiated will mean that we will be outside the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, outside the common fisheries policy, outside the common agricultural policy, outside the common foreign and security policy and outside the principle of ever closer union, and that we will have control of our borders and our money. The days of automatic direct debits from this country, at whatever level people might think appropriate, will end, and as a result the referendum verdict will be honoured.
I absolutely can. One of the opportunities that the citizens of Northern Ireland would have as a result of the deal is unimpeded access not just to the rest of the UK market, which is essential for the maintenance of our Union, but to the rest of the EU. That is why the Ulster Farmers’ Union, Ulster business and so many in Northern Ireland’s civil society have said that, with all its imperfections, the deal protects not only the integrity of the UK, but their livelihoods, jobs and futures.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the Ulster Farmers’ Union. Has he had time today to see the letter written by the presidents of all four farmers unions to every Member setting out quite clearly why no deal would be so damaging to the interests of rural communities?
I have read that letter. It has been sent to every Member, and I would ask every Member to give it close attention. Our farming communities, like our country, were split over whether to leave. A majority of farmers voted to leave, recognising the opportunities that being outside the CAP would present, but I have yet to meet a single farmer who believes that a no-deal Brexit would be the right option for this country when the withdrawal agreement in front of us provides the opportunity for tariff-free and quota-free access for agricultural products to the EU.
I will say a bit more about the specific challenges of a no-deal Brexit. It is an intellectually consistent position, but it is important, even as we apprise it and pay respect to its advocates, that we also recognise the real turbulence that would be caused, at least in the short and medium term, to many of our farmers and food producers.
I find myself in agreement with the Secretary of State about the risks and dangers of a no-deal Brexit, but his claim that people will be better off flies in the face of the Government’s own economic analysis, which suggests that people will be poorer, the economy smaller and economic growth slower. How can he stand at the Dispatch Box and say something the Government have found to be otherwise?
The report emphatically does not say that people will be poorer. It is important to pay proper respect to projections while also applying the appropriate analytical tools. Some of the economic projections for no deal and Brexit have proved to be unfounded. Projections have been wrong in the past and may well be wrong in the future, but it is the case—here I do agree with the hon. Lady—that, irrespective of projections for different paths, there are certain brute and unalterable facts about no deal, including the imposition of tariffs by the EU, that would create friction and costs, and that would mean, at least in the short term, economic turbulence for parts of the UK economy.
Will my right hon. Friend welcome the great news from the port of Calais that it will not create any barriers and that our trade will flow perfectly smoothly if we just leave the EU on
My right hon. Friend makes two very important points. It is absolutely right that there have been some lurid and exaggerated stories, both during the referendum and subsequently, about the impact of certain Brexit scenarios, and he is absolutely right that in aviation and the commitments of some of our partners who manage ports there have been welcome signs. It is also important to recognise, however, that the European Commission has made it clear that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there will be 100% checks on products of animal origin and live animal exports, which will add significantly to friction.
Tariffs would also be imposed, and while overall tariffs on agricultural produce in the EU are around 11%, which can be discounted by changes in the valuation of sterling, it is also the case that the import duties on some products, such as sheep meat, are more than 40%, and in some cases considerably more. That would certainly impose costs on our farmers and food producers. They are resilient, imaginative, energetic and dynamic, and in the long term, of course, they will flourish, but these are undeniable short-term costs.
“disorderly ‘no deal’
exit…would prevent…challenges for our operations, supply chains and customers”,
and exhorts me and others to ratify the withdrawal agreement, which would
“provide business with the certainty it needs”?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Again, across business there was a range of voices —for remain and leave—during the Brexit referendum, but what is striking is that many prominent voices among those who argued that we should leave have also made it clear that they believe that a no-deal Brexit would be the wrong outcome. They see significant opportunities for Britain outside the EU. Lord Wolfson, one of our most talented entrepreneurs in charge of one of our biggest retail chains, and Richard Walker, the chief executive of Iceland, one of our most dynamic and environmentally friendly supermarkets, both voted to leave the EU. They believe that to be the right choice for Britain and they both—employing thousands of our fellow citizens—also say that a no deal would pose significant challenges.
The right hon. Gentleman is a real optimist on Brexit. How long does he expect it will take to negotiate the political agreement and finalise all its details?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not “Project Fear” when the National Farmers Union and all the agricultural unions warn of an embargo on animal product exports, which are currently worth £3.15 billion, in the event of no deal? In the case of the lamb industry, 94% of its exports go to the EU. This is not “Project Fear”; this is serious “Project Business”.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There have been some exaggerated claims about the impact of a no-deal Brexit, and the British economy is resilient. He is absolutely right, however, that farmers in some of our most vulnerable sectors, in constituencies that Members across this House represent, would be significantly adversely affected in the short term.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for quoting my constituent Richard Walker, who has highlighted the fact that the jobs of 24,000 employees at Iceland depend on frictionless trade and that it is really important to support a deal, because no deal would be catastrophic for not only Iceland, but Arla Foods and several other food producers in this country.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is always important to get things in proportion, but across the business spectrum—from those who argued for remain and for leave—there is a strong consensus that no deal would, in the short to medium term, cause significant harm.
My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. I want to pursue his argument about the sheep meat implications of a WTO-terms Brexit. He referred to the introduction of tariffs of more than 40%. Will he confirm that that would apply on day one of moving to WTO terms?
Yes, I am afraid that it absolutely would, and a tariff of 40%—it is just above 40%—is one of the lower ones. For example, there are tariffs on some meat exports of more than 140%, and in one case there is a tariff of more than 200%.
Some people suggest that we could reject this deal and go back and get a better deal from Europe. Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns about the great uncertainty in that, not least because the European Parliament shuts down in mid-April for the European elections, leaving many months in which no negotiation will be possible?
Yes. As DEFRA Secretary, I suppose that I should say that a bird in the hand is worth more than however many we might find in the bush. My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have negotiated hard and effectively. We have not secured everything that we wanted, but we have secured a great deal of what we wanted. Now is the chance—I think the country wants us to do this—to unite behind this deal across the House and to deliver on Brexit in a way that delivers for every citizen.
A few moments ago, my right hon. Friend mentioned live animal exports. Is it the case that if this agreement were to be approved, many of our constituents who want an end to live animal exports would find that that was not allowed?
Not quite. Live animal exports on the island of Ireland would have to continue, but we could further restrict—and, if we wished to, even ban—live animal exports from GB to the rest of the EU.
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. To continue the point about tariffs and sheep meat, the fact is that the situation that has been outlined could happen, so what specific preparations have been made? What contingencies, compatible with WTO rules, can be undertaken in the event that those tariffs come in so that we support our hill farmers and so on?
That is a very fair point. One thing that occupies most of my time as Secretary of State for DEFRA is planning for various contingencies. In exceptional circumstances, there are market interventions that we can take to help this particular sector. The broader point is that whether we are in the EU or out, WTO rules on the level of state aid that we can give to farmers will bind our hands in any case.
The Secretary of State has just mentioned state aid, particularly in agriculture. Is he not concerned that the deal allows the Commission oversight of state aid for four years post the transition period, and that with the Northern Ireland protocol, the Commission may have an overview of state aid in agriculture for ever? That would mean that if we wanted to diverge from the common agricultural policy, the Commission could prevent us from doing that. Is that not a reason to throw out this deal?
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but that is a misunderstanding of the agreement. The entire United Kingdom could diverge from the common agricultural policy and introduce new methods of support—
We absolutely could, including in Northern Ireland. Of course, there are restrictions on the amount of state aid that we can give, but those restrictions operate as a result of our membership of the WTO as well.
Well, it was vegan, but the Secretary of State had cheese.
There is definitely a consensus that no deal would be absolutely disastrous for the farming community. The Secretary of State is totally focusing on the risks of no deal, and to me that is something of a red herring. We could easily avoid no deal—it is entirely in the Prime Minister’s power to avoid no deal either by extending or revoking article 50 if we get to that cliff edge. Can the Secretary of State now talk about the deal that is being put before us for the meaningful vote and try to persuade us of the merits of that deal, rather than talking about no deal?
The Secretary of State might wish to describe to us his cheese selection and his salivation over it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was happy to embrace my inner vegan with the hon. Lady earlier this month. We had some delicious vegan parsnip soup, and also some cheese that was produced by the Sustainable Food Trust.
I have sought to respond to questions from several colleagues about the impact of no deal, and I will say more about the merits of the deal in just a second. I will say, however, that it is not just within the power of the Government, but within the power of us all to ensure that we secure a deal. The hon. Lady is a constructive and pragmatic member of this House, and I know that she has concerns about the deal, but one of the best ways of avoiding no deal would be for her to join many other colleagues across the House in supporting the deal.
I have a small point for the Secretary of State before he explains the benefits of the deal, in his view. My savvy constituents like to participate in the biggest horse race event of the year, the Grand National, which this year is on
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. In the event of no deal, the tripartite agreement, which is part of EU law, falls. Of course, the bloodstock industry, the horse racing industry and others can take mitigating steps, but the current free movement of equines would be harmed, although it would be protected by this deal.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, and then I will try to make a little bit of progress. I am sure that there will be further interventions in due course.
In the Secretary of State’s post-Brexit nirvana, there will be a different customs and trading arrangement with the EU from the one that exists just now, and that will be managed with no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Government have consistently said that that will be done with the use of new technology. What is the timeframe for the invention, trial and deployment of that technology, which will mean that there are no cameras and no infrastructure—no anything—on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland?
A lot of work has already been done—including by Members of this House, such as my hon. Friend Mr Fysh—to point out how we can have a frictionless border and avoid checks at the border, so that we can move out of the backstop and into a new trade agreement with the European Union.
Today the focus of this debate is principally, although not exclusively, on the environment and on workers’ protection. It is important to put on record the work that has been done across this House while we have been in the European Union to protect our environment and ensure that workers have a brighter future. However, it is also important to stress that this country has had ambitions higher than those required by our membership of the European Union—ambitions that have been fulfilled in a number of areas.
Edward Miliband, when he was Secretary of State in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, introduced climate change legislation that was significantly more progressive and ambitious than what was required by our membership of the European Union. On plastic and waste, this Government are going further than we are required to do by the European Union, to ensure that we pay our debts to this planet. Look at workers’ rights, holiday rights, maternity leave, maternity pay and the national living wage. In every single one of those areas, our ambitions have been higher than required by the European Union.
It is not the case that membership of the European Union is necessary to safeguard our environment or to guarantee high-quality rights for workers. This agreement makes clear that we will apply a non-regression principle when it comes to workers’ rights, to health and safety and to employment rights. That principle, which will be very similar to the one that occurs in many other trade deals, will ensure that there is no race to the bottom. The Government will also—this is in the withdrawal agreement—create an office of environmental protection to ensure that our environment is safeguarded and that appropriate principles that were developed during our time in the European Union, such as the precautionary principle, are applied in an appropriate way.
However, there is a critical distinction between what the withdrawal agreement allows us to do and what the EU insists that we do. The withdrawal agreement allows us to take back control. The office of environmental protection will scrutinise this Government’s or a future Government’s application of environmental principles, but the House will decide how those principles are interpreted. For example, if we want to put the emphasis on innovation in certain areas in a different way from the European Union but still strive towards high environmental goals, we can. We can have both higher levels of protection and, critically—this was the message of the referendum—democratic accountability, with power flowing back to this place and all its Members.
Yes, absolutely. It is important that citizens have the right to access not just the courts but other means to ensure that environmental rights are protected. The creation of that new watchdog, which of course will be democratically accountable, will ensure that citizens do not have to go to court, but the Government and other public bodies will be held to account for their actions in safeguarding the environment.
Yes, it absolutely will be independent. There will be an opportunity for the House to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill that will give effect to that body.
Is the Secretary of State not concerned that, if the deal delivers such a glorious future for the United Kingdom, all the other member states of the European Union will look enviously on it and the integrity of the European Union itself will be challenged? Everybody will want a better deal than membership, which we currently have and, by definition, has to be the best possible relationship with the EU.
It will be for other countries to decide, but yes, I think other countries will be envious of our position. For the sake of argument, I think some Italian politicians will look at our ability to have quota-free and tariff-free access to their markets and yet to be outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, have full control of our borders and pay no money, and ask themselves, “Why is it that the UK has a better deal?” It will be for them to make their own judgments, but people under-appreciate the strength of the position that this deal puts Britain in for the future.
The Secretary of State mentions that we will move out of the orbit of the ECJ. Instead, for trade deals, particularly on fracking, we will be in the orbit of international investment tribunals. He may know that in the case of Lone Pine Resources, the Canadian Government were fined hundreds of millions of dollars for their moratorium on fracking in Quebec. Is he not concerned that, if we leave the defence of the European Court of Justice and try to restrict fracking, we will be open to attack by frackers? That would not be good.
I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but robust legal protections, including licensing and permitting, will continue to ensure that hydraulic fracturing, if we have it, is governed by a set of rules that safeguard and balance the interests of the environment and the interests of property owners and those who wish to generate economic growth.
I want to go back to the Secretary of State’s point about Britain being the envy of other European states because of the position it will be in post Brexit. Is it his contention that the Brexit scenario we are currently going through has enhanced Britain’s international reputation?
It is certainly the case that, if we look at the flow of individuals who want to come to Britain—[Interruption.] This is an important point. One of the critical questions about the attractiveness of our nation is how many people want to come here. The fact that so many people want to make a life in Britain is an indication of the strength of our position, and the significant investments by tech giants, Toyota and a number of others indicate that Britain continues to be an attractive destination not just for individuals but for investment.
As a Scot who believes in the United Kingdom’s ability to take things forward, I am very much behind our moving from the EU, as voters requested in the referendum. In noting the good work on the environment that my right hon. Friend has championed, may I ask him to specify what opportunities this Brexit deal will create for us to leave a better environment for the generation that follows us?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have already said that we wish to embrace higher standards for plastic, waste and resources, but there is another big opportunity, which I know he is very keen on us taking as we leave the European Union—the opportunity to take back control of our exclusive economic zone and our fisheries, and to ensure that the environmentally damaging and economically wasteful common fisheries policy ends.
The Scottish National party, which has many talented Members, some of whom are in the Chamber, is committed—[Interruption.] I will not blight their electoral prospects by naming them and explaining how much I admire them. The SNP is committed to staying in the European Union and the common fisheries policy, in direct defiance of the Scottish Government’s own analysis, which points out that there could be billions of extra pounds and 5,000 extra jobs in the Scottish economy if we left the common fisheries policy. The leader of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation told the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs yesterday that he was suffering “foot-stamping frustration” at the Scottish Government’s inability to seize that opportunity.
Why do the Scottish Government want to stand in the way of 5,000 new jobs being created? Is it ideology? Are they placing separatism above the true interests of Scotland? [Hon. Members: “Always!”] I hear cries of, “Always” from Scottish Conservative colleagues. I fear that, despite my respect for our Scottish Government colleagues in so many ways, my Scottish Conservative colleagues are absolutely right. Those jobs will be created only if we embrace the opportunities of being outside the common fisheries policy.
It is not just in fisheries that jobs can be created. Outside the common agricultural policy, we will be able to embrace methods of productivity that improve our food and drink sector—our biggest manufacturing sector—and provide new jobs, new investment and new technology. It is also the case that, with environmental services and our energy, dynamism and innovation—including ultra low emission vehicles, which my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has championed consistently—we can turn post-Brexit Britain into an environmental and economic superpower.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I cannot wait to leave the European Union on
I think the European Union and its institutions will provide more clarity, but let me try to provide an additional element of clarity. The backstop is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for me individually as a unionist, and it is uncomfortable for my friends in the House who represent Northern Ireland. However, it is important to recognise that the European Union originally wanted a Northern Ireland-only backstop. The Prime Minister pushed back against that. We now have a UK-wide backstop. Critically, as I mentioned, that creates difficulties for other European nations.
Immediately after the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement, we heard from President Macron. It was clear from his comments that he recognised how unhappy French fishermen and citizens in Brittany and Normandy would be if the backstop came into operation and they lost all—100%—of their access to UK waters as we took back control. We shall be able to say to France, to the Netherlands, to Denmark and to other nations, “I am afraid you are locked out of our waters” and at the same time, “but we have access to your markets without tariffs or quotas.” We shall be able to say, “Your citizens cannot come here except under our rules” and, at the same time, “We are not paying a penny for these privileges”—and, at the same time, “We are outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”
European nations will say to the European institutions, “We thought that you were not going to allow cherry-picking. Why does Britain have this bowl of glistening cherries? We thought you would say that the Brits could not have their cake and eat it, but they are enjoying an array of privileges, access routes and opportunities, while at the same time not paying for them, not accepting our citizens and not allowing our boats into their waters.”
It will be the case—it is already the case—that entering the backstop will be seen by European nations and European politicians as a consummation devoutly not to be wished. That is why I am so confident that we will be able to secure an agreement, pursuing the principles of the withdrawal agreement, that will ensure that we have the free trade that we want and the control that the British ask of us.
The Secretary of State spoke of cherry-picking, but he cherry-picks his own statistics when he talks about 5,000 possible new fishing jobs. The SNP was always opposed to the common fisheries policy and argued against it for many years. When it comes to cherry-picking, what does the Secretary of State say about the 80,000 post-Brexit job losses predicted by the Fraser of Allander Institute? What is he doing to address that?
It is the case that, if the Scottish National party votes for the deal, we shall be able to secure jobs in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, and also to secure those 5,000 additional jobs. The hon. Gentleman is right: the Scottish National party has said that it is against the common fisheries policy. However, while it has willed the end, it has not willed the means, which is leaving the European Union. The Scottish National party’s position is—how can one put this? To say that you want to leave the CFP but not to do anything about it, and to seek to frustrate the legislation that will allow us to leave the CFP, is inconsistent at best and a simulacrum of hypocrisy at worst.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making it clear that in certain circumstances we would ban all continental European fishing vessels from our waters, but will he confirm that, when we take back control, the fish will be for our fishermen to land and process here?
My right hon. Friend has made a very good point. In the event of leaving the European Union and in the event of the operation of the backstop, which neither of us wants to enter but we recognise of course is a possibility, we would have sovereign control over our waters. We could decide who came here and on which terms, and we could negotiate with other countries knowing that we were in a position of strength.
I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said so far. He will understand very well the position of the Democratic Unionist party in relation to the backstop, and he will know that my constituents clearly voted to leave. There are two matters about which we are concerned: the backstop and that control of fisheries will remain in our hands. There has been a question mark over that, too. The Secretary of State has been to Northern Ireland and met the MPs and the Unionist people, and he understands their opinion. May I suggest that what he needs to do now is remove the backstop? That is only way in which he will gain our support.
I quite understand, and I have enormous respect not only for the hon. Gentleman, but for the sincerity and clarity with which he and his parliamentary colleagues have put their views. I hope that over the next few days we can help to ensure that all the interests of Northern Ireland are safeguarded more effectively than ever within the United Kingdom. As I have pointed out, the backstop is uncomfortable for many of us, but it is also uniquely uncomfortable for the European Union, which is one of the many reasons why I think we will conclude a deal before that.
I thank the Secretary of State for being so generous in giving way. He talked about the sovereignty of British waters and about taking back control, but will he guarantee that in any negotiation for a trade deal with the European Union there will be no retaliation, and that the interests of the processing side of the fishing industry will not be sacrificed in return for sovereignty over British waters? The processing side is much bigger than the catching side, and it must not be sacrificed.
That is a very fair point. Mr Scatterty, who represents seafood producers in Scotland, has been very clear about some of the opportunities presented by Brexit, but also about some of the other important points to be borne in mind.
When I was in the Library doing my research for the debate, I came across a 2014 Government leaflet, produced of course by a Conservative Government, which states, under the heading “An influential voice in important places”—that was why Scotland should vote no—
“As one of the EU’s ‘big four’
nations, the UK is more able to protect Scottish interests in areas like agriculture and fisheries.”
May I ask the Secretary of State what has changed?
Several things have changed since 2014. First, of course, there was a coalition Government then. Secondly, we have had a referendum in which the people of Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom, and another referendum in which the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. But one thing has not changed: the interests of Scotland’s farmers and fishermen are better protected by maintenance of the Union than by the separation that the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government want to see. We remain influential, not just in respect of our relationship with the EU27 but globally. We have a stronger voice in trade negotiations, a stronger voice in environmental protection, and a stronger capacity to protect and enhance the interests of Scottish citizens as one United Kingdom. That is why the people of Scotland voted to stay in that United Kingdom, and that is why our Union will endure.
For how much money is the Secretary of State applying to the Treasury fund for fisheries protection in case the backstop has to come into force, or, indeed, we have to leave on a no-deal basis? My local fishermen who fish out of Berwick and Amble are concerned that there is already not enough fisheries protection in those waters, and there would need to be a great deal more to ensure that we did not end up with something like the cod wars all over again.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. The Ministry of Defence, in which she served with such distinction, has a suite of new offshore patrol vessels—state-of-the-art fisheries protection vessels—and we are negotiating with both the Treasury and the MOD to ensure that the work of those vessels will be complemented by the aviation and technological capacity that will guarantee that our fishermen are properly protected.
My right hon. Friend is making his case most powerfully. In relation to the backstop, I can confirm to him that those of us who speak to European politicians and diplomats know that they have no desire to see something that gives us a competitive advantage endure in perpetuity. Moreover, European law makes it very clear that the provisions of the treaties do not permit a backstop to be permanent.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be perfectly reasonable for us, with the assistance of the Attorney General, to seek further and better clarification of the definition of “temporary” in the protocol, which could be sensibly done, to reassure Members such as those from Northern Ireland who have legitimate but answerable concerns?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is the case not only that the legal position is that the backstop must be temporary, but that European politicians do not want it to endure, for the reasons that he has outlined, explored and explained, and on which I touched earlier.
There are, of course, a number of alternatives to embracing the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, the Opposition have put forward not just one alternative but 16 in the lifetime of this Parliament. They believe, Tommy Cooper-style, that—just like that!—they can negotiate a new deal with the European Union in the next 70 days which would give us freedom to diverge in relation to state aid in a way that would give the UK a competitive advantage that the EU allows no other nation on earth, and which would at the same time allow the UK to be in a customs union. That would mean that the EU could not negotiate trade deals with other countries—this is Labour policy—without the UK’s agreeing to those trade deals, and therefore exercising a veto. No other country on earth has the ability to veto the EU’s own trade deals, but that is what the Labour party wants.
There are also a number of different depictions of some of the fantasy alternatives that have been suggested. They have been described as unicorns. I have to say that the official Labour party position is to chase a whole carnival of unicorns across the European plain, none of which are capable of being delivered. In a broadcast earlier today, the shadow Justice Secretary was asked 23 times what Labour’s position on Brexit was, and 23 times he was incapable of answering.
The Labour party has had 16 different positions, and they cannot ask a question that is put 23 times. They do have six tests, but what do those six tests mean? Well, let’s listen to the words of the shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, when he was asked about those six tests. He summed them up pithily in a word which in Spanish translates as “cojones” and in English rhymes with “rollocks.” I know, Mr Speaker, that there are some distinguished citizens in this country who have put on their cars a poster or sticker saying “Bollocks to Brexit”, but we now know from Labour’s own Front Bench that its official Brexit position is “bollocks.” [Interruption.] I am quoting directly from the hon. Member for Brent North, and I am sorry that he is not in his usual position, because it is not the role of the Government to intervene in how the Opposition dispose of their positions but I have to say that the shadow International Trade Secretary is a jewel and an ornament to the Labour Front Bench: he speaks the truth with perfect clarity, and in his description of Labour’s own policy may I say that across the House we are grateful to him—grateful to the constant Gardiner for the way in which he has cast light on the testicular nature of Labour’s position?
I have made no new ruling on parliamentary language. I was listening, as colleagues would expect, with my customary rapt attention to the observations of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I richly enjoyed those observations and particularly his exceptionally eloquent delivery of them, which I feel sure he must have been practising in front of the mirror for some significant number of hours, but on the subject of that which is orderly—because a number of Members were chuntering from a sedentary position about whether the use of the word beginning with b and ending in s which the Secretary of State delighted in regaling the House with was orderly—the answer is that there was nothing disorderly about the use of the word; I think it is a matter of taste.
I always enjoy the Secretary of State’s contributions from the Dispatch Box; he speaks with so much enthusiasm that I almost fall into the trap of thinking he actually believes what he is saying. On people saying things that are accurate, may I remind him of the things his campaign, Vote Leave, said during the leave campaign? It talked about state subsidy for steel; does he really believe in that? It talked about reversing changes to tax credits, expanding regional airports, more roads, new hospitals, hundreds of new schools and more places in them, raising pay for junior doctors, new submarines, maintaining all current EU spending—and that was alongside the £350 million per week for the NHS. When it comes to making promises that are questionable, the right hon. Gentleman has got an A-level.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman talks about A-levels, because if the hon. Member for Brent North is my favourite Labour Member, he must be my second favourite as he has just run through a list of many of the policies that this Government have delivered. We have delivered more outstanding school places—more than 1.8 million children are in good and outstanding schools compared with 2010. We have delivered a pay rise for junior doctors and others in the NHS. We have created new hospital places. We have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs. I will be very happy to see the hon. Gentleman feature in the next Conservative party election broadcast as he runs through the achievements that this Conservative Government have delivered in the national interest.
We can all manage a rhetorical flourish, the right hon. Gentleman better than most, but does he not agree that part of the problem we have had since the referendum is that his side and this side are spending the vast majority of their time on the rhetoric and repeating the arguments, rather than focusing on the critical issue of what we are going to be doing next? May I put it to him that this is probably not the time for rhetorical flourish, but that instead it is the time for serious discussion?
That is a great question from the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have an enormous amount of respect, and who has taken a brave and principled position on Brexit as on every issue he has faced as a Member of this House. It is right that we hold up to scrutiny some of the alternatives that are put forward, in order to say that they are not realistic and not deliverable so that we can focus on what is realistic and deliverable. He also makes the important point that Brexit creates opportunities for this House to reshape policy in a number of areas. Many people outside this place, whatever their view of the original referendum result, now want us to focus on dealing with the challenges but also on exploiting those opportunities.
I want to say one thing briefly, however, about an attempt by some Members of this House, in all sincerity, to put forward a case that would mean that instead of focusing on the opportunities and dealing with the challenges we would simply be rerunning the arguments of the past, and that is the case for a so-called people’s vote—a second referendum in other words. There are people I really like and respect who put forward this case so I hesitate to put the contrary case, but I have to, because if we were to embark on a second referendum, we would spend months in this House debating how to construct that second referendum, and there is no consensus about what the question should be.
Every single Member of this House who argues for a second referendum had previously argued to remain, so if this House supported a second referendum it would be seen by many people as an attempt by those who lost to rerun the contest, and the inference that many would draw is that we did not have faith in their judgment and in our democracy—that we thought they were somehow too foolish, too stupid, too prejudiced to make an appropriate decision. That would do real damage to our democracy, and far from allowing us in this House to concentrate on the NHS, education, the environment and jobs, I am afraid people would see this as not just an exercise in protracted navel-gazing but a thumbing of our nose at the British people. That is why I believe that this is profoundly dangerous and playing with fire in our democracy. I have enormous respect for many of those who make the case and I understand their motivation, but I ask them to use their considerable energy and intellect to focus on making sure that Brexit can work in the interests of their constituents, rather than on attempting to say to their constituents, “You got it wrong.”
Every single Minister I have spoken to privately outside the Chamber has said to me that the vote is going to go down on Tuesday. Every single Minister has then said to me, “And then we’ll bring it back a second time.” Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that if the Government lose on Tuesday they will not bring it back to this House a second time? Otherwise everything he has just said would be a pile of nonsense, wouldn’t it?
The hon. Gentleman is one of those people who is a supporter of a people’s vote and for whom I have enormous respect, and he is a keen student of this House and its procedures. We all have an opportunity and a responsibility to think hard about the decision we will take next Tuesday. If we do vote to support the withdrawal agreement, imperfect as it is—it has flaws in my eyes and in his—we will nevertheless then be able to secure a Brexit that works in everyone’s interests. That is why between now and next Tuesday evening all I am focusing on doing is talking to the hon. Gentleman and other Members of this House to convince them of the merits of this agreement. That seems to me to be, following on from the point made by John Mann, the single most important thing I can do.
I have in response to questions from a number of colleagues pointed out the many advantages that the withdrawal agreement secures.
I have given way to the right hon. Gentleman twice; I may do so again, but Emma Reynolds has made an important point.
We are out of free movement. One of the principal concerns the British public had long before the referendum was that unrestricted free movement meant we could not control who came here on terms that the British people could determine. If we vote for the withdrawal agreement we take back control of our migration policy and can exercise it in the interests of the British people in a way that both safeguards—
Not at the moment.
