Leaving the EU DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Paul ScullyMain Page: Paul Scully (Conservative) - Sutton and Cheam)
Department Debates - View all Paul Scully's debates with the Department for Exiting the European Union
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
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.
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.
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—
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.
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
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.