Speech in Brexit debate January 2019

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), and his “Reasons to be Cheerful Part 2”. It sounded as though he might have needed a “Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3” to complete his remarks, and I am very sorry that I missed his “Reasons to be Cheerful Part 1”.

That actually relates to my first point: I have been struck by the tone of today’s debate. Perhaps it is because today is a Friday, but the tone has been rather measured and constructive. In that regard, I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who made a point that was picked up by my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) and for Henley (John Howell). Although I disagree with the conclusion reached by all three of them, they were absolutely and fundamentally right about the importance of the language and the tone that we use in this place, and I commend them for that.

I also agree with the comment of the Prime Minister—and I acknowledge her hard work and endeavour in getting us this far—that

“the British people just want us to get on with it.”

In that, she is absolutely right. My constituents have been saying the same for a number of months, if not years. I certainly did not come into politics to bang on ​about Europe, or to squabble about the EU endlessly. Sadly, however, this proposal does not get on with it. That is my first and fundamental objection, and it relates to the backstop, because we cannot unilaterally get out of it. It is about ceding control and sovereignty, not taking back control. We will be reliant on a co-operative EU in order to exit from it, which is the precise opposite of “getting on with it”. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) said in that context.

People say that we will not inevitably end up in the backstop, that we may never get there, that we could extend the implementation period. However, the Father of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), confirmed at Prime Minister’s questions that these negotiations will take years. On the same day, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) cited evidence that it could well be the mid-2020s before a deal is secured. This deal prolongs uncertainty. Businesses are looking for certainty, and it does not give them that. The Attorney General confirmed in his advice that there is a risk of

“protracted and repeating rounds of negotiations.”

We cannot get out of this of our own volition; that is my first and fundamental objection to it.

My second objection is to do with the Court of Justice of the European Union. It is technically correct that we will not be subject to the jurisdiction of the CJEU, but under the proposed treaty it will still retain a significant and prominent role in the movement of goods, VAT and excise, agriculture and the environment. Further, under article 174 of the proposed agreement, when any interpretation of EU law is in question the CJEU will be the final arbiter. The decision will be referred to it and will be binding. As we have seen in the recent judgment in relation to revocation of article 50, it is a highly political court, and this proposal does not rid us of its shackles.

Thirdly, and just as importantly, although I will not dwell on it at length, this proposal threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom. I am a Unionist and a member of the Conservative and Unionist party, and the proposal introduces a separate regulatory regime for Northern Ireland. For me, that is a fundamental problem.

I am a serial loyalist; I have never rebelled against the Government in my admittedly very few—three and a half—years in this place, and I do so with a heavy heart, but with a clear head that this is not the right deal.

In the time remaining, I want to make two further points. The Prime Minister has rightly been stepping up plans and preparations for no deal, or for a WTO Brexit—or a clean, global Brexit as I like to call it. So we will be ready; it is not my preferred outcome, but if it happens we will be ready because we have good Ministers—the Foreign Secretary is in his place—and good civil servants who will be ready and prepared. We are an ingenious nation and we will make sure we are ready.

Finally, the Prime Minister is absolutely right to say that we will have no second referendum and there will be no extension beyond 29 March. As other hon. Members have mentioned, she has been firm in that, and she is absolutely right. There is a huge risk that the political trust between politicians and the public will be broken if that is not the case, and the Prime Minister is right to stand firm.​