EU Withdrawal and Indicative Vote 2

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John Stevenson: I will be short and to the point. Let us go back to first principles. What was the referendum question about? It was about our membership of the EU. This country decided to revoke that membership, and therefore we must implement that decision. By doing so, we effectively become a sovereign, independent nation. Any sovereign, independent nation gets involved in international relations. We do so through our membership of NATO, which has obligations and benefits. We are also a member of the United Nations, which has responsibilities and clear benefits, and interestingly, we also make a financial contribution.

As an independent, sovereign nation, we will clearly want to enter into free trade agreements. Logic would dictate that we should start with the 30 closest countries, which are in Europe. They are our main trading partners, making up 55% of our trade. In any agreement, we would want no tariffs, regulatory alignment and access to a market of 500 million people, including some of the richest in the world. We would like agriculture and fisheries to be excluded. We would want to make sure that there was a fair competition policy, and we would want state aid rules to be fair to all participants. What a wonderful opportunity for our businesses, what benefits for our country.

Clearly, there may—and should—be some obligations. What about payments and contributions? Quite rightly, we would make contributions to the institutions, and we might even make contributions to poorer regions to help them develop, but there would be a significant saving on the amount we pay under the present arrangements. What about free movement? Yes, we would have to accept there might be free movement, but we might in fact want that, because we need employees for our NHS, workers during the summer and the opportunity to tap into that employment base in Europe. Under this agreement, however, we would also have an emergency brake, so if circumstances were such that we wanted to curtail immigration, we would be in a position to do so.

What about changing the rules? Clearly, under any agreement, there would have to be the ability to change rules, and we would have to accept them, but we could be right in at the beginning helping to frame those rules and making sure they were ones we could tolerate. If we were an independent sovereign nation, however, those rules could only be implemented through an Act of Parliament passed by this House—no other body could impose those rules on us.

What if any of this is ultimately unacceptable to us? We could say, “We’re not going to enact those policies because we are a sovereign Parliament and we are not willing to do so”; we could enter into a negotiation with those countries and try to come to some arrangement; or, as an independent country, we could give one year’s notice and leave. This is quite clearly the best possible outcome. We would confirm the revocation of our membership of the EU but also be part of what I consider to be the best free trade arrangement there is.

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