Boris Johnson – 2020 Statement on the Future Relationship with the EU Bill

The statement made by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 30 December 2020.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

May I begin by thanking you, Mr Speaker, and the House authorities and all your staff for their hard work in allowing us to meet today? I also welcome the outstanding news that AstraZeneca is now rolling out a new UK-made vaccine, approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, that offers hope to millions in this country and around the world.

Having taken back control of our money, our borders, our laws and our waters by leaving the European Union on 31 January, we now seize this moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours based on free trade and friendly co-operation.

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP)

Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister

In a minute. At the heart of this Bill is one of the biggest free trade agreements in the world: a comprehensive—

Ian Blackford

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your clarification. I am just wondering how on earth the Prime Minister can talk about taking back control of waters when Scottish fishermen are going to have less access and less fish to catch as a consequence of his con deal.

Mr Speaker

May I just say, first of all, that that is not a point of order? We are very limited on time. Can we please try to keep to a tight agenda to allow everybody the time to contribute?

The Prime Minister

Although that was not a valid point of order, I must none the less correct the right hon. Gentleman. In fact, under this deal we have taken back control of our borders. Indeed, Scottish fishermen from the get-go will have access to bigger quotas of all the relevant stocks. From the end of the transition period, as he knows full well—

Ian Blackford rose—

Mr Speaker

Order. I understand that this is an important day and it is important that we all get on the record. It is also important that I get to the leader of the SNP. What I would not like to do is run out of time because of the number of times he stands for interventions. If the Prime Minister gives way, he will give way straight away, but please let us try to get the debate under way. At least give yourself time to hear what the Prime Minister has to say before you disagree.

The Prime Minister

With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I feel I must correct him. Not only will we take back control of our waters, we will increase Scottish fishermen’s share of all the relevant stocks: cod, for instance, going up by 47% to 57%; North sea haddock going up by 70% to 84%. That is just next year, Mr Speaker. In five and a half years’ time, we take control of the entire spectacular marine wealth of Scotland. It is only the Scottish nationalist party that would, with spectacular hypocrisy, hand back control of the waters of this country to the UK.

Ian Blackford

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you point out to the Prime Minister that the name of my party is the Scottish National party?

Mr Speaker

In fairness, I have pointed that out in the past. It is the Scottish National party.

The Prime Minister

Mr Speaker, I wish the right hon. Gentleman to know that I am using the word “nationalist” with a small “n”. I do not think he would disagree with that, which is semantically justifiable under the circumstances. Yet in spite of that nomenclature, they would hand back control of Scotland’s waters and go back into the common fisheries policy. What the Bill does is take back control—

Ian Blackford

Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister

Absolutely not.

What the Bill does is take back control of the spectacular marine wealth of Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

The Prime Minister

In a moment.

At the heart of the Bill is, as we have discussed in this Chamber many times, Mr Speaker, one of the biggest free trade agreements in the world: a comprehensive Canada-style deal worth over £660 billion, which, if anything, should allow companies to do even more business with our European friends, safeguarding millions of jobs and livelihoods in our UK and across the continent. In less than 48 hours we will leave the EU single market and the customs union as we promised. British exporters will not face a sudden thicket of trade barriers, but rather, for the first time in the history of EU agreements, zero tariffs and zero quotas. Just as we have avoided trade barriers—

Several hon. Members rose—

The Prime Minister

Mr Speaker, I think that plenty of Members want to speak. I have already taken plenty of interventions and points of order. I am going to make some progress.

Just as we have avoided trade barriers, so we have also ensured the UK’s full control of our laws and our regulations. There is a vital symmetry between those two achievements. The central purpose of the Bill is to accomplish something that the British people always knew in their hearts could be done, yet which we were continually told was impossible. We were told that we could not have our cake and eat it—do you remember how often we were told that, Mr Speaker?—namely, that we could trade and co-operate as we will with our European neighbours on the closest terms of friendship and good will, while retaining sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny. That unifying thread runs through every clause of the Bill, which embodies our vision, shared with our European neighbours, of a new relationship between Britain and the EU as sovereign equals, joined by friendship, commerce, history, interests and values, while respecting one another’s freedom of action and recognising that we have nothing to fear if we sometimes choose to do things differently.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

The devil is in the detail in anything that is before us today. Can the Prime Minister confirm—I hope that this is the case—that we see the end of discrimination and that the Hague preference is away, in the bin? The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation is expressing dismay from the Republic of Ireland. Will UK quotas be shared with Northern Ireland? Will there be tariffs for our ports of Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel landing the fish that they catch in Northern Ireland, and will the £100 million for fishing organisations be shared equally across the whole United Kingdom? Those are real, practical issues for us in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the entire UK will share in the programme of investment in our fishing industry. To get ourselves ready across the whole UK for the colossal uplift in fish that we will obtain, and even before the end of the transition period, the hon. Gentleman should know that we will fish about 130,000 tonnes more fish in the UK a year than we do at present. Currently, that is an opportunity that we must work to seize. [Interruption.] No.