We can do that in a way that both safeguards our economy and ensures we can have a humane policy on asylum. It is also the case that we will have tariff and quota-free access—as near frictionless as possible access—to the European market for goods and agri-food, and that will mean jobs will be protected and preserved across the country, and the competitive advantage that so many of our companies have will be enhanced.
The European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction in this country will end, and that means that we can choose to diverge in a huge number of areas. Services account for 80% of our economy and that figure will increase, so a growing part of our economy will be completely outside the control of the EU and its new laws. We can choose to diverge in ways that will increase our competitiveness as well as supporting people in work. We talk about workers’ rights, and they are critically important, but the most important workers’ right is the right to a job. This withdrawal agreement not only safeguards existing jobs in manufacturing but ensures that new jobs in our economy can be created in a way that reflects the dynamism of the British people.
With respect to Northern Ireland, if the EU wishes to impose new rules on it, we will have the opportunity to say no to those rules. It is critical that people appreciate that we have that power within the backstop. We will be outside the common agricultural policy, with an opportunity to have a new system of agricultural support that makes farming more productive and at the same time safeguards the environment. We will also be outside the common fisheries policy, with the opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and embed higher environmental standards.
No, I will not.
I respect the views of many Members of this House, and I know that I will have to stand down—sorry, sit down—in just a second to ensure that everyone has their say in this debate. I know that there will be speeches, as there have been throughout the debates, that will be compelling and heartfelt and that reflect the honest grappling with difficult issues that all of us have had to face.
No, I will not.
However, 17.4 million people were told in that referendum campaign that their vote would be honoured. They were told unambiguously, “What you vote for, the Government will deliver.” We have an obligation to honour that mandate. Our other obligation is to do that in a way that safeguards the interests of the British people. All of us might have a perfect version of Brexit—a change here, an alteration there—but we all have to accept our responsibility next Tuesday to decide whether we are going to honour that verdict. Are we going to make the perfect the enemy of the good? Are we going to put our own interpretation of what Brexit should be ahead of the votes of 17.4 million people, ahead of the interests of everyone in this country who has a job, and ahead of the clearly expressed democratic will of the British people? Are we going to endanger their future by either seeking to overturn that mandate or rejecting this agreement and entering what the Prime Minister has suggested would be uncharted waters?
As I pointed out earlier, if we reject this agreement—the current course on which Parliament is set—and have no deal, Britain will of course prosper eventually but it is undeniably the case, because the facts on the ground demonstrate it, that our citizens and constituents will face economic turbulence and damage. That is why, after long reflection, I have decided that we must back this agreement. We must ensure that the British people’s vote is honoured, that their futures are safeguarded and that Britain can embrace the opportunities that our people deserve. That is why I commend this agreement to the House.
I was relieved to hear that the Secretary of State’s son is making an excellent recovery. I am sure that many Members were shocked when they heard about the accident.
We are here today to debate environmental protections following Brexit. We are at a critical time for the future of Britain’s environment and the Government must be ambitious when it comes to protecting our environmental standards; otherwise, we could sleepwalk into an environmental crisis. Unfortunately, the withdrawal agreement does not contain a whole lot of action or ambition. The Government should commit today to strong, enforceable and measurable targets that go even further on environmental standards. We want to see no backsliding, only progress. The onus is on the Secretary of State to get to work immediately to make good on his many promises and to deliver a better environment, post-Brexit.
Thanks to the Labour amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Ministers have had to publish their draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. While I welcome its publication, it falls far short of what we were led to expect. Again we have warm words with no substance to underpin them. The withdrawal agreement requires us to establish effective oversight and enforcement of environmental law. Enforcement therefore relies on having an independent and adequately resourced body or bodies to hold public authorities to account. There have been warnings that we are facing a “governance gap” for environmental protection, post Brexit. Nothing can replace the full powers now held by the EU and the European Court of Justice, but a powerful watchdog would make a real difference, so it is disappointing that the proposed office for environmental protection will lack teeth and will not be directly accountable to Parliament. It must be able to enforce the law and it must be properly resourced. We need an environmental watchdog with real power, independence and scope. The office must hold Ministers to account, not do their bidding.
The Government’s track record on the environment has been woeful. They have repeatedly failed to tackle toxic air, they have given the green light to fracking and they have pushed ahead with Heathrow expansion regardless of the environmental impacts. Labour has pressed the Government repeatedly on the need to enshrine crucial environmental principles, such as the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle, into domestic law. I am pleased that these are in the draft Bill, and I am glad that Ministers have recognised their importance, but will the Secretary of State tell us whether the principles, as drafted, are legally enforceable, and what will need to be included in the national policy statement to interpret their application? He often repeats the mantra that the Government intend to leave our environment in a better state than they found it, but we need to know how the draft Bill will deliver this, with legally binding, ambitious and measurable goals and plans.
There are serious questions as to how effective the proposed office for environmental protection will be if we accept imports with lower environmental standards. The Secretary of State is well aware that some of his colleagues are pushing ahead with plans to open us up to lower-quality imported produce. Brexit cannot be used as an excuse to allow deregulation and the undercutting of our high standards. Will he give concrete guarantees that this cannot happen? Unlike the International Trade Secretary, who has dismissed concerns about chlorinated chicken, I do not see the prospect of importing food produced to lower standards as any kind of prize. The Secretary of State needs to stand up for Britain.
On that point about ensuring that there is no lowering of standards in any post-Brexit trade deals, will my hon. Friend be supporting my new clause 1 to the Agriculture Bill and a similar amendment that the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has tabled, to make absolutely sure that we do not see a lowering of standards for food coming into this country? As we saw at the Oxford farming conference last week, farmers certainly do not want that to happen either.
The suggestion at the heart of what the hon. Lady is saying is that she has no confidence in the Labour party to champion the cause of the British people on workers’ rights or environmental standards. There should surely be a post-Brexit competition between Labour and the Conservatives on championing those causes, and any political party wanting to slash standards would be condemned by the British people. She should have more confidence in the Labour party.
This is a crucial time. This is not about what Parliament votes against, but what Parliament actually stands for to make the decision happen. What will the Labour party do to enact the decision that was made two years ago?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that my party does not believe that the agreement on the table is good enough. If it is voted down next week, as many in this House believe it will be, we should go back to the country and have a general election, so that my party can actually look forward to working for a better deal.
I will make some progress, because many Members want to speak and the Secretary of State was generous with his time.
The Prime Minister said that the environment Bill will be world leading, so where is the duty and obligation within the agreement to reduce the UK’s global environmental footprint? Labour wants to see good-quality, affordable food available to all but that must not come at the expense of environmental and animal welfare standards, workers’ rights or societal protections.
The managing director of Arlo Foods warned that a no-deal Brexit would see shortages of products and a sharp rise in prices, turning everyday staples like butter, yoghurt, cheese and infant formula into occasional luxuries. Does the hon. Lady therefore agree that, by voting against this deal, the Labour party risks that outcome?
Labour does not want no deal. We understand the risks that that would bring, which is why we are saying that if the Prime Minister’s deal is voted down next week, we should go for a general election. However, we also think that the Prime Minister has had nearly two years to negotiate this deal. She could have had something much better. It is unacceptable that we have so little after two years.
On a point of clarification, if we get to the point where we have the general election that the hon. Lady and her party are seeking, would Labour’s position be to support or oppose Brexit?
I will make some progress because many people want to speak.
The Government have failed to put in place any measures in the Trade or Agriculture Bills to ensure that all food and agricultural products imported into the UK will be produced to standards equivalent to our domestic ones. We want British food production to go from strength to strength while protecting our precious natural environment, but that will not happen if Ministers insist on kowtowing to Donald Trump.
On our future relationship with the EU, what mechanisms do the Government intend to put in place to enable continued co-operation on all environmental issues, from biodiversity to collaboration on tackling climate change? Will we continue to participate in the European Environment Agency and the European Chemicals Agency?
On standards, is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am that, if we do Brexit, rather than negotiating with the US as part of team EU, which is a big conglomerate, we will be in a much weaker position on food standards, chlorinated chicken and so on? Indeed, I made the point to the Secretary of State about frackers being able to sue us because we will be outside the orbit of the European Court of Justice.
Like me, the hon. Lady wants to maintain environmental standards, to have high animal welfare standards and to continue co-operation with Europe on chemicals, for example. However, unless there is a withdrawal agreement, the EU has made it clear that we cannot make progress on the future relationship to agree to such things. Will she please confirm why Labour will not support the withdrawal agreement? We cannot get on with other negotiations without it.
I think we have made it pretty clear why we are not supporting the withdrawal agreement. My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer made that quite clear in the debate yesterday and I do not want to get all into those arguments again when they have already been clearly expressed on the Floor of the House.
The point is that this is about not just the withdrawal agreement, but the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. The political declaration is so imprecise that it could mean absolutely anything to anybody. There is no security treaty, which is what the Prime Minister was demanding, and there is no surety as to what we will have on the European arrest warrant. That is why we cannot support what is frankly a pig in a poke.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend puts the argument in a nutshell. The political declaration contains only one paragraph referring to protecting rights and standards, which just shows how low down the list of priorities they are for the Government.
What do the Government have planned to replace current EU funding for nature conservation, low-carbon infrastructure, and environmental research and innovation? We also await the return of the Fisheries Bill on Report, so how do the Government intend to safeguard and manage our marine environment, protecting our healthy seas and sustainable fish stocks? British wildlife is also in freefall, so we need the Government to set ambitious and measurable goals to provide certainty for the future of our natural world. We need an action plan and an ambitious timescale in which to deliver the environmental protections that we so desperately need. We need legally binding targets to guarantee that Britain’s high environmental standards cannot be threatened.
It is also essential to keep in step with the EU on environmental standards post Brexit and we need to use the status quo as the starting point. We must not pick and choose which standards to apply—we need all of them. We cannot have divergence on standards or weaker arrangements than those that we currently uphold. We must ensure that the rights enshrined in law are not just principles. The work of the European Union and its institutions has enhanced Britain’s environment for decades and experts are saying that the Government’s proposals are, unfortunately, riddled with loopholes and undermined by vague aspirations that simply do not go far enough in tackling the challenges we face. Environmental organisations do not believe that the withdrawal agreement or the draft environment Bill, as they currently stand, will even scratch the surface when it comes to leaving the environment in a better state. The end result has been watered down and fails to match the powers held by the EU and the European Court of Justice. How does the Secretary of State intend to rectify that?
We also need future environmental policies that go together with a comprehensive future food policy, protecting and enhancing our environment while improving farm productivity and ensuring that we have a stable supply of high-quality British food. Brexit risks setting the UK back, despite all the progress made on environmental protections through our membership of the EU, and the environment Bill presents an opportunity to mitigate those risks. However, that will happen only if the Government go back to the drawing board to ensure that the Bill is stronger and more ambitious and that it fulfils the aspirations previously set out by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister.
The state of Britain’s environment is at a historic crossroads and Brexit cannot be used as an excuse to veer off towards a future of lowered standards that would put our environment at risk. We need to build on the progress we have made so far, which means the Government must set out a robust action plan detailing exactly how they will leave the environment in a better state than they found it. What has been laid before us so far does not do that, and it is therefore not acceptable to the Opposition. It is time for the Secretary of State to fulfil his warm words before Britain’s environment pays the price for his Government’s failure.
It is a privilege to be called to speak immediately after two important speeches from each of the Front Benches.
I campaigned in favour of Britain remaining a member in 1975. I was too young to vote, but I put leaflets through doors that clearly said we would remain a member of a common market of independent trading states and that nothing about our membership would in any way affect the sovereignty of this Parliament, of which I am proud to be a Member. Unfortunately, in the 40 years since that referendum, we have moved steadily away from that vision, with more and more power given over to Brussels. It is essentially for that reason that I voted against the Maastricht treaty when I was first elected to this place and that I campaigned to leave in the last referendum, in which I was proud to serve on the campaign committee under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s subsequent commitments in her Florence and Lancaster House speeches on the red lines that the Government cannot breach in our negotiations, and I fought the election on a manifesto making it clear that we are leaving the European Union and that that includes leaving the single market and the customs union.
The many benefits of leaving the European Union are summed up—as we were reminded by the Channel 4 drama on Monday, which had an interesting portrayal of the Secretary of State—by those three words: “Take back control.” There is no doubt that one of the referendum issues that featured in my constituency is immigration, as summed up in the “Taking back control of our borders” White Paper, but I am not opposed to immigration, which has brought great value to this country.
The farmers and horticulturalists I represent in Essex rely on immigrant labour, particularly seasonal labour, and I understand their concern that that should continue. Equally, like most farmers, as the Secretary of State said, the majority of them voted to leave because they embrace the idea of competing in world markets, being outside the CAP and, instead of being subsidised, receiving payment on the basis of their contribution to the public good, which is a far better system.
The ability for my right hon. Friend to set our policy in this area, as there will be such an ability for every other Secretary of State, is one of the great benefits of our gaining our freedom. That is one reason why I am not attracted to the Norway option that some have suggested, and that I understand my right hon. Friend has occasionally thought about. We on the Exiting the European Union Committee discovered in taking evidence from Norwegian parliamentarians that Norway is still bound by European regulations, and of course freedom of movement is one of those requirements.
The vote was essentially about sovereignty. It was a vote to remove the overall jurisdiction of the ECJ. My Select Committee colleagues and I have been to see Michel Barnier several times, and he is very clear that the Prime Minister’s red lines rule out the UK having membership of the European economic area or an agreement similar to those of Norway and Turkey. He told us that the only way in which the UK would not breach its red lines in continuing to have a relationship with the European Union is on the basis of an agreement like the one signed with Canada. He showed us a proposal that not only had a Canada-style trade agreement but had parallel agreements covering security, law and order co-operation and data transfer. Indeed, he set out a scenario almost identical to the one I would have described had I been asked what kind of relationship I wanted with the European Union.
The only problem was that of Northern Ireland and what would happen at the Northern Ireland border. The Prime Minister accepted that that was an insuperable obstacle, and she therefore made the Chequers proposal. I could not support that proposal principally because it maintained the common rulebook, which would mean we still have to abide by EU regulations. The Government have shown a willingness to accept further lock-ins, and under amendment (p), tabled by John Mann, we would have to continue to accept EU regulations in employment law.
Amendment (p), which I support, does not say that we should automatically harmonise with the EU as it strengthens protections in these areas. What it says is that, when protections are strengthened, it will come back for this House to debate and vote on those issues. That means Parliament is still taking back control.
As I understand it, amendment (p) would require us to accept that all existing EU regulations in this area will be maintained. I do not necessarily say that I am in favour of removing any of those regulations, although it is ironic that, when we debated the Maastricht treaty back in 1992, one of the arguments made by the then Conservative Government under John Major was that we had obtained an opt-out from the social chapter and that we would not be bound by the European employment and social regulations. We were told that we had achieved a great prize. Interestingly, of course, it was accepted that we could be part of what then became the European Union without being part of the social chapter. The indivisibility of freedoms is applicable only when it suits the European Union, and not when it does not.
There are many things about the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration that I do not like. I do not like the fact that we appear to be signing up to paying out £39 billion without any guarantee on what the future arrangement will look like. I do not like the fact that the ECJ will continue to have a say for a considerable period—some 20 years. I do not like the trading relationship described in the political declaration, which seems to be based on Chequers and its continuing adherence to the common rulebook. However, all those aspects could be dealt with in the subsequent negotiations during the transition period, with the exception of money, which is in the withdrawal agreement. The future arrangements can be discussed during the transition period because they are part of the political declaration, which is not legally binding.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the money is not £39 billion? There is no cash limit, no agreed amount, in the agreement, and there are huge powers for the EU to keep sending us bills of an undescribed amount for decades. It will be a lot more than £39 billion.
I fear my right hon. Friend may well be right. He highlights the risk we run in making that commitment.
I am willing to accept an ongoing payment, so long as an eventual exit date is set out. I am willing to accept some continuing role for the ECJ on things like citizens’ rights. However, the problem is in the withdrawal agreement, which is legally binding and cannot be changed. I am afraid that, as Jim Shannon said, it is the backstop. It is the fact that we would be locked into a customs union without any ability to leave it unless we obtain the agreement of the European Union. That makes trade agreements essentially impossible. One of the great opportunities of leaving the European Union is the opportunity to sign trade agreements with those countries that the European Union has been trying to sign trade agreements with for decades but has still not succeeded—China, Brazil, India, the United States of America, Indonesia—the countries that will be the biggest economies in the world over the course of the next 10 or 20 years.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the EU signed a trade deal with South Korea, with Japan and with Canada, before many other nations in the world? The EU has actually led progress on these bilateral trade deals.
I was aware of that, which is why I did not include them, but the countries whose names I just read out are likely to be the five biggest economies in the world. We know that the EU has been trying to sign a deal with China and a deal with America, and has failed so far to do so, principally because it requires the agreement of every single member state, and we have seen how difficult that can be.
Also, of course, the provision of the backstop creates the one thing that the Prime Minister said she could never accept under any circumstances—a border down the Irish sea. If Northern Ireland protocol and the backstop could be taken out of the withdrawal agreement and put into that basket of issues that we shall settle in the course of the transitional period, as part of the arrangement covering our future agreement for trade with the European Union, that would remove the problem. It is where it ought to be. It was always daft that the Northern Ireland border issue could be determined before we knew what was going to be in the future trade agreement. The Prime Minister herself has now accepted that, actually, over the course of the two years, it should be possible to find a solution that will allow free movement back and forth across that border, on the basis of technology, so the Government think that can be done in the next two years. If we could only get it out of the withdrawal agreement, we would then have the time in which we could demonstrate that it would never be necessary.
I operated a hard border in Northern Ireland for two years. We stopped every car, we searched every car, we checked every person. I absolutely believe it is perfectly possible for there to be free movement across that border, given willingness on both sides and the use of new techniques, particularly things like pre-registration and number- plate recognition. I think that border does not need to be hard.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, when he was serving his country in Northern Ireland, we had to have controls on the movement of people because we were facing a serious terrorist threat. Nobody is suggesting controls on the movement of people now. There is no suggestion that we are going to need any measures of that kind. We are talking about the movement of goods.
I do not want to detain the House any longer because a lot of Members want to speak. As I said, the problem is that the backstop is in the agreement and the agreement cannot be changed once it is passed, because it is a legally binding undertaking. If only the Government could find a way of taking the backstop out and putting it into those issues that we will try to resolve over the course of the next two years, I would be happy—well, not happy, but willing perhaps—to support the motion on Tuesday. But unless that can be done, I am afraid that I cannot.
May I start by saying to the Secretary of State that we were all distressed when we heard the news of his son’s accident over Christmas, and we wish him all the best for his recovery? We do, of course, enjoy the right hon. Gentleman at the Dispatch Box. That was a bravura performance—such a comedy turn. He referenced Tommy Cooper. I think of him more as a Frank Carson, because it’s the way he tells ’em, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The line that I enjoyed best—it was the way he told it—was the one where he said that the EU “will look on enviously at the UK with this Brexit.” That was the best killer line in that speech, because we can almost hear the shrieks of laughter coming across the North sea and the English channel as they observe the plight of this pitiful nation. They are not envious of us; they are feeling sorry for us because we have ended in this pitiful state. If any of them were even thinking of following the United Kingdom’s example, they will look at this chaotic Government and decide, “Never in a million years will we do that.” It is the best lesson to any other nation never, ever to engage in such an action.
I loathe the Government’s Brexit—I loathe it totally and utterly, from the self-defeating, isolating ugliness of the project to the all-consuming, chaotic humourlessness, to the disgusting way that they are treating the 3.6 million EU nationals who are among our friends, our colleagues and our family members. I despair at what we are doing. I will observe and look at their Brexit deal, but I see no redeeming qualities or features to what this Government are doing with this absurd Brexit. The fact that my country so overwhelmingly rejected this Brexit makes me despair even more of what this Government are doing.
The only reason, the Government tell us, that we should be supporting this paltry document is because it is better than a no deal. My big toe is better than a no deal; my broken finger is better than a no deal, but I am not asking the House to support either of these personal artefacts. What vision! What ambition! Vote for the Prime Minister’s deal because it is better than no deal! That is the only reason that we seem to be given, in successive speeches by Government supporters and Ministers, for why we should be doing this.
That is a gross generalisation. The reality is that 52% of this country voted to leave, and that is what this deal does. But also, importantly, 48% did not, and this deal will actually see us continue with our relationship with the EU, and in fact deepen it in many regards. [Interruption.] Security.
It does not even start to—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman does not need to address his points to me. I am beyond redemption. He should turn his attention to some of his hon. Friends and colleagues on his own Benches, and I invite him to do that. I think they are all thoroughly looking forward to his speech. His efforts may be more fruitful with them than they are likely to be with me, because I shall go on to explain why this deal is totally, absolutely and utterly unacceptable to me, to my constituents and to the vast majority of the Scottish people.
I have never seen another example where it has been the main policy intention of a Government to intentionally impoverish, with such chaotic abandon, the people they are notionally there to serve. When the history books judge this little period of British history, in the late teens in this century, they will only ever conclude that this is the greatest example of political, cultural and economic self-harm that has ever been committed by a nation unto a nation.
The fact that we have got to this point will be forever remembered as the greatest single failure of any modern Government in post-war history. And you remember why we are doing this—remember why all this started? [Laughter.] They laugh. A referendum. It was supposed to heal the divisions within the Conservative party on the issue of the European Union. Ten out of ten for that, Mr Speaker. What an absolute and resounding success. Not only have they further divided their rotten party, but they have gone and divided a nation and then taken that nation to the very brink. And now, of course, we observe the abyss on the other side of that brink, in all its grotesque horror.
If we look at the Brexit clock—
I was going to move on, but yes, I will give way to the hon. Lady because I quite like her.
This is where we are with the Conservatives, when they ask banal, stupid questions such as that. The hon. Lady asks me about the referendum. Let me tell her about referendums. We have had two referendums in Scotland. In the first referendum, the people of Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] They like that. Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom. We then had a referendum on EU membership, where the nation—the nation—of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. We have not got what we wanted in this referendum, and that means that we have a nation completely and utterly alienated from what the Brexit Tories are doing to us. That is a difficult issue that, at some point, they will have to confront, just as, at some point, the Scottish people will have to make some sort of constitutional assessment of it, because this cannot stand. We cannot have a nation being taken out of a Union that it values and cherishes, against the national collective will of the people of that nation.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why a decision to withdraw from the European Union is nasty and inward looking, yet a decision to withdraw Scotland from the United Kingdom is the opposite?
I say candidly to the right hon. Gentleman that the EU referendum had at its very core—at its cold, beating heart—the case of isolationism and immigration. It was about stopping people coming to this country. That defined every single case for rotten Brexit—every reference was about ending freedom of movement, which is presented as the great prize of this deal and this Brexit. What Scotland wants to do is reach out to the world and be part of an international community, to demonstrate our internationalism and what our sense of community is about. There is the right hon. Gentleman’s type of nationalism and then there is my type of all-encompassing international solidarity.
My area, the west midlands, is massively diverse. I have spent 10 years knocking on doors all over the midlands and all across Birmingham. The issue has nothing to do with immigration—it is to do with sovereignty. That is why people voted to leave. Come with me to the black country, Coventry or Birmingham, and speak to voters on the doorsteps. That is what they will tell you.
I almost wish that was true—that the debate had been about sovereignty and the great things this country could do. All I ever saw was the disgusting and nauseating posters about immigration; all I saw in the right-wing press was about that issue. Every time I went on a hustings with a Conservative Member of Parliament, it was all about ending freedom of movement and controlling immigration. That was all I heard. That was the repeated message, again, again and again.
Like me, and I presume everyone else in the Chamber, my hon. Friend got a begging email from the Prime Minister shortly before the first attempt to push this through. It listed the benefits of her deal and No. 1—top of the list of the Prime Minister’s reasons for supporting the deal—was, was it not, ending freedom of movement. Did my hon. Friend get a different set of priorities? Is it possible that the Prime Minister gave us a priority that we could not support at the top of the list and gave something different to those who now deny that the referendum was about ending freedom of movement?
Absolutely; I did get that correspondence from the Prime Minister. I do not know why we are even trying to debate and contest the fact as it has been said by the Prime Minister and everybody on their feet, including the Secretary of State: the great prize of this deal, of this Brexit, is ending freedom of movement. I will briefly come to the consequences of that; they are dire for my nation and for the businesses that depend on freedom of movement. This is absolutely appalling for the young people who will have their rights restricted.
I want to talk about the Brexit clock, which is interesting. Not only are we now at the cliff edge—the front wheels are actually starting to dangle over, yet the clown shoes are still pressing on the accelerator—but a no-deal Brexit is now a real possibility and the consequences are becoming reality as the Government try to run the clock down.
We know about the food shortages, the running out of medicines, the turning of the south-east of England into a giant lorry park and all the real possibilities of leaving without a deal, yet the Government casually prepare for it. They apply millions of pounds to try to deal with it. They talk about it as if it were a realistic prospect—“Don’t worry your little British heads about it. You’ll be absolutely fine if we leave without a deal.” A no deal may be the life’s work and ambition of some of the extreme Brexiteers in this Chamber, but there are dire consequences for the constituents we serve. Those Brexiteers may be indulging in their European Union departure fantasies, but our constituents will have to pay.
The House is absolutely right not to allow that. The vote on Monday evening was very important. It indicates to the Government, lest they did not know, that no deal is unacceptable to the vast majority of this House. I am looking at some of the Scottish Conservatives—not one of them voted for stopping a no deal and against exposing their own constituents to the prospect of the appalling things that would follow. For that, they will pay a heavy price.
I give way to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he will tell me why he is prepared to expose the constituents of Gordon to the prospect and possibility of no deal.
Companies in Gordon are actually making preparations for Brexit. If the hon. Gentleman really wants to avoid no deal, he should get behind the Prime Minister and support her deal. That would be in the national interest. Let me ask him: what preparations are the Scottish Government, as a responsible Government of Scotland, making for the possibility of no deal? Are they doing anything?
I share an office with the Deputy First Minister; I have seen some of the things he has had to deal with and some of the consequences there would be for Scotland. I do not think the hon. Gentleman fully understands what is at stake. Does he understand the idea of food shortages or civil unrest? Police forces have been activated in this country to ensure that that will be contained and dealt with. Those are the prospects for his constituents, yet he is prepared to expose them to that.
I want to talk a bit about my nation; it is great that some Scottish Conservatives are here and so engaged in this conversation. My country wanted absolutely nothing to do with this.
I will make a bit of progress, then give way to the hon. Gentleman because I quite like him too.
We returned one Member of Parliament with a mandate to fulfil an EU referendum. Nearly every single one of Scotland’s Members of Parliament voted against the EU (Referendum) Bill; nearly every single one of Scotland’s Members of Parliament voted to ensure that we would not trigger article 50. When we were eventually obliged to have that referendum in Scotland, Scotland voted emphatically and overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union—62% to 38%, which is the most emphatic result in any of the nations of the United Kingdom.
I have heard Conservatives do this before: they include the Labour party in the figures. If the hon. Gentleman knows what the Labour party’s intentions are with Brexit, he is a lot further down the road than I am. It is a bit disingenuous to include a clueless Labour party in those numbers.
We had the most emphatic vote in the United Kingdom, so we might think—as part of the family of nations and being asked to lead, not leave, the United Kingdom—that that vote would have been taken into account and acknowledged. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. Our remain vote has been contemptuously ignored and every effort to soften the blow to a remain nation has been dismissed, with every proposal binned before the ink was even dry. In the process, we are witnessing the undermining of our political institution with a power grab and the binning of conventions designed to protect the integrity of our Parliament. Then the Government had the gall to tell us four years ago that the only way Scotland could stay in the European Union was to vote no in our independence referendum. We now see the consequences of that.
We look at the example of independent Ireland where the weight of the EU has stood in solidarity and support of one of its members and backed it to the hilt. Compare and contrast that to dependent Scotland within the UK, whose views and interests have been ignored and whose institutions have been systematically diminished as a junior partner in this chaotic Union.
This is an exclusively Tory deal. This Brexit crisis was designed, administered and delivered by the Conservatives. Even with all the last-minute overtures they have made, they have taken no interest in working with others or properly consulting and considering the views of other parties or Governments across the United Kingdom. This chaos is theirs to own, and it will define the Conservatives for a generation. It is a Tory Brexit—forever and a day, they are now the Brexit Tories.
As for Labour, I am not even yet sure whether it is a party of Brexit or against Brexit. I know it has a new position today. [Interruption.] The Secretary State has actually scarpered off, as he usually does when the third party is on its feet. That is a massive disrespect, isn’t it? The third party is on its feet, and the Secretary of State scampers out of the House. That is so consistent with this Government.
