Parliament’s Duty on Brexit

Parliament’s Duty on Brexit


It’s a pleasure to be back here in
Parliament. This is the first speech I’ve actually given in Parliament since I left
office and I’ll never forget the very first time I was in Parliament and I
went to the Central Lobby of the House of Commons and the moment I stepped in I was about 27 years old I just thought this is the place I want to be and some
of you will know Lord Pendry, Tom Pendry who is the MP that my father-in-law, who
is not generally respectable, but in this instance managed to get me in to see
a Labour MP. And I always remember having this conversation with Tom Pendry and
him saying to me after about five minutes “Woah boy you can’t get in yet
it’s gonna take some time” but I’ll never forget the excitement and that
excitement is is with me as I come back here today. So to the lecture on Brexit. So on one thing everyone is agreed
Brexit is the most important decision this country has taken since the end of
World War Two and the commencement of modern British history. It was taken by
referendum on one day in June 2016 with a simple majority of those voting and by
a margin of 52 to 48. At that point self-evidently there was no knowledge of
what the alternative to life outside the EU would look like. But the country
voted to leave and the Government was mandated to negotiate the terms both of
exit and the new relationship. Since the 23rd of June 2016 as the negotiation is
proceeded so has our appreciation of what Brexit entails. The negotiation
is complex. The future relationship around trade is technically fraught. There
are many different versions of what Brexit will mean in practice ranging
from staying in the Single Market and Customs Union to going out without an
agreement and trading on WTO terms. One other thing has emerged.
There are different views about what is an acceptable Brexit outcome in
Parliament in the opposition party and not only in the governing party but in
Government itself and even the cabinet. So in a rational world this would result
in an active and thorough debate about the mandate the June 2016 vote bestowed.
Was it a mandate to leave on whatever terms, in whatever circumstances? Or can
we read into the mandate some qualification relating to the effect of
different Brexit outcomes? If it is the first then there could be no revisiting
of the decision irrespective of what it means for the national interest or the
economy. If it is the second then plainly it is logical once we know the terms of
the negotiation that the people have a right to judge whether they want to
proceed with that negotiated version of Brexit. It is a matter which reflects in
the most profound way on the state of our politics that it is the official
position of both main parties in Britain that the first is the correct
interpretation of the referendum decision i.e the British people voted to
leave on any terms or indeed on no terms such was the vehemence of their dislike
of the European Union. In other words this decision on that day by that
majority in that way has had the consequence bringing into being a
mandate which is comprehensive all-encompassing
and eliminates further discussion of the wisdom of the decision. Just roll that
round your mind for a moment. In no other dimension of life, let alone
politics, in a personal decision that any of us take in the myriad of different
situations which require decision in our lives would we take such an all defining
direction to a new future in this manner. We wouldn’t move jobs in their spaces
move home marry or divorce with such a whatever the terms abandon as apparently
we have chosen to do in this case of the most momentous decision for the
direction of our country in modern times. And what is more in circumstances where
the decision was only a small margin to the side of 50/50 I do ask how on earth
have we come to such an extraordinary and definitive reading of the mind of
the British people? That not merely do we insist that they have insisted that we
leave whatever the facts we now discover or whatever the terms our Government can
negotiate but even more extraordinary that the same British people would
resent deeply being given an opportunity to pass judgment on these terms once
they know them. By a combination of a pitiful lack of leadership and the
bludgeoning of that part of the media dedicated to Brexit at any cost we
have taken the British people to the point where we consider it a betrayal to
allow them to revisit the most important political discussion and decision of
their lifetime once they are in possession of the full facts which will
determine the nation’s destiny the generations to come.
