Leaving the EU DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Graham StringerMain Page: Graham Stringer (Labour) - Blackley and Broughton)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petitions 229963, 221747 and 235185 relating to leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement, 232984 and 231461 relating to holding a further referendum on leaving the EU, and 226509 and 236261 relating to not leaving the EU.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. The list of e-petitions shows that Brexit still exercises our nation. If I may be indulged—this may take longer than the rest of my speech—I will read the text of the petitions, so that we know exactly what we are talking about. We have grouped them by theme. Not all of them have reached 100,000 signatures, but those that did not were similar enough to be put into one of three categories with others that reached the threshold for the Petitions Committee to consider them for debate.
The title of the first petition is “Leave the EU without a deal in March 2019.” It says:
“We are wasting Billions of pounds of taxpayers money trying to negotiate in a short space of time. Leaving the EU in March 2019 will allow the UK good time to negotiate more efficiently. The EU will be more eager to accept a deal on our terms having lost a major partner.
We will save billions of pounds from our EU divorce payment as well as a similar amount from Civil Service and Govt costs. This money will be used to support our own country whilst we await the EU to talk to us to make deals more in our favour. The EU border in Ireland to be managed simply by having a dual Euro / pound currency as legal tender in both the North and South. Exports to the South would be dealt with in Euro and vice versa when importing to the North. Rates fixed at time of the deal.”
A similar petition, entitled “Leave the EU now”, says simply:
“The Government is not going to achieve a satisfactory outcome from its negotiations with the EU. We should walk away now. No Deal is better than a bad deal.”
The third petition is, again, similar. It is entitled “Walk away now! We voted for a No Deal Brexit”. It says:
“Theresa May has failed to negotiate a Brexit deal that is acceptable to Parliament and the British people. The Withdrawal Agreement does not deliver the Brexit we voted for. It is clear that the EU is not going to offer anything else, particularly regarding the backstop. The Government must now be prepared to walk away from the negotiations.
No Deal is better than the Deal that has been negotiated. No Deal is also what we voted for. Give the people what they voted for. Anything less is not Brexit.”
I move on to the second group of petitions, which are about a second referendum. The first one is entitled “Grant a People’s Vote if Parliament rejects the EU Withdrawal Agreement”. It says:
“The Prime Minister has negotiated an EU withdrawal agreement. However, it is clear from resignations and interviews that the deal will not pass Parliament. As no credible alternative has been proposed, the public must be allowed to vote on whether to accept this deal or to remain in the EU.
Dominic Raab’s resignation is perhaps the strongest indication that this withdrawal agreement will not be approved by Parliament. However, he is responsible for this deal as former Brexit Secretary, which suggests that a better deal is not possible. The only better deal is to remain in the EU on similar terms to what we have now - not in Schengen, not in the Euro, deciding on EU legislation.”
Another petition on a second referendum says:
“It’s no secret that a vast amount of people who voted to leave the EU didn’t realise what they were voting for.
The Leave campaign said that leaving would create new trade deals, strengthen the economy and public services and reduce the number of incoming immigrants. But this is not happening.
Theresa May has really struggled so far in Brexit negotiations and time is running out. She’s failing to secure trade deals and my personal biggest fear is the Irish Border, this could lead to a United Ireland. May has lost support not only from the Cabinet but the whole nation. I’m calling for a second referendum”—
this is still part of the quote, please understand—
“because if you voted to remain or to leave we need a final say. The Brexit decision was so tight and I just think that it help everyone if there was a second vote. Sign if you agree.”
The third group of petitions is about stopping Brexit in its entirety. The first says:
“It’s so desperately simple. The Government’s standard response to these kinds of petitions is ‘The British people voted to leave the EU and the government respect that decision’. BUT, the government themselves DO NOT KNOW the outcome of that decision, so how can they possibly respect it???
Quote Theresa May: ‘We don’t know what the outcome will be’. The referendum was advisory, not conclusive. The result of the referendum has now been proven to be illegally biased (something ‘our’ government is choosing to ignore). Hence, the ‘vote’ (actually an opinion poll) is now null and void. The referendum was voted for with no indication of any actual facts. 2yrs ago there was no detail about what ‘brexit’ actually entailed. Today, still no detail. For all these reasons: STOP BREXIT.”
