Speaking in the Second Day of the debate on the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, Philip Dunne outlines why he will support the deal; with particular focus on the continuation of frictionless trade and our future relationship with the EU on defence and health.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). I rise to speak in a debate in the Chamber for the first time for some months, but this takes me back to my maiden speech during a debate on the European Union back in 2005, because the topic has continued to be discussed in the House every year since.
Those looking at this debate from outside—I am sure that other Members are getting the same evidence that I am receiving in my postbag and via email—are encouraging the House to settle the issue and to get on with it. Since the referendum, and while the Prime Minister has been seeking to negotiate a deal, we have been living with a degree of uncertainty that we cannot, in all conscience, allow the country to continue to endure for years to come. Many of the alternative options to the deal that is on the table that have been referenced by other Members in this debate today and yesterday all require actions to be taken by parties other than the people in this House. In almost every case, they require either a continuing negotiation with the EU on matters that it has already indicated it does not intend to engage with us on, or they require both Houses of Parliament to enact further legislation, as we just heard in response to the question to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) regarding a second referendum. Each option would involve months, if not years, of continuing uncertainty with no certainty whatsoever about the outcome, so I hope that hon. Members will take that into account when voting next week.
I want to talk about a couple of specific aspects of the deal that is on the table to try to explain why I intend to support the Government. I am looking for a pragmatic Brexit. I am looking for a negotiated deal that allows for as frictionless trade to continue as is possible, and not because that would be in the best interests simply of big business. I find it extraordinary that colleagues across the House refer to “Project Fear” or scaremongering when any business raises its head and says, “This is going to be damaging for my business. This is going to lead to job losses in my sector.” I sit on the Environmental Audit Committee, which heard yesterday from the chemicals industry, and the reality is that many Members have heard evidence given to multiple Select Committees that the complexities of seeking to continue to trade in a no-deal environment are such that many businesses in the chemicals sector, the pharmaceutical industry, the automotive industry and the financial services industry—many of the sectors that we rely on for the large majority of jobs in this country—would come under significant pressure in the event that we crash out with no deal. That would happen whatever colleagues might think.
I am thinking in particular of the largest employers in my constituency that I know best. My constituency is in the west midlands, so many are heavily involved in the automotive and manufacturing sectors. Grainger & Worrall is the largest employer in Bridgnorth alongside Bridgnorth Aluminium. The McConnel agricultural machinery business is the largest employer in Ludlow. Britpart, which is a motor manufacturer, is the largest employer in Craven Arms. There are companies engaged in food production and agri-products, such as Euro Quality Lambs in Craven Arms. All those companies are worried about what would happen to their business in the event of no deal and all are pressing us to negotiate a deal to allow frictionless trade.
In my time as a Minister, I was involved in two sectors in particular: defence and health. Some material has been put out regarding the impact of this deal on our defence relationships, and from the protocol I have seen for the future framework on security, there is nothing about which to be concerned in relation to the Government’s intent on defence.
There is an opportunity for us to continue to have an associate relationship with, for example, the European Defence Agency, which has been characterised as a very damaging thing. We have been contributing the princely sum of £2 million a year to the European Defence Agency for the last 10 years, and we choose to take up very few opportunities to engage with its procurement arrangements because we think we can do it better on our own or through bilateral relations with many other countries across Europe. That is a canard, or a boil that needs to be lanced.
Similarly, we are not going to be engaged in a European army. In this country we rightly regard NATO as the foundation of our defence. If the European Union wishes to go ahead with a European army, we will have no part of it. On many occasions when operations take place around the world—some of those operations are EU initiatives—we choose whether we wish to participate. We should continue to be able to do that, but it will be our choice whether we participate.
On procurement, it has been suggested that we will lose the current exemption from article 346 and will therefore be bound by EU procurement arrangements for warlike stores. That is specifically ruled out by annex 2 of the protocol on the transition period, and it will undoubtedly be negotiated out of the eventual agreement.
On health, I am reassured that, in his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he intends to provide the unilateral right of residency to EU citizens and their families for the future, and I look forward to seeing that in the migration policy. That should provide considerable reassurance to the EU citizens who work in our health service and in our social care sector that they will continue to be welcome here, which I know concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee.
I am concerned about having continuing access to medicines, which can only be achieved in a straightforward way through a negotiated deal. That is another reason why I will support the deal next week.