United Kingdom’S Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:53 pm on 29th March 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 1:53 pm, 29th March 2019

Britain can leave the European Union in one of two ways. It can choose to reject EU regulation altogether, and the downside to that is severe damage to our economy, as highlighted by Honda’s closure of its Swindon plant, and the cancellation of Nissan models in Sunderland. Recent votes have showed that the House rightly recognises the danger of a no-deal scenario and is not willing to go down that road. The alternative is to protect the economy and stay close to Europe, but the problem with that is having to apply EU rules while no longer having any say over what they are. That is the Brexit choice: move away from the EU and take the economic hit, or stay close and reduce that economic hit, but have no say over the rules. One of the reasons why we have this problem today is because we do not know the Prime Minister’s choice. We do not know which of the two she favours. The political declaration was supposed to tell us, but it does not. Even if we knew the Prime Minister’s choice, she is stepping down, so someone else will have to make the choice.

I understand the Prime Minister’s unwillingness to choose. Both options have severe downsides, which is why many of us opposed leaving the EU in the first place, but how can we sign off the deal without having some idea of where we will end up? All we know is the Prime Minister’s choice for the initial transition period, which is to stay close. We will gain control of migration from the EU, but we will lose our influence on the rules we will have to adhere to on data privacy, financial services and product standards in a whole host of areas. Some who worry about migration from the EU may think that a reasonable exchange, but I cannot see that it is.

To illustrate the problem, we conscientiously implemented the general data protection regulation. The UK played a key role in drawing it up, and the Prime Minister rightly recognises that we will have to continue following those rules so we can carry on exchanging data easily with the EU. She announced that she wants to keep our place on the European Data Protection Board, which oversees GDPR, but she could not achieve that in her negotiation. Under the withdrawal agreement we will lose our place on the day we leave the EU, and we will no longer have any say on the rules, but we will still have to comply with them. Writ large, that is the position in which we will find ourselves across the board.

We need a longer extension. We need a consensus-building process, which will take time. I urge the House to reject the deal today.