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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Conservative, Chichester 3:35 pm, 9th January 2020

I congratulate you on your re-election, Madam Deputy Speaker, and on becoming the first woman ever to be Chairman of Ways and Means—you make us all very proud.

It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Lucas. Something that she missed out of her speech—inadvertently, I am sure—was that the Prime Minister’s father led the way on landmark legislation. He led the habitats directive through the European Parliament, showing that Conservative leadership on the environment runs in the family.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend David Simmonds on his excellent maiden speech, showing not only that he understands in great detail the plight of refugees, including child refugees in particular, but that he has the experience and some of the solutions to make sure that we keep those people safe. We in the Conservative party always want to keep children—particularly refugee children—safe.

I am delighted that the Bill finally paves the way for the UK to build a relationship with the European Union that is based on a free trade agreement. After nearly three years of being stuck—effectively re-running the result of the referendum—this Parliament is free to take a significant, positive step forward. Once we pass the Bill, a horizon of opportunity is in front of us. The political declaration set out our aim to have no tariffs, no fees and no quotas in the economic relationship. I take this opportunity to thank the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and his ministerial team for their relentless determination to deliver on the referendum result. That is what we have been trying to do for the last three years, and I know that he has worked incredibly hard and taken hundreds of flights. It is very much appreciated by me and the British people.

As someone who has worked for decades in impacted industries, including car manufacturing, banking, fintech and travel tech, I am pleased that we will leave with a deal, in an orderly way. This Government’s ambition is to ensure that we not only maintain but build on our relationships with our partners across the channel. It is often said that trade negotiations take many years and that it is therefore overly ambitious to try to conclude an agreement by the end of the year, but there has never been a trade negotiation like this one in the history of the world. We start from a position of 100% alignment. We need to agree where it makes sense to stay aligned and how we do that, and where we want to diverge. It seems to me that this is a perfectly achievable objective, given good political will on both sides of the negotiating table.

Regulatory alignment is a complex system of product standards, safety standards and type approval processes. I want to speak about that as I believe that some of the rhetoric on legislation has been unhelpful. We can all remember talk of bendy bananas, curved cucumbers and unhappy hoovers, but in reality, the vast majority of regulation facilitates trading safely and fairly, especially within the manufacturing sector, where international and EU standards have remained stable for many decades. The vast majority of them are driven not by Government or in Committee rooms but by industry. Most trading arrangements aim to optimise interoperability through the recognition of other parties’ standards and agreements on equivalence and adequacy. This is standard in global trading arrangements.