“Mr Speaker, I beg to move the motion on the order paper in my name and those of my Rt Hon Friends.
At the start of five days of debate that will set the course our country takes for decades to come, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on how we got here.
When the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, the United Kingdom stood apart.
It was 15 years later, at the third attempt, that we joined what was then the European Economic Community.
Ever since then, our membership has been a contested matter.
In the first referendum in 1975 the British people voted to stay in – but almost a third of those who voted wanted to leave. Indeed, there are those in this Chamber who campaigned to leave at that time.
And as the EEC evolved into a European Union of increasing political depth, the British people’s doubts about our membership grew.
Ultimately, membership of any Union that involves the pooling of sovereignty can only be sustained with the consent of the people.
In the referendum of 2016, the biggest democratic exercise in our history, the British public withdrew that consent.
They confirmed that choice a year later by voting overwhelmingly for parties that committed to delivering Brexit.
The referendum was a vote to bring our EU membership to an end and to create a new role for our country in the world.
And to deliver on that vote, we need to deliver a Brexit that respects the decision of the British people.
A Brexit that takes back control of our borders, laws and money.
And a Brexit that sets ourselves on course for a better future outside the EU, as a globally trading nation, in charge of our own destiny and seizing the opportunities of trade with some of the fastest-growing and most dynamic economies across the world.
But this will only be a moment of opportunity, if we, in this House, can find a way to deliver Brexit that begins to bring our country back together.
That means protecting the easy trading relationship that supports just-in-time supply chains and the jobs that depend on them; the security co-operation that keeps us safe; the progress we have made in Northern Ireland; and the rights of citizens here in the UK and across the EU.
Mr Speaker, to achieve all of these things requires some compromise.
I know there are some in this House and in the country who would prefer a closer relationship with the European Union than the one I am proposing – indeed who would prefer the relationship that we currently have and want another referendum which they hope would overturn the decision we took in 2016.
Although I profoundly disagree, they are arguing for what they believe is right for our country and I respect that.
But the hard truth is that we will not settle this issue and bring our country together that way.
I ask them to think what it would say to the 52% who came out to vote Leave, in many cases for the first time in decades, if their decision were ignored? What would it do to our politics?
There are others in this House who would prefer a more distant relationship than the one I am proposing.
And although I do not agree, I know they are also arguing for what they think is best for our future and I respect that too.
But the hard truth is also that we will not settle this issue and bring our country together if, in delivering Brexit, we do not protect the trade and security co-operation on which so many jobs and lives depend, completely ignoring the views of the 48%.
We can shut our eyes to these hard truths and carry on debating between these extremes for months to come.
Or we can accept that the only solution that will endure is one that addresses the concerns of those who voted Leave while reassuring those who voted Remain.
That this argument has gone on long enough, it is corrosive to our politics and life depends on compromise.
And we can choose to settle this issue now by backing the deal in this motion.
A deal that delivers Brexit and a new partnership with the European Union.
A deal that delivers for the whole United Kingdom.
A deal that begins to bring our country back together again.
Mr Speaker, the decision that we have before us has two elements to it: the Withdrawal Agreement that sets out the terms of our departure from the European Union, and the Political Declaration that sets the terms of our future relationship with the EU.
The Withdrawal Agreement ensures that we leave the European Union on 29th March next year in a smooth and orderly way.
It protects the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU, so they can carry on living their lives as before.
It delivers a time-limited Implementation Period to give business time to prepare for the new arrangements. During the Implementation Period trade will continue on current terms so businesses only have to face one set of changes.
And it ensures a fair settlement of our financial obligations – less than half of what some originally expected and demanded.
But I want to turn to the most contentious element of the Withdrawal Agreement – the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It is important to remember what is at the heart of the Protocol – it is our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.
It is about saying that whatever happens as we leave the European Union, we will honour the Belfast Agreement.
That the hard-won peace that has inspired the world – and the detailed arrangements that have delivered and sustained it – will not be lost.
That the people of Northern Ireland – and Ireland – will be able to carry on living their lives as before.
And to deliver that, we need a solution in the future partnership which ensures there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Both the UK and the EU are fully committed to having our future relationship in place by the 1st January 2021.
But there is still the possibility that it is not ready before the end of the Implementation Period.
So the only way to absolutely guarantee no hard border on the island of Ireland at the end of the Implementation Period is to have a backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement as a last resort insurance policy.
Let’s be clear Mr Speaker, this is true not just for the deal we have negotiated.
