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Debate on Lords Amendments to Brexit Bill


13th June 2018

Speaking in the second day of debates on the Lords Amendments to the Brexit Bill, Jonathan Djanogly explains why he accepts the Prime Minister’s position that amendments relating to the customs union and membership of the EEA would undermine her negotiation position.

Mr Djanogly
A key question coming out of today is whether we wish to deal with the customs union and EEA issues now in this Bill or later, in the Trade Bill and the customs Bill, after the June EU summit. As things stand, there are reasons for immediate concern. We were promised a White Paper, planned for a few weeks ago. Not only has it not materialised but we are now being told that it will not appear until after the June EU meeting, when I thought the main negotiations were meant to be happening. Let us not forget that we are meant to be signing a deal in November, which is only five months away.

6.00 pm

It is always a challenge in Brexit negotiations to decipher what is going on, but as I see it, the Government seem still to be arguing for a customs partnership with a high degree of single market regulatory access that would fall somewhere short of the EEA. Along with that, there would be the customs backstop proposal, which itself would need some form of regulatory agreement in order to work. It is clearly impossible to go firm with an opinion on this, but I would venture to say that we seem to be heading towards something that is in the realms of an acceptable final deal—appreciating as I do the fact that no one is going to get everything that they want.

On that basis, I accept that now is not the time to be mandating the Government to join the EEA under the terms of Lords amendment 51. If negotiations fail, or if they seem to be going nowhere after the June EU meeting, this would be an appropriate issue to be decided in the Trade Bill. Until that point, however, the Prime Minister should be given the chance to negotiate fully and to come back with her proposals for us to consider.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
One reason why we need to make a decision now is that businesses are already relocating. International broadcasting contributes £1 billion to this country and it is prominent in my constituency. It dominates Europe, and it will move to Europe because it will not be able to get the licences that it needs in this country. That is happening now. We cannot wait three or six months.

Mr Djanogly
I accept that business wants consistency and answers, and that it wants to know which way it is heading. However, even under the amendment it would ​not have that, so I still say that we should stick with the Prime Minister, who has her plan.

The Lords amendment on the customs union is a more complicated scenario, as it does not mandate us to join a customs union, as the amendment to the Trade Bill would. Rather, the Lords’ proposal in this Bill is simply that a Minister should lay a report outlining the steps taken to negotiate a customs union. In theory, therefore, the Minister could comply simply by reporting that steps had been taken, even though they were leading nowhere. On the other hand, I appreciate that having this amendment would give some comfort that the Government had not written off a customs union as a fall-back if Brussels were to reject the Prime Minister’s proposals. It also makes a statement that this House rejects the concept of a hard Brexit—a lesson that needs to be understood by many Members of this House.

However, it has been put to us by the Prime Minister that any vote on this issue will, in her opinion, seriously undermine her negotiating position in Brussels. I was told directly that such an amendment could lead Mr Barnier to throw out the Government’s negotiating proposals on the basis that the EU could say that it was being manipulated by them. I would dispute that interpretation, but I also accept that it is ultimately the Prime Minister who is going to negotiate for us on what I believe will be a fair basis.

Furthermore I recognise the Government’s concession a couple of days ago, after no little debate, in allowing the Lords amendment if the words “customs union” were changed to “customs arrangement”. That also needs to be put into the context of the Government’s concession on Northern Ireland in the amendments to Lords amendment 88. Importantly, those amendments require everyone to act with regard to the December 2017 UK-EU joint report. So I suggest that, if we add the “customs arrangement” wording to the Irish compromise in the joint report, which will need to be applied throughout the UK, and throw in the Irish backstop proposals for good measure, we will be much closer to a customs arrangement resembling a customs union than we were before. I note that the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and various other hon. Members have made the same point.

For all those reasons, and despite all the confusion, the lack of policy and the Brexiteer antics, I have decided to back the Prime Minister in her June EU meetings, and I will vote with the Government on these amendments.

Hansard

Earlier intervention in the same debate

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
It seems to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, in effect, making the same argument on this issue as the Government, which is that we want to negotiate a free trade deal without the bureaucracy or the regulations—in other words, to have the best of the EU and the single market but without the downside. That is a very valid position to take, but can he confirm that he is in concurrence with the Government’s position on that?

Keir Starmer
No, our position is not the same as the Government’s at all. I recognise that we need a strong single market model. All I am saying is that I think there are challenges in the EEA model, which is not the only model, and that we would be better off with a model that does not tie us to a particular deal that another country has done. However, and this is why our amendment is important, that model should ensure full access to the single market and no new impediments to trade, with common rights, standards and protections as a minimum, underpinned by shared institutions and regulations. That is a long way from the Government’s position because they are not prepared to sign up to those commitments. The frustration in the negotiations is that nobody yet knows, because the Cabinet is still divided, whether the Government really want to negotiate something that is close economically to the EU, which will require shared regulations and institutions, or if they want to negotiate something else altogether.

Hansard



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