We now come to the motions relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from and future relationship with the European Union. I inform the House that I have selected the following motions for decision by recorded vote: motion (B), in the name of Mr John Baron; motion (D), in the name of Mr Nicholas Boles; motion (H), in the name of Mr George Eustice; motion (J), in the name of Mr Kenneth Clarke; motion (K), in the name of the Leader of the Opposition; motion (L), in the name of Joanna Cherry; motion (M), in the name of Dame Margaret Beckett; and motion (O), in the name of Mr Marcus Fysh.
I shall, ere long, call John Baron to open the debate—[Interruption] No, he does not need to be unduly concerned. He will do so by moving his motion (B), with which it will be convenient to debate all other selected motions on the Order Paper. Debate may continue until 7 pm.
The first signatory of each of these motions has until 4 pm to inform me that they do not wish a recorded vote to take place on their motion. Shortly after 4 pm, I will confirm, on the strength of the intelligence I have received, my selection of motions. At that point, colleagues, voting forms will be printed. They will be available from the Vote Office and in the Division Lobbies from approximately 6.30 pm. An announcement will be made on the Annunciator when they are available. The forms will look very similar to deferred Division forms except that they will be green, and they will list the title and letter of the selected motions. The text of the motions is in the Order Paper. Moreover, I hope it will be judged to be for the convenience of the House, and it has been requested of me, that large numbers of copies of the Order Paper will be available in the Division Lobbies.
The voting period is expected to start shortly after 7 pm and will last for half an hour. During that time, I will suspend the House. The Annunciator will display the end time of the voting period. Members with surnames from A to K should hand in their forms in the Aye Lobby, at the relevant desk for their surname, and Members with surnames from L to Z should hand in their forms in the No Lobby, at the relevant desk. As with deferred Divisions, Members may not vote Aye and No to the same motion.
I shall not respond to that disorderly heckle.
However, if that were to happen—what I have just counselled should not—the vote would not be counted. As with deferred Divisions, Members may not hand in forms on behalf of other Members. Each Member must hand in his or her own form. Members with proxy votes in operation will need to get their nominated proxy to hand in their form. A short note is being made available in the Vote Office confirming these arrangements.
I will announce the results in the Chamber as soon as they are ready, which will certainly not be before the conclusion of proceedings on the statutory instrument relating to exit day. The results of the votes will be published in the same way as deferred Divisions: on the CommonsVotes website and app, and in Hansard, showing how each hon. Member voted on each motion.
Colleagues, last Monday—
“I am very clear about the strictures that Mr Speaker gave when he made his statement last week, and were we to bring forward a further motion to this House, we would of course ensure that it met the requirements he made.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 657, c. 32.]
I understand that the Government may be thinking of bringing meaningful vote 3 before the House either tomorrow, or even on Friday, if the House opts to sit that day. Therefore, in order that there should be no misunderstanding, I wish to make it clear that I do expect the Government to meet the test of change. They should not seek to circumvent my ruling by means of tabling either a “notwithstanding” motion or a paving motion. The Table Office has been instructed that no such motions will be accepted.
I very much look forward, colleagues, to today’s debate and votes, which give the House the chance to start the process of positively indicating what it wants. To move the first motion, I call Mr Baron.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following motions:
Motion (D)—Common market 2.0—
That this House—
(1) directs Her Majesty’s Government to— renegotiate the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday
(a) accede to the European Free Trade Association (Efta) having negotiated a derogation from Article 56(3) of the Efta Agreement to allow UK participation in a comprehensive customs arrangement with the European Union,
(b) enter the Efta Pillar of the European Economic Area and thereby render operational the United Kingdom’s continuing status as a party to the European Economic Area Agreement and continuing participation in the Single Market,
(c) enter a comprehensive customs arrangement including a common external tariff at least until alternative arrangements that maintain frictionless trade with the European Union and no hard border on the island of Ireland have been agreed with the European Union,
(d) conclude an agreement with the European Union, which in accordance with Article 2 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland of the Withdrawal Agreement supersedes the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in full;
(e) develop and bring to this House proposals for full and fair enforcement of the rule that EEA migrants must be “genuinely seeking work” and have “sufficient resources not to become a burden on the UK’s social assistance system”, in accordance with the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006;
(2) resolves to make support for the forthcoming European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill conditional upon the inclusion of provisions for a Political Declaration revised in accordance with the provisions of this motion to be the legally binding negotiating mandate for Her Majesty’s Government in the forthcoming negotiation of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Motion (H)—EFTA and EEA—
That this House
recognises the democratic duty of Parliament to respect the result of the 2016 referendum whilst securing an orderly departure from the EU that preserves the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;
notes that the UK is a signatory to the treaty establishing the European Economic Area and has not given notice to leave the EEA as is required under Article 127 of that agreement;
further notes that the UK was a founding member of the European Free Trade Association in 1960 and therefore call on the Government to (a) assert its existing rights as a signatory to the EEA, (b) take necessary steps to make our rights and obligations as an EEA member operable on an emergency basis through the domestic courts, (c) apply to re-join EFTA at the earliest opportunity to make the EEA agreement operable on a sustainable basis and (d) decline to enter a customs union with the EU but seek agreement on new protocols relating to the Northern Ireland border and agri-food trade.
Motion (J)—Customs union—
That this House
instructs the Government to:
(1) ensure that any Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration negotiated with the EU must include, as a minimum, a commitment to negotiate a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU;
(2) enshrine this objective in primary legislation.
Motion (K)—Labour’s alternative plan—
That this House
requires Ministers to:
(a) negotiate changes to the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration so as to secure:
(i) a permanent customs union with the EU;
(ii) close alignment with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations;
(iii) dynamic alignment on rights and protections;
(iv) commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in areas such as the environment, education, and industrial regulation;
(v) agreement on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and vital shared databases; and
(b) introduce primary legislation to give statutory status to the objectives set out in paragraph (a).
Motion (L)—Revocation to avoid no deal—
If, on the day before the end of the penultimate House of Commons sitting day before exit day, no Act of Parliament has been passed for the purposes of section 13(1)(d) of the Withdrawal Act, Her Majesty’s Government must immediately put a motion to the House asking it to approve ‘No Deal’ and, if the House does not give its approval, Her Majesty’s Government must ensure that the notice given to the European Council under Article 50, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union, is revoked in accordance with United Kingdom and European Union law.
Motion (M)—Confirmatory public vote—
That this House
will not allow in this Parliament the implementation and ratification of any withdrawal agreement and any framework for the future relationship unless and until they have been approved by the people of the United Kingdom in a confirmatory public vote.
Motion (O)—Contingent preferential arrangements—
That this House
directs that in case the UK is unable to implement a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, Her Majesty’s Government shall seek to agree immediately and preferentially with the EU:
(a) a trade agreement and/or joint notification of trade preference covering 100 per cent of goods traded between the UK and EU under which no tariffs or quantitative restrictions will be applied between the parties and full cumulation of rules of origin which shall apply for a period of up to two years after the UK leaves the EU notwithstanding that these arrangements may be superseded or extended by further mutual agreement;
(b) a standstill period of mutual recognition of standards and conformity assessment for up to two years in which the UK will ensure compliance in the UK with the EU legislative acquis as adopted in Retained EU law under the EU Withdrawal Act on the day the UK leaves the EU notwithstanding that these arrangements may be superseded or extended by further mutual agreement;
(c) a customs arrangement consisting of advanced trade facilitation measures that enables and makes full and widespread use of simplified and subsidised procedures to perform customs and regulatory declarations and associated control processes away from UK/EU borders; and
(d) make provision for the payment of sums to the European Union in amounts equivalent to the UK’s current net annual financial contribution to the EU for up to two years in respect of the above agreements and arrangements.
No, no—I have already called the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay and he has started to speak. In any case, I am on my feet, so the hon. Gentleman should not rise to his feet while I am on mine. Somebody as concerned with procedure as the hon. Gentleman might usefully become acquainted with that important procedural fact.
I was just going to appeal to colleagues—and I think the intervention has helped me to do so—to leave the Chamber quickly and quietly so that we can proceed with the debate and each contributor enjoys the respectful attention of the House which he or she deserves.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Just so that the House is absolutely clear, my motion (B) reads:
That this House
agrees that the UK shall leave the EU on
May I suggest to the House that, as we stand at this point in time, this is, in law, the default position of triggering article 50? We all knew, those of us who were here and voted for it in February 2017, what we were voting for: the motion simply said that we would leave the EU on
I will in a second—I am going to make some progress first.
Although article 50 can be extended—I voted against that—we should still, as a House, reflect on that vote and recognise that, while most of us in this place want a good deal, many of us have taken the view that the deal on offer from the Prime Minister is not a good deal, and therefore the legal default position is that we leave on no deal/World Trade Organisation terms.
May I ask a clarifying question about the meaning of motion (B)? Does my hon. Friend mean to say that, even if a deal is agreed before
My hon. Friend is right to seek clarification. The answer is no—my preference, as I have stated, is that we leave with a deal, with the backstop duly amended, so that we could not as a country be caught in it indefinitely. That would be my preference, and then this motion would no longer apply. The date is set in the motion because, as he will know, that is the date given by the EU if there is no agreement.
I remind Members that, while most of us in this place prefer a good deal to no deal, no deal is still preferable to a bad deal. We are left in a position where it looks as though the Prime Minister’s deal, unless there is a major shift in this place, is not going to pass—I do not think it will come back, but even if it does, I do not think it will pass. The default position is that we are leaving on WTO terms and I remind the House that, despite all the predictions of doom and gloom, we trade profitably on WTO terms, with the majority of the world’s GDP outside the EU. We have been assured on several occasions by Ministers and, indeed, by the Prime Minister that we are prepared for a no-deal exit.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. Let me take a moment to remind the House and in particular the hon. Gentleman that Northern Ireland has not had a Government since January 2017. We have no Ministers in Northern Ireland. The head of the Northern Ireland civil service has warned as recently as the beginning of this month of the “grave” consequences for Northern Ireland if we were to leave without a deal. Does the hon. Gentleman have any respect at all for the head of the civil service in Northern Ireland or indeed for the people of Northern Ireland?
Before the hon. Gentleman responds, it might be helpful to the House if I explain that no fewer than 47 Members are seeking to contribute to the debate from the Back Benches, plus three Front Benchers, with a very constrained timetable. Speeches of more than about five minutes will render it impossible for everybody else. The hon. Gentleman did not know that when I called him, although he could have reckoned with the likelihood of substantial demand. Economy is of the essence.
I will respond to the intervention by Lady Hermon, if I may, and then move on. I have great respect for the people of Northern Ireland. Having served there in the 1980s and got the medals to prove it, I take into account what the people of Northern Ireland, as part of our Union, have to say. At the same time, we are part of a United Kingdom, and there are predictions on both sides of this discussion as to possible outcomes. The Taoiseach has just suggested that we do not need a hard border to solve what has become known as the Northern Ireland backstop problem. There are differences of opinion and we need to recognise that in this debate. I will take note of your stricture, Mr Speaker, and make haste in my remaining comments.
We have been assured by Ministers time and again, in Committees and on the Floor of the House, that we are prepared for no deal. We have spent billions on no deal; £4.2 billion seems to be the current figure. When I posed the Prime Minister a very simple question in the Chamber on
I will not.
I have to take at face value those reassurances by Ministers that we are indeed prepared for no deal. There is a prevalent argument that no deal would lead to disaster not only in this place but outside it. I respectfully point out that the people making that argument are often the very same ones who predicted doom and gloom in 2016; they said that would be the result if we voted to leave. Some of the predictions were so dire that they were beyond credibility. We had predictions that 500,000 extra people would be unemployed by December 2016 if we voted to leave; some estimates put it up to 700,000. We had predictions of self-made recessions. We even had predictions of conflict on the continent of Europe. They were all proved wrong. The Bank of England—for the first time in its history, to my knowledge—had to publicly apologise for getting it so badly wrong.
What has happened since then? We have had record low unemployment, record high manufacturing output and record investment, and those decisions in the last two or three years have been made in the full knowledge that we could be leaving the EU with no deal and on WTO terms. I gently remind Members that investment is about comparative advantage. It is about such factors as, what is our corporation tax rate compared with other countries? How flexible is our labour market? What about our top universities? What about our financial expertise? In total, those are of greater influence when it comes to investment than 3% to 7% WTO tariffs. I ask the House to reflect on that, because there are too many wild predictions flying around this place, when the discussion should be based on economic reality.
I would go one stage further. If we introduce a fair and controlled immigration policy, wages will rise faster in this country than if that immigration policy were not in place. That is what Lord Rose, who was leader of the remain campaign leading up to the referendum, said in front of the Treasury Committee. Scare stories that we are all heading for doom and gloom and that goods will no longer traverse customs unions and trading blocs around the world, which they already do, are very wide of the mark. Let us base this discussion and the votes tonight on economic reality. Much as a few Opposition Members—particularly the SNP—do not like to admit it, we are doing rather well economically, and as I said, those decisions have been based on the possibility of us leaving on no-deal terms.
Given your guidance on timings, Mr Speaker, I will bring my comments to a close. I appeal to the House for rational consideration with regard to no deal. There are a lot of scare stories out there, but this is a repeat of 2016. Those scare stories were wrong then and they are wrong now. Let us have a note of optimism about the future of this country and the capability of this country, and let us back this country. If we cannot get a good deal, let us get back to economic reality and realise that we already trade profitably with the majority of the world’s GDP outside the EU on WTO terms, and there is no reason why we cannot trade with the EU on such terms. I recommend that the House support motion (B).
As the hon. Gentleman has completed his oration in a timely way, we now proceed to the next contributor to the debate, and I am proposing what might be called an indicative time limit of five minutes.
This really is five minutes to midnight—for this Parliament, for this Government and for our country—and we desperately need to find a way out of this mess. Our country has spent two years tied up in knots by the Prime Minister’s incompatible red lines, which offered such a narrow interpretation of the referendum result. A 52% to 48% vote was certainly not an instruction for a disastrous no deal or for a hard, Canada-style, job-destroying Brexit. It was an instruction to move house, but to stay in the same neighbourhood.
The European Free Trade Association/European economic area model offers just such a possibility. It respects the referendum result without wrecking the British economy. Not convinced? Well, it is worth remembering what Nigel Farage told a “Question Time” audience in 2016:
“I hear people say ‘Wouldn’t it be terrible if we were like Norway and Switzerland?’ Really? They are rich, they’re happy and they’re self-governing countries.”
Mr Paterson, a passionate Brexiteer, told us in 2015 that
“only a madman would leave the market”, and Boris Johnson has also been supportive of the single market in the past. The point I am making is that, in 2016, Euroscepticism meant something that it apparently no longer means today.
I am sorry, but Mr Speaker has said we have very little time, so I am afraid I will not be able to take any interventions.
Today, Euroscepticism seems to mean setting off into the Brexit fantasy forest of unicorns and rainbows, yet in 2016 Euroscepticism meant simply being opposed to political integration, while cheerleading for the single market. That, in a nutshell, is what common market 2.0 is all about.
What does common market 2.0 require? First, it requires only a renegotiation of the short political declaration on the future relationship, which the EU has consistently told us it is open to amending. The reason why Labour politicians such as me have rejected the Prime Minister’s deal is the political declaration, not the withdrawal agreement. That is because the political declaration offers no long-term guarantee on workers’ rights and does nothing for the services sector, which is 80% of our economy. It is membership of the single market that delivers for workers’ rights and for the services sector. That point was made explicitly by Frances O’Grady of the Trades Union Congress just this morning, and also this morning by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which was absolutely clear—it did not mince its words—that a customs union alone will not deliver on workers’ rights or on frictionless trade at our borders. Trade unions and business voices came together to make it abundantly clear that we need single market membership.
Under common market 2.0, we would maintain full participation in the single market through our membership of the European economic area by joining the EEA’s only non-EU pillar, the European Free Trade Association. We would add to this a comprehensive customs arrangement with the EU, at least until alternative arrangements to secure frictionless trade on the Irish border can be agreed via other means—for instance, new technology. The EU has indicated that this bespoke combination is available for the UK, given the need to preserve the Good Friday agreement.
