Iain Duncan Smith supports setting a date for Article 50

7th December 2016

Iain Duncan Smith backs the Government and supports setting a date by which Article 50 has to be invoked and moving forward into the negotiations.

I will, I hope, be brief. I support the Government’s amendment, and wish to make it clear that I believe that making great pace in getting ourselves through the process and into the negotiations is the key for whatever the Government do now.

Most people, including the Opposition, fail to define what leaving the European Union actually means. They keep saying that they will not and do not want to frustrate the will of the British people, and that that means they do not want to delay the triggering of article 50. But in the same breath—with respect to the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)—they go on to qualify what leaving actually means. When listening to him, the definition I heard was that he wants to be a member of everything that we are in as members of the EU now, with one or two small changes—so he does not actually want to leave. In that sense, the purpose behind what the Opposition are doing speaks more of their own problems than of the negotiations that the Government will embark on once we activate article 50. I will say more on that in a moment.

I make no bones about the fact that I voted and campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union. I believe that it is necessary for us to understand what we mean by that—to define it, and then to act on that, as some of my colleagues have already said. Leaving the European Union at its most basic will mean that we will no longer be subject to European law. From that flow the other elements that were debated during the campaign. The public most clearly want to take back control of their borders with the European Union, and to take back control of the money raised from them in taxation. Those things cannot happen if we are subject to European law. This, then, is the key element: leaving the European Union means that we are no longer subject to the jurisprudence of European law. That is really quite important. The failure of the Opposition to accept that means that they are not really in favour of leaving, and have not even accepted that we are leaving; they are debating how we stay in with modifications.

On that principle, I remind the House that the Centre for Social Justice published a report about why people voted to leave, called “48:52”. That report made it very clear—even many remainers have said the same—that the public wanted control of migration and they wanted sovereignty returned. I was quite surprised by their using and agreeing with the word “sovereignty”. We are always being told in this House that no one out there cares about sovereignty, and that it is an esoteric issue debated only here by obsessed politicians who cannot get away from the fact that no one talks about it out in the country. In fact, sovereignty was the key element that the people spoken to for the report all agreed that they wanted—to take back control, the phrase that we use endlessly when debating this matter.

We are therefore clear about what people wanted. When people say we do not know what the public wanted, that is simply not true. They do a disservice to the general public if they cannot understand what they meant when they voted to leave the European Union. The public were very clear on that. I have heard the Liberals go on about how people voted to leave but did not vote for a destination. Leaving is a destination. It means we are in control of ourselves. This country is not moving. It is staying where it is, but we will no longer be subject to European law. Playing silly games does not help anyone to believe that, fundamentally, politicians understand what they are going through.

Given all that, there is no point during any of the negotiations in our trying to ask the European Union for something that it simply cannot and will not give us. This is the main point. There is no point going to the EU and saying, as a point of special pleading, “We want to be out of the European Union and are going to be free to make our own laws, but will you let us stay in the single market, and can we stay in the customs union?” I fully understand the position of those of my colleagues who want to stay in those elements. That is a wholly reasonable position, but if we are leaving the European Union, staying in those two things does not stand. More importantly, I would not want to, because that would again bring us under the control of the acquis communautaire, and not being so is one of the main reasons for leaving. The Opposition asked for enough detail. The strategic aim is on those points—that is enough detail.

On the customs union, I come back to this simple point. Why would the United Kingdom want to stay in the customs union when one of the key elements behind making the important decision to leave the European Union was getting back the opportunity to make our own trade arrangements with other countries? I would rather we stayed in than stay in the customs union. It seems completely pointless to embroil ourselves in the customs union—to go through all of the rigmarole, arguments, debates and rows, only to find that at the end of the day we do not have the jewel in the crown of our making free trade arrangements.

On that point, I have something interesting to say to the House. I discovered the other day that there are now no fewer than five elements of legislation—three Bills, I think, and two amendments to Bills—going through both the House of Representatives and the Senate that pave the way for a free trade agreement between the US and the United Kingdom. So much for the current President’s view that we will be at the back of the queue. It appears that the legislators in Congress see us wholly at the front of it. They know the reason why: we are the great free trading nation of the world. We believe in free trade, and that is the direction in which we want to take ourselves, and, I hope, many others. For us, the rest of the debate, once we get through that and understand its relevance, is about process.

I listened very carefully to the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras as he spoke for the Opposition, and I understand deeply the problem the Opposition have right now. The Conservatives were in opposition for a number of years and we were often divided. I was a Leader of the Opposition and I remember it very well. Leading the Opposition is like herding cats and there are a lot of cats sitting on the Benches behind him. They are divided about what they want. They are exposed in a simple position of not really wanting to leave, but recognising that 70% of them now sit in constituencies that voted overwhelmingly to leave. They are focusing on the fact that they run the risk, politically, of being in danger when the next election in called.

I understand fully Labour Members’ need to somehow try to confuse the issue with this particular agreement in relation to the amendment. However, the Government amendment is very clear. It sets a date by which article 50 has to be invoked. By not voting against the amendment, the Labour party will be giving the Government a blank cheque to go forward and invoke article 50 without any real caveats. I am wholly in favour of that, I have to say, because I support the Government, but I did not think Labour Members were supporting the Government. I welcome them to that position, although some of my hon. Friends absolutely deplore them for doing so. I see from the shaking of heads that many on their own Benches deplore the weakness they seem to have shown, but I congratulate them—

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Later interventions in the same debate

May I give my right hon. Friend one good example of this? It relates to the import of oranges. Very recently, the customs union has slapped on a tariff increase from 3% to 16%, solely to protect some producers in Spain. That raises the cost of buying the products here in the United Kingdom, so food is now more expensive as a direct result of interventions in the customs union that Opposition Members want to be part of.

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The Maastricht treaty and internal negotiations on being in the EU are wholly different from leaving the EU. The strategy for those was about remaining in the EU—all the rest was detail for debate. Here we are debating something strategically quite different: we are departing from the European Union, including the European Court of Justice and various other elements. That means that too much detail on that will delay the whole process and make it impossible to reach the agreement that my right hon. Friend is talking about.


I happen to agree with my right hon. Friend, but my point goes beyond that.

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Freedom of Movement post Brexit by Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP

March 2018


This paper sets out proposals to revise the immigration system and additionally in the annexe it makes the point that more information is required to fully understand the nature of where the costs fall and benefits exist. The information on much, if not all, of this is held by the government.
The central objective should be to ensure control over the movement of people. Using a combination of work permits and a cap we would look to control access to work and rights to settlement. Free movement for EU citizens for other purposes should be preserved.