Leaving the EU

Paul Scully Excerpts
Monday 14th January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Exiting the European Union
Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con) - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 4:49 p.m.

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.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab) - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 4:50 p.m.

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) said, except his final conclusion that somehow this deal is a way forward. There are a number of reasons why it is not. First, it is not a deal; it is an agreement to have negotiations for a final deal. On Sunday, Neil Warnock, the manager of Cardiff City—I am not used to quoting him on his political stance or on football matters—spoke for probably the majority of the United Kingdom when he said that the Government should get on and implement what the people had decided in the referendum. After two and half years, that should happen, but the Government have not done so. They have come back with an agreement to negotiate that the Prime Minister should be embarrassed about. It leaves control over the end of that negotiation, and over whether Northern Ireland has different laws from the rest of the United Kingdom, subject to a different legislature. That is an outrage. It is an embarrassment to the Prime Minister and a disgrace to the country that anybody, of whichever political party, would bring back a deal like that.

The debate on the petitions ranges all over the place, but it is worth going back to the referendum. The wording of the referendum was unambiguous and unconditional. There was no condition on the ballot paper. It was absolutely clear that if people voted one way they were voting to remain in the EU, and if they voted in the other box they were voting to leave. The Prime Minister has not managed to deliver the result. Since then, we have had a vote to trigger article 50, which passed by a huge majority. In many cases, although not in all, remainers have looked for ways to undermine the decision, even though it was unconditional and unambiguous. A number of statements have been made, which at first sound quite sensible. I hear regularly in the Chamber, and I have heard it said here, that people did not vote to make themselves poorer. I know they did not—it is true—but they did not vote to make themselves richer. They voted to leave the European Union.

The statement that people did not vote to make themselves poorer has two implications. One is that people never vote to make themselves poorer—that it would be absurd even to think that. But a moment’s thought shows that that is absolutely not true. Right hon. and hon. Members in this Chamber regularly stand for election on manifestos that contain tax commitments. Tax commitments are a way of confiscating people’s income and capital resources, and they make people poorer. We all vote for them, and we all stand on manifestos that make people poorer, usually for social and public benefit. I think it is a nonsensical statement. It appears to have credibility—who could disagree with it?—but its objective and purpose are to undermine the democratic decision that was taken by more than 17.4 million people, as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said.

The other implication is that being in the EU always makes us richer and never makes us poorer, and that its decisions always benefit the people of the United Kingdom and the EU. That is demonstrably not true. As a member of the Labour party for many years who opposed the monetarism of the early 1980s, I am astonished that members of the Labour party are so wedded to the EU, which has at the core of its policies the stability and growth pact. The stability and growth pact is, in fact, monetarism; it is Thatcherism internationalised. It is not just abstract thought. It is one of the reasons why youth across the whole of southern Europe have lost the democratic right to determine what happens in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, and why there is a whole generation of young people on the dole. The situation has been created by the macroeconomic policies at the centre of EU policy. The policy does not just affect those people; by deflating the EU economy, it affects our ability to export there.

There are many examples of perverse EU decisions that have led, and will lead, to job losses. Last summer, the European Court of Justice, in line with what the EU Commission had said, ruled that the CRISPR-Cas9 technology, which is about inserting parts of genes into crops, was unlawful. That decision has been widely condemned throughout the scientific community as anti-scientific and as having “a chilling effect” on research and the economy. The rest of the world is happy to get on with it, because this technology, where it exists, leads to a drop of about a third in the use of herbicides and a 20% increase in crops. That decision will damage UK and European science, and related jobs in science and agriculture, and it may lead to less food. It is extraordinary that the CRISPR technology has, in effect, been banned, while new crops created by random genetic mutation—using irradiation, so there is no controlling what happens—are allowed.

I use those examples—one economic one, at the huge end of things, and a specific scientific one—to illustrate the point that it is nonsensical to think that the EU always makes decisions that lead to more jobs, more growth and better science. It simply does not. I believe fundamentally that we would get better regulations if we made them ourselves, for our own industry and science, rather than having them designed to fit across the 27 or 28 countries of the EU.