Whether you want a model like Canada’s or whether you want to see the UK as a member of the European Economic Area – any future relationship will need to be negotiated and will need an insurance policy if that negotiation cannot be completed in time.
Put simply, there is no possible Withdrawal Agreement without a legally operative backstop.
No backstop means no deal.
Mr Speaker, I understand that some colleagues are worried that we could end up stuck in this backstop indefinitely.
In the negotiations we secured seven separate commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration to ensure this is not the case.
First, there is an explicit legal duty to use “best endeavours” to reach an agreement by the end of December 2020 that avoids the backstop coming into force in the first place.
This is not just a political commitment. As the Attorney General has set out, this is a recognised approach in international law.
And we have the right to seek independent arbitration if this duty is not upheld.
Second, if, despite this, the future relationship is not ready in time, the backstop can be replaced by alternative arrangements.
The Political Declaration makes clear that we will seek to draw upon all available facilitations and technologies that could be used to avoid a hard border. And preparatory work will be done before we leave so we can make rapid progress after our withdrawal.
Third, if neither the future relationship nor the alternative arrangements were ready by the end of 2020, we would not have to go into the backstop at this point.
Instead, we have negotiated that there would be a clear choice between the backstop or a short extension to the Implementation Period.
Fourth, if we do go into the backstop, the legal text is explicit that it should be temporary and that the Article 50 legal base cannot provide for a permanent relationship.
Fifth, if the backstop is no longer necessary to avoid a hard border, we have the right to trigger a review through the Joint Committee.
Sixth, as a result of the changes we have negotiated, there is an explicit termination clause which allows the backstop to be turned off.
And finally, the legal text is now clear that once the backstop has been superseded, it will cease to apply.
So if a future Parliament decided to move from an initially deep trade relationship to a looser one, the backstop could not return.
But rather than focus on the legal mechanisms we now have to avoid the backstop and ensure that if it is used it is only temporary…
I think the real question the House needs to ask itself is whether it is in the EU’s interest for the backstop to be used and, if it is used, for it to endure.
Their original proposal for the backstop would have split the UK into two customs territories and given only Northern Ireland tariff-free access to their market.
It barely challenged their orthodoxy, it was wholly unacceptable to us.
But the backstop we have succeeded in negotiating no longer splits the UK into two customs territories.
It gives the whole UK tariff-free access to their market without free movement of people, without any financial contribution, without having to follow most of the level playing field rules, and without allowing them any access to our waters.
So the backstop is not a trick to trap us in the EU. It actually gives us some important benefits of access to the EU’s market without many of the obligations.
And this is not something the EU will want to let happen – let alone persist for a long time.
But Mr Speaker, despite all of this, I know there are members of this House who remain concerned.
I have listened to those concerns. I want us to consider how we could go further. And I will be continuing to meet colleagues to find an acceptable solution.
Next stage of negotiations
Mr Speaker, the second part of this deal is the Political Declaration.
This is a detailed set of instructions to negotiators that will be used to deliver a legal agreement on an ambitious future relationship for after we have left.
I know there are some Members who worry that the Political Declaration is not already legally binding.
It cannot be a legal agreement at this stage because the EU cannot legally agree a future relationship with us until we are Non-Member State.
But through the negotiations, we have ensured that we have the framework for an ambitious new economic and security partnership that is absolutely in our national interest.
At the outset the EU said we would have a binary choice – Norway or Canada.
But the Political Declaration concedes that there is a spectrum. And we will have an unprecedented economic relationship that no other major economy has.
The EU also said we couldn’t share security capabilities as a non-Member State outside of free movement and outside of the Schengen area.
But we’ve secured the broadest security partnership in the EU’s history.
So if this deal is passed, the task ahead of us will be to turn this ambitious Political Declaration into our new legal agreement with the EU.
In doing so, I want to build the broadest possible consensus both within this House and across the country.
So for the next stage of negotiations, we will ensure a greater and more formal role for Parliament.
This will begin immediately as we develop our negotiating mandate, building on the political declaration ahead of 29th March 2019.
The Government will consult more widely and engage more intensively with Parliament as we finalise the mandate for the next phase of the negotiations.
Ministers will appear before Select Committees between now and March in each relevant area of the Political Declaration – from fisheries to space to foreign policy.
So Members across the House will be able to contribute their expertise to the detailed positions we take forward with the EU.
And the whole House will be consulted on the final version of that full mandate.
We will also provide the Devolved Administrations with a similar degree of detailed engagement.
And we will undertake targeted engagement with business and civil society to help inform our detailed negotiating positions.
