European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Leader of the Liberal Democrats 4:30 pm, 12th March 2019

I do not think that Switzerland is a very encouraging example when it comes to external trade deals. Its trade deal with China consisted of opening up the Swiss market to everything and getting virtually nothing in return. Actually, that illustrates a much wider point: one of the things that we sacrifice with Brexit is bargaining. George Eustice has now disappeared from the Chamber, but he pointed out a week or so ago—and he is a hardline Brexiteer—that our bargaining power with the United States over food standards is massively weaker than it would be if we continued to be a member of the European Union, and very poor standards will be inflicted on us. That is the kind of debate that we ought to be having, but we are not.

All the costs associated with the unravelling of the single market will be compounded by the loss of the customs union—I know that the Labour party has given that priority, and it is important, but it is not as important as the single market—and also by uncertainty. Had the Government done what they promised to do, which was to have a clear picture of the endgame before they completed Brexit, all that uncertainty would have gone. British firms with a time horizon of more than two years will now be afflicted by massive uncertainty about whether to invest in this country, and many of them will not do so. The future is wholly uncertain.

The combination of those factors has major economic consequences. I have taught economics for many years and worked in it for many years, and I know that it is not a precise science. However, one of the most fundamental principles of economics, going back to Adam Smith—and, indeed, before—is that if you put up barriers to trade, you make yourself poorer. That will now be compounded many times over.

In addition to all the economic costs, there is the unravelling of the collaborative arrangements. One of the best institutions in my constituency is an organisation called the National Physical Laboratory, which is a centre for key metrology standards. Alan Turing did much of his professional work for it, and I attended and spoke at its annual dinner a few days ago. The people who work there are absolutely horrified at the breaking up of their scientific network, and their inability now to attract European staff. That is being replicated in campuses, universities and scientific institutes across the country.

The European Investment Bank has hardly been discussed here. Crossrail, which has been one of the big innovations in London in recent years, was substantially financed by it, but it is now being dismantled. Those are some examples of the damage that has been done, and that is why the Government must go back to the public and put the deal to them. If they cannot get their deal through Parliament, they must give the people the final say.