I inform the House that I have now considered advice on the certifiability of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill under
I inform the House that I have not selected either of the reasoned amendments.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We come together now, in the very best traditions of this House, to scrutinise this Bill and then take the decision that this country expects: to make the verdict of the British people the law of the land so that we can leave the European Union with our new deal on
I of course wish that this decision on our national future had been taken through a meaningful vote on Saturday, but I respect perfectly the motives of my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, although I disagree with the effects of his amendment.
I regret, too, that after Saturday’s vote the Government have been forced to act on the advice of the Cabinet Secretary and to take the only responsible course, which is to accelerate our preparations for a no-deal outcome.
Today, we have the opportunity to put all that right, because if this House backs this Bill and if we ratify this new deal, which I believe is profoundly in the interests of our whole United Kingdom and of our European friends, we can get Brexit done and move our country on—and we can de-escalate those no-deal preparations immediately and turn them off next week, and instead concentrate on the great enterprise of building a new relationship of the closest co-operation and friendship, as I said on Saturday, with our European neighbours and on addressing our people’s priorities at home.
A number of people, before they vote today, will be very concerned about various rights that are enshrined in Europe but might be vulnerable if, and hopefully when, we leave. One of those sets of rights is rights for working people. Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking, so that we have it on the record—the Bill is quite clear—that if the Government agree with enhanced rights for working people that will become the law of the land here, but that if the Government disagree with a single one or a number of enhanced rights he will bring those proposals before the House and we will have the chance to vote to instruct the Government to accept them?
I can of course give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that not only will this country maintain the highest standards both for environmental protection and of course for workers’ rights, but in the event that this House wishes to have higher standards than those proposed by the EU or if this House wishes to adopt standards proposed by the EU and the Government disagree, there will of course be an amendable motion to give this House the opportunity to have its say. We will ensure that that is the case.
If we pass this Bill tonight, we will have the opportunity to address not just the priorities of our relations with the EU but people’s priorities at home. I believe that if we do this deal—if we pass this deal and the legislation that enables it—we can turn the page and allow this Parliament and this country to begin to heal and unite.
For those, like me, who believe our interests are best served by leaving the European Union and taking back control, this deal delivers the biggest restoration of sovereignty in our parliamentary history and the biggest devolution of power to UK democratic institutions.
I absolutely recognise that people who voted for Brexit did not necessarily vote on economic lines. However, the Government are refusing to publish an impact assessment of this deal. The Prime Minister is expecting MPs to vote for something that we know will damage this country economically, without revealing the impact assessment. What do this Government have to hide?
If I may, I say to the hon. Lady that I understand the point she makes, but she has had an answer, I believe, from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor yesterday. I think it will be clear to everybody that the best way to avoid any disruption from a no-deal Brexit is to vote for this deal today—to vote for this deal to get it done. I think that will unleash a great tide of investment into this country and be a demonstration of confidence in the UK economy. By voting for this deal tonight, we will deliver a powerful, positive shot in the arm for the UK economy, and I hope very much that she will do so.
Once more, under this agreement, British people will be able to live under laws made by representatives whom they alone elect and can remove—laws enforced by British judges in British courts.
The Prime Minister must recognise that the arrangements that he has come to for Northern Ireland precisely do not deliver that for the people of Northern Ireland. Of course, opinion may be divided in Northern Ireland as to whether they want that or not, but the reality is that the vassalage clauses—as they have been described by the Leader of the House in the past—will continue to apply to Northern Ireland after the transition has ended for the rest of Great Britain. How does the Prime Minister square that with the recovery of sovereignty promised to the entirety of the British people?
We can square that very simply by pointing out that, yes, of course, there are transitory arrangements for some aspects of the Northern Ireland economy, but they automatically dissolve and are terminated after four years unless it is the majority decision of the Assembly of Northern Ireland to remain in alignment with those arrangements either in whole or in part. The principle of consent is therefore at the heart of the arrangements.
Under the Bill, British farmers will escape the frequently perverse effects of the common agricultural policy; British fishermen, liberated from arcane quotas, will be free to fish in a way that is both more sensible and sustainable; and this House will be free to legislate for the highest possible standards.
The Prime Minister will be well aware that four pages in the Bill address and enlarge the responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. That is all very well and good, but there is not a single sentence in the Bill that explains the new consent process contained in the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. I say clearly to the Prime Minister, “Do not take the people of Northern Ireland for fools. We are not fools.” He needs to explain in detail how his new consent process will operate—in detail, please.
The process for consent is of course set out in detail in the unilateral declaration made between us and the Republic of Ireland. The hon. Lady will understand that it is, as I have indicated to the House, a process by which there are a small minority of economic arrangements in which Northern Ireland remains in alignment, such as sanitary and phytosanitary and manufactured goods, for four years, unless and until by a majority vote of the Stormont Assembly Northern Ireland elects to remain in alignment. Otherwise, for the vast majority of the Northern Ireland economy, Northern Ireland exits with the rest of the UK whole and entire, able to do free trade deals from the outset and participate in all the other benefits of Brexit. I hope that that point commends itself to the hon. Lady.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on getting us to this critical point in the long Brexit journey. Clause 36 relates to parliamentary sovereignty, and I invite him to confirm that the UK will retain its own sovereign military capability as outlined in paragraphs 92 and 99 of the political declaration and not be committed to any EU mission, military initiative or procurement project unless we do so voluntarily.
My right hon. Friend alludes to an important change that we have been able to secure in the course of the negotiations, and he is right that full independence will be retained in the vital sphere of defence and security. I am grateful to him for drawing attention to it.
The House will be free not only from the common agricultural policy but from the common fisheries policy, and free to legislate for the highest standards. That is a crucial point for the House to grasp.
Will the Prime Minister give the House a categorical assurance that we will not make the mistake of the 1970s and use our marine resources and fish stocks as a bargaining chip to be traded during the upcoming negotiations? Will he guarantee that we will take total, 100% control of all our waters and resources within the exclusive economic zone and, like any other independent marine nation, will then annually engage in common- sense negotiations of a reciprocal nature with our marine neighbours?
I can happily give that assurance to my right hon. Friend, who has campaigned long and valiantly on those issues. I can confirm that we will take back 100% control of the spectacular marine wealth of this country, not least the marine wealth of Scotland, which the SNP would discard as senselessly as the superfluous catch dictated by the common fisheries policy.
The House will be free to legislate for the highest possible standards. Let me stress that nothing in the Bill undermines workers’ rights or the House’s natural desire to protect our environment. On the contrary—
I know that the Prime Minister has been doing a good job trying to reassure MPs such as me from towns that voted leave, but can he explain the loopholes on workers’ rights in the document that would not give us the security we would need on non-regression for manufacturing communities that need those workers’ rights?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. People will need reassurance about that. There can be no regression. The UK will maintain the highest possible standards. Let me make the point more clearly. If the EU decides that it wishes to introduce new legislation on social protection, it will be automatic that the House will consider that. As I say, there will be an amendable motion by which the Government will give parliamentary time for the implementation of that measure. That is the opportunity that the Bill gives us. In essence, it takes back to the House the powers to decide such matters. I do not believe that we should shy away from those responsibilities or lack confidence in our collective ability to use those powers for the public good.
It is thanks to the efforts of Labour and Conservative Members that the House is already ensuring that this country does more to tackle climate change than almost any other country in the EU. Our Environment Bill will enshrine the highest standards possible.
I am sorry to say that there is a difficulty and a fundamental issue of trust in the Prime Minister’s word. If he tells the House that he is committing to reviews of matters such as unfair dismissal protections, including reducing the qualifying period from two years to one year, and anomalies in employee terms and conditions in relation to TUPE regulations, will the Government write into the Bill the date by which BEIS will begin the consultations on those really important rights?
We have already said that we will set out how we propose to address the concerns of hon. Members on unfair dismissals and TUPE. I understand the hon. Lady’s desire to get cracking—my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will write to Members with more details—but I can certainly commit to her now across the Floor of the House that we will indeed commit to a date for the implementation of those measures.
Our Environment Bill enshrines the highest standards in law: far-reaching and legally binding targets to reduce plastics, restore biodiversity, and clean up our air and water.
Does the Prime Minister agree with himself when he said:
“We should go into those renegotiations with a clear agenda: to root out the nonsense of the social chapter—the working time directive and the atypical work directive and other job-destroying regulations.”?
If that is what he said then, why should we believe a word he says on this now?
Because it is absolutely clear on the face of the Bill and from what I have said that this country will maintain the highest possible standards and will give this House the collective ability to keep pace with Brussels and, indeed, to do better.
As I say, we have the highest possible environmental standards. We will match the environmental standards that Brussels brings forward. Indeed, we now have the opportunity to do better. I have stressed for four years—[Interruption.] No, that is not true. It is said from a sedentary position that we have always had the opportunity to do better. I am afraid that that is mistaken. There are plenty of ways in which we are currently prohibited from going forward with higher standards. Under the Bill, we will have the power in this House to do something for which I think the people of this country have yearned for years, which is to strengthen controls on the live transport of animals. I hope we will do that now. That is currently forbidden under EU law.
On fiscal measures, we will now have the power to cut VAT on sanitary products. As for the protection of workers, we will now be able, under the Bill, to take action against employers and agencies who undercut our laws, including where agencies bring in overseas labour from the EU so that local people do not get a look in. That is currently impossible within the EU.
Clause 34 and the accompanying provisions in schedule 5 include a duty on any Minister—to get to the point that has been raised—who introduces relevant legislation to make clear that workers’ rights will not be weakened in any way. Whether it is tackling air pollution or enhancing biodiversity, this country can do better than simply sticking with EU norms. We can achieve our vision of a dynamic, high-wage, low-tax market economy precisely because we champion high skills and high standards.
Like the Prime Minister, I would like to get out of the European Union as speedily as possible. What more can he do to reassure the people of Northern Ireland, who feel they are being cut off? They could perhaps have accepted some regulations on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland because that happens at the moment, but they have been absolutely astonished to find that trading between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is somehow now treated as if they are sending something to a foreign country. That is not acceptable.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady. It is very, very important that we stress—I must make myself absolutely clear—that Northern Ireland is leaving the EU with the rest of the UK, whole and entire. We have achieved with this deal what I think few people thought was possible: Northern Ireland is leaving the EU as part of a single customs territory with the rest of the UK. On her specific point, there will be no checks between NI and GB, nor would she expect there to be. It is made absolutely clear in article 6 of the protocol. It is up to the UK Government to insist on unfettered access for trade NI-GB. I give way with pleasure and with respect to Nigel Dodds.
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister. It is quite clear that whatever he says about Northern Ireland in the UK customs union, de facto the European Union customs code applies in Northern Ireland, if the protocol comes into place, which requires exit declarations from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
Yes, it does. The Brexit Secretary said yesterday they would have to be corrected by HMRC. Is the Prime Minister saying that at the end of December 2020 Northern Ireland will not go into the protocol if there is a free trade agreement, and that if we are in the protocol and a free trade agreement is agreed we will automatically come out of it, and that that will be written into law?
For the clarification of the right hon. Gentleman—I know he realises this already—there are no checks GB-NI. There will be some light touch measures to ensure there is no illegal trade—[Laughter.]—in endangered animal species and banned firearms, which I think he would agree was sensible. The most important point is that even these measures evaporate and are terminated automatically. They automatically dissolve unless a majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont votes to keep them.
Furthermore, to get to the right hon. Gentleman’s point, there is a further sense in which these measures are transitory. They all may be replaced in the great work of beginning the free trade agreement and the new partnership that we intend to build between the UK and the EU—a work in which I devoutly hope Northern Irish Members will be involved in building a whole UK-whole world free trade policy. That is the prize before us. The UK, and the UK alone, will control these vital standards as we leave.
For those who share my belief in the transformative power of free trade, perhaps the single greatest engine of global prosperity, a new deal, enabled by this Bill, will allow us to sign free trade agreements around the world.
Schedule 5A to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 lists workers’ retained European Union rights. The directive on work-life balance for parents and carers is omitted from the schedule, along with many others in the same vein. How can those omissions be consistent with the Prime Minister’s commitment to the highest possible standards for workers’ rights?
We have been very clear that we will maintain the highest possible standards, but I am very happy to study what the hon. Lady says and can assure her that whatever the House believes has been omitted can easily be replaced.
I think we agree across the House that there is a climate emergency and that the UK must be a leader, not a follower, when it comes to low-carbon living. I welcome the pledge that the Environment Bill will enhance and not reduce the UK’s standards, but will the Prime Minister commit today to reinforce that ambition with a clear non-regression clause, as we have on workers’ rights, and write it into the Bill. Would that not provide some of the reassure the House needs about not only protecting but enhancing environmental standards?
I can indeed make that commitment, and I thank the right hon. Lady for the work she is doing to champion the environment. I remind her and the House that our Environment Bill will set up, for the first time, legally binding targets and an office for environmental protection to enforce those targets in this country. The crucial thing that will reassure her is that in the event of the EU bringing forward new legislation, we in this Government will bring forward an amendable motion so that the House may choose to match those standards.
I must make some progress. This new deal will allow us to sign free trade agreements around the world, encouraging innovation, lowering prices, maximising opportunities for world-beating British companies to find new markets and bringing good new jobs to communities who, for too long, have been left behind. Let me repeat: in any future trade negotiations with our country, our national health service will never be on the table.
I wish to say something not just to those who think that Brexit is a great opportunity, as I of course do, but to the 16 million who voted to remain.
On workers’ rights, the EU requires employers to offer 14 weeks of maternity pay. In the UK, we offer 39 weeks of maternity pay. If we wanted to reduce workers’ rights, why would this Government not have done that already?
My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point: this Government wish to have the highest possible standards for workers across the country because we believe that that is the right way forward for the British economy. I am glad he made that point.
I wish to address the 48%, whose concerns must always be in our minds. The revised political declaration sets out a vision of the closest possible co-operation between the UK and our European friends—a
“relationship…rooted in the values and interests that the”
“Union and the United Kingdom share…anchored in their common European heritage.”
To British citizens living in EU countries and to EU citizens who have made their homes here and who have contributed so much, I say that this Bill protects their rights, ensuring that they can carry on living their lives as before.
The Prime Minister and some of his Ministers say they are against live animal exports. Does that mean from Dover to Calais, or longer journeys from GB—for example, Stranraer—to Northern Ireland, or longer journeys still, such as to the Hebrides, the Orkneys and the Shetlands? When he says he is ending live animal exports, what does he mean? We need details. Are they short journeys to the continent only or longer journeys, including to Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—he rather makes my point for me, because what he may not realise is that animals are currently being shipped from this country to Spain and, indeed, to north Africa in conditions of extreme distress. I do not believe that it is the will of this House, or indeed, of the hon. Gentleman, that we should continue on that basis.