The final petition is a short one: “Stop Brexit if parliament rejects the deal”. It says:
“Brexit is not worth it. A hard border in Ireland will destroy the Good Friday Agreement, meds are being stockpiled and there’s news that a contract has been given to a company with no ferries, and the army is on standby in the event of no-deal too. Stop Brexit if MPs vote to reject the PM’s deal.”
It took me the first five minutes of my speech just to read out those seven petitions, none of which agrees. This is where we are as a country. In this place, we reflect the views of the people outside. The number of signatories to those petitions ranged from 6,000 for the smallest to 330,000-odd for the biggest. Any number of people have supported the petitions. That is what is great about Petitions Committee debates: we talk about the things that people ask us to speak about.
The Government deal is being debated in Parliament today. One reason why not many Members are present is that the Prime Minister is in the main Chamber making a statement about the last assurances she has had from the EU. Members will raise questions with her, then the debate will continue, and the vote will take place tomorrow. The deal is, undoubtedly, a compromise. I campaigned and voted to leave, but I will vote for the deal tomorrow because I see it as the best way to leave in an orderly fashion. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it could be made good in the second half of the negotiation.
Unfortunately for people who are bored with Brexit, we are only halfway through. If we can get an agreement through to the next stage, we have to deal with the future relationship with the EU. It will take time to reach a trade deal and get through all the finer points of security, education, research co-operation and so on. When I looked at the deal and thought about how I would vote tomorrow, I asked, “Does it fulfil the reasons I voted to leave? Can I look other people in the eye and say, ‘Yes, it does’?” Under the deal, we leave the EU political institutions—the biggest thing that drove me when I voted for the Referendum party back in 1997, which is what got me into party politics. This is my penance for having brought in a Labour Government and a Lib Dem local MP.
I wanted to leave the political institutions. This deal allows us to do that, and to end the huge membership fees we pay the EU. It enables us to end freedom of movement, and to start to negotiate trade deals and even ratify them, though we cannot put them in place until we have left the implementation phase—as long as the backstop does not come in. If we have a deal in place with the EU, we can move on to putting those independent trade deals in place. That is why the deal is imperfect—because, looking back to two years ago, by now I would have hoped to be at that place. However, I make my decision based on where we are, not where we started.
We got stuck on the sequencing—the fact that we could not have a twin-track debate on our future relationship and withdrawing, and we got stuck on the Irish backstop issue last year. That has suddenly become a thing over the last year. We are kidding ourselves if we think that we will be able to remove the backstop because we do not like it. I understand the argument about us not being able to leave the backstop unilaterally; naturally, that causes concern to a lot of people. That is why I have asked a lot of questions of Ministers, the Prime Minister and others. The explanation of the backstop sets out why both parties find it uncomfortable, but that is not good enough for me; I want to know why they find it uncomfortable. I have been asking questions and looking at the issue in closer detail. Interestingly, politically, the backstop is incredibly difficult for Unionists, but economically it would be pretty advantageous to Northern Ireland, should it ever come into use. Why? Because overnight, Northern Ireland would then become the most competitive part of Europe.
As part of the compromise with the EU, the whole country would get brought into the backstop. That would give us full access to the single market and the customs union, having left it, without paying any membership fees. Imagine what France, for example, thinks about that. For once, it would be subsidising us; it would still be paying full membership fees for the same access. It cannot be comfortable about that. We would not have freedom of movement, but we would have the same access, so we would be breaking one of the pillars of the EU. Members may remember that at the beginning of the referendum debate, the EU said, “We will not allow the UK to cherry-pick,” but that is exactly what would happen under that system: we would be cherry-picking, because we would still have access, but we would not have freedom of movement or make payments. To my mind, although the rhetoric is sufficient to prove to people that the EU is punishing us for leaving, the actuality—what is written on the bit of paper—is inconvenient but would in no way punish us in the long term.
