There have been 6 exchanges involving Margaret Beckett and the Department for Exiting the European Union
|Mon 1st April 2019||EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)||17 interactions (989 words)|
|Wed 27th March 2019||EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)||5 interactions (949 words)|
|Wed 27th March 2019||EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Votes)||3 interactions (211 words)|
|Mon 25th March 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||9 interactions (690 words)|
|Wed 19th December 2018||Leaving the EU: No Deal||3 interactions (941 words)|
|Tue 31st January 2017||European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill||13 interactions (881 words)|
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will try to be brief.
Of the four motions before us, two relate to substance and two relate to process, and they cannot be easily disaggregated. I have signed motion (E) and motion (G), motion (E) being that of the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). As I have said on many occasions, in view of the circumstances that have arisen, the idea that we can legitimately take the people of this country out of the European Union without consulting them as to whether the deal that we are offering them is one they want seems to me very odd indeed. The reality is that everything we have been talking about this evening, on the two substantive motions in particular, bears almost no relation to what was advanced by those advocating leave in the 2016 referendum campaign.
Equally, this House has said repeatedly that it does not believe in a no-deal Brexit. That is why I support the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry)—because we have to do everything to stop it, given that the evidence is overwhelming that leaving without a deal would be catastrophic. I realise that this is sometimes a very difficult issue. On Friday night, I found myself giving an audience the Government’s own figures on the administrative burden on business of leaving without a deal, which is £13 billion per annum. That may be too high or it might be too low, but it is a reasoned estimate. That group of people, some of whom say they support my party and therefore the Government, were shouting “Liar” at me. This, I am afraid, is the point where reasoned debate has wholly evaporated. The House is very clear that what we have here is a real risk to this country’s integrity in future, and that is why no deal must be prevented.
Let me now turn to the two substantive motions. Looked at straightforwardly, I think that both offer a better destination for this country than what the Prime Minister negotiated. That is first because they address the Northern Ireland issue, and do it a way that covers the integrity of the whole United Kingdom and does not separate Northern Ireland out from it, which seems to me to be an advantage; and secondly, because the concessions they make to our participation or deeper integration with our EU partners even after we have left do not come at a cost that people will notice when we are out. I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that, in reality, the trade deals that we were told we would have, and which were celebrated, are going to be absolutely marginal compared with the effect on our wellbeing now and what we are going to lose.
For those reasons, I look with favour on both motions. They are both, as I said, very far removed from what was being trumpeted in 2016, which unfortunately was an utterly misleading vision that the United Kingdom could have its cake and eat it—could have the benefits of membership and all the freedoms that go with not being a member. That is the basic problem that this House is going to have to grapple with. I will not vote against the two motions of substance, which seem to me to be moving us probably in the right direction.
I am anxious about the risks of our concluding a political declaration and having a very limited timeframe—to 22 May, with probably no extension—to resolve fully the issues within it to the satisfaction of this House. I have a serious concern, first, that that can be done; and secondly, that it can be done to the satisfaction of the public. That is why there is a need for a linkage between the preferred option and consulting the public. I do not want to say any more about that now—I want to sit down and allow others to speak.
However, I do want to emphasise my willingness to work with Members of this House who have promoted both these motions, in my determination to try to bring this sorry saga to an end. But in saying that, I want to emphasise that the House has to be very careful about simply jumping on something that it thinks we can all agree on without thinking through the consequences of the process and making sure that the process ends up satisfying the House itself and the electorate, and leading to the right outcome.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying. Does she agree with me, though, that in order to get that long extension, the EU would need to be satisfied that this House has actually taken forward a view through a substantive, positive vote, and that otherwise—if we do not take that difficult step—we could just crash out with no deal?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. This country has had half a dozen or so referendums in recent years, and we have honoured the outcome of those referendums on each occasion. She is suggesting that we do not honour the outcome of the June 2016 referendum. If we do not honour the outcome of that referendum, are the public not entitled to ask why we should honour the outcome of the referendum that she is advocating or any other?