I say to those who care, like me, for the rights of EU nationals living in this country: I argued during the referendum that we should guarantee their rights in this country immediately and unilaterally, and I regret that this did not happen, but the Bill today completes that job.
My right hon. Friend is being characteristically generous in giving way. So that we are absolutely clear, going back to the Northern Ireland issue, I ask him again: is it his and the Government’s intention—as I understood and still understand it to be—that in the phase in which we negotiate a free trade agreement, we would negotiate it on the basis that Northern Ireland would form a whole and singular part of that agreement and therefore be treated exactly the same as Kent?
Prime Minister, my constituents voted to leave, by 55% to 45%, but they want to ensure and believe—and it is a question of trust—that there will be certainty and decent rights for all workers as we leave the EU, and in the future. I welcome the announcement of an employment reform Bill, but given that he had his pen out in answer to my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin, will he set the date and tell us when he is going to put it in this Bill so that we know when it will happen?
I can confirm that we will be doing that, but it is probably best done in the course of the Bill, and we should get on with the debate as fast as possible.
Let me come to our compatriots in Northern Ireland. This Bill upholds in full the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, as Lord Trimble has attested, and our unwavering commitment to Northern Ireland’s place in the Union.
Prime Minister, the central plank of the mechanisms for ensuring that both communities are protected in the Belfast agreement— I state this from the agreement—is
“to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together…and that all sections…are protected” and
“arrangements to ensure key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis”.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I thank him and his party for the work they have done to help us to change this deal very, very much for the better, and he played an instrumental role in that.
On the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises, he knows that this is a reserved issue, and I simply return to my point: the salient feature of these arrangements is that they evaporate. They disintegrate. They vanish, unless a majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly elects to keep them. I think that it is up to Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to assemble that majority if they so choose. Further, there is an opportunity to vary those arrangements in the course of the free trade agreement and the new partnership that I hope he will join us in building together.
This new deal explicitly respects the territorial integrity of the UK. It takes the United Kingdom, whole and entire, out of the EU, and, of course, there is a set of special provisions applying to Northern Ireland—
Order. I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister, but a lot of Members are bellowing in a rather bellicose fashion at him, although he has already made it clear that at the moment, he is not giving way. He has taken a lot of interventions and he may take more, but he is proceeding with the development of his case.
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. I have heard clearly not only what he has tried to do this afternoon to assure the House, but his answer to Mr Duncan Smith. How can the Prime Minister square the pledge he has given—that Northern Ireland can fully benefit from free trade agreements—with the provisions in the agreement he reached at article 13(8) that require the EU to have a say in whether we secede from the protocol arrangements?
There is absolutely no provision for the EU to have a say. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are special provisions in the agreement that apply to Northern Ireland in respect of trade in goods, sanitary and phytosanitary measures and the single electricity market. The benefit of that temporary four-year alignment is that it allows us to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland—that is its great benefit—and to respect the Good Friday process, but those arrangements are automatically terminated after—
I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman, who has already had an opportunity to question the Prime Minister, that I hope it is a point of order rather than a point of frustration.
The Prime Minister has claimed to the House today that the agreement does not rule out the interpretation that he has given to the House, but paragraph 8 of article 13 states quite clearly that any
“subsequent agreement between the Union and the United Kingdom shall indicate the parts of this Protocol which it supersedes” and that the EU will have a say in that. How then can he claim to the House that we have total freedom of decision making?
The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced denizen of the House. His point of order is a matter of consuming interest within the Chamber and beyond, but he is a cheeky chappie, because it is not a matter for adjudication by the Chair. He has made a point, in his own way and with considerable alacrity, to which the Prime Minister can respond if he wishes and not if he does not.
I will respond by just repeating the point that those arrangements are automatically terminated after four years unless a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly expressly decide to retain any or all of them, so those arrangements naturally and legally dissolve into full alignment with the whole of the UK. The default position is alignment with the UK unless, as I say, there is a majority vote in the Assembly against that alignment. In any event, those arrangements can be replaced by the future relationship based on the free trade agreement that we will conclude with the EU.
At the same time, the agreement ensures that Northern Ireland is part of the UK customs territory and benefits immediately from any UK trade deals. Clause 21 gives effect to those measures in the protocol. Apart from those special provisions, there are no level playing field provisions covering only Northern Ireland. Nothing in the new deal requires different treatment of Northern Irish services, which account for over 70% of the economy, and nothing in the revised political declaration would oblige Northern Ireland to be treated differently in the future relationship with the EU, which we will soon begin to negotiate.
I cannot believe for a minute that the Prime Minister is seeking in any way to deceive the House, but he has said repeatedly today that there will be no differences between the way Northern Ireland is treated and the way Kent or anywhere else in the reset of the UK is treated. Why, then, does the impact assessment produced by his own Government, slipped out late last night, make it quite explicit, in paragraph 241, that goods
“moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be required to complete both import declarations and Entry Summary (ENS) Declarations”, which
“will result in additional…costs” in Northern Ireland? How can the Prime Minister square that fact with the bluster and rhetoric he is serving up today?
The House will know full well that these are transitory arrangements. If the people of Northern Ireland choose to dissent from them, they melt away, unless by a majority they choose to retain them. I repeat: there will be no checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Nothing in the revised political declaration obliges Northern Ireland to be treated any differently in the future relationship, and I would expect Northern Ireland Members to be involved intimately in devising a whole-UK whole-world trade policy—and, indeed, the whole House.
Is not the fundamental point that, in order to deliver the UK whole, secure and prosperous out of the EU, Members of this House need to vote for Second Reading and, yes, vote for the programme motion so that it can all be done on time, and then stand firm behind the Prime Minister and his negotiating team, so that he has the power to deliver just the relationship that is being urged upon him to put before the House in due course?
My hon. Friend has given excellent advice to the House, and I thank him very much for his support. I wish to stress that the whole House will be involved in devising that future partnership.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his reassurance that workers’ rights—avoiding a race to the bottom, no regression, and so on—will be written into the Bill, because it is a huge issue for many Opposition Members and needs to be recognised by many Members on the Government side of the House. Can he give the same reassurance that consumer protection will also be written into the Bill?
I can indeed give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. [Interruption.] There will be no race to the bottom. For hon. and right hon. Members who wish to be involved in the building of our future partnership, there will be every opportunity at every stage for the House to be involved, and quite properly so. [Interruption.]
Thank you for your good offices, Mr Speaker.
Trying to square the difficult circle of delivering Brexit under the umbrella of the Good Friday agreement and maintaining peace on the island of Ireland was always going to be a big ask. Not everybody will be happy with what the Prime Minister’s is bringing forward, but all communities should be happy that nobody is talking about a coach and horses being driven through the Good Friday agreement and that there are no communities, particularly on the border, that now fear a resurrection of violence, bloodshed and hatred. He is to be congratulated.
I am very grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for his remarks. I intend to bring the whole House into the process of decision making and into our confidence and to draw on the expertise of the House.
The Prime Minister has been giving so many reassurances to Labour Members that I wonder whether he could give one to me about the trapdoor at the heart of this Brexit deal. We know that if no arrangement is agreed by the end of December next year, we risk crashing out with no deal. Can he reassure me that he will extend that transition and guarantee now at the Dispatch Box that we will not crash out at the end of December next year?
I can indeed assure the hon. Lady that there will be no crashing out, because we will negotiate a great new friendship and partnership within the timescale. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House have every confidence in the Government to do that. They said we could not change the withdrawal agreement in the 90 days we had, that we would never get rid of the backstop and that we would not get a new deal, but we did get a new deal—we got a great deal—for this House and this country, and we will get a great new free trade agreement and a new partnership for our country.
Before us lies the great project of building a new friendship with our closest neighbours across the channel. That is the common endeavour of our whole nation, and that will begin with clause 31, which will give Parliament a clear role, including the hon. Lady.
Is it not the case that to secure a deal with the EU, the Prime Minister had to make a choice over Northern Ireland? The choice that he made was to sign up to EU trading rules in order to secure frictionless trade with Ireland and the rest of the EU. Is not the truth that at the end of all the negotiations that the rest of the UK will face, we will be confronted with exactly the same dilemma? Either we remain close and sign up to the rules, in which case we give up our say—so what is the point of Brexit?—or we break totally free, in which case what is the price?
We have not made that choice. The Prime Minister has made it over Northern Ireland, and we face it over the rest of the UK. This is not getting Brexit done; it is continuing the agony for years to come.
Obviously I have a vision of this country having a very close friendship and partnership with the EU, but also being able to engage in free trade deals around the world. I think that those objectives are compatible, and I think that the way in which they can be made compatible is evident in this great new deal that we have done, but it is of course open to the hon. Lady to work with us to take it forward.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on securing a deal. I never doubted it for a minute. [Laughter.] Can he reassure me that the moment the Bill receives Royal Assent—hopefully sooner rather than later—he will work tirelessly, along with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to secure the closest possible relationship with European science and research funding programmes?
I thank my right hon. Friend and brother very much for what he has said. He has worked tirelessly in that sphere himself. I know how much he values such co-operation, as, indeed, I know how much Members throughout the House value it. We will protect, preserve and enhance it, and, as I have said, Members throughout the House will be involved in that process, but, as I have also said, under clause 31 Parliament is given a clear role.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way; he is being incredibly generous. He will no doubt have heard, as I have, the dire warnings in certain quarters that if we leave the European Union, there will be problems at Dover and chaos on the roads of Kent. Can he assure the House, and me, and my constituents, that with this deal there will be no problems at the channel ports and no problems on Kent’s roads?
By your leave, Mr Speaker, I shall make some progress.
Let us pause for a second and reflect on the scale of the choices before us. If we rejected this new deal, what would the House be saying to the country and to the world? What alternative course of action is open to us? Is it to undo Brexit and cancel the greatest democratic exercise in the country’s history? Even now, I find it impossible to believe that any democrat would contemplate such a course. Time and again the House has promised to honour the referendum, and the fact that the Leader of the Opposition is now proposing a rerun shows a regrettable contempt for the verdict of the British people. The House has repeatedly rejected a second referendum, and, in my view, must emphatically do so again.
My hon. Friend has encapsulated the point perfectly, and I think that the Leader of the Opposition should reflect on what he has said.
I worked closely with my right hon. Friend when he was Mayor of London, and I know how much he valued the contribution of EU citizens. I have the great good fortune to represent a constituency that contains one of the highest proportions of EU citizens. May I ask my right hon. Friend to look again at the arbitrary deadline for applications for settled status?
I am delighted to say that the settled status scheme is proceeding apace, and we have every hope that the entire 3.4 million will have registered by the time of the deadline. However, the best way to give all our citizens confidence and security, and to give all our friends confidence and security—particularly those 3.4 million—is to get this deal through tonight, because that is how we will protect their rights.
I know that some colleagues have been contemplating certain amendments that are not about delivering the new deal, but rather about trying to change its fundamentals. What would that say to our European friends about our good intentions? That we are proposing to come back to Brussels to ask for a third agreement? That we will put it to a fifth vote, perhaps after another six months or another year? Is there anyone who seriously believes that the EU would reopen the withdrawal agreement again? On the contrary, our European friends could not be clearer. The deal on the table is the one contained in the Bill. The decision for the House is whether to ratify this deal, rather than going round in circles in a futile effort to construct a new one.
Then there is the question of yet further delay. I know that some colleagues have been contemplating the timetable for the Bill, and asking whether scrutiny should take longer. I do not think that we in this House should be daunted by the task that is before us. Let us work night and day, if that is what it takes to get this done. Our European friends are not showing any enthusiasm about agreeing to the delay for which Parliament has asked.
I congratulate our Prime Minister on achieving this deal. I had always thought that it would be enormously challenging to get all the other 27 leaders to agree to change the existing deal. However, this deal needs to be voted through not only by us but by the European Parliament, and it needs to be ratified across Europe. Does the Prime Minister agree that if we do not support the programme motion tonight, we will add great, great uncertainty, and will push up the risk of no deal?
My hon. Friend is completely right. Those who have argued for three years that they are motivated primarily by a desire to avoid no deal have only one logical course of action tonight, and that is to vote for a programme motion which will ensure that we leave with a deal on
The public do not want further delay. The House has discussed these issues for three and a half years. What on earth will the public think of us if the House votes again tonight not to get on with it—not to deliver Brexit on
Even if the European Council were to agree with Parliament on a further delay, what would happen in the period after
My right hon. Friend will know that the Mayor of the West Midlands is in very close contact with manufacturers in the area, including Jaguar Land Rover. They are saying that the most damaging thing to manufacturing and industry as a whole is the uncertainty due to delay. They—not just me, not just the mayor, but manufacturers—want the deal done and the deal done now.
My hon. Friend is right, and the consequence of not getting this done and not voting through this deal tonight is to continue with the creeping paralysis that is affecting certain parts of our economy.
Perhaps even worse—[Interruption.] Perhaps even worse, if we do not get this thing done we face the continuing acrimony and the abuse that I am afraid is still heard—perhaps increasingly heard—on both sides of the argument.
May I bring the Prime Minister’s attention to clause 31, which is basically the amendment that my hon. Friend Lisa Nandy and I tabled to the last meaningful vote? However, whether by accident or by sneak, the Prime Minister has managed to add a small addendum, which means that any future vote would have to comply almost exclusively with the political declaration, meaning that this House would be constrained in what it could set as the future negotiating mandate. Can the Prime Minister explain why that has appeared? Also, on the purpose of scrutiny, this Bill specifically disapplies section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 which requires a 21-day resting period for all international treaties; why has the Prime Minister decided to do that on this, and is that something he plans to do on any future trade arrangements?
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about clause 31, the intention is very clear: the intention is to allow the House to participate actively and fully in the building of the future partnership. If he reads the political declaration, he will see that there is plenty of scope within that political declaration for very active and full participation by all Members of the House in devising that partnership.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point about the deadline in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, there is in my view ample time for us to get this done. The House of Commons has been discussing this issue for three and a half years. We have chewed over this question again and again; our constituents will not be fooled by any further delay—they will not understand why that is necessary—and if we delay again, I am afraid that we will miss an opportunity to heal the divisions between us, and the paralysis will continue. Let me make it absolutely clear: there is no way—
I hope it is a genuine point of order; I hae ma doots.
