European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 29th January 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Chair, Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill Committee 4:48 pm, 29th January 2019

It is always a pleasure to follow Hilary Benn, who spoke with great wisdom and clarity, as always.

A no-deal Brexit would have not just a huge economic cost, but a huge human cost, and that is what drove me to table amendment (i). Jack Dromey and I are co-authors of this amendment, and we are neighbours. We have seen the lives of our constituents transformed by the renaissance of manufacturing in our region. It now exports more than any other region to the EU, which is its principal market. But Brexit is putting this at risk. As a group of cross-party MPs, we began meeting six months ago to discuss how to help, as we are already losing jobs—not just because of Brexit, but it has made it worse. We co-authored a letter to the Prime Minister calling for a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out, and I thank those who signed it. It attracted 225 signatures from MPs of six parties from all over Britain. The signatories are remainers and leavers, but we agree on one thing—we are against a no-deal Brexit.

Hardly a day goes by without another business calling for no deal to be prevented. Yesterday, it was the supermarkets which fear their shelves will be empty. Before that, it was the security analysts advising us of increased risks and before that, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Siemens, Ford, and the National Farmers Union and other farming organisations. The list is simply endless. The CBI has described this as a monumental act of self-harm to be avoided at all costs. Crashing out without a deal simply makes our exports instantly less competitive.

The Government say that it is not their policy to leave with no deal, so let us rule it out. The threat of no deal has been used as a stick to get more concessions, but in my view that card has played out. It has not secured the needed changes, as on the backstop, for example. So as a former negotiator, I would flip that card round the other way as a carrot, offering to take no deal off the table in return for concessions that will get the deal over the line.

I want to be clear: I am not blocking Brexit. I am committed to honouring the referendum result. I voted for the withdrawal agreement; I have read all 585 pages. I urge colleagues perhaps to have a fresh look at it. It may not be perfect, but local businesses tell me that it is good enough and works for them.