A major strength of common market 2.0 is that it is by far the fastest viable route to Brexit. We could be in the EFTA pillar by the summer, and in a customs arrangement well before December 2020, removing almost all the risks of the unpopular backstop ever coming into play—unpopular particularly with some Members across on the Conservative side of the House.
There are very clear benefits to common market 2.0, not least that it delivers on what the majority of the British public actually want from Brexit. On the doorsteps in my Aberavon constituency and in those of my colleagues, we hear the same message time and again from our voters, particularly older voters: “We voted for a Common Market; we did not vote for all the political stuff”. Common market 2.0 continues our close economic relationship, but we would leave the EU’s political institutions, leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, leave the common agricultural and fisheries policies, and leave the EU’s drive towards ever closer political union.
We would see a marked improvement in our position on freedom of movement through the safeguard measures written into article 112 of the EEA agreement. These safeguards would give the UK a qualified but unilateral treaty-based right to suspend—
Order. I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot make his point via a point of order. What he describes is customary, but not obligatory. It is not for me to say that people can or cannot intervene and I am not seeking to do so. I am just reminding the House of the time constraints under which we operate.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The safeguards give countries a qualified but unilateral treaty-based right to suspend freedom of movement if a country believes that it is suffering
“serious societal or economic difficulties.”
The measures in essence reflect what David Cameron tried but failed miserably to negotiate with the EU before the 2016 referendum. They would end the seemingly limitless nature of EU migration that concerns many voters.
It is often said that the UK would become a rule taker, but that is a ludicrously simplistic view. Under the terms of common market 2.0, the UK would leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and therefore end the principle of direct effect. That is because the EFTA Court that the UK would join respects national sovereignty in a way that the ECJ does not. New laws have to be approved by each nation and their national Parliament. It is also worth noting that we would have one in four EFTA Court judges rather than one in 28 EU judges, and that only one third of EU law applies to the EEA anyway.
We would restore policy-making powers in vast areas, including agriculture, fisheries, foreign affairs, security, justice and home affairs, and taxation. Although the EFTA states take on most single market rules, it is worth remembering that they enjoy the option to delay, adapt or derogate from any single market law or directive. Any decision to incorporate law must be unanimous, so that would give us not a vote in the EU process—because of course we are leaving the institutions—but a veto at national level. Norway and Iceland have derogated from EU law on more than 400 occasions.
The Norwegian Prime Minister has made it clear that her country is ready to facilitate our joining the EEA via the EFTA pillar. Michel Barnier has always said that a so-called Norway plus deal would work and that it had not been considered only because of the Prime Minister’s red lines.
Our common market 2.0 motion brings together leavers and remainers and three different parties. That breadth of support is extraordinary and unique. I am not sure that any other option has that spread of remain and leave opinion—certainly not revocation, a no-deal Brexit or a confirmatory vote. We need to find a way that not just unites the House on a solution that will get us out of the constitutional and political crisis, but begins to reunite our deeply divided country. It is time for British politics to rediscover the lost art of compromise. It is time for the House to support motion (D), and I genuinely hope that Members of all parties will join me in the Lobby to do so.
I join my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock in proposing motion (D). I, too, want to make the case for compromise, not as something cowardly but as something courageous. In a divided country and a divided Parliament, finding and sustaining a compromise that most people can support is a noble endeavour. After years of paralysing conflict, we have a moral duty to open our minds this afternoon and reach for a compromise that will allow us to put the interminable Brexit row behind us.
The great strength of the common market 2.0 proposal, relative to all other Brexit compromises, is that it offers something important and valuable to everyone and every party in this House. For Labour Members, it offers the strong position in the single market that, as Frances O’Grady has affirmed, is vital for workers’ rights. For SNP Members, common market 2.0 preserves the principle of free movement of labour, which they tell me is essential to Scotland’s future economic prosperity and social cohesion. For those in other parts of the UK, worried about the possibility of another massive influx of European migrants such as the one we experienced after Poland and Hungary joined the EU in 2004, it offers an emergency brake, which could be deployed as a temporary safeguard in the regions affected.
For my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches, common market 2.0 offers the prospect of being able to benefit from the free trade agreements struck by the European Free Trade Association, or to do our own trade deals once alternative arrangements to maintain no hard border on the island of Ireland have been agreed with the EU.
My rule today is to support only suggestions that are realistic and deliverable, and I think that what my hon. Friend is presenting, and what I have read about it, ticks both boxes. Will he confirm that common market 2.0 would not require Northern Ireland to accept different rules from the rest of the UK? That is the stumbling block that has held us in this purgatory for so long.
My hon. Friend did a heroic thing earlier this week, for which I salute him, and I am grateful to him for literally leading me to my next point. For our allies in the DUP, common market 2.0 removes any threat to the Union, because it keeps every part of the United Kingdom inside the single market and a comprehensive customs arrangement that delivers frictionless trade.
For right hon. and hon. Friends representing Scottish constituencies and coastal communities around the UK, common market 2.0 guarantees our exit from the EU’s common fisheries policy and our rebirth as an independent coastal state.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that common market 2.0 would entail continuing to follow single market rules with no say—the Bank of England has advised against that—and that unlimited free movement would continue, with only a limited and temporary possibility of restricting it, and that according to the House of Commons Library, financial contributions would continue at about half their current rate?
I am happy to confirm some of what my hon. Friend says but not the first point about not having a say over the rules. Members of the European economic area follow an absolutely crucial process under the EEA Joint Committee, to which all new rules passed under single market legislation are referred, and they have a right of reservation, which means that the postal directive, for instance, has never been implemented by Norway, because it does not like it and just says no. That right would extend to us if we were to join.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that, even under World Trade Organisation rules, every single UK exporter to the EU will still have to comply with all EU rules and regulations? Once a country leaves the EU, there is no way it can somehow remain a rule maker within it.
Of course that is right; my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is also the case that almost every single producer in this country is hardly going to have to follow one set of rules just for their UK sales and another set of rules for their European sales. They will have one standard set of rules and they will probably follow the European ones.
My hon. Friend is making a very good case in addition to that made by Stephen Kinnock, who first spoke to the motion. Will my hon. Friend emphasise that more than two thirds of the entirety of directives that currently apply to us as EU members will cease to apply because we will only be in the single market and not the rest of the institutions?
That is exactly right. Under common market 2.0, the EEA and EFTA, only single market legislation would be relevant to us; we would be free of all of the rest. It is very important to understand that, even by 2011, Norway and Iceland between them had not implemented 300 legislative acts under single market legislation. They simply said no to those acts of legislation.
That gives me more pleasure than you could believe possible.
For all of us in this House who care deeply about the security of our fellow citizens, but perhaps in particular for my good friend Yvette Cooper, common market 2.0 would offer unfettered access to the databases and information-sharing programmes of the EU. That is only available to countries that are members of the EU or of EFTA.
My hon. Friend, as ever, puts her finger on the nerve, shall we say. There are different views in the House about our commitment to a future customs arrangement. On the Conservative side, we would like to have a customs arrangement that guarantees frictionless trade until there are alternative arrangements, which the EU has approved, that might set us free to be able to strike our own trade deals. [Interruption.] Anna Soubry shouts “Unicorn” from her seat. Well, that is not exactly what the EU has said. It has just said that it is not ready yet and that it does not know when it will be ready. On the Opposition Benches, hon. Members want to have a permanent customs union. The beauty of our motion today is that it allows us all to vote for it, because the truth is that we do not need to make that choice now. Those alternative arrangements will not be ready for several years and at the next election the Opposition parties can argue for a permanent customs union and we can argue for free trade or the EFTA free trade agreement, and we can agree to pursue our different visions of the future.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case for this being the least damaging form of Brexit. The trouble is that it will end up pleasing no one: neither the remainers who voted to remain, nor a very significant number of his colleagues who voted to leave. Would it not be best, if it does not have the consent of this House, at least to check that it has the consent of the people? Would he agree to link it to a public vote, so that we can check that it really is the will of the people?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful argument, as she has done consistently. The funny thing about this position is what happened in Norway. It was meant to be temporary for Norway. It went into this thing on its way into the EU. All the Norwegian elite—both sides of Parliament, all the business elite and everybody else—want to get into the EU, but the Norwegian people consistently say, “No, thank you very much, we are quite happy where we are.” Some 65% to 70% of the Norwegian people say, “Do you know what? This halfway house is absolutely perfect for us.” My prediction is that that is what the British people would conclude, too.
Each of us today is a leader. The Prime Minister has one vote, the Leader of the Opposition has one vote, and so does every other right hon. and hon. Member. In years to come, the question that our children and grandchildren will ask us is this: in that historic week when Parliament took charge of the nation’s destiny, what did you do? Did you stand up and lead? Did you step forward to help reunite our country, or did you hang back in your party trench waiting to be told what to do and where to go? I have already made my choice at the cost of my future career in this House. It is now time for others to choose. To all right hon. and hon. Members I say this: if you choose common market 2.0 this evening, the history books will record it as the moment that our country turned a corner and the part you played will be something of which you will be forever proud.
I welcome this debate. It is a historic day for this Parliament and for the power of MPs. In that spirit, I will keep my remarks very short, because this is a day for Back Benchers and for those putting forward their case for particular propositions. I believe there are some 47 Members who want to speak.
Labour’s approach today is that we will support amendments that are consistent with the two credible options we have set out on a number of occasions: a close economic partnership based on a customs union and close single market alignment; and a public vote to prevent no deal or a damaging Brexit. We will oppose those amendments that either offer no route forward or set out an approach that is inconsistent with our policy. In that spirit, I can confirm that we will be whipping tonight to support: amendment (K), in my name and in the name of the Leader of the Opposition; amendment (J), the customs union amendment tabled by the Father of the House, Mr Clarke; and amendment (M), in the name of my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett, which was tabled, of course, after much consultation and support from my hon. Friends the Members for Hove (Peter Kyle) and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson). I will come on to amendment (D) in just one moment.
Let me start with motion (K), which mirrors the five pillars of the plan that we have set out on many occasions, both in this House and in the letter from the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister in February.
I will make some progress, because I have spent a lot of time at this Dispatch Box and I have been able to make my case. Others want to make their case today and I want to give them the opportunity to do so.
Motion (K) mirrors the plan that we have set out. It was in the letter from the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister in February. I remind the House that the pillars are a comprehensive and permanent customs union with the EU, close alignment with the single market, dynamic alignment on rights and protections, accompanied by much stronger commitments on agencies and security. We have never pretended that this will be easy or painless to negotiate. It involves compromise and negotiation, but we believe that it could be negotiated, and it would form the basis of a deal that protects jobs, rights and the economy.
Turning to motion (J) on the customs union, Labour’s support for a customs union is well known. I want to be clear that a customs union on its own is not enough. A customs union protects manufacturing supply chains and is relevant to the protection of the border in Northern Ireland, but it has to be part of a wider package, hence our motion (K), which sets out the package that we believe is needed. However, motion (J) is worded to specify that a customs union is a minimum part of any deal and we will support it on that basis.
I will just make some progress and then I will. Turning to motion (M), we will support this motion tonight, because at this stage it is now clear that any Brexit deal agreed in this Parliament needs further democratic approval. That is what this motion would do. It would put a lock around any deal that the Prime Minister forces through at the 11th hour or any revised deal that comes about at this very late stage. It would ensure that any Tory Brexit deal is subject to a referendum lock and it is consistent with commitments that the Leader of the Opposition and I have made from this Dispatch Box in recent weeks.
In relation to motion (D)—the common market and the Norway motion—I want to be clear that we have concerns about this proposal, and it has not been our preferred option. We have concerns about the lack of a commitment to a permanent and comprehensive customs union, although I listened carefully to the words that were just exchanged in the House. However, we recognise that this motion would deliver a close economic relationship with the EU and would help to protect jobs, rights and the economy. It is credible and it is deliverable, so we believe that this motion should remain an option and continue in the process. We will therefore be recommending that Labour Members vote for it tonight.
This is an extremely important and welcome debate. It is frankly two years overdue. This is the debate that the Prime Minister should have started two years ago at the beginning of the process, but we are where we are, and Parliament finally has the chance to shape the way out of the Prime Minister’s mess.
I join those who have congratulated my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin on giving us this opportunity. At last we are seeing, as we go along, that the House is moving into a mood where it is going to be possible to end the catastrophic shambles of the last six months. We are beginning to talk about actually being able to take decisions founded on some sort of cross-party consensus and some search for a majority that can be sustained through the difficult and long negotiations that will be required to reach agreement on our final relations with the European Union. It seems to me that it is up to the House to respond to that properly and deal with this procedure, with a willingness to compromise with one another and move towards some eventual binding recommendation to the Government about the way in which things should be conducted in future. I shall certainly approach this in that way.
My right hon. Friend has also helped the Government, although they are bitterly resistant to what he has done, raising absurd constitutional arguments, which are complete fiction and which they could have remedied easily if they had put down their own proposals for having indicative votes, as they told us that they were going to two days ago. This hair-splitting thing about it being the Government who should table business motions, and not Back Benchers, is a completely piffling irrelevance. He has actually helped them considerably: I have never seen the right-wing members of the European Research Group more apparently panicked by the way the House as a whole is moving. They are demonstrably in a minority, their dreams of a no-deal departure are fading, and despite their frequent meetings with the Prime Minister and their gliding into Chequers at the weekend, they are beginning to peel off one by one, having first rebuffed it.
I congratulate those who put this process together and those Ministers who resigned to get this pressure going and bring us nearer to reality, and I will turn now to the substance of how I am going to vote. As I have said, I will vote not for my first preference—I will when it occurs—but for that which I can live with. Unfortunately, I think we are doomed to leave the European Union within the next two or three years. My duty now is to exercise my own judgment as to what is in the national interest, will minimise the damaging consequences and will perhaps save some of the better features for future generations.
As I have said before, the obvious compromise is, unfortunately, to give up the political European Union and leave the political institution and remain in the common market, as the public still call it—the customs union and the single market—thereby avoiding problems at the borders and for business, ensuring the smooth running of trade, and so on.
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I would like to—I have been collaborating with the hon. Gentleman—but I must take notice of time.
Under such a compromise, we would continue to enjoy the economic advantages of being in the biggest and most prosperous international free trade area in the world and begin to reconcile the 52% with the 48%. Most sensible members of the public, however passionate their views, be they remain or leave, could see the sense in coming together around such a compromise. It was the main Eurosceptic demand 20 years ago: leave the EU but not the common market. If we solved that, we could begin to repair the dreadful political mood in the country.
I will vote for revoke whenever it appears, because that is my personal preference, but that is self-indulgence, and I will support—[Laughter.] If we get a majority, I will be delighted.
I will not give way to my fellow collaborator on revoking.
I will support common market 2.0 and anything that resembles it, though I will not dwell on it further, as I have already dealt with it. I come then to my motion (J). As I have already indicated, it is not my first preference—the two I have already named are my preferences—but it is tabled to maximise support in the House so that we can move on Monday towards our really taking control and actually putting the Government, though they do not accept it, in a much stronger position than they are today when it comes to the future negotiations.
Motion (J) advocates a customs union only—a permanent customs union, I point out to Liz Kendall, who intervened earlier on this point—and would keep the minimum needed for frictionless trade and an open border in Ireland. We would also need some understanding or moves on regulatory convergence, but that does not need to be dealt with at this stage. If we start with the premise that we will be permanently in a customs union, it would bring greater clarity to the next stage—the really important stage—of the negotiations. I think that every other EU member state would be ready to accede to that, and it would improve the climate of the negotiations.
The motion is designed to appeal in particular to Labour Members who are demanding it and to my more cautious right hon. and hon. Friends in the Conservative party. Those who have hang-ups about rule-making and use medieval language about vassal states and all the rest of it are talking about the single market. Motion (J) does not include the single market. The customs union guarantees a reasonably frictionless relationship and the possibility of completely open trade in the future, and leaves all the other things to be decided in the negotiations.
No, I will not.