Taken together, these arrangements will support a national mission to forge the strongest possible future relationship with our European partners commensurate with our wider global goals and in the interests of the whole country.
Mr Speaker, let me turn to the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition.
First, it argues for a “permanent customs union”.
The benefits of a customs union is that it means no tariffs, fees, charges, quantitative restrictions or rules of origin checks.
All of these are explicit in our deal, but importantly it goes further, because it also gives us the crucial ability to have an independent trade policy beyond our partnership with the EU.
So the Leader of the Opposition needs to explain why he does not share our ambition for a Global Britain.
Second, the amendment argues for a “strong single market deal”.
If that means being close to the Single Market but not part of it, then it is our deal which delivers the closest possible partnership.
If it actually means being in the Single Market, then he is opposing taking back control of our borders and ending free movement.
That not only contravenes the democratic instruction of the British people. It contravenes his own manifesto.
Third, the amendment claims our deal would “lead to increased barriers to trade in goods and services”.
Unless his policy is to stay in the Single Market as well as a customs union, then some increase in barriers is inevitable.
But it is our deal that is the best deal outside the Single Market – and which gives us the opportunities that come from an independent trade policy and increased regulatory freedom.
We are now at the stage in this process where we must all engage with the hard choices we face. Simply pretending everything can stay the same as we leave the EU – as Labour’s amendment does – does not face up to these hard choices and amounts to not being straight with the people of this country.
Fourth, the amendment claims our deal would not protect workers’ rights and environmental standards.
This is simply wrong.
Our deal does protect them.
As part of the single customs territory in the Northern Ireland protocol, we have committed to ensuring there will be no reduction in standards in this area – including on labour and social protection, fundamental rights at work, occupational health and safety, and fair working conditions.
And we have said we will improve on this in developing our future relationship with the EU.
Indeed, we already go further than EU minimum standards – including on annual leave, paid maternity leave, flexible working, paternity leave and pay and parental leave.
For we know that the first responsibility for protecting those rights sits with this Parliament.
And as we take back control of our laws, we will not only honour that responsibility but go further still including, for example, by implementing the recommendations of the Taylor Review.
So not just protecting workers’ rights – but enhancing workers’ rights.
Fifth, the amendment claims our deals allows the diminution of our security.
Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition knows full well that if we fulfil the democratic decision of the British people to leave the European Union, we cannot have exactly the same rights as a third country, that we currently have as a member.
But the question is: which deal represents the broadest security partnership in the EU’s history?
And what is he doing? Opposing it.
Sixth, his amendment appears to reject the backstop – even though businesses, farmers and people from across the community in Northern Ireland support this insurance policy.
And I think there is real anger in Northern Ireland at the approach Labour are taking.
And finally, the amendment opposes leaving without a deal.
But the EU have been crystal clear that no backstop means no deal.
So his amendment is simultaneously opposing no deal and proposing a policy that would lead to exactly that.
So I have to say at this critical moment in our history, the Leader of the Opposition is not making a serious proposition for the future of this country.
He is simply trying to force a General Election.
And the Rt Hon Member for Hayes and Harlington has admitted it when he said – and I quote- “Our view is we should have a General Election.’
At a time when we should be delivering on the vote of the British people, the Leader of the Opposition wants to ignore that and have another vote.
At a time when the government is working in the national interest, the Leader of the Opposition is playing party politics.
And at a time when we should all be focused, at this historic moment, on what is best for our country, the Leader of the Opposition is thinking about what gives him the best chance of forcing a General Election.
Mr Speaker, let me turn to the amendment from the Rt Hon Member for Leeds Central.
This also seeks to reject our deal, as well as to reject no deal.
But this House cannot unilaterally rule out no deal. The only way to avoid no deal is to agree a deal – and that requires the agreement of this House and the European Union.
If you reject what the other side have described as the only deal on offer, then – whatever you say to the contrary – you put this country on course for no deal.
This is doubly so when the amendment is silent on what alternative deal we should strike.
The EU27 member states, have made it clear that this is the best deal available and that there is neither the time nor the inclination to reopen negotiations and ensure we leave in good order on 29th March next year.
The choice before Parliament is clear – this deal, no deal, or the risk of no Brexit.
And investing parliamentary time in seeking to create an alternative to these choices will only endanger our ability to deliver Brexit at all.
Mr Speaker, let me deal with the question of another referendum.
I understand the argument that if this House is deadlocked we could give the decision back to the British people.
