EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Excerpts
Wednesday 27th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Exiting the European Union
Mr Speaker Hansard

Order. A five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches must now apply with immediate effect.

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 5:06 p.m.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important, groundbreaking and unprecedented debate. I was pleased to be one of the 30 Conservative MPs who helped to secure this debate. I am sorry that it is happening in a way, but the fact that it is happening shows, unfortunately, that the Government’s strategy for getting the withdrawal agreement through this House has not succeeded so far. To be clear, I will vote for that withdrawal agreement if and when it is re-presented to the House, because I think it is the best way for us to leave the EU in an orderly fashion as soon as that is practicable.

I would have spoken to amendment (N), standing in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members, but obviously it has not been selected. However, a word at the top of that motion has been used several times. It was used by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), and it was used by the SNP leader here, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who has just spoken, although I am not entirely sure that what he asked people to do would fulfil its strictures. The word is “compromise”, and it is an action that absolutely needs to be practised by Members on both sides of the House if today—and potentially Monday—is going to have an effect.

The point is that right hon. and hon. Members should be voting today for what they could countenance, not their preferred option. If we stay in our silos and our trenches, as I have spoken about before, we as a House will not find our way through this, and we will unfortunately fulfil what the Prime Minister said last week, which is that this House cannot find a way through. I think we will not have done our job as parliamentary representatives if that is the case.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) is not in his place. In relation to common market 2.0—I will support that proposal tonight—he talked about a customs union and customs arrangements. One of the advantages of having been involved in the Malthouse compromise talks is that I know that alternative arrangements can be secured to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. What we want on that border is no physical infrastructure, with no customs formalities at the border. With five key changes—there is not time to talk about them today, but there may be in future debates, and I am very happy to talk to any right hon. and hon. Members about those key changes—it would be possible to negotiate such arrangements.

The Leader of the House has talked about any solution being deliverable and negotiable, and having alternative arrangements to avoid the need to be in a customs union is both deliverable and negotiable, because we know the EU has already conceded the principle of them. In the documents tabled by the Government on 11 March, before the last meaningful vote, the EU has clearly said that such negotiations on those arrangements should commence immediately.

Mr Speaker, I heard earlier your strictures to the Government about the test that has to be met for the withdrawal agreement to be brought back to this House. You want to see significant change, and one way of achieving such significant change would be to allow the UK and the EU time to negotiate those alternative arrangements and put them into the withdrawal agreement so that the backstop is superseded. Looking at the names of those who have signed motion (N), we can see that there are Members of this House who are ready to sign up to that as a principle.

In my previous life as a solicitor negotiating mergers and acquisitions deals, I spent many a less-than-happy hour locked in meeting rooms with fellow lawyers and clients and, frankly, we just did not leave until the deal had been done. That needs to happen now to get the backstop replaced and the alternative arrangements secured if that is what Members want.

I will vote for any option that gives a negotiated settlement and leads to an orderly exit from the EU. The question for the House, which may arise after Monday—we shall have to see—is what the Government’s response is and how any Government will implement what the House may have identified as a way forward. There may well be difficult decisions for the Government, but also for the House, about the form of the Government who will take that forward. Will we need even greater cross-party working to arrive at a solution and a Government who can negotiate the outcome with the EU?

Although today is an important step forward, it is really only the start of the process of arriving at a compromise. I entirely agree with the Chairman of the Brexit Committee, who said that we should have started this process two years ago. The country, Parliament and the Government would be in a much happier place.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 5:11 p.m.

The debate is proving to be thoughtful and considered. It is the debate that we should have had two years ago. There was an appetite from all parts of the House and from all different perspectives to have such a debate more than two years ago. There was also a spirit across the House—among those who voted leave and those who voted remain—to come together and find a way to make the process work. It is why so many Members from all parts of the House voted for article 50, but also put forward proposals through Select Committees and different debates, and wanted the chance to table amendments. That is why I called for a cross-party commission to oversee the negotiations from the very beginning. Sadly, that did not happen and the Prime Minister did not want to do things that way. That is why we are in this terrible mess and our constituents are tearing their hair out. Whether they voted leave or remain, people are feeling deeply frustrated and let down.

Just as our constituents—employers and trade unions, neighbours and friends, different parts of communities—come together to compromise and sort things out, it is our responsibility to do that now. The proposal to hold indicative votes was important. We will all have to compromise and vote for motions, parts of which we do not necessarily agree with. We might not agree with every single bit of a motion or an idea, but we might think there is the basis for finding some form of compromise.

When the CBI, which represents 190,000 British businesses, and the TUC, which represents 5.6 million British workers, come together to describe a national emergency, there is a responsibility on us to act. They spoke with other members of a national industrial coalition in Parliament this morning, in a meeting that the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) called. They said that a plan B that protects workers, the economy and an open Irish border, commands a parliamentary majority, and is negotiable with the EU must be found. That is why I have put my name to the customs union motion. I have called for that from the beginning and I think it can be the basis of finding consensus and building agreement.

Businesses in our area—our big manufacturers, Burberry and Haribo; local retailers and distributors such as Asda and Teva; small businesses and traders, farmers and florists—have all warned that they need a deal that avoids border delays, tariffs or extra customs bureaucracy. It is why we heard from the motor manufacturers, the National Farmers Union and the aerospace sector in the meeting this morning. They all called for a customs union, which is at the heart of Labour motion (K) on an alternative Brexit approach. It is also why the TUC argued for the importance of the common market 2.0 approach.

In the motions and in points that Members of all parties have made, there is a range of options that we should consider and that mean we can continue to oppose the chaos of no deal, which would be deeply damaging to all our constituents. I keep very much in mind the words of a friend in Pontefract, who I talked to last week. He is waiting for radiotherapy but does not know whether the treatment will be delayed because no deal could put at risk the supply of the short-life isotopes that are needed for radiotherapy. In his interests and those of patients in all our constituencies, as well as constituents who could be hit by higher food, fuel and utilities prices in the event of a chaotic no deal, we must continue to argue against it.

I take a different approach from that suggested by motion (L), because I think that in those circumstances we should argue for more time with the European Union to try to get a resolution and, frankly, to sort things out.

Whatever the outcome today and on Monday, we are going to have to do two things that the Government have fundamentally failed to do—get clarity on what Brexit means and build consensus. We are talking about constitutional change, and nothing lasts without consensus. On Scottish and Welsh devolution, consensus was built and it lasted. On the Lisbon and Maastricht treaties, consensus was not built and support for them has not endured. The same is true in this situation. Unless clear consensus can be built, public consent or a public vote will be needed through a general election or referendum; otherwise it will not last. It is in all of our interests to build consensus, come together and do what we should have done two years ago.