European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 13th June 2018

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
rose—

Keir Starmer
I will give way—

Mr Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con)
Give way!

Keir Starmer
I have already given way, so I cannot be accused of not giving way.

Anna Soubry
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. We need to be very clear about this. Something may have happened, but I heard ​the Prime Minister saying very clearly from the Dispatch Box that an amendment would be forthcoming, that it would largely incorporate much of the amendment that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) tabled yesterday, that discussions and negotiations are continuing, that that amendment will be tabled in the Lords in due course and that the job will be done on a meaningful vote involved for this House.

Keir Starmer
I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen whatever news is coming out, but having observed the proceedings yesterday and the various interventions, it seems to me that what the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was saying was very clear for us all to hear. He spoke about the specific paragraphs that were of huge importance, and we heard about what the proposed amendment in the Lords would contain. Obviously, we will have to wait and see what the wording is, but, from my point of view, as someone who was observing it, I thought that it was pretty clear what was being said from the Front Bench about what was likely to happen in the course of next week.

Anna Soubry
As ever, my hon. and learned Friend is quite outstanding at the Dispatch Box, but I have to ask him this: what is the Government’s solution to ensuring that we have frictionless trade? What is the Government’s policy to deliver it?

The Solicitor General
As my very old and good friend knows, the Government have indeed—[Laughter.]
 
Mr Speaker
There is no need for a commotion. The Solicitor General is usually extremely felicitous of phrase. I think the word for which he was unsuccessfully groping was “long-standing”.

The Solicitor General
I ask that the record be corrected.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the White Paper published some months ago sets out the options the British Government have been looking at. Option 1 is the proposed new customs partnership, and option 2 is the streamlined customs arrangement. Currently, two ministerial groups are taking forward work on those models. We accept that the precise form of any new customs arrangements will of course have to be the subject of negotiation.

Caroline Flint
Since the referendum, the debate has often been polarised in this place and outside it between hard-line Brexiteers who feel that we can walk away without a deal and walk off a cliff edge, and hard-line remainers who do not accept the result of the referendum and want to find whatever way possible to stay in the EU. That is why I am not supporting Lords amendment 51. The essential choice for Parliament is whether we accept the outcome of the referendum and the article 50 process and agree that the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019, or whether we seek to subvert that process. Perhaps the Norway option—the European economic area—suits that purpose.

The EEA agreement helped three small countries that could not persuade their people to adopt EU membership and that accepted having no say in return ​for single market membership. They accepted the role of rule takers, not rule makers, with second-class membership of the European Union. Much has been said about Michel Barnier saying this morning that he will give us membership of the EEA plus the customs union. Of course he would—he would bite off the Prime Minister’s hand for that deal, because apart from leaving without any deal, it is the worst deal for the United Kingdom.

Anna Soubry
Shame!

Caroline Flint
The right hon. Lady says, “Shame!” I am afraid to say that it is that sort of contribution to this debate that is so unhelpful and divisive, because we have to reach consensus on the way ahead. I believe that we have to be as close as possible to the single market and that there should be a customs arrangement. Importantly, however, I recognise that there is an issue of immigration, which has been overlooked for at least 15 years, since we first let in the A8 countries. I am afraid that the right hon. Lady she does not reflect that on behalf of her constituents.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
May I say to my right hon. Friend that, although she and I may disagree, she is making an excellent speech? She is right about the tone of this debate: it must be done properly.

Caroline Flint
I thank my hon. Friend. There will be a point, when we leave the European Union, at which Opposition Members will have to work out what our policies are for the challenges ahead for our country, and I know that on those areas we will come together.

There is no precedent for a country the size of the UK leaving the European Union. It is new ground and demands a new relationship, but that should not be a replication of Norway’s. The terms of EEA membership clearly do not allow the sort of changes to freedom of movement that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have suggested. The only provision affecting migration is the Liechtenstein solution, which is a temporary brake on immigration in the event of an economic crisis. That was a provision for a country with a population half the size of that of my constituency of Don Valley. This is not an adequate response to the public concern about the lack of control the UK has had over EU migration since 2004.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) that many people from the black and minority ethnic community voted leave and are also concerned about free movement. To move forward, we cannot just cobble together ideas as in the EEA amendment. There has to be an end to freedom of movement, just as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has suggested, and after that we can decide what sort of migration we want in the future.

