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European Union Withdrawal Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

It is clear that the choice needs to be the deal that is agreed in the UK Parliament versus remaining in the European Union.

I make it absolutely clear that I want to remain in the European Union, because any other option will damage our economy and our way of life.

It has been suggested that everyone knew what Brexit would mean, back in 2016. However, the people who ran the leave campaign still cannot agree on what Brexit means. Jacob Rees-Mogg disagrees with Liam Fox, who disagrees with Boris Johnson, who disagrees with Michael Gove. If the people who were in charge of the leave campaign cannot agree on what Brexit means today, how on earth was everyone supposed to know what it meant back in 2016, three years ago? That is a good reason to let the British people have the final say on Brexit.

The UK Parliament as a whole cannot agree on a way forward. If that is the case, the only option is to hand the decision back to the people. That is another good reason to give the British people the final say.

I respect those who sincerely voted to leave, which is I why I do not want to re-run the referendum by posing the same question. My plea is simple: if there are people who are in favour of Theresa May’s deal—or any deal, for that matter—and who believe in the deal and have confidence that it is the will of the British people, I ask them to put the question back to the people. If the deal is so good, they will have nothing to fear. It is one of the biggest decisions that this country has ever faced, so it is wrong to deprive the people of the final say. That is another good reason to give the British people the final say.

People are fed up with the debate and want an end to it. I, too, am fed up with the debate and want an end to it. However, what Theresa May will not tell people is that it will not end any time soon. I do not want to depress members in the chamber, but I have to say that if, somehow, Theresa May cobbles together a majority in Parliament for the withdrawal agreement, it will mark only the end of the beginning. It will not be over on 29 March; we will have the transition phase and then the endless negotiation over the free trade agreement with the EU. We will replay the arguments over and over again.

The EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement was discussed for 22 years and negotiated for seven years. The transatlantic trade and investment partnership between the EU and the United States was talked about back in the 1990s, but has not been agreed yet and is nowhere near being implemented. The whole reason for the backstop is that everyone knows that the transition period is an inadequate time in which to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement. The agony will go on and on and on.

The best way to bring this pain to an end is to put the decision back to the British people and let them decide whether they want more of this pain, division and anger, or want to stop them now.

All Brexit options will damage our economy, compared with what we have now. That is what the UK Government’s analysis admits: the UK will be poorer economically under any form of Brexit that it would through staying in the EU. According to official figures, the UK economy could be up to 3.9 per cent smaller after 15 years under Theresa May’s Brexit plan, compared with staying in the EU. A no-deal Brexit is even worse and could mean a 9.3 per cent hit. That is another good reason to give the British people the final say.

Let me give one more reason to back a people’s vote. For me, this is the most important reason. I respect those who voted to leave the European Union. They tell me that they want our country to be stronger, and they believe that they can achieve that by standing alone: they believe that Europe is holding us back. I politely tell them that this country has never stood alone. It is why we are leading members of NATO and the United Nations. It is why we have the second-biggest international aid budget in the world, one of the best armed forces in the world and one of the best diplomatic services in the world. We play our part, and we do so by working together with others.

Our country stands for something good, and we do good things with the European Union. Do not let anybody tell us otherwise. Our economy is bigger than the basket case it was in the 1970s because we trade freely with one another. We are safer because we share intelligence and security with one another. We carry even more influence in the world because we stand together with one another.

We are a country that people respect. That is not because we are on our own but because we work together. For the sake of our country, we must work together for the greater good. We must never walk away.