European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 20th December 2017

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
During last Wednesday’s debate, I specifically asked whether the Bill was first drafted before the June general election. My view—I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend shares it—is that this Bill was all about delivering a quick and hard Brexit, and the reason for these extraordinary powers is that they were needed by Ministers to execute that process in quite a short period of time. Does he think that there is any merit in that?

Mr Grieve
I think I might be a little kinder to my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, because it seems to me that at the time the Bill came into being, the Government still thought that it was all that was required to take us out of the EU. I think that that is where its genesis and origin lie. In actual fact, one of the supreme ironies is that for all the heat that has been generated—we have carried out some proper scrutiny as well, but certainly, last Wednesday, there was a lot of heat—much of what we are doing here might well turn out in practice to be completely academic. In fairness to the Government, once they were landed with this immense problem, I am not sure that they were wrong to proceed in this way, but it just so happens that that is where we are going to ​end up. However, that is not a reason why we should not pay attention to the powers that the Government are seeking to take—we do have to pay attention to them.

Anna Soubry
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my view that most people in this country do not understand the huge benefits of the customs union? Of course, a huge swathe of people have never had any experience of stuff being stopped in customs. I certainly remember those days because of my age. Has it been his experience that British businesses are in many ways even more concerned about the movement of goods and tariffs and not being in the customs union than the actual imposition of the tariffs themselves? Companies such as Rolls-Royce in neighbouring Derby hugely benefit from these large supply chains and they are really worried about our leaving the customs union.
 
Mr Leslie
The right hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) are right to focus on supply chains. The tariff could be a problem. Who knows what that would be—3%, 4% or 5%—if we fell back on the World Trade Organisation? Think of the disruption to business planning. A lot of firms would almost need to have an insurance policy at their disposal for the warehousing just to cope with the flows. We could be on the brink of many manufacturers fundamentally having to move away from the just-in-time business models that they have developed; it is almost like “RIP JIT” in this circumstance. We could almost ​see a whole new business model—we could be stepping back into the 20th century and earlier—if we get this wrong.

Anna Soubry
rose—

Mr Leslie
I may give way, because we have been talking about the USA, and some people have speculated about a trade deal with India.

Anna Soubry
Yes, on that point.

Mr Leslie
I give way to the right hon. Lady.

Anna Soubry
Given the hon. Gentleman’s experience, has he, like me, talked to people about the detail of the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement, as well as about what the Australians and the Indians—and many other countries that are apparently queuing up to do these great trade deals with us—want? At the core of any free trade agreement with such countries will be an absolute requirement for their people to be able to come to our country quite freely, as they can with the accelerated migration policy under CETA. Under that free trade deal, the Canadian people have the ability to come into parts of the European Union. It is a myth to think that this is about trade, because a huge part of it is about immigration.

Mr Leslie
Absolutely. The right hon. Lady has taken the words out of my mouth. I would love to see the Government’s draft free trade agreement with India. I hope that there are fantastic manufactured goods or widgets that the British want to sell and could sell to ​India, but I suspect that the Indian economy is quite adept at producing widgets of its own and probably at quite a low cost. If the Indians are going to buy anything from us, they will buy services—services are about people; they are people-to-people businesses—and the Indians will naturally say, “Well, we’ll do you a deal, but it has to involve the movement of people.” All hon. Members will need to think about the downstream consequences of that and about how our constituents might respond. Such an agreement would be perfectly reasonable, but this is a much bigger question.

Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Baker
I want to complete my argument, for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who tabled this new clause.

We are seeking an economic partnership that will be both comprehensive and ambitious. It should be of greater scope and ambition than any previous agreement so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies, such as financial and professional services. We are confident that the UK and the EU can reach a positive deal on our future partnership as this will to be to the mutual benefit of both the UK and the EU. We will approach the negotiations in this constructive spirit.

I want to provide reassurance to my hon. Friend on his new clause 72, which seeks to ensure that any ministerial power to charge fees in respect of inspections of imported food and animal feed is exercised in a way that ensures full cost recovery for public authorities.
 
Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend give way?
 
Mr Baker
Before I give way to my right hon. Friend, I want to respond on the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst.

