[7th Allotted Day]

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 11:25 am on 11th January 2019.

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Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford 11:25 am, 11th January 2019

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this historically important debate. While there are many varying and strongly held views on both sides of the House about the Prime Minister’s proposed deal, all right hon. and hon. Members can agree that the votes we will cast next Tuesday will in all probability be the most important votes that any of us will ever cast in our political lifetime.

On a personal note, I have known my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames for some 20 years. He and I come at this issue from utterly different perspectives. I was an infantryman and he was a cavalryman, and anyone who would call him a traitor has clearly never met him. In fact, the idea that Churchill’s grandson could be such a thing is clearly ludicrous. I say to anyone who would be foolish enough to repeat that ridiculous assertion that, in the immortal words of our Defence Secretary, they should go away and shut up.

I entered this House some 18 years ago. I made my maiden speech on 4 July 2001, and I spoke against the treaty of Nice on the principle that I might as well start as I mean to go on. While I cannot claim anything like the 40-year record of my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, I can at least say that I have been fairly consistent on European matters stretching back nearly two decades. In 2008, I served as shadow Europe Minister, reporting to the shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, when we debated the Lisbon treaty. As his number two, it was my duty to debate much of the hard detail of that 300-page treaty. I remember it well as we spent 40 nights doing it. Despite that extensive debate, night after night, it soon became apparent that the House of Commons could not change so much as a single punctuation mark in the treaty. The Commons had effectively been completely neutered, and it is that experience that finally convinced me that we would one day have to leave the European Union.

Next Tuesday, we will be voting on two documents. The first is the political declaration. It is full of warm words but, as we are all aware, it is completely meaningless legally and has no force whatsoever in international law. It is the equivalent of, “I promise I will respect you in the morning,” but it is in no way enforceable. In stark contrast, the withdrawal agreement is a 585-page draft international treaty which, if this House were to approve it, would become binding on this country in international law. I read the Lisbon treaty cover to cover, and I can assure the House that I have read the withdrawal agreement, too. Having done so, and knowing what is in it, I am utterly determined to vote against it, so I will briefly explain why.

First, we will not take back control of our money. Under the proposed agreement, the UK has agreed to pay the EU approximately £39 billion. The methodology for this is laid out in part 5 of the agreement, on financial provisions, specifically articles 133 to 157. In short, we will pay that £39 billion without any guarantees in return. With this country having just been through a period of considerable austerity I cannot justify to my constituents paying such a huge sum of money without at least some binding guarantees about the nature of the future relationship we would get in return. This is all in stark contrast to Margaret Thatcher at Fontainebleau in 1984, when rather than give up £39 billion for nothing, she famously said, “I want my money back”. And she got it when she won the so-called British rebate, which has saved this country tens of billions of pounds ever since. Would that we had negotiated with equal resolve in this instance!

Secondly, we are not taking back control of our laws. Under the draft agreement, the UK would remain bound by EU laws in several critical areas, such as social policy, employment policy, environmental policy and customs. We would effectively become a rule taker, which means we would have to continue to obey EU laws in these areas, having surrendered any influence over how they are drafted.

Thirdly, we could be locked into a customs union without the ability to leave. This is the so-called Irish backstop, contained in the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol on pages 301 to 475 of the agreement. In short, if we enter the backstop, we enter a customs union, despite having clearly pledged in our manifesto not to do so, and that would materially constrain our ability to sign international trade deals with other countries, including the United States, our single largest trading partner in the world.

Moreover, as the Attorney General’s legal advice has made crystal clear, having entered the backstop, we could leave only with the consent of the EU. This has often been referred to in the House as the “Hotel California” dilemma—in other words, you can check out, but you can never leave.