If we proceed with Brexit future historians will naturally focus on the
impact of the Brexit decision but I predict the one major part of
their inquisition will be how we as a country were persuaded that we should
take such a decision so irrevocably in such a fashion. The case that I and
others make is not that we ignore the referendum and reverse Brexit by
simple act of Government or Parliament it is rather
that we honour the Brexit result but say that the process of decision-making by
the people should not cease to exist after the 23rd of June 2016 but should
continue up to and until a final judgment our membership of the EU when
set against the new relationship our government has negotiated once we know
it. If the people are to be trusted with the decision to leave before we know the
terms of exit why once we have that knowledge are they now suddenly
disqualified and seemingly incapable of making the decision on whether the terms
of exit meet their approval? Yet this is where we are it is for this reason that
Parliament today assumes such a special significance. We cannot rely on the
government. It has been plain for a long time that their primary interests given
the divisions is to keep the facade of unity. Unfortunately we cannot rely on
the opposition because its leadership believes whether for reasons of
opportunism or covert opposition for the EU that they must commit to doing Brexit
but pretend that they would secure a better Brexit deal. The truth is that
the case for letting the people make the final decision is common sense if it is
considered rationally and free of pressure. Think of all the things that we
know since the 23rd of June 2016. Think of how much greater is our understanding
of the various options, the intricacies of our trading relationship, the impact
on each sector of business and industry. Add up all the aspects of the
negotiation from EURATOM to fishing rights to security cooperation and think
how much more we know about corners of our national policy which seemed settled
in bureaucratic obscurity but now require analysis investigation
and painstaking accord. Take Northern Ireland. I recall the visit I made with
John Major during the referendum. Let’s say we didn’t exactly set the campaign
on fire. The warning we gave was dismissed with ease by the Secretary of
State almost with contempt. Today Northern Ireland is the issue
which stands between the government of the successful conclusion to the
withdrawal agreement and no one is dismissing it now. Everyone says they
want a frictionless border between north and south. In the past this was
easy. For 100 years since partition there was an agreement for the free movement
of people and commerce across the border the Republic of Ireland and the UK were
always in the same relationship to Europe as each other. They joined the EU
on the same day in 1973. Now the border will become the border between the UK
and the EU. It is frankly obvious that the border can only remain frictionless
if the North stays in the same relationship to Europe for trade and
free movement of people as the south. This means by the way not just a customs
union but a single market arrangement. We can solve part of the puzzle by turning
a blind eye to free movement to people though of course it makes a nonsense of
‘taking back control’ of our borders for immigration purposes. But for trade,
Europe will insist that if we are out of the single market there will have to be
some form of border checks. We can argue about how many and at what cost
but the border cannot be frictionless. Yet this is what we were promised.
However Northern Ireland is a metaphor for the entire negotiation. In all areas
from pharmaceuticals to cars to financial services, what I call the dilemma with a
capital D will become manifest. Either we keep to Europe’s rules however we
call it equivalence or alignment in which case we have not fulfilled the
central Brexit promise of absolute control over our laws or alternatively
we are free to diverge from those laws in which case the disruption to trade
and consequent economic damage will be large. At some point the Dilemma will
have to be confronted and overcome the question is when. And this is where
Parliament is vital. The resolution of the Dilemma can only be made by a choice
at this point of choice we will know what Brexit really does mean, which of
the very different versions of Brexit the Government has negotiated and
whether the one negotiated satisfies the wishes of the people. The Government’s
whole approach up to now has rested on the hope that the Dilemma can be avoided,
that Europe will agree that Britain can stay roughly in line with Europe but
nonetheless of the freedom to set our own rules and then on this basis we will
have largely frictionless trade not absolutely as we have now but near it.
This is what is now known as ‘cakeism’. Here is the thing having our cake and
eating it is not negotiable. Europe is not going to agree it. They might and I
stress might agree to cherry picking in some areas we align and keep single
market rules in other areas not might but they are never going to agree to
‘cakeism’. The Government have recognised this. This was the meaning behind the
Prime Minister’s recent speech which did try to differentiate between different
sectors. But the most she felt able to offer in the areas where we want to stay
close to Europe with something short of alignment and the result was an
immediate rebuff from the European side. It is a measure of the frailty of the
public discourse around Brexit that the deal the government struck last week on
arrangements was accepted as some sort of victory. The reality is that Britain
conceded that during the transition we will remain bound fully by European
rules that we will have lost our say over them. There is not a compromise but
a capitulation. Meanwhile the resolution of the Dilemma which is the key question
including on Northern Ireland was postponed. As time goes on I believe the
Government will recognise fully that if they put a proposition to Parliament which
clearly resolves the dilemma and before March 2019 the risk is it will not pass.