Another argument that is made for a second referendum, or for not implementing the 2016 referendum, is that people did not understand what they were voting for. As I said, it was a simple proposition, and people did know what they were voting for—to leave the European Union. Having talked during the period of the referendum to people I represent from some of the poorest estates in the country, it is fairly clear to me that they knew exactly what they were voting for. It is an insult to them to say they did not know. The implication is that the educated, cosmopolitan elite are superior, and that their votes should weigh more than the votes of people in poorer parts of the country without degrees and A-levels. I do not believe that, and I guess that if it is stated explicitly, most people in the Chamber do not believe it, but that is at the base of “didn’t understand it”. If people did not understand a simple proposition such as the one about leaving the European Union, how are they going to understand the pre-negotiation agreement, with its 585—or perhaps it is 685—pages of nonsensical legal script? They are not going to. It is ludicrous to pretend that that is easier to understand than the simple proposition.

Also, if we are to ignore the first referendum, what credibility would a second have? What credibility would any future referendum have? Would we have to say, when it was agreed to hold a referendum, “We’ll have a first one, and if it goes the way the establishment would not like, we will make it the best of three”? That is what the proposition for a second referendum is like. We should not proceed with a second referendum. We have had many debates about it here and on the Floor of the House, and we should not have another.

I have one further point to make about the economic impact of the EU. It is assumed not just that the EU is economically beneficial to us, but that stopping the current trading arrangements, under which we are in the EU internal market, would be wholly negative. We are running a huge trade deficit of between £70 billion and £80 billion a year. I think that if the rules are changed we will get a lot of substitution. Jobs will be created here, because any tariffs—and possibly a drop in the pound—would make it cheaper to manufacture here. Why we consider it so economically advantageous to us to be in an internal market where we have a huge trade deficit, I do not know.

It is worth thinking about why the EU had done as it has. We are in complete regulatory alignment with it, and it has a trade surplus with us. We have been paying a lot of money into it. The reason why many of the university exchanges work is, to put it bluntly, that our top universities are better than the EU’s. To take a simple criterion such as the number of Nobel awards, one college at Cambridge has won more Nobel prizes than the top universities in the EU. They need our universities. So what motivates the European Commission to be so unaccommodating in the negotiation? I do not think it is to do with trade. The Commission is prepared to punish EU citizens by coming to what is, from their point of view, a bad deal, given their trade surplus, because it does not want any other states to follow our example. I think that it is partly its non-democratic nature that is responsible for what is happening around the EU—not only economic problems on the southern coast, but the rise of the far right in many countries. It is extraordinary that in my political lifetime there should be a party of the far right in Sweden, and that Sweden—one of the great, long-standing democracies in Europe—should not be able to form a Government. There are other strands to the reasons for the resurgence of the right in Europe, but one is that people can no longer vote for Governments that will do what they want them to, because those factors are determined by the EU.

If it came to a no deal—although frankly it would be better for us to have our cake and eat it, and have a deal beneficial to EU citizens and to us—would it be the end of the world? I agree with the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam that it would not. There would be some short-term disruption, but nothing like the disruption suggested in what the BBC propagates, or in the regular cries of woe heard on the Floor of the House of Commons. However, there is bound to be some disruption. We heard from the sub-prefecture of Calais that there would be no halting of goods there—and why would there be? Why would countries try to make it more difficult for their own industries to export? It has always been a put-up job—the idea that somehow, in support of the European Commission, the French would not want to sell us wine, but would want the people producing wine in Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône valley to be poorer. That is an extraordinary proposition. The same would be true of Spain and other European countries.

Those things are not going to happen, but when anything is changed there will be some short-term disruption. Because we would be making our own laws, in a very short time there would be major benefits. We would also keep most of the £39 billion that the House of Lords EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee said we had no legal obligation to pay. That would probably give a 2% boost to our GDP. Incidentally, I think I would go to Mystic Meg for predictions about the economy before I would go to the Bank of England, which said that the mere vote to leave the EU would lead to half a million job losses after 23 June. How many jobs were lost? More jobs were created. Yet people regularly state on the floor of the House of Commons that we will have an economic disaster, based not only on the Bank of England but on other think tanks and institutions that are using the same failed models, which do not allow for the flexibility and substitution that exist in the market in this country.

In a more general sense, most of our trade is done under World Trade Organisation rules anyway; most of the world trades under World Trade Organisation rules. I am not saying it is better than what we have—it is not—but it is adequate. The car industry has bleated quite a lot, but the imports of parts are not solely from the EU. Some come from other parts of the world economy. The rest of the world is also where most of the growth is. The EU has been one of the slowest-growing parts of the world economy. It is in Asia, the United States and even South America that most of the growth is occurring, so I do not think we have a great deal to be frightened of on those matters.

