European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 4:48 pm, 12th March 2019

Their views do count. I remember going to an Ulster Farmers Union debate at Balmoral Park during the referendum campaign and leave won that debate. There are varied views in Northern Ireland, as we know from the DUP. The hon. Lady does not have an exclusive right on this. There is a clear role for Members to represent the leave view because this argument will not go away. It would be highly unsatisfactory for this deal to go through. Laws would be imposed on us by 27 nations, and we would not be involved. We would be paying £39 billion for the privilege of having the right to talk about the next phase, which is £64 million per constituency. There is not a single Member listening to this debate who could not spend that money well. It is purely an entry ticket to allow us the right to talk about a trade deal.

The hon. Lady comes from Northern Ireland, and it is extraordinary that we have allowed a section of the UK to be hived off into a new entity called “UK(NI).” The most fundamental principle of the Belfast agreement, as she well knows, is the principle of consent. We have huge admiration for the noble Lord Trimble, one of the co-architects who received the Nobel prize for the extraordinary achievement of getting Unionists to vote for the Belfast agreement, which was very much based on trust that the principle of consent would be respected and that the status of Northern Ireland could never be changed without the consent of the people. At the stroke of a pen, something called “UK(NI)” will be created, which is a clear breach of the Belfast agreement and of the Acts of Union of 1801.

We are promised the right to do trade deals. I was at the Office of the United States Trade Representative in Washington twice in the autumn, and the USTR is clear that we will not be allowed to do trade deals so long as we do not control our tariff regime or our regulatory regime. Under this proposal, we will not have control of either.

There are huge advantages to trading with the outside world. I do not agree with Sir Vince Cable, because the European Union itself says that 90% of world growth will be outside the European Union. We have drawn down from 61% of our trade being with the EU to about 45%, and we are heading to 35%. The future is phenomenal, and it is about trading with the growing economies outside the European Union—we also have the best possible relations with countries inside the European Union—and we can do it by triggering article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade and showing a serious intent to do a free trade deal down the road. If there is a proper exchange of documentation, paragraph 5(c) of article 24 would give us a “reasonable length of time”—that could be up to 10 years—to negotiate.

All the “Project Fear” spookery about tariffs is for the birds. We can go ahead on the basis of article 24. Outside this place, people come up to me time and again to say, “We want to see the vote delivered. Why don’t you just get on with it?” It is now for the Government to deliver rapidly and make sure that we leave on 29 March by using article 24.