European Free Trade Association — [Mike Gapes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:02 am on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South 10:02 am, 7th February 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Gapes. We normally sit side by side on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, so the roles are slightly changed this morning. I also pay tribute to Stephen Hammond for bringing this timely debate to the Chamber.

I say to the Government, at this time of national crisis and debate, it should not really be for Back Bench Members of Parliament to have to bring debates to Westminster Hall on so critical a matter. If it is about taking back control, Parliament should be debating this every single day of every single week, so that the public can have a real view about where we are heading as a country in exiting the European Union. We are clearly no longer in a debate about staying in the EU; instead, we are talking about the least worse option when we leave.

The hon. Gentleman’s arguments clearly demonstrate that EFTA is one of the options the Government could choose to ensure we have the least worse exit from the EU. Whether it is leaked, not leaked, written, not published or whatever, the Government’s analysis shows that this is the least worse option, so why would they not take it? I have consistently said in the main Chamber, in Westminster Hall, and indeed in newspaper articles, that whether one agrees with these arguments or not, the fact that the Government have taken them off the table shows that their direction is towards a place that will fundamentally damage the UK economy for generations to come. It is also clear to anyone who follows this debate in any kind of detail that the goals, aims and objectives the Government have set themselves when leaving the European Union are completely and utterly incompatible—incoherent—with the red lines they have set themselves.

A trade deal with the European Union. Maintaining tariff free, frictionless access. Ensuring the issues around Northern Ireland are resolved. Achieving regulatory harmonisation. Staying in European programmes such as Eurasmus and Horizon 2020Edinburgh University has issued its annual report, the back pages of which show where it gets its research funding from, and there is page after page showing tens of millions of pounds that come from the European Union. If the Government want to achieve all of those objectives—I have no doubt that they do—I suggest they reach out, keep everything on the table and say to Parliament, when taking back control, that the best way to achieve all of those objectives is through EFTA, the EEA, a single market or a customs union. Whichever way we want to look at it, let us keep those options on the table and have those arguments.

EFTA is important because it is about economic integration between its members. The EEA allows that economic integration between the EFTA members and the European Union. That seems to me to be very similar to the Prime Minister’s goals and objectives in both her Lancaster House and Florence speeches. We want free, frictionless trade. We want regulatory harmonisation. We want goods and services to be included, as my hon. Friend Chuka Umunna said. As the hon. Member for Wimbledon said, this is not CETA, but is it CETA plus plus plus, which the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union mentioned a few weeks ago?