Theresa May – 2020 Speech on the Future Relationship with the EU Bill

The speech made by Theresa May, the former Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 30 December 2020.

I welcome the deal and I will be supporting it today. I welcome the fact that the official Opposition will be supporting this deal, but I did listen with some incredulity to what the Leader of the Opposition said. He said he wanted a better deal. In early 2019, there was the opportunity of a better deal on the table, and he voted against it, so I will take no lectures from the Leader of the Opposition on this deal.

The Prime Minister has said that central to this deal are the tariff-free and quota-free trade arrangements, subject to rules of origin requirements. It would have been unforgivable for the European Union not to have allowed tariff-free and quota-free access, given that it signed up to that in the political declaration signed with my Government in November 2018.

One of the reasons for supporting this deal is the security arrangements that have been put in place, which are very important. Access to passenger name records and Prüm are important, but there is an issue of timeliness of access to those and other databases such as the European criminal records information system. I hope, in operational terms and in practice, we will see little change to the ability to investigate as a result of the good relationships that have been built up.

I think that the EU has made a mistake in not allowing us access to SIS II. I understand that it set as a principle that we could not have that access, but we should aim to try to find some resolution to that in the future, because it is an important database. It helps us in our fight against modern slavery and child abduction, and in identifying criminals across our borders.

One area in which I am disappointed by the deal is services. It is no longer the case that UK service providers will have an automatic right of access to provide services across the EU; they will have to abide by the individual rules of a state. I understand that a lawyer advising on UK law in the Czech Republic will have to be resident, but in Austria will have not to be resident. That is just an example of the difference in the rules.

The key area is financial services. In 2018, at Mansion House, I said that we wanted to work to get a financial services deal in the future treaty arrangement, and that that would be truly groundbreaking. It would have been but, sadly, it has not been achieved. We have a deal in trade that benefits the EU, but not a deal in services that would have benefited the UK. The treaty is clear that future negotiation on these points is possible, and I hope that the Government will go to that negotiation with alacrity and vigour, particularly on financial services.

Of course, a whole structure is set up under the treaty. One thing it does not do is to excise the EU from our lives, because a whole structure of committees is set up, some of which, like the partnership council, will be able to amend the arrangement and make determinations on its operation and interpretation without, as far as I can see, any formal reference to this Parliament.

Sovereignty has underpinned the negotiations since article 50 was triggered. Sovereignty does not mean isolationism; it does not mean that we never accept somebody else’s rules; it does not mean exceptionalism. It is important as we go forward that we recognise that we live in an interconnected world and that if the United Kingdom is going to play the role that I believe it should play in not just upholding but encouraging and promoting the rules-based international order, and in ensuring that we promote these interests and values and strengthen multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, we must never allow ourselves to think, as I fear that some in this House do, that sovereignty means isolationism.

I say to all Members across the House that today is the time, as I have said before, to put aside personal and party political interests, which sadly too many have followed in the past, to vote in the interests of the whole UK and to support this Bill.