I have covered a lot of ground, and one could cover more, because the petitions themselves cover a huge amount of ground, from staying to leaving to what the impact will be. The view that I have set out may not be the majority view in my party or in the House of Commons, but it is the majority view in the country, as the 2016 referendum showed. I remind hon. Members of what the Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, said—that the people are sovereign. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said in response, “This is not for Members to decide; it is for you, the public, to decide what happens.” It would be quite wrong for us to stop now.

Sadly, the Government have not come back with a deal after two and a half years, and I will vote against what they have come back with. I agree with the leader of my party that if there is a general election, it may well help to put pressure on the Commission, but one thing we know: if this pretty appalling deal is rejected, the EU is master, or mistress, of the last-minute deal. The EU will suffer more than the UK in absolute terms, although less in percentage terms, if there is no reasonable agreement on 29 March. I do not think tomorrow is the end of the story. I think the Prime Minister should have said at the beginning, “We are not accepting a ridiculous deal like this.” She needs either to go back to the Commission and get a better deal, or to go back to the people; hopefully, the Labour party would then get a mandate to negotiate a better deal.

Break in Debate

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con) - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 5:53 p.m.

I am pleased to respond to the many petitions on the future of Brexit that have been submitted for our consideration. My constituency voted 71% in favour of leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum, and it still supports that decision. In fact, as Parliament has become increasingly chaotic and unable to reach a consensus, I have felt that determination to leave the EU harden among my constituents. Increasingly, correspondence from constituents makes the point that they voted to leave and that, one way or another—with a deal or without—that decision must be respected come 29 March.

My constituents who have signed the petitions have made their views equally clear. Just short of 1,000 people from Mansfield and Warsop signed the petitions in support of a clean Brexit on world trade terms, while only 150 signed the petitions in favour of a second referendum or of stopping Brexit. Nationally, as has been touched on, the biggest petition by far is the one in support of leaving on world trade terms.

Contrary to the narrative we often hear, I would argue that numbers in my constituency have, if anything, shifted more in favour of leave since 2016. Anecdotally, my experience is that those attitudes have certainly hardened. We argue in this place about precisely what “leave” meant on the ballot paper, but it did not have caveats. It said remain or leave, one way or another, not “leave subject to the EU being willing to grant us a deal.”

Parliament voted to have a referendum, and the result was to leave. Parliament voted to trigger article 50 and start the leaving process. Parliament voted for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which set in stone the date of our leaving as 29 March, but which did not specify that we must have a deal to leave, simply that we must leave. That remains the default legal position. It is no surprise that so many have signed petitions to show their strong feeling that that has already been decided, and that the House should respect that.

Politicians should not be debating whether we leave, whether we have another vote, or even whether we should stay in the European Union; the only question on the table is how we leave. There can be no question of going back on the Conservative and Labour parties’ 2017 manifestos, which both promised to leave the European Union and respect the result of the vote.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) mentioned our TV appearance before Christmas. If I remember rightly, he was wearing a very snazzy Christmas jumper. We had a good debate, as we often do, but I struggle with his position and that of those who say no to the deal and to no deal. I wonder, in a scenario in which the European Union is clear that this might be the only deal on the table, what else is left that respects the result.

We have to decide how we leave. The deal that we will be asked to vote for tomorrow is, unfortunately, not good enough. It requires us to be part of the customs union, which would mean we continued to be bound by EU rules and regulations over which we no longer have a say. That is not taking back control; that is worse than being in. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) rightly said, we cannot deliver on a vote for change by sticking as closely as possible to the status quo.

If we cannot come to an agreement on a future arrangement, which seems likely, given how the last two years have gone, we will be tied into a backstop that would make that customs union permanent, and that we could not leave without the European Union’s permission. That customs union arrangement is only for Great Britain; different rules would be in place for Northern Ireland. That puts our Union under threat, allows the Scottish nationalists to further stir the pot and seek yet more referendums until they get the answer they want, and breaks the Prime Minister’s promise to the people of Northern Ireland. The withdrawal agreement that we have been presented with does not fulfil the promises of the Conservative manifesto and is simply not acceptable. That is why so many of my constituents signed the petitions in favour of no deal.

