European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 17th January 2018

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
As ever, my right hon. and learned Friend is making an exceptionally important speech and doing so eloquently. As he will know, a group from the all-party group on EU relations has just been over to Brussels, where we spoke to a number of people. Many of those conversations will remain between us, as we agreed. Does he agree that it could well be argued that the Government made a mistake in rushing into saying no to the customs union and to the single market without fully understanding the implications, not just for our economy, but in terms of how this has meant that a range of options has now been taken off the table by the UK Government, when the EU has made it very clear that all options remain on the table as far as it is concerned?

Mr Clarke
My right hon. Friend and I have many friends in common. I am delighted that she went over to see Michel Barnier and others, whom I saw in slightly different company shortly before. I agree entirely with what she says, and I would add that the people she was meeting, people like Michel Barnier, are not Anglophobes. They are not just seeking to strike points off the UK. Every person of any common sense on either side of the channel knows that the minimum of disruption to trade between our countries is, for the reasons I was arguing with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) a little time ago, of mutual benefit to those countries. They are looking to negotiate a serious, grown-up agreement that preserves, so far as is possible, the benefits of our present arrangement.

It will be extremely difficult. There is no getting away from the fact that the 27 countries will all have to be in agreement with whatever the eventual deal is and will all submit to their Parliaments a vote to approve that deal, and it is going to be very difficult to get them to agree. They will not surrender the basic tenets of the EU in order to leave us all the benefits of the single market without any of the obligations. Not only will they not agree that the British taxpayer should stop paying a penny towards the costs of market access so that the taxpayers of Germany, the Netherlands and other rich countries pay more to make up for our refusal to pay our share, but they will not let us get out of all the political implications of membership of the EU simply to have solely the trading benefits.

We saw this recently with the members of the European economic area and their perfectly comfortable arrangement. The Norwegians had to go into the EEA because they had negotiated a perfectly sensible arrangement to become full members of the EU—I had many happy discussions with my then opposite number, the Norwegian Finance Minister, who was looking forward to joining the EU—but then held a referendum. They got into the same mess that we have got into, so they put quite a good alternative together, which I still find quite attractive.

The fact is that what we get will be unsatisfactory compared with complete membership of the single market and customs union. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), I do not think that anybody realised at the time quite what was involved in respect of what seemed a speech likely to be valuable politically in getting good write-ups in the right-wing press. We are now trying to get out of that and to slip back a little to get a more sensible arrangement. The House needs to know what expert advice the Government ​have on the implications of any deal, and new clause 17 provides a mechanism by which we can legally oblige the Government to produce it.

Anna Soubry
I know my hon. Friend loves his part of our great country, but has he asked businesses throughout Cornwall, if they were given a choice of staying in the single market and the customs union or of leaving one or both, what they would choose? That would be helpful in determining the best sort of Brexit to benefit all his constituents.

Derek Thomas
I think I welcome that intervention. I hear what my right hon. Friend says, and it is true that, despite all the money and business support that Cornwall has received, it voted in favour of leaving the EU. What people in my constituency and across Cornwall want is us to get on with the job—to get the Bill through and then set out clearly how we intend to trade in the future.

We are asking for a level playing field, where that is possible. I welcome the creation of the shared prosperity fund, and although I do not support new clause 2, I seek an assurance from the Government that areas such as Cornwall and Scilly will enjoy special recognition, as we do now because of the challenges we face, which include deprivation and severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps.

Anna Soubry
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) will go down in the history books as one of the great parliamentarians, as he has shown great courage and leadership in making what he rightly described a monstrosity certainly more palatable. That is why I and no doubt many others will now vote for this Bill on Third Reading. It delivers what it sets out to do, which is this transposing of law, and that is right, but it is by no means perfect and we have yet to discuss the big issues that divide our nation.