It is always a pleasure to follow Rachel Reeves, who made her case powerfully and cogently. I want to strengthen the hand of this Prime Minister and this Government in returning to Brussels. I believe that there is a range of changes that would render the withdrawal agreement—in particular, the backstop—acceptable to me and to hon. Members across the House.
There could be a sunset mechanism or an exit mechanism, over which we exercise control but with assurances to our friends and partners in Dublin about its exercise. I listened very carefully to Sir Vince Cable, who talked about whether that is possible. It is possible. Michel Barnier said very clearly on
“would be obliged to carry out controls on goods arriving in the Republic of Ireland. My team have worked hard to study how controls can be made paperless or decentralised, which will be useful in all circumstances.”
He later confirmed and clarified:
“We will have to find an operational way of carrying out checks and controls without putting back in place a border”.
We must be clear that this is not a question of whether it can be done; it is a political choice. Paragraph 23 of the political declaration was clarified to make clear a transition to a best-in-class free trade agreement.
In the brief time available, let me address the two key amendments. I listened very carefully to Yvette Cooper, and I am worried about the constitutional precedent that she would set. Most of all, her amendment and the Bill that would follow purport to be neutral in relation to process, but in their substance they are a Pandora’s box. They would mandate a nine-month extension for negotiations, but the EU has ruled out such a long extension.