We in this House all know, or can pretty much guess, that the withdrawal agreement will not pass in the House of Commons tomorrow. Some in the media have suggested a losing margin of 200 or more; I suggest that it will perhaps not be as big as that after we have gone through the confusing process of lots of amendments, which are likely to make tomorrow difficult for people out in the real world to follow. In fact, there are scenarios in which even the Government could vote against the withdrawal agreement at the end of the day, if it is amended in a way that they are not happy with. One way or another, however, the most important question is now, and always has been, what happens next. It is not about tomorrow, but plan B.

I want a deal that works, but it seems that none is forthcoming. If that is the case, I agree with my constituents who voted to leave and who expect us to leave. At no point has that been subject to us getting a deal. Although the media and many in this place like to talk about no deal, leaving on world trade terms is not no deal at all—it is hundreds of deals and transitional arrangements, both in co-operation with the EU and independently, that will make sure that we leave as smoothly as possible. Nobody wants chaos, and we will continue to work together to make sure that that does not happen.

Many constituents supported the petition because they have seen through “Project Fear”, and they appreciate the benefits of an independent Britain that will go into the future on world trade terms or with a no deal—whatever we want to call it. World trade terms have several benefits that we should relish, not least the benefit of us being a sovereign nation again, fully in control of our own affairs and able to keep some of that cash.

The withdrawal agreement promises £39 billion for a non-binding wish list of what we might like in a future relationship. I am a firm believer that we should pay our way, and that if we have signed up to projects and if there are things we want to continue to be involved in in the future, we should honour that, but of the £39 billion, only about £18 billion is for such things. Much of the rest is for things such as EU commissioners’ future pensions, which we do not need to contribute to if we are not members. As has been touched on, we have had that leverage in our pocket in the negotiations and we have not used it, and we would give it away if we signed the withdrawal agreement. A significant proportion of the money could be saved and spent on our priorities in the UK.

All hon. Members who have contributed have spoken about the problems and challenges of securing a clean break that would draw a line under the uncertainty when there is no consensus in Parliament, and when everyone has a strongly held view—for all the right reasons—but that is the only way to move on. If everyone knows where we stand and the debate is done, we can focus on the things that genuinely affect the everyday lives of citizens in this country. There is so much that we need to deal with that has been lost in the Brexit melee. The best thing for Britain is to move on.

Leaving on world trade terms would allow us the freedom to make trade deals of our own, in contrast with the withdrawal agreement, which the US, New Zealand and Australia have suggested would make that difficult. The Government are already looking at how to transfer existing deals from the EU, such as with Switzerland, to provide continuity and to ensure that we are trading on better than world trade terms with many advanced economies. In fact, we will never need to trade on world trade terms with Europe either. Article 24 of the World Trade Organisation treaty allows us to continue to trade with Europe on zero tariffs while we negotiate a free trade arrangement.

Leaving on such terms would be a change, of course—change is required whether we have a deal and the withdrawal agreement or not—but the scaremongering about the impact has been ridiculous. People have suggested that there will be queues of lorries trying to get into the UK, which will cause delays to things such as medicines coming into the country. Let us not forget that there have already been occasions when there have been such queues at Dover, because of protests in France or whatever, so we cannot pretend that EU membership has protected us from those challenges. But we should not forget that we, the UK, control who enters our country, and therefore we decide what checks are needed, not Europe. If we do not want to stop goods coming in, we can decide not to stop them coming in.

Both Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs say that no additional checks will be needed; and anyway, most physical checks are made away from the border, at source or at destination. We have the ability and flexibility to make changes, and make things work. The authorities at Calais say that they have every intention of prioritising the continued flow of goods at their port, too.

[Geraint Davies in the Chair]

There is not time in this debate to go through all the details, but I recommend that Members read the many works on the subject by Lord Lilley in particular, which lay out the facts about WTO terms in great detail.

The important point to make is that Brexit is not Armageddon. Last night, I watched “Bird Box” on Netflix with my wife, in which strangers’ voices kind of sweep in on the wind and make people kill themselves. I wondered whether it might be a documentary on the impact of a no-deal Brexit, funded by Lord Adonis, Alastair Campbell or somebody along those lines.

“Bird Box” was not too dissimilar from some of the scare stories that we have heard. We have heard that super-gonorrhoea will come flying in from Europe and take us all; we have heard that babies will die because of milk shortages; and we have heard that cancer patients will die if we are not in Euratom, when Euratom does not even cover medicines at all. The level of scaremongering on this subject has been absolutely unbelievable. In fact, it has got so ridiculous that most people simply do not believe it; they discount it, and it serves only to harden the attitude that we should leave regardless.

