Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 3:21 pm, 27th February 2019

I am grateful for that intervention and I agree with it.

This is really the heart of it: we know what the problem is, we know what the House thinks about the backstop and we know that there is an unlikelihood that those problems are going to be addressed in the next 14 days. When the Prime Minister lost the first meaningful vote, she had a clear choice. Choice 1 was to plough on with the failed deal in the usual blinkered way, and eventually put the same deal back to us. That was option 1. Option 2 was to drop her red lines, and negotiate changes that were credible with the EU and could command a majority in this House. The Government have chosen the first course—blindly ploughing on, rather than really engaging—and, as we have seen from the last few weeks, that path leads nowhere.

That is regrettable, because there is an alternative, and I want to address amendment (a). We have set out this alternative repeatedly over recent months. It was set out in full in the letter from the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister on 6 February, and it is spelled out in today’s amendment (a). I remind the House that the focus of the changes we are calling for are to the political declaration, not the backstop.

The changes are to negotiate a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union. That is the first part. Why is that important? Because it is essential for protecting manufacturing, particularly the complex supply chains, and to avoid the hard border in Northern Ireland. I know that those on the Government Front Bench have, like me, gone to many of the big manufacturing companies to discuss with them their complex supply chains and how anxious they are about protecting the customs union arrangements that allow them to do that. As I said, it is also essential to avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.