European Economic Area: UK Membership: 6th November 2017

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir William Cash
I will certainly give way to—the hon. Lady?

Anna Soubry
I am surprised there was a question mark after that bit.
 
Sir William Cash
Right hon., then.

Anna Soubry
Don’t worry about the right hon. bit.

I put these words to my hon. Friend:

“the great advantage of the EFTA model is that it is completely independent of the EU yet follows the decisions of the European Court of Justice for the most part, although not always—that is important. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) noticed that, because not many people have.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1059.]

I just wondered, because those are his very words, as recorded in Hansard.
 
Sir William Cash
Indeed, and I entirely accept that that is what the position was at that point in time. The argument has moved on, and the reality is that the mandate from the British people is clear. This House passed the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 by 499 to 110, or thereabouts, and furthermore the Second Reading of the repeal Bill was passed by a majority, and therefore we will repeal the European Communities Act 1972—that is the will of the House, and that is what I stand on. The reality is that the proposal to put us into the EEA is effectively contrary to the mandate from the British people.

Anna Soubry
I gently remind my hon. Friend that he spoke those words in July 2017, long after the referendum. He said them only a few months ago.

Sir William Cash
The short answer is that we have a mandate. It has been made absolutely clear, and the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act has been passed by this House. The repeal Bill has yet to ​be passed, but the decision on Second Reading has made the House’s position absolutely clear to the British people. We are repealing the European Communities Act and withdrawing from the European Union. That is the position, that is the mandate and that is what I stand on.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes). I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on securing this debate. I was pleased to ​support him, when, along with the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), we went to the Backbench Business Committee to seek this debate. We are grateful that, finally, we have a debate on one of the most important matters that faces this Parliament, and indeed faced the previous Parliament.

I am in an interesting position in that, when I stood again in Broxtowe on 8 June, I made it very clear on every piece of literature and in the emails that I sent out to my constituents that I would continue to make the case and support the single market and the customs union and stand up and advance the positive benefits of immigration. Therefore, unlike many others, I actually have a mandate—some would say a duty—to make sure that I put forward, in the strongest possible terms, the undoubted benefits of the single market. I very much support this motion.

May I quote—these are not my words—from a speech? The task of hon. and right hon. Members is to guess the date.

“The task of government is two-fold: —to negotiate in Brussels so as to get the possible results for Britain; —and then to make you the business community aware of the opportunities, so that you can make the most of them. It’s your job, the job of business, to gear yourselves up to take the opportunities which a single market of nearly 320 million people will offer…what a prospect that is.”

Can Members guess the year? It is 1988. What about the place? It is Lancaster House. From whom did those wise words come? It was none other than the right hon. former Member and Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. She was one of the strongest proponents of the single market. Why? Because she knew of the huge and wondrous benefits that it would bring to the economy and therefore to the people of this country. I am old enough to remember when this country was rightly described as “the sick man of Europe”, and we were. When we joined the European Union, embraced the single market and led it by the fine words and actions of Margaret Thatcher, we then rose to become the fifth largest economy in the world. Our membership of the single market and the customs union and our understanding of the positive benefits of immigration have made our country the great economy that it almost is today.

Sir William Cash
Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that, as time progressed, the right hon. Lady to whom she has referred also said that she thought that we had made a mistake in joining the single market and repudiated it, because she felt that she had been misled?
 
Anna Soubry
I must accept my hon. Friend’s words, as I am not aware of that quote. If he were to ask me what Margaret Thatcher would have said about the bureaucracy of the European Union and the fact that we should not join the euro, I am sure that we would all be in agreement, but goodness me, by making our decision in June 2016, have we not thrown away the baby with the bathwater?

I agree with all those who have spoken before me, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), who made a powerful speech about the benefits of the single market and the realities of Brexit. He also made many important points about immigration. ​We do control immigration in this country. We control it with this thing called the market, because people only come here to work. Now, there is a very easy way for us to control immigration; we can trash the economy and then people will not come here because there will be no jobs. The idea that there is a small army of people who are out of work, sitting at home and begging to be working in the fields of—dare I say?—Lincolnshire or in one of the great food-processing factories in my constituency is a complete and total myth.

We have the highest rate of employment since the ’70s; there is almost full employment in huge parts of the country. Where do we find the highest employment rates? They are in the areas with the highest rates of migrant workers. And where do we find the lowest levels of immigration? In the areas with the highest rates of unemployment. Let us nail that one because, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk rightly said, that was another con played on the British people. They will see that all the EU regulations about which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) complains are about to be taken into British law, that they will not get their £350 million for the NHS and that immigration will not go down.

People are fed up with Brexit. I think they want us to get on with it. Well, there is a model. It is sitting on the shelf and it will do the job: it is the EEA and it might also be EFTA. It will solve the problem and stop the negotiations so that we can get on, get out, get a deal and give certainty to British businesses. Then this Government can get on with the domestic agenda, as we need them to do.

Anna Soubry
rose—

Sir Edward Leigh
Well, I have to be polite to my right hon. Friend.

Anna Soubry
I am extremely grateful. May I be clear about the wise words from my hon. Friend? Setting aside the withdrawal Bill—he makes a good point about the Bill, and I think we all agree on it—if there were some other mechanism by which it was guaranteed that this place had a say on our membership of the EEA, is he saying we should have a vote? We could take it away from the withdrawal Bill and put it somewhere else, but is he saying that this place should make that decision?

Sir Edward Leigh
In fairness, I think it will be virtually impossible to avoid such a vote. If the Opposition—once their position becomes clear, and it is not—want to have a vote, I am not sure it would be possible for the Government to avoid such a vote. However, I go back to my very first remarks: as I understand it, we will be voting on the deal, and if the Government are defeated, we will go back to article 50 and exit without a deal.

Jim Shannon
I am a “glass half full” person. I look on the bright side of life, because that is what we should do. Some people have a “glass half empty” outlook, and they look at everything negatively, but I do not look at things in that way. I am positive about what we are doing, the way forward and the ability of our ministerial team to achieve what we want. We have to agree to differ about how some things will come together, and that is part of life.
 
Anna Soubry
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is my friend, for giving way. Is he not extremely worried—even though he is a great optimist, as we have heard—about the real possibility of not getting a deal, especially in relation to customs? Northern Ireland needs a proper deal on customs, and there is every chance that we will not get it. That eventuality would be a really serious problem for Northern Ireland.

Jim Shannon
I thank the right hon. Lady—she is also my friend—for her intervention. I think we share the same wish to get a successful deal, although, with great respect, I do not share her fears about it. I am keen to get a deal.