Anna Soubry
I wonder whether the Minister could be quite clear at the Dispatch Box and give an undertaking on behalf of the Government that now we have voted—as we did last week—for amendment 7, the Government will not at any stage now bring forward any measure that in any way undermines the vote of this House on amendment 7, and that Parliament will have a meaningful vote, as we voted for last Wednesday.

Mr Baker
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I admit, I thought she was going to ask me about the matters before me. That is a matter to be considered on Report, were we to return to it. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Opposition Members were shouting me down there for a moment. Were we to return to it, it would be a matter for Report, not for today. The Government’s policy is as we set out in the written ministerial statement, and of course we are a Government—[Interruption.] No, certainly not. We are a Government who of course obey the law. Parliament has voted and the law would currently be set out as on the face of the Bill.

Mr Baker
He says that he did. I think we need to recognise that as a Government we are trying to make this Bill work, and we have throughout the Bill’s passage worked closely with the House, listened closely to the concerns—

Anna Soubry
No you haven’t.
 
Mr Baker
It is a matter of fact that we have stood at this Dispatch Box, we have accepted amendments and we have moved forward with the House on this Bill, accepting amendments and shaping the Bill to comply with the will of the House. I very much regret—

Mr Baker
I will not take any more interventions on this point, which is not pertaining to the clauses before us.

Anna Soubry
We all know what’s happening

Mr Baker
I do take objection—[Interruption.] I do take objection, because what we are going to do is move forward with the Bill as it stands, with the set of concessions that we have included within it, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to accept the good faith of the Government.

Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Baker
I am really not going to any more on this point.

Anna Soubry
I will undertake to send to my right hon. Friend a list of the various quotes from leading members of the leave campaign who told the British people, “There will be no change in our trading arrangements”, “We’ll do deals in a day and a half”, “We can be like Norway”, “We might want to be like Switzerland”, and so on and so forth. It was made very clear to the British people that the trading arrangements and economic benefits of the EU would remain the same. Does he honestly think that in his constituency of an evening in the Dog and Duck people sat there and said, “I tell you what, you know this single market, well I’m all for out of that”? Does he honestly think they really understood the issue, when there are obviously right hon. and hon. Members in this House who still do not understand what the single market and the customs union are?

Mr Duncan Smith
That may be. I do not know of the Dog and Duck, unless they have moved a new building into my constituency, but I say to my right hon. Friend ​that people made a decision to leave, and that argument was debated extensively: it was on television, the Prime Minister was questioned endlessly and others such as Lord Mandelson said categorically that if people voted to leave, we would be leaving these institutions.

Anna Soubry
I rise to support new clauses 54 and 13, both of which, if put to the vote, I shall vote for.

I made it clear to the people of Broxtowe when I stood back in June that I would continue to make the case and vote for the single market, the customs union and, indeed, the positive benefits of immigration. We are on day eight of our Committee proceedings, and, goodness me, if only we had had all this quality debate—this exposition of all the arguments—before the referendum, we perhaps would have had a different result.

My constituents might not have changed their minds, but they overwhelmingly say to me now, “I didn’t know it was going to be so complicated; I didn’t know what it would be like.” I have to say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) that customers in the Nelson and Railway pub in Kimberley— a fine pub, and I will take him there one day—did not sit there talking about the customs union.

Mr Duncan Smith
Of course they didn’t.

Anna Soubry
Exactly, of course they didn’t. They did not talk about the single market. They did talk about immigration, however, and they thought they pretty much did not like it, even though in Kimberley there have probably been about four immigrants over the course of about 200 years.

We have had that part of the debate, but there is a grave danger in looking at the result of the referendum and saying, “The British people have definitely said they don’t want the single market and the customs union and all the rest of it”. We are leaving the EU, so I have voted to trigger article 50—I have taken that big step against everything I have ever believed in, and I accept we are leaving the EU—but I am not going to stay silent, and I am not going to stop making the case for us to do the right thing as we leave. I gently say to those who stand up and bang on about the devilment of the single market and the customs union that that is gravely insulting to British business.

What have we seen in this peculiar debate? It has been peculiar. I endorse everything my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) have said; it must be a Nottingham thing that there is this agreement between the three of us about the merits of the customs union and the arguments made about the Florence speech and why it should be on the face of the Bill.

