Iain Duncan Smith backs PM’s Brexit deal and the timetable

22nd October 2019

Iain Duncan Smith backs the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement and the timetable and tells MPs that a significant amount of the text has not changed from previous agreements so the timetable can be achieved and it is time to give reality to the referendum in 2016.

Although I am not on a time limit, I know that time is short, so I will be as brief as I possibly can to ensure that everybody else can get in.

Some 25 years ago, the Maastricht treaty finally passed into UK law. I remember with some fondness going on many occasions through the Lobby to vote against the Government—heaven forfend—and I was always joined by the jolly figure of the current Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). We shared many a conversation about how terrible it was and how, given the opportunity, we would one day join together to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. I am sorry to say to the Leader of the Opposition, in genuine friendship, that I would love to know what happened in the intervening 25 years that changed his mind about the European Union such that he now no longer wishes to repeal that Act. I miss our friendship and would like that to be put on record. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) said, it was literally the only thing we ever agreed about.

Today, I am going to—

I will not give way just yet, because I am conscious of time and will be very brief.

I rise to congratulate my right hon Friend the Prime Minister on what I thought was an excellent speech and to say that, absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, I will support the Government tonight in both votes—on Second Reading and, massively importantly, on the programme motion. We did not have programme motions during Maastricht. Some people might recall that we had to have 100 hours in Committee before we could actually get a limit on speeches. Sometimes, I wonder whether that would not be a good thing, but not tonight, it has to be said. There is a reason for that—we have had more than 100 hours in Committee over the past three and a half years. The reality is that, if there is anything about this arrangement that we have not now debated and thrashed to death, I would love to know what it is.

I will give way in a minute.

Those who say that they do not have enough time in the next few days, because they have so many things to debate forget that there was a White Paper published last year—I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir David Lidington) sitting on my left—that contained, sadly, most of the elements of the withdrawal agreement. That was debated, and the issue has been debated in meaningful vote after meaningful vote. Many of the things in the agreement have not changed. I for one would like to see more of it changed, and I will come back to that in a second.

I just want to emphasise the need for scrutiny. In an earlier intervention, the right hon. Gentleman said that this Bill is repealing the European Communities Act 1972. In fact, in clause 1, it reimposes it. Surely that should be scrutinised properly by the House.

The right hon. Gentleman has known that for more than a year now. There is no surprise there. I certainly have real concerns about that matter, but I have to say to him that I have known about it for some time. This did not pop up suddenly in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s agreement. We have thrashed this out through the White Paper and in meaningful vote after meaningful vote. Honestly, we have to ask ourselves the question: has this House not debated that element to absolute destruction?

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I regret that I am on a different side from him on this occasion, as I was on Maastricht, but I am enjoying his speech as much as I did then.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, until very recently, there was no suggestion that England, Scotland and Wales were going to go into their own customs union and single market, and that the whole of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, was going to go into a single market and customs union with the continent of Europe? Indeed, that was expressly ruled out only a few months ago by the present Prime Minister. At the moment that issue is due to be disposed of in three hours, with other issues being disposed of tomorrow morning. If every member of the DUP tries to speak, they will be reduced to a three-minute time limit in their speeches, and that also applies to other Members of the House. Having spent more than 100 hours over Maastricht, when he occupied quite a lot of the time himself, why on earth does he think that we should not debate such important constitutional issues?

I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that, absolutely, I am very happy to debate it. He touches on the one issue that was not in the White Paper and is different, and I accept that. I am sure that, had the Opposition sat down with the usual channels and carefully discussed the really serious elements on which they wanted more time, it may have been possible to have allowed that. The reality is that they have taken the position from day one that they would oppose this Bill, but make no other propositions. We could, for example, go round the clock—he and I agree about that. We have time. After all, what is the weekend for? I do not have any problem with that. I have a simple point to make, which is that those who argue endlessly that there is not enough time are really arguing that they do not like the idea of the deadline of 31 October and do not want to stick to it. My right hon Friend the Prime Minister has said that it is in law and that we are going to stick to that.

I want to move on in a second. I will not give way, as I am conscious that others want to speak. I just want to get through these points. I might take another intervention but not immediately.

With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, he does intervene a lot. The reality is that we have also spent a lot—[Interruption.] I do not mean that rudely, I just genuinely mean that he does intervene a lot.

There is a very good video doing the rounds. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has not seen it, but it would be good if he had. It is not about him; it is about many others who have argued here for one case, but who now, since the referendum, seem to have managed to change their views massively. The streets of Westminster are marked by the skid marks of politicians who have done U-turns on the position they took directly after the referendum. We had pledges to implement the referendum. I note that, when the result first came out, the shadow Secretary of State for Brexit said on two occasions that the referendum would have to be implemented, and that freedom of movement would end when we left. Now, of course, the Opposition are shifting their position around and they want to delay. More than that, the Leader of the Opposition has said that he now wants to make certain that the Bill cannot possibly go through.

That brings me very briefly to two points that have been made. One is on a second referendum, which some Members want to include in an amendment to this Bill. They want more time to do that. I have a simple point to make: those who want a second referendum argue very carefully that it should not contain a question about leaving, which strikes me as bizarre. More importantly, why should any member of the public, or any one of our constituents, who voted in the first referendum—

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

One second. May I just finish my point?