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I agree with her, but for a confirmatory referendum to take place, there needs to be a viable leave option on the ballot paper versus remain. Does she agree that those campaigning for a second referendum should support the other motions on the Order Paper that present a viable leave option—namely, a customs union and common market 2.0?
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). Like her, I will be voting for motion (E), but I will be doing so for very different reasons, and I wish to explain those reasons in the time I have.
I have been on the wrong side of all the EU votes when it comes to the arithmetic, with the exception of the vote for the Prime Minister to trigger article 50, when I was one of almost 500 MPs who voted for that to occur. Since then, I have voted for the Prime Minister’s deal three times, I have voted for no deal as the fall-back twice and I have voted not to allow an extension of article 50—on each occasion, I have lost. That has brought me to this place.
Motion (E) provides the opportunity to get the Prime Minister’s deal through, as much as it provides the opportunity for those who did not vote for article 50 to be triggered to revoke article 50. I am willing to take my chances and put the matter to the people, because I have given up on Parliament delivering a majority for the deal that I want. I am left with two choices. One is to find myself in meaningful vote 3,029, and the other—I say this as a former transactional lawyer working on a trading floor—is to look ahead and try to find a solution that will deliver what I want, which is to honour the vote in 2016. That is incredibly important to me. I worry about the democratic deficit of that not being delivered.
Of course, people could ask us why we are going back to the people. I say this with a great degree of self-loathing, but I am supporting this purely because Parliament is unable to reach a majority and a decision—we are stuck. Every Member of this House needs to face up to the reality and ask themselves, “How long can this go on? How much uncertainty will we allow business and our constituents to bear before we finally reach the conclusion that we need to find another option?”
I am conscious that 47 Members want to speak, so I will press on. I am sure that we will have a further debate before too many days have passed.
Turning quickly to motion (J) in the name of the Father of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), my concern is that it would open up a role for the courts given that it would be for them to adjudicate on whether the suggestion of a comprehensive UK-wide customs union has been met in our negotiating mandate.
Motion (O) is referred to by some hon. Friends as the Malthouse compromise—Malthouse plan B in this case—and it would involve paying for an implementation period. However, the EU’s clear position is that that proposal would be regarded as the UK reneging on an agreed fair settlement, which it has repeatedly said it is unwilling to accept.
As for the flaws of motion (K) from the Leader of the Opposition, we have been around these houses so many times that we do not dwell on them. Paragraph (a)(iii) refers to “dynamic alignment” but we have already committed to temporary alignment when it comes to implementing EU workers’ rights. Again, the motion also does not address the fact that the Opposition appear to accept the withdrawal agreement but seem reluctant to say so.
In conclusion, the motions before the House represent a range of suboptimal solutions that either do not deliver on the referendum result or do so in a way that would not deliver the benefits of the Prime Minister’s deal. That is why the deal remains the best method to deliver on the biggest vote in our history in a way that protects business and citizens’ rights.
I rise in support of motion (h), which stands in my name. It involves leaving the European Union but rejoining the European Free Trade Association and relying on our existing rights under the treaty establishing the European economic area. It differs from the “Common market 2.0” proposal in a couple of important areas. First, it does not envisage the need for a customs union. Secondly, it does not necessarily require the existing withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister has been putting to this House.
I had a pretty good innings as agriculture Minister. Indeed, three months ago, after a reshuffle in Luxembourg, I became, for a short time, the longest serving agriculture Minister in Europe. In my five and a half years, I attended the AgriFish Council on a monthly basis, discussing all sorts of obscure and technical issues. I saw 10 EU presidencies come and go. Each came in with its list of priorities and each went out lamenting the fact that little had been achieved. I recall one occasion, before Italy was commencing its presidency, when the Italian Minister cast aside the notes his officials had given him and simply said, “We will talk about the usual stuff and probably not get much done.”