Either it will mean divergence from Europe in which case the business
community will protest the damage and MPs will take notice of that. Or it will
mean alignment with Europe in which case the die-hard brexit ears will cry foul
and the British people will wonder why we’re leaving. So the government will
turn to fudge. They will understand and will be brexit ears over the system that
they have somehow to get past March 2019 without a defeat and they can only do
that if the terms of the new relationship are sufficiently vague to
let the fiction of cakeism continue. Then once past March 2019 and when we
are irreversibly out of Europe they can negotiate safe in the knowledge that
then the issue will be whatever deal they do versus no deal. Before we leave
we have at least some limited negotiating leverage. Not much. We
constantly forget that even though Brexit dominates our news cycles it’s
largely absent from those the rest of Europe except Ireland. But once we have
left and are in the transitional period there’s nothing by way of leverage. We
can say that Europe will suffer if there is no deal or their companies are
excluded from our market but the reality is that the pain we would suffer from
being shut out of theirs is so disproportionately great
this is a bluff that will never work. Basically we will have to take what is
given by the end of 2020 the transition will end the cliff edge will beckon. We
can navigate a harder or easier descent but retreat will be
impossible. It is this strategy that Parliament is a duty to foil. It has
demanded a meaningful vote. The vote is only meaningful if it is on a
proposition which allows us to know with precision what our future path looks
like before we take it irreversibly. Exposing the strategy of fudge and
preventing it should in my view be the overwhelming aim of the Labour Party in
Parliament. I understand though I don’t agree with the decision to go along with
Brexit but it is the duty of opposition MPs to thwart a strategy designed to
place the country in a position where it puts beyond reach of reconsideration a
decision of this fundamental importance whose full consequences we do not know. Failure to stand against the fudge
would be unforgivable. As for the Conservative Party I understand why they
feel they must deliver Brexit as the will of the people. I understand also why
they believe that delivering it is the best inoculation against to speak
frankly a Corbyn government. But in politics the difference between tactics
and strategy is everything. Tactics are about the politics of the moment.
Strategy leaps over the moment and tries to imagine the long term. Think ahead
before the end of 2020 we will know the real deal. I suspect we will have a
Canada type deal with not much plus. And if we don’t we will have a deal which
will leave a big number of Brexiteers feeling hoodwinked.
But there is then another 18 months after the deal to an election. Think June 2022. Will the
economy be stronger? Will the Brexit news be better? Will people be feeling that
Brexit really has delivered all that control we say we don’t have now? Will
the NHS be on the mend? Will the free trade agreements be stacking up? Brexit
happening in this sequence will be a Tory Brexit fully owned exclusively and
completely by the Conservative Party. The 17 million who voted leave may be short
on gratitude the 16 million who voted remain will be unlikely to forget.
Remember the 13 million wins an election. Brexit is not the root for the
Conservative Party to escape a Corbyn government. It is the gateway to having one.The sensible strategic cost for the Tories is to share the responsibility
resolve the dilemma before March 2019 put the proposition to Parliament even
better let the end piece of a free vote. Then let the people make the final
judgement on that the British people prefer the terms
for leaving Europe to what we have now inside Europe.
If Brexit passes in those circumstances and that’s the end of the
matter. We leave. If it doesn’t then the people have decided. The Government has
done its best. In 2022 the Conservative Party can fight an election not on
responsibility for Brexit but on the normal domestic issues of the day. When
I was growing up in politics the Tories were almost the pragmatic folk. They
eschewed ideology. They were business minded and prided themselves on common sense.
They stood out against being railroaded by shouty activists. These are the
qualities which have deserted them and pursuit of Brexit at every stage
decisions to be made driven by short-term politics driven by loudmouth
rhetoric We triggered article 50 before the French and German elections. Before
we had any clear idea of our negotiating position that’s pushing ourselves up
against a very tough time table for such a complicated negotiation. We’ve put down
red lines around the single market and customs union with little thought as to
how that would be compatible with the interests of business and the shut down
our negotiating room for manoeuvre. We’ve made a series of demands about money
transition and the rights of EU citizens all of which we were obliged to
surrender. The Europeans having at first thought that there was some truly coming
plan from the best brains of the British system now frankly think that it is the
product of the brain of Baldrick. After all only by dint of the barrage of pro
Brexit propaganda from the usual quarters are we spared a proper sense of
indignity for the way we have conducted this negotiations. It’s not too late for
our politicians to grip our nation’s destiny and approach this issue
differently. I returned to the magnitude of the decision. Much has focused on the
economics that Brexit. It’s often said that the predictions of economic
calamity turned out to be false. Well we can argue about the degree and the
timescale. But there’s no serious disagreement among serious people about
the economic consequences of Brexit. Growth estimates for the next five years
are the worse than over half a century. Quite apart from everything else this will
mean billions less in revenue to spend on public services. Every economic
forecast says the same including that of the government. Speak to those familiar
with the international investment community and the sentiment on Britain
I’m afraid has turned severely negative. Investment in the motor industry alone
is down 40%. We are utterly and wrongly complacent about the damage to financial
services if we lose access to Europe single market. Short term the losses will
be limited because of course it’s hard for Europe to readjust from London as a
financial center for European finance. Short term. Long term the City should be
under no illusion: European regulators and even more so European politicians
will not find it acceptable to have the Center for European finance outside the
purview of European regulation. Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin are setting out their stall
and over time we’re going to hemorrhage jobs and business. But the political
damage, the damage to Britain’s geopolitical standing is the missing
dimension to the Brexit debate. The most alarming characteristic of the breaks
the tears is their confusion of delusion and patriotism. To recognise Britain’s
position in the global hierarchy of Nations and how it has changed over the
past 70 years is not to be unpatriotic. The world of geopolitics is undergoing a
revolution. China will become if not the dominant power a power to rival America.
