European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:08 am on 20th December 2019.

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Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset 10:08 am, 20th December 2019

My hon. Friend puts his finger on the most important point. We will face not a technical issue, but a political issue. Indeed, the political declaration sets out that we will have no tariffs, no fees and no quotas in the economic relationship. That is what normally takes up the time in trading agreements, so it is entirely possible that this agreement can be done. The debate we will embark on is about not tariffs, fees and quotas, but regulatory alignment. That will be the central debate in our negotiations with the European Union.

We need to see the issue in a wider global context. At the World Trade Organisation meeting in Buenos Aires, it became clear that there are two ways forward in the global trading system. One is the concept of harmonisation —a highly legalistic regulatory means of doing business, which says, “This is the way we do it today, so this is the way we will always do it in the future.” Against that, there is the wider concept of outcome-based equivalence, which says, “Yes, we know what standards we need to meet, but we want to find our own ways, our own rules and our own efficiencies in achieving them.” The EU is now in a real minority, as it is virtually only the EU that takes the route of harmonisation.

There are those in the forthcoming negotiations who will say that, to have access to the single market, Britain must accept dynamic alignment—in other words, we must automatically change our rules in line with the EU. The Prime Minister will have 100% support from the Conservative party if he rules out any concept of dynamic alignment, which would leave Britain in a worse place in terms of taking back control than we are in as a member of the European Union.

The debate we are embarking on is about a clear choice. At no point in the European debate was there the option of maintaining the status quo: we either had to embark on our own course, controlling our own borders, our funds and our future; or we remained tied to an economic and political model of the European Union that is utterly dependent on ever-closer union. I have never believed that ever-closer union is in Britain’s national interests, and if the bus has the wrong destination on the front, the best thing to do is to get off, which was what the British people decided to do.