It is indeed a genuine point of order concerning the programme motion. The BBC breaking news app is reporting that the Prime Minister has said that if he loses the programme motion he will withdraw the Bill. Given that the Prime Minister is talking about working with the House, has he given you any notice, Mr Speaker, that if the programme motion falls he will pull the Bill tonight?
The Prime Minister has not given me any indication on that matter, and we must leave him to develop his case.
Let me be very clear, to come to exactly the point the hon. Gentleman raises, that I will in no way allow months more of this. [Interruption.] No, I will not give way. If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January, or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the Government continue with this. And with great regret I must go directly to the point that the hon. Gentleman raises: with great regret I must say that the Bill will have to be pulled, and we will have to go forward, much as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition may not like it, to a general election. I will argue at that election—[Interruption.] No, I will not give way. At that election I will argue “Let’s get Brexit done,” and the Leader of the Opposition will make his case to spend 2020 having two referendums—one on Brexit and one on Scotland—and the people will decide.
There is another path. [Interruption.] No, I won’t give way. And that is to accept, as I have done, that this deal does not give us everything that we want, and all of us can find clauses and provisions to which we can object, as we can in any compromise, but it also gives us the opportunity to conclude that there is no dishonour in setting aside an entirely legitimate desire to deliver the perfect deal in the interests of seizing the great deal that is now within our grasp—of seizing the opportunity to begin healing the divisions, and to satisfy the aching desire of the British public that we would just get Brexit done and to move on to do what those who sent us here want us to do, which is to address their priorities.
Order. Notwithstanding the fact that Karl Turner must emphatically be the loudest Member of any Parliament anywhere in the European Union, he cannot insist that the Prime Minister gives way if the Prime Minister is disinclined to do so. I think the Prime Minister may be approaching his peroration, to which we should listen.
I think I have given way quite a lot during this speech and I wish to wind up because I know that hon. Members will wish to make their own contributions to the debate.
For three and a half years this Parliament has been caught in a deadlock of its own making, and the truth is that all of us bear a measure of responsibility for that outcome, yet by the same token we all have the same opportunity now. The escape route is visible. The prize is visible before us: a new beginning with our friends and partners; a new beginning for a global, self-confident, outward-looking country that can do free trade deals around the world as one whole entire United Kingdom. The deal is here on the table. The legislation to deliver it is here before us. A clear majority in the country is now imploring us to get Brexit done in this House of Commons. I say to the House: let us therefore do it and let us do it now and tonight. I commend this Bill to the House.
On Saturday, we warned that, if the House passes the Government’s deal, it would be a disaster for our country. Now, as we look through the details of the Bill, we see just how right we were: page after page of what amounts to nothing less than a charter for deregulation and a race to the bottom; a deal and a Bill that fail to protect our rights and our natural world, fail to protect jobs and the economy, and fail to protect every region and nation in the United Kingdom. The Bill confirms that Northern Ireland is really in the customs union of the EU and goods will be subjected to tariffs. On Saturday, the Prime Minister said there would be no checks, but yesterday the Brexit Secretary confirmed to the Lords European Union Committee that under the Government’s proposals Northern Irish businesses that send goods to Great Britain will have to complete export declaration forms, and today the Government estimate—this is the Government’s estimate—that exit declaration forms will be between £15 and £56 per customs declaration. So the Prime Minister was at best—I am being generous here—mistaken on Saturday. The more divergence, the harder that border will become and the greater danger and risk it will put on the historic Good Friday agreement.
We are challenging this Bill today and that is the whole point of this debate. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, my party’s policy is that we would negotiate an appropriate deal with the EU and allow the people to make the final decision. This deal leaves open the possibility of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal by the end of next year.
I do not disagree with what my right hon. Friend said, but does he understand why those of us in seats that voted heavily to leave, and who stood on a manifesto in 2017 that said that we would respect the result of the referendum, feel very strongly that this Bill must be allowed to proceed to Committee so that we can engage in the detail and see whether it is possible to get a Brexit deal that protects our constituents? For many people back home in towns such as Wigan, this is an article of faith in the Labour party and in democracy, and those of us who are seeking to engage in the detail do so not because we will support a Tory Brexit—our votes at Third Reading are by no means secure—but because we want to see if we can improve the deal and keep people’s trust in our democracy.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I also thank her and other colleagues, some of whom represent seats that voted heavily to leave, for their engagement, for the discussions and for the constructive way in which all that has been approached. I do understand the concerns in those constituencies and communities. I know that she supports the principle of a customs union, which the Labour party placed in its manifesto and has restated since. My view is that we should vote against this Bill this evening for the reasons that I have set out. I understand her view that it is possible to amend it in Committee—that is always the process in Parliament—but my recommendation would be to vote against this Bill. However, I understand and respect the way in which she has approached this and the way in which she represents her community and her constituency. She will join me in being pretty alarmed at the stress that the manufacturing industry is under at the moment. If we do not have a customs union, manufacturing in this country will be seriously under threat.
For many areas that rely heavily on manufacturing, the deal as it has been set out, which includes leaving the customs union and single market, inevitably means tariffs, which inevitably means less manufacturing and fewer jobs in those areas.
My right hon. Friend’s constituency, which I know very well, was once a centre of manufacturing in Britain, but the Government of Margaret Thatcher put paid to that. He is right that, in the event of tariffs being introduced on manufactured goods and in the event of WTO conditions, the opportunities for sales in the European market, which are obviously huge at present, would be severely damaged. I ask colleagues to think carefully about what I see as the dangers behind the Prime Minister’s approach, because he does not offer a safety net—[Interruption.] There are so many people trying to intervene. Can I deal with one at a time, please? That would be kind. The Prime Minister does not offer a safety net—[Interruption.]
I am minded to vote in favour on Second Reading not because I support the deal but because I do not; I want to improve the deal so that it reflects the manifesto that I stood on and respects the referendum result, and so that we leave with a deal that protects jobs and trade. Does my right hon. Friend understand my motivation?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Having on several occasions spent time with her in her constituency, talking to people in her community and visiting factories and enterprises in the area, I fully understand both her concerns and their concerns. I commend her for her work in representing that area and the obvious friendship that exists between her and all the people she represents—she is a great MP. She wants to represent her constituency and her constituents’ concerns. I hope that she will understand why I believe this Bill should not be given a Second Reading, but I am sure she will agree with me that to bring this Bill for debate less than 17 hours after it was published is a totally unreasonable way of treating Parliament, and I hope she will join me in the Lobby this evening in opposing the programme motion.
It is no wonder that some Conservative Members are suddenly so keen to jump on board with this deal, because it opens the door to the no-deal exit that this House has voted against on numerous occasions.
I do not know what has happened to the hon. Gentleman’s maths, but so far three Members have intervened who have expressed disagreement with the Bill and want to get a better deal to get a customs union, which is hardly the position he adopts, so he should be careful of assuming that all my colleagues over here, who are desperate to represent hard-up communities that have been so disgracefully treated by this Government, are suddenly jumping on board with him. I have news for him: they are not.
It is plain and simple: this Bill is a charter for a Brexit that would be good for the hedge fund managers and speculators, but bad for the communities that we represent, our industries and people’s jobs and living standards. Industries from chemical processing to car manufacturing are all deeply worried about how the Bill will operate.
One of the reasons so many of us are concerned about the programme motion is how little time we have to bottom this out. The Prime Minister tells us that things will be better if we leave the European Union. He just said that he would look at the European work-life balance directive, but on
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course, she is absolutely right that, while the Prime Minister claims that there is no intention in his mind to undermine workers’ rights—I cannot see into his mind, so I do not know, but that is what he says—there is no legal protection within this Bill for dynamic alignment with the European Union on consumer rights, environmental protections, workers’ rights and much else besides. I therefore urge colleagues to think very carefully about how they vote on the Bill tonight.
I treasure the interview that the right hon. Gentleman and I gave to Sky News before he became Leader of the Opposition, when the only thing that we agreed on is that we should leave the European Union on democratic grounds. What has changed since he became leader of the Labour party? Can he not see that, if he votes against the programme motion, he and his whole party will be seen as voting against delivering Brexit?
Parliament needs to do its job and that is what we should be given the chance to do; we should not be rushed into this 17 hours after the Bill’s publication. I would also say—I was a trade union organiser and official before I came into this House—you do not give up what you have won and gained; you protect what you have and try to get better in the future. The Bill undermines workers’ rights in our country and in our society, and those who vote this thing through in its present form will find that many of our current rights will be severely damaged.
I was catching a breath—the Prime Minister wore me out; I was getting up and down so much earlier.
Opposition Members are genuinely agonising over the best way forward in reconciling constituencies that have very different views on Brexit, and I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the work he is doing to try to retain that coalition. Regardless of where people come from, surely it is important that we have the right information and the right risk assessment. Is it not wrong that the risk assessments are incomplete and that the Government’s own advisers have not even been able to rate their risk assessments because of the lack of time?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a distinguished former leader of his local authority, he knows the importance of going through documents in detail and having a chance to take advice on the implications. Even with the greatest brains in the world—I am sure this House does contain the greatest brains in the world, there is no doubt about that—17 hours is not very long to deal with 40 clauses and 110 pages of legislation.
The Prime Minister is trying to blindside Parliament to force through this deal, and this Parliament must challenge him.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, should it be passed, this Bill will open us up to a free trade agreement with the US that will have huge ramifications for our valued national health service and for the food we eat?
Yes, it will. The only way forward for the Prime Minister would be to go on to WTO rules and then to seek a special trade deal with the United States. I do not know whether the Prime Minister has noticed, but Donald Trump adopts an “America first” policy. Donald Trump’s attitude towards trade is, to put it most generously, one sided towards the USA. There will be no equitable deal with the USA, and those companies in the USA that want to get control of our health service will come knocking on the door to take over our national health service.
This is a Bill of huge significance and complexity, and it will decide the future of our country, of our economy and of the economic model we follow. Accepting the programme motion will mean that all 40 clauses have to be considered and voted on within 48 hours, starting this evening. That would be an abuse of Parliament and a disgraceful attempt to dodge accountability, scrutiny and any kind of proper debate.
My right hon. Friend makes a strong case that Parliament should have the opportunity to properly scrutinise what the Executive want to do. I do not think the Prime Minister has really taken that into account in his botched and speedy procedure and in his obsession with getting all this stuff through in a few days.
What the officials once said would take four weeks to properly scrutinise is now being done in one day. Colleagues on both sides of the House should simply ask themselves why. So much for Parliament taking back control. Parliament is being treated as an inconvenience that can be bypassed by this Government.
There is a crucial element to this. When we in this House deal with major issues for the country, we need the information and we need—
If hon. Members hang on a second, I will deal with this. No economic impact assessment whatsoever has been made or presented to this House. At the very least, this House should have that assessment and that expert advice in order to scrutinise the Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not seem to think it is relevant that this Bill and their deal need that kind of scrutiny—even more so in the light of today’s dire public finance figures.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that there has been no economic impact assessment of the Bill, so many of us have to rely on the impact assessment of the previous Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, which showed a detrimental impact on the north-east to the degree of 7% of our GDP. How can that be justified to our industry and manufacturing in the north-east, which are already so far behind the rest of the country?
Indeed. My hon. Friend represents a constituency that has suffered grievously from the Tory Government’s industrial non-strategy. SSI Redcar was closed down, and there are huge issues for manufacturing investment across her region and across her constituency. This House knows full well—and if Conservative Members cared to listen, they would know full well—that this proposal will damage manufacturing industry and, therefore, jobs, particularly in the north-east, which is the only part of the country with a manufacturing surplus on trade with Europe and the rest of the world.
The Prime Minister shakes his head, but every single Member represents people who voted leave and people who voted remain. Nobody voted for a wing-and-a-prayer, cake-and-eat-it, blindfold Brexit with no economic impact assessment of the biggest transformation of our economy in peacetime history.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a completely unacceptable way to bring forward this legislation? It is not fair on this House, and it is not fair on the people who will lose their jobs as a result.
I commend my hon. Friend for what she says and the way she says it. We all represent people who voted in different directions in the referendum, or who did not vote at all. We all have to represent them but, in making these decisions, we have to ask ourselves this question: if this deal is good for our country, why have the Government not produced a single scrap of evidence showing that?
I am enormously grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Let me pay tribute to a former Labour leader, Tony Blair, who was the architect of the Good Friday agreement, which delivered much needed peace and stability to Northern Ireland after 30 years of atrocious violence that affected all communities right across the island of Ireland.
I am extremely concerned that the Labour party, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have anxiety that the Prime Minister’s new Brexit deal, in some way, undermines the Good Friday agreement and its achievements. Will he please take a few moments to explain his concerns? I think that is really important.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and I am sure she and the whole House would agree that the Good Friday agreement was an historic step forward that has brought relative peace to Northern Ireland. My concern is that this Bill creates a customs frontier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK—the Prime Minister told the DUP conference that that is something he would not do—and requires the certification of goods before they can be sent from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, and it therefore creates a different trading relationship.
Although there might not be an aspiration at the moment to put any physical customs points on the road borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic, I gently say that the direction of travel is not a good one. The hon. Lady knows as well as I do that, as soon as we start doing that, we will end up seriously undermining the historic achievements of the Good Friday agreement.
I return the right hon. Gentleman to a simple fact, about which I am concerned. Does he recall that he once sponsored a Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972? Can he explain what has changed and why, in voting against this Bill, he will be voting against repealing the 1972 Act?
I also recall that I strongly supported the social chapter in order to try to bring social justice across Europe, and I just remind the right hon. Gentleman of his historic achievement of bringing in universal credit and all the damage that has done to so many people in this country.
The only economic evidence we can go on is the economic assessment carried out under the previous Prime Minister, and that was clear.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not vote for anything that could make our country poorer, and this Brexit deal would do exactly that? Does he also agree that the previous referendum should have been regarded as illegal due to the overspend by the Prime Minister? The only way forward is a people’s vote.
People voted in different ways in the referendum in 2016—that is obvious—but nobody voted to lose their jobs, or to find that their regulations and living conditions had been damaged. The function of Parliament is to hold the Government to account and scrutinise this agreement. A bare bones free trade agreement, which is what the Prime Minister is promising, would dramatically hit our country’s GDP, and would disproportionately hit the poorest regions and make everybody in this country worse off. It would also lock in the existing privatisation of our national health service, and nothing in this Bill protects our health service or public services from future trade deals.
Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that many EU nationals in this country are really afraid, because they do not know what their future is going to be? An Italian flower seller in a market in my constituency has lived here 15 years and has been constantly asked, “When are you going home?” Today, I have received an email from a doctor in the constituency, who said of a colleague:
“There are significant concerns about the tardy response by the ‘Brexit department’, for want of a better name for that organization, in that there has been no confirmation of— this German doctor’s residency and—
“status going forward.
He is obviously very anxious and distracted by this situation.
We need to keep primary care morale up in the current difficult times and our valued European doctors— and nurses— need to feel confident about their future within the UK.
This doctor has been a cornerstone of the NHS in Wales for over 20 years.”
My right hon. Friend knows very well that we are losing doctors and nurses, and we cannot afford to do it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. She says it with heartfelt passion and she is right: there are many people who have come to this country from all over the world, made their homes here and made a massive contribution to our lives and our society, and every one of us owes our health to those people who work in our NHS, whether they come from Commonwealth countries, other countries or the European Union. They should not be put through the strain either of the Windrush hostile environment or the sword of Damocles hanging over many at the moment because they know they have only five years’ definite stay in this country. I will just remind the House that in July 2016, my party, through Andy Burnham, then our shadow Home Secretary, moved a motion guaranteeing permanent rights and residence of EU nationals. The Prime Minister was the only Tory to support it at that time. I do not know what has happened to him since then.
On trade and investment, will the Chancellor do his job and provide the House with a comprehensive economic impact assessment on this deal? At the very least, will he do so before Report stage? This Bill falls hugely short in all areas.
On jobs and manufacturing, this deal will reduce access to the market of our biggest trade partner and leave our manufacturers without a customs union. As we have heard in many interventions, Members have heard desperate pleas from businesses in their constituencies all saying that they need frictionless supply chains. So I ask all Members to do the right thing: let us work together to make sure that a comprehensive customs union is hard-wired into our future relationship with the EU.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He knows that we disagree on elements of this Bill and this issue. As his former Whip, with my Whips tie on, may I ask him for an assurance that Labour Members who exercise their conscience this evening and do not follow the whip will not have that whip removed, any more than he had it removed when he exercised his conscience?
I believe in the powers of persuasion and tonight I would like to persuade my hon. Friend: come with us, vote against this Bill and vote against the programme motion, because I believe, and I think he may agree with me, that that is in the interests of his constituents.
Does the Leader of the Opposition share my concern that this Brexit deal could lead to a loss of freedom of movement within the island of Ireland for international family members of Irish or UK citizens? In other words, it imposes the equivalent of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, denying families their reunification rights. Will he acknowledge that this is a barely mentioned but worrying aspect of yet another way in which this deal breaches the Good Friday agreement?
Yes, I understand and accept the hon. Lady’s concerns on that. She is eloquently making the case for far more scrutiny of this Bill, so I am sure she will be joining me in opposing the programme motion this evening, because it will prevent just that kind of scrutiny. I note that the programme motion allows just one hour for consideration of all Lords amendments, however many there may or may not be.
I will give way to my hon. Friend, with his quiet demeanour, but let me just say, on workers’ rights, that by removing any level playing field provision the Government are asking us to give them a blank cheque on rights at work.
It is a great relief to the House; I was worried that the hon. Gentleman might explode in the atmosphere, which would have been a most unfortunate scenario.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for eventually giving way. I was incredibly concerned when I was reminded by my wife earlier today that we spent longer choosing a sofa than this House has to debate this incredibly important Bill. The important point is this: the Prime Minister’s own legislative adviser, Nikki da Costa, has said and advised him that she thinks this House needs at least four weeks to debate this important legislation in order for it to go through both Houses. We have just not got enough time to debate this—does my right hon. Friend agree?
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. We got the Bill at 8.15 last night and this afternoon at 1 pm we start debating it—that is utterly ludicrous. We are then going into Committee stage. The Bill then goes to the Lords and comes back, as I said in response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, for a one- hour debate on Lords amendments. These are serious issues that have huge implications for communities, factories, jobs and people. This should not be dealt with in this way.
Over the past couple of years Members from across the House have asked many, many questions about the customs relationship between the EU and the UK post-Brexit, but nobody thought to ask whether customs arrangements within their own country would be affected. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister should have, at that Dispatch Box, apologised to the businesses in Britain that trade within Britain and are now going to have start filling out forms that they would never have had to fill out before?
One reason why we need greater scrutiny is that as a result of the Bill, the relationships in Northern Ireland fundamentally change the decision-making processes. The stakes are so high and the risk is evident for us all to see. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need proper scrutiny and more time to consider the Bill, for the sake of peace?
Indeed, the Northern Ireland peace process—the Good Friday agreement—is one of the most significant things that this House has ever done. We should understand the threat that the Bill brings.
I was speaking about workers’ rights, on which the Government want us to trust them. The provisions in the Bill will mean that the Government merely have to inform the House if they propose to diverge from EU standards. Am I correct in understanding that no notification, let alone a vote, would be required if the measure is currently contained in secondary legislation? The provisions fall way, way short of those in the Workers’ Rights (Maintenance of EU Standards) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend Melanie Onn, and the TUC concluded:
“The deal itself does not meet the TUC’s tests that any brexit outcome must protect jobs, rights, and peace in Northern Ireland. By moving away from a close economic relationship with the EU, the deal would be a disaster for working people’s jobs and livelihoods. The deal would not require”—[Interruption.]
I am surprised that Government Members do not want to hear what the TUC says about the deal. The TUC continued:
“The deal would not require government to maintain existing rights, would not require rights to keep pace with those across the EU, and would leave workers with a significantly reduced ability to enforce the rights they do have.”
The TUC concluded by saying:
“It would do nothing to improve employment rights in the UK, now or in future.”
The Government talk about maintaining world-class environmental standards, but actions speak louder than words, so can I ask the Prime Minister—
I am not giving way for a while.
Why has the Prime Minister, instead of entrenching non-regression environmental standards into the Bill and the deal, taken out the level playing field commitments? I always say, Mr Speaker, that on all these issues you do not have to take my word for it; manufacturers and industry are deeply concerned about this deal. Environmental campaigning groups and green groups are deeply concerned. I challenge the Prime Minister to name a single trade union in this country that backs this deal. He knows that he cannot, and they have made their views very clear through the TUC.
Order. The Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that he is not giving way at the moment. There is a fine line between beseeching someone and hectoring, and Members are in danger of falling on the wrong side of that dividing line. The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to continue with his speech, and he will do so until he is ready to give way.
Clause 30 makes it worryingly clear that if no trade deal with the EU is agreed by the very ambitious date of December next year, Ministers can just decide to crash the UK out on World Trade Organisation terms. That is not getting Brexit done; it is merely pushing back the serious threat of no deal to a later date. Let us be clear: as things stand the Bill spells out the deeply damaging deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated—and he knows it, which is why he is trying to push it through without scrutiny. Labour will seek more time to scrutinise. We will seek a clear commitment on a customs union, a strong single market relationship, a hard-wired commitment on workers’ rights, non-regression on environmental standards and the closure of loopholes to avoid the threat of a no-deal Brexit once and for all.
Lastly, the Prime Minister’s deal should go back to the people; we should give them, not just Members of this House, the final say. They always say that the devil is in the detail; I have seen some of the detail and it confirms everything we thought about this rotten deal. It is a charter for deregulation across the board, paving the way for a Trump-style trade deal that will—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Government Members do not like hearing this bit, so I will say it again: it will pave the way for a Trump-style trade deal that will attack jobs, rights and protections and open up our precious national health service and all the history and principles behind it, and other public services, to even more privatisation. That is exactly what the Prime Minister set out in his letter to the President of the EU Commission, when he said that alignment with EU standards
“is not the goal of the current UK Government.”
There we have it in his own words. That is a vision for the future of our country that my party, the Labour party, cannot sign up to and does not support. That is why we will be voting against Second Reading tonight and, if that vote is carried, we will vote against the programme motion, to ensure that this elected House of Commons has the opportunity to properly scrutinise this piece of legislation.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Home Affairs Committee was due to take evidence from the Home Secretary tomorrow afternoon. I have been trying to speak to the Home Secretary today, because she has now informed the Committee that she does not want to give evidence tomorrow. We have offered to change the timing of the sitting to tomorrow morning—
I can see the Home Secretary nodding; I hope she can now agree to give evidence tomorrow morning, because we have been seeking to get this session in the diary since the beginning of August.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for signalling, with her usual good nature, that she is willing to appear before the Committee.
Well, all right: because I am in a generous mood, I will take one more.
I think the matter will be resolved speedily. [Interruption.] I do not require any help from a Member on the third row who thinks he has some role to play in these matters. He has absolutely no contribution to make whatsoever.
Although I am not on a time limit, I know that time is short, so I will be as brief as I possibly can to ensure that everybody else can get in.
Some 25 years ago, the Maastricht treaty finally passed into UK law. I remember with some fondness going on many occasions through the Lobby to vote against the Government—heaven forfend—and I was always joined by the jolly figure of the current Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. We shared many a conversation about how terrible it was and how, given the opportunity, we would one day join together to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. I am sorry to say to the Leader of the Opposition, in genuine friendship, that I would love to know what happened in the intervening 25 years that changed his mind about the European Union such that he now no longer wishes to repeal that Act. I miss our friendship and would like that to be put on record. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend Mr Baker said, it was literally the only thing we ever agreed about.
Today, I am going to—
I will not give way just yet, because I am conscious of time and will be very brief.
I rise to congratulate my right hon Friend the Prime Minister on what I thought was an excellent speech and to say that, absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, I will support the Government tonight in both votes—on Second Reading and, massively importantly, on the programme motion. We did not have programme motions during Maastricht. Some people might recall that we had to have 100 hours in Committee before we could actually get a limit on speeches. Sometimes, I wonder whether that would not be a good thing, but not tonight, it has to be said. There is a reason for that—we have had more than 100 hours in Committee over the past three and a half years. The reality is that, if there is anything about this arrangement that we have not now debated and thrashed to death, I would love to know what it is.
I will give way in a minute.
Those who say that they do not have enough time in the next few days, because they have so many things to debate forget that there was a White Paper published last year—I see my right hon. Friend Sir David Lidington sitting on my left—that contained, sadly, most of the elements of the withdrawal agreement. That was debated, and the issue has been debated in meaningful vote after meaningful vote. Many of the things in the agreement have not changed. I for one would like to see more of it changed, and I will come back to that in a second.
The right hon. Gentleman has known that for more than a year now. There is no surprise there. I certainly have real concerns about that matter, but I have to say to him that I have known about it for some time. This did not pop up suddenly in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s agreement. We have thrashed this out through the White Paper and in meaningful vote after meaningful vote. Honestly, we have to ask ourselves the question: has this House not debated that element to absolute destruction?
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I regret that I am on a different side from him on this occasion, as I was on Maastricht, but I am enjoying his speech as much as I did then.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, until very recently, there was no suggestion that England, Scotland and Wales were going to go into their own customs union and single market, and that the whole of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, was going to go into a single market and customs union with the continent of Europe? Indeed, that was expressly ruled out only a few months ago by the present Prime Minister. At the moment that issue is due to be disposed of in three hours, with other issues being disposed of tomorrow morning. If every member of the DUP tries to speak, they will be reduced to a three-minute time limit in their speeches, and that also applies to other Members of the House. Having spent more than 100 hours over Maastricht, when he occupied quite a lot of the time himself, why on earth does he think that we should not debate such important constitutional issues?
I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that, absolutely, I am very happy to debate it. He touches on the one issue that was not in the White Paper and is different, and I accept that. I am sure that, had the Opposition sat down with the usual channels and carefully discussed the really serious elements on which they wanted more time, it may have been possible to have allowed that. The reality is that they have taken the position from day one that they would oppose this Bill, but make no other propositions. We could, for example, go round the clock—he and I agree about that. We have time. After all, what is the weekend for? I do not have any problem with that. I have a simple point to make, which is that those who argue endlessly that there is not enough time are really arguing that they do not like the idea of the deadline of
With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, he does intervene a lot. The reality is that we have also spent a lot—[Interruption.] I do not mean that rudely, I just genuinely mean that he does intervene a lot.
There is a very good video doing the rounds. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke has not seen it, but it would be good if he had. It is not about him; it is about many others who have argued here for one case, but who now, since the referendum, seem to have managed to change their views massively. The streets of Westminster are marked by the skid marks of politicians who have done U-turns on the position they took directly after the referendum. We had pledges to implement the referendum. I note that, when the result first came out, the shadow Secretary of State for Brexit said on two occasions that the referendum would have to be implemented, and that freedom of movement would end when we left. Now, of course, the Opposition are shifting their position around and they want to delay. More than that, the Leader of the Opposition has said that he now wants to make certain that the Bill cannot possibly go through.
That brings me very briefly to two points that have been made. One is on a second referendum, which some Members want to include in an amendment to this Bill. They want more time to do that. I have a simple point to make: those who want a second referendum argue very carefully that it should not contain a question about leaving, which strikes me as bizarre. More importantly, why should any member of the public, or any one of our constituents, who voted in the first referendum—
One second. May I just finish my point?
Why should any of our constituents believe any one of us now? We promised them at the time of the previous referendum in 2016 that we would implement it. We then came into this House and voted to implement it and voted to implement article 50. Why, when we go back to them, should we be able to say, “Don’t worry. Trust us. Despite what we said to you last time, and although we have now reneged on that, we’re going to give you another chance, because we think that, somehow, you might change your decision, and if you do not, you need to trust us that we will stand by the decision that you have not changed, even though you gave us that decision earlier”? That, frankly, is utterly absurd.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. It may have been inadvertent, but he did suggest that those advocating a people’s vote or second referendum did not want to put the option of leaving in it. That is, I have to say to him, entirely inaccurate. Perhaps he would like to consider this: he believes that this debate should be curtailed. One thing that I have learned is that, if we want to get public acceptance of a decision that people do not like, the process of debate is absolutely key. Therefore, he will maximise the resentments when, in fact, an opportunity exists for him to go back to the people and ask them to confirm that the deal is what a majority want.