The final reason the EU finds the backstop uncomfortable is that, suddenly, the whole of the UK would become its backstop should it want to strike further trade deals with other countries. Countries looking to finalise trade deals with the EU will say, “Okay, we understand how we’re going to trade with you and what that’s going to be like, but what about the top-left corner of the map? What about the whole of the UK? What’s its relationship going to be with you? We don’t really understand this.” It will mean those countries dragging their heels even more than they do now.
Some people describe leaving with no deal as leaving on World Trade Organisation terms. As I was preparing for the debate, I had a Twitter chat with a constituent, who said, “Well, it’s not no deal; it’s WTO arrangements.” That is fine—people can call it what they want—but WTO arrangements do not cover non-trade issues. The WTO is only about trade; the withdrawal agreement goes so much further than that.
I would be comfortable leaving with no deal if we were properly prepared, and we had done everything we could to have as orderly a departure as possible. As I said, I believe the withdrawal agreement, although it is not perfect, allows us to do that. Anyone who proposes no deal has to recognise that there would be short-term turbulence. One of the reasons why I am uncomfortable having no deal as my first position is that it would affect real people. When I cast my vote, I always have at the front of my mind what it will mean for my constituents and other actual people. I do not think, “It’s just something on a bit of paper that will be okay later on.”
There will be short-term turbulence. We can survive it; we will get through it. None the less, there are better ways of leaving, and I do not think we would be thanked in the short term for leaving with no deal. If we have the confidence to say, “You know what? We can leave on WTO terms and go it alone. We can work with the other 192 countries and strike our own trade deals,” surely we should have the same confidence that we can get this deal through, go to the European Union with a different negotiating strategy and say, “Look, we want an overarching, ambitious trade deal with you that’s actually going to work for both of us.”
How would that negotiating strategy work? Negotiations cannot all be done by one small cabal of people. We have brought Crawford Falconer, a hugely experienced trade negotiator, in from New Zealand; it does not make sense for him to work on every trade deal around the world apart from the biggest one—the one with next door. Surely it makes sense for him and the Department for International Trade to work on trade. We could then get the Brexit Secretary to work on the overarching issues, and the Defence Secretary and the Home Secretary to work on defence, immigration and security. We should have a far wider-reaching set of negotiations. As well as bringing in expertise and a wider group of people, that would help engender trust, which is sadly lacking in this entire process. One of the reasons why people cannot get beyond a certain point in the debate is that no matter what is said, they just do not believe it. That is the problem.
People are also concerned about our paying the reported £39 billion in advance. The implementation phase is nearly two years, so £24 billion of that is the equivalent of a membership fee. We are quibbling about £15 billion, which is still a lot of money, but it is not quite the same. We need to work out where that money is going, how the figure is worked out, and at what point we pay it.
The idea of a second referendum has increased in popularity, but I struggle to see how it will get off the ground. Clearly, anything like having a second referendum or revoking article 50 in its entirety would need to come from the Government, because it would need primary legislation. There is clearly no agreement on what the question would be in a second referendum. Some people have said to me, “Hold on a sec. In 2016, we had leave or remain. Leave won, so that’s sorted. Surely remain shouldn’t even be on the ballot paper; the question should be how we leave.” People with a slightly different point of view, shall we say, have said, “The Government shouldn’t be leaving with no deal, so it should be between remain and the Prime Minister’s deal.” We would be back to all the same vested interests I mentioned at the start.
People talk about how divisive the original referendum was and how terrible the quality of the debate was—frankly, both those things are true—but then say, “I tell you what: let’s do it all again.” I know what would happen. We would have “vassal state” on one side and “cliff edge” on the other. There would be a lot of heat but no light whatever. Lord knows what the buses would do at that point.
I tend to agree with the chap who said:
“I’m sorry, I’m not one of those people who thinks we should be calling for a second referendum. I think that would just look like, the referendum was fought under rules we agreed to, a result was delivered, because we don’t like it we now want to replay it again—which will simply entrench a view that we’re some elite, who don’t want to pay any attention to the people.”
That chap was the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna), who happens to be spearheading the people’s vote campaign—I should think he is doing so as we speak. A second referendum is unlikely to resolve anything; nor do I believe a general election would resolve anything.