For sure by 2030 India’s economy will be bigger than Germany’s by 2050 several
times the Germany’s. Population and GDP through the mobility of capital and technology are becoming realigned. Britain will be
medium-sized in a land where there are some very tall people and three giants.
Like France or Germany we will be obliged to advance our interests through
alliance. On our own we are weaker when dealing with trade, China Russia or even
Facebook and the other global behemouths. In alliance we gain strength. That is the
modern case for the European Union. To say this is not to diminish British
pride in what we have achieved or confidence in what we can achieve. It is
just to say that reality not fantasy is a better guide to statecraft.
It is not to dishonor our past it is simply to understand that the future
will be different. The qualities which lighten our path to the future have not
changed. But we should recognise what these British qualities are. They include
stoic resistance to bullying standing firm and yes being prepared to stand
alone when right to do so. But they also include creativity innovation openness
and engagement with the world. The more intellectual proponents of Brexit
can pretend that these latter qualities drove the case of a Brexit but come
on the pretense is ludicrous. Sure there are those who believe Brexit will
herald a new global Britain. But the coalition which delivered Brexit
habits its space sentiment that was anti-globalization isolation is some
particularly anti-immigration. And this sentiment was ruthlessly exploited by
the Leave campaign. I’m not complaining that’s politics. But don’t tell me that
the Brexit mandate derived from a desire to intensify globalisation. And
this of course is the terrible long-term risk of Brexit. People say there will be disillusion it Brexit doesn’t happen.Ppersonally I
doubt this if it is the result of a fresh say on the final deal. But even if
that’s true the bigger dissillusion will be when those who voted for Brexit
because they fear the future shaped by free-market globalisation realize they
are now conscripts in an adventure to embrace it more fully. So this is the
awesome responsibility which now rests with Parliament. This is a moment when
every MP is a leader. This is a decision like no other. It requires each member to sit the test of leadership and passing doesn’t mean
voting this way or that it means voting according to conviction and not
according to the whip. Only Parliament can now change the direction of this process.
Only Parliament can ensure a meaningful vote on the terms of the new
relationship with Europe before we leave by demanding that those terms are
written with clarity and not with fudge. Only Parliament can give back to the
people the final say on the terms the government negotiate. Members of
Parliament each and every one of you holds in your hands the responsibility
to insist that these decisions of such importance to our country are taken
before March 2019 before we cross over irrevocably to life outside Europe
before in other words it’s too late. So to each MP the question do you really
believe that Brexit is the answer to the challenges facing Britain? Do you
believe Britain will be stronger weaker outside of Europe? If you left
everything aside other than your own personal conviction will you continue
with this or find a way out? And if it is the referendum alone which persuades you
to follow is it not worth examining the arguments which permit you to lead
to say to the people in the light of what we know we should have the right to
think again? Last week we have a small but perfectly formed example of how
we’ve fallen as a nation into the vice of a false patriotism. It is impossible we
want to change them from magenta to blue and it appears that it’s a franco-dutch
company which has won the contract for the new passports. Outrage. A national
humiliation one Brexiteer called it. The national humiliation is not that we
have chosen a foreign company or a British one. The national humiliation is
if we think the color of our passports defines our sense of nationhood. There is time but not much time to
restore a proper patriotism one which concentrates on building the nation’s
strength to handle the challenge of a changing world not taking refuge in the
vain hope of escaping it. Here in this Palace of Westminster in the birthplace
of democracy in the forum where so many decisions have been taken which have
shaped not only Britain but the world here our fate will be decided by Members
of Parliament. I say to them think of our history. Think of our future. Think of the
true meaning of both and make that decision according to conscience and belief. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *