EU-UK Partnership: EU’s Mandate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 4th June 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) 3:52 pm, 4th June 2020

It is interesting to reflect that if anyone had suggested a year ago that we would embark on a debate on Brexit by lamenting the lack of time and debate we had spent on it in recent months, few would have perceived that as a credible prospect, but that is the somewhat curious position in which we find ourselves. Notwithstanding that, the debate is timely and I give credit to Sir William Cash for his role in persuading the Government to hold it because the end of this month will be the point of no return for any deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union after the end of the year.

I was struck by the hon. Member for Stone’s commending the Leader of the House for quoting Margaret Thatcher saying “No, no, no.” Margaret Thatcher was many things but when she said something, we knew that the rhetoric would always match the reality. The difference between Margaret Thatcher and those in 10 Downing Street and around the Cabinet table today is that there is often a significant gap between the rhetoric and the reality. That was apparent from the very cogent speech we heard from Sammy Wilson, a man who is genuinely committed to the Union that is the United Kingdom. If hon. Members on the Government Benches wish to continue to be known as Conservative and Unionist, they should listen carefully to his words and to what he has to tell us.

We were told quite categorically at the time of the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement that there would be no border checks and no customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, yet in the past few weeks it has become apparent that actually there will be such border checks. As somebody who is also committed to the continuation of the United Kingdom as a single unitary state every bit as passionately as the right hon. Member for East Antrim, I take very seriously the risk that that poses.

I would like to hear from the Paymaster General, when she comes to wind up, what the Government’s response is to press reports today that the Government are set to open British markets to food products produced to lower US standards as part of the planned trade deal with Donald Trump. This was the rhetoric we were given in a previous existence by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: he told us that there would never be chlorinated chicken on our plate. Now, in fact, we hear that as a consequence of the so-called dual tariff process it is quite possible that we will see such products being imported to this country. In fact, we are told that the Secretary of State for International Trade is arguing that these tariffs should only be temporary and that they should be reduced to zero over 10 years, giving farmers time to adjust to the new normal. Again, that is a very different reality from the rhetoric to which we have been treated in the past. For the farmers and crofters in my constituency, it will be a hard reality for them to survive in.

For years, we have done what successive Governments have told us to do. Because we are a long distance from the market, we have not gone for mass-produced food. We have sought to improve and increase the quality of the products we have and put into market with a view to export. Tariffs on those export markets will be absolutely fatal to the agricultural interests of the highlands and islands.