Preparations for Leaving the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:21 pm on 8th October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 2:21 pm, 8th October 2019

I am grateful to the shadow Brexit Secretary for his questions. First, he asked where the Prime Minister was. The Prime Minister is talking to our EU partners, attempting to secure a good deal, and he is doing so with the full-hearted support of everyone on the Government Benches. The question that many people will be asking outside the House is why, if Keir Starmer says that he is anxious for a deal, he declined to support one on the three opportunities he had to do so. If he wants to be taken seriously as an advocate of compromise and a deal why, in cross-party talks in which we both took part, did he attempt to erect an obstacle at every turn to consensus across the House? That is the conclusion that people will draw.

There is another conclusion that people will draw. The no-deal report was made public three hours before the right hon. and learned Gentleman began asking questions. Having had time to absorb 156 pages, he did not have a single question about no-deal preparation; not a single point to make about how any sector could be better prepared; not a single suggestion, query or contribution about how we can ensure that British business is in a robust position. There was just a series of questions that we have come to expect from him about politics, rather than policy; about positioning, rather than practicalities.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about customs checks in Northern Ireland. He knows—it has been made clear—that those customs checks can take place away from the border, at the manufacturer or other distribution sites. He also asked whether our proposals were serious about maintaining the integrity of the single market. They allow the EU to maintain the integrity of the single market, but is he serious about maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom, because he and his party are more than willing to see a customs border erected in the Irish sea? We would be the only sovereign nation in the world with such a customs border, but he is more than prepared to dance to the EU’s tune, rather than standing up for the UK.

That is the spirit in which the Benn Act was passed. That Act signals to the EU that there are people in Parliament who do not want to conclude a deal, who do not want to leave by 31 October and who want to delay. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is one of them. He has had every opportunity to engage meaningfully with Government, not just on the deal but on no-deal preparations.

When I last spoke to the House, on 25 September—the right hon. Gentleman referred to my statement then—I invited any MP in this House to come to the Cabinet Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union to discuss a deal and our no-deal preparations. Only one Opposition MP, Liz Kendall, accepted that invitation. Oh sorry—and Lady Hermon. Two Opposition MPs. That is the measure of the seriousness with which the Labour party, the SNP and all the Opposition parties take our Brexit negotiations: an open offer, an invitation, to come and talk rejected hands down.

Is there any surprise? The right hon. Gentleman in 2017 said of the referendum:

“We’ve had a decision and we respect that decision.”

He also said that the Labour party cannot spend all its time trying to “rub out yesterday” and not accept a result it is honour-bound to respect. As I mentioned earlier, after voting against the deal three times, he rejected the opportunity to come to a consensus between the Front Benches to get a deal through.

We in this Government have compromised. We in this Government are showing flexibility. We in this Government seek to leave without a deal, but faced with the delaying, disruptive and denying tactics of the Opposition we say, on behalf of the 17.4 million: enough, enough, enough—we need to leave.[This section has been corrected on 16 October 2019, column 3MC — read correction]