We have much to gain from the healthy stimulus of competition, and the Bill therefore demonstrates how Britain can be at once European and sovereign. You will agree, Mr Speaker, that our negotiators published their feat at astonishing speed. It took nearly eight years for the Uruguay round of world trade talks to produce a deal; five years for the EU to reach a trade agreement with Canada; and six for Japan. We have done this in less than a year, in the teeth of a pandemic, and we have pressed ahead with this task, resisting all the calls for delay, precisely because creating certainty about our future provides the best chance of beating covid and bouncing back even more strongly next year. That was our objective.

I hope that the House joins me in commending my noble Friend Lord Frost and every member of his team for their skill, mastery and perseverance in translating our vision into a practical agreement. Let me also pay tribute to President Ursula von der Leyen, Michel Barnier and all our European friends for their pragmatism and foresight, and their understanding that it is profoundly in the interests of the EU to live alongside a prosperous, contented and sovereign United Kingdom. The House understands the significance of the fact that this agreement is not EU law, but international law, so there is no direct effect—EU law will no longer have any special status in the UK.

Ian Blackford

Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister

I have already given way quite a few times to the right hon. Gentleman.

There is no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice.

Ian Blackford

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I feel that I have to point out to the House the historic principle in Scotland, as established by law, is that it is the people of Scotland who are sovereign, and it is the people of Scotland who will determine to take them back into the European Union with independence.

Mr Speaker

As the leader of the SNP knows, that is not a point of order. I am desperate to hear what he has to say in his contribution. Rather than use it up now, why does he not save it so that others can get in? Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. Of course, it was the people of Scotland who took the sovereign decision, quite rightly, to remain in the UK—a once-in-a-generation decision. I think it highly unlikely that the people of Scotland will take a decision to cast away their new-found freedoms and new-found opportunities, not least over the marine wealth of Scotland.

We will be able to design our own standards and regulations, and the laws that the House of Commons passes will be interpreted—I know that this is a keen interest of hon. and right hon. Members—solely by British judges sitting in British courts. We will have the opportunity to devise new ways to spur and encourage flourishing sectors in which this country leads the world, from green energy and life sciences to synthetic biology.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)

Some of us had different views on Brexit, but those debates are now for the history books. Everyone in the House and the country should recognise the benefits of an agreement that goes beyond free trade, from science to energy to security. However, will the Prime Minister capitalise on the excellent news that we have had today on the vaccine by pursuing an industrial strategy that puts science and technology at its heart, so that we can grasp the opportunities that come as the world bounces back from covid during the year ahead?

Mr Speaker

Can I just help people and say that those who are high up on the speaking list will understandably get put down if they make continuous interventions? I want to get as many people in as possible, so please—

Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con)

Including the Prime Minister.

Mr Speaker

Thank you, Sir Bernard. Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). I remember well working with him on his industrial strategy and his ideas for championing green technology and biosciences, and I can tell him that those ideas remain at the heart of this Government’s agenda. We will certainly be using our new-found legislative freedom to drive progress in those sciences and those investments across the whole UK. We will be free of EU state aid rules; we will be able to decide where and how we level up across our country, with new jobs and new hope, including free ports and new green industrial zones of a kind I am sure my right hon. Friend would approve of.

I must make an important point. If, in using our new freedoms, either Britain or the EU believes it is somehow being unfairly undercut, then, subject to independent third-party arbitration, and provided the measures are proportionate, either of us can decide, as sovereign equals, to protect our consumers, but this treaty explicitly envisages that any such action should be infrequent.

Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab) rose—

The Prime Minister

However, the treaty banishes the old concepts of uniformity and harmonisation, in favour of the right to make our own regulatory choices and deal with the consequences. Every modern free trade agreement includes reciprocal commitments designed to prevent distortions of trade. The true significance of the agreement embodied in the Bill is that there is no role for the European Court of Justice, no ratchet clause on labour or environmental standards, and no dynamic alignment with the EU state aid regime or, indeed, any other aspect of EU law. In every respect, we have recovered our freedom of action.