Many people have a vested interest in whipping up that fear, but we have to deal with practical realities. We can put in place measures to make leaving with no deal, which in fact requires lots of deals, work for the UK. Preparations for that should have started earlier, absolutely; but now they are well under way.

A second referendum or revoking article 50, which are called for in some of the petitions that we are considering, would be an absolute betrayal of the trust we put in the citizens of this country to decide on this issue, and I will never support those two options.

Operating on WTO terms is not my first position, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) said it was not his. I want a deal that I can support and that is the best option for the UK, but in the absence of a good deal, we still have to leave. If the Prime Minister comes back next week, after the withdrawal agreement has failed, to say that she now intends to pursue a looser free trade relationship with the EU and to try to negotiate something better in all of our interests, then, in the absence of WTO terms, that could be the back-up, but first let us try to find something better; I would absolutely support her in that.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully - Hansard

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the vote is lost and we move closer to WTO terms, or no-deal terms, or whatever people want to call it, we must move from contingency planning, which is really important, to starting to negotiate and sign bilateral agreements—that two-way thing—to alleviate some of the turbulence that we have discussed?

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:02 p.m.

Absolutely, and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right that we need to put in place everything we can to make this process work for the United Kingdom. That means we need to move from talking about things that we might need to do and having those contingency arrangements to getting things signed and sealed on paper, so that we can move forward, one way or the other, in the future.

However, as I say, if the Prime Minister wants to go back to Europe with a stronger hand, having seen exactly how much feeling there is against the nature of this withdrawal agreement in the Houses of Parliament, and give the European Union one last chance to come with something that we can all get behind and support for the benefit of both the UK and the European Union, then I would absolutely support her in that, and I hope that is what she will do next week. But one way or another, we have to leave.

Britain can thrive outside the European Union. No deal is very much better than the bad deal that is on offer, and I feel that increasingly my constituents are absolutely adamant—as is increasingly represented in the correspondence that I receive—that this place must support us leaving on 29 March, one way or the other.

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP) - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:03 p.m.

It is a pleasure, Mr Davies, to serve under your chairpersonship; I think it is for the first time.

Before I get on to the subject of the debate, I will make two points about the manner in which we are discussing it. First, a great many people have taken the time and trouble to read and sign the various petitions, and Parliament has previously said that it is very respectful and supportive of people petitioning this institution; and yet today, to consider a topic that has gripped the country, during what can only be regarded as a political crisis that has no end in sight, only nine Members of Parliament have turned up.

I know why that is so: the main event is still happening only 100 metres away. However, it is not the first time that this has happened. I remember a very similar occasion before Christmas when I was here to respond from the third party to a petition about Brexit while a big Brexit discussion was going on in the main Chamber.

I do not say that to criticise; I am merely making an observation. I say as gently as possible to the Petitions Committee, the Panel of Chairs and the Clerks of the House that we know that this is not a topic that will go away; it will dominate our politics at least throughout the next year. We know that Parliament sits at 2.30 pm on a Monday; we know that after a weekend of not sitting, there are likely to be statements; and we know that any significant event in this process is likely to happen on a Monday afternoon. If, in the months to come, we receive further petitions relating to Brexit, I ask that we do not schedule debates on them on a Monday afternoon—

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully - Hansard

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard - Hansard

I will take an intervention, but I am really trying not to be divisive or critical; I am simply asking the Petitions Committee at least to give consideration to a different schedule.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully - Hansard

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I just wanted to explain that 4.30 pm on a Monday is the slot that is allocated every week, so there is not a lot of scope for flexibility. The Petitions Committee meets in private, but one of the questions that we often ask about Brexit petitions is whether, because we debate the matter so often in the House, we are just duplicating debates. We try to give people a voice as much as we can, but I take his point.

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 6:07 p.m.

I understand that. The same is true of the Backbench Business Committee, which has no control over when it can schedule debates; it has to work within times that are given to it. Nevertheless, I am raising this issue so that the Petitions Committee might consider it and make representations to whoever is in control of the schedule, to point out the problems that we are having. We can make jokes about it, but if this continues I think there will come a point when the public ask, “Are these petitions really being taken seriously enough by Members of Parliament?”