I have three observations that my experience has given me that I would like to highlight, because they underpin the approach I have suggested. First, we must recognise that the European Union moves at glacial pace; it is not agile. It makes tiny, incremental changes and takes years to do so; I remember arguing for three or four years about something as simple as changes to organic food labelling. Secondly, the EU does not really follow national democracies; it sees what happens in national democracy as a national issue and a national problem. The European institutions live by their treaties and the letter of the words in them. Finally, decades of EU membership has engendered a particular type of culture among our negotiators and our civil service. I have huge admiration for our civil service but, undoubtedly, a qualified majority voting system is all about trying to get something rather than be willing to walk away from the table. That is why in both the negotiation that David Cameron had and the current negotiation officials would often come back claiming that things are “not negotiable”. Therefore, the simple proposition behind motion (h) is that, rather than wade through the treacle and try to negotiate a bespoke deal from scratch, knowing the nature of European institutions, why not instead use existing treaty rights as our starting point and allow things to evolve from that point?
The UK is a signatory to the treaty that established the European economic area in 1994, and it had that role because at that point the EU had no legal personality. At times, as the Secretary of State repeated today, the Government have adopted a political line to take, claiming that our EEA membership automatically falls away when we leave the European Union. That claim is wrong in law. A year ago, I was in Oslo, and at that time our ambassador to Norway was on standby, having been ordered by the Foreign Office to deliver a letter to give notice under article 127 of the EEA treaty, although in the event the Foreign Office chose not to. In 2017, during a judicial review hearing, Sir James Eadie QC, no less than the counsel representing the Government, made exactly the reverse claim: he claimed that we had not taken the decision to leave the EEA, and in his submission to the court he claimed it is not true that our membership of the EEA automatically falls away with our membership of the European Union.
It is either the case that the Government—advised, I am sure, by Government Law Officers—have been repeatedly wrong at the Dispatch Box, or it is the case that they did not give a true account of their understanding of the law to a court. Having talked to several lawyers who understand these things, my understanding is that we are indeed a signatory to the EEA and that our rights and obligations remain intact. It is simply the case that to make those rights and obligations operable, we have either to be in the EU pillar of that agreement, as we are now, or to switch to the EFTA pillar.
Under international law, both the European Union and the EFTA states are under an obligation to make treaties work and to work with any consequential changes to a treaty that might be required to ensure that it is operable. An application to join EFTA cannot be unreasonably refused. Indeed, in my discussions with both Iceland and Norway, they made it clear that they would not stand in the way of such an option.
The EFTA option is sometimes described as the Norway option, but it has a very British pedigree. Sixty years ago, in 1959, Members in this House debated the establishment of the European Free Trade Association. When there was a cross-party consensus that the political and democratic costs of joining the then European Economic Community were too great, it was this House that forged ahead to build an alliance of countries, including not only Norway but Portugal, Austria, Sweden and others, to form the European Free Trade Association. The idea was supported by both Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson. Would it really be such a bad thing to return to that model, given that we were the godfather of the European Free Trade Association?
In conclusion, the benefits of the approach I have set out are that we can get things done quickly. We can join the EFTA surveillance system within three months and have full EFTA membership within six months. We would have a ready-made free trade agreement. We would be outside the customs union and would have an independent trade policy, and we would have control of our fishing grounds again and an independent agriculture policy. We would become an independent country again.
Yes. It is not for the Chair to adjudicate on the merits of the arguments, and I have not sought to do so. What I did seek to do, which I thought it was proper for the Speaker to do, was facilitate the House by selecting a wide range of motions expressing different points of view and allowing those different, and in some cases contrasting, propositions to be tested. I would just very gently make the observation, again with a view to the intelligibility of our proceedings to a wider audience, that these matters have been debated over a lengthy period. Indeed, since the publication of the withdrawal agreement a little over four months ago I have chaired every single debate—and every minute of every single debate and, I think, exchange—in the Chamber on the matter. It is simply a statement of fact to say that in that period of four months and a bit, the House has not reached a conclusion. So if the right hon. Lady is asking me whether I am utterly astonished that today no agreement has been reached, I confess that I am not utterly astonished that after one day’s debate no agreement has been reached, but that is the factual position.
