I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement, but what we have before us is a rehashed version of previously rejected proposals that would put the Good Friday agreement at risk and trigger a race to the bottom on rights and protections for workers, consumers and our precious environment. Given the seriousness of this issue and the vagueness of the proposals so far, will the Prime Minister tell the House if and when he plans to publish the full legal text that he must submit to the EU?
These proposals would lead to an even worse deal than that agreed by the former Prime Minister. The Prime Minister signed up to the backstop in Cabinet, and as a Back Bencher he voted for the withdrawal agreement. His letter to the President of the Commission yesterday claims that both are now unacceptable, so perhaps he can tell us what has changed. Why did he support the agreement then but oppose it now? The letter makes his intentions clear: it rejects any form of customs union—something demanded by every business and industry body in Britain, and by every trade union.
The Government want to ditch EU standards on workers’ rights, environmental regulations and consumer standards and engage in a race to the bottom. Deal or no deal, this Government’s agenda is clear: they want a Trump deal Brexit that would crash our economy and rip away the standards that put a floor under people’s rights at work and protect our environment and consumers. No Labour MP could support such a reckless deal that would be used as springboard to attack rights and standards in this country.
The truth is that after three years this Government still have not found an answer to solving the issue of the Irish border and the Good Friday agreement. Where once they were committed to having no border in Ireland, they now propose two borders in Ireland, ripping up the UK-EU joint report from December 2017. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government have now abandoned their commitment to the people of Northern Ireland, which was to ensure no
“physical infrastructure or related checks and controls” on the island of Ireland? [Interruption.] I am sorry, but I am only quoting what the Government said.
While EU leaders have been lukewarm, the response from businesses in Northern Ireland has been stark. Glyn Roberts, the head of Retail NI, said that the proposal would lead to north-south tariffs with “huge negative impacts” on farmers and the agrifood sector. He went on:
“It would also mean two borders requiring renewal after four years, surveillance in border communities without their consent, and checks north-south and west-east.”
Tina McKenzie, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland, was absolutely clear:
“All the promises of unfettered access have been abandoned…
Northern Ireland is a small business economy and this is a death knell for some of those businesses.”
These plans are simply unworkable. What we have before us is not a serious proposal to break the deadlock. Instead, the proposals are nothing more than a cynical attempt by the Prime Minister to shift the blame for his failure to deliver. We can conclude only that his political adviser was telling the truth when he called negotiations with the EU a “sham”. Will the Prime Minister give a clear answer to one question: if he does not get a deal at the October Council summit, will he abide by the law of this country and the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019 and request an extension to avoid a disastrous no deal?
The Government’s proposals are neither serious nor credible. Labour consulted with UK industry, businesses and unions about the need for a comprehensive customs union, close single market alignment and robust protections for workers’ rights and environmental standards. We need an extension for a serious negotiation towards the sort of deal that Labour has set out, and then let the people decide whether to leave with a sensible deal or remain.
The current proposals would damage the whole UK economy, and the Northern Irish economy especially, and would undermine the Good Friday agreement. They would lead to a race to the bottom on workers’ rights and environmental rights and strip back even the limited protections that the Prime Minister’s predecessor had agreed to.
Instead of spending the last few months building consensus in Parliament and across the EU, the Prime Minister has put forward proposals he knows will not be acceptable either in Brussels or Westminster and that would damage UK industry, people’s jobs and living standards. The only people who would not suffer are the Prime Minister’s hedge fund donors who are currently betting against the pound and running down our fragile economy. He is doing nothing but seeking to divide and risking this country’s future for his own political gain—an America first deal with President Trump. The proposals are unrealistic and damaging, and they will be—as I think the Prime Minister knows full well—rejected in Brussels, in the House and across the country.