Mr Dhesi rose—

The Prime Minister

I give way with pleasure to the hon. Gentleman, who has been up and down many times.

Mr Dhesi

Many hon. Members will face a dire dilemma because they will feel that our country has been sold short. On the one hand, we have the Prime Minister’s thin, terrible, burnt oven-ready deal. On the other hand, we face the prospect of an even more damaging and destructive no-deal Brexit. Can the Prime Minister advise us why, given that services account for almost 80% of our economy, there is so little for that sector in this deal? In particular, why could he not negotiate equivalence and passporting rights for the all-important financial services sector?

The Prime Minister

It was not quite clear from that intervention which way the Labour party is going to go on this—whether the hon. Gentleman is going to go with the leader of the Labour party and vote for the deal, or whether he is going to join other members of the Labour party and continue to dither and delay. We on the Government Benches are going to get on; we will be free of the strictures of the common agricultural policy, and we will be able to conserve our landscapes and support our farmers exactly as we choose.

On Friday—I am coming to a point that has been raised several times, but I will repeat it because it is a wonderful point—for the first time in 50 years, the UK will once again be recognised as an independent coastal state, regaining control of our waters and righting the wrong that was done by the common fisheries policy throughout our EU membership. Of course I have always recognised—

Several hon. Members rose—

The Prime Minister

I have answered the point from Opposition Members quite a lot. I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall).

Anthony Mangnall

The Prime Minister will know that Brixham, the most valuable fishing port in England, wants to see our waters regained, with access and control, and a rebuilding of the fishing industry in the UK. This deal delivers that. Can he assure my fishermen and fishermen around the country that that is what this Government are delivering on?

The Prime Minister

That is absolutely right, and the voice of Brixham should be heard up and down the country because that point is entirely correct and might be registered with advantage by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford).

I have always recognised that this was going to be a difficult period for our European friends and partners, because they have been fishing in these waters for decades, if not centuries. At first, as the House will know, they sought an adjustment period of 14 years, but our negotiators whittled that down to five and a half years, during which the UK’s share—[Interruption.] In that five and a half years, the UK’s share of our fish in our waters will rise from over half today, to around two-thirds. Of course we would like to have done that more quickly, but it is also true that once the adjustment period comes to an end there will be no limit, other than limits that are placed by the needs of science and conservation, on our ability to make use of our marine wealth.

Fifteen per cent. of the EU’s historic catch from our waters will be returned to this country next year alone. To prepare our fishing communities for that moment, we will invest £100 million in a programme to modernise their fleets and the fish processing industry—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) should listen to this, because we will be restoring a great British industry to the eminence that it deserves, levelling up communities across the UK, particularly and including Scotland where, in my view, those interests have been neglected for too long.

I find it extraordinary that on the eve of this great opportunity, the declared position of the Scottish National national/nationalist party—with a small “n”—is to hand control of the very waters we have just reclaimed straight back to the EU. That is its policy. It plans to ensnare Scotland’s fishing fleet in the dragnets of the common fisheries policy all over again. In the meantime, guess what SNP Members will do today, Mr Speaker. They are going to vote today for a no-deal Brexit! [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Glasgow East will tell me that he is going to vote for the deal.

David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)

I am immensely grateful to the Prime Minister for briefly pausing that monologue that was designed for the European Research Group. On fish, he is waxing lyrical about how amazing this deal is, but I would like to read him a quote from Andrew Locker, chair of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, who says:

“I am angry, disappointed and betrayed. Boris Johnson promised us the rights to all the fish that swim in our exclusive economic zone and we have got a fraction of that.”

Is he wrong?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that yes, he is. We will take back control not only by becoming an independent coastal state from 1 January, but in five and a half years’ time, we will be able to fish every single fish in our waters, if we so choose. That is the reality. In the meantime, as I say, and the hon. Gentleman did not deny it—I don’t think I heard him deny it—the Scottish National party is going to vote against the deal. It is effectively going to vote for no deal, which it campaigned against and denounced, proving once and for all, that the interests of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are best served by a one-nation party serving one United Kingdom.

