My speech to the House of Commons on the principles for a new special relationship with Europe

by Liam Byrne | 30.06.16 | in: National news, Uncategorized, Westminster

Below you can read the speech I made to the House of Commons on 29th June 2016 setting out the principles for a new special relationship with Europe.

You can also watch the video of my speech here, or you can read the speech on Hansard here.


Liam Byrne MP

I welcome today’s debate and the tone that we have heard this afternoon. After what has been all too often a foul-mouthed debate over the past couple of months, the tone of constructive engagement and working together is very important. It is down to the leaders in this House to put the decency back into our democracy and, like many others, I was shocked to hear the statements, tweets, messages and incidents that hon. Members read out during our proceedings on the statement earlier today. We just cannot have that in this country; we are not going to have that in this country. It is a responsibility on all our shoulders to ensure that in the communities we serve we stamp it out, and we stamp it out fast.

Part of a decent democracy is that people honour their promises. Let us be honest that we have already seen promises that were made in the campaign being broken into shreds, tatters and little pieces. It is a job for all of us to hold to account the leaders of the leave campaign who made promises that now appear not to be honoured. We need to hang those promises around their necks in the months ahead because, frankly, our democracy cannot withstand too many more broken promises. The guilty men and women who made those promises must be held to account in this House.

I wanted to speak in the debate because I want to say that we need to honour the people’s decision. They have given us a stark lesson. We know how to globalise, but we do not know how to make globalisation work for the majority of voters. What I think most voters told us in the referendum is that we have become a world of very rich elites and very remote elites. People have had enough of it; they want a different settlement.

We need to move with speed in this House to set out the principles for a new special relationship with our closest neighbours. The sooner we agree those principles across the House the better. I am glad the Chancellor set out a couple of principles, but I hope that he agrees, and that when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury winds up the debate he will agree, that we ought to have been better prepared. We were told yesterday by the Prime Minister that there is a new EU unit, yet somehow the Government have forgotten to include the Home Office in it, as if somehow immigration was not an important feature of this debate. Quite frankly, that beggars belief.

We are blessed in this House with the European Scrutiny Committee, which does a good job. It is charged with scrutinising individual instruments of EU legislation that come before us. It is, of course, chaired by that neutral and commanding figure the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). However, it is not equipped to look at the big picture nor to look at the principles that we need to agree. I therefore hope the Prime Minister will take seriously the call from Opposition Members for a new Joint Committee of both Houses to try to get to the bottom of the 6,500 instruments we might need to incorporate into UK domestic law, give or take those aspects we do not like.

Parliamentary sovereignty has just been voted on, but Parliament cannot be sovereign if Parliament is blind. We need to ensure that we are equipped in this House with a method of coming to agreement and making sure that the right plan for a new relationship is on the table.

Stephen Gethins MP

On the question of democracy and sovereignty, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government, in terms of setting out their timetable for Brexit, should also set out a timetable for scrapping the House of Lords so that we do not have any more unelected bureaucrats deciding day-to-day business?

Liam Byrne MP

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am on his side when it comes to the House of Lords. This Government’s idea of democracy is to bring forward proposals to cut the number of people in this House while increasing the number in the other place, I think by more than 200 at the last count. It makes one wonder what they are scared of when it comes to democratic decisions.

I want to touch very briefly on some of the principles that have to define the new special relationship with Europe, and we have to start with national security. Since we put in place co-operation on justice and home affairs, we have made important progress. We have good ideas, such as the European arrest warrant, and we have concerted action on sharing information relating to crime, terrorism and watch lists. Terrorists do not respect international borders and nor must the fight against terrorism. It is therefore essential that we agree to collaborate and co-operate to the maximum possible extent with our neighbours when it comes to the fight against crime and the fight against terror.

Secondly, it is clear from this vote—the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) made this point well—that we will have to update the principle of free movement and replace it with a new principle of fair movement. I was the Minister for Borders and Immigration who introduced the points system for non-EU immigration into this country. During the French presidency, it became clear to me that there was an appetite across Europe for reforming the free movement directive. I said at the time that it would be a long struggle to get such reform, but the sooner we started, the sooner we would finish. Surely we now have to take that lesson and begin putting on the table serious proposals for the reform of free movement.

There are a million and one choices to make. We have to start by honouring the rights of those who are already here. We cannot retrospectively tamper with the rights of people who have already made the life-changing decision to move home. There are then questions about restrictions on low skill or high skill, how long visas should last, whether visa rights should lead to rights of settlement and citizenship, and what access to benefits should be enjoyed for taxes paid in. Of course, there is the huge question of how, as part of a new agreement on fair movement, this country steps up to its international obligations to help refugees struggling due to war in the middle east. We should be doing far more to help Europe with the burden of giving safe haven to refugees fleeing war zones and make that part and parcel of our proposals for fair movement.

Within all that, we have to be careful that we do not damage the free movement of ideas, which is why I always argue that students and scientists should be exempt. Alongside that, we must ensure that co-operation on ideas, intellectual capital and intellectual property protection are part of the new arrangements.

Thirdly, we must ensure that there is no race to the bottom on workers’ rights and human rights. It was this country, and one of our greatest Prime Ministers, that helped to found the Council of Europe. Over the decades that followed, we were among the most important authors of the European convention on human rights, and we are the proud co-authors of the European Court of Human Rights. We must ensure that there is no race to the bottom on workers’ rights, and that we do not enjoy second-class human rights in this country.

Fourthly, we obviously have to try to maximise free trade, free movement of goods and free movement of capital throughout the single market. We will need to be honest that we will pay a price for introducing restrictions on migration. We need to think carefully about what price we are prepared to pay. That is why I believe we need to introduce the minimal possible restrictions on free movement and the fewest fetters possible.

When it comes to the free movement of trade and of capital, we must ensure that our rights to tax revenue are protected. We have made progress over the past few years in ensuring that multinationals pay their fair share of tax, but heaven knows we have an awful long way to go. We know that hundreds of billions are sheltered by European companies in tax havens. We have to deepen collaboration and co-operation with Europe to ensure that people pay their fair share.

Finally, we need a big debate about sharing the burdens of our neighbourhood. Good neighbours do not shirk their duties, whether on climate change or common border protection. There will be countless other burdens regarding which Britain has to step up and say, “Yes. We are going to take on the obligations that come with sharing this part of the world.” The Prime Minister was right to say that we will not turn our back on Europe. We have to send a very clear signal that we will be not just good neighbours, but the best of neighbours.

In the debates that come, there will be an iron relationship between reform of free movement, access to the single market and the integrity of the United Kingdom. If we are to maximise the integrity of the UK and to keep our trade balance good, we have to keep changes to free movement to an absolute minimum. It would be an error to slam the door to this country closed and lose our place in the world as a great trading nation, which would inevitably lead to the unravelling of the United Kingdom.

We need great British moderation now more than ever. We must have no more pie in the sky from politicians with no intention of honouring their promises, which is why I hope this place continues to lead such debates.


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