That is the basis on which I tabled motion (J), and I commend it to the House. Members may prefer a different motion; I shall vote for several. I think that we should all vote for as many of the motions as we can, and then we will see which is the strongest. We will not be dismissed by the more fervent members of the Government saying that they have all been defeated, and none of them secured an individual majority. On Monday, we could move on to how we sift them out.
Above all, for Labour Members this will, I hope, pave the way for allowing the withdrawal agreement to go through, because their main argument is not about the contents of the withdrawal agreement but about the “blind Brexit” that worries them so much. Even in motion (J)—if we cannot get a stronger one—there is not a blind Brexit any more. Labour Members could at least abstain, so that we could secure the withdrawal agreement and then move on to what really matters—the serious long-term negotiations on the big issues, which we shall have to handle much better than we are doing now.
My last word is this. If we fail, and if we are faced in a fortnight’s time with no deal, I think the feeling in the House is so strongly against that outcome that we must all vote to revoke at that stage. A great many members of the public will probably think that we have got ourselves into such a mess that it might have been sensible to do that anyway. We should stop now, sort out what we are doing, and perhaps start again if the House is still enthusiastic about leaving. However, I hope we can avoid that conclusion by demonstrating that Parliament is capable of orderly debate, reasonable conclusions, and contributing to the better governance of this country as part of this process—including, I hope, my motion (J).
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I can tell the House that no lead sponsors have informed me—and I indicated that they needed to do so before 4 pm—that they do not wish a recorded vote to take place on their motion. I can therefore confirm that the motions on which Members will be able to vote are as previously announced, namely (B) for Baron, (D) in the name of Nick Boles, (H) in the name of George Eustice, (J) in the name of Mr Kenneth Clarke, (K) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, (L) in the name of Joanna Cherry, (M) in the name of Margaret Beckett, and (O) in the name of Mr Marcus Fysh.
I rise with the endorsement of the Father of the House, Mr Clarke, for my motion (L)—for which I am grateful to him—and that of my hon. Friend Angus Brendan MacNeil, who has prosecuted the issue of revocation with such vigour in the House over the past few months. I am glad to say that my motion is supported by all parties in the House. It has the official backing of the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Independent Group. Many Labour Members have told me that they intend to support the motion, and I hope very much that the Labour party will reconsider its decision not to whip on it.
Absolutely. If there is one thing that we can achieve this afternoon by supporting this motion, it is categorically ruling out no deal. The motion is a revocation backstop. It stipulates that if within two days of exit day we have no agreed deal and Parliament does not positively approve no deal, the Government must revoke the article 50 notice, and we will stay in the EU. But it is important to understand that revocation does not mean that we could never notify the EU of our intention to leave again. That is incorrect, as Members will see if they read the decision of the Grand Chamber in the Court of Justice of the European Union on the case that I and others brought.
I will in a moment, but I just want to make this clear: the amendment has been carefully drafted by myself and a team of lawyers to give the Government a clear and unequivocal instruction, and it is the only way to make the Prime Minister hold to her promise that she gave this House on Monday when she said:
“unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 657, c. 25.]
This motion would achieve that. It is the culmination of cross-party work that commenced with a group of Scottish parliamentarians, including myself and other SNP parliamentarians, two Scottish Greens and two Scottish Labour MEPs and the English QC Jo Maugham, who has helped me draft the amendment. We fought the British Government all the way to the Court of Justice to establish that if the United Kingdom got into the kind of mess we are now in, it would have the right to unilaterally revoke article 50. It is important that the instruction is clear and unequivocal, because if Parliament gives the Government a clear and unequivocal instruction then, if the Government fail to follow that clear and unequivocal instruction, because it is clear and unequivocal, we would have a range of political and legal remedies to make sure they did what the democratic vote of this House was to do.
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for giving way. I wanted to give her an opportunity to correct something. She said this motion had all-party support; it does not have the support of the DUP because of course we believe that, through the referendum result, the people of the United Kingdom have said what they wish, and we do not want to revoke that decision.
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I sometimes forget that the DUP is not part of the Government, because it very much feels like that. I am very happy to say that I can live without the support of the DUP.
This is a cross-party motion, except for the DUP, and it continues the cross-party working which got the judgment from the Court of Justice; and today is about cross-party working to try to get us out of the mess we are in.
I am going to make some progress as I am very conscious of the time strictures.
Conservative Members of this House should support this motion because it is making good on the promise that their Prime Minister—she was still Prime Minister the last time I looked—made to the Commons earlier this week when she said:
“unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 657, c. 25.]
Labour MPs should support it because it fits with their manifesto. They said in their manifesto:
“Labour recognises that leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ is the worst possible deal for Britain and that it would do damage to our economy and trade. We will reject ‘no deal’ as a viable option”.
This motion is the only means today for Labour to fulfil that manifesto promise, and I know that the Labour party has repeatedly asked the Government to rule out no deal so I entreat them to support this motion today as the means of doing that.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. Does she agree that the point about this motion is that it is there in extremis? It is not there to summarily revoke article 50, but only to do it in the event of circumstances where there is no alternative and no ability to get an extension that might deliver a referendum, for example, or some other conclusion.
That is exactly so, and I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for spelling that out so clearly and for lending his support to this motion.
Fellow Members can support this motion even if they are supporting other motions tonight. It should be acceptable to supporters of the current draft withdrawal agreement—for some reason that is not on the Order Paper today, but we might see it later in the week. If an hon. Member wished to support the Prime Minister’s deal, they could also support my motion because it is a failsafe. If an hon. Member wished to support Norway-plus, they could also support my motion because it is a failsafe. And, very importantly, those of us who wish to support a people’s vote can also support this because it is a failsafe. Also, it does not even preclude a general election, because the way the motion is worded makes it kick in on the penultimate day before exit day, which is of course a moving target at the moment; so it leaves the door open to a general election, which I know some of us would quite like to see, particularly the SNP in Scotland as we are riding so high in the opinion polls. But today is about cross-party working and democracy, because the decision that we are taking is of generational importance for the United Kingdom and it ought to be the representatives of the people of the United Kingdom in this House who decide between revocation and no deal, not the Prime Minister of a minority Government.
The hon. and learned Lady mentioned the spirit of cross-party working. She also asked about the Labour whipping arrangements, and I can assure her, as one of those who has signed her motion, that the Labour whip is not to oppose her motion. There is simply a recommendation to abstain, but I am sure that a number of my colleagues will be supporting it.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for clarifying that and for his support, but I am puzzled why Labour Members would be instructed to abstain on this motion, as it is the only means for them to fulfil their manifesto promise. However, I will leave that to Labour Members, who I am sure will have been receiving the same amount of lobbying as I have—
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for clarifying that, and I feel more and more encouraged that many more Labour MPs will support the motion. I will not take up any more time; I simply want to thank all Members who have signed and supported my motion.
As the Leader of the House set out earlier, the options that the House considers this evening should be deliverable, but it is clear that a number of them fall short of that test—[Interruption.] Well, motions (H) and (O) are just two examples. As the shadow Secretary of State, Keir Starmer, said earlier, there are 47 Back Benchers wishing to speak, and he and I have had quite a few opportunities to debate these issues, so, like him, I will try to keep my comments short this afternoon.
I want to reaffirm that it remains the Government’s priority to secure approval of the withdrawal agreement this week to allow us to leave the EU in an orderly fashion—while noting your earlier comments, Mr Speaker. It is only by doing this that we can be guaranteed to leave the EU on
Turning to the specific motions before the House, I shall start with motion (B), tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Baron, which seeks to leave on the basis of no deal. He will be aware that the House has already voted, on Wednesday
If it is the Government’s position to ensure that the country does not leave without a deal, and if there is no way for the Prime Minister’s deal to get through, given the Speaker’s intervention, why will the Government not allow the motion tabled by my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry to carry, to provide a revoke backstop and to guarantee that there cannot be a no-deal exit?
I will come to the hon. and learned Lady’s motion to revoke in due course. I will take the motions in the order that Mr Speaker selected them. Turning to motion (L) from the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, which deals with revoking article 50 after a vote on no deal on the penultimate sitting day before exit day, it has long been the Government’s policy not to revoke article 50, and that position remains the same.
Motion (D) comes from my hon. Friend Nick Boles. He is a good friend, and I know that he tabled it in the spirit of trying to seek a solution for the House, but the fact that the labelling of his suggestion has been through so many different terms—Norway for now, Norway, Canada, EEA-plus, Norway-plus—draws attention to the point made by my hon. Friend Chris Philp, which is that there are several problems with the proposal. To take issue with two specific points, paragraph (1)(b) refers to
“continuing status as a party to the European Economic Area Agreement”, but I gently say that that is factually incorrect. The United Kingdom is a member of the EEA only through its membership of the EU, and therefore—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford shakes his head, but that is the clear position of Her Majesty’s Government.
As a former respected Minister, my hon. Friend will know that I am stating the clear position of the Government Law Officers. The same point also relates to the meat of motion (H), because line 5 states that we need to give notice to leave the EEA, which is not the case.
The second issue with motion (D) is that paragraph (1)(e) states that freedom of movement can be restricted to those “genuinely seeking work” or those with “sufficient resources”. Again, that is just incorrect. The existing position as a member of the EU28 is that controls can be put in place, but that has not happened because of how the UK operates. We do not have a registration or ID system or an insurance-based health system, so there are reasons why such controls are not used. With respect, the proposal is a fig leaf to disguise the fact that his solution requires the continuation of freedom of movement.
I am conscious that 47 Members want to speak, so I will press on. I am sure that we will have a further debate before too many days have passed.
Turning quickly to motion (J) in the name of the Father of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, my concern is that it would open up a role for the courts given that it would be for them to adjudicate on whether the suggestion of a comprehensive UK-wide customs union has been met in our negotiating mandate.
Motion (O) is referred to by some hon. Friends as the Malthouse compromise—Malthouse plan B in this case—and it would involve paying for an implementation period. However, the EU’s clear position is that that proposal would be regarded as the UK reneging on an agreed fair settlement, which it has repeatedly said it is unwilling to accept.
As for the flaws of motion (K) from the Leader of the Opposition, we have been around these houses so many times that we do not dwell on them. Paragraph (a)(iii) refers to “dynamic alignment” but we have already committed to temporary alignment when it comes to implementing EU workers’ rights. Again, the motion also does not address the fact that the Opposition appear to accept the withdrawal agreement but seem reluctant to say so.
In conclusion, the motions before the House represent a range of suboptimal solutions that either do not deliver on the referendum result or do so in a way that would not deliver the benefits of the Prime Minister’s deal. That is why the deal remains the best method to deliver on the biggest vote in our history in a way that protects business and citizens’ rights.
Negotiations succeed when no one gets everything they want but everyone gets something they want, and I hope that is the spirit in which we can approach today’s proceedings. This consultative process is too little and too late, but it is a lot better than carrying on as we were. We all owe a debt of gratitude to hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House who have striven to find proposals that could command wider support so that, finally, some alternative ideas are before the House, and I very much hope some common ground can be identified.
There is one vital thing that all these varied proposals have in common: not one of them reflects what the British people were told were the prospects before them when they cast their votes in 2016, and nor does the Prime Minister’s package, although that is not on the Order Paper. These differences from what was said to be on offer are substantial. The one key element that figures in each and every one of the proposed alternatives is the matter of sovereignty. It is key because all these proposals, including the Prime Minister’s, would mean that we follow EU laws and regulations without having any real say in their content.
In 1975, during the first referendum on our links with Europe, I campaigned against continuing those links, mainly because of the diminution of sovereignty they implied, but at least then we were not forfeiting sovereignty but sharing it. Today’s proposals mean we stand to lose our voice, our vote and our veto. Successive British Governments have used voice, vote and, occasionally, veto to considerable effect. We already have special deals all over the place. We do not have to be in the euro and we do not have to be a member of the borderless Schengen area. And we have helped to shape agreements within the EU and, as an EU member, across the world.
School students across the world recently went on to the streets to campaign against the threat to life on this planet, including the threat to the continued existence of the human race. Within the EU, the UK has played a substantial role over the years, under successive Governments, in pursuing these issues, and it was experiencing the influence that we could and did wield internationally in this sphere that finally and wholeheartedly convinced me of the value of our EU membership.
The Prime Minister’s deal and the various alternatives, one and all, surrender that shared sovereignty. They would make us rule takers without being, as we have been, influential rule makers. It is clear that many who voted leave have accepted the possible economic damage, of which they have been warned, as a price they are prepared to pay for the return of sovereignty, and I honour them for that stance, but sovereignty is not returning. In fact, we are sacrificing sovereignty for the sake of saying we are no longer a member of the EU. I recognise that such a deal may be all that is on offer, but to me it is inconceivable that its acceptance should be solely a matter for Members of this House. I genuinely have no idea what view the British people might take of these various compromises, and certainly many, including in this House, vehemently oppose their even being asked.
Ever since the day of the second referendum result in 2016, a deluge of not only warnings but threats has come from those who take that view, forecasting unrest, civil disorder, greater division and a dramatic further reduction in the public’s trust in politics. But I invite colleagues who determinedly resist a confirmatory vote to look starkly at the full implications of what they are saying. They are willing, some are determined, to vote to terminate our membership of the European Union even if it may now be against the wishes of the majority of the British people. Consider the possible consequences for trust in politics or for social peace if this House forces an outcome on the people of this country that they no longer desire—that really would be the undemocratic, establishment stitch-up of all time.
We have all heard people say that the deals now available are worse than the one we now have as EU members, and some still say that, nevertheless, they still wish to leave. My mother would have called that cutting off your nose to spite your face, but if that is still the view of the majority, so be it. But how, in all conscience, can we alone in this House force through such a decision on their behalf without allowing them any say as to whether that is still their view?
I am sorry, but I do not have time.
As with the Good Friday agreement, whatever emerges from these complex negotiations, the outcome should go back to the people for confirmation. The people started this process. They set a desired goal. It has proved far more difficult and tortuous than predicted, but we will now soon have a potential outcome. It is the people who should choose whether, on the terms now on offer, they still wish to proceed. Theirs should be the final decision on this, which is the first stage only of our withdrawal from the EU. With a clear conscience, I can look my constituents in the eye and tell them that that is the outcome that this House has secured. The European Union needs reform. Britain could play a key role in shaping it or we can just walk away and live with the consequences. But it is the British people who should now decide what comes next.
I rise in support of motion (h), which stands in my name. It involves leaving the European Union but rejoining the European Free Trade Association and relying on our existing rights under the treaty establishing the European economic area. It differs from the “Common market 2.0” proposal in a couple of important areas. First, it does not envisage the need for a customs union. Secondly, it does not necessarily require the existing withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister has been putting to this House.
I had a pretty good innings as agriculture Minister. Indeed, three months ago, after a reshuffle in Luxembourg, I became, for a short time, the longest serving agriculture Minister in Europe. In my five and a half years, I attended the AgriFish Council on a monthly basis, discussing all sorts of obscure and technical issues. I saw 10 EU presidencies come and go. Each came in with its list of priorities and each went out lamenting the fact that little had been achieved. I recall one occasion, before Italy was commencing its presidency, when the Italian Minister cast aside the notes his officials had given him and simply said, “We will talk about the usual stuff and probably not get much done.”
I have three observations that my experience has given me that I would like to highlight, because they underpin the approach I have suggested. First, we must recognise that the European Union moves at glacial pace; it is not agile. It makes tiny, incremental changes and takes years to do so; I remember arguing for three or four years about something as simple as changes to organic food labelling. Secondly, the EU does not really follow national democracies; it sees what happens in national democracy as a national issue and a national problem. The European institutions live by their treaties and the letter of the words in them. Finally, decades of EU membership has engendered a particular type of culture among our negotiators and our civil service. I have huge admiration for our civil service but, undoubtedly, a qualified majority voting system is all about trying to get something rather than be willing to walk away from the table. That is why in both the negotiation that David Cameron had and the current negotiation officials would often come back claiming that things are “not negotiable”. Therefore, the simple proposition behind motion (h) is that, rather than wade through the treacle and try to negotiate a bespoke deal from scratch, knowing the nature of European institutions, why not instead use existing treaty rights as our starting point and allow things to evolve from that point?
