Our duty in debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 this evening is not to focus on what we do not want, but to work out what we will support, in order to ensure that we respect the result of the referendum to leave the EU, but in a way that does not inadvertently cause damage and that can identify and realise future opportunities. The Act is the end of the beginning—what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster called the “unavoidable gateway”, whether to a Canadian, Norwegian, Chequers or any other destination. It resolves crucial human issues of citizen rights, obligations and Northern Ireland, on which I have co-authored an amendment with my right hon. Friend Sir Hugo Swire. The Act can also lead to stronger legislation on issues precious to many of us, including colleagues such as the hon. Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn): human rights; gender equality; workers’ rights; and environmental standards, where pledges have already been made. It means that this House will be able to decide whether we stick with EU manufacturing standards, go further or deviate, understanding the potential impact on frictionless trade. In the future, it will be we who decide whether to take more REACH—the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—legislation or further insurance sector rules. We will decide on immigration; as the Home Secretary said, there will be no limits on skilled labourers and there will be seasonal arrangements for agricultural workers. Those are the opportunities that this deal gives us, alongside a transition that provides for certainty before future change. It will not be easy—we have surely learned that already—but there can be advantages for these stubborn, independent-minded islands that are used to maintaining the balance of power in Europe against centralist tendencies.
Some of my colleagues prefer a no-deal solution. They believe that there is a way, as an invitation this evening put it, to open up the political space to take a different approach, but the nation’s employers simply do not agree. I have spoken to manufacturers big and small, to retail and services companies, to the university in my constituency and to many other traders and investors as the longest-serving of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys in the House of Commons, working with one of the fastest growing regions in south-east Asia, and not one has told me that no deal is the best way forward. Instead, they tell me that fear of uncertainty is holding back investment, jobs and apprenticeships and beginning to lose them contracts. Are they all scaremongering—the FSB, Business West, the NFU, Gibraltar, the Falklands, or even a family-owned Gloucester SME, which told me on Friday that
“customers and jobs will go elsewhere, and we are 14 weeks away from the most damaging impact on our economy for at least a generation”?
They, plus the supply chains of the aerospace, automotive and cyber sectors, cannot all be wrong. I do not believe that, faced with this evidence, any Government could take the risk of no deal, or that this Parliament would ever vote for no deal.
If we are to succeed in legislating for the withdrawal agreement—a genuine Brexit—Conservative and DUP Members, and others on the Opposition Benches who, like Wes Streeting, realise that there is no magical, better Labour Brexit to be negotiated, will all have to pull together and support this pragmatic compromise. If we cannot do that, as Vernon Coaker said, some cross-party grouping will come together for a solution to gain a majority, but in all likelihood that will be a deal less attractive to those who voted leave and to those who compare it with staying in the EU, and that could lead to an even more divisive second referendum. To paraphrase Churchill on the USA, I hope that this Parliament will do the right thing after exhausting all other options over the next few days and support and pass the withdrawal agreement.