That brings me to why this place is so divided. There is a lot of self-interest at the moment. The Leader of the Opposition could draft his own deal and hand it to the Prime Minister to put to the vote, and he would still vote against it. He wants a general election—that is all. Obviously, there are splits in the Opposition. Opposition Members who want a people’s vote tend to want to avoid a general election because that would be their worst nightmare. It would risk a Labour Government led by the Leader of the Opposition, which I do not think Opposition Members who propose a people’s vote particularly want; they are not exactly close.
The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party basically want to pretend this never happened. They just want to unpick the referendum. For various reasons, they want not to leave the UK. At least that is an honest position. The Lib Dems write things like “Let’s have a people’s vote,” followed by “#ExitFromBrexit”. That clearly demonstrates the angle they come at this from. I have yet to meet someone who voted to leave and still intends to leave who says, “I tell you what, before we do, shall we just test the water by having a second referendum?” Inevitably, people want that Bobby Ewing moment—they want to wake up and find that he is still in the shower. At least the people who want to unpick the referendum by revoking article 50 are honest and explain their true intentions, but that would have severe consequences. The Archbishop of York talked about the possibility of a second referendum causing civil unrest.
We have come to this place and listened to people. Some 17.4 million people put their trust in us doing what they mandated us to do. One of the petitions refers to the vote we had as an opinion poll. It was not; it was a national referendum, which delivered a bigger mandate than any other vote in this country. I cannot remember the figures, but many Members queued up to vote to trigger article 50. In so doing, we put the referendum result into legislation, making those people’s voices heard. We need to redouble our efforts and find a deal that works, so that we can leave the EU in the most orderly fashion possible, demonstrate to people that we can do this and respect their wishes, and move on and gain the inevitable benefits of leaving the EU.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I will speak in support of the petition that has received more than 300,000 signatures and argues that we should leave the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.
Clearly, a free trade agreement with the EU is optimal. I am an economic liberal and I believe in the benefits of free trade and open markets. However, leaving the EU under the Prime Minister’s deal will restrict our ability to sign free trade agreements with the most exciting and fastest-growing economies in the world. That cannot be allowed to happen. The withdrawal agreement will make the UK a vassal state, a country whose destiny is controlled by the EU and its institutions. That cannot be allowed to happen; it would be a sell-out of the British people.
Leaving on WTO terms should not panic the UK. There are positives to leaving under such a deal when compared with the Prime Minister’s disastrous deal. If we want to take back control of our money, our laws and our borders, keep our £39 billion and trade freely with the rest of the world, a clean WTO Brexit will achieve that. Some in this place have warned that negotiating a new free trade agreement with third parties will be more difficult and we will not be able to achieve such good terms as those negotiated through the European Union, but I believe that argument is flawed.
We all know that the EU is cumbersome; it is over-bureaucratic and full of red tape. For free trade agreements to be signed off in the EU they must be approved by every member state, so the economies and priorities of 27 nations, including individual regions, must be considered. When negotiating our own free trade deals, we can be proactive and seek out opportunities. We can be flexible while the EU is rigid. We can be fast and nimble while the EU is slow and cumbersome. The UK will be free and liberated to sign free trade agreements with the exciting economies of tomorrow.
Let us not talk down the UK. We are the fifth largest economy in the world and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and we speak the global language of business. We have world-class universities and an incredible global reach, and we sit at the heart of the Commonwealth, which is home to 2.4 billion citizens. I could not be prouder to say that I am British and believe in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. We will succeed no matter what lies in our future; we will prevail because our strength and dynamism lie with the British people, not in being part of the European Union.
The reason we are here today is that the Prime Minister’s deal has failed. She has failed to achieve a deal that is good for the UK, but this is the deal before us. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stated:
“I am totally convinced that this is the only deal possible.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has told the European Parliament that
“the treaty that is on the table is the only deal possible.”
The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has also said that the deal agreed is the only possible one, as has our Prime Minister. Let us not forget what the Opposition’s shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), said about Labour’s Brexit plan—I will not use the swear word in the Chamber that he used then.