Let me return to my friends in the Labour party, because I think this is the 17th position they have taken on Brexit. They have tried to create a policy of constructive ambiguity, and I am constructively ambiguous about their position. I presume that their view is still to respect the result, and that it is still their intention to take the UK out of the EU. I know I often refer to my Scottish Conservative friends, but if that is the case, it will be dire for Scottish Labour, which has been shown that if Labour supports Brexit, its support in Scotland will fall to 15%.
I have already mentioned immigration, and we know that ending freedom of movement is the big prize in this country. The sheer dishonesty of the immigration question means that the Government cannot even bring themselves to acknowledge that what we do to EU nationals with restricted freedom of movement, the EU will do to the UK. I have tried to get the Prime Minister to accept that that is the case, because it means that the rights that we across the House have all enjoyed to live, to work, and to love across a continent of 27 nations, freely and without any restriction, will be denied to our young people, our children and future generations. The Government cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that, and to look the young people of this country in the eye and tell them that this change will apply equally to them. If any Conservative Member wishes to say that they acknowledge that, I will happily take an intervention —they were rushing to intervene earlier on.
That is an important point, and I genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as I share some of those concerns. Does he accept, however, that parts of England had extremely high levels of EU immigration, and although I always welcomed EU immigration—particularly from eastern Europe and so on—it is legitimate for any community faced with such high numbers to express concern about that, and we as politicians should never be deaf to those concerns?
I do not think I heard the hon. Gentleman say that this change will apply to young people in his constituency as they try possibly to make their lives in Europe. That was all I wanted to hear. I know that he has concerns about immigration, but our population growth in Scotland depends on immigration, and if we end freedom of movement, every single business in our economy will take a massive hit. Things are different in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and in my nation of Scotland—we require different things. That is why we have called, repeatedly and consistently, for the devolution of immigration so that we can look after those interests, just as he looks after the interests of his constituency.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I am conscious that I am taking up a lot of time, so I will make a bit of progress.
What happens next? That is the really intriguing question. Like a trapped beast, the Government might lash out and try to take the whole House down with them in an attempt to punish the country for its insubordination. Compromised by contradictory tensions within their own ranks, it is rare that we get a glimpse of a Government and party collapsing so spectacularly as we have seen over the past few weeks. They have lost all right and authority, and their ability to govern is almost gone. They have lost successive debates on important issues.
The Government will lose the vote next week—it seems there is nothing they can do to avoid that. As a result of the vote yesterday, they will have to come to the House with alternative options for how to deal with the situation, but there are two things that they could do to immediately to respond to that defeat. First, they could revoke article 50, which they can now do unilaterally because of the work done by some of my hon. Friends and colleagues. The second thing is a bit harder: ask the European Union for an extension to article 50 so that something can be cobbled together to try to keep the issue alive and open for debate. The Government have to do one of those two things, and the important point is how they deal strategically with their position.
I have considered all the different outcomes possible for the Government, and none of them are good—none of them work for this Government because each ensures that some massive constituency will emerge in opposition—but one thing that we have in Scotland is our own particular solution. We have a way out of this Brexit crisis. We do not have to go down with this Tory ship. We can make our own decisions and relationships with Europe. Increasingly, as this Government continue to collapse, as the Brexit options continue to fall in on them and as we see the disaster that is emerging, the choice of independence for our nation becomes more and more appealing. As we go forward into this year, it will soon become the majority option in our country, and soon we will have the opportunity to foster our own sustainable relationship with the European Union.
Order. I advise the House that on account of the number of Members wishing to contribute to the debate, it will be necessary to begin with an eight-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches.
I will speak about public trust in Parliament as a backdrop to this debate. I hope you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, if I start by paying tribute to our former colleague, the late, great Mark Wolfson, who served Sevenoaks with great distinction between 1979 and 1997. He was a great friend and parliamentary mentor to me.
I approach the debate with the clear principle—a principle that long ago inspired me as the great, great, great, great nephew of the “Grand Old Man” Gladstone—that because of a great and glorious truth, this Parliament is sovereign. I still believe that elected MPs, as the sovereign representatives of our constituencies, serve in the highest office, and that to be elected to this House is one of the great privileges and responsibilities that our citizens can bestow. This is a moment to remember that.
Parliament is the institution that, more than any other, defends the liberties and order that we enjoy. Parliament historically defied the tyranny of the King, and in the 19th century, it was Parliament that granted rights to so many who had been denied them. Parliament said that all of us are entitled to equal human rights. In moments of crisis, Parliament has always come together, with parties coming together to put country before party. It is now Parliament that confronts this crisis and the biggest decision facing our generation. It is a decision that will redefine Britain’s place in the world and, almost more importantly, the trust of a whole generation in our democratic Parliament and politics.
Parliament—yes, a majority of us in this House—decided to ask the people, and in June 2016, they gave us their answer. For that reason, I remain deeply opposed to a second referendum. The people have spoken and it is our job to implement their instruction. However, that instruction was not clear. People voted to leave by a narrow margin. In my constituency, 58% wished to leave, but nationally the result was 52% to 48%. That is not an overwhelming, thumping majority—it was a narrow margin. Many of my constituents who voted to leave said to me, “George, I voted to join a common market; I did not want to be in a political union.” Those people who voted to leave wanted to be in a common market. I put it to the House that there is no majority in the country for taking the result as an instruction unilaterally to pull ourselves out of all European institutions, including by cutting ourselves off from the single market. That is not our mandate, although we do have a duty to implement the will of the people we serve.
Public trust in our politics and parliamentary democracy is at a dangerous low. As well as getting the outcome right, we must ensure that we conduct ourselves in the spirit required of the day—a spirit of repairing the damage done by that appalling referendum campaign, reuniting a divided nation, and restoring trust in Parliament and parliamentary democracy, not least for those who did not get to vote in that referendum and the people whose futures and interests we will shape.
I voted remain in 2016, and as a Minister responsible for a £60 billion industry employing 250,000 people, in which not one man or woman I could find supported leaving, I felt that was my duty. As the MP for Mid Norfolk, I was—and remain—deeply worried about the impact of this decision on our economy and on the economic prospects of my citizens and constituents. However, I always vowed to respect the result, and I have done so ever since the referendum.
I may have voted remain, but in the previous Parliament and the coalition I was one of the leading champions of European reform. Colleagues may remember that I led the Fresh Start Group report, warning of the dangers of Europe’s precautionary principle on holding back UK leadership in science and innovation, which threatened to risk a European dark age at a time when the world is embracing extraordinary technologies in agricultural genetics, accelerated access for new medicines and genomics. Such technologies can transform the life chances of our global citizens. It is a time when we in the UK, through Europe, could lead on taking those technologies around the world. I fought this battle as a Back Bencher and then as a Minister, but the plea for a more innovative and enterprising Europe fell largely on deaf ears.
Yes, I was a remainer, but one who understood all too well the flaws of the European Union. Let no one accuse me of being a lily-livered, root-and-branch pro-European—I am not. [Interruption.] And neither am I a snowflake, as someone chunters from my side of the Chamber. I wanted Britain to lead the reform of Europe so that we, together with Europe, could embrace the extraordinary opportunities for UK science and innovation around the world in agri-tech, health-tech and clean-tech; in food, medicine and energy; to feed, heal and fuel; and to take around the world the technologies that this country leads in, and that, with our European scientific partners, could help to accelerate global development.
The people have spoken and now we have to deliver. The truth is that all parties are split. It is a truth that Opposition Front Benchers would do well to confront. I know that it suits them to position themselves as remainers in London and the south-east, and as Brexiteers up north, but the truth is that all parties are split. I believe that we ought to be pursuing this in the spirit of cross-party co-operation. In my view, we always needed a cross-party council of Brexit, and I was appalled to hear the other day that the shadow Brexit Secretary has apparently received no contact from Ministers about the possible basis of an agreement. It seems to me that unless we reach out across the House, listen to the electorate and signal that we will put party behind country, we are unlikely to find a solution. We have less than 100 days. We are running out of time. There is an angry mob outside Parliament, and they speak for an angriness in the nation. We need an orderly withdrawal.
Despite our differences, it seems to me that we are all agreed on one thing: this deal is not perfect. I have said so myself and I have many reservations. I had hoped that the Prime Minister would come back from Europe before Christmas with a concession on the backstop. She has come back with a concession, and I hope that there will be more before the vote next week. Let me be clear that I have supported no deal as an option for two and a half years in order to get the best deal. The negotiation is over. In my view, it would be woefully irresponsible of the Government to pursue no deal. I will do everything to ensure, yes, that we leave the European Union with an orderly deal, but not with no deal. When I hear Lord Wolfson, an ardent Brexiteer, warn as the chief executive of Next that the cost of food and clothes—basics that our constituents rely on—would go up dramatically with a no-deal Brexit, when I hear the Royal Society warn that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for our science and when I hear the National Farmers Union warn that British agricultural would be hit without a deal, with a potential trade embargo affecting our £3 billion food export industry, please do not accuse me of “Project Fear”; this is serious “Project Business” for the people we serve.
If the Prime Minister’s deal does not pass next week, it seems to me that we need a plan B, and I have made it very clear that I personally support colleagues on both sides of the House pushing for the European Free Trade Association model. It would give us access to the single market, but we would be out of the customs union and we would have freedom to do trade deals and to take back control of farming and fishing. Yes, it has a problem, which is free movement, but remember that it is the free movement of workers, not citizens, and I believe that it would require—I relish this—a bold package of welfare eligibility reforms, along with skills and training reforms, here in the UK.
I will, with a heavy heart, vote for this deal on Tuesday, because we are now in the dying stages and leaving with no deal is unconscionable, but I beg colleagues to ask their Front Benchers to work together across the House in pursuit of something we can all be proud of.
I want to say at the outset that the Government are now in such a position that we need a general election. They no longer have any authority, they no longer have a majority and, it seems to me, they no longer serve any useful purpose.
Before making my main points, I want to take issue with something the Secretary of State said in his opening speech—the right hon. Gentleman has unfortunately had to leave the Chamber. Essentially, he argued that a second referendum would be undemocratic. The premise of the whole argument was that the deal people voted for in 2016, or that they thought they were voting for, will be delivered by the Prime Minister’s deal, but it will not. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, as indeed does every Member of the House who campaigned in the referendum. We all know that the deal has no bearing on the reasons people voted to leave the European Union, and we should be clear about that. I do not think that it would be undemocratic to go back to the people almost three years later and ask, “Is this exactly what you voted for? Is this what you want to happen?” My first priority, because of what I have said about the Government, is to have a general election. If that is not going to happen, the next best thing, almost certainly, has to be a referendum.
I want to talk about two things. First, I want us to consider Britain’s place in the world. Winston Churchill, in his speech to the Tory party conference in 1948—it has been quoted repeatedly, but I think it is worth revisiting—described “three majestic circles” in the following terms:
“The first circle for us is naturally the British Commonwealth and Empire, with all that that comprises. Then there is also the English-speaking world in which we, Canada, and the other British Dominions and the United States play so important a part. And finally there is United Europe.”
Obviously, so much has changed since then that we cannot stick to that as a rigid formula, and I would not argue that we should do so, but let us quickly take each one of those circles in turn. The United States and Canada are both much more complicated places and have new networks of connections between them and with South America. Of course, in the current circumstances, as others have said, the idea that we can have a truly constructive relationship with the present US Administration beggars belief.
The English-speaking world has changed considerably. Our trade and relationship with the Commonwealth, for example with Australia, New Zealand and Canada, are now dramatically different. The idea that we could suddenly revive all those old relationships and everything will be fine is purely fanciful.
We still have, while we are a member of it, a relationship with the European Union. That does give us a bigger say in what happens around the world, because it is not just plucky little Britain as an island state saying something; it is often something we can say in concert with the rest of the European Union. My first point is therefore that we will be a diminished country in the world after we leave the European Union.
Secondly, I want to address some of the concerns that constituents raised with me on the doorstep during the referendum campaign. Yes, the main issue was immigration. It was not just about free movement of labour, although some people did mention that; it was about immigration in general. Another issue was the lack of opportunity for young people, which is a serious problem for many young people in my constituency. Another issue was the need to revive our towns and town centres, and not just in economic terms but with regard to the built environment. Concerns were raised about workers’ rights, particularly by those active in trade unions, and of course I agree on that. Concerns were also raised about the environment, which is the subject of today’s debate.
I firmly believe that we can get immigration right and better, and that the time is now propitious for us to do so, with Europe. We could implement cross-Europe policies to deal with migrant labour and those who seek asylum through other ports in Europe. The time is right for us to get a good agreement on that with Europe. In recent weeks, my party and the Government have started to publish new immigration policies. Let me be clear: I am not anti-immigration, but I accept that we have to have some kind of rational policy on it.
On education, health and all these other issues, the country is crying out for change and for new opportunities for young people. Why do we have to leave the European Union to get that? We do not have to. If we put forward to the British people a positive programme that still involves our being part of the European Union, they would probably want to go for it. They should certainly be given the opportunity to do so. Our future lies in our hands, but it does not necessarily lie outside the European Union.
Order. Just before I call Priti Patel to make the next contribution, I am sorry to remind Opposition Members of what they will have already seen for themselves: namely, that the speech-time facility is not functioning. I am advised that it will not be repaired until the House is not sitting. Opposition Members, who will doubtless be very aggrieved, cannot go on for as long as they want, as Chris Bryant chunters hopefully from a sedentary position. They are disadvantaged, but they will have to be assisted by the Whip on duty, who can gesticulate as and when he or she thinks fit. That is a practice not entirely unknown or uncongenial, in my experience, to a Whip.
I approach this debate very much conscious of the wide range of views held in the House. As we are on the second leg of this debate, following December’s discussions, this is a pertinent moment to go back to what it is we are here to focus on vis-à-vis the withdrawal agreement and how we got here. Of course, I approach this debate very much with the referendum result in mind. Nearly three years ago, this country quite remarkably put on the greatest show of democracy that we have seen, resulting in the majority—more than 17 million people—voting yes to take back control of our country. They made that choice against a range of forecasts and, to be quite crude, some pessimistic propaganda. They took a bold and brave decision to instruct us Members of Parliament, in this House and throughout the country, to take a new and different path. It was a message to us to reset the political system.
I am so grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way so early in her speech. Does she agree that, whether people voted leave or remain, at no point during the referendum campaign was there a suggestion that the rights of EU nationals who had been resident in this country, lawfully exercising their treaty rights prior to any prospective Brexit day, should be affected if the referendum resulted in a vote to leave?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that point. That was never a feature of the campaign at all. Of course, what did figure in the minds of the British public, irrespective of how they voted, was that the political system—us—had for far too long siphoned power away from voters and almost denuded political decision making in this country. That is where they wanted to see us come together. At the core of the vote was a desire to see our democratic, economic and political freedoms returned to our institutions and, of course, for them to see sovereignty returned, too.
The vote to leave was an endorsement not of a political individual, party or platform, but of our country. It was an expression of self-confidence in where we could go in terms of our place in the world. Amid the debates that we are currently having, the rhetoric now, the wider discussions of a second referendum or even, as some may say, attempts to block Brexit, and amid the stories in the media and a continuation of fear and scare-stories, the essence of choice—the choice that people wanted to see—is being lost. Of course, there are a wide range of views in the House, and I respect all right hon. and hon. colleagues who want their voices to be heard, but we should also remember that Parliament gave the people a choice, and Parliament voted to trigger article 50 and to leave the European Union. We are now focused on fulfilling those commitments.
That brings me to the deal that has been put forward. Of course, many of us want to see Brexit delivered, and we were impressed by the sensible and pragmatic vision for our future outside the EU that the Prime Minister outlined in her Lancaster House speech and in other speeches two years ago. That was a plan that would have restored control of our country, kept a positive partnership with our friends and allies in the EU and, of course, freed Britain to be globally focused and to form close ties with countries and friends around the world. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister approached the EU in good faith but, as negotiations have progressed, the vision in Lancaster House and other speeches has been diluted, and ultimately ditched. We have seen the EU exercising control in the negotiation at the expense of our national interest.
The deal before us does not deliver the Brexit and the vision that the Prime Minister originally outlined. It allows the EU to continue to make our laws and to impose its Court’s judgment on us, as my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale said earlier. It gives the EU powers to veto our foreign policy and sabotages our international trade negotiations. Ultimately, as the House has heard repeatedly, it threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom. On top of that, we are expected to pay £39 billion of taxpayers’ money, as other right hon. Members have highlighted, without guarantees of a comprehensive free trade arrangement and no prospect of departing from the horrors of the backstop without the EU’s permission. The equal partnership with the EU that the Prime Minister promised has not materialised; instead, we have a deal that gives the EU licence to dominate us for years to come.
I am conscious that earlier in the debate we heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs speak about the environment, fisheries and farming. As a Member of Parliament who represents a coastal community and a farming community, I have said in the House, as have colleagues, that there are so many freedoms that we want to secure outside the European Union when it comes to the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, yet the deal does not secure them. Brussels will still pose ongoing threats to our fisheries, which will obviously have ramifications for us. The same is true when it comes to agricultural policy. Farmers in my constituency have raised that issue with me.
Of course, the great prize of being free from the EU to negotiate and secure trade deals with growing global markets has been lost in this deal. I do not need to remind the House that by the middle of the century the EU’s share of trade in the global economy will be less than 10%. We need to focus much more strongly on our trading relationships outside the EU. Why would we want to remain shackled to the EU and to be dependent on it to set our trade policy when we can be trading further afield? We need to work sooner rather than later to secure those relationships.
I have touched on what the deal means for our precious Union and for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. The protocol severely damages democracy in Northern Ireland and imposes laws and rules on the people there without any representation. That goes further than the controls on the rest of the United Kingdom and is simply not acceptable. In the provisions on Northern Ireland we have seen for the first time in modern history a UK Government negotiate to cede part of our country to a foreign power. That is simply not acceptable.
The British people are tired of subservience to the EU and astonished by the one-sided negotiation process that has put the integrity of our precious Union in real danger. We will trapped in the backstop and trapped in EU institutions; Northern Ireland will be left under the control of a foreign power, which is not acceptable; and under this deal our destiny will no longer be in our own hands. The British people want national leadership that is ambitious for our country—the type of leadership that is clear as to who governs our country and where elected power and accountability lies, and they want decision making that is free from the unnecessary constraints of the EU and EU control, and with that a restoration of trust in the democratic process that does not see our political establishment renege on the referendum result or our manifesto commitments.
I believe that Parliament should deliver on these democratic, political and economic freedoms by rejecting the withdrawal agreement. We must ensure that we can go further by trying to secure the type of trading arrangements that we originally said we would, but we can do so only once we reject the withdrawal agreement and ensure that the EU is no longer in control of our country.
It is a pleasure to follow Priti Patel.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case in this House, we have polarised views on both the leave side and the remain side, for which no deal is ever going to be good enough. I rise to speak because my approach to the nation’s decision to leave European Union is to look forward rather than debate the past, to work cross-party where possible, to be constructive rather than destructive, and to seek to unite the country, not divide it further. That is why I support amendment (p), which I have co-sponsored with my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and for Wigan (Lisa Nandy).
As we debate the conditions under which the UK leaves the European Union, there are legitimate concerns not only about what form the final agreement takes, but about UK Government intentions and the UK’s future direction. I am sure that this amendment is not perfect—we know that all amendments in this debate are not legally binding, and there is much discussion about that—but it does speak to the concerns of many in this House about how we can build on the political declaration and get more assurances, and maybe more certainty, from the Government on how we can protect the rights and standards that affect employment, health and safety and the environment, many of which we have taken for granted during UK membership of the European Union. We want to ensure that they do not decline after the UK leaves. Also, in keeping with the desire for the UK Parliament to regain control, amendment (p) wishes this House to be able to debate and decide on any future improvements to protections or rights implemented by the European Union. The choice would be in our hands; we would debate and vote on those issues.
As this amendment proposes, the UK’s goal post-Brexit should be to ensure that workers’ rights do not slip back—that the rights enjoyed by many British employees are protected. Likewise, UK standards on water pollution, pesticides, emissions, energy conservation and carbon reduction must all be protected, with a UK commitment not to walk backwards. Amendment (p) reflects some of the key demands expressed by Labour over the future direction.
For too long the debate in this House has been polarised, with the rhetoric too sharp and many Members on both sides of the House too quick to condemn and too slow to listen. I campaigned for remain. A majority of my voters voted leave, although many voted remain as well. I have always been honest with my leave voters that there will have to be compromise in the final deal that allows us to chart our own future and have more independence over many policy areas—the ability to move beyond the EU and deal with many of the concerns that led to their voting leave. But I have also been up front about recognising that we need a strong partnership with the European Union as we leave, and much of that strength is through co-operation.
I am also honest that life in the EU was never perfect, despite the relationship being close for good reason and despite the fact that it must remain so. We need to talk less about what we are against and more about what we are for, and I believe that our deliberations on the next steps should reflect that. The British people deserve sincere endeavour from this Parliament. The withdrawal agreement is the headline deal—the divorce. It is not the final deal. Trade-related, customs union-related talks will have to be agreed only once the UK leaves.
I welcomed Labour’s support for a transition period, which we demanded back in August 2017. We recognised that the 20-month period to which the Prime Minister signed up would be as important as the past two years have been because there are a wide range of trade and security matters to resolve. We should approach this period positively. It is unreasonable to expect all these matters to have been resolved by this point in the process, but a deal has to be agreed to get to that discussion, and there is still time for talks across this House in order to reach that outcome.
Despite the good work of the EU, I am very proud of the UK having a long history of being at the forefront of high standards when it comes to employment rights and environmental protections. It would be wrong to suggest that the rights that UK citizens take for granted—holidays, maternity leave, minimum pay and our welfare system—exist only because of the European Union. They do not. As a Labour MP, I fundamentally believe they exist because of 100 years of the Labour party and the trade union movement. Despite relatively few periods in office, Labour has made great advances in social change that have become mainstream and to which all parties now lay claim and adopt. These are achievements of this House over many decades, not imports from Brussels or Strasbourg, and not every country in the EU can claim what the UK rightly can.
Shame. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who should be a right hon. Friend, but we must not polarise this debate by saying either that the EU is all bad or that the UK does nothing without the EU’s permission.
Our minimum wage is twice that of Greece’s and more than Spain’s, and many EU member states do not have a minimum wage. Statutory maternity pay in the UK is paid for up to 39 weeks, compared with just 16 weeks in France, 16 weeks in Holland and 26 weeks in Ireland. Many people ascribe paid holidays to the EU, but the truth is that it was a Labour Government who signed up to the social chapter that led to that happening, and who added bank holidays on top. With regards to equality, same-sex marriage is legal in just 14 of the 28 member states, so the rights that our lesbian and gay citizens enjoy are in many respects rights derived from decisions of this Parliament, not the European Union.
In the coming weeks and during the transition, it is not too late to adopt a different approach—a less confrontational politics. I want the Government to begin a new dialogue across parties, as they should have done earlier. I want them to consult the Opposition on the negotiations around trade now, and to commit to doing so during the transition period. With 78 days until the UK leaves the European Union, it is too easy to talk about further delay. The task is only impossible if we in this House make it impossible. Extending article 50 would not solve anything, and neither would a second referendum. Our conduct in the coming weeks and months can either seek the best deal and heal divisions, or seek to prevent a deal and divide the country further.
I believe that our path has to be one that brings the nation together—a Brexit based on a reasonable deal that protects the standards and rights that we value and shows generosity of spirit to our European neighbours, but which gets on with the task of getting through this process and dealing with the many issues that we did not face up to during our 40 years in the EU.
This Parliament is on trial. The public voted very clearly in the people’s vote of 2016. They were told by Parliament and the Government, by the remain and leave campaigns, that they—the people—were making the decision. They were promised that this Parliament would get on with the task, and they now say to this Parliament, “Do just that. Get on with it.”
The public recall that this Parliament is dominated by Members of Parliament serving in the Labour and the Conservative interests. In the 2017 election, every one of us was elected on a manifesto that made it clear that our parties supported implementing the verdict of the British people. The Conservative manifesto went further and made it very clear that we were going to leave the single market and the customs union, as had been pointed out by both remain and leave campaigns in the referendum. The Labour party manifesto set out an interesting and imaginative trade policy for an independent Britain that is clearly incompatible with staying in the customs union. So Labour too, along with the Conservatives, said to the public in 2017 that we would be leaving the customs union as well as the European Union when the decision was implemented.
There are many leave voters now who are extremely angry that some Members in this House think they were stupid, think they got their decision wrong, and think they should have to do it again. Many people in the country who voted remain, as well as many who voted leave, think it is high time that this Parliament moved on from every day re-enacting the referendum debate as if it had not happened and thinking that we can go back over the referendum debate and decision because it did not like the answer. All those who stood on a manifesto to leave the European Union should remember that manifesto. Those who deeply regret the decision and did not stand on such a manifesto should still understand that democracy works by the majority making decisions. When a majority has made a decision in a referendum where they were told that they would get what they voted for, it ill behoves anyone in this Parliament to know better than the British public and to presume that this Parliament can take on the British public and stand against them, because we are here to serve that public. We gave them the choice and they made that choice.
I want us to be much more interested in the opportunities that Brexit provides and to have proper debates about all the things the Government should be doing for when we leave, as I trust we will on
The opportunities we should be discussing today in respect of fishing, agriculture and business are very considerable. I again ask my oft-repeated question of the Government: when are they going to publish our new tariff schedule? The United Kingdom can decide how much tariff, if any, to impose on imports into our country. I think that the EU tariff schedule on imports into our country is too high. I proposed to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that he remove all tariffs on imported components. That would be a huge boost for manufacturing in this country. Instead of having to say to manufacturers that we might end up with some tariffs on components coming in from the EU, because we have to charge the same to everybody, let us be bold and say that we are going to get rid of the tariffs on the components coming in from non-EU sources so that we cheapen the costs of manufacturing in the United Kingdom and give people a better choice on components.
Will my right hon. Friend address the worries of farming families, communities and industries up and down the country facing tariffs on their products going into Europe? This is a £3.15 billion industry facing a very serious tariff threat.
I was going to get on to food, and I will do so immediately as I have been prompted. We run a massive £20 billion a year trade deficit in food with the European Union, and tariff-free food competes all too successfully against some elements of our farming industry. I want the Government to choose a tariff structure on food that provides lower overall tariffs against the rest of the world but produces some tariff against EU production so that we will produce more domestically. I want to cut the food miles. I want to see more of our food being produced and sold domestically. Our domestic market share has plunged seriously during the time we have been in the European Union. I think it was well over 90% in 1972 when we entered, and it is now well under 70%. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot get back there.
We need to know urgently from this Government what tariff protection there is going to be against EU food once we have left; whether they will take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of tariffs on food coming in that we cannot conceivably grow or produce for ourselves; and whether they will lower the average tariff, because some of the tariffs that the EU imposes are eye-wateringly too high, to the detriment of the food consumer. As we will be collecting more tariff revenue in total when we start to impose some tariffs on EU products, we should be having a debate on how we are going to spend that money. I trust that the Government would rebate it all to British consumers by direct tax cuts of the right kind. There is no reason why the consumer should be worse off, because we are heavy net exporters and we are going to collect an awful lot more tariff revenue on the EU’s goods than they are going to collect on ours, unless we do something very radical on our tariff schedule. We therefore need to discuss how to spend that money.
We also need to discuss how we rebuild our fishing industry. I am impatient to get on with this. I do not want it to be delayed. We need to take control of our fish and our fishing industry this year, not sometime, never. Under the withdrawal agreement, we have no idea if and when we would get our fishing industry back. Doubtless it would be in play as something to be negotiated away, because the Government have given everything else away that they might otherwise have used in the negotiation. I want to get on and take back control of the fish now. I want a policy from the DEFRA Secretary on how we can land much more of the fish in the United Kingdom, how we can build our fish processing industries on the back of that, and what kind of arrangements we will have with the neighbouring countries both within and outside the EU whereby we will be free to settle the terms and negotiate our own conditions.
This is a huge opportunity. The fishing industry is one of the industries that has been most gravely damaged by our membership of the European Union, and we owe it to our fishing communities around the country to take that opportunity. From landlocked Wokingham, I can assure colleagues from coastal communities that there is huge enthusiasm throughout the country to rebuild our fishing industry and to see those fishing fleets again expand and enable us to land much more of our own fish. We can, at the same time, have a policy that is better on conservation by getting rid of many of the big industrial trawlers that come from the continent. We can get rid of the system where there are discards at sea or, now, the system where people are actually going to be prevented from fishing completely because the fishery cannot be managed sensibly, to the detriment of the fish and the fishermen and women undertaking the work.
