In the House of Commons Chamber on 12th October 2016 Peter contributed to the debate and challenge to Government on the Parliamentary scrutiny arrangements for leaving the European union. Here is his contribution.
First, I am pleased that the Government have acknowledged in their amendment that they have a negotiating position. That is a major step forward. I am also pleased that an unelected Prime Minister has deigned to give Parliament an opportunity to discuss this in due course. It is a real shame that the Prime Minister did not start her premiership by giving that commitment; instead, she has been forced to capitulate to the reasonable demands of so many people across the House.
The fact that the Prime Minister even gave thought to gagging Parliament—that is what it was in the first place—is shocking. If she cannot get a major constitutional issue right, what hope is there for the ability to negotiate a deal with the EU, especially with three members of her Cabinet leading the charge who cannot even agree among themselves who is leading on what?
I am afraid that the Government are not even in the happy position of making things up as they go along. By their standards, that would be a rational and systematic approach to the negotiations. No, the three amigos, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) referred to them, are somewhere in the English channel without a tiller or an oar between them. They are drifting, and the problem is that they are not the ones who are paying the price for their incompetence—an incompetence dressed up as a need for confidentiality, or else the Germans or the French will be able to see our hand. Well, I will let the Government in on a secret: we do not have a hand to show anyone, including ourselves.
We have had bluster again from the Foreign Secretary, who has been ruminating across Europe, so he tells us. We have the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union’s misguided, nonchalant and insouciant attitude at the Dispatch Box, which makes Sergeant Wilson from “Dad’s Army” look positively frenetic, but without the charm. Meanwhile, as the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) said, the Secretary of State for International Trade
“doesn’t have a job and he doesn’t appear to have realised that yet.”
That sums up the whole fiasco that is the Government’s position. On 19 July, I asked the Chief Secretary to the Treasury how many civil servants had been involved in planning, and he could not answer. That is typical as well.
Liverpool, Bootle—my constituency—and the wider borough of Sefton voted to remain in Europe. I expect that part of the reason for that is that during the 1990s and 1980s, the Tory Government took a sledgehammer to the social and economic infrastructure of Merseyside, and the European Community was the only institution that continued to support my constituency. In fact, while we were being cut adrift by the Tories, with the odd honourable exception of people such as Lord Heseltine, the European Community was the only substantial lifeline, both economically and socially, for my community. We looked to the EC for support, and we got it; we did not get it from the Conservatives.
As a port with a long history of looking out to the world, we are not afraid to meet and greet other nations; in fact, that is part of what makes us who we are—tolerant and outward-looking. We do not want the Government’s lack of a plan to halt the growth in the Merseyside economy—the second largest growth outside of London. Frankly, there is little in the statement from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that gives me any confidence whatever that the Government will deliver anything for my city region. The Government are silent on that aspect, as on many others, and that is really not good enough. The three Secretaries of State were vociferous in their demand to leave, but they are absolutely silent on what comes next.