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Jonathan Djanogly speaks in the debate on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement

9th January 2019

Jonathan Djanogly speaks in the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement and urges MPs to back the agreement as the best way to ensure we leave the EU with a deal that retains the close cultural, educational, justice and security relationships that have been established over the past 40 years.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)

If the referendum were rerun today, everything that I have seen over the last two years—not least as a member of the Brexit Select Committee—would still lead me to vote to stay within the European Union. Having said that, I do respect the result of the referendum as a valid expression of the will of the people, but to me this means leaving the EU in a way that secures the best economic deal available with the EU and that maximises the potential for retaining the close cultural, educational, justice and security relationships that we have developed with our closest partners and allies. The referendum was “in or out”, but it did not, as some wrongly insist, dictate the terms of our leaving, nor the terms of our future relationship with the EU once out. Both of those questions were left for Parliament to resolve, and that is what MPs must now do. It is for this primary reason that I would oppose a second referendum, which would be indeterminate, complicated to implement and very divisive.

Angus Brendan MacNeil

The hon. Gentleman will probably be aware that the Prime Minister spoke to 200 MPs in one of the rooms in Portcullis House last night. Again, she ruled out a second referendum, but she said that if the deal does not get through, there are two options left: a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all with the revocation of article 50. Businesses up and down the country are going to have to start thinking about how they react once the deal is voted down. Will the hon. Gentleman venture his view on what he would do in that scenario?

Mr Djanogly

I was at that meeting, which I thought was a good expression of joint interests from all parties to the Prime Minister. I hope that we saw within that meeting the start of what could become a consensus, moving forward after what might be a defeat next week. Having said that, I do not discount a second referendum, as the Prime Minister did not. I am simply saying that I think it would be a very poor second best and a sign that this place had failed, but I do not dismiss the possibility.

As for the Prime Minister’s deal, on balance I find it to be a fair one and practical in the overall circumstances of the hand that we had to play; it has my support. To criticise the deal as not being as good as what we have with the EU now is a facile argument, if only because the EU was never, ever going to allow us to leave on the same or better terms than apply to the remaining 27 countries, no matter how many German cars we bought. The deal was always going to have to represent a compromise of views within the Conservative party, within Parliament and certainly with the EU. The deal reached does not represent my optimum position, but no one was ever going to get everything they wanted.

That is not to say that I do not share some of the criticisms of the deal, including many that can be found in the Brexit Committee’s report on the deal. For instance, despite assurances from two Secretaries of State, the financial settlement has not been included in the withdrawal agreement as being wholly or even partially conditional on securing a binding future relationship. To my mind, this has been a failure of negotiation that will undoubtedly reduce our leverage in future relationship negotiations due to start in March 2019 if we have a deal. Furthermore, ​the lack of detail in the future relationship political declaration means that there will still be another cliff edge as we reach July 2020, when we will need to decide either to head towards the backstop or to extend the implementation period, and there will still be a level of uncertainty for business as to the final form of the deal, although much less so than if we crash out with no deal.

So, on balance, we should take the deal on offer. The mess and upset that would be caused by a hard Brexit is unacceptable. Yes, the legalities can be brought to the fore on things like the backstop, but the legal cart should not be leading the commercial horse.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD)

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman might agree with me that the deal is very different from what people were promised during the referendum by those leading the Brexit campaign. If he does agree, is there not a case for thinking that it is undemocratic not to allow the people to have a say now, given that what is on offer is so different from what they were promised?

Mr Djanogly

I would not argue with the right hon. Gentleman about promises being made during the referendum campaign that could now be disputed, but the same could be said for a lot of general elections that we have had in the past. To say that elections or referendums are discounted because of what people maintained during the course of them would not, I am afraid, be a line that I would take.

Furthermore, if the deal is rejected by this House, from my point of view I will do everything I can to ensure that we do not leave the EU without a deal, and, to my mind, the next best thing after the Prime Minister’s option would be the Norway-plus alternative. If the Government’s deal fails to pass this House, and assuming that the Opposition’s no-confidence motion fails, I hope that we shall then start to find a new tone of cross-party working. We shall need a degree more honesty in how we describe Brexit issues, where in reality no one is going to win—not us and not the EU. We have the Labour Front Bench changing its position; we have the Brexiteers shouting, “Sell-out”, at every initiative while offering nothing as an alternative; and we have a Government who have frequently made soothing hard Brexit noises to Brexiteers while lining up a deal that clearly has a trajectory of close regulatory alignment to the single market and some form of customs arrangement. I do hope that the Government get their deal, but if not, it will surely be because they have unsuccessfully attempted to be all things to all men.

Gareth Thomas

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the deal does not pass this House next Tuesday, agreement to extend article 50 will be an urgent priority for the Government to bring forward a measure on?

Mr Djanogly

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. If the deal is rejected and we start looking at other possibilities—on a more consensual cross-party basis, I hope—then clearly whatever route we take leads to the deadline, and an answer to that may well have to be to extend the article 50 period. I am very pleased, looking back over a year ago now, that some of us in this place decided to ensure that the Government were not able to restrict the timing of the article 50 period, and so that will be a possibility.​
Rather than add to the fudge, let me explain why and how, if this deal fails, Members of all parties should coalesce around a Norway-plus option, and why the “plus” element—being in a customs union with the EU—is a good thing. First, most business wants a customs union because it allows free movement of almost half our exports between Union members without tariffs and checks and paperwork. Opponents say that this would stop the UK forging its own trade agreements, but, to my mind, the benefits of the EU customs union are far greater. We must keep in mind that the EU has some 250 FTAs with some 70 countries, and the UK plan is to “roll over” those deals, meaning that, at best, we would have the same—not better—terms as the EU with one third of the world’s countries. There would be no advantage of being outside the EU. That is, of course, assuming that we are able to make those deals happen, which we know is proving somewhat elusive, as the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) explained.

Secondly, the chances of negotiating better FTAs as a country of 50 million, rather than a bloc of 500 million, is realistically and simply not how it normally works. Thirdly, there will be significant costs of going it alone on FTAs, from being forced to take US genetically modified crops to issuing visas to countries, as currently requested by Australia and India. Fourthly, FTAs take a long time to negotiate—an average of seven years.

Fifthly, the claim that Commonwealth countries will prioritise us over the EU is unrealistic, not least considering that the Czech Republic currently has four times the trade with New Zealand than we do and that the Swiss do much more trade with India than we do. Sixthly, “most favoured nation” clauses in our rolled-over EU agreements and the integrated nature of world trade will significantly reduce our ability to get commercial advantage. Finally, high levels of foreign input into our manufactured goods will create huge problems under the so-called rules of origin.

In conclusion, my view is that we shall be better off with a customs union arrangement with the EU, and the deal on offer presents the best opportunity of securing future prosperity for our companies and employment for our people. We should support it.


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