There is a huge agenda there. Above all, I want the Government to set out how we are going to spend all the money that we will be saving. The Government say that we are going to give away £39 billion—I think it will be considerably more—under the withdrawal agreement. I would like to take that sum of money, which they have clearly provided for as it is their plan to spend that money, and spend it in the first two years when we come out in March 2019. That would be a 2% boost to our economy—a very welcome Brexit bonus.
I invite John Redwood to sign our amendment (p), because through it we want to take back control to Parliament. The substance of the amendment is on workers’ rights, environmental standards, and health and safety—that, for me, is one of our red lines; not the only one, but a critical one. That is what this amendment does in directing Government through the negotiation period. I recommend that others around the House sign up to it.
The Government have a dilemma and I want to speak directly to them. This time when the Government are imploring everyone to vote for their deal is the time when we, across Parliament, have maximum leverage over the Government. The Government will need to handle this dilemma in a very sophisticated way. The time for rhetoric has gone—there have been plenty of repeat speeches on what people think; everyone has a view—and the time for negotiating has begun. The Government ought to be getting people in immediately—be it shadow Front Benchers, the shadow Brexit Secretary, or the Chair of the Brexit Committee—and attempting to negotiate directly with them on how we go forward. Otherwise the prospect of no deal gets all the more real—no deal by accident.
The focus here has been inward, and the Government’s focus has been inward, on their own party and their Democratic Unionist party deal, rather than outward. It is getting very late in the day, but it not too late in the day. The weakness of the Government’s deal is also its strength, in that it puts a lot off into the negotiations on the trade deal. That gives us in Parliament significant influence, if we choose to use it, all the way through.
Mr Speaker, your ruling yesterday has been seen in the context of you being biased in relation to Brexit. That is nonsense. You will have whatever view you want. The huge significance for government must not be lost in this. With a Fixed-term Parliaments Act and a minority Government, your ruling gives Parliament more power over a minority Government in the future. It happens to be a minority Conservative Government now. If there is an election, it could be a minority Labour Government. It is the same principle. This is fundamental, because it changes the way we will have to operate. Will we learn quickly enough, or will we continue with the rhetoric and fall into something that the majority do not want?
There are other red lines. These are not the only things that I or, I think, Opposition Members regard as essential. One of the reasons that my constituents voted for Brexit—it was no surprise to me—was that we have not had our fair share. There was a small period under the Blair Government when we got our fair share infrastructure-wise. We gloried in it, and it was brilliant, but other than that, we have not in my lifetime had our fair share. Whoever is in government in the next five years has to give what I call the real Brexit dividend—our fair share—to areas like mine, which means that other areas would get less. That is what “left behind” actually means.
I recall a demonstration I went on outside the power stations, with 5,000 workers. I was the only external person invited, and I spoke. The jobs were going to Portuguese workers and, because of EU laws, they could do nothing about it. We had to pressure the employer, and we succeeded, through civil action. I realised at that point how strong the feeling was, and therefore the result was no surprise. If we want to define a Brexit voter in my area, it is a trade unionist in an organised workplace. That is the core of the Brexit vote, and my area is not unusual in that. Government need to get their head around that and negotiate with the Opposition over the next weekend and the next few weeks, if that is needed to get a deal.
I stood on a manifesto that said we are going to deliver Brexit. Frankly, voters can boot me out—they can boot any of us out for reneging on or sticking to our principles. I do not for a moment demur when people take the opposite point of view. They are very principled people, and I respect them for that. I do not agree with their conclusions, but I respect them for their bravery. Everyone knows that even a second referendum will not resolve the split in the country. Part of what we need to do in this process in relation to the deal is to resolve the split in the country.
My area is sick to death of condescending, patronising words. People in my area knew what they were voting for. They knew why they were voting—and by the way, it was not the same as the vision of the right hon. Member for Wokingham. They were not voting for a race to the bottom, for the lowest common denominator, for lower wages and lower standards and for us to undercut the rest. They were voting for best practice, the highest of standards and to compete with the freedoms. My appeal to Members in my party and others is that now is the time for practical, specific proposals based on what people are in favour of precisely, not what they are against.
This is not just about whether we can get through the next few weeks. It is about whether Parliament and its authority will survive. My voters will walk. They may not vote Tory or UKIP, and they may not vote for me; they will walk. They will say, “The political process is useless and broken. You’re all to blame.” We can reach different conclusions about the outcomes of that, but understanding that reality is fundamental.
We should at least try, with the Labour party manifesto position and our stated objectives, to get a negotiated deal with the Government and vice versa. That is fundamental to the process. Will it succeed? I do not know. We are helping with this, and we are helping, not to be helpful politically, but because this is real stuff: health and safety, environmental standards and workers’ rights are real stuff.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about how the public will react if their voice is ignored, but will he withdraw his comment that I want lower standards and a race to the bottom? I want higher pay and better standards, and that is what I campaigned for.
Well, I shall finish by inviting the right hon. Gentleman and everybody else to sign amendment (p). We should see more amendments like this on equality issues and other red lines, to get the deal through by the maximum consensus based on our manifesto commitments and, more importantly, to hold the country together.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the debate, but this seems important. The media are reporting that No. 10 Downing Street is briefing that its interpretation of yesterday’s vote and the requirements of the legislation is that, if the Prime Minister’s motion is defeated next Tuesday, the debate on the plan B that the Government would be obliged to bring forward would be restricted to only 90 minutes, and they would allow only one amendment to be chosen and voted upon.
Is that your understanding? Can you confirm that the Government could in fact provide as much time as they wanted for a constitutional debate that is so contested and so crucial to the future of our country, and that they could provide for as many amendments to be considered as is needed? Given that the Prime Minister and the Government have been saying that they want to listen, reach out and build a consensus, how, if this is the case, can we believe anything that the Government say?
I will respond, but as the Chief Whip is signalling an interest in contributing, I am happy to hear the right hon. Gentleman.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to confirm, no decision has been made along the lines of what the right hon. Lady has said. The Government will do everything they can to ensure that the House is fully consulted in every eventuality next week, and the information that she has is not correct.
I am happy to respond to the point of order from the right hon. Lady, and I thank her for giving me notice of it. She has kindly shown me the press report to which she refers, but she knows that I have not yet had the opportunity to study it carefully. Moreover, it is not our normal practice to respond to any and every press report based upon a briefing from someone who perhaps thinks that he or she knows what the procedures are in this place but does not always fully do so.
It is true to say that the default position under
I must emphasise that all of this is hypothetical at this stage, and I do not think it would be helpful to speculate on what may happen subsequent to the decision of the House next Tuesday. I can, however, confirm that the right hon. Lady is quite correct in saying that it is perfectly open to the Government, if such a situation were to arise, to provide for a much fuller debate. In those circumstances, there would predictably be a significant number of colleagues who would want to put their own propositions on the paper. I am extremely confident that if that hypothetical scenario were to arise, colleagues would assert themselves.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you confirm that it would be open to Members of the House to seek to remedy this potential problem by tabling an amendment to the withdrawal agreement motion for next week, because this matter would inevitably flow from a consequence of the withdrawal agreement not being carried by the House of Commons?
I would like to reflect on that. It may be possible for that to be done. If it is possible for it to be done, it may well be a matter of judgment as to whether it is thought to be worth doing. The reason there is no great hurry on that matter is, of course, that I am not even in a position, under the Order passed on
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to interrupt the debate further, but the response from the Chief Whip was obviously helpful, even if it is slightly odd that he has now left the Chamber before the conclusion of any further discussion on the point of order. Do you think, Mr Speaker, it would be helpful for there to be further clarification from the Government Benches about what plan there would be for further debates, so that we can have reassurance?
What I would say to the right hon. Lady is twofold. First, I do not control the Government Chief Whip any more than the Government Chief Whip controls me. I think we ought to be clear about that. I cannot comment on his whereabouts and they are not a matter of any great concern to me. Secondly, if the right hon. Lady or other colleagues want to explore these matters in the debate in the coming days, they absolutely can do so. All I can say is that, in support of Members in all parts of the House and of all shades of opinion, I will always have regard to the opportunities for Members to put their points and to advance their causes. These are not matters purely for the Treasury Bench. I think we are clear about that.
I should start by reflecting that the speech by John Mann was one of the finest analyses of what happened in the referendum. Caroline Flint also absolutely hit the nail on the head about where we are today and how we need to progress.
We have heard, and will continue to hear in this debate, reasons why people feel they cannot support the Government’s deal. We will hear hon. Member after hon. Member describe in gruesome detail what precise strand of Brexit or non-Brexit they will support. That will be all very fascinating for their local paper or grist to the mill for their next blog, but in the context of what Parliament is doing in this debate and in next week’s vote it will be utterly irrelevant. What matters is not what any of us individually think of the deal; what matters is what Members in the Chamber decide. What matters is the maths of who makes up this House.
I am happy to give detailed reasoning to the House for why I am prepared to support the Government. That would be of interest to some of my constituents. It would be welcome news to my constituent who runs a business which employs over 20,000 people and is pleading with us to agree the deal. It would be interesting to the small businesses in my constituency that wrote to me about why ideological Brexiteers are playing with fire when they breezily claim that no deal would be just a bit of mid-air turbulence. We should listen to such people and ask ourselves who is more likely than them to understand the complexity of supply chains or the competitive pricing of their products.
For some in this House the word “compromise” is a pejorative term: a sign of weakness and a word which is too quickly followed by other words like “betrayal”. For me, compromise is almost always a virtue. I compromised as a soldier serving on operations. I compromised as a businessman in every negotiation I did. I compromised as a Minister when negotiating in Europe for this country. I compromise almost daily in this place trying to get some of what I want through, rather than getting nothing. Perhaps the best analogy I can use is that I compromised when I got divorced. As one hon. Member said outside this Chamber the other day, “At least his divorce was with only one person, not 27.”
As the leading Brexit campaigner Dan Hannan wrote recently, if a 52% to 48% referendum result is a mandate for anything, it is a mandate for compromise. That said, like most in this House I am a democrat and I concede that my side lost. Like about 85% of this House, I was re-elected in 2017—I might add, with the highest ever popular vote in my constituency in any general election—on a manifesto that pledged to respect the result of the referendum. If we look at the bell curve of public opinion on this issue, we see the edges of the bell curve showing the irreconcilables, the small percentage at either end who are either inexorably grieving at the result of the referendum and will do anything they can to undo it, or those for whom the cleanest of breaks with the EU is a theocracy and an ideology on which, as with the other end of the scale, compromise is impossible. And then there is the rest of the country. Here we find an understanding about what we want to achieve: to move from being a country inside the EU with some opt-outs, to one being outside the EU with some opt-ins. For many of them, this deal is fine. I support the Prime Minister if she can bring forward any changes and tweaks that will encourage more of our colleagues to join. I also give notice that if that fails I will seek, with other colleagues right across the House, to find a way forward. If that takes me down an EEA or EFTA route, then I will look at that. That would be sub-optimal, but it may be the only thing the House can agree. What I do feel is that there is no majority in this House for no deal. I really urge people to listen to industry and to the letter we received today from the four presidents of the NFU. If one represents a rural area and minds about our food industry and the rural economy, that letter is calm, deliberate knowledge.
In the spirit of compromise, and to ensure there is something for all of us, I am really attracted by the idea that, perhaps on workers’ rights, the environment, and health and safety, we could provide a sort of triple lock where if Europe decides to raise standards above where we are today we can say that we will put them to this House. We are a sovereign House of Commons. We can make a decision on whether to support them. I am interested in that.
I wish to say a word to those who want a second vote. If someone is calling for it because they see it as the best way of reversing the first referendum, say so—be honest with the public and do not dress it up with some higher purpose. In passing, I would also say: be careful what you wish for. The further one gets from London and its bien pensant elites, the more one detects an anger and belligerence towards the campaign for a second referendum. The Institute for Government has said it would take four to five months to have a second referendum. We would be putting this poor country through another four or five months of the kind of divisions we saw in the last one. Is that what we really want? The Electoral Commission, the independent body that oversees such votes, has very strong views on some of the points being made about the kind of questions that might be asked.
My discussions with some of the 97% of my constituents who have not written to me on this issue can be condensed down to one simple message: get on with it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman also accept, though, that if the House were to support the Government’s deal, along with the political declaration, it would be a sure fire way of ensuring that this uncertainty and political wrangling continue for years to come?
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It will give certainty. It would certainly give certainty to many of the businesses I have talked about. I think there is a dam holding back investment in the economy. We all see it in our constituencies. If the deal were to go through, I think we would see a mini-boom in this country, as well as a determination to close this off in the minds of the electorate by trying to speed through the final stage of negotiations. If there is another emotion I detect in my constituency, it is one of admiration for the tenacity of the Prime Minister. While not everyone will agree with what she has come up with, I think we can all accept that.
I will finish with a heartfelt plea to people right across the House not to stand absolutely on the principle and clear position of what they would accept, but to recognise that the House of Commons has to raise its game, understand that compromise is not a dirty word and find a solution that we can all agree.
Order. Before I call Meg Hillier, I must advise the House that, after she has spoken, the time limit will have to be reduced to six minutes. [Interruption.] Yes, I recognise that it is a pity, but very many Members wish to take part.
It is a pleasure to follow Richard Benyon.
Is it not depressing that we are here again having moved on no further in the past five weeks? The Public Accounts Committee has produced nine reports on Government preparedness. Every day we go on indecisively, the Government are spending money preparing for no deal and other options, and that is not to mention the money that will need to be invested, if we leave, in order that we can do all the things currently done through European institutions.
I will not repeat what I said in my speech on
As I said in my last speech, the Government have proceeded recklessly, but today I want to talk about an issue that was never really discussed in the campaign on the mainland of the UK. I should declare that my husband is a dual citizen of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland border is too often dismissed as a confected issue that does not matter greatly. I did some research. Only 108 MPs in the House today were in Parliament when the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, and only 144 of us were here when we had the last republican terrorist attack on the mainland. There is a diminishing number of Members who were here and closely involved in that debate, when our leaders, Tony Blair among them, took us to the signing of the Good Friday agreement.
In December 2017, the Irish Mirror reported that MI5 had disrupted more than 250 separate attacks in Northern Ireland alone, with seizures of explosives, weapons and ammunition, and that there had been 16 attacks in 2015-16 in Northern Ireland. There remain serious issues for peace in Northern Ireland and the security of Northern Irish citizens, as well as of Irish citizens across the border. We have been in the common travel area with Northern Ireland since the Irish Free State was declared in 1922, except for a brief period after the second world war. Ireland has aligned itself with us to maintain that position, in 1952 signing up to our immigration rules on the Commonwealth and in the ’70s joining the EU. The Republic of Ireland is not considered a foreign country under UK law. Irish citizens have a special status that confers on them the right to vote here. Under British law they have more rights than EU citizens, including the right to be Members of this House with Irish citizenship alone; they are not required to become British citizens.
It is good that article 5 of the withdrawal agreement confirms that the common travel area and free movement must remain for our Irish cousins, but it is of real concern to me that we have not debated how we will deal with the Irish border. The Prime Minister said in a statement in October 2018, and she has repeated this sort of phrase many a time:
“We are obviously committed to no hard border, and we have made it clear that in any circumstances, including in a no-deal situation, we would be doing all that we could to ensure that there was no hard border. We would look to work with Ireland and the European Union to ensure that there was no hard border, but there has been no commitment in relation to that.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 648, c.61.]
That last half sentence is the real issue.
There are options, but none of them is good. Customs checks could be imposed at the border because Ireland becomes a third country under EU law. How does that chime with our commitment to the common travel area? We could do nothing and temporarily have no border while we work out the political agreement, but if we do so, we could be the subject of a complaint to the World Trade Organisation. We could move checks further away from the border in the so-called max fac—maximum facilitation—option, which the UK proposed and the EU rejected. Even when the UK proposed it, it was still not clear what it was. It involves a bit of number plate recognition, and perhaps taking some goods and checking them.
I have had the privilege of speaking to the Comptroller and Auditor General for the Northern Ireland Audit Office and hearing him describe the travel of goods back and forth across the border, which I know well. UK citizens in Northern Ireland and Irish citizens in Ireland have a lot of business—processing of milk and pork, a lot of other agricultural business—that relies on movement across the border. It is vital that that is maintained, and there is really no answer to that. One of the reasons why I cannot support the deal is that it does not resolve that problem.
There is, as other speakers have highlighted, no simple answer, but we have had weakness upon weakness from this Government. There has been reckless rush and unnecessary delay. The Prime Minister has reached out far too late to Members in her own party, let alone trying to have any cross-party discussions. I was dismayed to hear from George Freeman that there has not even been proper dialogue with the Opposition Front Bench. There is no authority, and that is of real concern to me. How can we have faith that the sketchy political agreement will be fleshed out and delivered by this Prime Minister in her current weakness?
I think we need to look—I say this rather reluctantly—at revoking or at least extending article 50 unless Parliament can deliver. Even with the three-day deadline, it is difficult to know how we can begin to coalesce around alternatives. I throw that at the Government; as the Executive, they still have power to determine the business in this place. We have to have an opportunity to discuss alternatives. If we fail, we need to consider going back to the people, even with all the problems I have highlighted that doing so would raise.
In these difficult times for our country, it is as well to remember the iron rule of politics: no situation is so bad that it is not possible for politicians to make it worse. I fear that we are in such a situation now. Not to vote for the deal would be to fall into precisely that trap.
I was a remainer. I campaigned across Cheltenham for remain, from the high street to the promenade. I did not do so because I thought the European Union was perfect. It had allowed itself, in many ways, to become inflexible and too remote from ordinary people. Even if I would not have suggested joining on the terms that were proffered in 2016, it seemed to me that the process of unravelling that 40-year relationship would be so lengthy, so complex, so expensive and so divisive that the game would not be worth the candle.
I made that argument and others, which are being reheated, such as that that process would act as a headwind against growth, and I was proud of the fact that 56% of people in Cheltenham voted to remain. But we did not vote as constituencies; we voted as a country. We voted as one nation, and I am first and foremost a democrat. I stood on a manifesto in 2015 that read:
“We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.”
“one clear purpose: to deliver on our promise to give the British people the final say on our EU membership in an in/out referendum”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 596, c. 1047.]
“The referendum…is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union…The Government will implement what you decide.”
We all know that was the deal. I remember the words of the late and much-missed Paddy Ashdown on the evening of the referendum. Before the result came in, he said:
“I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it is spoken, whether it is a majority of one per cent or 20 per cent. When the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t.”
Some in the House say the margin of victory does not matter. “In a referendum,” they say, “the winner takes all—one more vote is all you need to impose the most ideologically pure version of what you argued for.” I respectfully suggest there are great dangers in assuming that the 2016 referendum result—just 52:48—was a mandate for a tungsten-hard no-deal Brexit, which is now one of the two obvious alternatives to this deal. Those who advocate that would do well to remember that, had the EU negotiators simply offered David Cameron a genuine emergency brake that did not dismantle the freedom of movement principle but provided a sensible derogation, it is likely we would have voted to remain.
This deal is a compromise. That means it has positives and negatives. The positives are these. On goods, the EU has accepted that the UK should have a bespoke trade deal, with no tariffs, fees or charges and no quotas. On services, the EU has accepted the principle of arrangements for financial services, which, importantly, will be based on equivalence. British nationals will be able to travel freely without a visa, EU directives will no longer have direct effect and so on.
Against that backdrop, is it any surprise that the deal has been loudly welcomed by Rolls-Royce, Siemens, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the chief executive of UKHospitality? The BioIndustry Association supports it—I could go on and on. The chief executive of BAE Systems, which employs many people in Cheltenham, welcomed the transition period, and GE Aviation, a significant employer in Gloucestershire, said:
“Ratification of a withdrawal agreement would provide business with the certainty it needs. In contrast, a disorderly ‘no deal’
exit in March would present considerable challenges for our operations, supply chains and customers.”
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the experts and others he prays in aid, whose views I certainly give great weight to, have been too easily dismissed? People either call them fake news or say, “They would say that,” or, “They don’t know what they’re talking about; we know better.” There is a dangerous anti-business trend in what some people say, and we must resist it.
And this is the Conservative party, which listens to business and wants to stand on the side of people who create prosperity in our country. By the way, if we want to deliver social mobility, we will do that through jobs and enterprise, and by raising tax revenues so we have the greatest possible public services.
Of course there are negatives to the deal; we have heard about those. Concern is rightly expressed about the Irish backstop, but, as the Secretary of State indicated and the Attorney General has said, it is an instrument of pain for both sides. What is a backstop for us is a back door for them. Northern Ireland would have the advantage of being able to access both the single market of the EU and the single market of the UK. Mainland British businesses would be incentivised to relocate to Northern Ireland to supply their goods into the EU. Meanwhile, the process of negotiating trade deals would become a nightmare for the EU, as it would not be able to clarify the frontiers of its single market and the British taxpayer would not be paying a penny piece.
The fact is that all trade deals require some kind of backstop. Canada-plus and Labour’s suggestion—it wants to be inside the customs union but outside the single market—would require one, too. I have heard much criticism from the Labour party. Some of it is fluent and cogent—we get all that—but, with respect, criticism is easy. As a quote probably misattributed to Teddy Roosevelt goes, complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining. Labour does not want a second referendum, does not want an extension and criticises the Government, saying there is no way they could get meaningful changes to their deal, yet it suggests that it could get a whole new deal by
A hard Brexit, I would suggest, is simply not an option. There are concerns about Ireland, and I have real concerns about it. Of course it is necessary to “aim off” with respect to some of the polls, but there is a real risk that if there is a hard Brexit the appetite for a border poll will increase, and there is then a real risk of a united Ireland. There are great risks from a second referendum as well, which I cannot go into now. However, there is an opportunity for us to do something sensible and unlock the wall of investment that is poised over our economy, and I shall be voting for the deal.
I have faced many challenges in the two decades for which I have sat in the House, but Sunday
Many members of the community were urging me to say that the killing of Mark Duggan by police, which had sparked the riots, justified that rage: that the families made homeless, the burnt-out buses and houses and the looted shops were worth it. They told me I had to say that that wrong was right. It was not easy, but I had to look members of my community in the face, tell them that the violence was a disgrace, and condemn it unequivocally. Why? Because we have a duty to tell our constituents the truth, even when they passionately disagree. We owe them not only our industry but our judgment. We are trusted representatives, not unthinking delegates, so why do many in the House continue to support Brexit when they know that it will wreck jobs, the NHS and our standing in the world?
This is the fundamental dishonesty at the heart of the Brexit debate. Most Members now recognise that in private, but do not say it in public. Brexit is a con, a trick, a swindle, a fraud. It is a deception that will hurt most of the people it promised to help. It is a dangerous fantasy that will make every problem it claims to solve worse. It is a campaign won on false promises and lies. Both Vote Leave and Leave.EU broke the law. Russian interference is beyond reasonable doubt.
By now, every single campaign promise made in 2016 has come unstuck. Brexit will not enrich our NHS; it will impoverish it. Our trade deal with Donald Trump will see US corporations privatise and dismantle it, one bed at a time. Even the promises on immigration, which has so greatly enriched our country, are a lie. After Brexit, immigration will go up, not down. When we enter into negotiations with countries such as India and China, they will ask for three things—visas, visas and more visas—and they will get them, because we will be weak.
Then there is the myth about restoring parliamentary sovereignty. The last two years have shown what a joke that is. The Prime Minister has hoarded power like a deluded 21st-century Henry VIII. Impact assessments have been hidden, votes have been resisted and blocked, and simple opponents of Government policies have been bullied and threatened to get into line. Even when we forced a meaningful vote, the Prime Minister cancelled it, certain we would reject her disastrous deal—and oh, we will reject it, because it is a lose-lose compromise that offers no certainty for our future. All that it guarantees is more years of negotiation, headed by the same clowns who guided us into this farce in the first place.
We are suffering from a crisis of leadership in our hour of need. This country’s greatest moments came when we showed courage, not when we appeased: the courage of Wilberforce to emancipate the slaves in the face of the anger of the British ruling class, the courage of Winston Churchill to declare war on Hitler in the face of the appeasers in his Cabinet and the country, and the courage of Attlee and Bevan to nationalise the health service in the face of the doctors who protested that that was not right. Today, we too must be bold, because the challenges that we face are just as extreme. We must not be afraid to tell the truth to those who disagree.
Friends on this side of the House tell me to appease Labour voters in industrial towns: the former miners, the factory workers, those who feel that they have been left behind. I say that we must not patronise them with cowardice. Let us tell them the truth. Let us tell them, “You were sold a lie. Parts of the media used your fears to sell papers and boost viewing figures. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson exploited the same prejudice to win votes. Shame on them. Immigrants have not taken your jobs; our schools and colleges failed to give you skills.
Hospitals are crumbling not because of health tourists, but because of decades of austerity that ground them down to the bone. People cannot afford a house because both parties failed to build, not because Mohammed down the road moved in. Wealth was hoarded in London when it should have been shared across the country.
Blame us; blame Westminster: do not blame Brussels for our own country’s mistakes. And do not be angry at us for telling you the truth; be angry at the chancers who sold you a lie. As Martin Luther King said long ago:
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
So just as I speak plainly to the Government this time around, let me speak to the Opposition about some home truths. There is no left-wing justification for Brexit. Ditching workers’ rights and social protections and ending environmental co-operation is not progressive. This is a project about neoliberal deregulation; it is Thatcherism on steroids, pushed by her modern-day disciples. Leaving the EU will not free us from the injustices of global capitalism; it will make us subordinate to Trump’s US.
Socialism confined to one country will not work. Whether we like it or not, the world we live in is global. We can fix the rigged system only if we co-operate across border lines. The party of Keir Hardie has always been international. We must not let down our young supporters by failing to stand with them on the biggest issue of our lives.
If we remain in the EU we can reform it from the top table: share the load of mass migration, address the excesses of the bureaucracy and fix inequalities between creditor and debtor states. We can recharge the economy. We can refuel the NHS. We can build the houses we need after years of hurt. Hope is what we need: remain in the EU; give Britain a second opportunity to decide.
I do not want to use my speech to talk about parliamentary procedure or the detail of the various options to withdraw from the EU—I will leave that to others to do. What I want to talk about today is trust: not trust in MPs, which Mr Lammy has just alluded to, but trust in the electorate, which my hon. Friend George Freeman spoke about.
In 1997, I, like many others, was unhappy that Tony Blair became Prime Minister, but I did not start campaigning for a people’s vote to remove him, and the same was the case in 2001 and in 2005. In fact, I think the situation was the same in 2010, 2015 and 2017, as the Opposition would have been disappointed about the outcome of the election, but they did not start campaigning for a people’s vote to overturn it. That is because we accept the results of votes in this country, and we should accept this one.
Turning to the point of this whole debate, in June 2016, the British people were given a say on our future relationship with the EU through a simple in/out referendum. We chose to leave. The numbers who voted or the margin of the majority are irrelevant; the question was put and the answer was given.
It should come as no surprise that, in a contest, some people will be disappointed. We should not dismiss their concerns; we should instead try to be as accommodating as possible. That is what people have been talking about today, but we must stay true to the referendum result—we have a duty to do so.
Everyone in the Conservative party, including my hon. Friend, stood on the 2015 manifesto. They promised to give the British public a straightforward in/out referendum. Everyone who voted in December 2015 to legislate for that referendum did so promising to honour the result. Everyone who voted and campaigned in the referendum did so in the spirit of what had been agreed before the vote took place, and again promised to honour the result—at least I assume that they did. Can we really imagine that people were wandering around campaigning for in or for out, but saying to their constituents and friends, “Whatever happens, if we don’t win, we’ll just renege on the result”? Of course they did not do that; they campaigned saying they would honour the result. Everyone in here who voted to trigger article 50 and everyone in here who voted to pass—[Interruption.] I am not saying that everyone here voted in that way. I am talking about everyone who did vote in that way—[Interruption.] If Members listen, they can intervene on me. Everyone in the Chamber who voted to trigger article 50 and who voted to pass the European Union (Withdrawal) Act did so because at that time they were doing what they promised their electorate they would do.
In 2017, both two major parties stood on manifestos that promised to honour the result. In my constituency, the Conservative and Labour candidates shared 93% of the vote. Two parties that promised to honour the result of the referendum shared almost the entire vote while all the other parties lost their deposits. Almost every Conservative and Labour Member has promised to deliver Brexit at one time or another. At the time, those who supported remain accepted the wording of the referendum. At no time did they say that the result needed to have a particular majority, or that the consequences needed to be spelled out. Why was that? Quite obviously it was because the remain voters thought they would win. I thought they would win, even though I campaigned for and voted to leave.