I will not, because many others want to speak. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
All of us know that many of our constituents are understandably extremely angry that Brexit has so distracted the Government from the serious issues we face—the NHS, education, crime, the reform of social care, housing, the environment and climate change, and all the other great issues that have inevitably had to be neglected as Brexit has gradually sucked the life blood out of the Government. As you very well know, Mr Speaker, the public believe that we have collectively let them down badly, and this is leading inevitably and very seriously to the fraying of the bonds between Parliament and the nation. The national interest clearly dictates that we have to get this done and that we must get on with the vital work of establishing our future relationships with our most important economic partners and allies.
At the beginning of the business of the House every day, the Speaker’s Chaplain reads the prayer that enjoins Members most especially to
“never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind”.
All of us need to pay a little more attention to those wise, profound and humane words, which have guided and succoured this House through thick and thin down the years and in worse days than these. It is now time that Parliament did its duty by the country, for the national interest and for national unity, and regardless of party or inclination, to bring these matters to a belated conclusion.
My right hon. Friend is making a very important speech about the risks of no deal. The Prime Minister said today:
“Unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen.”
However, she has not provided for any process to ensure that those safeguards are in place. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we therefore need her amendment, otherwise there is a danger that we will drift by accident into the kind of chaotic, damaging no deal that both the CBI and the TUC have warned against?
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate and to follow the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). I can tell her now that I shall be voting for her amendment if it is put to the vote at the end of the evening, as I hope it will be. I shall return to that in a moment.
I am the second signatory to amendment (a), and I want briefly to outline my thoughts on its necessity and why it may help the House. I have obviously approached this in a slightly different way from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). As the House will be perfectly well aware, I continue to believe that Brexit is a historic mistake of very great proportions, and I am afraid that at no time since the referendum took place have I felt, despite efforts on my part to do so, that we are moving towards a position where I could ever take the view that the future outside the EU was going to better than remaining in it.
But I certainly voted to trigger article 50. I did it in deference to the result of the referendum and in the full knowledge that we could not even start negotiations unless we did so. Although I have occasionally been characterised as trying to obstruct Brexit, the truth is that, throughout 2017 and 2018, most of the work I did was to try to improve the process because of the concerns I had that it was being shortcut, thereby making mistaken outcomes all the more likely. I think there were only two occasions when I voted on substantive motions about alternatives, but that was because I was rather worried about the extent to which the Government seemed to be self-imposing red lines, and on neither occasion did it come anywhere close to success. I accepted that, and I accepted also that I should reserve my position on what the Government were negotiating and indicated that on a number of occasions in debates.
Where I disagree with or differ from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset is that, when I finally came to look at the Government’s deal as negotiated in December, I thought it was a deal that was going to condemn us to a third-rate future. That is the basis on which I have been unwilling to support it. In saying that, I am entirely mindful of the fact that it has been negotiated in good faith by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I believe that every Member on the Front Bench has exercised as much diligence as possible to get the best possible outcome. Of course, that raises another question. If the outcome secured in December was so unsatisfactory that it was defeated by 220 votes in this House, and defeated because the examination of it from differing directions by Members on both sides of the House found it wanting, that calls into question whether in fact a fundamental error has been made and the entire process has inherent flaws.
A tendency that has crept in ever since the referendum result has been to close down debate on the basis that it is not proper to pursue it, because the referendum result must act as a diktat that prevents such debate from taking place. I have been long enough in this House to have experienced that sort of argument before, sometimes when Governments get very large majorities in general elections. I even remember on one occasion a Member of this House arguing that, because the then Labour Government had such a big majority, there was no real need any more to have the Second Reading debate of Bills, and the matter should be just put through on the nod and we should move on to the detail.
The one thing I am absolutely persuaded of is that we cannot have a working democracy where we close down debates. Democracy is all about the permanent shifting of tectonic plates. It goes on every second of every day, all the time. Just because somebody is defeated on one matter, it does not mean that they have to give up. They can keep going at it—and heaven knows, we have watched Members do just that in this House. In the same way, to argue that the referendum result imposes a permanency that cannot be challenged is, in my judgment, entirely wrong. When I look at the mess into which we have got ourselves, it appears to be at least in part the consequence of pushing that argument and thereby preventing the democratic process from working.
