Leaving the EU Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office
Monday 5th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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I wanted to take part in this debate not because I am trying to stop democracy in its tracks or because, as a brand-new Member of Parliament, I have not had the two or three years of debating Brexit and am desperate to have my fair share, but because my consistency of Twickenham appeared in the top 10 constituencies for all three of these petitions. I know from the result of the referendum, in which 67% of my residents voted to remain, and the humbling and overwhelming result in my favour in the general election, which was largely fought on Brexit, when the good people of Twickenham, Teddington, Whitton, St Margarets and the Hamptons put their faith in me, that the majority of my residents are pro-European and they want me to give them a voice. That is what I am here to do.

It is fair to say that, like me, many are heartbroken that we have left the European Union. They genuinely felt that for economic as well as social and emotional reasons that the UK should remain in the European Union. Many of my constituents are, like me, outward-looking and internationalist in perspective, and have enjoyed the freedoms of being able to live and work in the European Union and fall in love without borders, and simply wished the same opportunities for their children.

Of course I accept, with a heavy heart, that we have now left the European Union—I do not deny that the electorate spoke very clearly in December—but I still fundamentally believe that no deal that could be negotiated could be as beneficial as continued membership of the European Union. I am deeply worried about the long-lasting damage that Brexit will cause to this country’s economy and standing in the world.

The petitions refer to covid, and in particular I want to speak about the third, on extending the transition period. I and my party have vociferously called for that not because we do not accept the result and we want to delay it ad infinitum, but because businesses and business organisations—we are talking about not the Council of Europe, but people who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat in the middle of a pandemic, when jobs are being lost hand over fist—have said time and again that, if we were to end up in a no-deal situation at the end of the transition period, it would be impossible for them to put in place all the infrastructure they need for their supply chains.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton
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Businesses in my constituency say to me that it is the uncertainty of delay after delay that is causing the most damage to our economy and businesses. Does the hon. Lady agree that a further delay from extending the transition period would only prolong that?

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson
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There are two types of uncertainty. Crashing out without a deal at the end of the transition period is complete uncertainty, in terms of the unknown. Although there may be some uncertainty from extending the transition period, at least businesses are able to continue to trade easily. One of the issues that I want to touch on is medicines, about which the industry has spoken out very clearly in the past week or so.

The Government’s choosing to pass the deadline for extending the transition period, as we hurtle towards a potential no deal, was reckless and a monumental act of self-harm for this country. I want briefly to touch on three points. First, on the rights of EU citizens and naturalisation, I am concerned, given that we have already seen some rolling back from commitments in the withdrawal agreement, that the rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK are at risk. In my borough of Richmond upon Thames, we have 14,500 EU nationals who are applying for pre-settled or settled status under the EU citizenship scheme. Back in May, the Home Office snuck out some guidance that made it harder for those with settled status to secure British citizenship. That has thrown several individuals’ futures into the air and, unfortunately, despite my letter on the topic to the Home Secretary on 29 May, I have yet to receive a response.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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Are we not talking here about the human cost of Brexit? We are talking about uncertainties, but it is important to look not just at business uncertainties but human people’s uncertainties, and the cruel situations that some of them find themselves in.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson
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Absolutely. The business situation is also a human situation, because we are talking about the loss of jobs and livelihoods.

I want briefly to touch on agriculture and food standards, because my inbox has been overflowing with emails about this issue and the many concerns of constituents about the potential for undermining those standards as we enter into trade deals. The Liberal Democrats and others have consistently tried to amend the Agriculture Bill on its passage through Parliament to protect our standards, but the Government have refused to acquiesce on the point. In the case of the Trade Bill, they are refusing any democratic or parliamentary scrutiny. I am not sure how that is taking back control.

In the final area I want to touch on, I must declare an interest. Prior to coming to this place, I worked for nine years in the pharmaceutical industry and I still have a small shareholding in Novartis Pharmaceuticals. On medicines and health in general, it is clear that there is no oven-ready deal as promised back in December. In the midst of a pandemic, people are rightly worried about their health and several constituents have written to me about their concerns about the UK leaving the European Medicines Agency at the end of this year and what that might mean for the licensing of a covid vaccine or treatment. They are also concerned about us leaving the EHIC––European health insurance card––scheme that means that we can get treatment abroad and European citizens can get treatment here. The point about medicines and vaccines regulation applies equally to non-covid treatments.

Before anyone intervenes, I appreciate that the Health Secretary has made an announcement today about the UK collaborating with the US, Canada and other regulatory agencies on cancer medicines. That is welcome and I congratulate the Government on that, but we must remember that the UK is only 3% of the global pharmaceutical market, so if we go our own way on medicines, British citizens will be further back in the queue for new medicines and treatments. Let us not forget that. The deal announced today is only for cancer treatments and there are many other disease areas where British citizens risk being left behind and missing out on innovative treatments.

More pressing is the concern raised by European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry last week. With a supply chain already hit by the challenges of covid during the pandemic, they are very concerned that if we end up with no deal at the end of December, there could be real supply chain issues with medicines crossing the Channel. They have called for an urgent mutual recognition agreement to ensure that important tests and inspections are recognised either side of the Channel.

There is still a lack of clarity about how the Northern Ireland protocol will work in terms of regulated products such as medicines if no trade deal is in place and how medicines shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be treated on the other side of the border. While the deadline for securing an extension to the transition period has passed––though where there is a will, there is a way, so if there were a last minute change of heart, I am sure that the European Union would be all ears––it is imperative that in the short time remaining we secure the closest possible alignment with the EU in terms of customs, of regulations on medicines and other regulated products and of our food and agricultural standards. And let us not forget people––how we treat our EU citizens and how our citizens are treated in the EU.