Leaving the European Union

Siobhain McDonagh Excerpts
Monday 11th March 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Exiting the European Union
Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con) - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:19 p.m.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend’s constituents are aware—I am sure that many of mine are not—but under the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, our defence and intelligence would be subordinate to Europe, after 40 years of our trying very hard to avoid that. Are we not a tier 1 military power? We have some of the best intelligence services in the world. We are now signing up to EU defence structures “to the extent possible under EU law”. That is a massive change that mortally threatens our relationship with the United States and damages the Five Eyes.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair) - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:20 p.m.

Order. The hon. Member, who did not have the decency to arrive when the debate started, is making an intervention, not a speech. Can he get to the question?

Adam Holloway - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:20 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Five Eyes and our relationship with the United States are mortally threatened? The British people do not realise that.

Break in Debate

David Linden Portrait David Linden - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:37 p.m.

No, I will not. I will continue with my speech.

The equivalent of the entire working population of Dundee stands to lose their jobs. The economic effect on Scotland is expected to be even worse than that of the 2008 recession. Businesses, institutions and notable leaders are up in arms over this dereliction of duty. The CBI, the Scottish and Welsh Governments, the National Farmers Union of Scotland, car makers and manufacturers are all united in their opposition to a no-deal Brexit advocated by some speakers in this debate. On top of all that, we face the loss of the free movement of people, which has helped to grow and support our ageing population.

The SNP has been consistent—not a popular position in Parliament—in supporting calls for the extension of article 50 and a people’s vote. That is the only sensible course of action left. The UK Government cannot continue to attempt to strong-arm Parliament into accepting their deal by threatening a no-deal scenario. In his dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, George Orwell described “doublethink” as

“holding simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them”.

Instead of reading the book as a cautionary tale, the Prime Minister seems to have taken it as an instruction manual. She has expected the Scottish people to accept three conflicting opinions at the same time: first, we would leave the customs union—a promise made to appease the European Research Group. Secondly, there would be no hard border in Northern Ireland—a promise made to appease Dublin and adhere to the Good Friday agreement. Thirdly, there will be regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK—a promise made to the Democratic Unionist party. There is no world in which all three are simultaneously possible. The Prime Minister knows that, but instead of showing real leadership and working to reach a compromise, she hopes to placate different groups with promises she cannot deliver on, and scare them into voting for her deal by threatening us with no deal.

I will be absolutely clear: we must not crash out of the European Union with no deal. To allow that to happen would be a complete failure of governance and an abdication of responsibility. The Conservative party might be happy with that, but we in the SNP are committed to building a fairer and better future for the Scottish people. Our preferred option is for the whole of the UK to remain in the European Union, but, failing that, our compromise is that the UK should remain in the customs union and the single market. I believe there would be a majority for that in the House. It is clear that further negotiations are needed to find an outcome that works for everyone, so we support the extension of article 50 and a people’s vote.

The Prime Minister is content to lead the country down the garden path with no idea what waits at the end. That is utterly unacceptable. The Scottish people deserve a Government that have their best interests at heart, but Westminster has shown repeatedly throughout this Brexit mess that it does not have our interests at heart. It is for that reason that many Scots, including many of those who voted no in 2014, are rapidly concluding that the only way to have a Government with our interests at heart is to have an independent Government and to rejoin the family of nations.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair) - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:41 p.m.

Order. This is the first time I have had to deal with an issue of whether to ask a Member to withdraw a comment about another Member, so bear with me. Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that he was imputing no bad motive in his comments about the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)?

David Linden Portrait David Linden - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:41 p.m.

Can you clarify what I am being asked to withdraw, Ms McDonagh?

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair) - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:41 p.m.

As I heard it, your comments were that the right hon. Member for Wokingham had earned money as a result of giving advice about the EU and the withdrawal negotiations.

David Linden Portrait David Linden - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:41 p.m.

That is absolutely on the record. The right hon. Gentleman’s declaration of financial interests shows that he does give advice for financial planning. Indeed, that was pointed out by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway). I said on the record what is already in the public domain about advice that has been given by the right hon. Member for Wokingham, and I stand by those comments.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:42 p.m.

Ms McDonagh, I think what was at issue was the accuracy of the statement. The hon. Gentleman said that I have urged people to take their money out of Britain because of Brexit. I have never said that, it is completely false, and I wish it to be withdrawn.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair) - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:42 p.m.

Does the hon. Member for Glasgow East wish to withdraw his comments? The right hon. Member for Wokingham has not, in his view, advised people to take their money out of Britain because of Brexit.

