[6th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 10th January 2019.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee 4:18 pm, 10th January 2019

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.