We get criticism that this House is not functioning properly or that democracy is not working. I think that this House has an exceptional capacity to reach sensible outcomes, but, I have to say to my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, it has been consistently prevented from doing its ordinary job by the straitjacket that has been imposed on the extent of what is acceptable to debate.
Break in Debate
We are in danger of rerunning the opening of the debate. Indeed, the shadow Brexit Secretary asked whether the Government would give a binding commitment to respect and adopt whatever was passed, even though the Opposition, who made that request, were not willing to give that commitment. We cannot give a blank cheque when we do not know exactly what those votes will be—I am sure that, when the Father of the House was a Minister, he would have taken the same line.
The real issue is the constitutional significance of amendment (a) because it is unprecedented in its nature. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has already addressed the kernel of the matter, which is whether the Government will make time available this week. Indeed, he set out at the beginning of the debate that, in good faith, we will have discussions with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, Opposition Front Benchers and Members from across the House on how the process should look. Amendment (a) does not set that out in detail, so the Government have undertaken to have that process and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster addressed that in his opening remarks.
On amendment (f), I reassure the right hon. Member for Derby South that the Government will return to the Dispatch Box in the event that the withdrawal agreement is not approved this week. We will also return to the House to consider plans for the week of 5 April after any indicative voting. As the right hon. Lady will know as a senior Member of the House, the decision on whether to enter recess is in the control of the House. Although we do not think it is sensible to try to set the Order Paper now for a date in two weeks’ time without knowing what will happen in the interim, I hope that she is content that the House will certainly have a say on the matter.
As I said, we cannot anticipate the business in two weeks’ time, but we have given a signal from the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government about our position.
Let me turn to amendment (d) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. The shadow Brexit Secretary said that many Members want to break the current deadlock, yet his amendment raises no objection to the withdrawal agreement and, as he well knows, it is the withdrawal agreement, not the political declaration, that needs to be approved to meet the tests that the European Council set for an extension to 22 May. He went on to criticise the Government for not giving a commitment to be bound by any indicative votes, yet, as I pointed out earlier, when the Father of the House challenged the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras on that very issue, he was unable to give such a commitment for Her Majesty’s Opposition to be bound in that way. Indeed, despite many of his own Members pressing for free votes from the Government in respect of those votes, he was again unwilling to give such a commitment on behalf of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition’s amendment notes that the Government’s deal has been defeated, but it is silent on the fact that his own deal has also been rejected by the House.
Regardless of any other votes, if the House does not approve the withdrawal agreement this week, it risks a longer extension, potentially resulting in Brexit being revoked, at odds with the Government’s manifesto. The uncertainty of any longer extension would be bad for business confidence and investments. It would also have lasting implications for our democracy, including our reputation around the world as a country that respects the votes of its citizens.
If this House can find the resolve, we could be out of the European Union in a matter of weeks. This is the ultimate mandate: the one handed to us by the British people; the one that reflects the manifestos that the Labour party, as well as the Conservative party, stood on. The Prime Minister’s deal is the way to deliver what the people voted for in 2016 and 2017. That is why it is right that the Government maintain control of the Order Paper, in line with constitutional convention, and why the amendments this evening should be defeated.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The greatest political movement of the 20th century was undoubtedly the Labour party. It transformed that century; it came from nowhere and literally changed the landscape of this country. Its greatest Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was educated 10 miles from where I live. So I have to ask the Labour party: what on earth is it doing at the moment? What on earth is it doing with the national interest? We have a Prime Minister who is breaking herself, duty bound to get a deal for this country that ensures we leave with a deal, yet the shadow Secretary of State is saying, “No matter what she brings back, the Opposition will reject it, but no deal is not an option.” I know some Labour Members spend a huge amount of time with their constituents, but surely they are hearing their constituents say, “Look, let’s just take what the Prime Minister is bringing back”—[Interruption.] That is what they are saying. They are saying, “Let’s take what the Prime Minister is bringing back and let’s move on as a country.” I tell hon. Members that in January, when the Prime Minister presents her deal at the Dispatch Box, one that she has pursued tirelessly on behalf of this country without rest or break, and the Labour party votes against it and then says that no deal is not good enough, the people of this country will work out who is responsible for where we end up. It will not be Conservative Members; there will be a few on our Benches, but it will be Opposition Members, and they will pay the political price.
