European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 6:14 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk 6:14 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a great privilege to be called to speak in this debate. If I had my speech written on a piece of paper, I would now metaphorically tear it up.

I will simply respond to the quite extraordinary comment of my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson, of whom I am a great admirer. He was a very good Mayor of London. However, we have to appreciate that he is the primary spokesman and advocate for the idea that basically we should now leave on WTO terms, and many thousands of people in my party look to him and admire him for that and think he is right, yet I asked him the most basic question about the WTO today and he got it wrong. In my view, he did not understand it.

My point is that when it comes to WTO tariffs, if we go to a WTO no deal, which many Conservative Members who vote against this deal tonight will want, we have to understand there are only two choices. We are not taking back control of other countries, only this one, so we cannot affect the tariffs levied on our exports; we can only control the tariffs on our imports. It is the devil and the deep blue sea. We can either have a policy of WTO most favoured nation tariffs on imports, which could mean inflation of up to 20% on many foodstuffs and other consumer goods, or we can take the approach I understand we will be announcing tomorrow if this deal is defeated, which is to have nil tariffs on most imports. That is described as unilateral free trade but, in my view, it is not unilateral free trade but the unconditional surrender of British industry and British farming.

I want to talk about British farming, because I understand that, within the schedule we are poised to announce tomorrow if we lose this vote, arable farming—wheat—will be set with a nil import tariff. That is not a minor detail in South Suffolk, because there are currently no shipments of wheat booked out of the port of Ipswich after 29 March. That is not “Project Fear” but absolute reality, because the WTO tariff on wheat is €95, or £80, a tonne. The max to be had for milling wheat is £180 a tonne. Nobody is going to buy that. Even if we get quota, it is €12 a tonne, but we will not get it because under the WTO—guess what?—although we may come to deal with the EU on quota, New Zealand, our other friends in the Commonwealth, Australia and the United States are protesting against it in the WTO. People have to understand that the WTO ain’t no panacea.

But there is a way we can influence the tariffs on our exports, which will otherwise be very high, and it is old-fashioned: we make a deal with other countries, because we cannot directly control them. We do not have sovereignty over their tariffs, so we make a deal. Under the deal before the House, the good news is that we will continue tariff-free and quota-free trade with our largest market. Let us be honest, some of my colleagues will vote against the deal because they are getting the same emails I do, which say, “Go for WTO. Go for no deal.” They have to understand that that means that we, as Conservatives, would be saying that within a matter days the desirable outcome is the return of tariffs—and all the red tape that comes with tariffs—and non-tariff barriers across the whole of British industry. Do we think that is a good idea, as the party of enterprise? It is madness, and it will be damaging and destructive.

Here is the good news. People talk about why we voted for Brexit and all the issues around sovereignty, and I profoundly believe, because I am by nature an optimist, that if we get a sensible deal—if this vote passes —we will be successful, and I will briefly explain why. We may be the fifth largest economy, but we are 22nd or 24th in GDP per head according to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We are low ranking because we do not have the sort of sustainable growth in exports that gives the higher GDP per head that our competitors enjoy.

If we take a sensible deal that secures our industrial base so that we have some industry to make those trade deals, then and only then, once we have sorted out the border, can we start making those trade deals. We will become more export-oriented and, if we control immigration sensibly, including from outside the EU, we will eventually see higher GDP per head. To really get that, we need the investment to come with it. That needs certainty, which means voting for this deal, being confident and being optimistic about the negotiations that follow on the FTA. It means backing Britain and saying, “Do you know what? We can do this. We are confident. We don’t fear the backstop. It is a risk, but we don’t fear it. We are confident.”

I believe that if we pass the vote tonight, we will be a very successful country.