I am grateful for that intervention. I will deal with it. I will come to the background and the amendment we have tabled, and I will answer that intervention. If I do not, I will take another intervention to ensure that I do.
There is, it seems, an expectation that between now and
For all the talk of discussion here and in Brussels, the stark truth is that not one word of the withdrawal agreement or political declaration has changed since it was signed off on
The deal today is the same as it was three months ago, and it is that basic deal that will be put before us again on
The deal has not changed because the Government have made three central demands. First, they have asked for a unilateral exit to the backstop. That has been roundly rejected every time it has been asked for, and the deal was signed off 94 days ago. Secondly, they have asked for a time limit to the backstop. That has been roundly rejected every time it has been asked for, and it was on the table 94 days ago. The only other ask is that the backstop be replaced by alternative arrangements. The EU’s response to that to the Government has been, “Well, what are you proposing? What are these alternatives, so that we can discuss them?” Nothing has been forthcoming.
We learned from the Prime Minister’s statement and the Minister for the Cabinet Office that a joint workstream will be considered by the EU and UK, which will be an “important strand”. I do not doubt that a joint workstream on alternative arrangements is a good idea. I do not doubt that any country would seek to streamline any checks at the border whatever the arrangements, irrespective of Brexit. That workstream will apparently work until the end of next year. The announcement that that workstream is in existence is hardly a breakthrough. The idea that the deal that was so roundly rejected is now going to go through because there is a workstream on alternative measures seems to me unlikely, and that is why we have to get real about what is actually going to happen in two weeks’ time, and it is why we predict that we will be left with exactly the same deal.
On the alternative arrangements, the Minister for the Cabinet Office says that those words are used elsewhere in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. That is true, but they are used only in two respects with two different meanings. One is that the alternative arrangements are the future relationship. That is one meaning provided in those documents, but that is not relevant to this discussion because if the future relationship is ready, there is no question of a backstop. We all know that.
The only other way in which alternative arrangements are actually used in the documents is in relation to the technology at the border making all the difference. We have been searching for that for some time. I do not doubt there will be advances in technology, but the reason the backstop was put in is that the assessment back in November was that there was no prospect of that technology being ready by the time the backstop would be needed, and therefore we needed the backstop. That was the conclusion.
Since I have been in this role, I seem to have spent quite a lot of my time standing on borders looking at lorries and people going across borders. I went to the main Sweden-Norway border to see what a border looks like where a country is in the EEA, and therefore has single market alignment and free movement, but is not in a customs union. It is a hard stop—with infrastructure, with security, with paperwork—and when it works well, each stop takes 13 minutes. Those two countries are not operating the least efficient system that they can; they think they are operating the most efficient system that they can. I do not doubt it can be improved on, but I doubt that this workstream in the next few months is going to make the progress that many people in this House think is going to happen.