[6th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 10th January 2019.

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Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk 5:30 pm, 10th January 2019

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.