Parliament starts its 3 day debate on amendments to the Article 50 Bill today. The main amendment I’m pushing today – and which I hope to speak about later in the Chamber – concerns the possibility of the Article 50 clock ticking down over 2 years and no agreement being reached.
Given that both France and Germany are going to be preoccupied with national elections for much of this year, coupled with the limited negotiating capacity and relative inexperience of the UK team, it seems very likely 2 years will not be sufficient time to get the best deal for Britain.
It’s clear that the PM should be asking our EU neighbours now for the option to extend negotiations if necessary.
Her White Paper says that unanimous agreement with the other 27 member states is an option but we need to know that’s being specifically discussed and that unanimous agreement has been secured before we trigger Article 50.
Otherwise we run the risk of yet more uncertainty for our economy, for UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living here, for the many businesses in my constituency, many of them small and medium sized who at present have no guarantee of, to use Government’s words, “a smooth and orderly exit from the EU”, if there has been no deal agreed within 2 years of triggering Article 50.
Having no transitional plans is like jumping out of a plane to escape someone you’ve massively fallen out with, and failing to double check there’s a parachute in the pack they’ve strapped to your back.
We’d face having to the leave the EU – effectively overnight – crashing out of the EU on WTO only terms. The Government has stated very clearly in its White Paper that it wants to avoid cliff edges but at the moment it has not done anything to stay away from this one – perhaps it’s been too busy looking the other way over the Atlantic and simply hasn’t noticed it.
I think Britain deserves a guarantee that we’d be granted more time to conclude both our divorce settlement and the terms of any future trade deal with the EU. Essentially my amendment is a safety net – and it’s one that MPs from both sides of the political divide should back.