Parliament Won't Be Bullied Into Backing May's Deal With Empty Threats Of No Deal

Labour secured an emergency debate in Parliament about the Government's preparations for a No Deal Brexit. During the debate I cited the Committee for Exiting the EU evidence that No Deal is a charade. Ports and hospitals are not ready. The EU is not ready. Parliament won't be bullied into backing May's deal with empty threats of No Deal. It's a false choice. 

Stephen Kinnock: It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake).

Theresa May’s disastrous handling of the Brexit negotiations is entirely of her own making. It is she who chose to interpret a narrow victory for leave as meaning that the UK must exit the single market and the customs union; it is she who decided to call a general election in the middle of the most important negotiations in our post-war history; and it is she who utterly failed to face down the hard core of English nationalists in her party who want Brexit at any cost. In among all the chaos and incompetence, however, there is one aspect of her strategy that has become crystal clear. She has been talking up the prospect of no deal in order to bounce MPs from both sides of the House into supporting whatever deal she asks us to approve. Her game plan is simple: scare the living daylights out of Parliament by repeating ad nauseam that the choice will be between her deal and no deal at all.

It is vital that Parliament rejects the Prime Minister’s scaremongering and blackmail tactics, because they are built on an empty threat. The fact is that no deal is simply not going to happen for three reasons. First, a no-deal Brexit will unleash unmitigated chaos across government, business and society. As a member of the Exiting the European Union Committee, I have heard extensive evidence from senior civil servants and business leaders about the extent to which our country is ready to absorb the shock of leaving the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal.

Wayne David: Does my hon. Friend agree it is not simply that we would be leaving the European Union and relying on WTO trade rules? It would mean a rupture in the whole corpus of legal arrangements that have been in place for 40 years. Such a scenario is totally unthinkable.

Stephen Kinnock: I agree entirely. Let us not forget that this will impact on people’s lives and citizens’ rights—the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British ​citizens in the European Union. What will happen to the European arrest warrant? What will happen to our entire security apparatus across the EU? It is not just about trade and the WTO; it is much bigger than that.

I have been deeply impressed by the professionalism and dedication of every one of those who have come in to speak to the Select Committee to give evidence. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that they are engaged in a charade. Let us take the state of preparedness at our ports. Jon Thompson, the head of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, told us that his French counterparts have categorically refused to engage in bilateral discussions about how to plan for a no-deal exit, because bilateral contacts are not permitted under the terms of article 50. We can continue, should we wish to do so, to allow in goods from the EU at Dover without checks on 30 March, but we have absolutely no idea what the French are going to do at Calais in the event of no deal.

On our customs processes, Mr Thompson told us that there are currently 145,000 businesses across the UK who currently import or export their goods solely within the EU. Thanks to our membership of the customs union, not one of those businesses ever has to complete a customs declaration form because all the checks are done at the point of departure—that is, at the relevant factories, warehouses and farms. If we exit without a deal, every one of those businesses that wishes to continue trading with the EU will need to know how to complete a range of complex customs declarations. According to Mr Thompson, however, to date only 2% of the 145,000 have contacted the HMRC to seek guidance on what they should do in the event of no deal.

On health, Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, told us that there is no clarity on reciprocal healthcare arrangements for UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. This will end in the event of no deal. A British tourist in Paris needing medical treatment is currently entitled to full access to the French public healthcare system, but as of 30 March 2019 he or she may be required to hold a private insurance policy.

On legislation, Jill Rutter, director of the Institute for Government, told us that, in order to ensure that UK law is operable on 30 March 2019 in the event of no deal, a mountain of primary and secondary legislation would have to be passed. The Government have so far managed to pass six of the 13 currently announced Brexit Bills. Without a deal, they will need the Trade Bill to complete its passage through Parliament, along with other key Bills in areas such as agriculture and fisheries, as well as legislation to secure EU citizens’ rights. And then there is the mountain of secondary legislation, with between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments having to be passed by 29 March. Even if MPs were to start working on all this primary and secondary legislation now, it would be a herculean task but, as we are not even going to have the vote until the 15 or 16 January, there is no sign at all of this being able to be brought forward. We are in the realm of the impossible.

Peter Grant: Does the hon. Gentleman fear there is a significant risk that, just as the Government are trying to put unacceptable pressure on Parliament to accept a ​bad deal by holding up the threat of no deal, so, as these major and often contentious pieces of legislation come through, Parliament will be put under intense pressure to agree bad legislation without proper scrutiny just because we have to get something on the statute book in time?

Stephen Kinnock: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is a steamroller. The tactics and strategy are based on steamrollering, bullying, blackmail and holding a gun to Parliament’s head. The purpose of this debate is to show that Parliament will not have it. We will not be bullied. We will not be presented with a false choice. We will not be blackmailed in the way the Government are attempting. It is a constitutional and democratic outrage.

Secondly, we have no idea how the EU27 would react to a no-deal exit, but draft legislation recently tabled by the French Government contains this sentence:

“In case of withdrawal of the UK from the EU without agreement, British nationals and their family members currently residing in France would be staying illegally”.

This leaves little room for doubt as to the mindset of member states’ Governments or the profound challenges that would be created for the British Government and for British citizens and businesses.

Thirdly, but not least, it is absolutely clear that there is no parliamentary majority for no deal. It is equally clear that it is impossible that the Government could consider a no-deal exit without the support of Parliament for such a course of action. The conclusion is, therefore, that a no-deal Brexit is simply not on the cards, and a responsible Government would be making that statement clearly today.

As no deal is not going to happen, and given that the Prime Minister’s deal is dead in the water, it is finally becoming clear, I hope, that there is an option that can bring Parliament together and get us through this difficult time. It is an option I have been talking about for two years now—many of my hon. Friends and colleagues from across the House will be sick to death of me banging this drum, but I will continue to do so. An EFTA-EEA-based Brexit combined with a customs union—otherwise known as the Norway-plus option—is the only option that resolves the Irish border issue and protects the jobs and livelihoods of the people we were elected to represent. It is the only option that I believe can command a cross-party parliamentary majority and which has a hope of reuniting our deeply divided country.

It is vital that Parliament hold its nerve. This is not a choice between the Prime Minister’s deal and no deal, because no deal is simply not going to happen; this is a choice between the Prime Minister’s deal and the right deal; it is a choice between caving in to the Prime Minister’s empty threats and scaremongering and standing up for the interests of our constituents; it is a choice between capitulating to a bully and asserting our sovereignty. I am confident that when the time comes Parliament will step up and do what is right for the country.