I am always grateful to receive an intervention from my right hon. and learned Friend, but I have to tell him that I disagree with him. The British people voted to leave the European Union, so they clearly like it and they like the idea that we are going to get on with it. I do not know who he is talking to in his constituency, but I have to tell him that most of those in my constituency—even those who voted remain—keep on saying, “Whatever else we do, let us get this done and get it done now.” My right hon. and learned Friend will know full well, because he has played a very significant part in all these debates under two Prime Ministers, that he has not missed a single opportunity to lay amendments and to debate almost every single part of this agreement that now sits in front of us. I have no problem with that, and I respect him entirely. He remains a friend. Despite the fact that we disagree, I refuse to be rude or antagonistic. I simply say that he knows he has played his full part.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is not one of the real problems faced by this and the previous Parliament that when we voted, for whatever reason, to give the decision back to the people, we decided to be not representatives but delegates? That means that, on this one issue only, we are delegated to carry out the wishes of the majority. That does not mean that we should ignore the minority, but why, after saying that we should be delegates, are the same people advocating a second a referendum in which we would be delegates, when they cannot manage the first one?
I always love giving way to the right hon. Gentleman—in fact, I will call him my right hon. Friend in this particular moment—because he talks common sense. When we passed the European Union Referendum Act 2015, we made it very clear—and we confirmed this after the referendum—that, although we are a House of representatives and not delegates, we were handing back to the British people the sovereign power that comes from them to us for the period of a Parliament. We gave that power back to them to make the decision. They have made that decision and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knows, we now must act on it. As far as I am concerned, the deal has flaws and includes things that I do not particularly like, but I recognise that the overarching priority right now is to deliver on the referendum and leave the European Union, and this remains the only way that we can achieve that. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that.
I am not going to give way any more; I have given way enough.
If there is any attempt in this process to amend the Bill to keep us in a customs union, I would simply argue that I thought it was made very clear throughout—and there were many comments by Opposition Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, to this effect—that leaving the customs union was part of the package of leaving. [Interruption.] Others will disagree. I do not say that they are wrong. I simply say that I think it was pretty explicit throughout the whole referendum campaign that the jewel in the crown of leaving was being able to set our own trade negotiations and trade deals. Taking that power back is a really critical part of taking back control. If we handed that power back, it would be an enormous mistake. It also has to be said that such an amendment—this will be up to Mr Speaker, of course—would be a wrecking amendment, because it is not possible to go back and ask the EU to change the deal one more time. Such an amendment would therefore wreck the Bill and there would be only one reason for it: to stop this Bill and prevent us from leaving the European Union. Although others will want to do that, I do not agree with them.
We all have to make difficult choices. I do want the Government to engage enormously with our colleagues from Northern Ireland, because there is very much an issue regarding them leaving with us when we strike a future trade deal. It is really important that we engage with them, because we must leave as one Union, not separated or separable.
The right hon. Gentleman has said to the House that very little has changed and that we do not need further debate, but the Prime Minister and members of the Government repeatedly said—just a few weeks ago—that they would never accept a border down the Irish sea. This change in the agreement is the most fundamental change to our Union since the Act of Union. That merits debate and discussion, and this House needs to listen to that discussion.
I genuinely agree with the hon. Lady that it merits discussion, but I also think that there is another key element. There are lots of things in the implementation period that many of us dislike, and there are things that I dislike—not least some of the arrangements I am discussing the with the hon. Lady. But the key question is surely this: to what degree can the hon. Lady’s party discuss and agree with the Government that when we finally strike that free trade deal, we leave as one Union and do not continue with those arrangements? That is the point of the question I asked earlier.
In conclusion, although there are some things that we disagree with and dislike, the honest truth is that we are faced tonight with two votes on a simple question—do we now want to give reality to the referendum in 2016, when the British people voted to leave the European Union? If we delay one more time, not only will we have defied them; worse than that, the British people will utterly lose faith in this place. This place has to be their representative body, but it will seem to them that it is no longer. Let us get this done and start the process tonight.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have serious concerns that there has been some mistake in the printing of the withdrawal agreement Bill. We have repeatedly heard reference in the speeches of the Prime Minister and others to clauses and measures under which the terrible arrangements for Northern Ireland would disappear on the signing of a free trade deal with the EU. I cannot find those clauses. During the Leader of the Opposition’s speech, I took the opportunity to look at the Bill again, but I cannot find those clauses in my copy. Could you give me clarity on how we can get some certainty? Perhaps my copy has some missing pages or there has been some form of misprint, or perhaps the Government could outline where these clauses exist, because I cannot find them.
I am sorry, but the hon. Lady, in the course of her attempted point of order, frankly elevates me to a status that I do not enjoy. It is well beyond my limited capabilities to know the precise order of clauses, or that which is present and that which is not. My counsel to the hon. Lady is that in her pursuit of her mission, she could make a point of intervening on colleagues who speak with a compendious knowledge of the contents of the Bill in order to seek to extract from them the information that she seeks. I can see many pointy-headed, brilliant brains on the Government Benches who are doubtless going to rise to celebrate the merits of the Bill and whom she could usefully question on this matter.
Oh, very well. Whether it will profit the hon. Lady, I do not know, but I am offering my benevolent assistance within the limits of my modest capabilities.
I, too, noted that the Prime Minister referred to checks and declarations on GB-Northern Irish goods as being “transitory”. He also said that they would “melt away” unless a majority of Northern Ireland chose to retain them. I share the concerns of Emma Little Pengelly that that is not in fact correct, and that perhaps there has been some confusion between the future decision relating to a single market and being in a customs union. Does it not highlight the challenge that we face that the Prime Minister appears to need additional time to consider the real implications of the decisions being taken that will have a significant impact not only on this country, but in particular on our trading relationship with Northern Ireland, and on trade from Northern Ireland to the European Union? This really adds to the weight of concern about the lack of time to properly scrutinise such issues in this debate.
I have two points. First, I do not sniff or cavil at the concern that the hon. Lady raises about the allocation of time, but ultimately the House has ownership of time in the simple sense that it determines acceptance or otherwise of the programme motion. Secondly—please do not take this as a pejorative observation, as I am just trying to take a holistic view of the situation—what she is really saying is that there is great disagreement about what is or is not the case. It calls to mind the fact that people often say, “Well, give us the facts and then we’ll make a judgment.” Sadly, it is not so simple. There is no agreement on what the facts are, and I am afraid that that has to come out in the course of the debate, which, as I say, is well beyond the competence of the Chair.
If there are no further points of order, we can now proceed, because I think that the leader of the Scottish National party, Ian Blackford, is in a state of heightened animation at the prospect of being able to orate to the House.
Indeed, Mr Speaker, as always.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Duncan Smith. We do not perhaps agree on the destination for which we should be heading, but he certainly makes his case with passion.
The points of order that have just been made absolutely demonstrate that we must have proper scrutiny of absolutely fundamental legislation that is going to affect all of us, our children and our grandchildren for decades to come. We must be able to tease out the facts.
The Government in London have an obligation to negotiate with parties from Northern Ireland, as the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, but also to negotiate with the devolved Administrations in Edinburgh and in Cardiff. In the spirit of generosity that is suggested by the Government, there has to be real dialogue and negotiation with all parties that are involved in this.
The simple fact remains that while we on the SNP Benches have no desire to leave the European Union, it is regrettable that over the past three years we have not had the opportunity to explore in detail a compromise position, which may have been staying in the single market and customs union and would have resolved many of the difficulties that we now face with Northern Ireland.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for reminding us that we spent 100 hours in Committee on Maastricht.
More than 100 hours—so what on earth are we doing pushing this Bill through over a couple of days? I appeal to everybody—and I mean everybody; I am looking at Members on the Government Benches—to let this House do its job and to have proper scrutiny of something that is so absolutely fundamental.
Having been at the heart of the Maastricht rebellion, I will make a very simple point: first, there was no manifesto commitment to the Maastricht treaty; and, secondly, there was no referendum.
Is not one of the most critical points that not only is this a new deal but I can find no part of it that actually meets a single promise made by the leave campaign in the referendum? Not one of its promises has been met by anything in this very important new agreement. It must be right that this place should scrutinise it because not only are people—inadvertently, I am sure—standing up and asserting things that do not appear to be the case, as we have already heard, but, as all of us look through this huge, weighty document, which contains new parts, we discover on almost every turn of the page something new that should be scrutinised.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely correct. The Bill was published only last night. Effective scrutiny takes time. I can see many sitting on the Government Benches who, if this was happening with the boot on the other foot, would be screaming like mad that this House was not being able to express its democratic obligation to look at things carefully.
The transition period will end at the end of 2020. If the Government wish to seek an extension to transition, they have to apply for it by the summer of next year. Does anybody in this House really think that the United Kingdom is going to be able to conclude a complex trade arrangement with the European Union by the summer of next year, giving us the security of knowing that we do not need that extension? Quite frankly, they are living in a fantasy land if they do. On that basis, I say to Members all around the House, but particularly to Opposition Members who are tempted to vote with the Government this evening: be careful, because you are writing a blank cheque to the Prime Minister and the Vote Leave campaign that runs this Government to drive the United Kingdom out of the European Union on a no-deal basis at the end of next year—and, friends, there is nothing you can do to stop it.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, but I want to go back to what he said about the ridiculous timescales whereby, even if this Bill passes, all this stuff has to be done by the summer. Yesterday evening, I was in a Delegated Legislation Committee considering a technical paper on railway safety. Even then, the Government transition period was two years. As I said in the Committee, we have two years for railway safety transition, but this lot think they can get a free trade agreement and future arrangements done in a few months. It is a joke.
My hon. Friend is quite correct.
It simply is not feasible that the Government can negotiate from scratch—because let us remind ourselves that none of this has yet started; it cannot start yet. They have not started that trade agreement process. When we look at the years it has taken for Europe to conclude trade deals with other countries, we can see that this is a fantasy. Anybody who thinks that that is possible is quite simply deluded.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a great stooshie about time in relation to this Bill, but was it not the case that, when the SNP Scottish Government introduced their continuity Bill in the Scottish Parliament, they operated a ruthless guillotine to prevent proper scrutiny of it? That is the case; they ran a guillotine on that Bill, and there was a very limited amount of time allowed for debate and scrutiny, yet he complains about that happening here. [Interruption.]
Let me make some progress. I will happily take interventions later on—[Interruption.] I have not even started yet.
It will come as no surprise to the House that Scottish National party MPs will not vote for this Bill that seeks to implement the destructive Brexit deal, and I commit all 35 of our MPs to not doing so. We will be united. Scotland voted to remain: 62% of those who voted in Scotland voted to remain, and we are the only part of the United Kingdom being taken out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union against our will. England voted to leave, Wales voted to leave and Northern Ireland is getting a differentiated deal—there may be issues with it, but it is getting a differentiated deal—and that at the very least puts Scotland at a competitive disadvantage. Scotland is being sidelined and silenced, but Scotland will not be silenced. The SNP is here to fight this toxic Tory Government. Scotland’s voice must be heard, and we must be respected.
I really have to question whether Conservatives are thinking about these interventions before they make them. Scotland is a country. London is a city. There is a world of difference between them. This reminds me of the Prime Minister’s statement that a pound spent in Croydon was worth more than a pound spent in Strathclyde. What about London, indeed! Our Scottish Parliament must be respected and have its say on the legislative consent motion for this Bill. I say to Rory Stewart that this is the difference: Cardiff and Edinburgh must provide consent to this Bill, but that is not the situation for the city of London.
Members should note that the Scottish Government have now lodged in the Scottish Parliament a legislative consent memorandum for this Bill. It concludes by recommending that the Scottish Parliament withhold legislative consent. We were told after our referendum in 2014 that we were to lead the UK. Under the respect agenda, we were told that we were an equal partner and that our opinions would be respected, yet here we are today, with our Parliament and our views being disregarded, and our rights as EU citizens about to be taken from us against our will.
I want to take the right hon. Gentleman back to what he said earlier. It is absolutely right that we scrutinise the Bill and ask ourselves whether there is time for a new deal to be done in the next year before time runs out, but the voices that are questioning that now are the same ones that were questioning whether the Prime Minister would come back with a deal.
Secondly, the political declaration gives an indication of where we want to go. Work has been done on that. Thirdly, we are dealing with two aligned trading systems that work together today and that need to diverge, rather than two divergent systems that need to come together. It can be done. It is possible, and I ask him not to say that it will be the Conservative party’s default position to seek no deal in a year’s time. I will not be seeking that, and I will not be supporting it.
I have respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but the Prime Minister’s deal is worse than the previous Prime Minister’s one, and he should not conflate what has happened over the last few months with the challenges of doing a trade deal. If the Government do not negotiate a trade deal in a timely manner next year, there is nothing the right hon. Gentleman can do, there is nothing I can do and there is nothing that a single Member of this House can do.
It does not give us the right to seek an extension. That right rests with the Government, and if the Government have not asked for an extension by the summer, that is it—we are out of Europe on a no-deal basis, and it is the end of the story.
The House will be aware that the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales wrote a joint letter to the Prime Minister reminding him that the UK Government are required to seek legislative consent for this Bill from both legislatures. The Prime Minister must make it clear that consent will be sought from the devolved institutions and that the will of the devolved institutions will be respected. That, after all, was the promise made by the Tory Government to the people of Scotland—that our devolution settlement would be protected and respected, not ignored. That promise has already been broken in their shameful power grab at the time of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which gave UK Ministers the powers to restrict the competences of the Scottish Parliament unilaterally and without agreement.
I see the Minister shaking his head, but I am afraid that that is a matter of fact. That was the first time in the 20-year history of devolution that any Government legislated on devolved matters without Scotland’s consent. That shameful act was a direct and deliberate downgrading of our devolution settlement. It disrespected those who voted in the devolution referendum of 1997 and the Scotland Act 1998, which defined the limitations of Westminster’s powers and established that this place could not interfere without consent, and it undermined the Sewel convention, breaking once again the promises that the Conservatives made to the Scottish people. SNP Members made their anger known at those actions. I pleaded on that day—before you threw me out of the House, Mr Speaker, and I do not quibble with your judgment—that Scotland would not stand for it, and we will not.
Let Members on all Benches be warned: if they support the Government today, they will show disregard for the Scottish Parliament and the sovereign will of the Scottish people, and there will be a price to be paid. It is worth noting that in their letter to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales were clear that that extension must be sought.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this Bill is extremely damaging to people in Wales and that the rights that he is talking about for Scotland should also be afforded to Wales? This Bill is damaging to the people of Wales, including the farmers whom many of us represent, and to our businesses. I thank him for giving me the opportunity to speak.
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady, because she makes a valuable point. I want to thank the Welsh Government, who have worked hand in hand with the Scottish Government. Quite simply, our rights are being diminished by what this Government are doing, and we have a responsibility across not only Governments in the devolved areas but parties to work together to make these points.
