Caroline Spelman – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Caroline Spelman, the Conservative MP for Meriden, in the House of Commons on 29 January 2019.

It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who spoke with great wisdom and clarity, as always.

A no-deal Brexit would have not just a huge economic cost, but a huge human cost, and that is what drove me to table amendment (i). The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and I are co-authors of this amendment, and we are neighbours. We have seen the lives of our constituents transformed by the renaissance of manufacturing in our region. It now exports more than any other region to the EU, which is its principal market. But Brexit is putting this at risk. As a group of cross-party MPs, we began meeting six months ago to discuss how to help, as we are already losing jobs—not just because of Brexit, but it has made it worse. We co-authored a letter to the Prime Minister calling for a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out, and I thank those who signed it. It attracted 225 signatures from MPs of six parties from all over Britain. The signatories are remainers and leavers, but we agree on one thing—we are against a no-deal Brexit.​

Hardly a day goes by without another business calling for no deal to be prevented. Yesterday, it was the supermarkets which fear their shelves will be empty. Before that, it was the security analysts advising us of increased risks and before that, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Siemens, Ford, and the National Farmers Union and other farming organisations. The list is simply endless. The CBI has described this as a monumental act of self-harm to be avoided at all costs. Crashing out without a deal simply makes our exports instantly less competitive.

The Government say that it is not their policy to leave with no deal, so let us rule it out. The threat of no deal has been used as a stick to get more concessions, but in my view that card has played out. It has not secured the needed changes, as on the backstop, for example. So as a former negotiator, I would flip that card round the other way as a carrot, offering to take no deal off the table in return for concessions that will get the deal over the line.

I want to be clear: I am not blocking Brexit. I am committed to honouring the referendum result. I voted for the withdrawal agreement; I have read all 585 pages. I urge colleagues perhaps to have a fresh look at it. It may not be perfect, but local businesses tell me that it is good enough and works for them.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)

In addition to the businesses themselves, does my right hon. Friend welcome the communications from the workers in those businesses, particularly Jaguar Land Rover, who have communicated with Members of Parliament such as myself to tell me their concerns about a no-deal Brexit?

Dame Caroline Spelman

My hon. Friend is quite right. As a fellow west midlander, he will know that many of us had a personal handwritten letter, or an original email, about the impact—the human cost—on our constituents’ lives, which we simply cannot ignore.

I know that others need persuading about the withdrawal agreement. I encourage colleagues to read the document produced by the House of Commons Library, “What if there’s no Brexit deal?” This document could usefully inform six days of debate, because we ought to debate what the House of Commons Library tells us are the really important issues that we need to consider.

Heidi Allen

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Dame Caroline Spelman

I am short of time now, so I ask my hon. Friend to allow me to continue.

As no deal looms, just think of the human cost. Hundreds of young people like the single mums on my council estates got apprenticeships, then well-paid work in manufacturing, and now their jobs are at risk. Voting no to no deal means that we must agree a deal. The longer the uncertainty continues, the harder it gets for business. Stockpiling is costly and inefficient—the cost comes off the bottom line, and in the end that costs jobs. Just-in-time supply chains will be “not-in-time” with any hold-up at the border, and some factories are already stopping production to limit the disruption.

If we agree that no deal is not an option, then it is incumbent on all party leaders to get round the table—and I think I heard the Leader of the Opposition say today that he would. The Malthouse initiative is an example of a new contribution to break the deadlock. But to ​negotiate any new deal with the EU will take time and cause an inevitable delay, and I am with the Leader of the House in trying to keep delay to a minimum. The Leader of the Opposition does not seem to have read my amendment because he thinks that it calls for a delay. It does not, because time costs money for business.

We know that there is a majority for “no to no deal” in this Parliament because it was voted on as part of the Finance Bill, but the sheer complexity of that put some people off, including me. So this is a simple vote on whether colleagues support no deal or not. As the commentators say, it is not “processy”. I am surprised that, having been defeated on this issue once, the Government might still want to whip against this amendment —but then, these are not normal times in politics.

The public are weary with the Brexit debate. It is not quick and painless, as promised. They want us to come together in the national interest, and we can do that by agreeing that no to no deal means that there has to be a deal. I am not a natural rebel. Indeed, I do not accept that label as someone supporting something that commands a majority in this House. I see that the Speaker’s chaplain is here to remind us all that we need to be respectful. I am a peacemaker, and I urge all parties in the House to come together in an outbreak of pragmatism and to agree a deal. To vote for my amendment commits us all to that quest.