John Baron contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill 2019-19

Tue 22nd October 2019 European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
Programme motion: House of Commons
5 interactions (615 words)

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Programme motion: House of Commons)
John Baron Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd October 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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22 Oct 2019, 4:53 p.m.

I will not give way; I am going to make progress.

In a constituency like Tottenham, it means everything. It means that the knife crime that I am worried about could get considerably worse. I do not want the South Side of Chicago in Tottenham. It means that the jobs that we need may not be there. I think of the constituencies that good friends represent in other parts of this country. If we leave a £220 billion European market, and leave the single market and the customs union, we will inevitably get tariffs. Tariffs will inevitably affect the manufacturing that is left, and that will surely mean a reduction in jobs in those constituencies. How will that assist our country? On the Government’s own estimates, there would be a reduction in GDP of 11% in the north-east of this country, and a reduction of 8% in the west midlands and the east midlands. That is massive; it is bigger than the 2008 crash. The truth is that, while there has been some recovery in London, there has been very little outside London in parts of the midlands, the north-west and the north-east. How can we seriously contemplate making things worse for those people?

We have been talking about a trade deal with the United States. I went on an all-party visit to the United States in July and we sat with Republicans and Democrats to talk about the meat of what a trade deal looked like. They were all clear, as was the trade union body in America, that there would of course be a reduction in labour standards because their labour standards are lower than our own. They were clear about wanting some of our agriculture, our pharmaceuticals and our healthcare. They also raised issues about Hollywood getting its grip on our creative industries. Why would we do that? How will that help our people?

So, we would get tariffs and a massive drop in growth, and yet I stand here prepared to vote for this deal, but only on the basis that we put it back to the British people so that they can have the final say: do they want this deal or do they want to remain? I am prepared, despite the poverty and hardship in my own constituency, to go for this deal, but on that one condition. That is how we get this done. That is how we bring our country together. We must actually use democracy to say, “Do you really want this deal?” That is the only way forward. The rest is noise. As weary as we are, I cannot walk through the Lobby and knowingly wave this through with so little scrutiny on behalf of my constituents.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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22 Oct 2019, 4:59 p.m.

For those of us who felt compelled to vote down the previous withdrawal agreement and deal, I would suggest that this deal has indeed been worth waiting for, and, as indicated last week, I will support it in the Lobby tonight. The Prime Minister has proved his critics wrong. The withdrawal agreement has been reopened. The harmful backstop has been removed, and we have secured a better deal. All those who previously argued that that was not possible should perhaps now reflect.

No one is pretending for one moment that this is a perfect deal. As someone who voted leave, there are aspects of the transition period that I do not like. I question an element of the Bill. I question the EU’s say over our affairs, given that we voted to leave in June 2016. However, I also accept that compromises are required in any negotiation. Although I have qualms about the transition period to December 2020, they are manageable. For me, the elephant in the room was always the backstop. It alone could have trapped the UK indefinitely in a structure of the EU’s making. It alone could have denied us Brexit. It alone could have denied us the referendum result, and it alone would have made a bad deal—trade deal or no trade deal—more likely. That is no longer possible.

Now that the previous backstop has been banished, the pressure is on both sides to negotiate and agree a good trade deal. A good trade deal is therefore now more likely, not less likely, because the backstop has been removed. It takes two to tango. Both sides can now simply walk away, but it is far more likely—given their common starting positions, and the fact that it is in their common interests—that they will negotiate a good trade deal. No longer will there be any risk to the entire UK of not being able to benefit from trade deals that we might strike with the faster growing economies outside the EU, and meanwhile the Northern Ireland-Ireland border is kept open.

I suggest to the House that concerns about workers’ rights are somewhat misplaced, given the assurances provided by the Prime Minister and the fact that such regulations could be watered down only if Parliament voted to do so. We should have more confidence in our ability in this place to decide what is right, and such decisions will now be made here in Westminster, not by remote EU bureaucrats.

I urge colleagues on both sides of the House to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal this evening. It makes a good trade deal more likely, and it keeps the Irish border open, while ensuring that the whole of the UK leaves the customs union. Let us be honest with people outside this Westminster bubble. It has taken three and a half years to get to this point, and we still have not left. It is about time that we finally delivered on the referendum result. Let us now heal the wounds in this country and move on.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (IGC)
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22 Oct 2019, 3:44 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). I will not be voting for the Bill this evening, because it is nothing more than a charter for a no-deal Brexit. The safeguards in the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the previous Prime Minister which would have ensured that we would not leave without a deal at the end of the implementation period in 2020 have now been removed. It is quite clear that the so-called backstop for England, Wales and Scotland has gone. The reason why so many Conservative Members who opposed the previous Prime Minister’s deal on all three occasions it came to this House are now so keen to vote for this Bill and this agreement is that it will deliver the hard no-deal Brexit they believe in, and in some cases have done for decades.

The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay referred to the backstop having been removed, but the reality and truth is that for Northern Ireland the new backstop is an arrangement that will be there in perpetuity. As this House knows, the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and I disagree on many things, but on this issue we are at one. In his speech, he made a number of serious assertions about the impact of not only the Bill but the withdrawal agreement on the Union and, in particular, Northern Ireland, and some Conservative Members sat and shook their heads, querying that. It concerns me that because of this terrible programme motion, there will be nothing to allow any Member, Committee or independent organisation to scrutinise and check whether his assertions are correct or false. Having read this Bill and the protocol twice, I think he is right, and we need to be sure.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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22 Oct 2019, 3:44 p.m.

The right hon. Lady referred to me, so I thank her for giving way. Some of us were shaking our heads because we disagree with one or two of the factual statements made by the right hon. Member for East Antrim, but we are happy to pursue that conversation afterwards. As somebody who served in the troubles in the 1980s, I know that the Union means a lot to many ex-soldiers on both sides of the House. I can assure the right hon. Lady that we do not take this lightly. If I genuinely believed that this was a threat to the Union, I would not be supporting it.

Anna Soubry
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22 Oct 2019, 3:44 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman should listen to the voices from Northern Ireland—and it is not just the DUP or the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon); it is from across the community. This is a genuine threat, and it is incredible that Members of the Conservative and Unionist party are prepared to vote through this Bill when its attendant protocols will undoubtedly mean that there will be a separate arrangement for Northern Ireland in perpetuity. There is nothing in the Bill that will allow things to change.

I would also ask: how much better is our country since we had this referendum? Are we a happier, gentler people, and are friends, families and communities more united or are we divided now in a way that we have never experienced before? This Bill will do nothing to heal divisions; it will actually increase the divides in our society. That is a concern.

I believe with a passion that not one single promise that was made by the leave campaign has been fulfilled in any way, shape or form. We were promised a deal before we left. We were promised that Northern Ireland would not be treated any differently, and we were promised that it would keep and preserve the United Kingdom. We were made a promise that we would have the same trading relationship that we currently enjoy as a member of the single market and the customs union, and none of those things has been delivered in the Bill or any of the attendant documents.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). He and I disagree on so many things, but on this we are at one. If this is so good, it should go back to the people. That should not be by way of a general election, which will solve nothing just as the 2017 general election did not solve anything—