Therefore, if politicians want to respect the outcome of the referendum, WTO becomes a legitimate option and it is right that we are here today discussing it. The world has benefited hugely from the considerable progress made in trade liberalisation in the past 70 years, but multilateral liberalisation has slowed and it now needs a new champion. The UK can be that champion. The benefits of free trade are clear to see. The world needs a liberalising voice, and the UK can be that voice at a time when open markets are threatened.
The UK will prosper as a WTO member. We can immediately start further liberalisation with other WTO members on day one. I acknowledge that tariffs are a concern for some, but I ask them to keep in mind my desire for fewer tariffs and fewer restrictions to trade. Currently, under WTO rules, tariffs vary significantly by sector, but we need to see the bigger picture. In the 1980s, the EU’s share of world GDP was about 30%. In 2017 it was about 16% and by 2022 it is expected to fall further to 15%. The EU has a shrinking share of world trade, and Brexiteers can see the benefits of trading freely with the rest of the world, which is growing at a much faster rate than the EU.
The organisation Economists for Free Trade recently released a detailed report that considered the many implications of leaving the EU on WTO terms. In my view, the report shows that, although a deal is preferable, we have nothing to fear from leaving on those terms. From an economic perspective, the report showed that under WTO rules, we would be more prosperous as a country than we are now, and a lot better off than under the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, which would leave us worse off by a staggering £100 billion. The report also showed that under no deal, consumer prices would fall by 8% and there would be an additional boost of 15% to the poorest households. I know many of my constituents would welcome that at a time when ordinary families are feeling the pressure.
It is important to note that since the mid-1980s, British exports to WTO countries have grown three times faster than those to the European single market. In fact, our biggest overseas market is America, and we trade with it on WTO terms. All that, taken together, demonstrates that, despite all the fear-mongering and demonisation of no deal, the reality is that there is nothing to fear. We already conduct much of our trade under those terms, which are essentially a set of global, enforceable rules that outlaw protectionist tricks, discriminatory tariffs and bureaucratic hurdles. The result is free and fair trade for us and our global partners.
After we leave, trade between the UK and the EU can move to WTO rules, meaning tariffs averaging about 3%. Some products have higher tariffs, such as cars, at 10%, with a 4.5% tariff on components from the EU. However, car companies can withstand a 10% tariff on sales into the EU because they have already benefited from a 15% depreciation in the value of sterling. Border checks on components from the EU will be unnecessary, counterproductive for EU exporters, and illegal under WTO rules, which prohibit unnecessary checks. The heads of firms such as Dyson, JCB and Northern Ireland’s Wrightbus support Brexit because they see the long-term benefits of our being free from the EU’s red tape. A WTO Brexit can achieve that.
I may have agreed with the decision to leave the EU, but it was the British people, not politicians in this place, who decided to leave, and their decision must be upheld. I was only elected to this place in 2015. I am not a career politician and I never worked in the Westminster bubble before being elected. I may not have had the traditional route into politics, but I strongly think that that is a positive. Trust in elected politicians is vital if the public are to have faith in this place and in the democratic process. I aim to uphold that trust. It is naïve to think that we know better.
My constituents know best: they know how best to run their lives and spend their money, and they know what is best for their country. They voted for Brexit, and Brexit must prevail, be that under a WTO Brexit or under a better deal than that agreed by the Prime Minister. My constituency, the Yorkshire and the Humber region and the country voted to leave the EU. We need to leave the European Union and its institutions and take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit can deliver.
I wanted a deal like the Prime Minister’s vision in her Lancaster House speech, which would have satisfied the referendum result. However, the Prime Minister decided, mistakenly, to no longer pursue that vision. Moving to WTO rules will achieve that global Britain vision. We want to be in Europe but not run by Europe. We want to be a truly global, free-trading powerhouse. That can still be achieved, but only by trading under WTO rules. Let us now look to the future, where we can all be free from the EU, to make our own decisions and to chart our own destiny.