I have huge respect for the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), but he cannot camouflage his desire to see a second referendum with promises and pledges that say, “I have six tests that need to be met.” He is possibly the only person who knows what those six tests are—the country has not got a clue. We then have this idea that the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who leads a peripatetic caravan of chaos on the Opposition Benches, could go to the EU and negotiate a better deal. This is the man who, after the poisonings in Salisbury said, “We need to go and have a chat with Putin to find out what his problems are.” It is just not realistic—and the British public know it. The Labour party is playing fast and loose with this country’s future.
I have not spoken in these debates. As Chairman of the Procedure Committee, I have worked tirelessly for a year and a half to ensure that both sides have a fair rub of the green. I was not going to speak today, but then I heard that there was to be another debate under Standing Order No. 24 so that the right hon. and learned Gentleman could say the same thing over and over again, which is, “Whatever deal the Prime Minister brings back, it will not be good enough, but my word—I am not going to tolerate leaving with no deal!” Why can he not be honest and just say, “I want a second referendum”? That is what he wants. He wants a second referendum. He wants to thwart the will of the people for the people. That is what the people’s vote is: “I will thwart the will of the people for the people.” It is an entirely dishonest position.
Opinion polls go up and down—they fluctuate. It will not have escaped the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s attention that my party has had a huge amount of difficulty over the past week, but this week we are four points ahead of Her Majesty’s Opposition. The reason is that the public have worked out that the Opposition are being dishonest with the truth. Members should by all means go through the Division Lobby in January and vote against the deal, but the public will not believe for a minute that it was done in the national interest. It will have been done in self-interest. The Labour party no longer cares about or knows about the national interest, and it is a disgrace. I started my speech by saying that the Labour party was the greatest political movement of the 20th century, but it is now beginning to look like a rabble.
It is a great honour to follow the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett).
We are living in the most serious of times, and I think that that is very clear to all of us. What we are discussing today is of such great import that there should be a reaching out across the Front Benches, as I have said in this place more than once. It is incumbent on the Government to do that and it is also incumbent on the Opposition to do that.
I will largely restrict my remarks to why I believe that no deal should not and must not happen—indeed, I was one of those who signed the letter co-signed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). A no deal would cause such grave disruption to the businesses in my constituency in the west midlands and further afield.
Let us just look at what no deal means. No deal means going on World Trade Organisation terms. These have been lauded in some quarters. I disagree. I have been involved in international trade for most of my working life. Yes, the WTO provides the lowest common denominator for world trade. It provides for nothing more than that. Those who think that a country such as the United Kingdom will thrive on World Trade Organisation terms, which no other major country thinks are anything like sufficient, are deluded. Indeed, no other country of our size has World Trade Organisation membership without several other additional agreements, whether it is with China, the United States or wherever. They all have agreements with their neighbouring countries for a start.
Let us look at what World Trade Organisation means on a day-to-day basis: it means tariffs. We do not have tariffs with the European Union at the moment, but it will mean tariffs. Much more importantly, it will mean the non-tariff barriers that have already been mentioned, whether that is phytosanitary inspections, veterinary inspections and other types of inspections of borders. I, along with colleagues from the Exiting the European Union Committee, have seen what happens at Dover. It is a smooth flow of trucks through the port—one every few seconds. A slight delay, which we have seen for other reasons, causes massive back-ups. This is simply not possible, and that will happen at other ports as well.
World Trade Organisation terms would also mean that we would have to deal with the separation of the quotas that we have as part of the European Union. This will not be easy. For instance, New Zealand has questions about how its quota of lamb to the European Union will be divided between the UK and the EU27. We will not have the benefit of the 40 free trade agreements that cover about 70 different countries, unless they are rolled over. It is going to be difficult enough to roll all those over if we sign the withdrawal agreement; if we do not, it will be next to impossible and I do not believe that we have the capacity or time to do that. And that is just for goods.