Why should any of our constituents believe any one of us now? We promised them at the time of the previous referendum in 2016 that we would implement it. We then came into this House and voted to implement it and voted to implement article 50. Why, when we go back to them, should we be able to say, “Don’t worry. Trust us. Despite what we said to you last time, and although we have now reneged on that, we’re going to give you another chance, because we think that, somehow, you might change your decision, and if you do not, you need to trust us that we will stand by the decision that you have not changed, even though you gave us that decision earlier”? That, frankly, is utterly absurd.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. It may have been inadvertent, but he did suggest that those advocating a people’s vote or second referendum did not want to put the option of leaving in it. That is, I have to say to him, entirely inaccurate. Perhaps he would like to consider this: he believes that this debate should be curtailed. One thing that I have learned is that, if we want to get public acceptance of a decision that people do not like, the process of debate is absolutely key. Therefore, he will maximise the resentments when, in fact, an opportunity exists for him to go back to the people and ask them to confirm that the deal is what a majority want.

I am always grateful to receive an intervention from my right hon. and learned Friend, but I have to tell him that I disagree with him. The British people voted to leave the European Union, so they clearly like it and they like the idea that we are going to get on with it. I do not know who he is talking to in his constituency, but I have to tell him that most of those in my constituency—even those who voted remain—keep on saying, “Whatever else we do, let us get this done and get it done now.” My right hon. and learned Friend will know full well, because he has played a very significant part in all these debates under two Prime Ministers, that he has not missed a single opportunity to lay amendments and to debate almost every single part of this agreement that now sits in front of us. I have no problem with that, and I respect him entirely. He remains a friend. Despite the fact that we disagree, I refuse to be rude or antagonistic. I simply say that he knows he has played his full part.

rose—

I will give way for the very last time to the right hon. Gentleman.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is not one of the real problems faced by this and the previous Parliament that when we voted, for whatever reason, to give the decision back to the people, we decided to be not representatives but delegates? That means that, on this one issue only, we are delegated to carry out the wishes of the majority. That does not mean that we should ignore the minority, but why, after saying that we should be delegates, are the same people advocating a second a referendum in which we would be delegates, when they cannot manage the first one?

I always love giving way to the right hon. Gentleman—in fact, I will call him my right hon. Friend in this particular moment—because he talks common sense. When we passed the European Union Referendum Act 2015, we made it very clear—and we confirmed this after the referendum—that, although we are a House of representatives and not delegates, we were handing back to the British people the sovereign power that comes from them to us for the period of a Parliament. We gave that power back to them to make the decision. They have made that decision and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knows, we now must act on it. As far as I am concerned, the deal has flaws and includes things that I do not particularly like, but I recognise that the overarching priority right now is to deliver on the referendum and leave the European Union, and this remains the only way that we can achieve that. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that.

I am not going to give way any more; I have given way enough.

If there is any attempt in this process to amend the Bill to keep us in a customs union, I would simply argue that I thought it was made very clear throughout—and there were many comments by Opposition Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, to this effect—that leaving the customs union was part of the package of leaving. [Interruption.] Others will disagree. I do not say that they are wrong. I simply say that I think it was pretty explicit throughout the whole referendum campaign that the jewel in the crown of leaving was being able to set our own trade negotiations and trade deals. Taking that power back is a really critical part of taking back control. If we handed that power back, it would be an enormous mistake. It also has to be said that such an amendment—this will be up to Mr Speaker, of course—would be a wrecking amendment, because it is not possible to go back and ask the EU to change the deal one more time. Such an amendment would therefore wreck the Bill and there would be only one reason for it: to stop this Bill and prevent us from leaving the European Union. Although others will want to do that, I do not agree with them.

We all have to make difficult choices. I do want the Government to engage enormously with our colleagues from Northern Ireland, because there is very much an issue regarding them leaving with us when we strike a future trade deal. It is really important that we engage with them, because we must leave as one Union, not separated or separable.

The right hon. Gentleman has said to the House that very little has changed and that we do not need further debate, but the Prime Minister and members of the Government repeatedly said—just a few weeks ago—that they would never accept a border down the Irish sea. This change in the agreement is the most fundamental change to our Union since the Act of Union. That merits debate and discussion, and this House needs to listen to that discussion.

I genuinely agree with the hon. Lady that it merits discussion, but I also think that there is another key element. There are lots of things in the implementation period that many of us dislike, and there are things that I dislike—not least some of the arrangements I am discussing the with the hon. Lady. But the key question is surely this: to what degree can the hon. Lady’s party discuss and agree with the Government that when we finally strike that free trade deal, we leave as one Union and do not continue with those arrangements? That is the point of the question I asked earlier.

In conclusion, although there are some things that we disagree with and dislike, the honest truth is that we are faced tonight with two votes on a simple question—do we now want to give reality to the referendum in 2016, when the British people voted to leave the European Union? If we delay one more time, not only will we have defied them; worse than that, the British people will utterly lose faith in this place. This place has to be their representative body, but it will seem to them that it is no longer. Let us get this done and start the process tonight.

Hansard

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