The UK is a signatory to the treaty that established the European economic area in 1994, and it had that role because at that point the EU had no legal personality. At times, as the Secretary of State repeated today, the Government have adopted a political line to take, claiming that our EEA membership automatically falls away when we leave the European Union. That claim is wrong in law. A year ago, I was in Oslo, and at that time our ambassador to Norway was on standby, having been ordered by the Foreign Office to deliver a letter to give notice under article 127 of the EEA treaty, although in the event the Foreign Office chose not to. In 2017, during a judicial review hearing, Sir James Eadie QC, no less than the counsel representing the Government, made exactly the reverse claim: he claimed that we had not taken the decision to leave the EEA, and in his submission to the court he claimed it is not true that our membership of the EEA automatically falls away with our membership of the European Union.
It is either the case that the Government—advised, I am sure, by Government Law Officers—have been repeatedly wrong at the Dispatch Box, or it is the case that they did not give a true account of their understanding of the law to a court. Having talked to several lawyers who understand these things, my understanding is that we are indeed a signatory to the EEA and that our rights and obligations remain intact. It is simply the case that to make those rights and obligations operable, we have either to be in the EU pillar of that agreement, as we are now, or to switch to the EFTA pillar.
Under international law, both the European Union and the EFTA states are under an obligation to make treaties work and to work with any consequential changes to a treaty that might be required to ensure that it is operable. An application to join EFTA cannot be unreasonably refused. Indeed, in my discussions with both Iceland and Norway, they made it clear that they would not stand in the way of such an option.
The EFTA option is sometimes described as the Norway option, but it has a very British pedigree. Sixty years ago, in 1959, Members in this House debated the establishment of the European Free Trade Association. When there was a cross-party consensus that the political and democratic costs of joining the then European Economic Community were too great, it was this House that forged ahead to build an alliance of countries, including not only Norway but Portugal, Austria, Sweden and others, to form the European Free Trade Association. The idea was supported by both Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson. Would it really be such a bad thing to return to that model, given that we were the godfather of the European Free Trade Association?
In conclusion, the benefits of the approach I have set out are that we can get things done quickly. We can join the EFTA surveillance system within three months and have full EFTA membership within six months. We would have a ready-made free trade agreement. We would be outside the customs union and would have an independent trade policy, and we would have control of our fishing grounds again and an independent agriculture policy. We would become an independent country again.
Is there not something really quite liberating about the debate we are having? The normal atmosphere and structure, with propositions from one side or the other, have all disappeared as the House of Commons has taken control of this really important discussion about how we are going to take our country forward. Another striking thing is that every single Member who has spoken in support of a proposition has not sought to rubbish the other propositions; they have put their case in an effort to win support from across the House. If that is not confirmation of the wisdom of the House’s having taken control—I do not like that phrase because I think it is the House doing its job—to allow us to do that, I do not know what is.
I will make two points. First, I will vote for the customs union motion moved by the Father of the House, which everyone in the Chamber knows is an essential building block to make any progress towards achieving the two objectives set by the Prime Minister: keeping an open border and at the same time keeping friction-free trade moving to oil the wheels of our industry. I will also vote for the common market 2.0 proposal, although, like many others, I note the difference between, on the one hand, a customs union and, on the other, a customs arrangement. It is a compromise proposal, but I will support it.
I will also vote for the confirmatory referendum. I thought we heard an absolutely outstanding speech from my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett. I will vote for it as someone who, for a long time, has not argued for a people’s vote, but I want to explain why I have come to the conclusion that a confirmatory referendum is the only way forward. In essence, it is because things have changed. The proposition put before the British people by the leave campaign during the referendum—that one did not have to choose between our sovereignty, on the one hand, and the economic health of the country on the other—has proven to be false.
I will not because many people want to speak. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
The anger expressed by some Members towards the Prime Minister’s deal is in part revealing. The truth is that there is a choice to be made. The suggestion that we could have all the things that we wanted without anything that we did not has proven not to be the case. If things have changed, should we not therefore ask the people?
Secondly, the Government changed their mind originally on whether the House would have a meaningful vote. The Government said at one point that there would be an enormous row about the structure of the negotiations and then changed their mind and accepted the way in which the European Union wanted to conduct them. The Government have come back once already, and may well this week come back again, in an attempt to persuade us to change our minds about the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. The first holder of the post of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union changed his mind about supporting the deal. There are reports that Mr Rees-Mogg may be in the process of changing his mind as well. The Prime Minister said 108 times that we would definitely leave on
Why is it that the only people in this debate apparently not allowed to be asked whether they have changed their minds are the British people? How can that be democratic? If Members agree that it is not, I hope very much that they will vote for motion (M) tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow Hilary Benn. However, let us actually remember the people in all this. They voted two years ago to leave the European Union and then they voted in an election in which we stood on a manifesto saying that we would leave the European Union and its two main pillars, the single market and the customs union, which are integral to what the European Union is. They want their instruction to be carried out now. To be honest, I think it is quite shameful to call for a second referendum before the result of the first has even been implemented.
Let me discuss what the reality would be if we went down the road of participation in the single market and customs union, which most of these motions are trying to implement, even as we leave, in contravention of our manifesto commitments and the referendum result. Those options would effectively give away our trade policy and the control of regulation in our own country, both of which are valuable to our economy, our future as a nation and our children.
With respect, many people do not quite understand what being in a customs union, rather than being in the customs union of the European Union, would actually entail. Many people think that it would allow frictionless trade, but that is not correct. It would mean that we would have to implement a system of movement certificates and export declarations. It would not take away the need for border formalities and the recording of goods moving across borders.
I am not going to give way because I know that a lot of people want to speak.
In a customs union, we would not be in control of various aspects of the process. We would not be in control of the conditions of the border formalities, nor of the tariffs collected. For example, if goods were coming to our market via Rotterdam, the tariffs on those imports—effectively to us—would be collected and kept in the European Union. A customs union would not give us control over our money, our trading partners’ access to our market, or our traders’ access to our trading partners’ markets. It really is inconceivable that we should even be considering any recognisable description of a permanent customs union as a feature of leaving the EU. That is one reason that people outside this place are quite confused by some of the suggestions that the House has been coming up with.
Many of the single market and customs union proposals on the table tonight would not obviate the need for a backstop in the withdrawal agreement, so the problems of the withdrawal agreement highlighted by some Conservative Members and others would remain anyway. There is the problem of being hostage to fortune within the further negotiation of how these customs union or single market arrangements might work. For example, exemptions on fishing and other matters would still be up for negotiation, as we heard earlier, but we would be in a relatively weak position in those negotiations. Defence manufacturing would be prejudiced by the backstop, should we end up having to go into it. The same is true for agriculture, as the restrictions on state aid for our agriculture, while the EU is allowed to subsidise its agriculture, would still remain. The issue of Northern Ireland—what happens to Northern Ireland should we not be able to agree—would still remain. I do not really see those motions as solutions. It is also possible, to come to the circumstances of my motion—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has been on his feet for five minutes, but he has not yet had an opportunity to tell us why we should vote for his motion. Would you encourage him to tell us about motion (O), rather than what is wrong with all the other motions?
Yes, and it would be best if Mr Fysh would expedite the process in the light of the number of colleagues who wish to contribute.
That is exactly what I was getting to. Motion (O) is about what happens in the circumstances that we cannot agree a withdrawal agreement for one reason or another, and there are a host of circumstances where that might occur. The European Union might not want to do that. It might not want to extend; all sorts of different permutations could have an impact. I do not think that this House is going to revoke article 50, because that really would be a finger in the eye to the public, so we need to have a plan B. This sets out a plan B arrangement—a contingency arrangement. It is, in essence, a two-year stop-gap arrangement to facilitate trade and allow space for our longer-term negotiation to take place. It consists, in effect, of having a trade preference with no tariffs and no quantitative restrictions, with mutual recognition of standards and conformity assessment. It involves having a customs arrangement but one that consists of advance trade facilitation measures. We are prepared to pay money for that and to agree potentially other measures that are within the withdrawal agreement; the EU will no doubt want to try to agree some of the things, such as on geographical indications, that we have agreed.
This is a practical approach and a compromise that was discussed in the Malthouse process, showing what to do as a back-up if we cannot get anything else done. It is a very fair settlement. It does involve money, contrary to what the Secretary of State said. We know that EU business wants to trade with us. We now know that the EU and Ireland have no intention of putting up a hard border. I have no doubt that they have seen the alternative arrangements that we have proposed and that that is how they would want to implement things. So that is how we are going to do this.
This is simple to agree. It does not prejudice the future relationship with the EU, so we can keep talking about that. It is pro-trade and pro-business with the EU as well as the rest of the world. It honours the referendum and our manifesto. I commend it to the House.
I apologise to hon. and right hon. Members, but given the time constraints I will not extend the usual courtesy of taking interventions.
I am particularly pleased to be participating in this debate, because today we can start to bring an end to the chaos. Parliament has taken back control because this Tory Government and this Prime Minister are out of control. Scotland did not ask for this crisis; nobody asked for this chaos. Of course, Scotland voted to remain in the EU. We voted overwhelmingly to protect our economy and the freedoms and the values that the European Union gives to the people of Scotland. Scotland is a European country; historically, we have been a European country. Economically, socially and culturally, we benefit from our membership.
Today the SNP laid a motion to ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard, because Scotland’s wishes have been completely ignored during the Brexit process. This is in stark contrast to the European Union, which seeks consensus and fosters collaboration through its institutions and throughout the Community. It is a partnership of equals, in stark contrast to this place, where there is no equality of respect for the devolved institutions. That lack of appreciation of how the UK should work post-devolution will haunt this place. Increasingly, those living in Scotland will reflect on the way that we are treated in this Union—the United Kingdom. It is most certainly not the partnership of equals that the Prime Minister had promised us. It is one where we are told, quite simply, that our votes do not count, where we can be stripped of our European citizenship—and for what?—and where we will pay a price economically, socially and culturally.
The facts are clear—Brexit will rob Scotland of jobs. It will rob our economy of talented workers that our public sector needs. It will steal opportunities to travel and learn from our EU partners from future generations. It will divide relationships—families and friendships. There is no such thing as a good Brexit, and it must be stopped. We must act to protect the interests of our citizens, of our communities, and of our nations. Today is the opportunity—perhaps the only opportunity.
Today in the European Parliament, my friend and colleague, Alyn Smith MEP, asked Europe to keep a light on for Scotland to show us the way home. I want the EU to keep a light on for Scotland. As Members of Parliament, we must decide: can we follow that light, or is the United Kingdom heading into the darkness? Scotland will not follow the UK into that darkness if the UK fails to change course. We can and will follow the light, to allow Scotland to become an independent country in the European Union.
I want to make it clear that tonight the Scottish National party will vote for our preferred options on the Order Paper. We will vote for a second EU referendum, and we will vote for motions to revoke article 50, as revocation may be our only option to get out of this mess. Those options must remain on the table. The Scottish Parliament will vote today to endorse revocation in the event of no deal. We expect that to be backed on a cross-party basis, and, I say to friends and colleagues, that includes the Labour party. Revoke must be an option. I therefore ask Members to support motion (L), tabled by my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry.
Let me speak to some of the other motions. We on the SNP Benches would like to seek clarity from the official Opposition about their motion. For Scotland, freedom of movement without any caveats is essential, not just in principle but for the sake of our nation’s prosperity. Can those on the Labour Front Bench confirm that their motion protects and continues the policy of freedom of movement in full?
I turn to motion (D), in the name of Nick Boles. Let me be clear: the SNP does not and will not endorse the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. The agreement Bill requires the consent of the Scottish Parliament, and the UK Government have already broken that process. The people of Scotland voted to remain, and as I noted in my remarks on the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, freedom of movement is essential for the SNP. Our nation’s future and our public services depend on it. We must have total confidence that in any Norway-plus proposal, the freedom of movement that we currently benefit from will continue and we will have access to the single market and customs union in full.
We have further questions regarding the proposals of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford for a customs arrangement and the prospect of alternative arrangements to ensure frictionless trade. I hear his assurance on freedom of movement, and we will not oppose his motion, but it will certainly be difficult for us to support it, particularly as remain is the option that we demand.
Let me make it clear: the SNP wants to find a way forward. Our preferred option is to remain in the European Union—that is what Scotland voted for—and as long as that is an option, we will vote for it, but we have always said that if it proves not to be possible, we will seek compromise to protect Scotland’s interests. We have set out previously what compromise is for us—and remember, that would be compromise from a position where the country we represent did not vote for Brexit and our national Parliament is opposed to Brexit.
That compromise, endorsed by the Scottish Parliament, is “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. Published in December 2016 and ignored by the UK Government, it proposes full membership of the European single market and the customs union, but that position is not encapsulated yet in any of the proposals put forward tonight. Our compromise requires full acceptance of freedom of movement and respect for the position of the Scottish Parliament and for devolution as a whole. We have put forward that compromise time and again for more than two years, but it has continually been ignored. While we know that some Members agree with us in principle, there is more work to be done by those on the Labour and Tory Benches to get to a position that we could accept, if we cannot put this matter back to the people or choose to remain in the EU.
When I look at the Order Paper, I see that there is space to compromise; there is a better way out of this mess. On Saturday, more than 1 million people marched to ask that they get the chance to vote on their future within the European Union. I was proud to stand with them alongside our First Minister. People from all parts of the United Kingdom now know the price that will be paid for Brexit—economic disaster—and they want another say. Member across the House may feel some discomfort or unease about a second EU referendum, but what is more respectful to the electorate, when this place has repeatedly failed, than giving them back control? There is nothing to fear. The Prime Minister does not have support for her deal, and this House has not found a solution, so let us do the right thing and end this stalemate by letting the people decide. I urge Members to join the SNP, compromise at this critical hour and vote for a motion to hold a second EU referendum.
In conclusion, the UK Government are flogging a dead horse, running down the clock and hoping that the squeeze of time will bring support for the Prime Minister’s devastating deal. We can end this today: we can take back control and stop the Prime Minister. We can show leadership and maturity. The people want it. Let us do the right thing, and find consensus to protect the interests of all our citizens.
Order. A five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches must now apply with immediate effect.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important, groundbreaking and unprecedented debate. I was pleased to be one of the 30 Conservative MPs who helped to secure this debate. I am sorry that it is happening in a way, but the fact that it is happening shows, unfortunately, that the Government’s strategy for getting the withdrawal agreement through this House has not succeeded so far. To be clear, I will vote for that withdrawal agreement if and when it is re-presented to the House, because I think it is the best way for us to leave the EU in an orderly fashion as soon as that is practicable.
I would have spoken to amendment (N), standing in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members, but obviously it has not been selected. However, a word at the top of that motion has been used several times. It was used by Stephen Kinnock, and it was used by the SNP leader here, Ian Blackford, who has just spoken, although I am not entirely sure that what he asked people to do would fulfil its strictures. The word is “compromise”, and it is an action that absolutely needs to be practised by Members on both sides of the House if today—and potentially Monday—is going to have an effect.
The point is that right hon. and hon. Members should be voting today for what they could countenance, not their preferred option. If we stay in our silos and our trenches, as I have spoken about before, we as a House will not find our way through this, and we will unfortunately fulfil what the Prime Minister said last week, which is that this House cannot find a way through. I think we will not have done our job as parliamentary representatives if that is the case.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend Nick Boles is not in his place. In relation to common market 2.0—I will support that proposal tonight—he talked about a customs union and customs arrangements. One of the advantages of having been involved in the Malthouse compromise talks is that I know that alternative arrangements can be secured to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. What we want on that border is no physical infrastructure, with no customs formalities at the border. With five key changes—there is not time to talk about them today, but there may be in future debates, and I am very happy to talk to any right hon. and hon. Members about those key changes—it would be possible to negotiate such arrangements.
