Bill Wiggin – 2018 Commons Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Bill Wiggin, the Conservative MP for North Herefordshire, in the House of Commons on 6 December 2018.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), and, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer).

Let me first commend the Prime Minister’s determination, fortitude and persistence in her negotiations with the European Union and in her repeated statements to the House. I, like many, want to conclude Brexit as swiftly as possible and to fulfil the result of the 2016 referendum, but the withdrawal agreement contains enormous problems. The Northern Ireland protocol provides for an extension of the customs union that would keep the United Kingdom in the customs union and some aspects of the single market. The Attorney General confirmed to the House, both in his statement and in his published legal opinion, that the backstop had no unilateral exit mechanism. That means that leaving the backstop and the customs union could be more difficult than leaving the European Union. The people who voted for Brexit voted for independence, and the backstop prevents us from fully leaving the EU. The current withdrawal agreement therefore does not respect the will of the people to leave the EU.

If the Government are unwilling or unable to secure a better deal, the default position is trading on World Trade Organisation terms—no deal, or a clean global Brexit, as it should be known. People who say that that would be a disaster—the consensus on the Opposition Benches is that it might be—are, generally speaking, people with whom I disagree, usually because they are wrong. Our exports to countries with which we trade on WTO terms have grown three times faster than our trade with EU countries since the 1990s. We currently ​run a surplus on our trade with our biggest national export market, the United States. By contrast, we run a deficit on our trade with European single market partners. Anyone who is afraid of the WTO should simply look around their home and note the sheer volume of items made in China, America and the rest of the world in order to conclude that the WTO is not quite the demon that Opposition Members make it out to be.

On Tuesday, the Grieve amendment looked, at first, like it had put power back into the hands of the House of Commons. Although many of my colleagues and constituents tell me that anything for which the House votes will not be legally binding, we have seen this week that the Government cannot ignore Parliament. The purpose of the amendment was to put at risk the clean global Brexit, given that it will not be supported by Parliament, so I worry that extensions to article 50, or a second referendum, could win the support of MPs who do not respect the result of the original people’s vote. They should use this debating opportunity to remind the public that they will not seek to undo the result of the referendum, in exactly the way my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) did earlier.

Voting for the deal itself represents a threat to Brexit, but it also represents a threat to the Government. Ironically, the DUP, which will support the Government in a confidence vote if the deal is lost, would be closest to the hard border that the backstop seeks to prevent. Surely they must have their views respected above all else.

For our £39 billion, we deserve a proper arrangement with the EU that is mutually beneficial, as well as good value for our taxpayers. I fear that this deal does not open the door to positive trade negotiations. It hangs the threat of the backstop over the heads of our negotiators, which will force them to compromise and concede. Therefore, as it stands, I do not want to support the deal, but I hope that the Prime Minister will take our concerns on board and will act. I hope that she will return to this House with a deal that I and my colleagues can wholeheartedly support.