European Union (Withdrawal Agreement ) Bill
Second Reading 22 October 2019
Jeremy Corbyn responded to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s opening speech on the Bill. To reduce the number of words some interventions have been omitted.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) On Saturday, we warned that, if the House passes the Government’s deal, it would be a disaster for our country. Now, as we look through the details of the Bill, we see just how right we were: page after page of what amounts to nothing less than a charter for deregulation and a race to the bottom; a deal and a Bill that fail to protect our rights and our natural world, fail to protect jobs and the economy, and fail to protect every region and nation in the United Kingdom. The Bill confirms that Northern Ireland is really in the customs union of the EU and goods will be subjected to tariffs. On Saturday, the Prime Minister said there would be no checks, but yesterday the Brexit Secretary confirmed to the Lords European Union Committee that under the Government’s proposals Northern Irish businesses that send goods to Great Britain will have to complete export declaration forms, and today the Government estimate—this is the Government’s estimate—that exit declaration forms will be between £15 and £56 per customs declaration. So the Prime Minister was at best—I am being generous here—mistaken on Saturday. The more divergence, the harder that border will become and the greater danger and risk it will put on the historic Good Friday agreement.
Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab) I do not disagree with what my right hon. Friend said, but does he understand why those of us in seats that voted heavily to leave, and who stood on a manifesto in 2017 that said that we would respect the result of the referendum, feel very strongly that this Bill must be allowed to proceed to Committee so that we can engage in the detail and see whether it is possible to get a Brexit deal that protects our constituents? For many people back home in towns such as Wigan, this is an article of faith in the Labour party and in democracy, and those of us who are seeking to engage in the detail do so not because we will support a Tory Brexit—our votes at Third Reading are by no means secure—but because we want to see if we can improve the deal and keep people’s trust in our democracy.
Jeremy Corbyn I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I also thank her and other colleagues, some of whom represent seats that voted heavily to leave, for their engagement, for the discussions and for the constructive way in which all that has been approached. I do understand the concerns in those constituencies and communities. I know that she supports the principle of a customs union, which the Labour party placed in its manifesto and has restated since. My view is that we should vote against this Bill this evening for the reasons that I have set out. I understand her view that it is possible to amend it in Committee—that is always the process in Parliament—but my recommendation would be to vote against this Bill. However, I understand and respect the way in which she has approached this and the way in which she represents her community and her constituency. She will join me in being pretty alarmed at the stress that the manufacturing industry is under at the moment. If we do not have a customs union, manufacturing in this country will be seriously under threat.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab) For many areas that rely heavily on manufacturing, the deal as it has been set out, which includes leaving the customs union and single market, inevitably means tariffs, which inevitably means less manufacturing and fewer jobs in those areas.
Jeremy Corbyn My right hon. Friend’s constituency, which I know very well, was once a centre of manufacturing in Britain, but the Government of Margaret Thatcher put paid to that. He is right that, in the event of tariffs being introduced on manufactured goods and in the event of WTO conditions, the opportunities for sales in the European market, which are obviously huge at present, would be severely damaged. I ask colleagues to think carefully about what I see as the dangers behind the Prime Minister’s approach, because he does not offer a safety net—[Interruption.] There are so many people trying to intervene. Can I deal with one at a time, please? That would be kind. The Prime Minister does not offer a safety net—[Interruption.] I do not think there is any process that allows an intervention on an intervention on an intervention. I think you would probably notice it,
It is plain and simple: this Bill is a charter for a Brexit that would be good for the hedge fund managers and speculators, but bad for the communities that we represent, our industries and people’s jobs and living standards. Industries from chemical processing to car manufacturing are all deeply worried about how the Bill will operate.
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op) One of the reasons so many of us are concerned about the programme motion is how little time we have to bottom this out. The Prime Minister tells us that things will be better if we leave the European Union. He just said that he would look at the European work-life balance directive, but on 2 September the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy already ruled out to me implementing it. It is a directive that would give people carers’ rights and care leave that our constituents do not currently have. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with rushing this through is not just what we will lose, but what we will miss out on because this Prime Minister will not give any commitments on them?
Jeremy Corbyn I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course, she is absolutely right that, while the Prime Minister claims that there is no intention in his mind to undermine workers’ rights—I cannot see into his mind, so I do not know, but that is what he says—there is no legal protection within this Bill for dynamic alignment with the European Union on consumer rights, environmental protections, workers’ rights and much else besides. I therefore urge colleagues to think very carefully about how they vote on the Bill tonight. Parliament needs to do its job and that is what we should be given the chance to do; we should not be rushed into this 17 hours after the Bill’s publication. I would also say—I was a trade union organiser and official before I came into this House—you do not give up what you have won and gained; you protect what you have and try to get better in the future. The Bill undermines workers’ rights in our country and in our society, and those who vote this thing through in its present form will find that many of our current rights will be severely damaged.
Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab) Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, should it be passed, this Bill will open us up to a free trade agreement with the US that will have huge ramifications for our valued national health service and for the food we eat?