The country has followed this soap opera for two years. It has joined us on this journey, which began with the referendum and was followed by a prime ministerial resignation, a new Prime Minister, a general election, Lancaster House, Florence, “Brexit means Brexit”, “No deal is better than a bad deal”, a delayed vote, a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister and, finally, “This deal, no deal or no Brexit at all”. No Brexit at all is not an option. This place voted for the referendum and promised to honour the result. This place voted to trigger article 50 and, in so doing, reconfirmed to the British public that our democracy is more important than political convenience. We all accepted the terms before the campaigns started, and if Members fail to implement the result or attempt to frustrate the will of the people, they are not democrats and I have no idea why they are here.
I would like to offer some clarity for those Ministers who like to appear on the “Today” programme saying that people like me know what they do not want but not what they do want. I met the Prime Minister and I could not have been clearer to her: I want a deal but, as it stands, I do not want her deal. The Prime Minister promised to protect our precious Union. Her deal does not do that, because it treats one part of our Union differently from the other parts. So, for those who repeat that people like me know what we do not want but not what we do want, I will say it again: take the backstop out, and I will compromise again and reluctantly vote for the deal.
This has been a dark time in our nation’s history. It has laid bare the divisions in our country and, by reneging on the promises we made to the British public, we would plunge our country into an even darker place, and I would not blame the voters if they never trusted a politician again. Many of the people outside this place believe that politicians are untrustworthy. They think that we spend most of our time talking to ourselves and not caring about what they think. If we fail to honour the result of the most important vote in living memory, we will prove them right, and I will have no part in that. I made promises to my constituents and I fully intend to honour them, whatever that takes. I would rather lose my seat, honour my commitments to my constituents and preserve what integrity is left in this place than behave as so many others are, in their own self-interest.
My friend, Lord Ashdown—Paddy—is being buried today in Somerset, so I hope that the House will allow me to speak about this deal as I think Paddy would have done. Alex Chalk might not have known about the burial service, but my friend Paddy would have been able to apply his critical faculties to the deal and judge it on the basis of what was good for this country. That is what he would have done. I worked for him for nearly 30 years, beginning as his economics adviser, and when he talked about Europe, he talked about the way in which countries needed to co-operate and work together. Internationalism was in his liberalism. He talked about how, working with other countries, this country could regain sovereignty and regain control over global capitalism, and the multinationals that sought to undermine the interests of individual countries, people and corporations. His view was that we were stronger and had more control. That was his approach to the European Union.
However, things went much deeper than that. Paddy was a soldier and a diplomat, and he brought that experience and those beliefs to the European question. It was his commitment to peace and to patriotism—he loved his country—that made him such a strong pro-European. We see that in his books and his speeches when he talks about the dangers of rising nationalism and protectionism around the world. He worried about Trump, Bolsonaro and Brexit, and he thought that Britain being in the EU was one of the best ways of combatting those rises in nationalism and protectionism. In his work in Bosnia, he talked about how the EU’s institutions were bringing peace not just within that country, but within the Balkans. Indeed, if we look at what is happening, the EU is one of the magnets that is ending the hostility between those countries, and it can play a key role. It is an engine for peace, as it has been across Europe.
Of course, as man who was born in Northern Ireland, Paddy would look at the threat to the Good Friday agreement with serious concern. Nearly 3,600 of our countrymen and women died in the troubles, but few have died since the Good Friday peace agreement. People inside and outside this House should think carefully about anything that puts that at risk. Paddy certainly did, believing that the EU was a way of gluing people together and moving away from past hostilities.
I was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change when Putin invaded Crimea and the Bolsheviks went into eastern Ukraine. There were crisis summits. The European Energy Council got together to work out how to deal with the matter, and one way of undermining Putin was to reduce Russia’s oil, coal and gas exports by ensuring that the EU became more secure by going green and by trading within itself, making it less dependent on Russia. That meant less money into Putin’s pockets and therefore fewer soldiers and rockets. That was how the UK could exercise soft power through the EU. Europe’s energy security strategy was written in my office in Whitehall, because we were able to use soft power to try to promote security and peace. That is what the EU is about, and that is why Paddy supported it.
If Paddy applied those same thoughts to this deal, he would say that it is hopeless. This deal would lock Britain into bad diplomacy—diplomacy based on transactions and deals, not relationships. In the modern world, a country should have deep relationships with its neighbouring states. When I was in the coalition Government, I talked about having joint Cabinet meetings in Berlin and in London with the German Government. That did not go down too well on the Tory Benches, but I was trying to ensure that relationships were built on understanding between Ministers, not on press releases. I am afraid that this deal locks us into transactions between now and whenever we find out what Brexit actually means, which will be when the political declaration is eventually negotiated. Beyond that, however, whenever we get to the end of those negotiations—the Secretary of State is dreaming if he thinks that that will happen at the end of the implementation period—we will still be in a much more transactional relationship with the EU, which will damage this country and its interests. Paddy would think that this deal is not in this great country’s interests.
I hope that the deal will go down next Tuesday—I will vote against it—but it is unclear what will replace it. There is a clear majority against no deal. Is there a majority for some other deal? I do not know. Perhaps Norway-plus will attract some people. I find it deeply unattractive, because we would have all the costs and rules of the EU, but no voice and no vote. That is why—I am happy to admit this—putting the decision back to the people is a good idea. I hope that they will change their minds. If the people vote on this deal based on what they have seen over the past two and a half years, they will have a lot more information than they had in 2016. Some say, “The people knew what they were voting for,” but I really do not think that that is the case. Over the past two and a half years, there has been the most immense opening of people’s minds to what actually happened. In addition, more than 1 million young people did not get a vote in 2016, and they would like a say in their future. I believe that the case for another vote is made.
In September 2014 the people of Scotland were confronted with a choice between remaining a member of the United Kingdom and becoming an independent state. The debate that preceded that vote brought politics alive in Scotland, and it did so precisely because it went to the heart of our national identities and challenged the idea that we could be proud of being both Scottish and British.
As the House knows, in that referendum, the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and, ever since the result was declared, it has been incumbent on those of us who believe in our United Kingdom to continue defending it. It is in that context that I considered the withdrawal agreement, because I would never vote for anything that threatened or undermined the integrity of our United Kingdom. I respect colleagues who have taken a different view on this matter, and I fully understand the concerns they have expressed because I initially shared those concerns. I have always been clear that, when we leave the European Union, as I voted to do, we leave as one United Kingdom.
Members may know that my constituency is home to the strategically and economically important port of Cairnryan, which handles approximately 45% of Northern Ireland’s trade with the rest of the UK. Any border down the Irish sea or proposal to carve off Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom would be hugely detrimental to the port, which would be wholly unacceptable.
Although the withdrawal agreement is clear that nothing in it prevents the UK from ensuring unfettered access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK’s internal market, I welcome the specific commitment in the paper published yesterday that the Government will enshrine a guarantee to that effect in primary legislation. I do not want a situation to arise in which the UK needs to enter the backstop arrangement, and the text is clear that the backstop is neither the preferred nor the expected outcome. With the right level of political will and determination, it is entirely possible to reach an agreement on our future relationship before December 2020 and I, like the Prime Minister, sincerely hope we do.
I would have preferred a provision in the agreement that would enable us to end the backstop unilaterally, but that is not in the agreement. Although article 1(4) of the Northern Ireland protocol explicitly states that it is intended to apply “only temporarily,” I cannot help but think that inserting an end date, even one as far away as 2023, would focus both parties’ minds on finding a solution. I have no doubt that, when the solution comes, it will come down to money, as I am quite confident that the technology already exists. The proposed backstop arrangement is uncomfortable. However, I am reassured by the words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. Like him, I believe that, compared with the other courses available, this is a reasonable, calculated risk.
The Prime Minister has accepted that this deal is not perfect, and we have to recognise that the withdrawal agreement is only one step in the process of leaving the EU. The Environment Secretary correctly said in his opening remarks that we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good, and I agree. I also believe that, if David Cameron had come back with this deal before the referendum, we leavers would have taken it. For me, Norway-plus, no deal and a second referendum are all less appealing than the deal before us. Even worse is the possibility of a Government led by the Labour Front Bench team who, despite having plenty of time to come up with something, have absolutely no plan for Brexit.
As a result of this deal, we will again become an independent coastal state. In December 2020 we will be free to decide who has access to our waters. We will be able to create a support system that meets the needs of our farming and rural communities, including my own in Dumfries and Galloway. In Scotland the withdrawal agreement has the support of organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Farmers Union of Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.
In 2016 a majority voted to leave the EU. The Prime Minister has been clear in her determination to deliver on that result, and we leave the European Union on
There is no ideal way forward now that will satisfy all. I will not be voting for the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister has negotiated. I am afraid it is a mess, and the way she has handled Brexit from the beginning of her premiership has been fundamentally flawed. If we go forward on the basis of her deal and the political declaration, I believe that terrible damage will be done to the jobs, life chances, finances and prospects of my constituents, and to many other people in the rest of the country.
Colleagues from across the House have talked today about compromise, but the Prime Minister and her Government have made no efforts to seek a consensus across this House, or across the country, on the best way forward. From the beginning of her negotiations two years ago, she has focused her efforts on keeping her warring party together, rather than looking to do what is best for the country. She has not sought to set out a range of Brexit options and lead a great national conversation about the best way forward amongst potential options or available choices; she has simply ruled out the ones that she does not think some in her party will support. She has not sought to heal the divisions exposed by the toxicity of the referendum campaign, and the fears and divisions it exploited, or to reconcile the differences between those who voted to leave and those who voted to remain that have been revealed as a consequence.
The Prime Minister has purposefully since run down the clock, to prevent anyone but a small group around her from having a say on the way forward. Her negotiating red lines were more about keeping her most uncompromising Brexit-supporting colleagues on board and preventing them from removing her from office, than about finding a consensus across our nation, but they have had the effect of ruling out sensible and less damaging Brexit options, and now we are being told that it is her deal or no deal.
In my view, the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Government should rule out no deal straightaway. It would be the most irresponsible, self-harming stupidity, and should not be contemplated. Seeking compromise and finding agreement across the House has not been a focus of what the Government have tried to do, and we need to recall that when they now stand up and say they want compromise.
Let us recall that the Prime Minister did not want the House to have any meaningful say on Brexit at all. She wanted to trigger article 50 without allowing a vote in the House; only public-spirited citizens and the courts stopped her. She wanted to negotiate a deal and implement it without a meaningful vote in this House; only parliamentarians across parties have stopped her. She wants the Executive to take back control of our laws, with its full panoply of Henry VIII powers, not Parliament. Now, with her deal in deep trouble, she talks about compromise, but she has been trying to run down the clock and threaten us with catastrophe if we do not do her bidding, pulling the meaningful vote to waste another month—all to give the impression that it is her deal or no deal.
What are the consequences of the Prime Minister’s deal? The National Institute of Economic and Social Research said that the White Paper version of her deal would cost the UK up to £100 billion by 2030 and cut GDP by 4% compared with the status quo. No deal, which she threatens the nation with, would be even worse, seeing a fall of up to 9% of GDP, on the Government’s own forecasts, over the next 15 years. GDP would be cut in the north-west by 12% in the next 15 years, hitting manufacturing particularly hard.
My constituents are already reeling from the seemingly never-ending austerity imposed by the coalition and Tory Governments. Poverty is rocketing upwards. Food bank use is becoming institutionalised. The services towards which my constituents used to turn to get help and support at Liverpool City Council and Knowsley Borough Council are severely compromised; both had two thirds of their money removed by the Government. My constituents cannot afford the economic dislocation of the Prime Minister’s Brexit, much less a no-deal Brexit.
My constituents did not vote for this. They voted, like me, to remain. Research shows that, since that time, sentiment has moved further towards remain, currently standing at about 64-36, and that accords with my own sense of what is happening in the constituency. My own survey shows an 80-20 split for remain. I accept, of course, that it is not as scientific as opinion polls and research; it is a self-selecting set of people who reply, but they are my constituents. When I asked about the PM’s deal, 73% said that Brexit should be stopped altogether, with only 2% supporting her deal. A further 7% said that it was a bad deal but the only one available, so only a tenth were willing to back her deal. Some 80% told me that they expected leaving the EU to be bad for their families and an even higher number said it would be bad for the country, yet that is what the PM now expects me to vote for. I will not do it; I cannot do it.
I will not vote to make my constituents poorer just to get the PM off the hook on which she has ineptly but willingly put herself. The UK faces the biggest political crisis we have had in my lifetime—precipitated by the 2016 referendum, the subsequent general election, when the PM lost her majority, and the botched negotiations. The Government have no majority in this House, yet persist in acting as though they do.
Enough is enough: Parliament must take back control. It is showing welcome signs of doing so. There must be no more delaying tactics from the Government. If the deal goes down next week, Britain must find a new way forward. If we cannot have a general election because of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011—although the possibility has yet to be tested—we should extend or revoke article 50, to enable a people’s vote on the deal, with the option of remaining in the EU.
I do not describe myself as a Brexiteer. I voted to leave because I am proud and desperately ambitious for this country. That pride and ambition are based not on an out-of-date rose-tinted nostalgia, but on fact. The success of our country and our place in the world was secured well before we joined the European Union, and as part of the EU our success has continued. But over recent decades the north of England, despite being responsible for so much of our industrial and technological prowess, has not had the investment, particularly in infrastructure, that it should have had to really achieve its full potential.
Much of the dialogue around Brexit has focused on process. If I am honest, the mantra of control of our laws, borders and money motivates me less than what we are all surely trying to achieve. We are striving for a successful UK. If the outcome, aim and prize of Brexit is a more successful country, I do not want to scupper the very educational establishments and businesses that will be absolutely critical to achieving that outcome.
To be clear, I voted to leave the EU, I want to leave the EU and I respect our country’s democratic process. I look forward to Parliament’s getting this agreement over the line. As I see it, this is a skeletal framework. Each and every one of us has the responsibility to put the flesh on the bones. The key points of leaving are met in the deal: free movement, the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the vast budget payments to the EU all end. We are leaving the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy. Critically, citizens’ rights will be protected both here in the UK and in the EU, which means that the benefits of healthcare, pensions and other important matters will be protected.
Most importantly, we will have the time, through the implementation or transition period, to adjust. Time will allow us—the people and businesses on both sides of the channel—to adjust to the new arrangements, but the period is limited to December 2020. For my constituency of Copeland, that time to adjust is essential for the nuclear industry. As we leave Euratom and move to a UK regime under the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the extra time afforded by the transition period will ensure that all the safeguards officers, procedures and equipment are in place, along with the bilateral agreements with other countries. Given the international and collaborative nature of the nuclear industry, that is vital. It is especially critical for Cumbria because 27,000 of the 87,000 people who work in the nuclear industry live in Cumbria and depend on that industry. Just about every household in my constituency has a family member who works in or for a business that is connected with the nuclear industry. That is why I want the security that the withdrawal agreement brings.
The industrial strategy and nuclear sector deal contains much cause for optimism. For more than 60 years, Copeland has led the way, and it was the first place in the world to generate electricity for the grid when Calder Hall was opened in 1957. This Government are the first in a generation to construct a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, and I am determined that we will also get Moorside power station built in Copeland.
We have an undisputed need for more low-carbon electricity, and an undeniable, globally respected, safe nuclear capability in Copeland. I will do nothing to damage that, and everything I possibly can to grow that capability further. We must secure more research and development in advanced and small modular reactors. We must export more of our current decommissioning operations, and increase exports of skills, components, products and processes that are working well at Sellafield and being developed by our superb nuclear supply chain. Equally important is securing our farming industry, and I am concerned that extortionate tariffs would not help, but hinder the incredibly hard-working farmers and their businesses. The common agricultural policy will come to an end, to the delight of many Cumbrian farmers. Again, I want to do all I can to ensure that we deliver a UK farming policy that works for Cumbrian farmers and avoids damaging tariffs.
Our place in the world is based on a number of factors that I fear could be hindered, not helped, without this agreement. It is based on the number of top universities we have in this country, the creative industries, award-winning books and films in our language, our time zone, our national resolve, our military might, freedom for the great institutions and think tanks, and the legal and financial economy that has grown in this country. It is based on our road, rail, sea, air and digital connectivity. I will be supporting the agreement.
I rise almost a month to the day since the original meaningful vote on the Brexit deal was suddenly called off by the Government. Since then, nothing has changed. No new documents have come forward, and no further clarification or revisions have been made. I cannot support the withdrawal agreement and political declaration of our future relationship with the EU because the deal does not protect workers’ rights or trade union legislation. The document I have seen, which describes what the future relationship between the UK and the EU will look like, is only 26 pages. Those pages contain a few meaningless phrases about future legislation. On protecting workers’ rights they state that
“the UK will consider aligning with Union rules in relevant areas”.
As a lifelong trade unionist, I must ask what kind of deal to protect workers that is. Why have negotiations only achieved a vague wish list of the so-called “high standards”? The only thing that seems clear and certain is that this deal will make the country poorer and severely affect areas such the black country.
In the 2016 referendum, people did not vote to be worse off. The Attorney General has confirmed that this deal lacks safeguards to prevent UK employment rights from falling behind those of neighbouring EU countries. I am being asked to put on a blindfold and walk meekly into the Lobby, believing that the Government will guarantee the rights of working people, and that if I do not do that it will lead to a no-deal Brexit. It is unfair of the Prime Minister to seek to hold Parliament to ransom in that way. It means that working people have no way of knowing what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will look like, and how it will impact on their lives.
The Government have no record of standing up for the rights of working people in the UK—indeed, many Tory MPs have spent years undermining them. The Cameron Tory Government tried to introduce an anti-trade union Bill to take away many of the unions’ hard-won rights. The Government fought for years to defend the imposition of employment tribunal fees, which were scrapped only when the Supreme Court found them to be unlawful following legal action by the trade union Unison. Ministers are more likely to speak of a bonfire of red tape. The Secretary of State for International Trade, Dr Fox, wrote in 2012:
“To restore Britain’s competitiveness we must begin by deregulating the labour market. Political objections must be overridden. It is too difficult to hire and fire and too expensive to take on new employees.”
The Prime Minister has refused to rule out scrapping the working time directive, the agency workers directive and the pregnant workers directive. All those are in the EU and currently protect UK workers. After the 2016 referendum, the trade union movement was willing to sit down with the Government to discuss its members’ concerns, but the Prime Minister has failed to engage with and listen to trade unions and the millions of their members in this country who need a union to protect their working conditions and contracts.
We now have a deal that nobody wants. When article 50 was invoked, the Government should have called together the leaders of all the political parties in order to form a cross-party Brexit consensus to help in the negotiations with the EU. I understand that the Government have to rule, but this is a matter of such national significance—perhaps the most important event since the second world war—that it will affect our lives and those of generations to come. A strong leader would have reached out to politicians beyond their own party, rather than keeping it to a small clique within Government. Instead, we have a deal that satisfies nobody—neither leavers, nor remainers.
As politicians, we will be blamed for this mess, but the only people to blame are those who have been involved directly in the Brexit negotiations. It is for these reasons that this deal cannot command my support. If it cannot achieve the support of Parliament, the country will need to find a real alternative.
It is a pleasure to follow my parliamentary neighbour, Eleanor Smith. I would like to focus my remarks on the rationale for the decision I have taken, which I believe to be in the best interests of my constituents and this country, on the vote next Tuesday.
I have received plenty of advice from constituents, as I am sure all hon. Members have, much of it contradictory, reflecting the division in the country since the referendum. Many have asked me to represent their views, which, given the range of views and the physical impossibility of being in both Division Lobbies at the same time, it is not possible to achieve. I stood on a manifesto in 2015 that pledged to respect the result of the referendum. I voted to remain in 2016, but 57% of my constituents voted to leave. I have accepted the referendum result, and indeed I stood on a manifesto in 2017 that pledged to do so. That is why I voted with the vast majority of Members of this House—498 to 114, with a majority of each of the Conservative, Labour and Democratic Unionist parties—to invoke article 50.
The Government have had the most complex negotiations to undertake of any Government since the second world war, as evidenced by the sheer length of the EU withdrawal agreement and the number of pieces of secondary legislation that the European Statutory Instruments Committee, on which I sit, is currently scrutinising. There have undoubtedly been many challenges presented by the EU and its 27 other members throughout the negotiations. On some of these we have prevailed, and on some we have not.
Although I would not have started the negotiations by accepting the EU framework for the negotiations in the way we did, I have accepted that leaving the EU after 43 years of membership, during which our laws, regulations and standards have become increasingly intertwined, will require a negotiated deal, and negotiation requires compromise. I spent 20-odd years negotiating as an adviser to companies around the world, so I know that every negotiation comes down to the last moments, when the final compromises have to be made. We are now at that point. The word “compromise” has been used across the Chamber today, and it was particularly well encapsulated by my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon, Caroline Flint and John Mann.
The reason why we are debating this issue so long after the invocation of article 50 is primarily its complexity, but coming a close second is the lack of consensus in the House, which is partly a result of the balance of arithmetic in the House following the 2017 election. We still do not have a consensus, which is why we have had to delay the debate. The only consensus in the House was on the decision to invoke article 50 in the first place.
We have heard from Conservative Members who have a strong tradition of seeking to leave the EU, and I respect their conviction and consistency of purpose. Some of them, including my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale earlier and my hon. Friend Royston Smith just now, have made it clear that they are willing to compromise and support an orderly withdrawal if the Irish backstop issue can be removed or time-limited. I hope the Government will find a way to give them satisfaction before we vote next Tuesday, but if not, I believe that a willingness to compromise among Members from all parties is essential in order that we can do our duty as representatives of the people of this country and bring this matter to an orderly conclusion.
Opposition Members have told us that they will not support the deal because it does not reflect what they would like to see in a deal. Some have been straightforward in acknowledging that they wish to ignore the referendum and remain in the EU, but others have not, and they have not come up with any pragmatic suggestions as to what could be done to improve the deal. The official Opposition Front-Bench team has been consistent about one thing, and one thing only: it will not do anything at all to help, and will only try to bring about a general election, because that is its purpose. Opposition Front Benchers are not interested in compromise, whatever their warm words earlier. They have made no suggestions whatsoever on how to improve the deal.
The prospects are extremely alarming to those watching the debate from outside and for the countless businesses and constituents who are urging us to get on with it and provide some certainty to the nation about how we leave the EU in an orderly fashion. That is why, despite the deal’s imperfections and my concerns about aspects of it, I shall support it in next week’s vote. I will not support any proposal to have a second referendum, because that would be to deny completely the initial referendum, and it would perpetuate the division in this country that we can frankly no longer afford.
When I started to write this speech, I truly did not know where to start, so I will try to explain my feelings and views on this madness as bluntly and simply as possible.
Since long before the ink had even dried on the text, the Prime Minister has been trying to create the narrative that it is a choice between her deal and no deal. But the Prime Minister quite clearly has other options beyond her deal and no deal—she could ask for an extension of article 50; she could keep us in the single market and the customs union; or she could take the choice back to the people—so to say that it is her deal or no deal is a piece of nonsense. She is failing to say to the public that she has deliberately manufactured things to appear that way, in a cynical attempt to save her own skin.
I will vote against the Prime Minister’s deal, because of the simple fact that it is an appalling deal for my constituents. That is not just me looking at the deal and making a decision on their behalf: since the deal was announced, thousands of my constituents have written to me, and more than 97% of them have asked me to vote against it.
To explain my thoughts and feelings a wee bit better, I must go back a few years. I often hear Members from both sides of the House—I have heard this today—accuse the Scottish National party of not respecting the result of the 2014 referendum or the 2016 referendum. They are wrong. The key difference between us and those who criticise us is that we do not fear referendums. We do not fear democracy. We do not fear holding up our vision and hopes for a better Scotland to the electorate for them to at least consider. Most importantly, we are not afraid to learn lessons. My presence and that of my SNP colleagues in this Parliament serves as evidence that we do respect the outcome of referendums because when Scotland voted no to independence, we said, “Okay. We didn’t convince you. That’s fine. So long as Scotland wants to stay in this British Union, we will respect that. But let us fight to make sure that we get everything that we were promised.” If anything, it seems that it is the winners of both referendums who are terrified of being held to account for the promises they made.
As I mentioned earlier when I intervened on the Secretary of State, I went to the House of Commons Library, where the wonderful staff dug out this HM Government booklet that was sent out during the Scottish referendum. The Government, of course, were a Tory coalition—the Secretary of State corrected me—but Tory none the less. And I have to be honest about this booklet: there is a stoater on every page. Page 1 speaks of
“All the advantages of the pound”.
That is the same pound that had an 18-month low. Later, the booklet mentions “Safe savings and pensions”. I wonder whether WASPI women would agree with that. It went on to state that there would be
“More support for public services”,
which was followed by an austerity agenda. And then there is the quotation I mentioned earlier:
“As one of the EU’s ‘big four’
nations, the UK is more able to protect Scottish interests in areas like agriculture and fisheries.”
The last page reads:
“Together with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland has created one of the world’s most successful families of nations.”
Now, that is a legitimate point of view, but it is one that does not hold up to scrutiny. Call me biased, but this does not feel very successful right now. If you are an EU national, a nurse or a student, or if you are working on the minimum wage, I doubt this feels successful. If you are a lorry driver in Dover, I imagine it feels even less successful.
I believe in independence for Scotland for democratic, logical and moral reasons, but when Scotland voted no to independence, at least we came here for a genuine fresh start—to try to make this Union work better and find some compromise where possible. After all these promises and all the precious Union chat that is dished out by the British nationalists of this place, when Scotland votes to remain in the EU, it is cast aside as irrelevant because it was a UK-wide vote, where Scotland was treated as a region. The people of Scotland watched as our Scottish Government tried to make sensible suggestions and compromises with the UK Government with regards to Brexit, such as asking for continued Scottish membership of the single market and the customs union. This was not even considered.
If Unionist Members truly believe that Scotland should be subject to an English and Welsh EU result, they concede that we are not a family of nations and that, to Westminster, Scotland is no more than a province; or they could live up to their partnership of equals patter and recognise that the second largest nation in this family of nations has outright rejected leaving the EU, and show us the respect that we are due. Either way, this hypocritical doublespeak will not wash much longer with Scotland. As with most things on the Government’s plate these days, time is running out. And to be honest, who knows how much longer Scotland is going to stick about?
I shall support the Government on Tuesday because the withdrawal agreement delivers on the referendum while gaining control of our money, laws and borders. If people want to know what the UK is getting out of this agreement, they should look once again at the opening remarks of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Since the withdrawal agreement was announced, I have engaged with many of my constituents, from those who want to leave with no deal and cut all ties with the EU to those who were arguing for a second referendum. Of course, this agreement is not going to satisfy either of them. It is a negotiation, so it has to go between two parties. I have done enough negotiation in my career as a businessman to know that neither party gets everything they want out of a negotiation. Having said that, I recognise the concerns that have been expressed about the backstop, and I hope that my colleagues will be given some comfort on that issue in the coming days.
I also recognise the lack of detail in the political declaration because, of course, that is the next stage; that is what we come to once we accept the withdrawal agreement. Based on my business background and the evidence that I have heard from the business community as a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, I think this deal is right for our country.
Of course, the voice of business is important. Some of my constituents have told me that it is too loud and that big business is running the show, but I have to say to them, and to the Opposition, that when big business does well, workers do well. There are more people in jobs, there is more secure employment, people in work get more hours, and there are more promotion prospects. When business does well, pensioners do well, because its profits fund the pensions that people receive. When business does well, the economy does well, and generates the wealth to do all the things that we want Governments to do. It is therefore vital that the views of business should be listened to.
There are important voices from big business and from smaller businesses. Only today, I have heard from the Coventry and Warwickshire local enterprise partnership, which surveyed businesses across the region in December, and 60% of them argued that Brexit is negative. They are concerned about pricing uncertainties as a consequence of the value of the pound, reductions in sales, the administrative burden on exports, loss of confidence and delayed investment plans.
As a west midlands MP, I have particular concerns about the motor industry. Coventry is its historic home. The business declined due to issues in the ’70s, but in recent years it has been resurgent. London Electric Vehicle Company in my constituency has built many of the electric vehicles that people are seeing around the streets of London, but regrettably—I hope this is not an early case of postponement of investment—it took a decision only yesterday to delay the introduction of the electric light commercial vehicle. We have seen tremendous improvements in Jaguar Land Rover under the ownership of Tata, but there has been more bad news on that today. Members will rightly point out that that is due to changes in the diesel legislation and a downturn in the Chinese market, but it is also linked to Brexit. In addition to the company itself, we must remember the 200,000 companies in the supply chain.