The Leader of the House has talked about any solution being deliverable and negotiable, and having alternative arrangements to avoid the need to be in a customs union is both deliverable and negotiable, because we know the EU has already conceded the principle of them. In the documents tabled by the Government on
Mr Speaker, I heard earlier your strictures to the Government about the test that has to be met for the withdrawal agreement to be brought back to this House. You want to see significant change, and one way of achieving such significant change would be to allow the UK and the EU time to negotiate those alternative arrangements and put them into the withdrawal agreement so that the backstop is superseded. Looking at the names of those who have signed motion (N), we can see that there are Members of this House who are ready to sign up to that as a principle.
In my previous life as a solicitor negotiating mergers and acquisitions deals, I spent many a less-than-happy hour locked in meeting rooms with fellow lawyers and clients and, frankly, we just did not leave until the deal had been done. That needs to happen now to get the backstop replaced and the alternative arrangements secured if that is what Members want.
I will vote for any option that gives a negotiated settlement and leads to an orderly exit from the EU. The question for the House, which may arise after Monday—we shall have to see—is what the Government’s response is and how any Government will implement what the House may have identified as a way forward. There may well be difficult decisions for the Government, but also for the House, about the form of the Government who will take that forward. Will we need even greater cross-party working to arrive at a solution and a Government who can negotiate the outcome with the EU?
Although today is an important step forward, it is really only the start of the process of arriving at a compromise. I entirely agree with the Chairman of the Brexit Committee, who said that we should have started this process two years ago. The country, Parliament and the Government would be in a much happier place.
The debate is proving to be thoughtful and considered. It is the debate that we should have had two years ago. There was an appetite from all parts of the House and from all different perspectives to have such a debate more than two years ago. There was also a spirit across the House—among those who voted leave and those who voted remain—to come together and find a way to make the process work. It is why so many Members from all parts of the House voted for article 50, but also put forward proposals through Select Committees and different debates, and wanted the chance to table amendments. That is why I called for a cross-party commission to oversee the negotiations from the very beginning. Sadly, that did not happen and the Prime Minister did not want to do things that way. That is why we are in this terrible mess and our constituents are tearing their hair out. Whether they voted leave or remain, people are feeling deeply frustrated and let down.
Just as our constituents—employers and trade unions, neighbours and friends, different parts of communities—come together to compromise and sort things out, it is our responsibility to do that now. The proposal to hold indicative votes was important. We will all have to compromise and vote for motions, parts of which we do not necessarily agree with. We might not agree with every single bit of a motion or an idea, but we might think there is the basis for finding some form of compromise.
When the CBI, which represents 190,000 British businesses, and the TUC, which represents 5.6 million British workers, come together to describe a national emergency, there is a responsibility on us to act. They spoke with other members of a national industrial coalition in Parliament this morning, in a meeting that Dame Caroline Spelman and my hon. Friend Jack Dromey called. They said that a plan B that protects workers, the economy and an open Irish border, commands a parliamentary majority, and is negotiable with the EU must be found. That is why I have put my name to the customs union motion. I have called for that from the beginning and I think it can be the basis of finding consensus and building agreement.
Businesses in our area—our big manufacturers, Burberry and Haribo; local retailers and distributors such as Asda and Teva; small businesses and traders, farmers and florists—have all warned that they need a deal that avoids border delays, tariffs or extra customs bureaucracy. It is why we heard from the motor manufacturers, the National Farmers Union and the aerospace sector in the meeting this morning. They all called for a customs union, which is at the heart of Labour motion (K) on an alternative Brexit approach. It is also why the TUC argued for the importance of the common market 2.0 approach.
In the motions and in points that Members of all parties have made, there is a range of options that we should consider and that mean we can continue to oppose the chaos of no deal, which would be deeply damaging to all our constituents. I keep very much in mind the words of a friend in Pontefract, who I talked to last week. He is waiting for radiotherapy but does not know whether the treatment will be delayed because no deal could put at risk the supply of the short-life isotopes that are needed for radiotherapy. In his interests and those of patients in all our constituencies, as well as constituents who could be hit by higher food, fuel and utilities prices in the event of a chaotic no deal, we must continue to argue against it.
I take a different approach from that suggested by motion (L), because I think that in those circumstances we should argue for more time with the European Union to try to get a resolution and, frankly, to sort things out.
Whatever the outcome today and on Monday, we are going to have to do two things that the Government have fundamentally failed to do—get clarity on what Brexit means and build consensus. We are talking about constitutional change, and nothing lasts without consensus. On Scottish and Welsh devolution, consensus was built and it lasted. On the Lisbon and Maastricht treaties, consensus was not built and support for them has not endured. The same is true in this situation. Unless clear consensus can be built, public consent or a public vote will be needed through a general election or referendum; otherwise it will not last. It is in all of our interests to build consensus, come together and do what we should have done two years ago.
I plan to be uncompromising in my opposition to motions (M) and (L), and then, without a hint of hypocrisy, argue for compromise for where we end up.
We have heard a lot recently about marches. The only march that I am interested in is the march of my constituents to vote in the 2016 referendum, as they were asked to do by this Parliament, and to decide for a final time whether we should remain members of the European Union. We were promised by both sides of the campaign that the decision of the people would be implemented—that is what both the remain and the leave sides said.
The remain side spent the whole campaign telling voters how terribly complex and difficult leaving the European Union was going to be, and yet people still went out to vote, many for the first time in my constituency. I had people stopping me on referendum day, saying, “How do I vote? Where do I go? I want to express my opinion on this question, which Parliament has told me is mine to make and will be implemented.” Now, just because some Members do not like the decision—or, rather, because we have messed up the whole process of leaving—it is completely unacceptable to turn around, go back to those people and say, “We’ve made such a terrible mess of it that we’re going to go back on all of those promises.”
I am appalled at the way in which many of my voters—70% of them went out and voted leave—have been belittled and besmirched since they took the decision they were asked to make. Their age has been made an issue; how, in a democracy, can age be an issue as to how valuable someone’s vote is? Their educational standards have been made an issue—apparently, whether someone has a degree or not places some sort of value on their vote. They have been told that they live in the wrong part of the country and that they have views that they do not have—people have told them why it is that they took the democratic decision that they had every right to take and that they were promised by this House and by both sides of the campaign would be implemented.
I am not going to give way, because I want to stick to the five-minute limit.
It would be appalling to go back and hold a second referendum. A constituent contacted me the other day and said, “Why is it, in this matter of the European Union, that remain has to win only once but leave has to win twice for our decision to be implemented?” What am I meant to say to them? Yes, the issue is complicated and difficult. Some people in this place may even have deliberately made it more complicated than it needed to be so that they could be proven right. Certainly, there has been incompetence that has made it more difficult than it should have been, and I will not say where that incompetence has necessarily come from. It would be appalling to go back to constituents.
I also think it would unleash something pretty dangerous. I am saddened by how certain elements at the extremes of the political sphere have tried to take hold of the issue for their own particular, disgusting brand of politics, which I want nothing to do with. There is no doubt that those people would play a bigger role in a second referendum. It would divide the country, but for what purpose? Current polling shows that it might reverse the result. I think that this is a very dangerous thing that this House should avoid at all costs.
I do not have time to say a great deal about the idea of revocation, which has been suggested by the SNP. I do wonder what its response would have been had it been successful in the Scottish referendum and this House had then decided that it knew better and revoked the result.
Now to the compromise, Mr Speaker. Since I came to this place, my views on Europe have not changed. Some of my colleagues have moved into positions I cannot get my head around, but we need to bring this to a conclusion. We need to do that through a process of compromise. There is a lot in the Prime Minister’s deal I do not like, but I have voted for it and will continue to vote for it. I put my name to the amendments for common market 2.0 and for EFTA. I have concerns about free movement, because some of my constituents clearly have very strong views on that, but this is a way in which we can come together. We can accept the result of the referendum, which was people saying very definitely that they do not like the political institutions of the European Union. There is a way through this, so the House should look very closely at the propositions on common market 2.0 and EFTA. I will be supporting them. I will be voting for every leave option this evening, because I just want to get this damn thing over with and resolved in line with what my constituents voted for in 2016.
My final comment is this. I hope that we will—I have been a big supporter of yours in the Chair, Mr Speaker—have the opportunity to again vote on the Prime Minister’s deal. I do think that this is an important way of trying to bring this to a close.
I do not agree with much of what Andrew Percy said, apart from when he said that it should be a priority to get this damn thing over. He made a fair point there.
Today has been a difficult day, but we are all here with the best of intentions: to seek to represent the interests of our constituents and to do right by our consciences. I want to support all Members who are speaking in this debate and all who will participate in this process. They are trying to express what they feel to be best for our country and we must pay due respect to everybody in this debate.
That said, however, I think that this process, innovative though it may be, does represent failure. The fact that we are here is a failure of any party to win the 2017 general election with a clear mandate from the British public as to what Brexit would mean. It is a failure of the response to that general election to be a cross-party agreement about what Brexit would mean that we could all stand by and support. What we are in the business of here is trying to put options before the Government, and demonstrating support for those options and asking them to think again about how they form a coalition of support for the future course in this House.
That brings me to motion (D) on the EEA customs union. Last June, I voted for an EEA-type Brexit. I rebelled against my party’s Whip to do so and I remain glad about that. If we are to Brexit, I think that that is probably the most tolerable form. However, I have a couple of concerns with motion (D). First, we heard from Nick Boles about this issue of whether the customs union would be permanent or whether it would be in pursuit of alternative arrangements. I am sorry to disagree with my colleague the Chair of the Treasury Committee, Nicky Morgan. She and I agree on a great number of things, but I just do not agree that alternative arrangements exist. Therefore, that is not enough for me.
For those who voted leave, too, I worry that a policy compromise is not where they are at. I do not think that the EEA idea, which many of us pursued and voted for previously, is really what people think will be Brexit. That is partly because of the tone of this debate, but also because those who voted leave do not really accept it as Brexit. I worry about our ability to sell it to them. But I do wish it well, because it is an option that I think could have been, once, a compromise.
That leads me to the following conclusion. Do we need a policy compromise or do we need a process compromise? I have concluded that it is not a policy, but a process compromise that will bring people together. I think the only thing left is to find a reasonable, tolerable and acceptable form of Brexit and ask for it to be ratified by the British public, if they wish to. Those of us who remain confident in the value of our European Union citizenship will campaign for the status quo and those who wish to campaign for Brexit can do so, but I think that the only way to deal with this mess is to find that tolerable form of Brexit and ask the British public if that was what they meant by leaving the European Union. As I said, those of us who still believe in the idea of a European Union that would lift all, include all and create peace in our continent will campaign for that principle.
It is always a pleasure to follow Alison McGovern. I am going to speak on the perhaps narrow but extremely important topic of the customs union. I will speak specifically against motions (J), in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, and (K), in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and what I believe to be the seriously defective proposal of a customs union with the European Union while we would not have a seat at the table.
I have given this question a great deal of consideration over the last almost three years, particularly in my two years spent at the Department for International Trade in charge of trade policy. A customs union has its superficial temptations. Obviously, it keeps trade close, although, it is worth pointing out, not necessarily frictionless; we would need the single market as well for that. It avoids having to agree to free movement, it may not need financial contributions, and clearly, it is likely to provide short-term relief for industrial supply chains, but it would be a historic mistake.
Customs unions have been successful in history, but essentially, for countries going in the opposite direction—for countries coming together into a political union. Look at the history of the Zollverein in Germany in the 19th century, which was all part of the process of German unification. Look at the partial customs union, in the name of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1947 or 1949—I forget which—which was a precursor to the EEC and the treaty of Rome. However, we are heading in the opposite direction. This is the wrong compromise, and a customs union would give short-term relief at the cost of long-term pain and a democratic deficit that would grow and grow over the years. I have written articles about this, notably today in The Times Red Box.
Our trade policy would end up being set by others and that would be a historic mistake. I will give four or five quick examples of where this would have a really serious impact on this country. Tariff policy, for example, would be set by the European Union to protect its products from others coming in and it would not be set in the interests of the UK, which are likely to be different. For example, in the current trade dispute between the United States and the European Union, there are punitive tariffs on bourbon coming into this country. Let us say that there is a future trade dispute between the EU and the US involving Scotch whisky. Obviously, that is not produced in the European Union and there would be no incentive for the EU in that customs union to seek to defend Scotch whisky.
On trade agreements, we have talked before about the Turkey trap. Essentially, if the EU entered into a trade agreement with a third country and the UK were in a customs union, we would have to offer access to our markets but we would not get the reciprocal access to that country in return. That would be a massive democratic deficit. It amazes me that it is the official Labour policy to do this. I remember well the disputes around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The biggest objections to TTIP came from the Labour side. Now we have a situation where trade policy will be determined by others without even a UK seat at the table. If Labour thought at the time, when we had a seat at the table, that TTIP would lead to US private healthcare companies gaining access to the NHS, what will it be like when we do not have a seat at the table? But that is the official Labour policy.
On trade remedies, I am amazed that Gareth Snell has put his name to one of these motions. It is absolutely incredible. Trade remedies would be conducted by the EU, not this country. They are currently conducted by the EU, but we have a seat at the Trade Council—I was at that seat for a long time—and participate in trade remedies to defend our products. There is no guarantee—in fact, it is highly unlikely—that the EU would do the same, particularly for a product not produced in the EU. When it comes to doing WTO-compliant studies of products, we can guarantee that the studies that would take priority would be those defending the interests of EU members, not those of non-members. I find it amazing.
Finally, on trade preferences and access to the developing world, I find it staggering that the Labour party is proposing ceding control over trade preferences to Brussels without the UK having a seat at the table. That would be unacceptable to my constituents and, I believe, to theirs.
There is an air of almost self-satisfaction and self-congratulation in the House today, as if somehow this is wonderful. I think Hilary Benn called it a wonderful freedom. I actually feel very sad about today. We should not be in this position. I could spend the next five minutes talking about who to blame, but there is not much point. We are where we are.
The one group of people we cannot blame, however, are the people of this country who in the referendum voted to leave, thought they would be listened to and were told by everyone, including the former Prime Minister, that their vote mattered and would be implemented, whatever that decision. Since that day, many people in this House who never wanted us to leave have done all they can in very clever ways—an hon. Member said she had been helped by a senior lawyer to put her motion—to prevent us from leaving.
The public looking in today would say, “What a nonsense. It’s just a lot of waffle. You’re just putting through loads of different things.” In the end, only the Government can make this happen. The Prime Minister could still get her withdrawal agreement through, if she was to recognise that she as a Conservative and Unionist Prime Minister should never have come up with something like the backstop and that the backstop has to be changed. I understand that fundamentally.
The one thing that must not happen today is the people of this United Kingdom being told, “You were too stupid, racist or ignorant to vote the right way, and now we want you to vote again in a separate referendum, because we think you might have changed your mind.” I am incredibly disappointed that my party—a Labour party that saw the majority of its constituencies vote to leave—is whipping Labour Members to vote for a second referendum.
I agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s argument. Does she agree that the argument being put in the Chamber today that we should give people a second vote because they have changed their mind would lead to a “neverendum”—people could change their mind every year, though all the polling evidence, as presented by John Curtice, is that they have not changed their mind—and that about 98% of the people promoting a second referendum are remainers?
My hon. Friend is quite right. On that basis, we would have to have general elections practically every month. Some people might change their minds the day after they voted. We cannot go down the road.
I have a big remain constituency, but I have made very clear from day one—and I shall have been in this place for 30 years in June—that I want us to get out of the EU. Everyone has known my views, so I have no apology to make for campaigning to leave. A constituent wrote to me saying that he had thought that the manifestos of the Labour party and Conservative party—the two main parties—had said, “We will implement the result of the referendum.” There is nothing difficult about the word “leave”. It is very simple. Members have deliberately made it difficult here.
My constituent wrote:
“Can we the electorate now expect that anything promised in a manifesto is to be honoured, that it should be written into law, that, if you promise a course of action, you must follow through and make it happen.”
Why, he asked, do party leaders order three-line whips so that what they promised in the manifesto can be reneged on?
I think that we are in a very dangerous situation in the House. We are trying to thwart the will of the people, but democracy cannot be compromised. Outside, there is huge anger. We may not see it here in London, particularly in areas where there was a large remain vote, but there is huge anger elsewhere, and it is growing. We have backed ourselves into a hole, and now the only way out is for us either to leave with a World Trade Organisation agreement, or to find a way in which the withdrawal agreement can be changed so that we can accept it—and that means that there must be a change in the backstop.
Nearly all the motions involve compromise. I make no apology for saying that I do not think we should be compromising with the electorate. I mean no criticism of you, Mr Speaker, but it is very unfortunate that motion (E) was not selected, because it is the one motion that we could all have gone along with, if we believed in the referendum result. Anyone who votes to revoke tonight is actually saying, “We do not accept that result— we never did, and we never will.” I hope that that motion will be turned down.
I have now to announce the results of the deferred Divisions held earlier today. I shall do so with the greatest possible dispatch.
The Question relating to relationships and sex education requires a majority of Members of the House and a majority of Members representing constituencies in England if it is to be agreed to. The totals for Members of the House were as follows: the Ayes were 538 and the Noes were 21. The totals for Members representing constituencies in England were as follows: the Ayes were 482 and the Noes were 14, so the Ayes have it.
In respect of the Question relating to animal welfare, the Ayes were 322 and the Noes were 15, so the Ayes have it. In respect of the Question relating to rural development, the Ayes were 316 and the Noes were 239, so the Ayes have it. In respect of the Question relating to rural development, with, in brackets—I merely remind the House of what it knows itself—the words “Rules and Decisions”, the Ayes were 316 and the Noes were 240, so the Ayes have it.
It is an honour to follow Kate Hoey. She made some important points about the manifesto promises and about living up to them. There are some other promises that we need to live up to. Time and again, I have heard colleagues criticise the Prime Minister, in the House or on the media, for setting out her red lines and not budging from them. For me, those red lines simply represent the promises that were made before the referendum. It was certainly was not just a binary question about the options of staying and leaving. The question about what leaving meant is critical to this debate, because the promises that Vote Leave set out—I believe the hon. Member for Vauxhall was a member of the Vote Leave campaign—
The hon. Lady shakes her head. I apologise.
Vote Leave, which was the primary advocate for leaving, clearly set out promises to control our borders, control our laws and control our money, while having a free trade agreement. I have read the Vote Leave manifesto several times, and the words were, “There is a free trade area that stretches from Iceland to the borders of Russia, and we will be part of it.” Those were the promises that were made.
I believe the Prime Minister has come back to this House with a deal that meets the promises made; that is what her deal does. There is not a single motion on this Order Paper that lives up to those promises, however; all of them incorporate compromises that move outside those red lines. She has come back with a Goldilocks deal—not too hard, not too soft—but still people will not accept this deal.
If we do not approve the Prime Minister’s deal in the days and weeks to come—hopefully days—I think certain Members in this House might well look back and think, “That was our opportunity and it has now gone.” We should support the Prime Minister’s deal, because I do not think, having a small business background, that it is right that we should think of taking an uncalculated risk with the lives and livelihoods of small businesspeople, who we know could be affected by a no-deal exit. So we definitely need to leave with a deal.
How do we leave with a deal if we do not support the Prime Ministers’ deal? It means we have to remove at least one of the red lines. From my perspective, despite the fact that it would breach the manifesto promises, I would remove the red line on the single market. There will be challenges, certainly particularly between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but most of them are solved by membership of the single market. Some 80% of the border challenges are about the single market. Barnier said it himself: customs checks need not happen at the border.
We can do without the customs union, but we need the single market for regulatory standards, particularly on foods. A humble cottage pie sat on a supermarket shelf in Northern Ireland has passed over that border typically seven times. If there were regulatory checks, they would have to happen every single time according to EU rules; and it makes the rules, and we have been part of that system for 46 years, so we cannot simply say now “We don’t agree with your rules despite the fact that we’ve been happy”—or relatively happy—“to sit within them for 46 years.”
I will support two motions this evening. One is motion (D) brought forward by a number of colleagues, including my hon. Friend Nick Boles and Stephen Kinnock. Many colleagues have been big advocates of common market 2.0; it is a free trade agreement. I have concerns about it: I have concerns about the customs union, and the longevity of the customs union and our ability to exit it. Paragraph (1)(c) says we will need to agree with the EU our exit from the customs union, and I cannot see what incentive it would have to let us leave.
If we approved this motion, we would also have to agree lots of things with the Opposition. I do not have an issue about working cross-party on this at all, but I do fear that if we approve this, as we take the legislation forward over the next months and years, Labour Front Benchers will ask an ever higher price, because there is a political divide between the Opposition Front Bench and the Government Front Bench.
The other proposal I will happily accept is motion (H). It represents an excellent way forward; it is bold and decisive, and I will support it this evening.
I have five quick points, or thereabouts, to make in five minutes.
First, it is an absolute and utter disgrace that it has come to this—that the Back Benches of this House are having to force the Government to follow a process to reach a decision. The Prime Minister should have been the one sponsoring and initiating this process—that is called leadership—but the reason why time and again she has failed to do so is that she always fails to face down the ideological zealots in her own party.
The Prime Minister has suggested that if what comes out of this process—and I hope we get a majority behind something—is at variance with what she has proposed she may simply ignore Parliament. But this is a parliamentary democracy, and the campaigns to leave the EU were fought in the name of parliamentary sovereignty. Is she seriously saying she can maintain any credibility or authority in her negotiations with the EU Council if she seeks to set her face against the will as expressed by the House through this process?
On the substance of the motions, I will be supporting the people’s vote motion tabled by Margaret Beckett—motion (M)—and I commend her for her excellent speech, which explained far better than I could why we should all support the motion. However, I will explain why I personally support it. As a House, we had a duty in the last Parliament to try to square the circle between the promises that were made in the 2016 referendum and what was deliverable. That is why I voted against—against my heart—to invoke article 50 two years ago. However, with every week that has passed, we have seen not only that the campaigns to leave the European Union lied but that they have broken their promises, and the Electoral Commission has confirmed that they cheated, too.
I listened carefully to the speeches of the hon. Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) about the importance of delivering on the result of the referendum, but the problem that this Parliament has been grappling with is that it is impossible to deliver on the mythical, fantastical promises that were made back then. In the face of this disaster, and of the catastrophe that we have seen unfolding throughout the negotiations, the last resort is always to invoke the will of the people, but the simple fact is that, ever since that referendum was held, all the signs are that proceeding with this flawed Brexit is far from what this country wants.
After the 2016 vote, you would have thought that support for what had been voted for would have gone up, but almost every poll shows that support for it has fallen. Let us not forget that that referendum was held three years ago, when 37% of registered electors voted to leave. The most recent poll of the British people was held in 2017, when the Conservative hard Brexit was put to the British people and the party of Government lost its majority. If that were not the case, we would not be having this protracted process right now. Above all, I say to those who talk about the will of the people that democracy is not static; it is a dynamic thing. We in this country did not chose to have a system in which we have one general election and a one-party state and in which we never go back to the people for their view on things as our country and the world change and adapt.
The younger generations of this country have not been mentioned in the debate so far. I listened to the contribution of my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Vauxhall, and I say to her that the younger people in our borough, which is one of the youngest in the country, will never forgive this Parliament if it seeks to impose this disaster on them. More than 2 million young people have become entitled to vote since that 2016 poll, and we know that an overwhelming majority of them want a say on this process and that an overwhelming majority of them want to keep the current deal and the privileges that the older generations in this country have enjoyed for years.
If in the end we are faced with a cliff edge, with all the catastrophes that have been spelled out in Cabinet documents and knowing what it will mean for people’s jobs and livelihoods, and if we do not have a people’s vote, of course we must do as motion (L) proposes and revoke article 50. No one in this House has a mandate to destroy people’s jobs and livelihoods, but we know that a no-deal exit would do that because the Cabinet has produced its own briefing papers telling us that that is a fact. This is what is at stake here; this is what we have to think about when we make this decision. This is not about us so much as about future generations, and it is important that we do right by them.
For many months, we have had broadly the same debate on the same subject, with many of the same speakers saying exactly the same things, and what precisely have we achieved? It really is now time for Parliament to find a way forward so that we and the country can return to the daily issues that really matter to people. Let us be honest: our constituents up and down the country are fed up and frustrated, and arguably, so are many Members of Parliament. We as a Parliament really need to step up and make some positive decisions. I therefore welcome today’s debate. We should probably have done this couple of years ago and got it out of the way.
My starting point is very simple: this country voted to leave the EU. I therefore firmly believe that we must leave the EU institutions. What was unclear from the referendum, however, was the nature of our future relationship with the EU. As we have discovered, this means many different things to different people, which has to some extent created the difficulties that we are now in. There is no clear direction. In my view, sadly, this has also been down to a serious lack of leadership by the Government—an unwillingness to bring people together and to reach some sort of compromise. We cannot go on as we are. This country requires some clear direction and, hopefully, we may achieve that today. We will find out this evening what this House is willing to accept, and perhaps something will start to emerge. To some extent, Parliament has already indicated that it does not want a no-deal scenario nor a second referendum, and there has also been no sign that the PM’s deal will actually achieve a majority, but I have supported it twice and will do so again. Interestingly, and I say this to some fellow Conservative Members, we would be leaving the EU this Friday had the deal passed, so I do have to question their motives.
What should we do? My mother has always remarked that the general view back in the 1970s was that the UK wanted to be part of an economic bloc, not a political union. When I have similar discussions with my mother nearly 50 years on, her view is still exactly the same, and I suspect that that is the view, attitude or outlook of the vast majority of the people of the UK. It is certainly mine.
I am comfortable with the fact that our country will be leaving the EU’s institutions. However, it is in our economic and political interest to be part of a close economic arrangement. For today’s purposes, that would be EFTA and EEA membership under the common market 2.0 approach, which would take us out of the EU but keep us part of the economic market that is Europe. I would have liked to go into the detail of that approach, but that has been well argued by Stephen Kinnock and my hon. Friends the Members for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake).
We have the opportunity today to indicate to the Government what would command the support of this House. That would apply only if the PM’s deal does not succeed, but I hope that we can find some sort of consensus and a way forward. Leaving the EU is central, and being part of a large economic market is vital, so the obvious solution is an EFTA-EEA arrangement. I will be supporting it later today, and I encourage others to do the same.
I am happy that we have got this far in spite of the Government’s attempts to derail the process, but I am sad that we are having the first attempt at this sort of dialogue 1,007 days after
I am pleased that the tone has been broadly positive, with people setting out their views on the different options before us. However, I must speak strongly against motion (B)—the no-deal option tabled by Mr Baron—because anyone who advocates no deal is not participating in rational discourse, as I think he called it. No one advocating no deal could possibly have recently spoken to business, the police, the NHS, UK citizens in the EU, or EU citizens in the UK, because there are no-deal implications for all of them. I therefore hope that no deal gets soundly defeated today.
Turning to motion (D), while a common market 2.0 could be one of the best of the available options, it could also possibly be one of the worst, because it would leave us as rule takers not rule makers. It would also enable those who are antagonistic towards the EU to carry on their campaign on the basis that we would have to sign up to a large part of the EU’s agenda, including making financial contributions, without having any say in the goings-on. In many ways, it probably represents a halfway house before another push to leave the European Union at some point, so I hope that that option will not be supported either.
I am afraid that a number of other motions before us fall into the category of unicorns or wishful thinking. The idea that things can be renegotiated at very short notice in the time that might be available, with new protocols and arrangements found that have not been found in the last two and a half years, is wishful thinking. Of course, anything we do requires the European Union to agree to an extension. Some of the motions, such as the customs union proposal, are not unicorns but are far too unambitious in the arrangement they seek with the European Union.
I will focus on two motions in my last couple of minutes. I am pleased that Joanna Cherry tabled motion (L) with cross-party support, underlining that revoking article 50 remains a possibility for the United Kingdom, and should be a possibility up to the very last moment. We need the ability to block a no-deal scenario, which is what revocation is there for. I am pleased a cross-party effort was involved in the case that went to the European Court of Justice to secure confirmation that the UK can revoke article 50 at any point prior to our departure.
On motion (M), as other Members have commented, I hope the oratory of Margaret Beckett will have convinced many in this Chamber, and not just those who are already signed up to the idea, to come in behind a confirmatory public vote. As many Members have said this afternoon, and as I am sure others will say before the debate is over, the explanation given a thousand days ago on what would be on offer in our leaving the European Union is clearly not what will be deliverable. If the House decides to proceed with some of the motions today, they are clearly not what was voted on two and a half years ago. Certainly they are not what the Prime Minister says is representative of Brexit, which is why I think this has to go back to a confirmatory public vote. With the level of cross-party support for such a vote, I hope it is something we will be able to proceed with when we get to the next stage.
Order. I am immensely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
I start by sincerely thanking my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, Yvette Cooper, my hon. Friend Nick Boles, Stephen Kinnock and other Members on both sides of the House who have worked to make this afternoon possible. They and all of us participating in this debate are doing democracy, this House and the Government a favour, although the Government will not admit it. And they are doing the British people, who want us to find a sensible Brexit solution, a favour.
I was a remain Minister in the last Government, but I have been very clear that we have to honour and respect the referendum result both nationally, in my duty as a Member of this House, and locally in my responsibility and duty to the people of Mid Norfolk, who voted 62% to leave whereas the country voted 52% to leave.
I have also been consistently clear that we have to respect the concerns of the 48% who did not want to leave, the legitimate interests of those citizens who could not vote in the referendum, particularly the young whose future we are shaping and who will have to live with the consequences of our actions, and the legitimate grievances of the 52% who voted to leave. One of the great disappointments of the last two and a half years is the almost shattering silence of those who brilliantly harnessed those grievances to deliver Brexit but who have not spoken about how we tackle them—the feeling of blue-collar job insecurity, the lack of proper local infrastructure, the house dumping and the sense that big government and big debt are working against the localities of this country. That agenda of renewal has to be right at the heart of delivering Brexit.
We were told today that this debate—this hunt for indicative votes—was a constitutional outrage, was a remainer conspiracy and was tying the Government’s hands. All three claims are completely false. First, since when is it a constitutional outrage for this House to control its own business? It has always controlled its own business. To those who say that the Government of the day control the business of the House, I say that, yes, they do, because their Back Benchers, normally, automatically grant them the power so to do. The sovereignty over our time has always, since the civil war, been with this House. To hear my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg pray in aid medieval and Tudor laws against the sovereignty of this House, which I thought he was the greatest champion of, defending an Executive who prefer not to listen, was one of the most extraordinary moments of today.
Secondly, if it is a remainer conspiracy, it is some conspiracy and some set of remainers, because all of us who are working with my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin are supporting the Brexit withdrawal Bill. We are not trying to defy Brexit; we are trying to find a way to get it through. Thirdly, the claim that we are tying the Government’s hands is nonsense. This is an indicative vote to help the Front-Bench team to see where, if, God forbid, this is needed, a plan B or some further concession might be found to carry this Bill through the House if, as I hope they do not, some of my hardline Brexit colleagues, who would prefer a no deal to a deal, continue to hold the Government to ransom. Let us reach out across the House to find a Brexit that the whole country can support. Tonight, I will be voting for motions (d) and (h)—for EFTA—and I will be voting against having a second referendum. If this shambles goes on and on, in due course the British people will ultimately decide, probably in a general election. This House has to lift every rock to find a Brexit deal that can get through.
The arguments for EFTA have been beautifully put by others this afternoon, and I wish simply to make two points. The vast majority of my leave voters in Norfolk said, “Mr Freeman, I voted to be in or I want to be in a common market, not a political union.” They were stunned when they heard that the Brexit vote was somehow going to mean an extraction from all of the single market—from all the trade benefits of being in Europe. That is why EFTA is such a powerful solution. It does require free movement, but it is free movement of workers, not of citizens. I argue that it goes with two key reforms. The first is welfare reform, to make it clear that people who come here to work should not automatically receive the universal benefits that Clement Attlee put in place for those who had fallen on the beaches and paid into our country—they can earn that right. The second is a massive programme of blue-collar skills investment to support those fearing economic insecurity. Mostly, I think EFTA has something that no other solution has: it is a settlement of this question. We would be joining a bloc in Europe whereby, as we joined, we would change the dynamics of Europe. It is a bloc that has been going for 40 years. It is tried, tested and proven, and business can rely on it. I commend it as plan B, should the Government’s deal not go through.
I did not vote for the legislation for the EU referendum, or to trigger article 50 regardless of the consequences, which are now all too plain to see. I made my views clear during the 2017 election and, despite most people’s expectations, I was re-elected. So throughout this, I have been consistent and honest, as has Mr Clarke. The last vote on the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement was, sadly, the first time that he and I were in a different Lobby. That was not because we do not believe that leaving the European Union is a terrible mistake for our country, but because the Prime Minister has so successfully ticked the clock down that he was just being pragmatic: pass her agreement, then live and fight for the future another day. I respect that decision.
Today, I will also be pragmatic because otherwise this intransigent, deeply flawed Prime Minister may well get a no-deal way, just so that she can wag her finger at the rest of us and say, “I told you so.” Today, we also owe it to the three Ministers, who honourably resigned this week to help to give us this opportunity, to come to a clear decision. We also owe it to the right hon. and hon. Members who have done such sterling work in the national, not personal, interest. Mr Grieve has been truly outstanding, as has the irrepressible right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).
In my local area of north Staffordshire, I now seem to be a lone island of remain in a shifting sea of leave among Members of this House. I certainly dread the thought of a second referendum. Powerful, loud and deep-pocketed voices would try to drown out debate with cries of “Betrayal,” but we have to be brave. In the interests of our country, we should not shy away from giving the people, including young citizens who are 16, a final say on their future. If the House gives a firm steer today, the Government should not only listen but put the matter to a people’s vote, with an option to remain. Should they do so, I will campaign, as we did in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 2016, for a remain result. I will campaign to remain and reform, if necessary, from within—to remain and heed the lessons of history, to keep our place alongside onetime foes who have been for the past 75 years our partners in peace and prosperity on an often-troubled small continent, in a rapidly changing world.
In 2016, we in Newcastle-under-Lyme fought the referendum campaign as hard as any general election campaign. Sadly, that fight was not evident in all parts of our country. It is true that in Newcastle-under-Lyme people voted by 60% to 40% to leave, but they did not vote for what happens next. In next-door Stoke, the vote was 70% to 30%. That difference shows that, if we make the argument, we can make the difference, particularly when the national result was so narrow, at 52% to 48%. What was missing on the ground in that referendum was the engagement of the Conservative party. Having introduced the referendum, the party of government took no position, in the interests of the party itself, not of our country. The Prime Minister has behaved in the same way ever since, but she gained no majority from her approach in the general election, and she now has no majority in the House for her so-called deal. She stumbles on and on; she is truly the stumbling block.
When we vote later, I hope we will vote to revoke article 50, or to give us the leeway to do so. I urge colleagues not to abstain on motion (L). If we do not vote to revoke, I hope we vote for something pragmatic and for a future that keeps us close to our partners in Europe. When we vote, I will pay great heed to the lead that has been given by true statespeople, such as the right hon. and learned Members for Rushcliffe and for Beaconsfield, Sir Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles, my right hon. Friends the Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, and many others. I hope the Prime Minister will pay heed to them as well. It was simply wrong for her to do what she did last week in that extraordinary broadcast to the country and do down our Parliament when it is full of really good people who are a real credit to our democracy.
I passionately believe that we have to follow the 2016 referendum result, even though I voted remain. I voted for the triggering of article 50, to keep no deal on the table, against a second referendum and against a long delay to our exit date. My voting record in Parliament reflects the will of the British people because I feel that anything else would lead to huge mistrust in our political system.
I also believe that Parliament and politicians are becoming toxic. The 17 million people who voted to leave think that the establishment is against them, too busy playing party politics and determined to stop Brexit, so I would not do anything—and I mean anything—that I believe would undermine the decision of the people who voted to leave. I want a strong Brexit, a workers’ Brexit and a Brexit that unifies our country. How do we achieve that? Through Common Market 2.0 and membership of the European Free Trade Association. We would be out of the political union of the EU, out of the common agricultural policy, and out of EU rules on home affairs and taxation. We would be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. But, as EFTA members, we would have access to the single market, thereby safeguarding our businesses and jobs.
As my hon. Friend George Eustice pointed out, it is worth remembering that the British founded EFTA in 1959, when Harold Macmillan signed the Stockholm convention. The Chancellor at the time, Derick Heathcoat-Amory, said:
“We wanted to be able to share in the prosperity that a great single trading unit would bring with it”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 615, c. 1057.]
Our joining would be welcomed by member states—by the Icelandic Foreign Minister and by the Norwegian Prime Minister—and it has been reported that the EFTA court president has said that EFTA membership would solve the problem of the Irish backstop.
On freedom of movement, with EFTA membership, we would take back control, because articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement would provide us with important safeguards, allowing Britain to
“unilaterally take appropriate measures” in the event of
“serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”, or on grounds of public policy, security or health, in the case of workers.
It is wrong to think that we would be rule takers. My hon. Friend Nick Boles highlighted that Norway and Iceland alone have derogated from 400 EU Acts between them and how Norway has declined to implement the postal services directive. As members of EFTA, we would be part of the EFTA court, which is a guidance court, not an authoritative court in the same way the European Court of Justice is. The customs arrangement on our side would be temporary until we were able to solve the issue of the frictionless border, and then we would have full EFTA membership and be able to do trade deals, as other EFTA members have done.
The Common Market 2.0 is also a Eurosceptic Brexit. Many Eurosceptics over the past few years have supported the Norway option—even UKIP tweeted in support of it. Dan Hannan has supported EFTA in the past. Douglas Carswell has supported EFTA in the past.
My hon. Friend reminds me that Margaret Thatcher said in her 2003 book how supportive she was of EFTA:
“These countries now enjoy free trade with the European Union…They also enjoy the unhindered access guaranteed by the operation of the European Single Market. But they remain outside the customs union, the CAP, the CFP, the common foreign and security policy and the rest of the legal/bureaucratic tangle of EU institutions.”
If it is good enough for the right hon. Lady, it is good enough for me.
In joining EFTA, we do take back control. It is a workers’ Brexit because we keep workers’ rights and protections, such as annual leave, equal pay and maternity leave. It is a take-back-control Brexit because we are out of the political union of the EU, and we safeguard jobs and our economy. Above all, it is a uniting Brexit. It brings together remainers and leavers and keep us in an alliance of democracies.
Order. After the House has heard from Phil Wilson, I am afraid that it will be necessary to reduce the time limit on Back-Bench speeches to three minutes, in an attempt to accommodate as many colleagues as possible.
I rise in support of motion (M), in the name of my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett, which calls for a confirmatory vote by the British people on any Brexit deal. I will begin by saying why I have come to the conclusion that this should be put back to the people. I completely respect colleagues who have a different viewpoint from me, but this is a position that I hold passionately and with great sincerity. I know that those who disagree with me hold their views in the same way. However, I believe in my heart of hearts that the British people have the right to the final say on this country’s future direction.
We already have the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, but today there is the possibility to decide on other options to negotiate with the EU and perhaps what will become another withdrawal agreement or deal. It is clear from the range of motions tabled that Brexit can take many forms, but about three years since the EU referendum, we now know what Brexit will look like if the Prime Minister’s deal gets through. My question is: how does that compare with what was promised in the referendum? Is it what the people voted for back then? The answer to both questions is that we will never know unless we ask them.
My experience is that the concept of Brexit is just that—a concept. It is an idea, a viewpoint, a general principle, such as “Leave means leave”. As those who adhere to the concept of “Leave means leave” try to give it depth or any kind of coherence, it falls apart into different schools of thought. Some actually believe that leave means leave, so they just want to leave. There are those who have given a bit more thought to the concept and belong to the Brexit school that teaches how to leave the EU on World Trade Organisation rules. There is the school that teaches how to do the Norway-plus option and schools that adhere to the customs union and the closest possible relationship with the single market.
There are so many different schools that teach how to do Brexit. To their adherents, they are all legitimate Brexits. They have one thing in common: they want to deliver Brexit, but none of them is Brexit. The only Brexit on offer is the Brexit deal negotiated by the Government with the EU. That now defines Brexit; it is Brexit. However, if after this process today, the House agrees with a different option from the one negotiated with the EU, that becomes Brexit. But the question still remains: how does it compare with the promises made in 2016? The people have the right to decide.
No, I am not going to give way because people are desperate to speak and there is not enough time.
Some say that another public vote would be divisive, but implementing any deal without a final say by the British people is divisive and would be for years to come as people realise that Brexit does not end on the day we may leave the EU, but that it only begins on that day.
Seventy per cent. of my voters in Barnsley voted to leave and they would like their point of view put into action. Is this motion really about staying in the European Union, and not about putting the question back to the people?
As my hon. Friend knows, my hon. Friend Peter Kyle and I have been working on a compromise so that the people can decide whether the Brexit on offer is the way that they want to go. That option was not there in 2016 and the people have the right to compare the Brexit facts with the promises made back then.
Implementing any deal without a final say for the British people will be divisive, because they will not have had a say on whether they want, for example, to pay £39 billion to the EU. They also will not have been asked whether they want to remain in a customs union, to accept freedom of movement or to be like Norway. In fact, they will not have a say on any of the proposals that could come to fruition. It is not a criticism of colleagues in the House who have put forward such proposals today, but how do we know what the people voted for or will consent to unless we ask them?
It continues to lie heavily with me that on the several occasions in this House that I have asked the Prime Minister whether her deal is better than the one we have now, she could not answer. Maybe the people will disagree with me and agree with the Prime Minister, but it is time to find out. If the people look at the Brexit facts and they compare favourably with what was promised almost three years ago, so the Brexit deal passes—fine, let us see the deal implemented. Under our proposal, the deal would be given passage through this House with the proviso that it goes to the people in a confirmatory ballot; if the deal is agreed to, it is implemented. That would then put an end to any idea of a third or a fourth referendum. In fact, there is a strong argument that the process that we are undertaking now should have taken place before the referendum in 2016, with the facts before the people, instead of promises that will never materialise.
Some say that what we are promising is undemocratic because the people have already had their say. Yes, they have. But they did not have a say on the current Brexit deal—or, in fact, on any Brexit deal—and they should. When I suggest that the electorate should be given the final say on what the deal should be, some people react as if the only ones who would be allowed to vote are those who voted to remain. People should have the right to changes their minds—not just from leave to remain, but from remain to leave. I do not believe that MPs in this House today, who are elected, in theory, for five-year terms, should have the final say on an issue that will affect our electors, and their families and descendants, for years to come. If that were to happen, it would not reflect well on the establishment, however it is appointed or elected.
The final say should not be given to Members of this House exclusively. The final say belongs to the people. Brexit started with the people and it should end with the people.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker. I am very much used to the time limit changing just as I rise to speak.
I campaigned to remain, but I promised my constituents that I would accept the result of the referendum that my colleagues and I voted into law. In my view, the best deal to do that is undoubtedly the one negotiated by the Prime Minister, with all the difficult squaring of circles that it has had to go through. I sincerely hope that we do agree to that deal. If we do not, we have to accept that, given no deal has been defeated twice in this place, we must have a deal that flexes one of the red lines—the single market and the customs union. I explained on Monday that the issue of free movement should not be as big a concern, because our immigration numbers will be the same; people will just come from further afield. The key issue is trade. If we go down the EFTA/EEA route, we would be outside the customs union, but we would keep the EU free trade deal, which is the single market.
If we were outside the EU but in the customs union, there would be a profound problem. What would happen when we wanted to do a trade deal with a country that the EU did not wish to conclude one with or was unable to do that? This is fundamental. Imagine if it were a key economic bloc such as China. If we wanted to negotiate a trade deal with the Chinese, we would have to wait for the EU to conclude its trade deal, which would take much longer and be far more complicated. The Swiss, whose fine EFTA country is in the single market but outside the customs union, negotiated, as long ago as 2013, an excellent trade deal with the Chinese that has given them billions of pounds-worth of trade in industrial goods and very strong access in services. This is the key point. There are many good reasons why we as a country could negotiate a trade deal with China that the EU could not, one of which is that we have a profound offer in services that is very different from the overall EU mix.
I think personally that we have to say to our people what are the benefits and opportunities of leaving. One of them must be to live up to our great history and heritage as the home of capitalism and free trade, and go back to trading around the world but with a close relationship with the European single market to fall back on. That works brilliantly for Switzerland and for Norway. In essence, it means leaving the political union and staying in the economic one. It is a very good deal. It is not as good as the Prime Minister’s deal, for all the reasons I have explained in previous speeches. However, at this moment in time, we have to decide whether we really want to deliver Brexit or not. If we are going to do so, and if it is not through the Prime Minister’s deal, which I hope we will vote on on Friday, there must a compromise, and the best one is that which plays to our strengths as a great free-trade nation.
It is a great pleasure to follow James Cartlidge.
I shall be voting for motions (M) and (L) for the excellent reasons that the proposers of both those motions have made very clear to the House. What a great debate we have had, and has it not been so revealing, so comforting and so good to see and hear how many hon. Members, notably on the Conservative Benches, have changed their minds? Not only have they changed their minds—they are tonight going to change the way that they have voted in the past. I do not know, Mr Speaker, if you have had the benefit of looking at the great names that have been added in support of motion (D): Nick Boles; the right hon. Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Harlow (Robert Halfon); the hon. Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) and for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman); and the right hon. Members for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) and for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). I could go on and on.
All those Members will be supporting common market 2.0, the single market and the customs union—something that over the past two years many of us, on many occasions, have risen to speak on, argue for and vote in favour of. That was at considerable personal and political cost, but we made the case, and, time and again, other hon. Members, notably those on the Conservative Benches, argued and voted against it. But, joy of joys, tonight they finally see the merits of that solution to this great Brexit dilemma, and indeed, as I say, they are going to change their votes.
We also hear tonight that there is every chance that the Prime Minister’s deal may indeed get through, so this could end up as an otiose exercise, as we lawyers call it. We now learn that hon. and right hon. Members on the Conservative Benches who, on previous occasions, have voted against the Prime Minister’s deal, not once but twice, are now going to—guess what?—not only change their minds, but will, too, have and enjoy the privilege of changing their vote to support the Prime Minister.
What a profound irony—and, some would say, a disgrace, verging on hypocrisy. Hon. and right hon. Members expect and will enjoy the right to change their mind and their vote, but not allow the people of this country the same right. That is why I shall be supporting the motion to allow whatever we agree and decide on to go back to the British people. They are entitled also to change their mind and their vote, especially when they see that, whatever way you cut it, Brexit will make our country worse off. And if it turns out that the majority do not want Brexit, it will not be on my conscience.
That was not the case that the right hon. Lady made. She made the case that people should be able to change their mind repeatedly, which implies that she would support any number of referendums.
I rise to speak against motion (D), in the name of my hon. Friend Nick Boles, on common market 2.0, and a similar motion, (H), in the name of my hon. Friend George Eustice, on membership of the European economic area. I strongly oppose those motions for two reasons. First, they both entail signing up to full single market rules. The House of Commons Library published a paper only yesterday that says on page 19:
“EEA membership… involves a range of obligations, including implementation of EU rules relating to the Single Market”, with no decision-making role, other than being “consulted”. For a great British institution such as the City of London or our entire industrial economy, our merely being consulted on the rules that govern them simply is not good enough.
Secondly, there is the question of financial contributions, which was a controversial part of the referendum campaign. Another House of Commons paper published on
We then come to the question of free movement, which was another contentious issue during the referendum campaign. Membership of the single market entails full free movement. Some Members have referred to various brakes or safeguards in the European economic area agreement. Specifically, article 112 says that any such safeguards must be “restricted” in their “scope and duration”. Article 114 says that if a state, like the UK, were to use those safeguards, other member states could take “rebalancing measures” against them, meaning that some of the benefits of single market membership could be withdrawn. No country other than Liechtenstein, in very limited circumstances, has ever taken advantage of those provisions.