Jeremy Corbyn Yes, it will. The only way forward for the Prime Minister would be to go on to WTO rules and then to seek a special trade deal with the United States. I do not know whether the Prime Minister has noticed, but Donald Trump adopts an “America first” policy. Donald Trump’s attitude towards trade is, to put it most generously, one sided towards the USA. There will be no equitable deal with the USA, and those companies in the USA that want to get control of our health service will come knocking on the door to take over our national health service. This is a Bill of huge significance and complexity, and it will decide the future of our country, of our economy and of the economic model we follow. Accepting the programme motion will mean that all 40 clauses have to be considered and voted on within 48 hours, starting this evening. That would be an abuse of Parliament and a disgraceful attempt to dodge accountability, scrutiny and any kind of proper debate.
David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab) Has my right hon. Friend noticed that clause 36(1) says “It is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign”? Yet the Prime Minister will not give this Parliament of the United Kingdom the chance to fully scrutinise his proposals.
Jeremy Corbyn My right hon. Friend makes a strong case that Parliament should have the opportunity to properly scrutinise what the Executive want to do. I do not think the Prime Minister has really taken that into account in his botched and speedy procedure and in his obsession with getting all this stuff through in a few days. What the officials once said would take four weeks to properly scrutinise is now being done in one day. Colleagues on both sides of the House should simply ask themselves why. So much for Parliament taking back control. Parliament is being treated as an inconvenience that can be bypassed by this Government. There is a crucial element to this. When we in this House deal with major issues for the country, we need the information and we need— If hon. Members hang on a second, I will deal with this. No economic impact assessment whatsoever has been made or presented to this House. At the very least, this House should have that assessment and that expert advice in order to scrutinise the Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not seem to think it is relevant that this Bill and their deal need that kind of scrutiny—even more so in the light of today’s dire public finance figures.
Anna Turley (Redcar) (Lab/Co-op) My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that there has been no economic impact assessment of the Bill, so many of us have to rely on the impact assessment of the previous Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, which showed a detrimental impact on the north-east to the degree of 7% of our GDP. How can that be justified to our industry and manufacturing in the north-east, which are already so far behind the rest of the country?
Jeremy Corbyn Indeed. My hon. Friend represents a constituency that has suffered grievously from the Tory Government’s industrial non-strategy. SSI Redcar was closed down, and there are huge issues for manufacturing investment across her region and across her constituency. This House knows full well—and if Conservative Members cared to listen, they would know full well—that this proposal will damage manufacturing industry and, therefore, jobs, particularly in the north-east, which is the only part of the country with a manufacturing surplus on trade with Europe and the rest of the world.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (Independent Unionist) I am extremely concerned that the Labour party, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have anxiety that the Prime Minister’s new Brexit deal, in some way, undermines the Good Friday agreement and its achievements. Will he please take a few moments to explain his concerns? I think that is really important.
Jeremy Corbyn I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and I am sure she and the whole House would agree that the Good Friday agreement was an historic step forward that has brought relative peace to Northern Ireland. My concern is that this Bill creates a customs frontier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK—the Prime Minister told the DUP conference that that is something he would not do—and requires the certification of goods before they can be sent from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, and it therefore creates a different trading relationship.
Although there might not be an aspiration at the moment to put any physical customs points on the road borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic, I gently say that the direction of travel is not a good one. The hon. Lady knows as well as I do that, as soon as we start doing that, we will end up seriously undermining the historic achievements of the Good Friday agreement.
Mr Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford & Woodford Green) (Conservative) I return the right hon. Gentleman to a simple fact, about which I am concerned. Does he recall that he once sponsored a Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972? Can he explain what has changed and why, in voting against this Bill, he will be voting against repealing the 1972 Act?
Jeremy Corbyn I also recall that I strongly supported the social chapter in order to try to bring social justice across Europe, and I just remind the right hon. Gentleman of his historic achievement of bringing in universal credit and all the damage that has done to so many people in this country.
The only economic evidence we can go on is the economic assessment carried out under the previous Prime Minister, and that was clear. People voted in different ways in the referendum in 2016—that is obvious—but nobody voted to lose their jobs, or to find that their regulations and living conditions had been damaged. The function of Parliament is to hold the Government to account and scrutinise this agreement. A bare bones free trade agreement, which is what the Prime Minister is promising, would dramatically hit our country’s GDP, and would disproportionately hit the poorest regions and make everybody in this country worse off. It would also lock in the existing privatisation of our national health service, and nothing in this Bill protects our health service or public services from future trade deals.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab) Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that many EU nationals in this country are really afraid, because they do not know what their future is going to be? An Italian flower seller in a market in my constituency has lived here 15 years and has been constantly asked, “When are you going home?” Today, I have received an email from a doctor in the constituency, who said of a colleague:
“There are significant concerns about the tardy response by the ‘Brexit department’, for want of a better name for that organization, in that there has been no confirmation of— this German doctor’s residency and— “status going forward. He is obviously very anxious and distracted by this situation. We need to keep primary care morale up in the current difficult times and our valued European doctors—and nurses—need to feel confident about their future within the UK. This doctor has been a cornerstone of the NHS in Wales for over 20 years.” My right hon. Friend knows very well that we are losing doctors and nurses, and we cannot afford to do it.