This deal was negotiated—the hon. Gentleman should know this—by a big team from every part of our United Kingdom, and it serves the whole of the UK, not least by protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom single internal market, and Northern Ireland’s place within it. Our points-based immigration system will end free movement and give us full control over who enters the country. By the way, on that point I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for all he did to protect the interests of Northern Ireland.

At the same time, the deal provides certainty for airlines and hauliers who have suffered grievously during this pandemic. It guarantees the freedom of British citizens to travel to and from the EU and retain access to healthcare. It provides certainty for our police, our border forces, and our security agencies to work alongside our European friends to keep our people safe, and the SNP are going to vote against that, Mr Speaker. The deal provides certainty for our partnerships on scientific research, because we want our country to be a science superpower, but also a collaborative science superpower. It provides certainty for business, from financial services to our world-leading manufacturers, including our car industry, safeguarding highly skilled jobs and investment across our country.

As for the Leader of the Opposition, I am delighted that he has found yet another position on Brexit, and, having plunged down every blind alley and exhausted every possible alternative, he has come to the right conclusion—namely, to vote for this agreement, which this Government have secured.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab) rose—

The Prime Minister

I hope very much that the hon. Gentleman is going to tell us that he, too, is going to join his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and vote for this agreement. Is that the case?

Peter Kyle

I am very happy to confirm for the Prime Minister that I will be voting for this agreement. He mentioned several times his levelling-up agenda, but financial services and those working in the sector have been left entirely out of it, so does he not agree that every city and every town that is dependent on financial services, from Leeds to Manchester to Edinburgh, and many in between, have been levelled down and left out of this deal?

The Prime Minister

It is great to hear a member of the Labour party not only backing the bankers and backing financial services—a fantastic development—but also backing this deal. The hon. Gentleman is quite right because, actually, this deal does a great deal for services, for financial services, for the legal profession and many other professions. But, alas, the good news about the Labour party stops there, because I am told that the right hon. and learned Gentleman intends to ask the British people for a mandate to rewrite the deal in 2024—that is what he wants to do. I think, frankly, we got Brexit done; let’s keep Brexit done. And let’s press ahead with this Government’s mission to unite and level up across our whole country and grasp the opportunities before us, because I have always said—

Several hon. Members rose—

The Prime Minister

I am going to make some progress because many Members want to speak. I have always said that Brexit is not an end but a beginning, and the responsibility now rests with all of us to make the best use of the powers that we have regained and the tools that we have taken back into our hands. We are going to begin by fulfilling our manifesto promise to maintain the highest standards of labour and environmental regulation, because no caricature can be more inaccurate than the idea of some bargain-basement Dickensian Britain, as if enlightened EU regulation has been our only salvation from Dickensian squalor. Our national standards have always been among the very best in the world, and this House can be trusted to use its new freedom to keep them that way without any outside invigilation.

We are going to open a new chapter in our national story, striking free trade deals around the world, adding to the agreements with 63 countries we have already achieved and reasserting global Britain as a liberal, outward-looking force for good. Detaching ourselves from the EU is only a prelude to the greater task of establishing our new role, and this country is contributing more than any other to vaccinate people across the world against covid, leading the way in preventing future pandemics. We will continue to campaign for 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for what he is doing on that. We will continue to lead the drive towards global net zero as we host COP26 in Glasgow next year.

I hope and believe—and I think, actually, the tone this morning has given me encouragement in this belief; the mood in the House this morning seems on the whole to be positive—[Interruption.] In spite of the as-usual synthetic and confected indignation that we hear from some on the Benches opposite, I hope and believe that this agreement will also serve to end some of the rancour and recrimination that we have had in recent years and allow us to come together as a country to leave old arguments—old, desiccated, tired, super-masticated arguments—behind, move on and build a new and great future for our country, because those of us who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU never sought a rupture with our closest neighbours. We never wanted to sever ourselves from our fellow democracies, beneath whose soil lie British war graves in tranquil cemeteries, often tended by local schoolchildren, testament to our shared struggle for freedom and everything we cherish in common. What we wanted was not a rupture but a resolution—a resolution of the old, tired, vexed question of Britain’s political relations with Europe, which has bedevilled our post-war history. First we stood aloof, then we became a half-hearted, sometimes obstructive member of the EU. Now, with this Bill, we are going to become a friendly neighbour—the best friend and ally the EU could have, working hand in glove whenever our values and interests coincide, while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own laws, made by their own elected Parliament. That is the historic resolution delivered by this Bill. I commend it to the House.