Parliamentary Scrutiny of Leaving the EU

Parliament must have a role, whether through Select Committees or in the Chamber, in the general terms of the negotiations. That is why I will support the motion this evening and why I welcome the principles laid out by the Secretary of State this afternoon. However, it would clearly be counterproductive to restrict the Government’s scope to negotiate the best deal for Britain.

If we attempt to set a form of specific mandate, we will find ourselves choosing between two equally unattractive outcomes. The Government could do what Tony Blair did in 2004 ahead of the European constitution negotiations and set out a series of so-called red lines that are either so vague as to be meaningless or so much part of the consensus that they are unlikely to be challenged. Alternatively, they could set out something more detailed on what the UK would and would not accept, and risk destroying our negotiating position.

The negotiations are not a matter of simple, binary options for us to choose between, such as hard Brexit or soft Brexit; being in the internal market or having no access to it; or having open borders or sealed borders. They may be easy slogans, but they mean very little. Brexit means exactly what was on the ballot paper in June: Britain will not remain a member of the European Union.

Everybody, including many of the speakers this afternoon, seems to have a different idea of what they mean, particularly when it comes to the single market. We have heard a number of Labour Back Benchers say that we must remain members of the internal market. The shadow Brexit Secretary spoke of having access to the single market and
the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) focused more on zero tariffs, particularly for manufactured goods. I spent seven years working in the European Parliament, mostly on internal market policy, but I do not recognise the distinct, clearly defined single market that we are being asked to stay in. If remaining in the single market means Britain remaining within the EEA as it is currently set up, it is hard see how that is compatible with the tone of last summer’s debate or the vote in June. The internal market is the four freedoms of movement. Countries can no more be members of the internal market without freedom of movement than someone can take a pound of flesh without shedding a jot of blood.

If not that, what does single market access mean? Does it mean the ability to trade with EU countries? If so, presumably almost every country in the world has access. Does it mean zero tariffs, as the hon. Gentleman suggested? If so, that can and should be done. Trade barriers damage everybody. Does it mean people being able to provide a service in any EU country on the same basis as they can provide it in their home country? Ten years on from the EU services directive, the EU does not have that yet. I hope the Government address that in new agreements with the EU and countries outside it.

Britain should be an open trading nation. I believe we can make a success of that outside the EU. Of course Parliament has a role in scrutinising what comes next, but we should be clear that Britain will leave the EU and that we will be successful.