Withdrawal Agreement: Proposed Changes

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 3:39 pm, 7th October 2019

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. The Government have presented the EU with a 44-page legal text, a seven-page memorandum and a four-page letter. In this House, we have seen the memorandum and the letter, but not the full legal text. Frankly, that is not good enough, because without the full legal text, we are being asked to guess at the detail of the Government’s proposals, or, worse, we are being asked to take the Prime Minister’s word on it. We do not want a summary. We do not want the Prime Minister’s interpretation of the text. We need to see the full legal text. And it matters, because there appears to be what the Taoiseach has called a “contradiction”—his word—between what the Prime Minister tells the House and the words of the legal text.

Last week, in response to a question from Damian Green, the Prime Minister said that “the proposals we”—that is, the Government—

“are putting forward do not involve physical infrastructure at or near the border or indeed at any other place.”—[Official Report, 3 October 2019;
Vol. 664, c. 1389.]

I noted the words used by the Minister just now, and I hope he can clarify this. The contradiction the Taoiseach appears to be highlighting is that the legal text may say something different on that very issue, and the Minister will know just how important that is.

Can the Minister now clear the issue up at the Dispatch Box? Does the full legal text bear out the Prime Minister’s assertion to the House that his proposals do not entail physical infrastructure at the border, near the border or in any other place? That is what he said, and that is what prompted the Taoiseach to say that the full text should be published. That goes to the heart of the only defence the Minister has put forward—that of confidentiality.

Both the Taoiseach and the President of the EU Commission have called for the legal text to be published. That shoots through the confidentiality argument. They want us to see the text so that we can properly debate and scrutinise what the Government are putting forward. The only party insisting on secrecy are the UK Government, so the question is obvious: what are the Government hiding?

Then there is the question of a level playing field. As the House knows, no Labour MP could support a deal that strips away or undermines workers’ rights, environmental protections or consumer rights, yet that is the very—[Interruption.] I hear the claims that it does not. If it does not, the Government should publish the text and assure the House. Before I first came to the House, and since I have been in the House, I have dealt with summaries and interpretations of texts, and I have seen texts, and there are differences between the full text and somebody’s summary or interpretation. If it is clear that the text does not undermine workplace rights, environmental rights and consumer rights, the Government should publish it and assure the House. What is being hidden? Will the Minister agree now to do the right thing and publish the full legal text forthwith?