29 March 2019
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown urges MPs to back the withdrawal agreement and restore democracy

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown calls on MPs to support the deal as the alternative would risk a long delay to article 50 necessitating European elections and resulting in severe damage to the trust in democracy and faith in Parliament.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

I am grateful to catch your eye in this important debate, Mr Speaker, and I am sure my constituents will have noted my assiduousness in having been here for more than four hours to speak for three minutes—that is an improvement, because last time I spoke for two minutes after four hours.

Listening to this historic debate I had hoped to see right hon. and hon. Members of the House honouring their manifestos from the last election, and honouring the result of the referendum on leaving the European Union. Having listened to the debate, however, it sounds as if that is unlikely. We are therefore likely to move to indicative votes on Monday, when I suspect that a common consensus will emerge for some form of customs union. Many hon. Members believe that that may be a way out of this whole conundrum, but it most certainly is not. It will not eliminate the need for customs checks, and there will still be checks on plants, animals, regulations and standards. The UK would be similar to Turkey, and we would need movement certificates for all goods exported to the EU.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con)

Like me, my hon. Friend was here during the Maastricht debates. Is there is a political judgment to be made today, because if we do not vote for the withdrawal agreement, we may never leave the European Union at all?

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend reads my mind, and I will come on to precisely that subject in a minute. Above all, the EU will require checks at the Northern Ireland border, so I say to my good friends in the DUP that a customs union will not solve the Northern Ireland problem. Crucially, if the customs union is accompanied by closer alignment with common market 2.0, or EEA, EFTA, or Norway+, we will have to honour EU competition laws, laws on state aid, and customs legislation. That means that Labour policies on nationalisation will be illegal under EU law, and they will be facing two ways at the same time.

If we vote for the withdrawal agreement today, we can come to full trade agreements with high-growth countries in the rest of the world, none of which, sadly, are in the European Union. All the withdrawal agreement does is take us to the next stage and the withdrawal and implementation Bill, which can then be fully scrutinised by the House and fully amended. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) outlined the problems regarding the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, but all those things could be rectified in that Bill. However, if we do not get as far as that, we will go back to the indicative process.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) said, the alternative to not voting for this withdrawal agreement is to risk a long delay to implementing article 50 after 12 April. Crucially, that means that we will fight European elections, almost three years after the British people voted to leave the European Union. My prediction is that we will finally have a long extension to article 50, during which time everyone will say that we must revoke it. Our trust with the British people will be broken, democracy and faith in this Parliament will be severely damaged, and I urge all colleagues to vote for this agreement today.