The devolved institutions must be given a full opportunity to scrutinise this legislation. The fact remains that the Scottish Parliament is on recess and is having to be recalled because of this Government’s desire to ram legislation through at short notice. Here we are today with the Government pushing on ahead. [Interruption.] People watching can see the chuntering, shouting, complaining and laughing that we get from Scottish Conservative Members every single time we are in this place. The UK Government are ploughing on against the requests of the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. It is clear that this Prime Minister has no respect for devolution.
That should come as no surprise to us because the Conservatives have opposed devolution every step of the way. A leopard does not change its spots. At every step in the Brexit process, Tory Governments have sought to frustrate parliamentary scrutiny and to frustrate our Government, but they simply do not care. The Prime Minister does not care about process, Parliament or the rule of law.
The right hon. Gentleman has been very generous in giving way. There have been some press reports that the SNP is abandoning the idea of having a second referendum, but in the joint letter he cited from the First Minister of Wales and the First Minister of Scotland I am pleased to say that they both called for such a referendum and for an extension to allow it to happen. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is still the SNP’s position?
A number of people have raised concerns today about the lack of scrutiny and the lack of time to look at this Bill. My right hon. Friend has pointed out that Scotland has of course been ignored in this process—a nation that voted significantly to remain in the EU. Does he share my concern that, in among all this, we continue to forget, conveniently for some perhaps, the fact that this referendum was won on a very narrow margin across the UK? The Electoral Commission has said that electoral law was broken, but that has been swept under the carpet, and I call into question the legitimacy of the result at all.
I think there are very legitimate questions to be answered, and my hon. Friend is quite correct. I am conscious of time and I have taken a number of interventions, but I am not far from the end and I wish to move on and conclude. [Interruption.] Really? “Thank God for that” is what we get from Government Members. That is the disrespect that is shown to the Scottish people. Perhaps they should stand up and put it on the record. That is an absolute disgrace.
It is simply an insult to democracy that the Government are trying to push this Bill through in limited time, and I urge Members—I urge even those on the Government Benches—to ask themselves: is this really how they want things to be done? Even the previous director of legislative affairs at No. 10, Nikki da Costa, stated in May that this Bill would take “more than four weeks”. What has changed? Moreover, it was agreed that this legislation must not be passed until the UK Government have published an economic impact assessment of their deal, yet on “BBC Breakfast” on Saturday, the Brexit Secretary confirmed that no economic analysis has been done by this Government on the final deal. That is the height of irresponsibility. There is no economic analysis on a deal that is going to have a fundamental impact on the lives of all our citizens.
Each and every one of us in this House knows—because we have seen the evidence, we have listened to the experts—that there is no such thing as a good Brexit. In every scenario, Brexit threatens jobs, it risks environmental standards, it risks workers’ rights, it unravels co-operation and opportunities and, importantly, it poses questions about the future values that the UK has fostered hand in hand with the European Union. This Government are closing their eyes, putting their head in the sand and hoping that the sun comes out—the sunny uplands that the Brexiteers talk about—but that is reckless and it is foolish. The arrogance and the incompetence of the Government cannot and must not be allowed to go unchecked. Our priority today must be to ensure that an extension is negotiated and secured with the European Union, so this House can scrutinise fully and properly the significant lasting changes that this legislation will mean.
In closing, I want to touch on some of the substantive points about why, in no circumstances, will the SNP ever vote for Brexit and this shameful deal. Despite our efforts to compromise, this legislation will take us out of the European Union, out of the single market and out of the customs union. With the Prime Minister’s deal, under a free trade agreement Scotland’s GDP would be around 6.1% less, or £9 billion worse off, than if we stayed in the European Union. That is equivalent to £1,600 per person in Scotland. That is the cost of the Prime Minister’s Brexit for Scotland. Northern Ireland businesses will have easier access to the European single market while simultaneously enjoying “unfettered” access to the UK market. There is significant uncertainty as to how the economic impact may play out, but it could see Scottish business losing market share with direct competitors. The risk is that supply chains may be re-organised to take advantage of Northern Ireland’s preferential access to the single market. It may even play a role in location decisions in some cases.
The SNP is significantly concerned that the removal of the commitments on environmental protection from the withdrawal agreement, and restricting them to the non-binding political declaration, opens the door to UK divergence from EU standards. The political declaration remains weak in relation to human rights, and in particular on the importance of continuing UK compliance with the European convention on human rights.
Scotland will be worse off—unfairly disadvantaged—despite our will to remain. Therefore I urge Members not to sell out Scotland. Listen to the will of the Scottish people, protect our devolution settlement, respect our democratically expressed wishes and stand by the rights of the Scottish people, businesses, farmers, crofters, fishermen, students, doctors and nurses. Stand by them and vote to stop this disastrous deal and to give the Scottish Parliament, and therefore the Scottish people, their say.
We will begin with a time limit of six minutes on each Back-Bench speech, although I do not know how long that will last.
The Bill and the agreement that it seeks to implement represent a compromise. It is a compromise that I believe is acceptable, but I will not conceal the fact that I and many other Members on this side of the House will find elements of it difficult and uncomfortable. My decision to support the Government tonight rests above all on what I and the great majority of Members on both sides of the House pledged to the electorate in 2016—that we would, however we campaigned and however we voted, respect the decision that they took in the referendum.
When I look through the Bill, I see that much of it is familiar territory. That is hardly a surprise as much— indeed, most—of it ratifies precisely the same negotiated text as that negotiated by my right hon. Friend Mrs May. Of course, one significant change has been in relation to Northern Ireland. As my hon. Friend Simon Hoare, the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said in an intervention earlier, there are advantages to what is in the deal. The guarantee of an open border on the island of Ireland is not only vital to allow trade and, indeed, normal economic life for people living in the border counties to continue, but is essential in my judgment for the maintenance of peace and security in the border areas. It is also important for the maintenance of the Union. When I look at the demographics of Northern Ireland as someone who passionately wants to see the Union continue and grow stronger, I conclude that for that to happen the Union will need to command the support—or at the very least the acquiescence—of a large number of people who identify as Irish or who are non-aligned in their affiliation.
I shall come on to that point, but I want to say a few sentences about the consent mechanism. I understand the disquiet that has been expressed by those on the Unionist Benches about the design of the mechanism. It is nevertheless worth noting that that mechanism gives to Stormont a power that is unique in Europe. No other regional Parliament or Assembly anywhere else in Europe has the power, unilaterally, to decide to end the application of a set of European Union rules and regulations to its territory.
Having said that, I do want to recognise the fact that elements of the new package as regards Northern Ireland have aroused genuine disquiet and anger in Unionist communities across Northern Ireland. There is a perception that they have been treated unequally and that their place in the United Kingdom has been made less secure. I ask my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench urgently to seek ways to address those concerns and to assert the Government’s continued commitment to the Union.
First of all, Unionists are greatly dismayed at what has happened in relation to the withdrawal agreement, but does the right hon. Gentleman also recognise the issues for businesses, including in the agrifood sector, in my constituency? The cost implications for Lakeland Dairies, which has two factories in Northern Ireland and two factories in southern Ireland, will be enormous. The Government have not given that full consideration. There will be an impact on Unionist opinion and on business.
I recognise the concerns expressed by business, although I also note that the view expressed by business representative organisations in Northern Ireland has generally been that Parliament should go ahead with this deal and enact the legislation, but then address the concerns that the hon. Gentleman rightly identifies that they raised. I therefore ask my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to also act swiftly to minimise the impact that additional inspections and red tape required by the new policy will impose on Northern Ireland businesses. That might include financial support, particularly to small and medium-sized enterprises to enable them to buy and operate new systems; efforts to simplify or dedramatize checks and form filling required; and for the Government to give urgent priority to such measures as seeking a veterinary agreement with the European Union and other such arrangements that would enable the risks to Northern Ireland business to be minimised.
If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, time is limited.
I believe that this House also needs to take account of the shift we are seeing in attitudes among other Governments in the European Union. Sometimes I think that colleagues in this House are a little guilty of wishful thinking. Frankly, those Governments are no longer hanging on, hoping somehow that the United Kingdom is going to change its mind. They are impatient. They are increasingly exasperated with all political parties and at the ability of the UK political system to take a decision on this matter. As far as the EU Governments are concerned, they want this brought to an orderly conclusion as soon as possible in a way that does as little harm as possible to the interests of the EU27. That interest includes the future constructive and close relationship that they—like, I believe, most in the House—wish to see between this country and the continuing European Union.
There are strategic challenges that face our country and every other European democracy. We debate them when we are spared time from debating Brexit: climate change, terrorism, serious and organised crime, and the mass movement of people. As European democracies, we are having to confront those challenges in the context of a shifting balance of world power, with a Russia that is aggressive and actively seeking to divide democratic European states, a China that is assertive and offering economic opportunity but championing a model for government and society at odds with that embedded in our own democratic and liberal values, and a United States whose unquestioning support for European security and a rules-based international order can no longer be taken for granted. I believe that because of the referendum result we have to leave, and we need to get on with the task of trying to build a different, but close and enduring partnership with our European neighbours and allies and to work together to meet the challenges that confront us all as fellow democracies on a shared continent. Passing this Bill will enable us to take one step closer towards starting on that task.
Brexit will be bad for our country and that is why Liberal Democrats will be voting against this Bill tonight. We know that it will be bad for the economy, because the Government’s own assessment in November 2018 looked at the impact of a free trade agreement on the British economy and concluded that it would mean that our economy would shrink by more than 6%— greater than the amount that the economy shrank during the financial crash.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that this will self-evidently be good for our country and economy, but I do not know when we decided to do away with the idea of having any financial responsibility and looking at the actual numbers. This Government have not even bothered to do a proper economic impact assessment. I am sure that we do not all agree with Michael Gove, who said that he had “had enough of experts”—actually, I would quite like the Government to get the experts to look at this, thank you very much.
We know that Brexit will be bad for our NHS. We have already lost 5,000 nurses from other EU countries from our NHS. At a time when we face a huge shortage of nurses, we can ill afford to lose 5,000 EU nurses and to lose more in future. The truth is that freedom of movement is good for our NHS. It is good for our public services and good for our economy.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that the fact that more than 40% of applicants for settled status are being given only pre-settled status is increasing the insecurity of European citizens?
The hon. Lady is right: the way that this country is treating those 3 million citizens from other EU states is shocking.
This Brexit deal will be bad for our security, because it will rob our police of the ability to use the European arrest warrant, which, since 2004, has seen 1,600 criminals extradited back to the UK to face justice. This Brexit deal will be bad for our United Kingdom family of nations. It beggars belief that this Conservative Prime Minister has agreed to a deal that will see a border down the Irish sea—something he said that he would never do. There are people who will try to use this to break up our country, but we must not let them break up our family of nations. Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are stronger working together.
I thank the hon. Lady, my constituency neighbour, for giving way on that vital point. By sacrificing the idea of a customs union for the sake of their English nationalist agenda, the Conservatives are rending the fabric of the United Kingdom itself. What a shameful act by a so-called Unionist party.
I entirely agree. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this Government are acting in a nationalist way. The Prime Minister of our country should take his responsibilities to protect the United Kingdom, our family of nations, much more seriously.
We also know that this Brexit deal will be bad for environmental protections, because even the weak protections that had been agreed by the former Prime Minister have been removed from the withdrawal agreement and put in the political declaration, where they are not worth the paper that they are written on. On workers’ rights, the same is true. There are no guarantees or protections that we will retain the advantage that we have as current members of the European Union, nor indeed that we will keep pace with future regulation.
I am pressed for time, so I will not give way further.
I caution any MPs—in particular, friends on the Labour Benches—against believing the promises of this Prime Minister when it comes to workers’ rights, and I speak as a former employment relations Minister in the coalition Government, so I know a little about what I am talking about when it comes to what the Conservatives want to do to workers’ rights. We cannot believe the promises that they make on this. Who would you trust on workers’ rights—Frances O’Grady and the TUC, who say that this deal would trash workers’ rights, or the Prime Minister, who has been giving out all these assurances today but is prepared to say anything and sell out anyone if it is in his own personal interest? He cannot be trusted and no one shall be fooled. He is sinking, and the question tonight is: will Labour Members throw him a lifeline by voting for his bad Brexit deal? People will remember what they choose. We are here because of the Conservative party’s bizarre obsession with Europe and because of the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, who seemed to make his renegotiation and the decision on benefit arrangements about Polish plumbers, rather than about the big picture of what is in our country’s interests. This is not a small decision; it is a big decision about our future.
We live in an uncertain world. In the east, we have the rise of Putin and China; in the west, we have the uncertain, unpredictable, duplicitous President Trump in the White House; and as President Trump says, in No. 10 Downing Street, we have Britain’s Trump. In these circumstances, should we go it alone? Or are we better and stronger working in close collaboration with our nearest neighbours across the EU in a community of 500 million people, where we share values, where we have much more clout on the international stage, where we have a single market for businesses without tariffs or regulations and with the ability to stand up to the tech companies to protect our consumers, where we are better able to address the climate emergency and take co-ordinated action to lead the world on something that threatens our very survival? Together the future is brighter.
This is not about institutions; this is about who we are. Wanting to stay in Europe is about choosing the kind of country we want to be: open or closed, generous or selfish, standing united with our friends or standing alone in the world, saying no to the bully boy populists in the Kremlin and the White House or following their example, fighting for our children’s futures or closing off their opportunities to live, work and study across the EU. On these Benches, we Liberal Democrats are clear: we will continue to stand up for what is best for our country, let the public have the final say on this bad Brexit deal and give them the chance to choose to remain in the EU. The most signed petition in parliamentary history was from 6 million saying they wanted to revoke article 50. Hundreds of thousands marched on the streets on Saturday for a people’s vote. People are joining the Liberal Democrats in record numbers. Together we can stop Brexit. Whatever the result tonight, this is not over. I will never give up on our children’s future.
It is a pleasure to follow Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I give her and her party credit for consistency. No one has ever been in any doubt about where they stand on Europe. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the Labour party, whose leader, as my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith has already pointed out, supported leaving the EU for a long time, fought an election on the wish to respect the result of the referendum and said consistently that a second referendum was out of the question.
Members will be aware that Kevin Brennan was forced to abandon his 60th birthday party as a result of the House sitting on a Saturday. The House may not be aware that he and I were born on precisely the same day and that, as a result of the programme motion, I have now postponed my own 60th birthday party. However—unlike, I suspect, the hon. Gentleman—I regard that as a small price to pay, and one that I am very willing to pay, if the result is that we get Brexit done.