Those of my constituents who voted leave have been insulted, day in and day out, by comments made in the place and outside. They are not against all migration, but they want a sense that we can turn the tap on and off when we choose to do so. They also want us to answer the questions: “Why hasn’t Britain got the workforce it needs, why has social mobility stopped, why do we ​train fewer doctors than Holland or Ireland, and why are these jobs dominated by those in the middle and upper classes so we don’t get a look in?”

I will be voting for the Labour amendment, because although it is not perfect, it seeks to delete the EEA option; and if that is lost, I will vote against Lords amendment 51. I urge the House to reject that amendment and to begin to face up to the policy challenges of life after Brexit.
 
Anna Soubry
I am sorry, Mr Speaker, because I know it is a courtesy to say so, but it is not a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). I have admired her for many years, but I found that one of the saddest speeches I have ever heard. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker
Order. I appeal to colleagues. I understand there are raging passions on these issues, but please let us try to treat each other with respect. Other Members are right hon. and hon. Members who happen to hold opinions that differ.

Anna Soubry
As you will remember, Mr Speaker, I said how much I respect the right hon. Lady for so much of her work, but on this I profoundly disagree with her.

I will be voting for the very good amendment—Lords amendment 51—written and beautifully advocated by the noble Lord Kerr. I urge hon. Members to read it, because I agree with everything it says about the value of a customs union. In due course, the Bill about a customs arrangement will come back to the House. I ask British businesses to write to their local MP to explain why it is so important, just as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) said that one of his businesses had explained to him in good, simple, plain terms why having a customs arrangement is so important to his constituents, their jobs and the future of their children and grandchildren.

I will be voting for the EEA amendment because, as I have said many times in this place, I believe in the value of the single market. I say to the right hon. Member for Don Valley that I am appalled that she, as a member of the Labour party, has stood up and shown that she does not understand and appreciate the considerable value that immigrants have brought to our country. These are human beings—[Interruption.] I will take an intervention when I want—I am not afraid of a debate, and I will take one now.

Caroline Flint
I would urge the right hon. Lady to look at the record in Hansard. I made it very clear that I am not against all immigration, and I also said very clearly that nor are my constituents, but they want to feel that we have better systems in place and that immigration is fair and managed, and that is something they have not felt for a long time.

Anna Soubry
The right hon. Lady represents an area of the country that I know quite well; I am from north Nottinghamshire—from Worksop—and I also represent the constituency of Broxtowe. It is often quite peculiarly unique, and perhaps a little bizarre, that those who complain most about immigration are in areas where there is actually very little of it. That is the point: it is ​about the fear of the stranger—the fear of the unknown—and we have a duty as Members of Parliament to make the positive case in our constituencies for immigration and to have these debates with our constituents.

It is true, and I agree, that in some parts of our country a large number of people have come in, but these are invariably Polish people, Latvians and Lithuanians who do the work that, in reality, our own constituents will not do. It is a myth that there is an army of people sitting at home desperately wanting to do jobs. The truth of the matter is that we have full employment, and we do control immigration. How do we control it? It is called the market. Overwhelmingly, people come here to work. When we do not have the jobs, they simply do not come.

Now, it is right, and I agree—this is a sad legacy of previous Labour Governments—that there has not been the investment in skills that this Government are now making, and they have a proud record on apprenticeships, by way of example. However, I say to the right hon. Lady that she must speak to the businesses in her constituency, and she must ask them, “Who are these people? Where have they come from? Why have you not employed locally?” I have done that with the businesses in my constituency, and some have told me that they have probably broken the law. They have gone out deliberately and absolutely clearly to recruit local people, and they have found that, with very few exceptions, they have been unable to fill the vacancies. They take grave exception to anybody who says that they undercut in their wages or do not offer people great opportunities. It is a myth, as I say, that there are armies of people wanting to work who cannot work because of immigration.

The huge danger of the argument being advanced by some Opposition Members, as the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) said, is that people play into a narrative that, instead of looking at other factors in life, turns to the stranger and—history tells us the danger of doing this—blames the foreigner, the unknown and the person with a different coloured skin or a different accent, when there are actually other reasons for the discomforts and the problems people have in their lives.

I say to Opposition Members that they should be proud of their fine tradition. What they should be doing is making the case for immigration and then saying this: “Suck it up!” No alternative has been advanced in this place other than the customs union and the single market. Let’s grab it—let’s do it and move on.