European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire 5:37 pm, 12th March 2019

I agree 100% with the hon. Lady. The Select Committee took evidence from the PSNI and visited the communities affected. Anyone who tries to belittle or downplay these issues has, I am afraid, a completely wrong reading of the very serious and sensitive issues we are discussing.

The proper way of seeing the backstop is as a concession. The backstop in the withdrawal agreement reflected an ask that we made. It did not reflect the original form of the backstop. We wanted it to be a UK-wide backstop, rather than Northern Ireland-specific. We were granted that, and that is how people view it on the other side of the channel: they see it as a concession that they made to us. In effect, it was an achievement of our diplomacy and our negotiating that the final version of the backstop reflected something that we asked for. Rather than being defended as the fruit of our efforts, however, it has been trashed with the conspiracy theory that it was some kind of entrapment mechanism. There are two golden rules when one is a Minister: do not trash your civil servants, and do not trash your own achievements and homework. It does feel that we have rather done that to the withdrawal agreement we negotiated.

I say to my colleagues who have still not been convinced to support the deal that all of us on the Government Benches shared in the joint responsibility of triggering article 50 to begin to the process that would lead to a negotiated outcome. What did we think was going to emerge from that process? An agreement that looks very much like the one that is in front of us. It would not have mattered who else was in Downing Street. With the greatest respect, whether it was my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson or any Opposition Member, it would not have changed the fundamental shape and form of the withdrawal agreement that emerged at the other end of the article 50 process. It is not the personality in Downing Street—whether they are a true believer or not—that has shaped this withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement has been shaped by our red lines, but also by a number of fixed variables that we cannot escape from when discussing Brexit.

The Northern Irish border is one of those fixed variables. Another is the hard choices and compromises that need to be made on trade: the level of market access and whether we have pure frictionless trade, balanced against the extent of the obligations we are willing to take on. One of the failings on our side, collectively, since the referendum is that we have not properly explained to the British public some of those choices and compromises, so there is still fantasy swirling around that Brexit can deliver all the benefits and none of the obligations. But the fantasy is not on offer. What is on offer is just a set of very difficult and unattractive choices. I genuinely believe that the deal in front of us represents the very best of those choices. There are strengths and merit to the deal in front of us. I encourage and implore my colleagues, on the Government Benches and on the Opposition Benches, who genuinely believe in delivering a responsible Brexit to support the deal.