For services, World Trade Organisation terms would mean a very basic agreement. Whatever has been said about the failure of the European Union to complete the single market in services, it is nevertheless a much better market for services than WTO rules.
In following the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), I rise proudly on this side of the House, where, I remind him, we are standing by our mandate of “Brexit means Brexit.” I also remind him that once a politician stood on a mandate of “No tuition fees.”
This Bill may be simple, small and perfectly formed, but its significance is way above its size. This Bill is about delivering on democracy and on commitments made by politicians to the electorate. Last June, the country spoke decisively in a democratic vote, in a referendum that had been initiated by a very large majority—more than 10 to one MPs—in this House, and we should all remember that. More people voted to leave the EU than have ever voted for a single political party. That vote cannot be ignored, so I will therefore be voting for this Bill on Second Reading and then supporting the Government in their negotiations to ensure that a good deal is obtained, which works primarily in the interests of the UK, but without damaging the 27 other member states of the EU. We do expect a professional attitude towards those negotiations from the European Union, without the vindictiveness that has come through in some of the statements made by European politicians.
In my commercial life before entering the House, I worked in many countries in Europe. I am fortunate to have represented the UK in European institutions, and I also have strong personal ties with Europe, as many of my family live in Denmark and are Danish, so I am certainly not anti-European. When people say that we are anti-European, I tell them that we are not leaving Europe—we are leaving the European Union. Europe is a fantastic place to call home—it is diverse in culture and language, and its unique history enriches us all—but the EU’s goal of standardisation and a one-size-fits-all Europe has been a source of bewilderment to many of us.
While many countries, including our own, are devolving power away from central Government, the EU is moving in the opposite direction, centralising power in Brussels and imposing bureaucracy from above. The EU has constantly eroded national sovereignty and undermined the nation state. Its key decision makers in the European Commission are unelected and unaccountable, and nobody can say that the single currency has been a success for many of those countries facing such dire economic situations at the moment. It has been clear for some time that the EU needed fundamental reform, but it has become equally clear that it lacks the political will to do this.
So, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), I have been consistent in my views about Europe. When I was first elected to Parliament, the Maastricht treaty was going through this House. I was a member of the Fresh Start group, with many of my colleagues here today, and I have not changed my position in 25 years of serving this country and my constituents. I made no secret of the fact that I supported the campaign to leave the EU, but I knew it was up to individuals to make up their own minds. Now the country has made that choice clear, the Prime Minister has made her intentions clear and we need to get on with it. The choice that some seem to be offering between what they call “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit” is a false one. If soft Brexit means staying in the single market with no controls on our borders and, crucially, the UK being subject to the European Court of Justice, it is not really Brexit at all. Indeed, I believe I recall the remain campaigners arguing during the referendum campaign that sacrificing EU membership but staying in the single market was the “worst of both worlds”.
We are leaving the EU, and that means freeing ourselves of its institutions. But we remain a firm friend and ally of all the European countries with which we have been working over decades to try to maintain peace, prosperity and stability on European soil. Not only do we want to have and will seek an open trading relationship with those countries, but, no matter what the outcome, we will continue to work with them on tackling areas of common interest: terrorism, crime, climate change and environmental protection. This major change in our governance means that Britain can freely reach out to the rest of the world, forging new friendships, building new alliances and expanding into new markets. But, like the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I recognise the disappointment of people who were satisfied with our membership of the EU and wish we were in a different place. I think we have a bright future ahead of us. There is a whole world out there and I want to see a free, open, tolerant self-determining Britain thrive in it. Therefore, I will have no hesitation in going through the Lobby tomorrow in support of the Government and this Bill.
Does the right hon. Lady not remember that the official leave campaign said that one of our main aims is to have many more free trade agreements with the rest of the world and that in order to do that of course we have to leave the single market customs union, because we are not allowed to undertake free trade?
Further to that, does my right hon. Friend recall the International Development Secretary making the case to my constituents of Indian descent, of Bangladeshi descent and of Pakistani descent that leaving the EU would not only lead to future trade deals, but would improve immigration to this country from the Commonwealth? Does my right hon. Friend expect that promise to be delivered?