But I ask the House to consider what would say to those in our constituencies who put aside decades of doubt in the political process, because they believed that their voice would finally be heard?
What it would say about the state of our democracy, if the biggest vote in our history were to be re-run because a majority in this House didn’t like the outcome?
And what would it do to that democracy, what forces it would unleash?
This House voted to give this decision to the British people.
This House promised we would honour their decision.
If we betray that promise, how can we expect them to trust us again? And even if we held a referendum, what would it achieve?
It wouldn’t bring the country together, it would divide us all over again.
It wouldn’t end the debate, because if it was close like last time then whichever side lost out would soon start to call for a third one.
And it wouldn’t take us forward, but rather back to square one.
We cannot afford to spend the next decade as a country going round in circles on the question of our relationship with the EU.
We have already spent too many years with divisions on Europe simmering in the body politic.
We must deliver on the referendum we have already had – focus on the day to day concerns of the people and take this country forward.
I want to be clear what this deal delivers for our country.
An end to free movement once and for all.
An end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.
An end to those vast sums we send to Brussels every year.
And a fair settlement of our financial obligations, less than half what some predicted.
A new Free Trade Area with no tariffs, fees, quantitative restrictions or rules of origin checks – an unprecedented economic relationship that no other major economy has.
And at the same time, the freedom to have an independent trade policy and to strike new trade deals all around the world.
This deal means being out of EU programmes that do not work for us.
Out of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Out of the Common Fisheries Policy, as an independent coastal state once again with full control over our waters.
It means jobs protected.
Citizens’ rights protected.
The integrity of our United Kingdom protected.
The sovereignty of Gibraltar protected.
Our security protected – with the broadest security partnership in the EU’s history, working together with our friends and neighbours to keep all our people safe.
The British people want us to get on with a deal that honours the referendum and allows us to come together again as a country, whichever way we voted.
And this is the deal that delivers for the British people.
Mr Speaker, I have spent nearly two years negotiating this deal.
I have lost valued colleagues along the way.
And faced fierce criticism from all sides.
If I had banged the table, walked out of the room and at the end of the process delivered the very same deal that is before us today, some might say I had done a better job.
But I didn’t play to the gallery, I focused on getting a deal that honours the referendum and sets us on course for a bright future – and I did so through painstaking hard work.
Because I have never thought that politics was simply about broadcasting your own opinions on the matter at hand – it is as much about listening to people from all sides of the debate and then doing what you believe is in our national interest.
That is what I have done – and sticking to the task has delivered results for the British people.
When the EU gave us a choice between off-the-shelf models – I won us a bespoke deal.
When in Salzburg, the EU tried to insist on a backstop that carved out Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, I faced them down and they backed down.
And right at the end, when Spain tried to make a move on Gibraltar, I stood firm and protected Gibraltar’s sovereignty.
And that is why the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has said: no friend of Gibraltar should vote this deal down.
Don’t let anyone here think that there is a better deal to be won by shouting louder.
And do not imagine that if we vote this down, a different deal is going to miraculously appear.
The alternative is uncertainty and risk.
The risk Brexit could be stopped. The risk we could crash out with no deal.
The only certainty would be uncertainty: bad for our economy and bad for our standing in the world.
That is not in the national interest.
The alternative is for this House to lead our country forward into a brighter future.
Mr Speaker, I do not say that this deal is perfect. It was never going to be – that is the nature of a negotiation.
Yes, it is a compromise. It speaks to the hopes and desires of our fellow citizens who voted to leave and those who voted to stay in.
We will not bring our country together if we seek a relationship that gives everything to one side of the argument and nothing to the other.
We should not let the search for the perfect Brexit prevent a good Brexit that delivers for the British people.
And we should not contemplate a course that fails to respect the result of the referendum, because it would decimate the trust of millions of people in our politics for a generation.
To all sides of the debate – to every member in every party – I say that this deal deserves your support for what it achieves for all of our people and our whole United Kingdom – one union of four nations, now and in the future.
And this is a debate about our future.
It is not about whether we could have taken a different path in the past, but which road we should take from here.
If we put aside our differences and remember what unites us…
…if we broker an honourable compromise in the interests, not of ourselves, but of those we were sent here to serve…
…if we come together and do our duty to our constituents…
…then we will pass the test that history has set for us today.
It is not easy when the passions run so deep.
But looking around this Chamber, I know we can meet this moment.
So I promise you today – this is the very best deal for the British people.
I ask you to back it in the best interests of our constituents and our country.
And with my whole heart, I commend this motion to the House.”