David Linden Portrait David Linden - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:42 p.m.

I am not willing to withdraw those comments. Indeed, I will be very happy to place a copy of the evidence in the Library before the close of business today.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair) - Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:42 p.m.

The advice to me is that I cannot force the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his comments. I call Jenny Chapman.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab) Hansard
11 Mar 2019, 5:42 p.m.

It is good to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) talked about soundbites. We have heard, “Brexit means Brexit,” “No deal is better than a bad deal,” and—my personal favourite—“Red, white and blue Brexit”. I remember when soundbites were good—I know you do too, Ms McDonagh. I remember, “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”—soundbites that actually meant something. Those were the days.

I congratulate the petitioners and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on bringing forward this debate. The fact that thousands of people signed a petition that asks us to put a stop to this whole process speaks to the frustration that is clearly present in many communities up and down the country. I would observe, though, that that frustration, and the petitioners’ preferred solution to it, is not equally shared around our country. Some 100 of my constituents signed the petition, I notice that 1,100 of my hon. Friend’s constituents signed it, and there are other places, which voted more heavily to leave, where I do not think anybody thought it was a very good idea.

It is pretty clear that what started off as a division within the Tory party has spread across the country, and we find that we now have a nation divided. I hope you are proud of what you have done. I am not. I deeply regret the state we have got ourselves into. I voted remain, but I said the day the result became clear and the moment I found my constituency had voted to leave that I would respect that result.

I voted to trigger article 50. My party supported that position, and we supported starting negotiations, but what a mess you have made of it. I never, ever thought, even in my—[Interruption.] What a mess the Conservatives have made of it. I correct myself, Ms McDonagh—I would never suggest that you would have made such a bad job of this negotiation. If only you were leading it, I am sure we would be in a much better place by now. It could hardly be worse. That is clearly what is in the minds of the petitioners, who just want it to stop. They have had enough. I know exactly where they are coming from, but I do feel, even at this stage, that I must continue to honour the decision my constituents made.

Revoking article 50 is clearly possible. The European Court of Justice, in its ruling on the matter, said we could revoke article 50 should we want to. I think it was the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), who is no longer in his place, who said that that would be seen very negatively, particularly by communities in which people voted very strongly to leave. If we revoked article 50 unilaterally, without the consent of the British people, he would probably be right.

It seems to many people who think we should be looking for a way out of this situation that the only way to do that is to have another vote. That is not something I would ever enter into lightly or, I have to say, with any enthusiasm, but given the way the Government have mishandled this process, I find myself wondering whether only two options remain. One is to have a different deal that could get through Parliament. I will talk a little about what that might look like. The other may be to have another vote. I cannot over-emphasise my reluctance about that. I agree with most of the arguments against having another vote—arguments about division and trust in politics—but, even so, that may be the only option that remains if we are stuck in this impasse and we need to break the deadlock. Given where we are today—it looks like, in 24 hours’ time, we will be voting again and rejecting the Prime Minister’s deal, probably in almost the same way we did only a few weeks ago —we need to agree a way forward.

Government Members spoke at length about the backstop. The backstop is not really the fundamental problem. The best way to deal with the backstop is to have a clear vision of the future, to know where we are going and to know what kind of relationship we are going to have with the European Union. That is how we would avoid ever having to use the backstop. The problem we have is that the Prime Minister has been unable to be clear—in her own mind, perhaps, but certainly with Parliament—about where she intends to take the country after we have left. I can only imagine that is for reasons of party management, which, given what we have seen today, I think we can all understand. Because she has not been clear—because the political declaration is incredibly vague and could imply two very different visions of Brexit—we have been forced to focus on the backstop.

That really has not worked very well for the Prime Minister, if I can put it like that. She is now having to try to negotiate something that she hopes will be legally binding and will satisfy the needs of the Government Members who have spoken in the debate. I somehow doubt it. Perhaps it will be a form of unilateral mechanism. Perhaps it will be an end date. But even if either could somehow be negotiated, I doubt whether that would do the job that she needs to have done. We would still be lacking the fully-formed vision of the future direction of our country. I do not think that will be enough for MPs to be able to walk through the Lobby and say, “Yes, we support this,” because we care deeply about what happens to our constituents. We were all elected on manifestos and promises that said that we wanted to make our constituents more prosperous, to secure their jobs and to bring more employment to our constituencies. I said that the three times that I have been elected, and that is the promise that I would never, ever break.