Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:25 pm on 9th December 2020.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 4:25 pm, 9th December 2020

It is a great pleasure to follow John Redwood. Unusually, I found myself agreeing with much of what he said about the time we have to debate this Bill. The points made by my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden in the previous debate were absolutely on the mark.

As someone who voted in the referendum to remain but who represents a seat that voted leave, I have to say that when I hear speeches such as the right hon. Gentleman’s, and many others that we are going to hear, I fear that much of what I have long feared about the whole Brexit process is coming to pass, which is that Brexit will be an orphan child and when we have left the EU and come to our final arrangement, it will be impossible to find anyone, perhaps with the exception of the Prime Minister, who says, “This is the Brexit I was campaigning for.”

Brexit operated in so many different people’s minds as a different entity. Even now, with a Brexit-backing Prime Minister, an overwhelming Tory majority, any Tories who showed a whiff of regard for our future relationship with Europe banished from the party and all rebellion quashed, the fundamental contradictions of Brexit remain unresolved. I have no way of knowing whether there will be a deal, but I can be certain that when that deal is signed many who argued earnestly that we should leave the EU will claim, “This was not the Brexit I was campaigning for.”

Let me turn to the measures in the Bill. I confess that during the referendum our campaign to back remain in Chesterfield hardly touched on the position of Northern Ireland. We did speak a bit about the Union in the context of Scotland, but Northern Ireland was barely mentioned, yet much of the Bill relates to the provisions relating to Northern Ireland that have become central to the issues that remain. The Labour party is, as I am, resolutely behind the Union and entirely committed to the Belfast agreement, and we recognise the many contradictions that persist.

I have to say to colleagues from the Democratic Unionist party and others that they should not think that these Northern Ireland issues concern very many of my constituents in Chesterfield. I know from many conversations that took place during the general elections on doorsteps in Chesterfield in 2019, when I was trying to raise the issues associated with Northern Ireland, that if the cost of getting a Brexit deal that enables our country to trade freely and regain control of immigration happened to be a united Ireland, many of my Brexit-voting constituents would accept that in a heartbeat. The people of Northern Ireland, whom, we should remember, in totality voted to remain, have been badly let down by many of the people they elected to represent them, either by those who sold their support to prop up the disastrous May Government and were then shocked to be sold down the river by Boris Johnson, or by those who, through their absence from this place, allowed the Brexit view to be heard as the dominant opinion of Northern Ireland.

The businesses of Northern Ireland are now starting to understand what that failure means for them. Right now it means that just weeks away from a change that will impact them more than any other on these islands, the promise that they will be able to enjoy frictionless trade has been exposed as wrong. It is irresponsible that when the Government themselves acknowledge that the administrative impacts on businesses affected by these changes will be significant, those businesses have so little time to plan, and no serious economic or fiscal impact assessments are contained within.

The last-minute nature of the Bill once again exposes the fact that the businesses of Great Britain, and particularly Northern Ireland, are left vulnerable by this incompetent Government’s pursuit of a promise that they cannot keep and should never have made. Although I wish the Prime Minister well tonight, the whole country needs him to remove the spectre of no deal from the nightmares we face as we look towards 2021. Once again, the Government are leaving businesses in the dark, jobs at risk and industries on the brink.