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My speech to the Commons during Wednesday’s Brexit debate

Thursday, October 13, 2016 23:09
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Some colleagues have already said that it must be our duty now to try to knit our nation together, to put the heat and fury of the referendum campaign behind us and to see how together we can build a prosperous and successful future for the United Kingdom as the country leaves the European Union. I think that that will be easier than the tone of this debate so far would give people to believe, because I have great confidence in the British people. I have spent a lot of time talking to remain voters, both before and after the referendum, as well as obviously encouraging the leave voters, whose cause I helped to champion.

The good news is that the remain voters are not, on the whole, passionate advocates of the European ideal and the European project, and that is why we will be able to put this together. According to polling, around 10% of all voters in Britain really believe in the whole European project—a perfectly noble vision of integration, political union, monetary union, a borderless society and so forth—but they are a very small minority in our country. I am afraid that we cannot easily build a bridge to those who want to be part of a united Europe, because it was clearly the view of both sides in the referendum that Britain did not want to be part of the single currency, the political union, a borderless Europe and so forth.

However, this does mean that an awful lot of the remain voters—the overwhelming majority, in fact—voted remain not to join the full project but because they had genuine fears that when we came out of the union, we would leave the single market. They felt that that could be damaging to trade, investment and business prospects. It is on that narrow point that the House of Commons has to concentrate its activities over the next few months, because it is on that central issue that our discussions with our European partners need to concentrate.

I am conscious that the business community has one aim above all others, which is to reduce or eliminate uncertainty. Having been in business myself, I know that business is about managing uncertainties all the time, but it is of course good if we can get the politicians to make their contribution to lowering uncertainty rather than increasing it. It is important that we all work together to try to reduce the uncertainty and shorten the time in which that uncertainty exists.

I am also conscious that we can lower uncertainty in two ways. As we approach the negotiations, we must first show that we are going to go at a lively pace, because the longer they drag on, the more uncertainty will develop, the more obstacles and confusions will arise, and the longer will be the delays that can hurt. So we need pace. The second thing we can do to reduce the uncertainty is to say that we need only to discuss a limited number of things. We can narrow the framework of the negotiation. There are many consultants and advisers out there saying, “We must scope and chart every aspect of all our relationships with other European countries, be they technically single market or EU or wider. We must put them all on the table, then throw them up in the air and discuss which ones should change and how stable they are going to be.” That would be a disastrous way to proceed. It would take too long, and it would offer too many hostages to fortune.

The Government are right to say that in order to have a successful negotiation that lowers the scope for danger and downside, we need to take those discussions at a pace and ensure that we do not say too much in advance about any possible weaknesses in our negotiating position. We should not open up issues for negotiation that do not need to be negotiated, and we should take on board only those issues that are a genuine worry to those on the other negotiating side and that need to be taken seriously because they have some powers over them.

The United Kingdom has voted to take back control. That was what Vote Leave was all about. That was the slogan throughout the campaign, and when asked to define it more, the leave side said that we were voting to take back control of laws, money and borders. So we know what cannot be negotiated away. We also know that the main area of uncertainty is how we are going to trade with the single market when we cannot technically be part of it because it includes freedom of movement and wide-ranging law codes over things that go well beyond the conduct of trade and commerce. It is not a segregated, integrated whole within the European Union; it is a central part of it and part of a very big consolidated treaty.

Jonathan Edwards (Plaid Cymru) (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr): The Secretary of State said something very interesting earlier when he said that he hoped to negotiate a better economic deal than membership of the single market. As a prominent Brexiteer, can the right hon. Gentleman explain how that will be possible?

John Redwood: I do not recall the Secretary of State saying that at all. He was saying that we could have a better relationship than simply relying on World Trade Organisation rules. I have good news, however. If we were to have to fall back on WTO rules, this country would be able to trade perfectly successfully with the rest of the EU and would be free to have much better trade deals with the rest of the world, which we have been impeded from having all the time we have been in the EU.

Should there have to be tariffs, there would be many more tariffs collected on European imports into Britain, so we would have a lot of money to spend. We could give that money back to British people, so they would not actually be worse off as a result of the tariffs. Whereas, if we went the other way, the tariffs would be a great embarrassment to our European partners. I am very optimistic about our European partners. I think that they will want tariff-free trade. I do not see Germany or France queueing up to impose tariffs on us, so I hope that we will be able to get through this quite quickly and reassure them that we do not want to put tariffs on their trade either.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Con) Harwich and North Essex: Is it not also incumbent on the Government to be mindful that article 50 was not put into the Lisbon treaty to make it less complicated to leave the European Union? If we try to include too many things under article 50 that stray into mixed competences, we will finish up with an agreement that requires unanimity? That would lead to a far more protracted negotiation than if we try to keep things simple. In fact, it would be an advantage to business if we could complete this in a much shorter period than the two years specified under the article 50 process.

