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Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East 5:15 pm, 27th February 2019

I will not, because others want to speak.

The fact that that is not being done is not because it is in the national interest to keep things vague or to have a blindfold Brexit. It is because facing up to those options would mean exposing the divisions in the Cabinet and the Conservative party on which of them to pursue. It would mean slaying the Brexit unicorns that imply that there are no fundamental choices to be made. We must expose the reality of what the choices really are. Doing that would mean that the Government would have to level with the public before we left—but that is not their plan. Their plan is to get us out before all this becomes clear, on the pretence that if we agree the withdrawal deal, we can somehow move on and talk about other issues. Sometimes we see Brexit portrayed as a project for the people, and criticism of it as a project by the elite, but planning a Brexit where we hide the true reality of what it means until after we have left is the most elitist thing of all, and that is precisely what the Government are planning.

It is an illusion to pretend that vagueness achieves closure. Vagueness does not achieve closure; it just carries on the argument after we have left, and it does so when we have been placed in a much weaker position as a third country. People talk about taking no deal off the table undermining our negotiating position. It does not undermine our negotiating position; it removes a gun held to our own head. What undermines the negotiating position is agreeing to pay a £39 billion divorce settlement without having the foggiest idea of what the future relationship looks like.

If there is to be an extension to the article 50 period, let us use it for a purpose: let us set out properly what leaving means, and let us tell the people clearly once and for all whether we are going for a Canada-type model or a Norway-type model, and let us be candid with the public about the consequences of each option. Clarity would also mean the EU having to be more flexible than it has been until now about the phasing of the discussions; it would have to acknowledge that clarity about the future was in its interests too. This would be a much more honest way of proceeding.

The Prime Minister yesterday, as always, did the absolute minimum to keep the show on the road—to make any extension short and limited so it does not really change anything. But that is not good enough. Having opened the door, there is now an opportunity to do this differently, and we should seize it by making sure that any extension is focused not on a particular timescale but on the key purpose of clarity about the future.