UK’s Withdrawal from the EU

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, International Trade Committee 4:23 pm, 14th February 2019

They have been working within a deal, which is why I want us to revoke article 50. I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say that.

I want to say a word or two about the trade continuity agreements. This nails a big lie of Brexit—that we can trade on WTO terms. The reason we want to roll over trade agreements instead of trading on WTO terms is that trading on WTO terms is an expensive way of conducting businesses. It involves tariffs, taxes and—[Interruption.] I hear laughter on the Government Benches. Clearly Tories do not know that that is the case. Other Governments will get in the way and tax business transactions. That is why we want to roll over these trade agreements. Without them, we will trade on WTO terms, which is an expensive way to conduct commerce, and businesses will go to the wall.

The Tories march blithely on, happy to rip up agreements and deals with our biggest customer—the 27-member trade bloc of the European Union. When I spoke recently to Alan Wolff, deputy director general of the WTO, he described the area between trading on WTO terms and within trade deals as the “Brexit gap”. There is an inevitable loss for the United Kingdom from following this crazy way.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the Faroe Islands, I am delighted to see that Poul Michelsen was down last week to sign their deal, which ensures a big slice of trade for them. But these trade deals with the Faroes, Chile and everywhere else are merely standing on the shoulders of what the European Union has already achieved—the European Union that Brexiteers decry so much, but whose trade deals they want to follow.

The Government find themselves in a very funny place indeed. They wanted at one stage to resist having any meaningful votes in Parliament, but they have ended up having so many that they have rendered them all meaningless. A number of people in business have told me that there is a danger in extending article 50 because it extends uncertainty and further postpones investment. It does, however, allow them to move assets more readily to the United Kingdom when nothing seems to be appearing down the line.

The UK is heading for an existential choice: it is either going to revoke article 50 or head for a no-deal catastrophe. We have to get our heads around that fairly quickly, because those will be the choices. The Brexit promises have been reduced by the Prime Minister to jam tomorrow—in fact, it is not even jam tomorrow; it is jam tomorrow if you scrape the mould off the top. It is a shame that that was not on the side of a bus.