Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement

15th January 2019

Shailesh Vara explains why he will vote against the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement in the meaningful vote.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty).

I have been a loyal Conservative Member of Parliament for nearly 14 years, but I do not believe that the withdrawal agreement before us is in the interests of my constituents or our country. That is why in November last year I resigned from my post as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, allowing me to speak up against the agreement and to vote against it later today.

The Government have repeatedly said that the United Kingdom’s constitutional and economic integrity would not be compromised, but the legal advice given by the Attorney General to the Prime Minister on 13 November states in paragraph 8, on page 2 that

“for regulatory purposes GB is essentially treated as a third country by NI for goods passing from GB into NI.”

I raised the issue earlier with the Attorney General. While his answer was eloquent and articulate, he somewhat fudged the issue. We entered the then European Economic Community as a United Kingdom, and it is important that we leave it as such at the end of March.

The withdrawal agreement sets out the terms on which we will negotiate a future free trade agreement, but it is extraordinary that we are required to pay £39 billion up front before we have negotiated the deal itself. It is also extraordinary that we are agreeing to enter an unending backstop that we will not be able to leave unilaterally. Effectively, we are agreeing to be handcuffed by the EU, and it will determine when the handcuffs come off.

The assurances and warm words are just that, and they are meaningless. We are told that the backstop will be temporary, but “temporary” has to be judged in context. Given that the agreement with Canada took seven years and the agreement with Singapore took eight years, we can rest assured that “temporary” means many years. France and Spain have already made clear that they will have conditions. In the case of France, that is access to our coastal waters for fishing, and for Spain, it is rights regarding Gibraltar. They have said that they will not agree to our departure from the backstop unless they have satisfaction on those matters. Not only will we be held hostage in the customs union in that way, but we will be heavily restricted in our ability to do favourable trade deals with the rest of the world.

I recognise the need for compromise in international agreements, but this deal is not a compromise, it is a cave-in by our country. It is an agreement that has been negotiated on the basis of fear of being outside the EU, rather than on confidence. It is important to remember—the facts make this clear—that in the decades ahead, economic progress in the countries outside the EU will far exceed progress within the EU. This debate is not only about today, tomorrow, next month or even next year; it is about the decades to come and the future of our children and our children’s children. We need to get it right, and this agreement does not do that. That is why I will be voting against it this evening.

Hansard