Members have said that the Bill is being rushed through, and that there has not been time to look at it properly. I have been privileged to serve as a member of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union since 2016, and we have spent an awful lot of time scrutinising the process by which the UK will leave the European Union. We looked at the withdrawal agreement as originally proposed by my right hon. Friend Mrs May, and, of course, we have taken numerous sessions of evidence for the purpose of further examination.
As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, many parts of this withdrawal agreement are similar to what was presented by the previous Prime Minister. The major differences between the agreement that we are considering today and the previous one are the changes that have been made, first, to the Northern Ireland protocol, and secondly to the political declaration and the direction of travel for our future trading agreements.
Like the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, I did not support the Government in the first two meaningful votes, but I did support them in the third, because I wanted us to fulfil the promise that had been made that we would leave the European Union by
I just wondered whether my right hon. Friend was aware that the provisions relating to parliamentary sovereignty and those dealing with the protection of vital national interests, both of which are included in this Bill, would not have appeared in the previous Bill.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I was about to say why I regarded this Bill as being a considerable improvement on the previous agreement, and he is right to point that out. The agreement that we are considering this afternoon does address the principal concerns that a number of us had, particularly about the so-called backstop and the risk that this country could be locked indefinitely into membership of the customs union, which would prevent us from achieving one of the great prizes offered by Brexit, the ability to negotiate our own trading agreements.
I am enormously grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He has mentioned that the Prime Minister’s new deal contains very different provisions for Northern Ireland. They are particularly different, and very complex, in the context of the new consent arrangements. That being the case, why on earth does the Bill to which we are being asked to give a Second Reading not contain a single sentence explaining those very complex consent mechanisms?
I have heard the hon. Lady express those concerns, I have heard them expressed by our friends in the Democratic Unionist party and I take them seriously. The Prime Minister gave an assurance that these measures were transitory, and that they would be self-dissolving after a certain period. I hope that he will continue to talk to the hon. Lady and to colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party, and will assure them that that is the case. Obviously I hear what she says about the Bill, and I hope that she can receive an assurance on that point.
If my right hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, I feel that I must press on.
As I was saying, I believe that this is an improvement on what we were offered before, but there are still elements that I do not like. I am not happy with the idea that, for 15 months we will be, in the words of the Leader of the House, essentially a vassal state, taking orders from the European Union without being able to vote on them, and continuing to pay in. I am willing to pay that price as long as there is a clearly defined end point after which we will be free to set our own rules and to reach the trading agreements that I want to see, and no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I must press on.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on having defied all the sceptics. My right hon. Friend Rory Stewart, sitting next to me, at least has had the grace to say that he was wrong when he said that the Prime Minister could never reach a new deal with the European Union. There are others in the Chamber who said that repeatedly but who have been less honest in now accepting that.
I must press on if my hon. Friend will forgive me.
I do believe, however, that, as my right hon. Friend Sir David Lidington said, the European Union has reopened this deal once but it is not going to do so again. When I and my colleagues in the Exiting the European Union Committee—its Chairman, Hilary Benn, is sitting opposite me—have been to see Mr Barnier, Mr Selmayr and Mr Verhofstadt, they have all asked us, “What is it that will get a majority in the House of Commons?” That is what they have wanted to know. That is what I hope we will be able to show them tonight.
There is no question about it: the European Union is as fed up with this dragging on as I think the entire United Kingdom is. It wants to get the matter settled. To be honest, those who vote against tonight will, I suspect, find fault in whatever deal is put forward; actually, their agenda is stopping Brexit. This represents an opportunity finally to settle this matter and to deliver what the people voted for now coming on three and a half years ago. I hope that the House will—at last—vote in favour of the deal that is before us and in favour of the programme motion in order that we can get it delivered and fulfil the promise by
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Whittingdale, who is the vice-chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, and with whom I have the pleasure to serve. May I also say to Sir David Lidington that he is absolutely right that the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement is as it was before, which is why I cannot understand why the Government did not publish in draft the bits of the Bill that have been available in Whitehall for ages so that Members had a chance to read them a long time ago, rather than scrabbling around since eight o’clock last night, because it would have dealt with some of the justifiable objections to the speed with which the Government are trying to push this through?
I do not know whether that earlier draft contained clause 36, but I must say my eyes widened when I read this statement:
“It is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign.”
Do we really need to say that about ourselves in legislation—was that ever in doubt? I suspect the reason it is in there is to soften the blow when certain hon. Members on the other side of the House realise—although Mr Duncan Smith made the point—that the European Communities Act is going to be repealed and then the provisions are going to be stuck back in for the length of the transitional period.
The other thing we have learned about is the consequences of the new Irish protocol for trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and I return to the point that was put to the Prime Minister by several Members, but to which there was no answer: the question of why goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom will require an exit summary declaration, because, as I understand it, that is only necessary if goods are leaving the customs territory of the European Union. Is that correct, because I thought we were told—it says it in the new protocol—that Northern Ireland will be in the customs territory of the United Kingdom? So the question is this: if Northern Ireland is in the customs territory of the United Kingdom what are those goods exiting, because they are in the United Kingdom customs territory? I am afraid there has been no answer, because I do not think the attempted explanations really square.
My right hon. Friend raises the most compelling point about the Northern Ireland protocol. Is he also as astonished as I am that in some of the slight impact assessments on the Northern Ireland protocol everything about customs administration, VAT, tariffs administration, agri-food regulation and manufactured goods regulation is non-monetised—the Government do not even know how much this is going to cost?
I was surprised when I read that in the impact assessment, and the truth is that a whole load of questions remain about how the system will work. How will we identify goods at risk, as it is described, of passing into the Republic of Ireland? That is for another day.
The right hon. Gentleman wrote in September that it would be
“utterly irresponsible for the Government to be rushing headlong towards” no deal. Now that the House knows that the Government have a deal on the table, surely he and all his colleagues, who were elected on a manifesto pledge to respect the result of the referendum, should support this deal, rather than risk no deal. Is it not the case that no deal will ever be good enough for him?
The direct answer to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I also have the pleasure of serving on the Exiting the European Union Committee, is that to attempt to say to Members that the choice has to be between a bad deal—this is worse than the previous Prime Minister’s deal—and no deal is not a very attractive proposition. During the passage of this Bill—if it gets its Second Reading—I hope that we will attempt to improve some elements of it.
Clause 30 goes to the heart of the point about no deal, because the withdrawal agreement makes provision for the possibility of an extension to the transition period which, at present, will end in 14 months’ time. Clause 30 says that the House can agree to a further extension, but it requires a Minister of the Crown to move the motion in the first place. The situation I am worried about is what if the Minister of the Crown fails to come to the House, does not move a motion proposing that the Government should request to the joint committee that the transitional period be extended, and the answer is that we would fall out without a deal in 14 months’ time if an agreement had not been reached. The House has voted on several occasions to make it clear that it is opposed to leaving with no deal, and there are arguments on either side as to whether people think that is a good thing or a bad thing, so I flag this up at this stage, because we will need to deal with that point—I gather that an amendment is on its way if it has not already been tabled—and to safeguard against it.
There is a second related problem to clause 30. What happens if a deal has not been negotiated by the end of December 2022 when the two-year extension has been applied for and secured? Now we would be facing exactly the same difficulty: the possibility of exiting without an agreement at the end of the transition period. In those circumstances, there is no way under the agreement that the British Government can get a further extension, so we have to find a way of ensuring that a deal is concluded by that time.
Ministers claim that, because of the high degree of alignment, it will all be done really quickly. I would just observe that took three and a quarter years to get to this point, and it took Canada six to seven years to get an agreement. Michel Barnier said this morning that he thought it would take around three years to negotiate such a deal, so we will be looking for assurance from the Minister in Committee that under no circumstances will the United Kingdom leave the European Union at the end of the transition period without a deal—I think another amendment may be on its way about that. The same point is relevant to citizens’ rights, which have not been raised much in the debate so far. We could do with clarification from Ministers, because if the transition is extended, will they also change the deadline by which EU citizens have to apply for settled status?
As I said on Saturday, I will not be voting for the Bill, above all because of the political declaration—I do not have a problem with the withdrawal agreement—which is not the right approach to take, because it is not good for business. I am very surprised, like other hon. Members, that the Government have just blithely said, “We are not going to undertake an economic assessment,” and I assume that the reason for that is simple. They did one before which showed that a free trade agreement is the second-worst outcome up for the economy after no deal, and they do not really want to have to point that out again.
My final point is about clause 31, and it links to the economic impact of the political declaration. The clause deals with the oversight of negotiations on the future relationship, and it appears to give Members some oversight, some say, over the nature of the negotiations on the future relationship, but proposed new section 13C(3) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 says:
“A statement on objectives for the future relationship…must be consistent with the political declaration of
I simply point out that if, in one, two or three years’ time, the House realises that the objectives of such a free trade agreement are not in our economic interests, because we finally realise the damage it will do to the economy—we have seen what businesses have said and the concerns they have expressed—the current wording of the clause gives no opportunity for Parliament to get a Government to change those objectives. I do not think we should accept the Bill on that issue, as it is currently worded.
It is a pleasure to follow Hilary Benn.
I am conscious that we are at the end of a long process and that we are all very tired and very weary. We have also said some quite hard things about each other, including within our own political parties, so I would not want this evening to pass without acknowledging that those who come forward to argue that we should leave on these terms have a perfectly valid point. Indeed, in trying to honour the 2016 referendum result, they have a powerful argument.
My difficulty in considering this Bill is that I have tried to cast my mind a little forward to what this Bill can and cannot do. Although this Bill is undoubtedly needed if we are going, I think there is a slight tendency to lose sight of some of its realities. For example, I listened carefully to Gloria De Piero, who said that she will vote for the Bill but that she wants to change it. We have to understand that, as this is an international treaty, the scope for changing the treaty is out of the question.
Of course we can provide some safeguards. We can put in a referendum lock and, indeed, I will vote for that in due course, but I do not want to burden the House with that this evening. We can try to change some of our domestic law, but that is a little like a letter of wishes to one’s children—there is no guarantee that the children will decide to carry it out.
If my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wishes to follow the passage of this legislation with a general election, which I can understand—I, for one, will no longer be in this House—the new Parliament, over the next year, will have to reconsider the issues raised by this withdrawal agreement and this Bill, and nothing we do can fetter the rights of this House to change completely the expression of intentions that we may decide to enact.
What is clear is that this Bill reveals a number of things that can be described as truths. First, the intention of the Government, both in the treaty and in the drafting of the Bill, is to take us towards a free trade agreement that, in reality, is likely to be very hard to negotiate, and it will have to be negotiated in the next year.
As a consequence, the risk of our crashing out at the end of 2020 is very great, because otherwise we will have to lengthen the transition, which has been described, of course, as “vassalage.” Indeed, it is a form of vassalage, which is a rather emotive word, but the reality is that we will be bound by rules that we cannot influence.
I see a very great risk that, far from the argument that the Bill will bring our problems to an end, we are just postponing the issues in a way that will continue to divide us, even though I would very much like us not to be divided.
I am enormously grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He has been a great friend to Northern Ireland for a long time, and he has been a great defender of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement since it was signed 21 years ago. I would be enormously grateful to him if he would explain to the House his concerns, if any, about how this new Brexit deal, brought back in triumph by the Prime Minister, has caused such anxiety in Northern Ireland that it actually undermines the great achievement of the Good Friday agreement.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that, and I was coming on to the issue as my next point, because the other big impact of this legislation is on Northern Ireland. Of course, there is a lock mechanism, and I listened to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who said that it could “melt away” if there was a double majority—of both communities—to remove it in four years’ time, although that does mean that for four years Northern Ireland is locked into arrangements that the Government have decided are not desirable for the rest of the United Kingdom. But what was glossed over is that article 13.8 of the Northern Ireland protocol makes it clear that any future arrangements thereafter are a matter for negotiation. So the suggestion that we can get a satisfactory free trade agreement for ourselves and then insist that Northern Ireland be included within it is simply wrong.
I have to say that as someone who has always seen himself as a modern Unionist, wanting to recreate or help to develop the Union of the United Kingdom in slightly different ways from those traditionally stated in relation to both Scotland and Northern Ireland—I have family coming from both—this matters to me a lot. It seems to me that this is an extraordinary move for a Unionist party to make, because the reality is that the more we detach ourselves, through our own free trade or whatever other routes we take, or if we crash out, the greater the difference we are going to emphasise, and the stronger and harder the border down the Irish sea will be. There may be some in Northern Ireland who welcome that, for perfectly valid reasons of their own, but for Unionism this is a very odd thing to do. In the Scottish context, it raises a perfectly clear grievance, whereby Scotland would say, “If Northern Ireland can have these arrangements, why cannot we?”
I have listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s speeches for a great deal of time and have a lot of respect for him, but on this issue I disagree with him. I ask him to reflect on the parallel he has just drawn between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a war-torn Province that has been subject to a civil war, and it is completely irresponsible for any politician to draw a parallel between Scotland and Northern Ireland in this context. Northern Ireland has a very specific history; it is subject to treaties to maintain peace on the island of Ireland. That is why it is having special treatment, and it is why Unionists support that and are trying to work so hard to have a deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom, but it is not equivalent to Scotland.
I value my hon. Friend and neighbour—in terms of our rooms—far too much to ignore what he has to say, but I have to say to him that my Unionism extends to Scotland in a very big way, and I think he knows that. Admittedly one can make powerful arguments to the contrary on this, as indeed he and his colleagues have done—it is such a pleasure to have them here as dotted Conservative representatives from north of the border. That has given me such pleasure, but we cannot ignore the arguments are going to be made by those who disagree with us. I simply make the point that I think I know enough about the situation to see that that argument is going to be made in a context where, on the evidence of the 2016 referendum, a majority in Scotland wanted to remain.
It is not that Scotland is the same as Northern Ireland—I wish to reassure him on that point. There are exceptional features to Northern Ireland, but I simply say that we, as a Unionist party, are creating an extra layer of difficulty for ourselves, which we will have to argue our way through. Of course, that may be an inherent consequence of Brexit; it is one reason why I regret so much the 2016 result, although I acknowledge that we cannot ignore it. However, I have suggested repeatedly—I will not go over this now—that there is a better way of trying to address this issue: by going back and getting confirmation that this is what people really want, because of the nature and consequences of what we are about to do.