We have seen investment in the UK from Japanese companies. This morning, the Business Secretary talked on the radio about Margaret Thatcher’s welcome to Nissan in the north-east. In our evidence session in the BEIS Committee, the managing director of Toyota reminded us of why it was here. Margaret Thatcher said to the head of Toyota, “Come to the UK, where you can build cars as part of the European Union and export to the European Union as a free and open arrangement.” If we do not accept this deal—if there is any danger of us crashing out—how are we going to attract that level of investment in the future? In fact, the Prime Minister of Japan is in the country today. He has spoken about the need for predictability and stability. I want to be able to say to him that Britain is the best place to set up and grow businesses.
The Committee heard from other manufacturing sectors. We heard from aerospace that the deal is not perfect, but the longer it takes to get certainty, the more likely it is that investment decisions will go against the UK. The food and drink sector spoke of real concerns. Business welcomes the language in the declaration but is bothered about business that would otherwise have come to the UK going overseas. Only yesterday, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, which has a plant in my constituency, stated in a letter:
“I have been clear that a deal is better than no deal for Rolls-Royce, our customers, suppliers and employees. Agreement of the Government’s deal will provide certainty which all businesses require and will ensure an orderly withdrawal from the European Union.”
Getting the right deal for business is phenomenally important to the UK. I encourage my hon. Friends to bear that in mind. I also ask Opposition Members to think long and hard about the consequences for the businesses in their constituencies if, as a consequence of voting down the deal on Tuesday, we end up with no deal.
It is an honour to follow Mark Pawsey. Like many other Members, I have been contacted by hundreds of constituents in the last few weeks about the meaningful vote. The vast majority of those people, whether they voted to leave the EU or remain, have asked me to represent them by voting against the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, as they all agree on one thing: this is a bad deal.
I voted to remain in the EU because, among other things, my region is a net gainer from the EU, and our economy is heavily dependent on trade with Europe. However, 59.5% of voters in my constituency wanted to leave, and across the whole borough, which incorporates the Tynemouth constituency, 53.7% voted for Brexit. I was shocked and disappointed by the result, both locally and nationally, but I accepted it as a democratic result.
I know that the vast majority of voters I spoke to before and after the referendum all held very sincere views, whichever way they decided to vote. A number of voters in North Tyneside said that they voted to leave so that we could take back control of our borders, laws and finances, but during the referendum campaign, many voters on both sides told me of their concern about immigration and freedom of movement. Many realised the absolute need for EU workers across all roles in our economy in the north-east, including on our farms and even in the abattoir in my community. However, on the other side, there was grave local concern, because in recent years a number of employers have taken advantage of the fact that they could employ EU workers on short-term contracts directly through employment agencies based outside the UK, undercutting the going rates of pay and bypassing local skilled workers in the process. I challenged those procedures with the employers, as they were fair neither to the EU workers, who were being cheated of pay, nor to our local workforce, who desperately needed these jobs.
Leave voters could not be swayed by the argument made by or to me on behalf of many businesses—large and small, each important to our local economy in creating work directly and via the supply chain—that the uncertainty of Brexit threatens their businesses and the local economy. It is estimated that 140,000 jobs in our region depend on trade with the EU. The North East England chamber of commerce has pointed out that the EU remains the region’s top export market, worth 57.5% of overall trade, or £1.8 billion, compared with 40% nationally.
The chamber’s third quarterly economic survey results for last year reported less international trade activity and cited Brexit uncertainty as the key reason, which resulted in a 6.75% downturn on the quarter and 0.35% on the year. The chamber’s survey for the last quarter of 2018 highlighted that, while scores for growth in domestic sales and a rebound in exports showed business performance and confidence improving towards the end of the year,
“uncertainties and concerns surrounding Brexit, chiefly expressed in terms of future market conditions, demand shocks and increased costs are dampening many businesses’
It is a sad reflection that this deal goes nowhere to meeting Labour’s six tests, does not protect jobs, workers’ rights or environmental standards and gives no certainty of frictionless trade to our businesses. My constituents, whether leavers or remainers, have made it clear that this deal does not meet their hopes and expectations for our region’s future. I want the best for the people of North Tyneside and for the whole of the UK. I will support the views of my constituents and of those on my Front Bench and will therefore vote against this deal.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate, which is important and, to some degree, painful for me, because I voted to remain in the European Union in the 1975 referendum and in 2016. I have not changed my view. My constituency voted to remain, but this was a national poll, and I respect it. My duty, as I see it, is therefore to ensure that we leave the European Union but do so in a way that, as has been observed by many Members, recognises the narrowness of the result—something that works for those who voted to remain as well as those who voted to leave, and for the majority of my constituents. The margin therefore, as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs observed, is not a mandate for a hard Brexit. It is, in the words of my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, not a mandate for some Teflon-coated departure from the EU. I suggest to the House that it is a mandate for a managed, orderly and considered withdrawal that keeps close and important ties in our economic interests.
My manifesto, my personal message to my electors, was that I would respect the outcome of the referendum, but would do so in a way that protected their jobs, businesses and livelihoods. I will support the Prime Minister’s deal for that very reason. It is the best opportunity and the best alternative we have to deliver that. No one else has put a viable alternative plan on the table. With every respect to Opposition Members, the suggestion that the Leader of the Opposition will provoke a general election and find anything even remotely better is risible to the point of being beyond parody. We have to get on with this deal.
For me, that means in particular dealing with arrangements for the financial services sector, which is critical to my economy. It is critical to the economy of the whole of the UK. About 11% of the economy is generated from financial services alone. We are an 80% services economy. We must get this right. Some 36% of my constituents work in financial and professional services. The total financial services sector contributes some £72 billion in tax revenue. Everyone I speak to in that sector—since I have been in this House, I have worked closely with the City of London, City UK and others—says to me, “We would have preferred to have remained, but with a transition period, above all, we can manage it.” Everyone in financial services, everyone in the whole of the services sector and beyond whom I speak to says, “The key thing is we must have transition. We cannot have a crash-out.” With nothing else on the table, this deal is the only appropriate way of avoiding that crash-out. It gives us time to negotiate the future arrangement. That is the really important thing: not just that we withdraw in an orderly fashion, but that we then have time to develop the key future relationship with our EU friends and neighbours, who are always going to remain very significant trading partners for us.
World trading patterns may well change and other parts of the world may become more significant, but the EU will always remain a very, very important partner for us. The truth is that trade deals elsewhere, as we all know, take time to develop. That is true, as my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames observed, even with America and the EU, who are willing partners, never mind in other cases. Some emerging economies—India, China and others—have been particularly resistant to the liberalisation of their markets in services. Having a transitional period is therefore absolutely vital. That involves compromise. I have some issues about the backstop, but I think it is workable, as I said in my intervention on the Secretary of State. There are means whereby we could seek future clarification on the legal definition of “temporary” within the protocol. As has been observed, compromise is not a bad thing in politics. In fact, we should be positively saying more often that compromise is a mature thing. It is a mark of mature politics and that is what the Prime Minister has sought to achieve.
Throughout my constituency, people come up to me and say the deal is not everything they wanted, whichever side they were on, but it keeps the show on the road in terms of the economy. They say that it enables them to develop our new relationship in a sensible way. The Prime Minister deserves credit for working hard to try to get it through. They say, “Do your best to back her.” That is what I will seek to do.
If this deal were to fail, the worst possible result would be to leave without a deal. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who I am delighted to see in his place, is right to observe that were that to be the case, it is important that this House and Parliament be active participants in deciding the way in which we go forward. Even better would be to remove that uncertainty for businesses—one constituent of mine says that that is pressing in terms of his own firm’s viability—at the earliest opportunity, vote for the deal and then get to work moving forward. The onus is on this House. If we fail in that regard, all other options perhaps do have to be considered, and we might have to go back and seek the advice of our electors. I do not want to do that, because that would be a failure of maturity and judgment in this House. Taking back control means us stepping up to the mark and taking a decision. In my book, that means supporting the Prime Minister’s deal.
My constituency voted in 2016 to leave the EU. Although I voted to remain, as a democrat, I believe that it was right to accept the will of the people, and so I voted to trigger article 50 in March 2017. I believe, however, as a democrat and a politician who uses evidence in their decision making, that it is not only my right but my duty as an MP to consider new evidence as it becomes available. That is how a democracy should work. The new evidence I am talking about is the draft withdrawal agreement and political declaration, evidence from my constituents and expert analysis, and I would like to take each in turn.
To be where we are, two and a half years after the EU referendum, following a month in which absolutely nothing has happened, is a shocking indictment of this Government. My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer spelt out the situation yesterday: months of torpor, the Government, with their strategy and their red lines, digging themselves into a hole they cannot get out of, and now, unfortunately, this appalling deal. I have gone through the nearly 600 pages that amount to the withdrawal agreement. It covers very little other than the backstop agreement, the rights of EU citizens, how much the UK has agreed to pay the EU and the transitional arrangements. It is clear that we will become a rule taker, not a rule maker. How on earth is this taking back control?
On so many levels, too numerous to mention, we will lose out. As Lord Kerr of Kinlochard said in the other place last month, the political declaration is a blindfold Brexit and a gangplank to the unknown. It is nothing more than a non-binding, meaningless wish list that will do nothing to bring the certainty that our businesses, economy and people need. Our future relationship with the EU beyond 2020 still has to be negotiated.
My constituents, to whom I have been listening very closely, are growing more and more concerned. There is evidence, not just from those who have been contacting me but from those I have been meeting regularly in my door knocking and at my surgeries, and evidence also from recent polls, that their views are shifting. There is also the evidence from data and expert analysis. I know some people do not like using experts, but this is a time when we really should value them, as I think we are doing, given the experts on the Benches over there.
On this expert analysis, I want to cover two aspects in particular. The first is the evidence of the unlawful activities of the Vote Leave campaign and the second is the evidence from recent economic analyses. We cannot ignore the fact that the Vote Leave campaign was recently found guilty of significant breaches in spending. In addition, there is evidence of potentially illicit involvement in their campaign by a foreign power, in both the funding and the spreading of propaganda and disinformation during the referendum. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report in the summer exposed this and was most compelling. I have argued since that there was enough evidence to start an investigation.
The second—and for me key—aspect is the impact on the economy. We already have significant poverty and inequality across the UK. Whatever analysis we take, from the Bank of England, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the Treasury and so on, all exit scenarios show that the economy will shrink. All show no deal as disastrous, a “close deal” or Chequers-style deal almost the same, and Norway somewhere in the middle. There is further evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that certain sectors will be particularly affected and that we will be poorer as individuals. We really should be referring to this.
The impact of reduced growth on our public finances —on public spending and services—will be significant. It is estimated that by 2023, we will be borrowing £15 billion a year more as a result of leaving the EU. This is at the same time as spending demands—for examples, for pensions and social care—will be increasing. Our NHS is already in crisis. How will this affect the resources it needs? We already know that the £350 million a week for the NHS was a lie. Social care is also in crisis. As a result, there were 50,000 emergency admissions of people with dementia in 2017. How much more will that figure be as a result of Brexit and what will happen with a dwindling pot for universal credit? In the last Budget, the Government restored only half of what they cut in 2015.
For all the reasons that I have set out, I cannot support the Government’s motion and I will vote against the deal. I will also support a vote of no confidence, if one is tabled. If not, or if it fails, I urge the Government and colleagues to consider a citizens’ assembly as a way forward. Such assemblies have been used in various countries as democratic circuit breakers on contentious and complex issues. A citizens’ assembly could detoxify Brexit and help to restore confidence in politics as a form of democratic renewal. It could be a precursor to a new people’s referendum, and could even consider the questions for such a referendum. I hope that all this will mean that we need to extend article 50. I know that that is anathema to many, but I think it is a way forward.
When we relinquished responsibility to the British people on
The withdrawal agreement and the deal represent a failure to truly comprehend the scale of the disfranchisement felt by many working people. For some, leaving the EU is not a priority, but the Government have misjudged the resolve of those who care deeply about it, and the instruction that they have given. The Prime Minister and the negotiators staked all their chips on immigration and fundamentally misunderstood the fact that the vote to leave was about more than that. It was an expression of self-will and self-government.
If we fail to listen to those concerns, we will make the gravest of errors. We will rightly be judged by our actions in the coming days, and I will not put my name to something that sells the UK short. Like many of my colleagues in this House, I have constituents who have never voted before but who saw the opportunity to take part in an historic democratic event. That huge but silent group of people felt that the systems and arrangements within the EU no longer worked for them, and they saw the referendum as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use their voice for change. I will not ignore them.
Before I move on to the withdrawal agreement, I will raise some specific concerns about the implementation period. The north Cornwall sea is a productive mixed fishery, which has a number of fish that are known as choke species. Early next year, the discard ban will come into effect, and our Cornish boats will be tied up when they reach their quota limits, through no fault of their own.
The withdrawal agreement allows for the implementation period to be extended. Any extension would be devastating to an industry that has suffered for years under the deeply unpopular common fisheries policy. It would be impossible for me to ask fishermen my constituency to consider signing up to that when they have been under a 40-year stranglehold from Brussels. They need access and improvements to their rights now, not in two years’ time. Any extension of the implementation period would be completely unacceptable. We know where we want to get to on fisheries but in the 585-page withdrawal agreement there are more pages devoted to the pension rights of EU civil servants than there are to fisheries. That has not gone unnoticed in places such as Cornwall.
I cannot support the backstop set out in the withdrawal agreement. No independent country could or should allow trade policy to be set by a third party. Far from offering control, the backstop would mean that the UK ceded control on an unprecedented scale. No businessperson would enter into a contract without a break clause or review date. No member of the public would enter into a mobile phone contract without a break clause or end date, in which the conditions could be changed while the contract was in place. Signing up to the backstop would place a sword of Damocles over this Parliament and Parliaments to come.
In short, it is my view that the backstop, if it is implemented, will be used as a stick with which to beat the UK and force us to accept whatever terms the EU wants to trade on. How can we return to the British people two and a half years since they gave us an instruction and offer them a relationship worse than the one we are already in? We can leave the EU by triggering article 50, but we will have no way of exiting the backstop.
President Macron has already made it clear that he wishes to exchange fisheries access for trade. The UK Government should not be in that position. I am told that if we have not reached a deal by the end of the implementation period, we will have a choice between extending the transition period and entering the backstop. That is like picking a favourite Kray twin. I am not in the business of doing that, and it is not what Governments in this country should be doing.
I have heard people say, “Let’s put this issue to bed. Let’s vote for this withdrawal agreement and get on with it.” If we vote for this deal, far from solving this issue for a generation, we will extend the implementation period, lose our sovereignty and enter a backstop with an arbitration panel. We will be talking about this issue for 10 years. People will rightly ask, “What’s your plan? What should the Government do?” We should mandate staged payments of our divorce bill to ensure we get a better trade outcome, we should put an end date on the implementation period, and we should either completely remove the backstop or, at the very least, time-limit it.
This is now a matter of trust. Do we trust the EU to follow through with delivering a trade deal after the Government have burnt through all their leverage? Do we trust the EU not to place us in a backstop we cannot get out of? These issues are too important to leave to trust alone; they must be made conditional in the legally binding text of the withdrawal agreement. It is a simple fact that, at this time of division in Parliament and the country, the British people need us to deliver on the specific mandate they gave us back in 2016.
It is a pleasure to follow Scott Mann. I, too, will vote against the deal next week, but probably for different reasons.
Earlier this week, more than 100 Back Benchers from across the political divide met the Prime Minister to stress the economic self-harm that would be inflicted by a no-deal Brexit—a point the Business Secretary made today and earlier this week. I was of course grateful for the Prime Minister’s time, but I sat there thinking, “Could things have turned out differently if this meeting had taken place two years ago?” If she had reached out to Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and others instead of spending all that time negotiating with her party and giving too much ground to the extreme Brexiteers, who always put ideology before people’s jobs and livelihoods, we might be in a very different place.
That, of course, would have involved compromise on all sides, not just in the Conservative party, and it certainly would not have pleased the right-wing Eurosceptics on the Tory Benches, but the Prime Minister might have brought on side Members from other parties. I believe, for example, that there is a majority in the House for continued membership of the customs union, because most Members understand the importance to our economy of having no delays at the UK-EU border and of just-in-time manufacturing. However, due to the Government’s lack of cross-party working, she faces pretty certain defeat next week.
It was totally irresponsible to delay the vote in December and run down the clock. The Government have wasted a month seeking reassurances on the Northern Ireland backstop that have yet to materialise, but they have done nothing to address the concerns of hon. Members from different parties about the economic impact of the deal.
Businesses tell us that the lack of certainty is already leading them to decide either to invest elsewhere or to hold off investing in the UK. The delay has also meant an eye-watering amount being spent on planning for no deal—an eventuality that the Prime Minister and most of her Cabinet in reality will not countenance. Just think of all the things we could have done with that money to improve people’s lives—preventing homelessness and rough sleeping; hiring extra doctors, nurses and teachers; and putting more police officers on our streets.
The Government like to lecture us about acting in the national interest, but I am afraid they have put party interest before the national interest at every turn. Now they are trying to blackmail us into voting for this deal or crashing out without a deal. I am sorry, but it will not wash. I cannot, in all conscience, vote for a deal that will make my constituents poorer and the economy smaller. I cannot remember a time in British history when the Prime Minister and the Chancellor recommended a course of action that they knew would make people worse off—and that is according to their own economic analysis.
There is a simple reason the Government’s deal does not please either those who voted remain, such as me, or those who voted leave, as we heard from the hon. Member for North Cornwall. On the one hand we lose sovereignty, control and our seat at the table; on the other, the deal is worse for our economy than the current arrangements. The Government made a huge mistake very early in the negotiations by laying down the red lines that we must leave the customs union and the single market. They simply have not levelled with the British public.
Exciting as they may sound, trade deals with countries around the world, even if negotiated quickly and in our favour—which is by no means certain; look at the President of the United States—would not make up for the trade that could be lost with the EU, our biggest trade partner. In trade, geography matters. As business has made clear, it is not just a no-deal Brexit that would be catastrophic. Anything short of staying in the customs union would threaten just-in-time manufacturing in, for instance, the aerospace and automotive industries, and the integrated supply chains that have built up over so many years.
The other huge failing of the Government is that they have not addressed the causes of Brexit. They have done nothing to bring our divided country back together. They have done nothing to address the sense of loss in many of the communities, including those in my constituency, that voted for change. They have done nothing to tackle the regional inequalities that drove the Brexit vote.
The Government have refused to come up with a plan B to be implemented if the deal fails to win a majority next week. However, talking to colleagues on both sides of the House, I sense that there is a cross-party mood in favour of finding a way forward, and coming together to find an alternative. I am not sure exactly what that is yet—[Laughter.] Conservative Members may laugh, but I think that much more cross-party work is going on between Back Benchers than anything the Government have done.
We must have a chance to consider all the options, which include going back to the people; the so-called Norway-plus arrangement, in which we would stay in the single market and the customs union; and an extension of article 50. If the Government will not come up with a plan B, it is incumbent on us to do so, because the prosperity of our constituents depends on it.
I rise to speak in this important debate as the Member of Parliament for arguably the most pro-Brexit constituency in Scotland: 54% of my constituents voted leave. Although I voted remain—only just, after much soul-searching—and continue to respect the views of those who voted remain and would still prefer to remain, I firmly believe that we in the House have a duty to carry out what the majority in Banff and Buchan, and indeed in the UK as a whole, voted for in the 2016 referendum.
In the 2017 general election, 56% of voters in Scotland, and 85% across the United Kingdom, voted for parties that were committed to delivering on the democratic will of the British people—to leave the EU. The people of the United Kingdom have given us a clear mandate to leave the EU, and leaving the EU is precisely what the withdrawal agreement delivers.
When I publicly declared my support for this deal, I was immediately confronted by social media ideologues saying, “Ah, but have you actually read the agreement?” And yes, I had read the agreement. In fact, I am supporting it precisely because, when we look at it as a whole rather than taking single lines of text out of context, which usually happens on social media, it is clear that it delivers what the British people voted for.
Some argue that this agreement is not the best deal that could have been made with the EU. Perhaps it could be said, with the benefit of hindsight, that certain aspects might have been negotiated differently, but that is in the nature of negotiations. The outcome is rarely perfect, and, as other Members have pointed out, there will always be some compromise. That said, this agreement—an agreement that is available to us now to facilitate a pragmatic transition towards the opportunities that Brexit presents—will deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum, bringing an end to freedom of movement, introducing an ability to sign trade deals with others, bringing an end to vast annual contributions to the EU budget, and bringing an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
We will be out of the one-size-fits-none common agricultural policy, allowing us to develop our own fit-for-purpose agricultural frameworks and policies, working with devolved Administrations to develop a system that works in the interests of farmers and rural communities. Only today, we all, as Members of Parliament, received letters from the four different presidents of the farmers unions across the UK illustrating the risks identified by farmers from a no-deal situation.
It will come as no surprise to Members that I also mention that we will be out of the common fisheries policy—a “big, fat opportunity”, as described just yesterday by Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. It is an opportunity for fishing communities such as those in my constituency.
Since being elected last year, I have been consistent in my fight to get the best possible Brexit deal for the fisheries sector. In that time, the Government have confirmed that we will be leaving the CFP when we leave the EU and will become an independent coastal state like Norway, Iceland and even the Faroe Islands. I have pushed for assurances that we must not cave in to EU demands that any future trade agreement be tied to continued free access to our waters. Despite the best efforts of Michel Barnier, President Macron and the fishing nations of the EU, there is nothing in this agreement that provides this free access to them. We have seen the anger and disappointment shown by EU fishermen precisely because this withdrawal agreement does not deliver the continued free access that their negotiating team promised.
Despite what is often asserted by politicians on the Opposition Benches, this withdrawal agreement does not represent a betrayal of Scottish fishermen. In fact, I find it extremely strange that the SNP and others are so keen to declare such a poor outcome for our fishermen when the future fisheries agreement has yet to be agreed. The fishing industry can see through the doom-mongering. In fact, during a recent meeting I had with local representatives of the fishing industry, I was asked by one of the processing sector’s key leaders in my area to pass on a message to my colleagues across the House. That message is to stop using fishing as an excuse not to accept this deal.
Yesterday, in evidence given to the Scottish Affairs Committee, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Scottish Seafood Association and National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations stated their support for the withdrawal agreement. Like them, I am supporting this agreement as the best means to move towards the best possible Brexit outcome. While I recognise that it is not perfect, we must not let perfect be the enemy of the good. I believe that this agreement is better than no deal and certainly better than no Brexit. This agreement delivers on the democratic will of the British people to leave the EU while delivering an outcome in the national interest.
Many people have expressed concern about the backstop. Although I share many of those concerns, such as the lack of a unilateral mechanism for the UK to leave such an arrangement, I have made my decision on a balance of risk. The backstop would come into effect if the UK and the EU had not agreed a solution to the Northern Ireland border within the implementation period. Neither the UK nor the EU has a desire for the backstop to be enforced, and maximum focus should be on achieving the agreement on the future economic partnership by July 2020.
On top of the moves this Government have made in providing reassurances to the fisheries sector—that we are to leave the CFP and become an independent coastal state, and that there will be no trading off of access to our waters for favourable trade deals—I am sure Ministers will forgive me for reminding them that even after we leave the EU I will continue to campaign for the support of and investment in an industry that is so critical to our coastal communities.
People in Banff and Buchan voted to leave the EU because, as well as the other benefits mentioned by me and others in this debate, Brexit presents such a great opportunity for our fishing industry and our communities, and this deal is a good first step towards making those opportunities a reality.
I rise to speak as someone who voted remain in the 2016 referendum and I am astonished to find today’s debate has been dominated by the use of the word “compromise”, not because I do not agree with compromise but because for two and a half years we have had no sign of compromise, particularly from the Prime Minister—no attempt to reach out across the House, no attempt even to reach out across the Benches of her own party. So I am astonished suddenly to find, two and a half years later, that the deal on the table—the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration—is being presented to us and we are suddenly being told that we have to compromise. It seems to me that compromise has any meaning to the Prime Minister only when it relates to her deal and is on her terms.
I stand as somebody who did not vote for the article 50 Bill. As a result, I was accused in the media and by hard-line Brexiteers of being a traitor, but actually the reason I did not vote for the Bill was that I did not think that enough time had been given to building the necessary consensus across the House to make the process work. I believe that those of us who took that line have been proved correct.
I have repeatedly voted for amendments to legislation that want to deliver a deal that keeps the United Kingdom in the single market and the customs union. I am one of perhaps only 100 MPs who have done that repeatedly as legislation on Brexit has gone through the House. On every occasion, we were told that we were traitors to the cause of Brexit and denying the will of the people, but those votes were an attempt to compromise and to arrive at consensus on the best way forward, in the national interest and in line with the vote that was delivered in 2016.
Now, my colleagues and I on the remain side who do not like this deal are suddenly being told that we are on the extremes of the debate. There is nothing extreme about wanting to stay part of the largest trading bloc in the world, and there is nothing wrong or extreme about voting against a deal because it promises to make the country poorer.
The Prime Minister drew Brexiteer red lines around her negotiations, and because of that the deal before us includes a political declaration that gives no clear indication of the way forward for the long-term trading relationship. That means that if we get a new Prime Minister or another Brexit Minister in six months’ time, there will be no guarantee that we will not end up with a hard Brexit of the kind that could take about 7.6% off GDP. This is a blind Brexit, and it is impossible to listen to the language of compromise and to go along with it on the basis of a political declaration that gives us no clear shape for the way forward.
The problem is that the Prime Minister’s approach to the negotiations has effectively boxed the Government into a corner, with nowhere else to go. Parliament must not be intimidated or threatened. MPs who genuinely believe—not because of their ideology but because of a genuine belief—that the closest possible relationship with the European Union is the right way to go must be given the right to vote against this deal without threats or intimidation. That is really important.
If Parliament decides next week not to support the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, it is the responsibility of the Government, not Parliament, to present their plan B. In that context, it will be incumbent on the Government to start talking seriously to Members of Parliament on both sides of the House to establish the way forward.
My feeling, however, is that there will be no consensus, because of the Prime Minister’s approach, which has driven the Government into a corner, and because of her Brexiteer red lines. We are going to be in an impasse, and on that basis, the only way forward is to go back to the people for a people’s vote. Colleagues say that that denies the will of the people, but we now know what leave looks like. Two years ago, at the time of the referendum, we did not know that. We were presented with fantasy promises about what leave would look like, none of which has been delivered. The people therefore have the right to have the final say and to give their informed consent on whether this agreement should form the basis of our future relationship with Europe.
I say to those on the Government Front Bench that I will be voting against the agreement next week, but if, before the vote next Tuesday, the Prime Minister were to offer a people’s vote in the form of a final-say referendum, I would seriously consider voting for the motion on the basis of an amendment that would give us the referendum we are looking for. I do not think that the Government will do that, but it will be on the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s heads if they refuse to listen to the views of people in this House and refuse to understand that the people of this country want a final say. The polls are telling us that, and it is for this Parliament to listen to the people and go back to the people.
I was brought up to believe strongly that the EU was a force for peace and prosperity. My maternal grandmother, whose parents had been badly affected in two world wars, is still a great believer in the European Union. My father has spent his career embedding British values in European projects. I am an Erasmus scholar, and I used to work for the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. I am also a linguist of sorts, although my daughter did say the other day, “Mummy, you think you speak Italian. Sadly, nobody else agrees.” I cut my political teeth in the events leading up to 1989, when students from around the EU acted together to overcome communism, which was really exciting for an 18-year-old.
So, I was a remainer, but stronger by far than my respect for the EU is my love for this nation, for our institutions, for our hard work, for the rule of law, and for the common law, in which I have spent my whole career working. I believe in our flexible—if I can cheekily say that to you, Mr Speaker—but stable constitution, and in a robust democracy that has endured for centuries, and that is why I cannot support a second referendum.
I wonder whether my European Research Group colleagues have ever read to the end of the fabulous leaflet that was delivered to all households before the 2016 referendum. Colleagues might remember it, but I bet my ERG colleagues never got to the page near the back, which reads:
“This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
The back page says, in bold, that
“The EU referendum is a once in a generation decision.”
We must do this.
Colleagues will realise that this is a considerable compromise—to use the word of the moment—for me. It is one that I will make because I respect the decision of my constituents and of others across the nation who voted to leave, but I say to colleagues—particularly fellow Conservative Members—who propose to vote against the withdrawal agreement that they must compromise, too. I politely and respectfully say to Opposition Members, respecting much of what Angela Smith just said, that it is ridiculous to think that they could negotiate a better deal from where we are now.
