Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

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

Alert me about debates like this

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

I am going to press on. I will just make some progress. I will give way in just a minute. I do not criticise the Minister for the Cabinet Office, because he quite rightly took interventions from a number of Members who really did want detailed answers, but I am going to try to make some progress. Otherwise, between the two of us, we really are going to get to the wind-ups before we anyone else has got in.

Let me move on to closer alignment with the single market. This part of the Brexit debate is too often ignored. How do we protect our service sector, which is of course 80% of our economy and 80% of our jobs? The second part of this package is also needed, alongside a customs union, to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland. We recognise that if we are going to have closer alignment with the single market we need that to be underpinned by shared institutions and that would require accepting common obligations. What they are would be a matter of negotiation and how we stay aligned would be part of the negotiations. I am not pretending that that would be trouble-free.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office said that that is effectively there in the political declaration, as close as you can get. It is worth going back to the political declaration that the Prime Minister has put before us, because what it actually says is that we should achieve

“a level of liberalisation in trade in services well beyond the Parties’ World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments”.

Well, you cannot aim much lower than that. To quote the former UK permanent representative, that is

“about as unambitious as it can get.”

The third part of the amendment is

“dynamic alignment on rights and protections”.

That means UK standards keeping pace with evolving standards across Europe. Why is that needed? Because we cannot allow UK workers or consumers to see their rights lag behind those in the EU after we leave, or frankly, to allow future Governments to erode those rights. Again, the Minister for the Cabinet Office says, “Well, that is effectively there in the political declaration, or has been promised by the Prime Minister.” There is a world of difference between keeping up with evolving rights and a non-regression clause that simply says they will not drop behind a frozen level, so the answer from the Government simply is not strong enough. They are promising only non-regression—to freeze, not to keep pace. That is a world of difference, and it is no wonder that the trade unions were never going to sign up to that proposal.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said, “Well, don’t worry. What we’ll do is that every time there is an evolution of rights in Europe, we’ll come back here and see whether this House wants to keep up,” but she did not say, “My Government will vote to do so.” That would make a material difference, but she did not, so neither we nor working people are going to fall for that one.

The fourth and fifth elements are clear

“commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes” and an

“unambiguous agreement on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant.”

I do not doubt the Prime Minister’s commitment on this. I worked with her when she was Home Secretary and I know how seriously she takes it, but I also know that the political declaration does not say that there has been any progress towards replica arrangements for the European arrest warrant. With the Prime Minister back in, I think, 2012 or 2013, we looked at what would happen if we fell out of the European arrest warrant arrangements and what the old extradition treaties were, and we were horrified by what we saw. Outside the European arrest warrant, it takes about 10 years to extradite someone from a country such as Italy to this country, and there are real-life examples of that. Using the European arrest warrant, it takes about 40 or 50 days. These are material differences and there is nothing in the political declaration along those lines. I understand the technical problems with Schengen and so on, but one of the barriers has been the determination that the European Court should have no role in anything at all in future, thus blocking progress in this area.

I am not pretending that the plan—the alternative—that we have set out is easy or painless to negotiate. I have never pretended that it will be the easiest negotiation in history, but I know that that kind of deal—delivering a close economic relationship with the EU—would prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland, reduce the pressure on the backstop and could be negotiated. The EU has said as much in recent weeks. We have heard in meetings with EU counterparts and in public that the customs union/single market alignment proposition is credible. The EU has said that it is a promising basis for negotiations, and to quote Michel Barnier:

“If the United Kingdom chooses to let its red lines change…then the European Union would be ready immediately to...respond favourably.”

I think it could be achieved. If the Prime Minister is serious about reaching out to the Opposition, she should engage with that proposal. It is clear from her response to the Leader of the Opposition and her blind insistence on seeking further changes to the backstop that that is not her intention, so today we put that plan to the House and ask for Parliament to help in delivering the basis for a credible Brexit offer.