My second point is not a major one, but I am not sure about the efficacy of lumping petitions together in a oner for consideration. I know that it would take more time if we did not do that. However, although the petitions that we are discussing appear to be alternatives to each other, we cannot necessarily test the pros and cons of each by reference to people who have petitioned on a completely different matter. I think we ought not to aggregate such matters. We should not simply make the assumption that anybody who signs a petition about Brexit will be happy and content to have their concerns considered in conjunction with those of anybody else who signs a petition about Brexit, which may come from a completely different perspective.

I will move on to the substance of the debate. I am against Brexit, my party is against Brexit and Scotland voted against Brexit, so I think people know where I stand. I am not into “Project Fear”; I had enough of “Project Fear” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. I do not suggest that the world will end if Brexit goes ahead on 29 March. In fact, I do not even think that it will be that big a historical event, apart from the significance of the date, in terms of what materially happens.

I think that the most horrible thing about this process is that we will enter a process of slow, insidious grinding down of living standards, and with that will come a grinding down of the hope and optimism of the country and a fuelling of many of the sentiments that led to the vote in 2016. My concern is that we are about to commit a degree of national self-harm that we could avoid; it is entirely self-inflicted.

Having said that, all that we can summate from the petitions that we are considering today is that opinion is divided. The big question now: what are we going to do to take this process forward, knowing that the country is divided, knowing that Parliament is divided and knowing that it is very, very difficult to try to chart a course through?

I turn to the question of whether there should be another referendum on the question. I do not think that we should put the same question again, but I do think that there are circumstances in which it is legitimate to go back to the people and consult them further. We cannot do so every day, but in a democracy people have the right to change their minds. Particularly when one decision has created a process and led to things that were not anticipated, people have the right to be consulted again.

Break in Debate

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 7:04 p.m.

I urge the hon. Lady and her Brexiteer colleagues to vote for the deal. I am not speaking as a Government Minister but as a Brexiteer, and my real worry is that Brexit will be abandoned because the Brexiteers are divided.

I am a historian and someone who loves reading about history. There are countless examples of situations where people have won what they were fighting for and then simply fallen out—there have been divisions. That is a very grave danger for Brexit: having won the argument and the referendum in 2016, we see the Brexit side quite fractured. As a Brexiteer, I support the deal. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, as a Brexiteer, supports the deal. Yet there are other Brexiteers here in Westminster Hall, not to mention in the wider House of Commons, who support Brexit but feel that they cannot support the deal. I urge all Brexiteers, and remainers who want to see their manifesto commitments fulfilled—the entire Labour party, according to its manifesto—to vote for the deal in order to move forward. Any other outcome, as a result of voting down the deal, would add to the chaos and confusion, and it would imperil Brexit.

Thank you very much for your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank all hon. Members for their excellent contributions to this very high-quality debate.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully - Hansard
14 Jan 2019, 7:05 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the second half of the debate, Mr Davies. I thank the Minister for his excellent speech, and I thank everybody for their interesting and informative contributions, which have been made in such a constructive, passionate and respectful way. We have had a lot of passion running high around the country and there has been harassment and bullying from both sides. My right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), my hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and others have suffered harassment, bullying and worse. It is possible to engage constructively, passionately and respectfully with people with polar opposite views.

When I was on platforms arguing for Brexit, people said to me, “Well, what does your Brexit look like?” I would say, “Actually, I can tell you what mine looks like, but that precludes you from having any say in it whatsoever if that’s how it’s going to be. We need to debate this and discuss it.” A number of people said, “Well, if only it was like the Common Market rather than the extra bits we have had over the last 20 years.” Ironically, the original Chequers White Paper was closer to the Common Market. It is important to remember that this deal is not even Chequers—a lot of that comes in the second half of the negotiations.

We know that a referendum is unlikely to resolve anything. We cannot agree on the question, the timetable or even how we would approach it in this place, so I cannot see how a referendum would work. Revoking article 50 because people find Brexit too difficult—they put it in the “too difficult” box—is not something that people will live with in this country. The thing that has saddened me in this House over the past couple of years is its paucity of ambition for our country to take what will be good about Brexit, whether that be reclaiming control or future trading arrangements. We know there will be difficulties to get to that place in the next few months, but I am confident and optimistic that we can do that. The Minister was absolutely right to say that there are two sides and one is going to be wrong: it will lose, and what happens will be the diametric opposite of what they want.

I will not be a heroic loser. If I am wrong and have blinked too early, I will be the first to shake hands with my colleagues who have spoken. I want to ensure that we leave the EU in an orderly fashion, and I thank everyone again.

Question put and agreed to.


That the 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.

Sitting adjourned.