The Prime Minister, for whom I have considerable respect, and thousands of civil servants, for whom I also have considerable respect, have spent two and a half years working hard to get this agreement. It has tariffs at zero. It does quite a lot—not everything we want, but quite a lot—for citizens’ rights. There is clearly a lot more work to do, but it is a fair start, and it is where we are at this minute. I say to Conservative Members that there is a real risk that those who want a harder Brexit will end up with no Brexit at all. As a democrat, I do not believe that that would be the right outcome—although let me say that if there is a second referendum, I will campaign with every fibre of my being. Let us hope that rabbits can be pulled out of the hat in the next week.
The hon. Gentleman must remember that I am a keeper of ferrets.
Today’s debate has been completely different from the debate before Christmas, during which I set out sensibly—without talking about ferrets—the views of the people and businesses in my constituency. I love the EU, and I love the UK more than the EU, but I love Banbury much more than both. I ask all Members, setting aside both ideology and pride for a minute, if they can, to think about their constituents and the jobs that will be at risk if we head for a no-deal Brexit, which would be a complete disaster. Could we please unite around this deal, which is frankly the only one on the table? Together—I agreed with some of what the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge said about working together—we could then start setting out a positive vision for a global Britain. Let us vote for this deal and move on.
“Men will clutch at illusions when they have nothing else to hold to.”
He was, of course, admonishing his fellow citizens who had sought to convince themselves that any progress was to come from the road to servitude that had been planned for eastern Europe in the wake of two world wars.
As we reflect today on the Herculean tyranny that engulfed the people of Europe in the form of gulags, gas chambers and a wall in Berlin, it is surely right that we ask ourselves whether we really want to embark on the road the Government are asking us to take next week. The Government are asking Parliament to clutch at their illusions. As we consider a document that seeks to sever our membership of the Union of Europe, we should remind ourselves time and again of what that great peace project was born from.
As Europe stood at the gates of hell, as it did for years, great leaders across the continent pulled it back and authored the fragile but imperfect peace that millions of us enjoy today. Those of us who believe in that peace should defend it and guard it with jealousy. After centuries of war among our people, a pan-European social, diplomatic and economic architecture, underpinned by rules, reason and a desire to keep the peace, is what our forefathers gifted to us.
UK citizens, not least in Scotland, have been among the largest beneficiaries and most enthusiastic participants. Just look at the rhapsodic uptake of the freedom of movement. Where once the skies and waters of Europe were filled with warring air forces and navies, now our skies are filled with innumerable airlines packed with people. Our waters and skies were once the scenes of war, and now there is free movement across a market of 500 million people.
Gone are the days of tyranny, war and walls. Instead, a new easyJet generation have had their hearts and minds opened to the continent. We have all been made immeasurably richer by the ability to move around the continent, driven by a desire to do commerce, exchange ideas, experience new cultures and share our own. Surely free movement is an unparalleled triumph of democracy.
Look at what opening up the nations of Europe, and all the advancements of humankind that followed, has done for Europe. Look at what it has done for countries that were once satellite states of the Soviet Union or that lived under one of Europe’s assorted dictatorships. It has transformed nations and economies. Where once stood communism and Nazism, there now stand strong democracies across the continent with a free press, an open economy and civil society.
Freedom of movement is quite literally the living embodiment of the freedom that wars have been fought over, yet here we have a Government presenting the ending of that diplomatic achievement as some kind of gain. Only a fool could think so. Only the historically illiterate could champion the ending of the freedom of movement.
In my constituency there are just under 1,500 EU nationals in active employment, with many more studying or living in retirement. I cannot, in all good conscience, return and tell them that I have voted to end the very right that has allowed them to come here and, worse, that they will have to pay £65—essentially a tax on foreigners—and go through a registration process, all to enjoy the rights that they currently enjoy and have enjoyed for decades.
I foresee Scotland regaining her independence, which I want with every fibre of my being. I believe that the nations of the UK will always be the friendliest of neighbours, looking out for each other and looking out for each other’s interests in the different forums that underpin the international rules around the world.
I will confine my remarks to the issue at hand.
The current constitutional arrangement forbids Scotland from interacting on an equal footing either with our neighbours in the rest of the UK or, indeed, with the other nations of the European Union. We in Scotland can see it every day, whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not—we see the cost to Scotland of not being an independent country and member of the European Union. Instead, we are locked in a Union that has little appetite to take Scotland’s interests into account. Nobody is buying the empty platitudes of the “plucky Brits” that once struck a chord at home and abroad. This is the stuff of white noise and it makes us a laughing stock in the capitals of Europe.
I do not want this miserable deal imposed on Scotland, but I also do not want it imposed on the people of the rest of the United Kingdom. It is solipsistic; it is isolationist; and at times it is even capricious—I want nothing to do with it. The deal puts us on a devastating path, as the security landscape across the continent and the wider world is ever more complex. So I will not vote for a deal that discards our security needs—needs that the Government fail to take seriously.
The day when we were originally due to vote on the deal,
I say this to progressives around the UK: Scotland has stood by you since Brexit was voted for in 2016. When Scotland finally—finally—regains its independence and seeks to join the European Union as an independent member state, I say to our progressive friends around the UK: just as we stood by you, we want you to stand with us.
Stewart Malcolm McDonald has made a superb speech. I want to pick up his statement that free movement is very important, and that the economy is very important. I would say that it is more the case that it is free markets that have enabled people to move around the European Union and to go on holidays to other European Union countries. That has really broken down barriers. Also, on the military side of things, NATO has been an incredibly important part of what has kept us together and has brought us peace in our time.
In terms of the debate we are now having, there is a huge question of trust in our democracy and, if we get this wrong, it can damage our democracy. I believe that part of the debate that we have been having has been undermining people’s recognition of our democracy. The referendum was not an opinion poll that people were asked to participate in. It was an instruction from the country to leave the European Union, and it must be seen as such. There are different ways of interpreting that instruction, but I do wonder about some of the things that people say about the referendum.
Some people talk about the influences on the British people during the campaign—they claim that Russia had an influence. Some people allege that the electorate were ignorant or not sufficiently informed. Some of that rhetoric is pretty disappointing. My view is that, in the polling booth, the vast majority of people were responding to their lived experience within the European Union over a period of years or decades. The importance of free markets has just been highlighted. We joined the Common Market. Over a period of years we saw it transform into the EEC, then the EC, then the EU, and now we are on the verge of creating a united states of Europe. We can see the External Action Service. We can see the diplomatic and foreign service side of the European Union. We can see the developing European Union military. We can see these things happening. We can see that, with ever-closer union, there is a track that the European is on, and it is a question of whether we go quickly or slowly. We recognise that we are on that track into ever-closer union, so we must decide whether to continue along that track or leave. The British people could see where we came from, where we are and where we are going, and, having seen that clearly, chose to leave.
I believe that the withdrawal agreement will be defeated on Tuesday; there is overwhelming opposition to it, which is not to say that there is any particular support for any other solution. I am very concerned that this defeat will be seen as an opportunity to extend article 50, although we know that the European Union most effectively concludes negotiations towards the end—the last week, day or hour. The defeat might even be seen as an opportunity to cancel article 50, have a fundamental renegotiation and go for the Norway option, perhaps. We have been in this process for well over two years. Can we really tell the British people that we ought to start again and seek a brand new option?
I am even more concerned about having a second referendum; actually, precedent suggests that the time- scale for EU referendums is once in every 41 years. The British people have given their instruction to Parliament. If we disregard the vote, saying that the people were ignorant or not sufficiently well informed by their betters, that will be incredibly damaging to our democracy. We cannot and should not do that. Why would people bother to vote again if this vote was so easily dismissed?
Those who demand a “good, well informed” referendum often give no answer to the issue of what the question would be. From what I can see, there would be three options. Remain would definitely be on the ballot paper, even though it was rejected decisively first time around. A World Trade Organisation-rules Brexit would probably also be on it, as would the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. In that referendum, the Brexit withdrawal agreement and WTO options could get 33% of the vote each, while remain could get 34% and so win. That result would be considered decisive. We do not know where we will end up if we go down the route of having an additional referendum. We should be cautious about being so dismissive.
I believe that we can unite the British people. Their understanding of leave is fairly clear already—most people would understand Brexit to mean taking back control of our money, borders, laws and trade. Most people also want more direct democracy—not referendums, but in terms of voting for the Member of Parliament who makes the decisions.
It is nothing short of a tragedy that today we are discussing this totally inadequate deal at the 11th hour, with the threat of “this deal or no deal” still being exercised by the Government, despite there being no majority in the House for no deal. It did not have to be this way.
As many others have said today, the Prime Minister should have reached out across the House to secure a cross-party agreement that we and the country could coalesce around. Instead, she pandered to her own Brexiteers and set ridiculous red lines, which is why I am voting against the agreement. It rules out a permanent customs union with a British say; it does not deliver a good deal on services; it would limit access for British businesses to vital EU markets; and it does not sufficiently guarantee workers’ rights or consumer or environmental protections. There are no guarantees that equivalent arrangements with EU programmes and agencies will survive the Brexit process. There is also a lack of clarity about our security arrangements and what will happen in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the political declaration is so big and conditional that I am surprised any Member could vote for this deal. I cannot understand what they think they are voting for.
I want to concentrate on four areas regarding why I think this is a bad deal, and why leaving the EU is not good for my constituents. First, as others have said, it will make my constituents poorer. The North East England chamber of commerce—not a bunch of remoaners —say that more than half its members believe that leaving the EU will have a negative impact on their company. Treasury analysis from
The second issue is university funding. It is no coincidence that the previous two higher education Ministers resigned their positions, because they know this deal is bad for our universities. Universities UK has been clear about what is needed from the Government in terms of guaranteeing access to the EU’s research and innovation programmes and research networks, yet what we see in the political declaration is very vague language indeed:
“The parties will explore the participation of the United Kingdom in the European research infrastructure consortium”.
That is no guarantee whatsoever. The third reason is that the EU provides strong policies that seek to protect our natural environment, heritage, rights at work, and helps us to tackle climate change, but again there is no guarantee from the Government that those policies will be maintained.
Fourthly, I come to Northern Ireland. A few weeks ago I asked the Prime Minister to come back to the House with guarantees to ensure that the Good Friday agreement would not be put at risk by her deal. I therefore read the addendum on Northern Ireland with great interest, but I was saddened because, although it mentions the importance of the unique relationship with Ireland, and of fostering the development of the seamless border that now enables unprecedented levels of trade and co-operation, it contains nothing to say how that will be achieved. All the points in the addendum relate to the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I am afraid I was led to believe that the Government have not realised that the Assembly has not been sitting for two years. We need to hear a lot more from the Government about how they will ensure that the Good Friday agreement—in particular the cross-border institutions and structures that support it—will not be diminished whenever Northern Ireland leaves the EU. The Government have heard from other Members about the issues with the backstop, but I want to hear about the Good Friday agreement.
I am sorry, I will not because we are short of time.
If the deal is voted down next week, as we expect it to be, and if there is no general election, the House must have the guts to go back to the country and ask again for people’s opinion on this deal. When people voted in 2016, in good faith, we did not have the details of this deal, and in order to make progress it is important to allow them to be considered.
It is a pleasure to follow Dr Blackman-Woods. She might wish to refer to the speech made by Lady Hermon, given her knowledge of Northern Ireland, who made it very clear that this agreement does in fact protect the Good Friday agreement.
I made a promise to my constituents that I would work to deliver the result of the referendum by implementing a pragmatic Brexit. I will be voting for the Prime Minister’s deal, despite my concerns—and I have very many—because of that promise. However, I want to quote my hon. Friend Paul Masterton, who spoke powerfully yesterday. He said:
“There are many Conservative Members who, like me, voted to remain but accept, admittedly reluctantly and with some misgivings, that we are leaving the European Union. We have compromised at every stage of the process to try to find a way to make this work, and the deal before us is as far as I am prepared to go. If some of my colleagues want to blow this up in pursuit of an ideologically purist fantasy, fine—go ahead—but I am done. My patience and good will will be gone, along with the patience and good will of many other Conservative Members.
Would it not be something if, when the history books are written, it emerged that it was owing to the arrogance and belligerence of the hard-line Brexiteers in refusing to compromise that, rather than ending up with this imperfect Brexit, they ended up with no Brexit at all?”—[Official Report,
Vol. 652, c. 472.]
That encapsulates perfectly how I feel. I say to my hon. Friend Chris Green, my right hon. Friend John Redwood and my hon. Friend Royston Smith that I stood on a manifesto that committed me to a “deep and special partnership” with the European Union, including a “comprehensive…customs arrangement.”
I say to ideological colleagues that after this vote I will have done my duty and delivered on my promise. From then on, my duty will be to do what is best for my constituents and for future generations. Of those constituents, I want to talk about farmers. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Farmers are one of the groups likely to be most affected by Brexit. The first and biggest risk to them is tariffs, and the second is phytosanitary checks. Even Brexiteer Ministers such as the Environment Secretary know the risk. He told the Oxford farming conference about the impact of tariffs, pointing out that there would be no upside—he might have said different things during the referendum campaign, but I cannot comment on that. He said that
“new tariffs would undoubtedly exceed any adjustment in the currency markets”.
We export 15% of our beef and more than 30% of our lamb. Of those exports, more than 90% goes to the EU. A tariff on those goods can be as high as 87% and averages around 40%. That would be devastating for livestock farmers. Eddisbury is a big dairy constituency, producing about 3% of UK dairy. Some 90% of all UK dairy exports were to the EU. A report from the LSE warns that tariffs of between 41% and 74% will be imposed on dairy produce in the event of no deal. The UK managing director of Arla Foods has warned that
“most likely we would see shortages of products and a sharp rise in prices, turning everyday staples like butter, yoghurts, cheese and infant formula into occasional luxuries.”
It would make exports from both sectors uncompetitive and would send my local farmers to the wall. With half of all farms making less than £20,000 a year, and a fifth making no profit at all, such a huge increase in costs would be the death knell for many UK farmers.
Beyond tariffs, non-tariff barriers could hit farmers hard. Sustain noted in its evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee:
“Generally, when standards start to diverge then costs start to accrue in tracking the difference between the products. What kind of paperwork will have to be provided? What kind of proof of certification or standard-setting will there have to be, and also what kind of inspection regimes, particularly at borders?”
Those are questions that the farming community is having to wrestle with daily as a consequence of irresponsible rhetoric about no deal. I urge all Members to give some much needed certainty and reassurance to farmers and other businesses across the UK by voting for the deal. It may not be perfect but if Brexit is to be delivered, it is the only way forward.
As my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon said, though, if the spirit of compromise is not present in the House, I will no doubt ultimately join my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis back on the campaign trail. I say to my ideological colleagues that if they do not support this deal, they risk no deal. From now on in, after the vote on this deal, I will vote for the best interests of my constituents, which is definitely not no deal.
This is undoubtedly one of the most important votes that I or anyone else in the House will participate in during our parliamentary careers. I agree with my hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods that we should not be here. The very fact that we are where we are, having this debate 78 days before exit day, is a sign of failure. It is a sign that the people have been badly let down by the politicians to whom they look for leadership.
Brexit began as a crisis of the Conservative party’s own making. From the red meat of a referendum thrown to Eurosceptic Back Benchers to the red lines drawn up before a Tory party conference speech, for them it has never been about the interests of this country or of the people we have been sent here to represent. The whole process has been characterised by complacency and, indeed, by an astounding degree of arrogance on the part of some from whom we should have expected better. There was the casual approach to the referendum itself—a vote that was called with not a thought given to the consequences of it being lost—and article 50 was triggered when the country was clearly not ready, just so that we could show that we were “getting on with it”. Even then, as the clock started to tick down towards exit day, we were still not putting in the work and still did not have a clue as to what we wanted from our soon-to-be-former EU partners, let alone having a clue as to how we could go about getting it.
We saw Government Ministers display shocking ignorance, whenever they appeared before Select Committees, before the House or in the media, of the potential consequences of Brexit. The Secretary of State for International Trade said that a UK-EU free trade agreement would be
“one of the easiest in human history”.
“It is like threading the eye of a needle: if you have a good eye and a steady hand, it is easy enough”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 618, c. 233.]
I assume the right hon. Gentleman is still searching in the haystack for that oh-so-elusive needle, let alone getting round to threading it.
This idea that Britain is somehow—perhaps because of its history or the empire, or perhaps because we have always punched above our weight as a small island—subject to different rules and can do things a different way is a total fallacy. We cannot dictate terms to the European Union. We certainly cannot tell the people of Ireland what to do these days. We cannot demand trade deals entirely on our own terms. They are deals: they require agreement. That seems to me to be an absolutely fundamental, basic point that so many proponents of Brexit have entirely missed. Freedom is nothing unless we have somebody else who agrees with us and wants to go along the same path. The rest of the world is not waiting breathlessly for us to leave the EU. They are not eager to give us exactly what we want just because it is Britain asking. Any future trade deals will involve compromise and lengthy negotiations.
I have something of an obsession with the pig trotter protocol, which we discussed in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee yesterday with the International Meat Trade Association. I have this obsession partly because of its comedy value, although it is not so funny for the pigs involved. It was first talked about in 2008 and then resurrected by David Cameron after he led a huge trade mission to China. We are still trying to negotiate the sale of pigs’ trotters to China. It is a product that we do not need and that China likes, for some bizarre reason.
The fact that it has been so difficult to get a tiny deal like that in place should be a wake-up call to people as to how difficult it will be to get these fully comprehensive trade agreements with all these other countries that actually do not want exactly what we want. Australia and New Zealand have been pressing us about lamb quotas post Brexit. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said that yes, he does want a race to the bottom on standards post Brexit. He does not want to agree to a deal whereby we do not allow chlorinated chicken and hormone-pumped beef into this country. That is why I tabled new clause 1 to the Agriculture Bill so that we can try to avoid that scenario.
I was one of 122 Members who voted against the triggering of article 50. That decision has been more than vindicated every day since that vote. I will vote against the Prime Minister’s deal next week and I will support a people’s vote, should the opportunity arise. It is now the only way I can see to get us out of this mess. That people’s vote would obviously have an option to remain on the ballot paper.
The promises made in 2016 are not going to be delivered, and any Brexit deal will impoverish my constituency as well as the whole UK. No deal would be a catastrophe, but I reject any attempt to use that threat to strong-arm us into supporting the Prime Minister’s deal. Article 50 could be extended or, more sensibly, revoked. Rejecting what is clearly a bad deal does not mean accepting no deal, and it is entirely within the Prime Minister’s power to take no deal off the table.
The choice before us now is not between deal and no deal. The choice is whether we accept Brexit on the terms on which we know it would happen—the terms that the Prime Minister has been able to agree with the EU—or whether, now that we know what Brexit looks like, we still want to do it. This journey began with the British people and it is only right, now that we know the facts, that they choose its final destination.
Mr Speaker, I am sure that you will remember that famous quote of Dean Acheson, the former United States Secretary of State, who, when addressing the West Point Military Academy in 1962, said that Great Britain had
“lost an empire and not yet found a role.”
Here we are, many decades later, and the fact is that in relation to the continent of which we are a part—this core relationship—we still have not found our role.
There are three fundamental choices available to us and we have to make a decision pretty swiftly about which one to go with. No. 1: we can be fully in, although that would now require a second referendum to overturn the original one. No. 2: we can be fully out and completely separate from Europe, trading on WTO terms. No. 3: we can find a compromise and have what I would call a semi-detached relationship—half in, half out.
Like many colleagues, I have reservations about the backstop, but I will support this deal because we are a semi-detached country by nature. It suits us to have that type of relationship because it is in our DNA. We are a European nation with many close ties with our European neighbours, yet we have the Commonwealth. We have a very strong relationship with the United States and the English-speaking world—with countries that play cricket, football and all the rest of it.
John Major once talked about trying to make Britain a country “at ease with itself”. Leaving through that semi-detached compromise deal may not be perfect in every way, but we would become a country at ease with itself in terms of our relations with our European partners. However, if we go for the other two options, we will not be a country at ease with itself. Having a second referendum would be saying to those who voted leave and want to vote leave again, “Your vote did not count.” That would leave lasting bitterness and great division in our society. Equally, choosing no deal and WTO terms—a very alluring prospect for those who voted on sovereignty grounds—would also leave great bitterness. I want briefly to focus on the latter option because it is certainly growing in popularity in my constituency and in my association. Some may dismiss it, but there is a logic for people who voted on grounds of sovereignty: they want the deal that they believe provides the greatest sovereignty. For many, that is leaving on WTO terms. However, sovereignty is about far more than legal power. It is about agency and power in the real world through the economy and so on.
There are three key points. First, leaving with no deal on WTO terms is based on a fundamental contradiction, which is this idea that we can go and negotiate trade deals. Those trade deals would be with the countries with which we currently trade on WTO terms. In other words, its fundamental premise is that we should upgrade those trade deals to superior preferential terms, and do so by relegating our preferential access to the EU to standard WTO terms.
Secondly, people talk about a managed no deal. This is a free market economy. The idea that by sticking a few billion pounds in Government Departments, we can suddenly have command and control of the UK economy come April is for the birds. We know from history that we cannot manage the market and we cannot manage consumer sentiment. We certainly cannot manage business investment sentiment. That will be so critical in the months after we leave, and it is why we should reject no deal.
My final point on no deal is this. Let us say that we ignore the worst-case scenario, although that is of course a worry for all of us—let us take it at its best. At its very best, someone who advocates a WTO no deal, particularly if they are a hard Brexiteer, is saying that after all this effort, all this campaigning and all these years, the best we can do on leaving is to give British industry standard terms that are, in mortgage terms, the standard variable rate. They are bog-standard, ordinary, plain, common-or-garden trade terms available by default to any country on earth: nothing special, nothing preferential. In my view, that is not good enough for British industry and not good enough for my constituents.
I believe that this deal, for all its failings, does satisfy the requirement of giving us that new semi-detached relationship. We will have strong economic ties with Europe, which are vital, and yet, over time, once we have established frictionless trade—once we have left through a robust withdrawal agreement that secures our departure in a steady state—then, yes, we can negotiate trade deals around the world.
People should not be dismissive of that, because there is a real-life version of being semi-detached—it is called Norway and it is called Switzerland. Whether we take those countries as models or not, we can see that they are prosperous, rich, successful, happy countries that trade in the single market—one through the EEA, the other bilaterally—and yet have trade deals around the world and strong links in the global economy. We can do the same. We should have confidence in ourselves and say that when we get into the long-term negotiations, we will be successful because we will be positive about it and realise that this an opportunity. I encourage everyone to think positively, back the Prime Minister’s deal, and help us to have this happy, steady state.
So here we are in January 2019 bearing the brunt of David Cameron’s back-of-a-fag-packet politics of 2015. His ill-thought-out plan aimed to appease the Brexiteers in his own party at a time when he thought that he was invincible. That know-it-all attitude is exactly why people turned out to vote leave: they wanted to vote against the establishment.
Never-ending austerity since 2010 has driven a rise in in-work poverty. Our constituents have been hit hard in the pocket. People are fed up and they are angry, with food bank use in Swansea up 50% since universal credit. Life is challenging at the best of times, and being stuck in a Catch-22 situation of spiralling personal debt and stagnant wages means that people have got angrier and angrier. I understand how that feels, because it is why I am standing here. When faced with the lies on a bus and promised a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—let us throw some unicorns in as well—Brexit was painted as a way out.
But the promised land was not based on facts. In total contrast, as we hear from Scottish National party Members, in the 2014 Scottish referendum, a 400-plus-page White Paper was published called “Scotland’s Future”. It gave a detailed assessment of the impact of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom—not a leaflet, as shown by Victoria Prentis earlier. Why did those hard facts not exist for us? We did not know what we were voting on.
“This House is not representative of the people.”
The Secretary of State responded:
“the majority of the House voted to trigger article 50. It is…incumbent on Members…to be clear what they are for.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 652, c. 393.]
Well, I beg to differ. I did not vote to trigger article 50, and neither did the rest of the 2017 intake. The Prime Minister called a general election to try to convince the UK that she could provide a strong and stable Government. It didn’t work, did it? Members lost their seats—67, I believe. Let us not forget that the make-up of this House has changed considerably since 2016, pretty much like public opinion, which has also changed since 2016. Opinion certainly has changed, as I have seen since I have been the Member of Parliament for Gower, and the electorate has changed as well. Since June 2016, there are 2 million more people in the UK who have reached voting age. According to the House of Commons Library, that is estimated to be 2,400 in my constituency alone.
To add to the confusion about how constituencies voted in 2016, the ballot boxes were not counted by constituency. In my case, Gower was counted as part of the city of Swansea. Across three constituencies, the majority for leave was a mere 3,629. I would call that a marginal win. I took a marginal seat after it was held by a Tory for only two years, and I, along with the other new Members elected in 2017, prove that opinions have changed.
The House of Commons Library’s independent research on the vote estimates that Gower was 49.3% leave and 50.7% remain. That picture has changed significantly since 2016. Like most MPs, I have received a vast amount of correspondence from constituents. When analysed, it gives me statistics of 82% remain and 18% leave. From all that correspondence, 61% are asking for a people’s vote. I realised that I had to test that in the constituency, so I held public meetings. Our mock ballot in each of those meetings showed pretty much the same—80% remain and 20% leave.
Since the 2017 election, this House is the most representative it has ever been, and I am very proud to be here. The Secretary of State says that it is incumbent on Members to know what they are here for, and I want him to know that I know exactly why I am here. I am here to represent the fact that my constituency has not only changed its allegiance to Labour, but it has changed its mind on Brexit.
Moreover, my constituents want the Government to know that small businesses in my constituency such as Rose and Rebellion—a baby carrier business exporting all over the world—have lost 50% of their business directly because of impending Brexit. What assurances will the Government give to protect companies like those that are struggling to compete with America, which is swamping the market?
From the parliamentary logjam to the Government can-kicking, there is no simple answer to Brexit. There is no Brexit that is good for the United Kingdom. This Government have proven that they cannot be trusted and are not capable of winning. My constituents deserve to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am applying sense and good logic to give us a way out of this logjam. Why can the Government not? That is why I am backing a people’s vote. We need to move this on and get back to the issues.
When I was elected in 2015, it was on the basis that we pledged to give the people the opportunity to determine whether they wished to stay in the European Union or leave. I for one felt that, having given people that opportunity, it was not for me as an MP to then tell them which way they should vote.
I wrote to every single one of my constituents and invited them to 10 meetings across my constituency before the referendum. I also provided them with information from the House of Commons Library, so that they could make their own mind up. During those meetings, I explained what an article 50 process would look like and what a reformed EU would look like, should we vote to remain. I did not expect to be talking about article 50 again, but, to my surprise and disappointment, given the way I voted, my constituency voted to leave by almost 60:40, and the country by 52:48. I declared my vote on the night because I did not wish to influence any of my constituents. I made it clear to my constituents that, having been elected by the ballot box, which gives me the authority to speak here now, I do not feel that I have the right to then ignore that ballot box when it gives a different determination to the vote I cast.
I swore to honour the referendum result. That is what I believe I am doing and will be doing when I vote for the Prime Minister’s deal on Tuesday. I can then look in the eye those who voted leave and say that I am voting to ensure that we leave the European Union on
Many of my colleagues will not vote for the deal. Unlike me, it has been their life’s work to see us leave the European Union. The direction of travel that Parliament is currently focused on may mean that they never get an opportunity to vote for leaving the European Union if they do not vote for it this time around. It may well come off the table. Equally, other Members are more persuaded by the argument for a second referendum, or the latest and ludicrous thing I have heard about, which is a “people’s assembly”. That is what I thought I was standing in right now, making this speech. But we cannot delegate our responsibility. This House, by 498 MPs, voted to allow the Prime Minister to trigger article 50. That means we have to take responsibility for the outcome. We have a deal that will give us that outcome. Anything else would be a complete denial not just of the referendum result, but of the vote that night when 498 MPs said that this was the way to proceed.
I am very concerned about the House not agreeing to the withdrawal agreement, because the no-deal scenario fills me with great dread. It is all well and good for many people and many of my constituents to say, “No deal will be absolutely fine. We were warned the worst would happen after the referendum result and it didn’t happen.” However, Bank of England models suggest that the economy will be 11% worse off by 2030 in a no-deal situation. It is all well and good for individuals to say that it will be fine, but they will not be the ones going into the Division Lobby to vote for a no deal—I will. What if it turns out not to be fine? What if I knock on my constituents’ doors to be told that they have just lost their job, are about to lose their house and do not know what they were going to do with their family because it has turned out that it was not all absolutely fine? They would say, “It’s your fault, Huw Merriman MP, because you made that happen.” I will not play Russian roulette with my constituents’ lives, their security and everything they hold dear just because “It may be okay”. I say to all those right hon. and hon. Members who may be willing to take that risk: be careful what you end up playing with.
