Leaving the EU: Extension Period Negotiations — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:15 am on 22nd May 2019.

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Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 10:15 am, 22nd May 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Julia Lopez on securing the debate, not least because it really has lived up to the quality that we hoped for. The debate has showcased voices from across our country—London, the midlands, the south and, now, the north-east—talking about the issues that matter to our constituents.

My hon. Friend Eddie Hughes referred to his constituents. When I was talking to mine on the 2017 election trail, I was able to make three firm promises to them: first, that we would leave the single market and the customs union; secondly, that we would leave the European Union at the end of the two-year period under article 50, which turned out to be until 29 March; and thirdly, that we would not, under any circumstances, allow a second referendum. Those three promises all seem, in different ways, to be in jeopardy today, which is a source of grave concern. Most of my constituents have been left somewhere between bemusement and anger that we are in this situation.

On 12 February, my hon. Friend Mr Baron asked the Prime Minister whether we were “sufficiently prepared” to leave the EU on 29 March with no deal. The Prime Minister responded unequivocally, “We are indeed.” Given that colleagues had been calling for no-deal preparations from day one, and the Government had 9,000 civil servants with an extra £4.2 billion of funding working on those preparations, that answer was no less than we should have expected.

It was therefore both surprising and disappointing that on 13 March the Government supported a motion in the name of the Prime Minister to delay our exit from the EU on the ostensible grounds that we were not yet prepared. They argued that we were not ready to leave because approximately one third of UK businesses that trade with the EU had not yet registered with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. They also claimed that the border inspection posts for agricultural goods at Dover and Calais were not yet operational.

Despite repeated promises that the UK would leave the EU on 29 March, we now find ourselves in a six-month extension period. Although it is deeply regrettable that the promise was broken, the unexpected extra time affords us an opportunity to address those issues, as there must be no further delay beyond 31 October. However, one of the first actions the Government took after delaying our departure was to stand down

“no-deal operational planning with immediate effect”.

Brilliant. At the same time, the Government have wasted lots more valuable time in predictably futile negotiations with Labour MPs, too many of whom take the view that the same people who elected them are, in fact, stupid and should be ignored. The complete absence of those MPs today speaks volumes.

Those few in the Labour party who still notionally claim to respect the referendum mandate have decided, for reasons not well understood, to advocate the worst-of-all-worlds position of staying in the customs union. Entering into a customs union would hand Brussels total control of our trade and customs policy, and preclude our right to sign trade deals with the rest of the world. Worse, when the EU signed a trade agreement with another country—for example, China—we would be compelled to make all the concessions agreed to by the EU.