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.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (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 the Member for Blackley and Broughton (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, the hon. Member for Mansfield (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. The hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (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—
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I would not presume to explain any elements of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to him, given that he legislated it and I did not, but as well as his reference to a two-thirds majority, the failure to achieve a second vote of confidence within 14 days will automatically lead to a general election. However, I take the point that, on the issue of the day, on the sum total of 31 months of work and leadership—what we are answering tomorrow is the product of all that work—if that fails, it is a fundamental failure for the Government and one that I do not think could be seen off. I think we ought all to be careful, certainly on the Opposition Benches, about setting what we think are good and bad losses. Any loss on this issue is devastating for the Government, whatever the number is.
If they want to carry on, the Government will have to engage with the Opposition on the presupposition that we want to engage on the issue, that we want to make things better and that we might want to find a solution, all of which has been said so far. We all might—this would be of benefit outside the House as well as inside—try to change the way we engage with each other. The petitions show the need for that. They start with assertions that are not necessarily facts; they are just strongly held views, and we all have strongly held views. And we all come at the issue—I assume this is true of all hon. Members present—from the perspective of what we believe is best for our country, so perhaps we ought to engage with one another on those terms, rather than on the basis of what fits into 140 or, now, 280 characters and going down to those very pure binaries. Frankly, if we do not show that there is a parliamentary solution in this place—I have talked about the things that there perhaps are not majorities for—where does that leave this issue? Hon. Members who might passionately have wanted to see a particular goal achieved might end up not getting it at all.
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It is a pleasure to wind up the debate for the Opposition with you in the Chair, Mr Davies; I am sure you will deeply regret having missed many of the contributions made earlier in the debate, knowing your views on these matters. I thank the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for the way in which he opened the debate—he drew on points made by petitioners on both sides of the argument and on different proposals—and for the way in which he explored the complexity of the issues that we face. In that context, I draw attention to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris): the tone of our discussions is so important, particularly given some of the stuff we have seen around the precincts of Westminster over the past week. He was right to say that we are at a crossroads. People are expressing wildly diverse but sincerely held views; the reasons why people voted as they did in the 2016 referendum were sincere, too. We should respect all those views.
The petitions we have debated reflect the divisions in the country, and indeed in Parliament—divisions that have been exacerbated, not healed, by the way in which this Government have approached the negotiations over the past two years. It did not have to be like this. When the negotiations began, we urged the Prime Minister to look beyond the war in her own party, and to reach out to the majority in Parliament and across the country who respected the fact that the people had voted to leave—the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) are right about that—but also accepted that they had done so by a painfully close margin. We urged the Prime Minister to recognise the vote for what it was: a mandate to end our membership of the European Union, but not to rupture our relationship with our closest neighbours, our key allies and our most important trading partner, and certainly not to crash out of the European Union without any agreement.
The hon. Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns), in disagreeing with the deal, both said that it was the only deal that would be countenanced by the European Union—that, in the words of the Prime Minister, it was the only deal possible, a point that I am sure the Minister will make. But it was the only deal possible within the constraints that the Prime Minister had set herself. The European Union made it clear that there were a range of options and relationships that it was prepared to consider, but the British Government had effectively ruled those out with the negotiating terms that they had set. We regret the fact that the Prime Minister allowed the agenda to be set by what her own Chancellor described as the Brexit “extremists” within her party. She set the red line, boxed herself in and ended up pleasing nobody—neither leave nor remain voters—with the deal.
In December, with the clock ticking, the Prime Minster wasted a further month by delaying the vote on the deal that is doomed to fall tomorrow. So what is her strategy now to get the deal through? Threatening MPs and the country with no deal at all. We have made it clear from the start that we would not accept a blackmail Brexit: the choice of “My deal or no deal.” We will reject her deal tomorrow, confident that Parliament will not allow the country to leave without a deal; that is the clearly expressed view of the majority of Members of Parliament. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made clear, leaving without a deal would be a “terrible” outcome for the UK economy. He compared it with the dark days of the 1980s.
It is not enough to talk about doom merchants or the car industry “bleating”. I say to the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay that the stories about stockpiling medicines were not scare stories run by doom merchants. They were the proposals made by the Government in the preparatory papers that those supporting Brexit had urged them to prepare to ensure the country was ready for no deal. It was the Government who said we needed to stockpile medicines and food, and who said they could not continue to guarantee the power supply in Northern Ireland. That is their assessment of the position in relation to no deal.