I take the view that we would be a lot worse off from a democratic perspective if we saw a second referendum, the can being kicked down the road or no Brexit at all. How difficult would it be for us to go back on the campaign trail and knock on the doors in the general election to ask people to put their faith in democracy if we have just denied the democratic result that they thought they had gained in 2016?
Compromise is not a very sexy word, but when we look at the percentages, 52% versus 48%, it was always going to need a compromise to unite those two positions. It is possible for us to leave the European Union, but it is also possible for us to leave and enter into a new trading arrangement. It is also possible for us to look outside the European Union. The European Union is a great 28-country club if you are a member, but not if you are an African country that is getting poorer and poorer because it will not trade because it pulls up the walls. The population of Africa is due to double in the next 25 years. That is where we should be looking, not just for our own future but for their future too, and for a global economy that comes to us. That is why I will support this deal on Tuesday.
Diolch, Mr Speaker. This debate, and the votes that will follow next week, will probably be the defining moments of this Parliament. They will certainly determine Ceredigion’s prospects and prosperity for decades to come. The withdrawal agreement and the declaration on the framework for the future relationship can perhaps be described as the Government’s attempt to convince Parliament to abandon the familiar benefits and certainty of the status quo, and risk it all by embracing the possibilities of the unknown and moving towards a relationship with the European Union whose opportunities are apparently unencumbered by the constraints of reality.
The matter in question is deeply significant and serious. This is our future relationship with our closest and largest trading partner and ally. It is therefore our duty as parliamentarians to challenge the ambiguity and the risks inherent in this deal, especially in the political declaration on the future relationship. As detailed in the Government’s own analysis, the UK will be poorer over the next 15 years under all possible scenarios than it would have been within the EU single market and customs union.
Ceredigion is reliant on the knowledge and rural economies. The education sector alone accounts for 20% of our economic output and sustains around 5,000 jobs in total, more than 2,800 of them directly supported by the county’s two universities. Agriculture is key to wealth and job creation, with every £1 generated translating into £7.40 for the local economy through supply chains and spending. Each job in farming supports another 3.5 in other sectors.
There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, but there are a few things we can be certain about. We know that the single market is a vital export destination for Welsh food and drink, with more than 80% of exports going to the EU. We know that the Welsh universities thrive on our membership of the EU and particularly benefit from the contribution of staff and students from the EU, as well as from European Research Council funding. We know that both the agricultural and higher education sectors will therefore be heavily impacted by changes to our relationship with the EU and devastated if we were to leave the customs union and single market.
That said, we do not know what the future relationship under this deal will look like, despite our having triggered article 50 two years ago and having debated the matter ever since. During this time, sectors such as agriculture and higher education have been plunged into unprecedented uncertainty, so it is entirely understandable that some find the prospect of a period of stability appealing and therefore the Government’s deal worth supporting. Let us be clear, however, that the proposal is no more than a 20-month stay of execution, not a reprieve. It offers a brief respite, but no assurances for the long term.
Uncertainty over the future relationship will continue to plague businesses and communities throughout the transition and most likely beyond. Far from the detailed and substantive document promised, the political declaration merely sets out a spectrum of potential options. The details will materialise only on the conclusion of yet further negotiations. While the Government have stated repeatedly that they will not entertain the prospect of another referendum, it is unclear what role Members of Parliament, as the elected representatives of the people, will have in the negotiations and whether they will have a role in the ratification of any agreement reached.
Admittedly, the declaration expresses a great deal of ambition for a close trading relationship, but to echo the Brexit Select Committee, ambition is no guarantee of success, and the experience of the past two years does not instil great confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver on such ambition or indeed to engage with others to seek compromise. It has been heartening to hear a lot tonight about compromise. Those who argue that opponents of the Prime Minister’s deal have not offered alternatives are mistaken and have not been listening. Several alternatives have been aired this evening. Back in January 2017—two years ago—a colleague in the Senedd, Steffan Lewis, in co-operation with the Welsh Government, published a White Paper detailing a range of options and a conclusion about what they thought was the best future relationship for Wales and the EU.
Ceredigion voted to remain, and conversations I have had with constituents have given no indication of a change of heart. The Government present us with an offer of embarking on a voyage to an unknown destination, warning that it will leave us poorer and possibly lead to ruin, yet they nevertheless ask us as parliamentarians to relinquish any say over the choice of destination and to renounce all influence over the course charted. Given the reservations I have expressed, this is an undertaking that I cannot in good conscience support.
Thank you for calling me so early in this debate, Mr Speaker. One of the great things about being called at this late stage is that I get the opportunity to listen to other people articulate the case far better than I could. My comments might be slightly briefer as a result of having listened to the other arguments, not least those of John Mann, who gave a very impassioned speech, much of which chimed with what I think the people of Walsall North would think. It is unfortunate, however, that I am following Ben Lake and his beautiful baritone. He speaks for a rural community in Wales that is in contrast to the urban industrial one that I represent in Walsall. There are many elements to this argument that need to be represented, although when we vote we will make a binary decision about whether to walk through the Aye Lobby or the No Lobby. I am sure that each of our constituents will interpret that decision differently, in the same way, perhaps, as the 17-odd million people who voted for Brexit each thought that they were voting for very different things.
In my constituency, I have found most recently that the loudest voices—the ones that I have heard most of—are of those who would like a no-deal Brexit. In Willenhall and Bloxwich, we are definitely on the hard Brexit end of the spectrum. When I campaigned and voted for Brexit, I had in my mind something akin to a very hard Brexit. For example, I expected us to absolutely minimise the amount of money that we had to send to the European Union, so I find it a bit heartbreaking that that figure is close to £40 billion, and that we are paying it up front before we know what the final deal will be on our trading relationship. But all deals require an element of compromise.
Over recent days in Parliament, I have seen the idea that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is diminishing. Clearly, that will be disappointing to the people of Willenhall and Bloxwich, but they need to understand that it is Parliament that decides. I do not think we should expect much sympathy from the general public, but I feel that an incredible responsibility rests with us. When I campaigned for Brexit, it was all very well me shouting at the TV at home and having my own opinion about how things should be. It is a bit like being a spectator on the sideline at a football match shouting that the referee or the managers should make different decisions. When we are in the game, we must be cognisant of our responsibility and of the number of different elements that we need to consider.
I am a naturally optimistic and enthusiastic person, and that is how I view the future. Now, here is a peculiar thing. We talk about the financial forecasts and people say that Brexit might make us less well off, which would be a terrible thing. Imagine, Mr Speaker—this might be difficult—that you are a plumber. You work for a good company, for which you have worked for a while, and you are, no doubt, an excellent plumber. But there are some things about the job that you are not happy with. Occasionally, your employers send you to work away from home, away from your family. They make you work weekends. They issue policies and edicts that you do not like, and things that you have to comply with because you work for them.
People say to you, “Do you know what? If you were to go out on your own, you could be a self-employed plumber. You could develop a business and employ other people.” You think about that, and you realise, “Hang on a second. That is likely to mean that I have to work harder initially while I build up a client base. I will have to do my own accounts and work longer hours. That seems counter-intuitive, given what I am trying to achieve. I am complaining about having to work away from home and having to work weekends. If I go self-employed, that is exactly what I might end up doing.” But you are a good plumber, Mr Speaker. You have great ability and great confidence in your ability to strike out and make deals yourself, work for yourself and create a business that employs other people. You can not only create a very bright future for you and your family, but develop jobs and opportunities for other people. So that is what you decide to do. You quit your job and you decide to go it alone in this brave new world.
Mr Speaker, I have faith in you and your plumbing abilities in the same way as I have incredible faith in this country. We have some of the best universities in the world. We are developing technology for things such as driverless cars. Who would not have faith in the potential for the United Kingdom, working collectively, to forge a great place in the future?
I heard Pete Wishart say to the Secretary of State that he was laughing at the idea that the EU might, in the future, look longingly at us and the deals that we had struck. I say that that is rubbish. I have confidence in this country and our ability to do great things. When people look back at what we have achieved, they will know that we did the right thing when we left the European Union.
It is a pleasure to follow Eddie Hughes. We both represent proud towns, but I will vote against the deal because it is my assessment that it would leave people in my constituency worse off and make their jobs less secure.
Back in June 2016, I approached the EU referendum not as my town’s local MP, but as one of Stockton’s local GPs. My experience of working in the NHS taught me the principle of informed consent, which is given based on a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications and consequences of an action. Do we really have informed consent for this Brexit deal?
Did people have a clear appreciation of how this interpretation of Brexit would affect health and social care, for example? Half of us will get cancer. Did people really give their informed consent for us to leave the European Medicines Agency and get new cancer drugs six months later than other countries, or to risk our health and social care workforce? We depend on people from EU countries coming here and sharing their skills.
Did my constituents who make car parts for Nissan give their informed consent for a Brexit deal that the North East chamber of commerce says threatens the very future of car manufacturing in the north-east? Their jobs will be on the line when we cast our votes next week. This is no small thing: will “taking back control” be any kind of compensation for not having a job?
What if someone wants to retire to the sun? Sorry—no. There will be no ongoing entitlement to go and live in Spain. Was informed consent given for that? Young people will lose their right to study and work in Europe. Did they give their informed consent for that? Did members of our armed forces who have served our Union give their informed consent for us to go back to the bad old days of conflict in Northern Ireland? Peace in Northern Ireland was hard won, and it will be under threat if we leave the EU in this way.
My constituents were told clearly that their lives would be better, that the rest of the world would be queueing up to trade with us and that the NHS would get more money. We now know that none of those things will happen. Informed consent was never obtained for this version of Brexit. That detail just was not there.
Brexit has never been about igniting the better, prouder country that my constituents want. The whole Brexit project stems from a group of people who want fundamentally to weaken our country’s safety net. They want to water down workers’ rights, pension protections and leave to care for children—those extra costs of employment that we in the EU have all agreed to share. They are a good thing that unions and workers support, but they are threatened by Brexit.
Let us be clear: this version of Brexit does not have the support of the NHS either. The Royal College of General Practitioners says:
“It is essential that the public are fully informed about the damage exiting the EU could potentially cause to the health service.”
Nurses and midwives say the same. Brexit will damage because it will lead to less money for the NHS, as our economy grows less than it would; damage because it will exacerbate the existing staffing crisis; and damage because it will delay access to new drugs. It just is not worth it.
I spend my weekends listening to people on the streets of Stockton South. Opinions are mixed and emotions strong, but my constituents have given me two clear messages. First, they agree that Brexit is not going well. They are as frustrated as I am with how the Government have handled it, and they do not want me to vote for this deal. Secondly, they want a final say—a public vote on the final deal—now the facts about Brexit are clear. If Parliament cannot agree what to do, we need to go back to the people for a people’s vote, which would be the first chance for everyone to give their truly informed consent, knowing all the facts about what Brexit means.
There is nothing to fear from more democracy. We owe it to the people we represent, before taking this giant risk to the future of our country, to check with them that we truly have their informed consent.
It has been a pleasure to listen to many of the speeches that have been made today, and I thank Dr Williams for his.
I will support the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement when we vote for it next week. I do not celebrate the fact that we are leaving the European Union, but I do recognise that this was the decision of the British people.
I have seen at first hand the ways in which being a member of the EU can be a force for good, enabling us in the UK to work with neighbours on common issues such as environmental matters, financial market reforms and the building of a network for scientific co-operation. What my kids loved most was the end of charges for mobile roaming. However, I have also seen an EU that has changed dramatically from the Common Market that we joined, and many people throughout our country were very uncomfortable with that.
We gave the people the vote. I campaigned for remain, but leave won. We told people that their vote would be respected, but they were also told, again and again, that a no-deal Brexit was not what would happen. They were told, “Trade will continue. The Germans want to sell us their cars. We will get a trade deal. It will be easy.”
Many of my constituents work in areas that are not covered by the World Trade Organisation. Leaving without a deal is not a good deal, and a no-deal Brexit is not what people were promised. The withdrawal agreement gives stability on citizens’ rights and gives businesses a breathing space to transition from where we are today to a new relationship. The declaration on the future framework paves the way towards the deepest trade partnership, and the deepest security partnership, into which the EU has ever entered with a third country—and yes, it does cover environmental protections and workers’ rights.
I know that Labour Members would like more detail on the long-term relationship, but time after time, EU negotiators—my contacts across the EU—have said to me, “We cannot give you that detail until you accept the withdrawal agreement.” I say to Labour Members, “You want to tear up the whole negotiation and start again, but that is really high-risk.” Come
Last week, Universities UK warned of the risks of no deal to our science community, and the real possibility of a brain drain. This week, the manufacturers’ organisation published its annual survey. Our businesses are diverting investment, stockpiling and reviewing supply chains.
Yesterday in the Chamber, Lady Hermon warned us of the real risk that no deal could lead to a border poll in Northern Ireland and the break-up of our own United Kingdom. I was born and grew up in Northern Ireland, and my friends and contacts also say that that is a real risk. I know that Members from the Democratic Unionist party—my contacts on the other side of the Chamber—are concerned about the backstop, but I believe that we will be given more reassurance. The Irish Prime Minister said that this week, and I know that when the EU negotiators want to move, they can move fast. Let us make sure that we get that reassurance.
I know that colleagues also want more detail on the future framework—that is apparently why they will not vote for the withdrawal agreement—but they will not have it until we pass the agreement. I say again that no deal is not a good deal, and that a second referendum will not reduce uncertainty or risk. At the time of the last referendum, I campaigned in 58 Westminster constituencies. I genuinely believe that there is a significant risk that the result of a second vote could be even more anti-EU than the result two and a half years ago. Going back to square one will not reduce uncertainty or risk either.
I will vote for this deal because everything that I have seen leads me to believe that it is the best way to protect jobs and security, enable us to have a long-term relationship with our neighbours across the EU and deliver the future framework that Members on both sides of the House want so that we can care for the lives and livelihoods of our constituents.
It is a pleasure to follow Vicky Ford, although I do not agree with her analysis. Next week, we are set finally to vote and make one of the most important decisions that this House has taken. It is a decision that will have enormous and lasting repercussions for our communities, our economy and our security.
Over the past few weeks, I have taken the time to reflect on this deal and what it would mean for the people of Leigh. My constituency is made up of post-industrial towns in the north, and the deal will particularly impact us because of the fragile social and economic landscape we face after the real hardship we have endured over the last few decades. With the decline of our manufacturing base and then austerity cutting to the bone, we have been left feeling isolated from the economic prosperity seen in some of our cities. We face higher than average unemployment, ballooning social issues on our streets and a social mobility crisis that threatens the life chances of our young people.
When I looked at this deal, I considered two points. First, does it respect the referendum result, in which the majority of my constituents voted to leave the EU? Also, crucially, does it deliver on the message my constituents sent and provide a blueprint for transformative and inclusive prosperity for all our communities that will help our towns to thrive and prosper once again? Looking through the deal and the political declaration, I can only conclude that, for three key reasons, this will be a bad deal for our constituency that will fail to deliver that foundation for the future.
First, the deal will not safeguard the existing jobs and businesses in the constituency. Without the assurance of a permanent customs union, our manufacturers in Leigh will be left with uncertainty and without an assurance of frictionless trade. We have seen before that when businesses and the economy take a hit, our town economies are the first to suffer. Secondly, the deal does not protect our workers’ rights. If we accept it, we risk the lowering of rights and standards by a future Tory Government. As a Labour MP, I cannot and will not vote for a deal that does not guarantee all our hard-fought rights and protections.
Thirdly, this deal does not protect our national security. Through my work in the shadow Cabinet Office team, I am well aware of the critical cyber risks facing our nation and of how much we rely on threat information from our European partners. It is simply not good enough to “aspire” to a close security relationship. Our national security needs concrete reassurances; it is not a bargaining chip.
Those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my serious concerns about the deal. Representing a community in desperate need of transformative investment, there is no way I could support such a gamble. If the last 10 years have taught us anything in Leigh, it is that in times of struggle our post-industrial towns are the first to be hit. I cannot risk that for our community again.
It feels we have got nowhere in the last two years. Nothing has changed, including the heated and often polarised debate. It is upsetting to witness MPs—mostly female—on the receiving end of some of the most vile abuse, be it online or via email. If there is one thing that the Government must take control of, it is the narrow arguments on Brexit. The same characters are preaching the same rhetoric, and as a country and a community we have not moved forward or even reunited.
We are left in a truly sorry state of affairs, and what pains me most is that it really did not have to be this way. Instead of negotiating in seriousness and respect, recognising the close relationship the UK wants with the EU—our closest and most important partner—the Government wasted two years fighting among themselves and botching together a deal that pleases nobody. Therefore, whichever way people voted in the referendum two years ago, one thing is miraculously unifying my constituency: we do not want the Prime Minister’s deal.
We are calling the negotiations out for the failure that they are. We reject this botched, blindfold Brexit, and we agree that we must, and certainly can, do better than this to keep our country strong and safe while helping our communities to thrive into the future.
I will start by taking some time to reflect on the issues that I heard about in 2016, and have continued to hear about since, while representing a seat that voted substantially to leave the EU. I completely understand the valid and sincere reasons why people on both sides voted how they did. Our area, once the beating heart of Britain’s industrial empire, has seen 30 years of deindustrialisation and rising unemployment, with our youth unemployment now two and a half times the national average. Many towns, including Leigh, as my hon. Friend Jo Platt just so articulately described, feel a sense of being left behind, of anger, of loss and of betrayal. Just six months before the referendum, our steelworks was closed by this Government, with 3,100 jobs lost overnight. So, when people were asked back then, “Are you happy with the status quo, or do you want things to change? Do you want to make Redcar, Teesside or Britain great again?”, of course they were going to vote out of anger and frustration. They were going to vote to take back control when they were told that the blame for our troubles lies in Brussels.
However, it was not the EU that closed our steelworks. The Government had no qualms about state aid when they stepped in to take a stake in the Port Talbot works just a few months later. The EU did not drive down our industry and manufacturing in favour of an economy based on the financial and services sectors. The EU did not take £6 billion out of public spending in the north in the past eight years, and it did not give us zero-hours contracts, a low-pay economy, austerity and food banks. However, many in my patch at that time simply said, “What’s to lose? It can’t get any worse.” The facts are clear now in a way that they were not in 2016, as there is plenty to lose and, as always, it is people in work in areas such as mine who stand to lose the most again.
The Government’s impact assessment showed that the economy of the north-east will be hit to the tune of 16%. That is not just a “Project Fear” figure; that means real jobs and real wage packets. That will mean homes repossessed, businesses going under, and personal tragedies like we saw in 2015 after the closure of the steelworks. There is no way in which I or anyone in this place who claims to want the best for their constituents should even be contemplating a no-deal Brexit, although we see the Prime Minister wielding it as a threat to steamroller her failed deal, which is reckless and irresponsible.
I want to take a moment to focus on a sector that remains a huge international asset in our area. The chemicals industry employs around 7,600 people in Teesside. We have the second biggest chemical cluster in Europe and the biggest in the UK, and it is heavily integrated with supply chains that span the English channel. Companies such as Huntsman process chemicals in Redcar and send them to Rotterdam for the next stage of processing. If there are any costs or delays, companies will just shift their entire processing operations to Europe, taking jobs with them. Chemicals cannot be stockpiled, and any delay is deeply damaging. However, it is not just a no-deal Brexit that would jeopardise that precious industry. The chief executive of the North East of England Process Industry Cluster told me that while the Prime Minister’s deal is better than no deal, any kind of Brexit will leave the crucial industry worse off.
The Government have already made one industrial site in my constituency a wasteland, and I am not prepared to risk a second when we are working so hard to get back on our feet. I cannot accept the Prime Minister’s deal, which is a historic and unprecedented concession of sovereign control. It leaves us in a weak negotiating position internationally, £50 billion worse off, and no clearer on our future relationship with Europe. The Chancellor himself told us that it will make Britain poorer. If it is not what people voted for, why on earth are we putting ourselves through this pain? We must now extend or revoke article 50 and go back to the people—this time with the truth and a picture of what the reality of Brexit actually is.
To those who say that they just want this over and done with, I am afraid to say that the Prime Minister’s deal will be just the beginning. We will be bogged down in negotiations for a decade, with a slow haemorrhaging of our power and wealth. To those who say another vote is a betrayal, I am afraid to say that the betrayal has already happened. The betrayal happened in 2016: when people were promised something that could not be done, and when they were promised £350 million a week for the NHS, the exact same benefits as being in the EU and the easiest deal in history. When a promise cannot be kept, everything that follows from it is a betrayal, and we need to face up to that and be honest.
To those who say there is a better deal yet to be negotiated, I am afraid to say there is no other deal. There is no jobs-first Brexit or sensible Brexit. This deal is Brexit. This is all there is and, after two and a half years, the public can see it is a disaster. They know it has gone horribly wrong and they do not like where we are headed. It is disrespectful to say that they have to be bound by a decision they made two years ago when they know that this is not what they were promised. They do not like the mess we are in and, like me, they do not recognise the Britain we are becoming.
Our Britain is not insular, fearful, jealous, selfish, pompous or cruel. It does not look backwards to a world that never was or blame other people for our failings. Our Britain is decent, kind and compassionate, but firm and fair. Our Britain is confident in its values and of its place in the world. It respects other nations and actively wants to stand alongside our friends, partners and neighbours. This Britain wants to have its say. I have absolute faith in the British people to find a way through where the Government and Parliament have failed. We must put this back in the people’s hands.
I am glad to have the chance to contribute to the debate, but I will be brief, as so much has already been said.
I say from the start that I will be voting against the Government’s agreement, which is not an agreement but a short-term fix that raises huge questions about backstops and borders . The political declaration is a statement of intention. There is no deal. There are promises, politely-termed phrases and wishes for our future relationship with the European Union, but wishes will not protect workers’ rights, jobs or our living standards.
We are two years on from the decision to trigger article 50 and less than three months away from the date on which we are due to leave, and what we have are some temporary arrangements and the intention to negotiate longer-term deals. We have no certainty.
What confidence can we have that we will, in fact, reach final agreements that protect our economy, our jobs, our environment and so much more? What we have now does not address the key issues facing my constituents. My constituents did not vote for a worse life. Many of them have already been hit hard by the Government’s policy of austerity, and it is not right for me to support this deal and make things worse for them. Over the past two years this Government have failed to negotiate a firm future arrangement. How can we possibly believe that, during the implementation period, they will be able to negotiate and agree the positive arrangements that we need?
It cannot be the case that it is this deal or nothing. The Government have cynically left putting this deal to the House to the last minute in a determined effort to put the pressure on and say, “You must support this or it’s no deal.” It is the Government’s responsibility to allow this House to have real influence on the terms of the deal we need.
No deal is not an option. The Government know that leaving without a deal would not be in our interests, the interests of business or the interests of individuals. Some are calling for a clean break, but the Minister knows full well that there will be nothing clean about no deal, which would leave us trying to navigate the rugged coastline of the former agreements of our last 40-plus years in the EU.
I am glad to have been one of the Members on both sides of the House who wrote to the Prime Minister to say that no deal cannot be an option. We need a much better deal that will protect jobs, the economy, workers’ rights, the environment and the living standards of my constituents in Blaydon. This deal does not do that, and we must have the opportunity to change it, by extending article 50 if necessary.
Over the last year, thanks to my constituent Barbara McGovern, I have been working with colleagues on both sides of the House in the all-party group on phenylketonuria, or PKU, which is a metabolic condition. Those with PKU have a very restricted diet that eliminates protein. Failure to do so leads to serious neurological and developmental problems affecting all aspects of life from childhood. It is not curable—although if the Government would agree that Kuvan could be prescribed, that would help 20% of sufferers, such as my constituent Archie McGovern—and those with PKU rely on prescribed foods, many of which are imported from overseas. It is not a question of choice; they need those dietary products. These people are really concerned that post Brexit, those products will not be available in time and in the quantity required to ensure their continued availability. People with PKU, and those with many other conditions who have fears about continuous supplies of their medicines or products, are hugely concerned for the future, and we need a firm long-term agreement to ensure that those supplies continue to be available—not in the short term, but right into the future. The Government’s withdrawal agreement does not offer that permanent solution, and buying 5,000 new fridges will neither help nor reassure.
Finally, I want to talk briefly about my constituents’ views. So many have taken the opportunity to contact me, and their messages have reflected a wide range of views from “I want to remain” to “Leave now with no deal” and everything in between. Of course, many of them are asking for a people’s vote. My constituency voted leave. I respect that decision, but I do not believe that my constituents voted to be worse off, to risk environmental protections, such as those covering the Blaydon Quarry landfill site in my constituency, or to risk employment rights and, of course, jobs. It is clear that a huge majority of those who have contacted me are asking me to reject the deal that is on the table, and that is what I will be doing next Tuesday.
I could go on, but so much has been said already that I would simply repeat what many other hon. Members have said and will say in the rest of the debate. I will therefore end by reiterating that the deal is not in the best interests of my constituents and I shall vote against it.
I prepared a speech, but at 5 pm I decided to scrap much of it because I wanted to express how I and many of my constituents feel. We are hurting, Mr Speaker, and I often feel that I am in a horrid dream—a nightmare that has continued from the moment when I broke down in tears at the referendum count on result night. At that moment I felt—I still feel this now—that something had been stolen from me. Viscerally, something had been taken from me, and not for others to gain from, but to be destroyed and torn up. My rights, my citizenship, my culture—all had been ripped away from me and many of my constituents.
On my way home on that miserable morning, I of course went to my local shop. I chatted to my Spanish friend there, and all that I could say was, “I’m sorry. We have failed you.” We in the remain campaign failed millions of migrants who work here, who live here and who made this place their home, and we have made them feel less welcome. But why should our failure—my failure—in the campaign harm them? Why should a failure of 2016 bind our future and mean that we fail forever? There is a principle in democracy that no Parliament may bind future Parliaments. There is a principle that no votes may bind future votes. The ’75 vote did not bind us in 2016, so why now do we say that the tyranny of history should for some reason bind us to a decision that I think was a manifest mistake?
I am against referendums generally. We live in a parliamentary democracy, and I believe that we should avoid them if we can. But once the genie is out of the bottle, the only way of getting it back in—the only way of ending this nightmare—may well end up being, at the end of this long journey, whenever it is, another people’s vote.
Many women in Ireland, after losing the referendum in 1983, immediately started building and working for another referendum to overturn that awful decision. Three referendums later, they manged to do it. There was a vote in Taiwan a few months ago to ban same-sex marriage, which passed, stripping people of their rights and their identity. Do we castigate the women of Ireland for pushing to overturn the will of the Irish? No: we celebrate the role of those women who overturned an historical wrong. Do we tell the LGBT people in Taiwan, “I’m sorry, but you just have to live with the fact that you can’t now marry”? No: we say to them, “Continue fighting and pushing on—democratically, of course—and try to overturn the absolute wrong that has been done to you.” I feel that an absolute wrong has been done to our country—to me.
I believe that there is no good Brexit for Britain. It just does not exist. No Government can produce a good Brexit. Yes, if Labour got in, we would limit and mitigate some of the damage, but even then we could not produce a good Brexit. Brexit is fundamentally linked to a xenophobic, petty nationalist view. That is not to say that those people who voted for Brexit are xenophobic or petty nationalists. When I lived in Yorkshire and we voted, unfortunately, for a British National party MEP and I had BNP councillors up the road from me, I did not say that the voters in those wards were xenophobic and racist. I said that they had made an historic and terrible mistake, and we worked for four and five years to make sure that those people were kicked out. This is a horrible and terrible mistake that was initiated by extremists in UKIP who infected the Tory party. We must now say that that mistake must be undone.
Of course, people are right to say that there are problems with the European Union. It is not perfect. Of course some of the rules on state aid, for example, are problematic. But the deal in front of us enshrines all the same state aid rules without any of the opt-outs and agreements that we could get from the Commission. This deal is far worse for the left than remaining in the European Union. That is why it must be rejected. That is also why we on the left must understand that staying in and reforming is the only feasible option for socialists.
We must also understand that there are some goods in things such as state aid rules. They stop a race to the bottom. For example, the recent European Court of Justice rulings against Ireland and Google mean that there is not some sort of Dutch auction of giving tax breaks and giveaways to multinational companies. We live in a global capitalist world and in a system where multinational companies can have more power and clout than many nation states. The only way we can counter that and do things on climate change and other big international global issues is to work together and form a democratic union. My God, the European Union is far more democratic than some things in this country—just look down the road at the other place.