I also observe that the Government have not really conceded very much at all. They have accepted that there was a real problem with the Henry VIII powers and they have accepted amendments that they pretty much drafted themselves, and they now accept the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for ​West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), but we must be honest about that: it was an amendment rightly put forward by him, but to solve a problem of the Government’s creation, because they lost the vote on amendment 7. It might be a very good fudge, but we must not make any mistake about it: if it had not come as an idea from the Government, it would not be before us as an amendment—I say that with no disrespect to my right hon. Friend.

The Government have not actually conceded anything at all. They have gone away and said some warm words, but I am now worried and concerned. Last week, 11 very honourable and brave people on this side of the House had to face what some of my colleagues think is just a bit of intimidation. We have seen national newspapers hurling abuse, and putting up photographs almost like “Wanted” posters. In the face of all that and of a lot of strong-arm tactics—I will not go into that here, but those responsible for them know exactly what was going on behind the scenes; let us not pretend otherwise—they voted, in some cases for the first time ever, and in others for the first time in more than 20 years of honourable and loyal service to their party, in accordance with their conscience when they voted for amendment 7.

Today, however, our Prime Minister appears to be rowing back on that, and the Minister is unable to give us an unequivocal statement at the Dispatch Box that the Government will honour amendment 7. Let me make it very clear that if there is any attempt by the Government to go back on amendment 7, the rebellion will be even greater and have even bigger consequences.

Mr Baker
I am happy to give my right hon. Friend an early Christmas present. I can give her the following assurance on behalf of the Government. The Government have accepted amendment 7. Our written ministerial statement on procedures for the approval and implementation of the EU exit agreement stands. There will be the following meaningful votes in accordance with that statement: on the withdrawal treaty, and on the terms of the future agreement. There will also be a withdrawal and implementation Bill, which the House will consider in detail, and of course all legislation is amendable.
 
Anna Soubry
I think that that is the unequivocal statement I am looking for. If it is, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for clearing that up. It is indeed a great Christmas present.

It is obvious that the two main parties in this place remain deeply divided, just as the country does. The irony of the situation will not be lost on future generations as they read Hansard. We have a considerable number of hon. and right hon. Members sitting on the Opposition Benches who completely agree with a considerable number of hon. and right hon. Members sitting on these Benches, yet we are prevented from building consensus and finding agreement because of the divisions within the two parties and, it has to be said, some intransigence on our two Front Benches. It is not for me to comment on the state of the Labour party, however; I will leave others to do that.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe has already identified the fact that, 18 months on, we still do not know what the Government see as their endgame. Our own Cabinet remains totally divided ​on this great issue—the greatest issue that we have had to wrestle with for decades. I say to my honourable and dear colleagues that there are some on these Benches who are entrenched in their ideological view about the European Union and will not move from it. They are a small group—they are the minority—but I feel as though they are running our country, and that cannot be right. Then there is another group, a big wide group of Conservative colleagues. Some of them are reluctant remainers, some are leavers-lite, and as they hear our debates and listen to the businesses that come to speak to them in their constituency offices, they are feeling uneasy and queasy. I do not say that they have to agree with me—of course they do not—but I asked them to listen to the arguments that are being advanced by those of us who speak on behalf of our constituents, notably businesses, about a deal.

We are not going to get a bespoke deal from the European Union—well, not unless we pay shed loads of money for access to this or that market—but there is something available to us. It is EFTA. It is the customs union. It is sitting there as a package. We can take it and seize it, and British business would be delighted if we did so. And then it would be done. The British people would say, “Thank God! They’ve got on and delivered Brexit”, and all would be well. We need to get on with it, so that we can then address the great domestic issues. I beg my hon. Friends to google EFTA and the customs union over the Christmas period. I urge them to understand them and to look at what Norway gets. Norway is able to determine its own agricultural and fisheries policies, for example. My hon. Friends need to know and understand these things. Then we need to come back in the new year and make a fresh start on forming that consensus that our constituents are dying to hear about, because they are fed up to the back teeth with what is going on.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
It is important to note the difference between EFTA and the customs union, which is mainly that EFTA countries are able to strike trade deals with third countries. For example, Iceland has a bilateral trade deal with China.

Anna Soubry
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That is the sort of detail we need. We have to understand all the different arrangements that are there that will work and suit our country, and I beg right hon. and hon. Members to look at them. The solutions are there. We are not going to get a bespoke deal, but arrangements are there on the shelf. We can grasp them, sort out Brexit, move on and do the right thing by our country and our constituents.