John Redwood: Indeed. This is not a prediction, because I know that a lot of people have lots of good and bad reasons to want to delay and make this more complicated, but it would be quite possible to negotiate the trade issue very quickly.

We have two models available. My preferred model would be to carry on trading tariff free without new barriers, as we are at the moment. That is the most sensible model to adopt, and I think it makes even more sense for our partners, who are much more successful at selling to us than we are to them. I have not yet heard them say that they want to impose barriers. Then there is the WTO most-favoured-nation model, which would also be fine. If one wishes to have a successful, quick and strong negotiation, one should not want anything. We do not want anything from our former partners. We want them to get on and develop their political union in the way that they want, in which we have been impeding them, and we want to be free to run our own affairs in an orderly and friendly way.

We want to have even more trade with our European partners. We want more investment agreements, more research collaborations, more student exchanges and more of all the other good things we have. Those things are not at risk, and there will be an enormous amount of good will from a more united United Kingdom. [Interruption.] Opposition Members want to split us up by saying that everything has to go wrong. If they want us to negotiate successfully, they should show confidence and optimism—let us show that we can do this and be good friends with our European partners.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we have a mutual interest with other European countries in continuing research projects and university collaborations. However, those things are part of the EU budget, so if we are going to do them, he will have to get off his high horse about not making any contributions to the EU budget.

John Redwood: We will behave like all other independent countries of the EU and have lots of collaborations with them. We will have agreements on those collaborations as the need arises. The important thing is that we will have taken back control.

I urge the Labour party to understand that I and people like me are passionately in favour of parliamentary democracy. That is why we waged the long campaign that we had. I have every confidence that Parliament will rise to this occasion. Today is a good example of that. The Opposition had time and allotted it to this crucial subject.

They could have tabled a motion about the position they would like us to strike in the negotiations, but they are not yet ready to do so. I understand that, but it was in their power to do so. They could have tabled a motion to try to veto an article 50 letter, had they wanted to, but they were very wise not to do so because many of their constituents would have seen it as an attempt to thwart the will of the people in the vote. There is nothing stopping this great Parliament from doing those things.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State has already made two statements and given evidence to two Select Committee investigations. He was here in person today to answer the Opposition debate. We do not always get the courtesy of having the Secretary of State before us in an Opposition day debate. That augurs well for there being more scrutiny.

I am pleased that the main way we will leave the European Union is by repealing the European Communities Act 1972, because that means that the central process will be a long constitutional Bill—not long in length or wordage, I hope, but in terms of proceedings, as I am sure SNP Members will want to cavil over every “and” and comma, and they have every right to do so, up to a point. Parliament will consider that legislation and vote accordingly. That is exactly as it should be. It will be a great celebration of our parliamentary democracy, which the majority voted to strengthen, that we do it by parliamentary means.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), the former leader of the Labour party, correctly said that all the European law will at that point become British law—that is the irony of it—but we will do that for the purposes of continuity. Thereafter, we in this House will be able to judge whether it is wise or necessary to repeal or amend any part of that legislation. If it would have a direct bearing on our trade with the European Union, it would not be a good idea to do that without knowing that the EU was happy or that it would not react unreasonably. For example, when selling into a market, one needs to meet the product requirements, and things like product standards will be part of that continuation of the legislation.

The only thing about the single market that is really worthwhile—it is mainly very bureaucratic, expensive and pretty anti-enterprise—is that it provides common product specifications and standards, so that if a washing machine is saleable in France, it is also saleable in Greece. The great news is that when we are out of the EU, that will still be true. It is an advantage for an American exporter into the EU, just as it is for a UK exporter into the EU. When we are in a similar position to America—a friendly independent country trading with the EU from the outside—we will get the full benefit of that.

Let us bring the country together. Let us show that we can be more prosperous and more successful. Let us show that our trade is not at risk. Let us be confident in our negotiation. Let us not use this place to make all manner of problems that will give those who want to wreck our negotiation good comfort, support or extra research. Let us show how everything we do can create more jobs, more trade and more investment.

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