We should recognise that the voices warning against no deal do not simply come from partisans within this place. They come from the CBI, the Engineering Employers Federation, the British Chamber of Commerce and the TUC—those who are at the coalface of the consequences if we leave with no deal. I have heard it said in this debate, and it is strongly argued by many, that if we leave without a deal, we should reclaim the £39 billion that we are to hand to the EU. Many of the people who make that argument also argue that we should strike out to secure new trade deals with many other countries around the world. The Chancellor was right to ask what country would sign up to a deal with a country that has demonstrated its ability to renege on agreements properly made in good faith.
I obviously agree with my hon. Friend that we should follow the law; there would not be much purpose to this place if we did not accept that premise. The House of Lords Committee expressed an opinion. There are different opinions. I would probably accept that we do not need to pay all of that £39 billion. There are different views, and the hon. Member for Mansfield differentiated between some of them, but reneging on the entire £39 billion, as some Brexit extremists suggest we should, would put us in contravention of agreements.
Break in Debate
What was interesting about the hon. Gentleman’s speech was that about halfway through it, I realised I had heard it all in a speech he gave before Christmas. It was eloquent and well put, but I have heard all the arguments before.
I am not scared of a second referendum; I am simply trying to focus people’s minds on what it means. It is being proposed not by great exponents of democracy or champions of the people’s voice, but almost exclusively by people who are on the record as saying that the first referendum result was a disaster, that they want to reverse it and that they fully accept that the only way of getting their cherished aim of staying in the EU is with a second referendum. I reject that approach because it tries to subvert the result of the 2016 referendum. We can pretend that it is a wonderful exercise of democracy, but it is not; it is trying to go against the clear and decisive vote of the people in 2016.
The hon. Gentleman says that opinion polls have changed, but they have not changed that much. And as my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) points out, they are the very opinion polls that said the day before the 2016 referendum that remain would win by 10 points, and that got things consistently wrong throughout the whole referendum campaign. I do not believe that the second premise of the argument made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard)—that somehow there has been a marked shift in public opinion—should precipitate a referendum.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue. My understanding is that the Government will not seek to extend article 50. That is the Government’s view, but in the light of what happened last week and the fact that we are hearing stories about a potential motion of the House to overturn Standing Order No. 14, it may well be that the House will take a collective view. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), said something to the effect that the House would not countenance no deal—I may be quoting him loosely. That means that the House would take it upon itself to introduce legislation or a motion to bind or strongly encourage the Government to extend article 50.
I know the Government’s position, but given that last week, extraordinarily to me, the amendment of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was made and was allowed to be made, who knows what will happen? The Prime Minister is quite right to suggest—indeed, it is a statement of fact —that Brexit itself is in danger.
If the House votes down the deal tomorrow, we will have about two and a half months. The House may take it upon itself to stop no deal; I suggest to the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) that enough MPs have said publicly that under no circumstances will they countenance no deal. Those people will not simply sit on their hands watching the sand running down the egg-timer until no deal happens on 29 March. They are bright people, skilled in parliamentary debate and procedure, and they will do all they can to frustrate no deal—they have pretty much said that, and their actions have shown it. I feel that a lot of my Brexiteer colleagues are showing remarkable complacency in thinking that all we have to do is sit and wait for no deal to take place. What I am saying is that nobody knows.
I think that the best, clearest, most elegant and simplest way of delivering Brexit is simply to vote for the deal. The deal is not perfect—no deal is perfect—but it takes us forward to the second stage of negotiations with the EU. It means that we leave the EU, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh East suggested. He is honest: he says he does not want to leave the EU, which is why he will vote against the deal. It is extraordinary for Brexiteer colleagues to say that they want Brexit but will vote down the deal by marching through the Lobby with people whose sole political aim is to frustrate Brexit. Members who advocate Brexit will, metaphorically, link arm in arm with people who want to frustrate the whole project. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) have radically different views on the nature of Brexit, its purpose and its good effects, as she and I see them, but they will probably go through the same Lobby. Frankly, this is a crazy situation.