European Union (Future Relationship) Bill

(2nd reading)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Wednesday 30th December 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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No, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

When my father, who survived serious personal injury during the war, was involved in the first negotiations about joining the European Union, I asked him for his views on the economic impact. He said that, on balance, it did not make much difference. We joined in 1973—two years before I was elected to the House of Commons—but it did not make a big difference to our economy until after 1979, when the change in Britain resulted in us going from being the sick man of Europe to being people who were looked on with respect, with many asking, “How did you do it?” The answer was in part by chance and in part by freedom and a cautious approach to a free market economy, led by Margaret Thatcher, who also led the significant debates to stay in the European Union in 1975. That was one of the best speeches she ever made and it can be read via the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

I was nominated, or vouched for, as a candidate by Sir Robin Turton, a leading anti-marketeer. Margaret Thatcher and I—and, I argue, the country—won the June 1975 by-election after Neil Martin, a leading campaigner against staying in the European Common Market, asked Conservatives to vote for me, even though he and I disagreed, in the same way that Sir Robin Turton and I disagreed when he supported me.

We are often taken down paths we do not expect—the Prime Minister can probably vouch for that himself. I believe that we have to make a success of our present situation, and we have to make sure, as one of my friends kindly said, that we open a new chapter in a vibrant relationship with our continental cousins. We can, some of us, look with affection on the past, with admiration at what has been achieved in this past year, and with confidence to the future.

We ought to stop using this as an argument for Scottish independence. We ought to accept that the Labour party has, in many of its proud traditions, put the national interest before party interest. I say to the Prime Minister, as I said to him in reasonable privacy one day, that we want a leader we can trust and a cause that is just, so will he please lead us in the right direction in future?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab) [V]
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Today is the day on which the Prime Minister promised us that he would get Brexit done, in one of the many sermons and catchphrases that have not illuminated but rather obscured this debate. At the weekend we had a good example of that obscurity—the Prime Minister mentioned it today—with the £660 billion deal that enables us to trade with the European Union with zero tariffs and zero quotas. I am sure that many fairly casual observers get the impression that this is some kind of negotiating triumph that we have wrung from the European Union. The fact is, however, that these are privileges and rights that we already had. The £660 billion is what we have salvaged—it is what we have left from what was a much greater package of rights and freedoms.

I am not knocking it—it is a good thing—but it is important to recognise that it is not a net gain.

That is not all that is obscure and misleading. The Prime Minister spoke today about fishing rights—I think his phrase was that we would be able to catch whatever we like. If we look at this agreement, we see that that is not the case. He said that there were no non-tariff barriers, as well as the tariff agreements on trade, but that is not true either. The agreement makes it clear that there is much more bureaucracy and many more rules and regulations—the very things that the Prime Minister claimed we would be escaping. Littered throughout the agreement are working parties, specialist committees and the partnership council, to negotiate when there are differences.

Even for the stuff that has been agreed, a great deal of bureaucracy and negotiation surrounds it, and there is much that is left out, including the protection of designated products such as Stilton so that quality can be maintained and we can be assured that our producers have their rights in the market—that is all put on one side. It has already been mentioned in the debate that the huge issue of financial services has been left on one side and will have to be addressed in the future. This weekend, a blogger described the provisions in the treaty as “negotiations without end”.

Today, we have a Hobson’s choice: we are for or we accept this deal, or we have no deal. That is why my vote will be cast to accept the passage of this legislation to the statute book. I do not accept that that means we cannot criticise it in future; I certainly intend to do so.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
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In these historic days, as we regain our freedom and independence, I pay a profound tribute to our democracy and to the sovereignty of the mother of Parliaments, but above all to the voters in the referendum and the general election last December and, of course, to our Prime Minister, who, against all the odds, led us out of parliamentary paralysis last year to victory, delivering us from 48 years of subjugation to EU laws and European Court jurisdiction and regaining our sovereignty. Our Prime Minister—a great classicist—is, like his hero Pericles, the first citizen of his country and, like him, has saved our democracy. Like Alexander the Great, Boris has cut the Gordian knot. Churchill and Margaret Thatcher would have been deeply proud of his achievements, and so are we.

This Bill on our future relationship with the EU provides for a new exciting era for our trade with Europe and the rest of the world on sovereign terms—not on those of the EU, as with the Chequers deal. We must pay tribute to David Frost, Oliver Lewis and the Attorney General and her advisers for the successful outcome of the negotiations. There remain challenges on fishing and in relation to Northern Ireland; we must use our new and renewed sovereignty to exercise the political muscle that it gives us to resolve those challenges. We can, and I believe we will.

Regaining our right to govern ourselves is a true turning point in our great history. In peacetime, it compares only with the restoration by Monck in 1660, on the absolute condition of parliamentary consent, then followed by the Hanoverian succession in 1689 and the evolution of our modern parliamentary democracy, which has been the bedrock of our freedom and which enabled us, with the leadership of Churchill, to repel the danger of conquest in May 1940.

In April 1990, I was asked by Margaret Thatcher to lunch at No. 10 with members of the Cabinet. Margaret Thatcher asked me what I felt about Europe. I replied, “Prime Minister, your task is more difficult than Churchill’s. He was faced with bombs and aircraft. You are faced with pieces of paper.” Our Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), has achieved what all those years ago I was told was impossible. I refused to believe that. So did the Maastricht rebels and, last year, the 28 Tory Spartans. That opened the way to where we are today. We have now won back our sovereignty, despite those European pieces of paper, and we in this country owe our Prime Minister our deepest congratulations on his achievement.