The speech made by Lilian Greenwood, the Labour MP for Nottingham South, in the House of Commons on 14 September 2020.
If any of my constituents are watching this afternoon, I think they will be wondering what on earth is going on. “Why,” they will ask, “are MPs banging on about Brexit again? Isn’t that what the general election last December was meant to end? Didn’t we leave the EU in January? Wasn’t there meant to be an oven-ready deal?” They will ask, “Is this really what you should be focused on today?”
Right now, some of those constituents will be sitting at home feeling ill, anxious that they might have coronavirus but unable to get a test. Or they will be trying to work from home while looking after their son or daughter, who cannot go to school because they have a cold—or maybe it is coronavirus, but they do not now because they cannot get a test. Or perhaps they are on furlough because the business they work for has not yet fully reopened, or has not got everyone back yet, and they are anxious about whether they will have a job when the coronavirus job retention scheme ends next month.
People who work for one of our east midlands manufacturing businesses will be especially worried about the Prime Minister’s bluff and bluster earlier today; they, more than anybody else, require us to secure a deal, because their jobs depend on it. All those people will be asking why we are arguing about Brexit again when the top priority should be tackling the pandemic that threatens lives and tackling the resulting economic crisis that threatens their livelihoods.
Agreeing a trade deal with the EU is vital, but the Government need to get on with it rather than making it more difficult with the sort of posturing that we have heard today. The protocol contains a mechanism for dealing with disputes. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster himself said that
“the effective working of the protocol is a matter for the Joint Committee to resolve.”
Surely they need to get back round the negotiating table, stop posturing and reach an agreement on how the protocol should operate.
Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
I am sorry that it is really politically inconvenient for Brexit to come back to this Chamber because it reminds people that it was the Labour party that turned its back on the verdict of the British people three or four years ago, but surely it is not surprising: when the transition period is about to come to an end, these debates will come back to the House. Does the hon. Lady not agree with me that it is good that we finally have a Prime Minister who is fighting for British interests?
I think my constituents will expect a little bit better than that. They will expect the Government to get on with the job that they promised to do. The Government said they were going to deliver a Brexit deal, they said they had it ready, and my constituents do not expect them now to say that they made a mistake—that somehow it was not what they expected.
Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
At the heart of it, is not the issue that this whole thing comes across as a giant piece of bluff and bluster by a failing Prime Minister? As my hon. Friend rightly hints at, this is a means to distract the public from other immediate pressures. To make matters worse, it damages our reputation in the eyes of the world at a time, as Members have correctly pointed out, when we need to seek a trade agreement not only with the EU but with a number of other countries.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The timing is very interesting. We are at a point when many people are looking at the Government and are extremely worried about their incompetence and the way they are dealing with the current health crisis. With today’s debate and the Prime Minister’s position, well, people will wonder what is going on.
People will be baffled because every time they have listened to the news, watched politics on TV or opened a paper in recent days, they will have seen a senior Conservative MP, or a former Tory Attorney General, Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer, expressing grave concerns about the content of this Bill. Those concerns are not just from those who might be called “the usual suspects”—those who were remainers—because this is not about whether we leave the European Union. We have left. That argument is over. Their concern is that the Bill deliberately breaks international law, will prevent us from completing a deal with the EU in the very short time available to do so, and will have much wider ramifications for the future of our country. They are risking the UK’s reputation across the globe.
Many hon. Members have already asked how other countries, with whom we want and need to make trade deals, will trust a Prime Minister who, just a few short months after he negotiated and signed an agreement, now says that he intends to break its terms. We do not have to guess what they will think; we can see for ourselves the reaction from our friends and allies, including, as has already been said, from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives. If the Prime Minister really considers that this deal contains serious problems that could break up our country, why did he sign it? Why did he claim it was a great success? Had he not read it, or did he not understand it?
Of course, the dangers of the Bill are not just about the UK’s ability to negotiate trade deals; they are about the UK’s reputation and its moral authority. How can our Government seek to uphold the rule of law if we break it ourselves? How can we hold other nations to account on their treaty obligations on international standards when we disregard our own?
Will the hon. Member give way?
I will not, because we are very short of time. Speaking to the House earlier, the Prime Minister claimed that the provisions of the Bill will be used only as a last resort, and sought to play down the problems that it poses but, as the House of Commons Library briefing states,
“the existence of the power to override a number of the UK’s international obligations may itself constitute a violation of international law.”
The very fact that it has been tabled is already undermining the reputation of this country, and damaging our relationships with those we need to reach deals with.
There are other concerns about this Bill: that it runs contrary to the devolution settlement; that it will enable a race to the bottom on standards; and that it undermines the rights of the devolved nations to set their own spending priorities. The Government should ensure free trade access across the UK. We need a strong internal market, but this Bill is not the way to do it. Unless it is amended, I cannot, and this Parliament should not, support it.