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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:55 am on 20th December 2019.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 9:55 am, 20th December 2019


I move on to one of the most appalling parts of the Bill and what the Prime Minister has presented to us this morning. I want to make it clear that the Government’s removal of protections in the Bill for unaccompanied children seeking asylum is nothing short of an absolute disgrace and a piece of dishonesty towards those people who at the moment are very, very concerned. Throughout the previous Parliament and for his whole life—I was talking to him last night—my good friend, Lord Dubs, has worked tirelessly to ensure that children affected by the worst aspects of global injustice can be given sanctuary in this country. Now this Government, in their first week in office, have ripped up those hard-won commitments. That is a move that the director of the charity, Safe Passage, has described as “truly shocking”, saying that it could have “potentially tragic consequences”. I simply say this, coming up to Christmas: shame on this Government for abandoning children in this way.

On the environment and food safety standards, the deal points to a complete realignment towards the far weaker protections and standards that operate in the United States. If the Government are set on pursuing a trade deal with the United States—with President Trump—with precious few bargaining chips to hand, the brutal reality is that Britain will have to lower its standards. [Interruption.] That is the brutal reality. The European Union has made it clear that a future trade deal with the EU will depend on maintaining a level playing field on standards and protections. The choice we now face is between keeping the highest environmental and food standards in order to get a future deal with the European Union and slashing food standards to match those of the United States, where there are so-called “acceptable levels” of rat hairs in paprika and maggots in orange juice—[Interruption.] It is true. If Members think that this is a piece of imagination on my part, let me say that when I was first told about it I, too, thought that it could not be the case. I checked it out, and it absolutely is. We are about to strike a new race-to-the-bottom deal with the United States, and everyone should be aware of that, and warned about it.

Turning to the arrangements with Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister has emphatically claimed that “there will be no checks between Northern Ireland and GB”, and that “we have a deal that keeps the whole of the UK together as we come of the EU”. These claims are simply not true. We know from the analysis carried out by his own Treasury that under his deal there will be an abundance of checks and customs declarations in the Irish sea. Not only will that have a huge impact on Northern Irish businesses and society but it will have implications for the rest of Britain’s economy and manufacturing industry. The Treasury’s own analysis spells it out: the more the Government diverge from EU trading regulations in future the more checks and disruptions will be put in place between Britain and our biggest trading partner. More checks and more disruption are deeply damaging for our trade and for our manufacturing sector, and they bring the threat of taking a wrecking ball to our vital supply chains and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on them. Car manufacturers, the chemical industry and all those who rely on just-in-time supply chains will feel a devastating impact from all of this.

That makes it even more incredible that since agreeing their deal the Government have yet to produce a single bit of evidence or analysis to show that it will have a positive impact on the economy or our communities in any way. I say to all Members, new and old, that it is our job in Parliament to question, scrutinise and hold the Government to account, day to day. If we believe that the Government are taking the wrong approach, we should never be afraid to oppose. When it comes to our future relationship with the European Union and the rest of the world we cannot let the Government act in an undemocratic and secretive way. Trade deals with the EU and the US, or anybody else for that matter, must be done transparently.

This country is about to embark on a major change of direction as we leave a 40- year economic partnership for an unknown future under the terms of the withdrawal deal. We need an approach that puts jobs and living standards first, and builds the strongest co-operation with our European neighbours, based on openness, solidarity and internationalism. That is the approach that will bring an end to the Brexit crisis and bring our country together.