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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:09 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 1:09 pm, 9th January 2020

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is a difficult moment for many, and I will come on specifically to some of the issues involving EU nationals that were not resolved by our discussions in Committee.

As we move into this next stage, I would urge the Government not to overinterpret their mandate in the general election. Yes, they have clearly secured an overwhelming majority of seats, but not of votes. Most people in this country voted for parties that did not support the principle of getting Brexit done at any price. As the Prime Minister observed, many of those who voted for him and colleagues had lent him their vote. I hope, and I sense, that part of the different tone—the subdued mood of those on the Government Benches—was a dawning realisation that they may find it hard to deliver on the high expectations that they have created over the last three and a half years. The Prime Minister has talked about bringing the country together—the Minister echoed that—and we all share the hope after the divisions promoted by the debates of the last three years. However, I have to say that it will need a different approach from the one we have seen over the last couple of days. It needs open ears and a willingness to reach out.

I understand why the Government rejected some of the amendments that we and other opposition parties tabled, but not all. Many were simply restoring previous Government commitments and others were to improve the Bill; none was to frustrate Brexit. In the short debate on the Bill in Committee, we as an Opposition pressed five main issues that in our view reflect the serious problems with both the withdrawal agreement and the way in which the Government have chosen to implement it. Over 100 amendments were tabled in Committee, but not a word of the Bill has changed, and we will therefore be voting against its Third Reading today.

Our first issue with the Bill is that, despite all of Parliament’s efforts to avoid a no-deal Brexit last year, it introduces a trapdoor to no deal at the end of December 2020—something that the Brexit Secretary appeared quite relaxed about in his reported comments following yesterday’s discussion with Ursula von der Leyen. Other Conservative Members over the last couple of days have expressed total confidence—total confidence—in the Government’s ability to secure trade and security deals by the December deadline, citing the EU’s commitment to use its best endeavours and good faith to agree a future trade treaty. That good faith was evident from Mrs von der Leyen yesterday, but I hope Members have also heard her warning, which was echoed by Sir Edward Leigh, that it would be impossible to reach a comprehensive trade deal by the end of 2020.

I hope Members will reflect on whether it really is wise for the Government to have added clause 33, barring Ministers from extending the implementation period. Of course, this is just a gimmick, and with their majority, the Government could at any point repeal that clause and negotiate a short extension. However, whatever our views on these issues, we should all be concerned that this Bill removes any role for Parliament in shaping that decision, so if the Government have not concluded and ratified an agreement with the EU on our future relationship, the supposed sovereignty reclaimed for this Parliament will be meaningless. We will have no say on whether we crash out on World Trade Organisation terms, even if the Government are days away from securing an agreement with the EU.