EU Withdrawal Agreement

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Bim Afolami: I rise in support of the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, and I do so because I believe in compromise. That word is not very popular in our current politics. As Stella Creasy said, everybody believes that they are right all the time and refuses to see where we can find common ground. In a 52:48 nation, the Prime Minister needed to find common ground and a balanced compromise, and this deal reflects that.

For those who voted remain, like me, this deal gives a two-year transition period, an unprecedented partnership on security, agreement on citizens’ rights and the pathway to a deep trading relationship. For those who voted leave, this deal means that we are leaving the European Union, the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy and ending free movement. If we want high alignment with the European Union, we can choose that, and if we want low alignment, we can choose that too. Many Government and Opposition Members who do not want us to be part of the European Union would have bitten David Cameron’s arm off if he had offered them this deal a few years before the referendum. We should all consider that.

In the time remaining, I would like to examine what happens if we end up with no deal. We have heard from many Members about how devastating that would be. I urge anybody who thinks that no deal is not necessarily a good idea but will not be that bad and is manageable to speak to manufacturing businesses, retail businesses, agricultural bodies such as the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association, and the many senior civil servants who have worked on these issues in Government and know the parlous state of things.

We must also examine what “WTO rules” really means. The tariffs and quotas would need to be negotiated individually, country by country, and we should not expect every single country to accept those unilaterally. There would be a negotiation, and that would take time. All the countries are watching this debate. They would see the difficulty we are in and may seek to take advantage of that. It would not be straightforward. Some people say, “We’ll just have zero tariffs on everything to make things easier.” We could do that, but if we did, we would need to have zero tariffs for every single country, because to do the contrary would be against WTO rules. What would that do to manufacturing in various parts of the economy and to agriculture, which would be suffering from the consumer shock of a no-deal Brexit? There are other areas not covered by WTO rules. I am sure that we could work those out over time, but they would need to be negotiated with the European Union, and how easy would the negotiation be if we had walked away from the withdrawal agreement and refused to pay the money and fulfil our agreed obligations?

Some suggest that this agreement puts us in a poor negotiating position, and I think it is fair to say that it will be a difficult negotiating position. We are one country against 27. That will be difficult. It will also be difficult to get the 27 to agree, because they will have divergent interests, but that was always going to be the case, whether it is a WTO exit or a negotiated exit such as this. In my last seconds, I would like to urge the Government to speak to Members across the House if this deal does not succeed and consider—

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