Leaving the EU — [David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:22 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North 5:22 pm, 14th January 2019

This may be the first time I have served under your chairship, Mr Hanson. It is a pleasure to do so.

I am a patriot. I love my country. Serving my neighbours, estate, city and country is the most important thing I can do with my life, which is why I come here every week. I leave my family on a Monday morning and desperately hope to get back by the time I said I would, not breaking any promises along the way. I find that that is the best way to do it.

This week we arrive at the significant crossroads that we have been approaching for several weeks. There are a number of paths ahead of us, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Some options will please some people, others will please other people, and none will please everybody. In fact, I presume that every option will anger significant portions of our society. I say that as a preamble because when talking to friends in a more relaxed setting over Christmas—this may have happened to other hon. Members as well—people would try desperately not to talk about Brexit, but eventually somebody would ask why it is taking so long. This debate, and the petitions that sit behind it, show precisely why it is taking so long. The subject is difficult and unclear, and there are multiple points of view.

I attended this debate because I think it neatly encapsulates that. The arguments in favour of the Prime Minister’s deal, as well as those in favour of no deal, a new deal and another vote, all have things going for them—that is not a very popular thing to say, but I believe it to be true—but they also have a lot not going for them. Those who support those options do so with a deep passion, and those who do not often oppose them with a deep anger. I believe that virtually everybody holds a sincere belief that their course is the correct one to follow.

Paul Scully skilfully introduced the debate, which covers such a broad and contrasting set of views. However, it is interesting that each of the petitions states as fact assertions that the others say are not facts. That shows that this is a difficult subject, which is why it is up to us in this place—we have put up our hands and said that we, as patriots, want to lead our local communities and our country because we care about them—to pick through it and arrive at a solution that serves our nation’s best interests.

Tomorrow will be our first test. Our first choice will be laid out in front of us—whether to accept to Prime Minister’s deal or not. I will vote against the Prime Minister’s deal. I cannot in good conscience bind our nation to a 585-page legally binding withdrawal agreement in pursuit of a well-meant but non-binding political declaration. I believe that this document threatens our historic Union and, frankly, that it does not please or deliver for those who wish to leave or to remain.

The deal is the result of the sum total of 31 months of negotiation. As my hon. Friend Graham Stringer said, probably rather more artfully than me, it is a pre-agreement rather than a deal. Do we think that we will have negotiated a comprehensive deal by the end of 2020? No, of course not; I do not think anybody believes that. We could therefore apply the extension. Do we think we will have negotiated a deal by the end of 2022? Using the narrowest definition, the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement took five years of pure negotiation. Do we think that we could do it in less than four years? Has anything suggested that that could happen?

Before Christmas, Ben Bradley and I were on our local television channel, Notts TV, as we often are. We always seem to get paired together; I think it is something to do with being younger Members. I am sure that we agree on many things about the world in general, but on political matters he and I disagree on quite a few. We discussed where Brexit would go in the new year and began to agree that the withdrawal agreement may in time become so attractive to the EU27 that it becomes the deal itself. Andrea Jenkyns said that getting deals done with the EU requires the consent of all 27 other countries, one of which might say, “You know what? We’ve got quite a good relationship here. Why don’t we just stick with it?” That risk is another reason why it is not worth supporting the deal.

I read and took seriously what the Prime Minister said earlier today, as I always do. Obviously, I have not heard what has been said in the Chamber, but I suspect it was closely related. I do not take much comfort from the letters from the European Council, either, although I understand where they come from and the intentions behind them. The Prime Minister has said that she will not be here at the end of 2022. How many more leaders on the European Council will have gone by then? The answer is plenty. I therefore cannot in good conscience swap the legal certainty of what will happen to our country in the future for the assurances on a letterhead from those leaders, many of whom will not be here at that time. That seems to me a very poor trade. I am surprised anybody would be persuaded to make it.

The probable outcome, as has been said for a long time, is that the Prime Minister’s deal will fall tomorrow. No deal is not and should not be an option. The trade arguments are well played out. At the end of last year I visited Toyota outside Derby to see its just-in-time manufacturing operating model, and it was clear that any delay in the system would be very injurious to it. The economic shock resulting from tariff barriers will be felt by my community, one of the poorest in the country. That cannot happen.

We talk a lot about the economic impact of no deal, but we rarely talk about the security implications. The Select Committee on Home Affairs produced a very good report on that subject. We took a lot of very good evidence from people with differing views. We covered the Schengen Information System II, which ensures that violent criminals, possible terrorists and paedophiles from other countries cannot get into our country; they get the tap on the shoulder, go to a side room and do not come into our country. That database, which we check 500 million times a year, relates to people who present at a UK port. We do not know about it, but it keeps us safe in our beds.

I do not agree with the argument made by the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood about WTO trading terms, but it was well made and I respect it. However, the WTO provides no fall-back in relation to security. I know that people will push for a no-deal option, which is valid. I understand that, and I get emails to that effect. However, those who do so should explain what would happen to someone who presented at a port at 12.1 am—one minute after we have left the EU, while the fireworks or whatever are going on—who would previously have got that tap on the shoulder and not been allowed into our country. The answer to that question is critical, but I do not think there is one; our Committee’s inquiry certainly could not find one. As a result, I do not think that any responsible Government ought to countenance no deal.

I shall put that to one side and move on. It is well known that Labour Members seek a general election, as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said, so that we can secure new leadership on this issue and, of course, many others, although this is probably not the moment to go through them. Having said that, I am not averse to a trip to the bookies and I am very aware that the bookies do not think that we will win in our pursuit of a general election any more than the Prime Minister is likely to win tomorrow night, so let us say that both of those fall. What happens then? It means that, come Wednesday or onwards, into early next week, Parliament as a whole will have a real job to find something that respects the referendum result but does not damage our country.

I am here today—I take the chance to speak to and engage with Government Front Benchers when I can—to appeal for a change of tone. I say this very personally. There is no party politics in this; it is my personal feeling. It is a culmination of 18 months of frustration, because I feel that we have been derided throughout this process. I was elected in June 2017, and I feel that since then those of us on the Opposition Benches have been told that we cannot count, that we do not read the documents—that is always a good one—that we are not being honest in our intentions and when we say we are pursuing one goal, we are actually pursuing a second, secret goal, or that we are playing politics in what we do. I believe those to be unfair and untrue charges. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I come here because I want to serve my city and my community.

I believe that the Government will have to change their tone because, frankly, whether it is on Wednesday morning, Thursday morning or next week, the Government will need support from Opposition Members. It does not take a political strategy genius, which I am not, to say this. We are getting to the point at which we know what there is not a majority for in Parliament. We know or may well find that there is not a majority for the Prime Minister’s deal. We know from last week that there is not one for no deal. If it is shown that there is not one for a general election, either, we will become defined by what we know there is not a majority for. That means that we will have to look at what there is a majority for, and we will start with the biggest blocs, which are the Government’s payroll vote and Members on the Opposition Front Bench. The Government will have to engage with the Opposition. Labour Members are derided for not having a position on Brexit, but our priorities have been on the website for a long time. We have been talking about a customs union for a long time. We have talked about migration, rights at work—