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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:01 pm, 9th January 2020

That is absolutely the case, and I think the hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to know that he will never get me to defend the common fisheries policy. But what follows thereafter will be down to the political decisions made by this Government and others, and to whether they have the political will to deliver the things that they have promised. He will remember the damage that was done to his party by a previous generation of Conservative Ministers who, at the time of our accession to the EEC in 1975, regarded the fishing industry as expendable. That is why the promises become ever more extravagant, but the more extravagant they are, the greater the consequences will be if they are not kept.

The Liberal Democrats will vote against the Bill on Third Reading, because we believe that this is a bad deal that risks the future integrity of the United Kingdom as a single unitary state, principally and most immediately because it risks the possibility of leaving Northern Ireland subject to different regulatory arrangements from the rest of the United Kingdom. That was something against which the former Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, warned, along with Ruth Davidson, the then leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Those warnings were good and the former Prime Minister was wise to heed them, but the current Prime Minister has ignored them. If after 31 December we do find ourselves in the situation I have described, the future of the United Kingdom as a unitary state will be that much more bleak—and that is quite apart from the division and discord that we have heard mooted from the SNP Benches today.

I am also concerned that this deal very much leaves open the possibility of a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020. In fact, the inclusion of clause 33 makes it that much more likely. My views on a no-deal Brexit are formed and reinforced by the businesses that come and talk to me. I think of one significant food-producing company in Orkney that directly employs 23 people, which may not sound like a great deal, but it is also an important part of the supply chain for farming in Orkney. Farming, of course, is the staple that keeps our economy in the Northern Isles stable and growing. That company tells me that for the past 20 years it has done everything that any Government would have asked it to. As a food producer, it has not gone for the low end of the market, but for the top—the niche market and the high-quality produce. Part of the reason that it went for that high-end product is that it was able to export. If its exports are now going to be put at a competitive disadvantage as a consequence of tariffs coming from a no-deal Brexit, the future of those 23 jobs and the farms around Orkney that supply the company will be bleak to say the very least.