Jeremy Corbyn I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. She says it with heartfelt passion and she is right: there are many people who have come to this country from all over the world, made their homes here and made a massive contribution to our lives and our society, and every one of us owes our health to those people who work in our NHS, whether they come from Commonwealth countries, other countries or the European Union. They should not be put through the strain either of the Windrush hostile environment or the sword of Damocles hanging over many at the moment because they know they have only five years’ definite stay in this country. I will just remind the House that in July 2016, my party, through Andy Burnham, then our shadow Home Secretary, moved a motion guaranteeing permanent rights and residence of EU nationals. The Prime Minister was the only Tory to support it at that time. I do not know what has happened to him since then.
On trade and investment, will the Chancellor do his job and provide the House with a comprehensive economic impact assessment on this deal? At the very least, will he do so before Report stage? This Bill falls hugely short in all areas. On jobs and manufacturing, this deal will reduce access to the market of our biggest trade partner and leave our manufacturers without a customs union. As we have heard in many interventions, Members have heard desperate pleas from businesses in their constituencies all saying that they need frictionless supply chains. So I ask all Members to do the right thing: let us work together to make sure that a comprehensive customs union is hard-wired into our future relationship with the EU.
Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) One reason why we need greater scrutiny is that as a result of the Bill, the relationships in Northern Ireland fundamentally change the decision-making processes. The stakes are so high and the risk is evident for us all to see. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need proper scrutiny and more time to consider the Bill, for the sake of peace?
Jeremy Corbyn The Northern Ireland peace process—the Good Friday agreement—is one of the most significant things that this House has ever done. We should understand the threat that the Bill brings.
I was speaking about workers’ rights, on which the Government want us to trust them. The provisions in the Bill will mean that the Government merely have to inform the House if they propose to diverge from EU standards. Am I correct in understanding that no notification, let alone a vote, would be required if the measure is currently contained in secondary legislation? The provisions fall way, way short of those in the Workers’ Rights (Maintenance of EU Standards) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), and the TUC concluded: “The deal itself does not meet the TUC’s tests that any brexit outcome must protect jobs, rights, and peace in Northern Ireland. By moving away from a close economic relationship with the EU, the deal would be a disaster for working people’s jobs and livelihoods. The deal would not require”—[Interruption.] I am surprised that Government Members do not want to hear what the TUC says about the deal. The TUC continued: “The deal would not require government to maintain existing rights, would not require rights to keep pace with those across the EU, and would leave workers with a significantly reduced ability to enforce the rights they do have.”
The TUC concluded by saying: “It would do nothing to improve employment rights in the UK, now or in future.”
The Government talk about maintaining world-class environmental standards, but actions speak louder than words, so can I ask the Prime Minister—
Why has the Prime Minister, instead of entrenching non-regression environmental standards into the Bill and the deal, taken out the level playing field commitments? I always say, Mr Speaker, that on all these issues you do not have to take my word for it; manufacturers and industry are deeply concerned about this deal. Environmental campaigning groups and green groups are deeply concerned. I challenge the Prime Minister to name a single trade union in this country that backs this deal. He knows that he cannot, and they have made their views very clear through the TUC.
Clause 30 makes it worryingly clear that if no trade deal with the EU is agreed by the very ambitious date of December next year, Ministers can just decide to crash the UK out on World Trade Organisation terms. That is not getting Brexit done; it is merely pushing back the serious threat of no deal to a later date. Let us be clear: as things stand the Bill spells out the deeply damaging deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated—and he knows it, which is why he is trying to push it through without scrutiny. Labour will seek more time to scrutinise. We will seek a clear commitment on a customs union, a strong single market relationship, a hard-wired commitment on workers’ rights, non-regression on environmental standards and the closure of loopholes to avoid the threat of a no-deal Brexit once and for all.
Lastly, the Prime Minister’s deal should go back to the people; we should give them, not just Members of this House, the final say. They always say that the devil is in the detail; I have seen some of the detail and it confirms everything we thought about this rotten deal. It is a charter for deregulation across the board, paving the way for a Trump-style trade deal that will—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Government Members do not like hearing this bit, so I will say it again: it will pave the way for a Trump-style trade deal that will attack jobs, rights and protections and open up our precious national health service and all the history and principles behind it, and other public services, to even more privatisation. That is exactly what the Prime Minister set out in his letter to the President of the EU Commission, when he said that alignment with EU standards “is not the goal of the current UK Government.” There we have it in his own words. That is a vision for the future of our country that my party, the Labour party, cannot sign up to and does not support. That is why we will be voting against Second Reading tonight and, if that vote is carried, we will vote against the programme motion, to ensure that this elected House of Commons has the opportunity to properly scrutinise this piece of legislation.
The Second Reading was carried by 329 votes to 299, a majority of 30.