Well, Switzerland is currently engaged in a running battle with the European Union and has been unable to implement the result of its own 2014 referendum on free movement.
In the 54 seconds remaining, let me briefly turn to the question of trade deals, which relates only to motion (D) and not motion (H). Under the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford, during our customs union membership—this would probably apply to the Labour party’s official proposal as well—we would be bound by all trade agreements done by the European Union. We would be compelled to follow them, without the right of veto that we currently enjoy, and we would be prevented from doing any free trade deals of our own. That would be greatly to our disadvantage and would exclude countries such as India, China and the USA. For those reasons, I will be opposing motions (D) and (H).
As others have said, this debate should have happened a long time ago. Unfortunately, in the meantime, positions have become more entrenched and the country has become more divided. I hope that today, the healing process can begin. I want to say at the outset that each one of us has thought deeply for a long time. These are difficult issues, and we have all made balanced judgments from a place of good intent. We should respect where others have arrived at, even though some of us have arrived at different places.
We also have to remember that nothing about this debate is perfect. There is no easy solution, and there is no panacea. Every single thing before us has upsides and downsides, and I am not going to pretend any differently about what I want to support this evening. We need some honesty in the debate, and we need some balance too. The only thing that is absolute is that compromise is absolutely necessary, and we must have that in everything we do. My other criteria for looking at the things before us today is what is actually doable and achievable because, for too long in this debate, we have been chasing unicorns around that unicorn forest.
Although I have arrived at the view that, on the balance of upsides and downsides, common market 2.0 for me offers a balance I can live with, I will be voting for other things this evening. I think today is about keeping as many options as possible on the table—in the forest, or whatever metaphor hon. Members wants—not narrowing them down. In brief, the upsides of common market 2.0 for me are that they are about leaving the EU in economically the best possible way of doing so—the single market is the key element, not the customs union—and we can do it quickly as well. There are of course downsides: there are still issues about freedom of movement and whether we are a rule taker. As ever in this debate, there are shades of grey; it is not all just black and white.
I want to place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock. While many in this place have retrenched to process issues and talked about procedures in the House, the two of them have actually taken the bull by the horns and looked at issues that can resolve this situation practically. I have some concerns about what she is proposing, but she has at least proposed something substantive, and I thank her for that.
I thank my hon. Friend very much. As my mum always says, “Those who do nowt do nowt wrong, do they?” We always get criticised for having a position, rather than for not doing so. As I say, I respect the many people across the House who have worked in cross-party teams to try to do that.
Finally, on the issue of the second referendum, for me this is a separate question. We have to find something that we can put to the public if that is what this House decides. We still need to determine what the best Brexit looks like which, if the House wanted, we would put back to the people. We cannot have remain versus remain on the ballot paper, as I know some would want, and I do not think we can have remain versus leave in a form that is undefined. Regardless of what people’s views are about a second referendum, I just implore those in all parts of the House to agree on what Brexit may look like, including in the eventuality of a second referendum.
Thank you, Mr Speaker —brevity, brevity.
I sincerely hope that we will have some clarity at the end of this process, and that it will move us closer to the Brexit I was sent here from Clacton to deliver. From my travels across my constituency, I know that the vast majority of my constituents just want this whole agonising process to be brought to a conclusion with a Brexit. Yet because of the constraints applied by this House, the deal on the table is the best way to deliver that Brexit, despite my serious concerns about the backstop and the continuing legal jurisdiction of the ECJ. I now feel that we have to vote for it, and head off the possibility of no Brexit at all.
The political scenery has changed dramatically, and this House has become more assertive by taking no deal off the table. There is also the emerging threat of an extremely soft or painfully slow Brexit. Moreover—this is becoming apparent now—as the House begins to assert itself, the Brexit deal we now have on offer is as good as it is ever going to be. There is not, and there never will be, a perfect deal; there is only a pragmatic outcome. By failing to move beyond this point at all and by failing to compromise and start on the road to Brexit, we are failing to satisfy anyone who voted to leave. We are also failing to satisfy those who voted to remain, and that includes me, but my position fell with the result of the referendum.
In the light of the instruction I got from people in Clacton to deliver Brexit, I would ask my colleagues if they want to be the ones that make Brexit worse, or even lose it entirely, when they could be the ones to deliver a good form of Brexit after all this pain and division—a Brexit that delivers on the promises. No doubt some will remain stubborn and push hopelessly for an unattainable no deal, but they fail to recognise that no matter how much they may wish for it, there is not a majority for no deal in the House and there has not been since the 2017 election. If colleagues reject that point and doggedly reiterate the Prime Minister’s line that no deal is better than a bad deal, that does not change the fact that supporting no deal is flogging a dead horse. A deal is all we can possibly have.
I agree with my hon. Friend. A second referendum would be even more divisive than the position in which we find ourselves.
Although no deal is the legal default, we are in the weird position that it is no longer possible. Events have overtaken dogma and stubbornness. I will therefore support the deal in future votes in a spirit of pragmatism and because of my desire to deliver Brexit for my constituents. I will vote to support no deal today, again for my constituents, but to colleagues who are still voting for no deal in the vain hope of reaching that outcome, I say that the House will not allow it. It is time to get serious about the deal in its current form because all the other options are far worse than the one on offer.
I will not go through all the motions, but I am looking for pragmatic and realistic options. I want to get the deal over the line for the good of the country in the future.
It is a pleasure to follow Giles Watling. He will not be surprised that I profoundly disagree with his viewpoint, but it is good that the House has finally had the chance to debate the full range of options.
I will vote with most enthusiasm tonight for motion (M), which my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett tabled. I voted to respect the outcome of the referendum in 2016 and trigger article 50, but in the past two and half years, so much more has become clear about the detail of the real impact of Brexit on our constituents and so many of the promises of those who campaigned to leave have been shown to be untrue.
I was proud to be one of 1 million who marched in London on Saturday. It should not only be the 650 of us in Parliament who get to have the final say on which Brexit option is decided. Given that Brexit has such huge implications for our country, surely it is only right that once a deal has been finalised, the people should have the final say.
I will vote for motion (L), which Joanna Cherry tabled, to strengthen the protection against a no-deal Brexit for our country.
However, as a House of Commons, we have a duty to try to help the Prime Minister and the Government to move on from the deal that she has been peddling so unsuccessfully for so long. The dilemma for the House is how close or how distant a relationship we want with the EU. Every independent economist suggests that the more distant our relationship with the EU in the future, the greater the adverse economic impact. For me, that means we should opt for the softest Brexit possible, staying in the customs union and the single market.
The vast majority of jobs for my constituents and others depend on the services sector and every independent economist suggests that there will be a huge impact on our country in loss of services business if we leave the single market. For that reason alone, we should stay in the single market.
Trade remains the last great unicorn to be fully taken down. I do not believe that there will be better trade deals on offer after Brexit. We have got good trade deals as a result of membership of the EU and I look forward to supporting motion (M).
What we are doing this evening is what we should have done a long time ago, at the outset of this process. Something of the magnitude of Brexit has never been attempted before anywhere else in the world. We should have put down the foundations before laying the bricks.
That said, my favoured course is to support the withdrawal agreement that the Government have negotiated, and if there is another vote on it I shall support it again. It delivers Brexit in an orderly, non-disruptive way, and it provides the framework for revitalising the Lowestoft and East Anglian fishing industry.
In considering the various alternatives that have been suggested, I am mindful of the need to respect the 2016 referendum and I shall therefore not be voting for a second referendum or revocation of article 50. I have listened to impassioned and persuasive arguments for why we should do so, but I sense that if we go down that road we will leave a lot of people all around the country very puzzled, bewildered and, I am afraid, angry.
As a second option to the withdrawal agreement, I believe that we should consider motion (H), tabled by my hon. Friend George Eustice. It would involve the UK remaining a member of the European economic area and returning to the European Free Trade Association, which we invented in 1959 and which involves no customs union and no backstop. That delivers on the referendum result, as the European Communities Act 1972 would be repealed on time, without an extension, and we would legally leave the EU. It also has the advantage, from my perspective, that we would leave the common fisheries policy sooner and would be able to implement the emerging policy.
With regard to leaving without a deal, I have in the past week canvassed local business, trade associations and representatives for their positions. They include businesses from the haulage, oil and gas, packaging, leisure, farming and food processing sectors, as well as health providers and utility companies. They are all concerned about the impact on their businesses of leaving the EU on WTO terms and, by implication, the potential negative knock-on impact both on those who work for them and on those to whom they provide goods and services.
In conclusion, the current logjam has been going on for far too long. We need to remove the uncertainty as quickly as possible and get on with delivering Brexit in an orderly way.
It is a pleasure to follow my good friend Peter Aldous.
It is extraordinary, is it not, that we are here today? I, like others, welcome the constructive tone struck by many in this debate, but it is
I am not one of those who can say that I have changed my mind through this process. I represent one of the most remain constituencies in the country, and I am a passionate remainer myself. I have found that difficult at times, because I recognise that many of my colleagues are in a much more difficult position.
I caution colleagues slightly about the policy discussion we are having today. Although we may well be able to move towards a rational compromise, I have wondered throughout whether that is really where many members of the public are. If I needed any proof of that, when I floated the idea of revocation in this Chamber some six months ago, it was seen, to be frank, as a bit of an outlier positon. However, if I needed any confirmation of that position, it is the extraordinary strength of the petition that has been running over the past few weeks.
I am a member of the Petitions Committee and it is unfortunate that aspersions were made earlier today on the veracity of that petition. The staff work very hard. To be frank, if Russian bots were crawling over parts of one of the campaigns during the referendum, I think we can send a strong message that they are not going to be running over the parliamentary petitions website, because we are very careful. Whatever one feels about the issue, there is strength of feeling: 27,000 people in my constituency—almost one third of the electorate—have taken the trouble to make their point. I would say that for them, remain means remain. I fear that some of the compromise positions will not satisfy people elsewhere. That leaves me to conclude, having looked at some of the intermediate options—I can see their merits from a policy perspective—that we have people who feel passionately about this issue on both sides.
How do we resolve that problem in a democracy? Frankly, I think there is only one answer—I thought the most powerful contribution this afternoon came from my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett—which is to make that plea to reconcile our differences by doing it in the way that we do best in this country: to have a sensible discussion, now that people actually know the facts. Goodness, we all know much more about all this than we did two or three years ago. I do not think we should be afraid of asking the people if they want a final say. Give it to them and they will tell us what they think.
Every one of us in this place has a firm duty to our constituents. We have a duty to protect their security and their livelihoods. We have a duty to make the best decisions for our country, and we have a duty to approach this whole process in good faith and with an open mind. This House is deeply divided, but—it is important to say this—no matter our view, all of us are acting in a way that we believe best serves our constituents and our country.
When I look at the options before the House this evening, Mr Speaker, it is obvious that there are no perfect solutions. Everything we do from now on will involve compromise. The public, like this House, are deeply divided. In a democracy, when there is division and when there are trade-offs to be made, we do not shut down the conversation. That has never been what our country does. The healthiest way to repair any kind of relationship where both sides have to stay together is to carry on talking. There is nothing threatening to democracy about testing the public’s opinion. A healthy and vibrant democracy is supposed to be loud. It is supposed to discuss, to debate, and, yes, to vote. The only threat to democracy is if we allow fear and intimidation to stop this debate. That must never happen.
No Member of this House should be scared of doing the right thing today. That is the job we were all elected to do. I sometimes get messages calling me a traitor, a backstabber, an enemy of the people. Colleagues across the House receive much more vitriol than me. I know there is frustration out there, but our job as MPs is to look at the evidence and make a rational, balanced and objective assessment. My assessment is that Brexit is far more complicated than anybody expected and we now have a duty to bring the public back into our discussions as we reach this vital, difficult stage in the process. They are entitled, in a healthy democracy, to give their informed consent to any deal agreed by Parliament.
This is a moment when the House must rise to meet the challenge in front of us: the task of uniting our divided country. So far, we have not managed that. This evening, we have the opportunity to do our country proud, to do what we know is right and to give the public the chance to help us fix this. That is why I will be supporting motion (M) in the name of my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Dr Williams.
I campaigned to remain not because I thought the EU was perfect, but because I inherently believe that it is better, in a 21st century world dominated by a few large blocs, to be a member of the club of our nearest neighbours, the largest and therefore the most powerful trading bloc in the world. Through our membership, we are influencing from within, sharing the costs, trading in goods and services without friction, keeping the peace on our continent and having the clout to negotiate.
I am old enough to remember, even though I was too young to vote, what being British was like before the UK joined the common market: visas to go on holiday across the channel and currency restrictions; British construction workers having to travel for work in Germany to support the German construction boom. Right now, as of this week, we get full access to EU markets, supporting world-class manufacturing jobs in Britain. We get the right to travel, work, live and love in 27 other EU countries, a right that we and millions of people, particularly those under 18 in 2016, will lose. We are already seeing the impact of the uncertainty of Brexit on a whole range of businesses in my constituency, including the growing creative sector. As night follows day, before too long we will see cuts in tax revenues leading to yet more cuts to public services, whichever party is in government.
The referendum was advisory—a simple yes or no—with little information and many lies. I voted against triggering article 50 because I felt that we should have sorted out the nature of our leaving the EU before triggering the two-year clock, so that we did not do what we are doing this week and next, scrabbling around to avoid crashing out. Let us not forget the economic and reputational consequences for this country of triggering article 50.
Many people challenge me on the manifesto phrase about respecting the results of the referendum. Well, I do respect the reasons why most people who voted leave did so—because of the lies, from which the authors distanced themselves immediately afterwards. I will be voting for motion (M) in the name of my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett for the simple reason that any deal passed by this House—the Labour position, Norway, a customs union or the PM’s deal—needs to be fully and publicly ratified by the people, not in another advisory vote, as was the case in 2016, but this time in a binding vote. As my hon. Friend Phil Wilson said, people should have the chance to change their mind from leave to remain, or indeed, from remain to leave. Although my constituency voted to remain, I would probably take the same position even if my constituency was a leave-voting area because of my duty to my country.
In 2016, 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU. Today, after almost three years, we still have at least six different Brexit versions in front of us. None of them was on the ballot paper for the people to vote for in 2016. Each defender of their Brexit option makes some claim that it represents the will of the people. That is why we need to test the will of the people in 2019 and to give them a specific Brexit option versus the option of staying in the EU.
Personally, I am pretty agnostic about what is a better or worse Brexit option. All I want to see as an outcome of today’s exercise is that whatever Brexit option we decide on here is put back to the people. The people might reconfirm that they wish to leave the EU, but in 2019, everybody who wants to leave the EU will know exactly what they are voting for rather than there being a long wish list of hopes, aspirations and undeliverable promises. Yes, referendums are difficult, but they are democratic. We should not be threatened by those who tell us that they will riot in the streets if there is another referendum.
On Saturday, between 1 million and 2 million people marched peacefully in the streets of London—young and old, from all backgrounds, from different political parties and none. Do they not count? Are they not the real British people, determined but polite? Does Parliament listen to people only when they throw stones or send us death threats? “Put it to the people” was a peaceful ask from the biggest march so far this century. Let us hold the 2019 people’s vote. Whatever Brexit solution finds a consensus in this Parliament must go back to the people. The people must finish what the people started.
I was looking for a particular Member, but he beetled out of the Chamber at an inopportune moment. If he had been in the Chamber at an opportune moment, I might have invited him to address the House, but he has missed his opportunity.
In accordance with the Order of the House of today, we will shortly proceed to vote on the motions I have selected. Voting forms are available from the Vote Office and in the Division Lobbies. The forms list the title and letter of the selected motions. The text of the motions is on the Order Paper. As I indicated at the outset, Members with surnames from A to K should hand in their forms in the Aye Lobby at the relevant desk for their surname, and Members with surnames from L to Z should hand in their forms in the No Lobby at the relevant desk. The Division bells will be rung two minutes before the House resumes. The voting period will begin at 7 o’clock and last for 30 minutes. I suspend the House accordingly for that period.