My final point is about why I will vote against this Bill on Second Reading. I might have abstained otherwise, but I very much regret the programme motion, which is treating the House in an insulting way. It also says something about this Government, which worries me. I am a Conservative—even though I have lost the Whip I remain a Conservative—and to see a Government, on a constitutional measure, playing bully-boy tactics with this House can only be counterproductive to the very aims they would like to achieve. This is not the quiet government I came here to try to deliver, and I therefore regret very much that I will vote against the programme motion and against the Government on Second Reading.
I would love to vote today for a Bill that would take us out of the EU, but unfortunately we find ourselves in a position where we cannot support this Bill. I want to make something clear: allegations have been made that the agenda of those who oppose the Bill today is to keep us in the EU, but neither I nor my party has any desire to stay in the EU, nor does the record of my party indicate that. What we demand is that, as we are part of the United Kingdom and took part in a United Kingdom-wide referendum, as part of the United Kingdom we leave on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. That is not the case with this Bill, nor with this agreement.
The Prime Minister has said that if we do not agree to this Bill, we will not get another chance—that if we do not agree this deal, the agreement will not be reopened. I have heard those arguments made before; in fact, the Prime Minister just ignored them when they were made previously, because he knew that they were untrue. Given the enormity of the issues involved, I do not believe that we should vote for the Bill tonight.
A number of arguments have been made. The first is that this is our chance to take back sovereignty. It is not a chance to take back sovereignty in Northern Ireland; indeed, Northern Ireland will be left out of that move towards taking back sovereignty. Let us just look at the facts about Northern Ireland: we will be left in an arrangement whereby EU law on all trade, goods and so on will be applied to Northern Ireland. We will be in a situation where, despite what the Prime Minister says, we will be subject to the full implementation of EU customs regulations. That means that goods moving from GB into Northern Ireland will be subject to declarations, checks and the imposition of tariffs. We found out yesterday that, despite the promise of unfettered access to the UK market, checks will occur in the opposite direction for the thousands of firms in Northern Ireland that currently export to GB. At the moment they do not face any impediments or costs, but they will face them now.
The right hon. Gentleman, a fellow member of the Exiting the European Union Committee, will know that a stream of Northern Ireland businessmen and farmers’ representatives have come to the Committee to beg that we deliver a deal. That is the right thing for the United Kingdom and for businesses in Northern Ireland and, indeed, the south of Ireland.
That is right, but the one thing that they have always demanded is that we have unfettered access to the market, which is our main market. We sell five times more to GB than we do to the Irish Republic, yet as a result of this Bill and our being trapped in the customs union, we now find that we will be subject to checks.
But should the right hon. Gentleman not also weigh into the balance the fact that a widget maker in Northern Ireland would not only have access over the border into the Republic, but would also be able to take advantage of any trade deals that the United Kingdom as a whole was able to secure with third countries? Is that not an advantage that he should weigh into the balance?
I am glad of that intervention, because it brings me to the very next point that I wish to make, on the issue of sovereignty. Although the Prime Minister has claimed that what the hon. Gentleman says is the case, the withdrawal agreement makes it quite clear that it is not. According to article 5, paragraph 1, that access will be available only depending on whether the agreement or trade deal conflicts with EU protocols. It must not conflict with the protocols in the agreement: it says,
“provided that those agreements do not prejudice the application of this Protocol.”
Those are the only conditions under which we can take part in the free trade arrangements that the Government may set up with other countries.
On the issue of sovereignty, we are part of the EU regulations, we are part of the EU customs code, we have checks down the Irish border, and we are subject to any future trade deals on which the United Kingdom agrees, subject to whether they conflict with EU protocol. The Prime Minister said, “Oh, but it will all dissolve if there is a free trade arrangement that allows it to be dissolved.” But again, it has been made quite clear that it is only if the EU agrees to release us from the protocols that we can take the benefits of that free trade arrangement.
I will not give way, because I have very little time.
That is the issue of sovereignty. Northern Ireland will be left as a semi-detached part of the United Kingdom. In the long run, of course, the whole focus of attention will move from Westminster to Dublin. Who will speak for us in Europe when these regulations come through? Who will speak for us in Europe when the customs rules are affecting us? It will not be the UK Government. Increasingly, the focus will be on the Dublin Government.
The second argument is that we can vote our way out of the arrangements. The mechanism for voting our way out of them is now a simple majority vote. I never thought that I would hear a Prime Minister who has insisted that we adhere to the rules of the Belfast agreement suddenly bring up its central premise in this way. The first issue that was addressed in the Belfast agreement was what kind of checks and balances should be in place to protect both communities when it come to the operation of the Assembly. The Belfast agreement said that, in order to give those protections and ensure that all sections of the community could participate and work together, arrangements would be put in place
“to ensure that key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis.”
There is no greater and no more divisive a decision than this issue of our relationship with the EU, yet the safety valve in the Belfast agreement has been taken away. The Prime Minister said, “Oh, it has been taken away because it is a reserved matter anyway.” These are not reserved matters. Indeed, the very reason why we have a whole section in the Bill about what the Northern Ireland Assembly can and cannot do is that they are devolved matters, yet on these devolved matters, and on this one issue in particular, the Government have agreed to take away the central principle of consent. That will do damage when it comes to the operation of the Assembly in future. We cannot be selective like that, and certainly not on an issue such as this.
I come now to the last issue. I nearly choked when the Prime Minister said, “Don’t worry about it, because all of these changes that will affect Northern Ireland will be light-touch. It is not really a boundary down the Irish sea; they are just light-touch regulations.” These light-touch regulations require firms to make declarations when they sell goods to another part of their own country and to pay duties for goods that come from a part of their own country, which incur costs. I would at least have had some respect had the Prime Minister said, “I have a deadline of
Order. I am immensely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
In a bid to accommodate the maximum number of remaining colleagues, there will now be a four-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches with immediate effect. Interventions are part of debate, but I simply counsel colleagues to be sparing in them, because it will stop other people speaking.
This Parliament is letting the public down. Three years and four months ago, I and 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union. We voted to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money, and we are still waiting for that to happen. We were told by the then Prime Minister that he would send a letter announcing our decision immediately after the result, and under the treaty we expected to be out after two years with or without agreement by the European Union.
Instead, we find ourselves today having yet another debate after so many groundhog days in this place, with the same people rehearsing the same arguments, as around half the Members of the House of Commons—we will find out whether it is more than half—are still trying to stop any kind of Brexit, and are forcing those of us who believe in Brexit to dilute what we are trying to do and delaying our enjoying the fruits of our Brexit vision.
Let us look at the agreement, because it is far from ideal from the point of view of a leave voter. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has today reassured us that we will completely take back control of our fish, and that we will decide how that amazing resource is nurtured, looked after and used by our country. That is very welcome. I also accept that the documents show that we will not have to go into battle with our troops on a vote that we have lost, and that we are not about to be sucked into losing the sovereign control of our Government and Parliament over our foreign and defence policy.
But we are still in trouble with the powers of the European Court of Justice over our laws. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Sir William Cash for contributing to the Bill, because there is now a sovereignty clause, and I hope it works; it is a definite improvement. However, I am extremely worried by the situation in Northern Ireland.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that Unionists believe that our sovereignty has been removed by this agreement, and that being a Unionist in Northern Ireland is very different from being a Unionist in the rest of the United Kingdom, including the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency? Does he not feel that Unionists have been duped and deceived in how this agreement has been brought forward?
I do not like the provisions on Northern Ireland for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have set out. I want the whole country to leave, and Northern Ireland to be a full part of the United Kingdom under the same arrangements. If there are any different arrangements, I certainly want a consent mechanism that is acceptable to the representatives from the Democratic Unionist party and the people they represent.
I am also extremely worried about the money in this set of proposals. We never talk about the money, and so many MPs seem to think that giving billions away to the European Union is just fine. Taking back control of our money was central to the campaign. Indeed, it was very contentious, because people argued about exactly how much it was. I do not think it has been properly quantified. The liabilities are potentially large and long lasting, and there is no attempt in the agreement or the Bill to control them.
Well, we are told £39 billion, but I think that is a very low estimate; I think it will be considerably more than that and will stretch many years into the future under some of the headings that we are providing for. My worry is that the EU will be the main driver in deciding what the bill is because there is not a satisfactory dispute resolution procedure. That means that the EU could levy the bill, saying that it is European law and that it knows best what we should be paying. We have to be extremely careful.
If the Bill does make any progress tonight—that is not looking very likely from some of the things people are saying—I hope that there will be considerable concentration in Committee on whether there are mechanisms for having better discipline over the money, because we voted to take back control of the money. I want some of that money for hospitals, schools and other public facilities in my constituency, and I hope that many other Members of Parliament take the same view. It would be very galling indeed if we found that we were technically out of the European Union but were still paying it a great deal of money.
I approach this agreement in a spirit of disappointment, but I think the Prime Minister was deeply damaged and undermined by the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, which greatly reduced the bargaining leverage of the United Kingdom Government, and I think people recognise that. It is strange that that legislation, which might as well be renamed the “breaking the Prime Minister’s promises” Act, is permissible because surely we either have confidence in our Government and in the Prime Minister to be able to keep his word, or we do not have confidence in our Government collectively, in which case we can get a different Government. This Prime Minister has said that he will take us out on
I think the language is totally misleading. There is no such thing as a no-deal Brexit. There is either leaving and signing a withdrawal agreement or leaving and not signing a withdrawal agreement. Were we to leave not signing a withdrawal agreement, there is an aviation agreement and a Government purchasing agreement, there are haulage and customs arrangements, and there is a general agreement on facilitation of trade through the WTO, so we would have a managed WTO exit, which I think would work extremely well.
I want to spend that money in Britain to promote growth and a stronger economy. I want the free trade agreements that I think we might be able to generate with the rest of the world. If we just left, the EU would want to negotiate a free trade agreement with us, but all the time it thinks it has a chance of our not leaving it is not going to offer anything or be positive about that, because it thinks it might, from its point of view, do something better.
I am very grateful to have just a few moments to make a contribution to this important debate.
I think it has now been 1,216 days since the referendum, and it is clear that all of us in this House are weary and fatigued by, and some of us are certainly fed up with, the “Groundhog Day” of constant debate about this subject. In my constituency only the weekend before last, two men were knifed to within an inch of their lives. While we were sitting in the debate on Saturday, I saw an email from a constituent who was complaining that his 10-year-old son had just been mugged. I would so much prefer that we were talking about law and order and crime in our country. This morning, the GP practice that served me and my family growing up in Tottenham for most of my life was described as inadequate by the inspectorate. Again, I wish we were discussing health in this Chamber, not constantly returning to this issue.
As I reflect on where we are, and think about very good colleagues and friends on the Opposition Benches who are minded to vote for this Bill, I think of what connects constituencies such as mine and their constituencies in other parts of the country, and that is most certainly a degree of deprivation and poverty that our country should have escaped from by 2019 but is very real on our high streets when we look at the proliferation of betting shops and abandoned shops, when we visit our estates, and when we look at the prospects for too many of our young people.
My right hon. Friend refers to people feeling frustrated, bored and fatigued. Does he agree that none of those things is an excuse for making what could be a very, very bad decision in haste, which is what the Government are trying to make us do today?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As much as this decision is one that needs to be taken, we should not make it haste and we should think very, very carefully about the implications for our country.
Like my right hon. Friend, we in Coventry have many issues with young people and knife crime, and some instances of more serious crimes. Does he agree that it is totally illogical that the Government rejected the previous Bill and expect us all to support a Bill that makes people worse off? People in Coventry and the west midlands are concerned about their jobs and funding for universities.
I will not give way; I am going to make progress.
In a constituency like Tottenham, it means everything. It means that the knife crime that I am worried about could get considerably worse. I do not want the South Side of Chicago in Tottenham. It means that the jobs that we need may not be there. I think of the constituencies that good friends represent in other parts of this country. If we leave a £220 billion European market, and leave the single market and the customs union, we will inevitably get tariffs. Tariffs will inevitably affect the manufacturing that is left, and that will surely mean a reduction in jobs in those constituencies. How will that assist our country? On the Government’s own estimates, there would be a reduction in GDP of 11% in the north-east of this country, and a reduction of 8% in the west midlands and the east midlands. That is massive; it is bigger than the 2008 crash. The truth is that, while there has been some recovery in London, there has been very little outside London in parts of the midlands, the north-west and the north-east. How can we seriously contemplate making things worse for those people?
We have been talking about a trade deal with the United States. I went on an all-party visit to the United States in July and we sat with Republicans and Democrats to talk about the meat of what a trade deal looked like. They were all clear, as was the trade union body in America, that there would of course be a reduction in labour standards because their labour standards are lower than our own. They were clear about wanting some of our agriculture, our pharmaceuticals and our healthcare. They also raised issues about Hollywood getting its grip on our creative industries. Why would we do that? How will that help our people?
So, we would get tariffs and a massive drop in growth, and yet I stand here prepared to vote for this deal, but only on the basis that we put it back to the British people so that they can have the final say: do they want this deal or do they want to remain? I am prepared, despite the poverty and hardship in my own constituency, to go for this deal, but on that one condition. That is how we get this done. That is how we bring our country together. We must actually use democracy to say, “Do you really want this deal?” That is the only way forward. The rest is noise. As weary as we are, I cannot walk through the Lobby and knowingly wave this through with so little scrutiny on behalf of my constituents.
For those of us who felt compelled to vote down the previous withdrawal agreement and deal, I would suggest that this deal has indeed been worth waiting for, and, as indicated last week, I will support it in the Lobby tonight. The Prime Minister has proved his critics wrong. The withdrawal agreement has been reopened. The harmful backstop has been removed, and we have secured a better deal. All those who previously argued that that was not possible should perhaps now reflect.
No one is pretending for one moment that this is a perfect deal. As someone who voted leave, there are aspects of the transition period that I do not like. I question an element of the Bill. I question the EU’s say over our affairs, given that we voted to leave in June 2016. However, I also accept that compromises are required in any negotiation. Although I have qualms about the transition period to December 2020, they are manageable. For me, the elephant in the room was always the backstop. It alone could have trapped the UK indefinitely in a structure of the EU’s making. It alone could have denied us Brexit. It alone could have denied us the referendum result, and it alone would have made a bad deal—trade deal or no trade deal—more likely. That is no longer possible.
Now that the previous backstop has been banished, the pressure is on both sides to negotiate and agree a good trade deal. A good trade deal is therefore now more likely, not less likely, because the backstop has been removed. It takes two to tango. Both sides can now simply walk away, but it is far more likely—given their common starting positions, and the fact that it is in their c