Uk’S Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 13th March 2019.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons 4:26 pm, 13th March 2019

I am being drawn outside this debate. The best deals with other countries are achieved through the EU—that is the basis on which British Government have proceeded for years—and it is a disaster that we are in danger in 16 days of falling out of some of the most favourable trade deals, which the British Government have played a part in negotiating. I think that if we insist on that proviso, and if we insist on tackling the problem of our no longer being directly part of a regulation-making power, we are powerful enough to be allowed more consultation than countries that are outside the EU and are part of, say, the European Free Trade Association or European economic area arrangements. We have to tackle the problems that arise from the fact that we are giving in to the idea of leaving the European Union politically, and leaving its institutions.

I think that these problems are grossly exaggerated. I have never heard anyone argue against the EU trade deals that we have with other countries. The Japanese deal was a tremendous stride forward. It is the biggest free trade agreement in the world, and we are about to fall out of it after only a month or so. We talk about losing our powers, and about the threat posed to our sovereignty by the fact that we are not allowed to pass our own different laws on product quality, consumer protection, health and safety, animal welfare and the licensing of products, but I have yet to hear a Brexiteer advocate the reversal of any European regulation that we have passed so far. Members of the public tend to demand higher regulatory standards, and I am lobbied for new regulation more than I ever am for sweeping away what we have.

If the virtue of no deal is meant to be leaving to have a trade agreement with, say, the United States, I can tell the House that I have been involved in trade negotiations with the United States under President Obama, and it is protectionist. The Americans are not dying to open up any of their market to us; they will want us to open up our food market to them. We will not be making regulations here. The Americans will not let the House of Commons decide on animal welfare or food standards. Those are nothing to do with us. We made an agreement. The House of Representatives and the Senate, along with the powerful American food lobby, will decide what the welfare standards for animals and the standards for food should be. We will not get a trade deal with the United States unless we agree to that.

I am being drawn into the merits of the basic argument, but I think it should be underlined that we must look at realistic alternatives to no deal. No deal was not being advocated by anyone at the time of the referendum. I do not think that it was being advocated by more than a handful of people until a month or two ago. Most Brexiteers were not in favour of it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is nodding. Even those who campaigned for us to leave were not campaigning for us to leave with no trade arrangement with our greatest partner. This is just an accident that has loomed because the House of Commons is not able, and the Government are not able, to solve problems in a way that we can agree with the other 27. We are drifting into it, which will be a catastrophe.