It is with a heavy heart, and against my long-held belief that the interests of this country are better served by our being a member of the European Union, that I shall support the Bill. In 2015, I promised the good people of Broxtowe that, if I was elected to represent them for another term, and in accordance with my party’s manifesto, I would vote for an in/out referendum on our EU membership, agreeing, in the words of David Cameron, that the people would “settle the matter”. I promised to respect and honour the vote. On 9 June 2015, along with 544 Members of this place, I agreed to that referendum, and in so doing I agreed to be bound by the result.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) was not in favour of that referendum and did not vote for it, so he is, of course, free and able to vote against the Bill. I am sure it is no coincidence that he happens to enjoy a considerably large number of people in his constituency who voted remain, and that he has—quite wrongly, in my view—announced that he will not be standing again in 2020. I say to Opposition Members, though, that you cannot go back on your word because you do not agree with the result.
I believe that history will not be kind to this Parliament, nor, indeed, to the Government I was so proud to serve in. How on earth did we ever come to put to the people an alternative that we then said would make them worse off and less safe and would weaken our nation? I echo the wise words of some of the speech by my new friend, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), when I say that I greatly fear that generations that either did not vote or are yet to come will not thank us for our great folly. Neither will they forgive those who since 23 June have chosen not to be true to their long-held views—those who have remained mute as our country has turned its back on the benefits of the free movement of people, a single market and the customs union, without a debate, far less any vote in this place. Why is that? It needs to be said and recorded that our Government have decided that the so-called control of immigration, which actually means the reduction in immigration—that is what so many people in our constituencies believe—is worth more than the considerable benefits of the single market and the customs union.
What has been even more upsetting is the fact that Members on the Labour Front Bench have connived with the Government. The Government were never going to give us the opportunity to debate these important matters, for reasons that I genuinely understand and, indeed, respect, but for the Labour party to go against everything it has ever believed in is really quite shameful. It is a combination of incompetence on its Front Bench and a deep division among so many, with a few honourable exceptions—among whom I of course include the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). They have turned their backs on their long-standing belief in the free movement of people and failed to make the positive case for immigration.
The referendum vote exposed a deeply divided Britain, and that has been exposed in no place better than in the Labour party. Labour Members have been petrified—literally frozen to the spot—looking over one shoulder and seeing that their constituency Labour parties have been taken over by the extreme left, and beyond that, in many instances, that up to 70% of their own voters voted leave.
What has happened to our country? Businesses have fallen silent, scared to speak up and to speak out. I think they believe it is all going to be fine—that we are not really going to leave the EU, we will not really leave the single market and we will not really leave the customs union. They are going to get a sharp shock.
Break in Debate
Indeed. I believe in free speech, but it is in the national interest that we share our worst doubts privately and make a strong presentation to our former partners in the European Union. I believe that business now wants us to do that. The message from business now is, “Get on with it!” It accepts the verdict.
That is not a sensible analogy. We know that the main claims were wrong because we were told that there would be a recession this winter—that the economy would plunge immediately off a cliff. Instead, we were the fastest-growing economy in the G7 throughout last year, and stronger at the end than we had been in the middle.
This is the once and future sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom. The thing that most motivated all those voters for leave was that they wanted the sovereignty of this Parliament to be restored. That is what the Bill allows us to do by our exiting the European Union, and then making our own decisions about our laws, our money and our borders. As one who has had to live for many years with an answer from the British people on the European Union that I did not like, I was increasingly faced with an invidious choice. Did I support the position of Government and Opposition Front Benches, which agreed that every European law and decision had to go through because it was our duty to put them through? Alternatively, should I be a serial rebel, complaining about the EU weather which we had no power to change?
I had reached the point where if the country had voted remain, I would have respected that judgment and not sought re-election at the next general election. I would have seen no point in this puppet Parliament—this Parliament that is full of views, airs and graces, but cannot change laws or taxes, or spend money in the way the British people want. That is the liberty that we regained. This Parliament is going to be made great by the people. It is going to be made great despite itself.