European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Leaving the EU – in the House of Commons at 10:43 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Labour/Co-operative, Manchester Central 10:43 pm, 14th January 2019

I also rise to speak against the deal, but it is clear that the House now needs an opportunity to show what it is for, as well as what it is against. I hope that in the coming days we will have the opportunity to do that.

As my hon. Friend Peter Kyle so eloquently and brilliantly put it, the Prime Minister’s last-ditch attempts to reach out across party lines were too little, too late. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has shown yet again a tin ear to Parliament. It is a real shame, because we did not need to be here now. She could have taken up the offers from the Leader of the Opposition to have cross-party talks. She could have taken the temperature of Parliament long before we got here. Maybe if she had done so we would not be here now.

We now face deadlock in the Commons while the country is crying out for us to deal with Brexit. I fear that entrenched positions are getting wider, divisions are getting deeper, and our political discourse is getting more and more toxic. Absolutism is ruling, when reaching out and building a compromise and consensus is what is needed. My sense, which I think is reflected in this debate, is that we are now reaching a point where there is a growing appetite for a consensus to be reached. However, there is clearly no majority in Parliament for the Prime Minister’s deal and there is no majority in Parliament for no deal. While I fully respect those who advocate for remain, there is equally no majority in Parliament for a second referendum. I fear that the strategy of all those concerned is to run out of road so that one of the options becomes the last one standing.

That is why I have come to the view that we need a plan B for when the deal is defeated tomorrow. I came together with my friend, Robert Halfon, to co-author a report seeking a common market 2.0 option with the backing of the cross-party Norway Plus Group. I completely understand that many people want us to remain in the EU—we are better off economically and politically in the EU, and I used to be the director of Britain in Europe, for goodness’ sake—but I understand the sentiment that led to the Brexit vote in the first place, and I respect it. Part of the reason behind the vote was a deep scepticism about politics and politicians, so we cannot ignore or seek to overturn the result. We really cannot say, “Sorry, we cannot reach an agreement. Back to you guys.” What is more, referendums do not give rise to rational decisions on complex matters, either.

“Common Market 2.0” makes the case for a Brexit that delivers on the result of the 2016 referendum while protecting the economic interests of working people by becoming part of a new common market with the existing EU. It would create a long-term partnership that keeps us closely aligned and offers us real frictionless trade through full single market access and a new customs union. It would guarantee workers’ rights and provide new controls over free movement in certain circumstances. It would allow more money for public services, as our contributions would be significantly lower, and would give us a voice over the regulations that govern the single market. I know it is not a lot of people’s first choice or ideal, but it is an option for a plan B that we all need to consider.

Ministers and the Prime Minister have said many times that they want to know what Parliament is for, not just what it is against. I hope that over the coming days, we will be given the opportunity to say what we are for, and to come together and decide that sometimes we cannot get our ideal, but we need to have a plan B.