In the House of Commons Chamber I called for the Government to release the Brexit impact papers, a common sense EEA/EFTA Brexit and a new kind of politics. The debate was an important moment where the government were forced into releasing the Brexit impact papers. It is vital we have the information required to do our job.
Stephen Kinnock: First, may I add to the earlier comments about how good it is to see you back in your place, Mr Deputy Speaker? It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean).
The debate has been conducted in a cordial and respectful manner. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of previous debates about the impact assessments and many of our Brexit debates, when Members on the Government Benches have repeatedly impugned the motives and questioned the patriotism of Members not only on my side of the House, but on their own Back Benches. This kind of conduct has to stop because debate in this Chamber cannot function on that basis.
When we take our Oath of Allegiance of office, we swear to act in the national interest, in faithful service to those who elected us, and we do so on the understanding that everyone else in this place does the same. Although I may believe that other Members err in what they hold to be in the best interests of our country, I would never for one moment doubt or question the sincerity with which they hold those views, I would never question their patriotism and I would never impugn their motives.
The contest of ideas that illuminates and enlivens this Chamber is one of different solutions, predicated on a common understanding that we all place the interests of our country first, even if we differ over what best serves those interests. Without that common understanding, our democracy breaks down.
That is just one part of a worrying shift in our political culture, however: one where parliamentarians simply trying to do our job are dismissed as traitors or saboteurs; and where the civil service is told, “We’ve had enough of experts,” because they do not give Ministers the answers they want. The job of civil servants is not to tell Ministers what they want to hear. It is to tell them what they need to hear—to speak truth to power.
Parliamentarians requesting information are not betraying our country. We are simply trying to do our job and stand up for our constituents. So when we call for the release of these documents, it is not about undermining the process; it is about improving the process. Parliamentary government requires an informed legislature. That means we must have access to this information. It is not good enough to tell us to wait until October, because by then it will be too late, as we are entering a crunch-point in the negotiations right now.
Earlier this week, we saw the EU agree its transition negotiating guidelines in just two minutes and, as we have seen, once Mr Barnier gets his marching orders he does not deviate from them. In about six weeks the EU will agree the negotiating directives for the final trade deal phase of the withdrawal talks. We should let that sink in for a moment: in six weeks, we will be asked to make the most important choice in our post-war history.
We talk of the fantasy Canada plus plus plus, but these leaked reports give the game away. They do not have anything on a Canada plus plus plus scenario, because such a scenario does not exist. It cannot exist. The plus plus plus is presumably supposed to mean the services sector, which accounts for over 80% of the British economy, but just two weeks ago at the Brexit Select Committee we heard from Christophe Bondy, the lead Canadian negotiator on CETA—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—who said there is no way for services to be part of a CETA-type deal. The fact is that a Canada-style deal would be about as much use to this country as a chocolate teapot.
It is crystal-clear that the most seamless and secure Brexit—the Brexit that is best for Britain—is an EFTA EEA-based Brexit. That is the only Brexit that protects jobs and opportunities, while also delivering control and influence. An EEA-EFTA Brexit ensures maximal access to the single market, being an internal market with the majority of the single market. It therefore protects jobs and investment, strengthens our hand in taking on multinationals such as Google and Amazon when they fail to pay their fair share, and protects vital workplace rights.
Peter Grant: Given the hon. Gentleman’s desire to retain access to the single market, can he explain why he does not want to just stay in the single market? Would not that provide the best possible access?
Stephen Kinnock: One of the key issues in the referendum was the free movement of labour and, as I shall go on to explain, there is an important provision in the EEA agreement that enables the application of an emergency brake on free movement. That is an important distinction between the EEA and the single market and it is one that we should look at seriously.
An EEA-EFTA-based Brexit would let us take back more control. It would end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and direct effect, ensuring that British courts had sovereignty. It would also allow us to shape the rules of the internal market through the EEA joint committees and veto those that did not work, with the right of reservation as enshrined in the EEA agreement. An EEA-EFTA Brexit would allow us to reform free movement by triggering articles 112 and 113, following the protocol 15 precedent, potentially allowing us to introduce a quota-based system to manage the inward flow of labour.
Above all else, an EEA-EFTA Brexit would allow us to reunite our deeply divided country. The Brexit referendum was won on a narrow margin, but the result was clear, and that is why I voted to trigger article 50. The Prime Minister then called an election, hoping to secure a mandate for a hard Brexit, but she had her majority cut substantially. The country said no to a hard Brexit. Any rational Government would accept that decision and commit to a sensible Brexit, rather than ploughing on through this fantasy hard Brexit land of rainbows and unicorns. The country said no to a hard Brexit. It said yes to a Brexit that bridges the divide. Our future relationship with our most important commercial, diplomatic and political partner is on a burning platform, and we have only until the end of March to put out those fires. I therefore urge the Prime Minister and her Cabinet to show some leadership, get off the fence and commit unequivocally to an EEA-EFTA Brexit.