This is the text of my speech to the House of Commons on 15th January 2019.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). He touched upon the fact that David Cameron introduced the referendum, but he forgot to mention that it was a Liberal Democrat idea to have an in/out referendum when the Conservatives opposed the Lisbon treaty.
We are facing a constitutional conundrum. The right hon. Gentleman quite rightly said that the Conservatives promised an in/out referendum if we won the 2015 election, and we then had a long parliamentary process to guarantee that we would give the people the power to decide. We then had the referendum, and the people decided overwhelmingly to leave—17.4 million people in the biggest vote in British history and the biggest majority on any one subject. Everyone then said, “What does leave mean?” and the Conservative party helpfully interpreted leave to mean leaving the single market, the customs union and the remit of the European Court of Justice. Sadly, however, what we have come up with here does not deliver that. The withdrawal agreement is a betrayal of what the people voted for.
In my previous speech, I touched on the impact on our laws. It is ludicrous that laws will be made by the 27 nations and then imposed upon us so that we cannot query them. On agriculture, an area which is totally dominated by the EU, it is extraordinary that our agricultural sector will be held back to 2019 levels of support throughout the whole transition period. Our competitors on the continent will be better funded and will have free access to our market, so agriculture will be a particularly badly penalised sector. We have to consider state aid; Sir Richard Dearlove and Lord Guthrie’s letter this week showed the horrors of the impact upon defence; and there will be no exit from the deal, which has been confirmed by the Attorney General.
All that will cost us £39 billion with nothing promised in return. We will be paying £39 billion to have the right to keep talking and talking. There is no incentive for the EU to end the talks. They have us trapped. They will be imposing laws upon us, they will have access to our market, they could clobber us through the ECJ when we do not obey those laws and we will be paying. What is not to like? We saw it from Herr Selmayr, who unwisely blurted out to Passauer Neue Presse that he had got everything, including the cost of losing Northern Ireland. That is the real horror for me in this withdrawal agreement, which carves out something called “UK(NI)”, a new political entity in which not a single elected representative from Northern Ireland will have any impact on the law, which is shameful. It is a complete breach of the principle of consent, which is embedded in the Belfast agreement. As Lord Trimble has said, it is a breach of the demand for the Assembly to be consulted.
I will not be voting for this withdrawal agreement. Thankfully, a very large number of other Members also will not be voting for it. What should we do? I went to see Monsieur Barnier with Lord Trimble to discuss the problem of the Irish border, which can be solved with current techniques and processes. We had an incredibly instructive and constructive discussion. What we need to do is to go back to President Tusk’s free trade offer of 7 March 2018. We should go back on Thursday morning and say, “Yes, we will engage in very serious discussions on your free trade agreement. In parallel, we will immediately go on to World Trade Organisation terms.” WTO terms have come under the most ludicrous caricatured attack, because they are synonymous with leaving. WTO terms are not as good as a free trade agreement, but they do mean that we are leaving. That will galvanise the European Union into coming back to us.
Only today Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister, has said that he would come back to the talks. We will do the country a service tonight if we overwhelmingly vote down this completely unacceptable agreement, which will push the EU to go back to its generous offer of a free trade agreement. We will not get it through in time, so we should trigger article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, which means zero tariffs and zero quotas can continue during the discussions, possibly for up to five years.