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Mike speaks on European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

On Wednesday (8th February 2017) Mike Gapes MP (Labour/Co-operative), Ilford South) spoke on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Commons.

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I do not want to go on for too long, but nine amendments in my name have been selected, though I will not speak to all of them. Amendment 31 relates to the implications of leaving Euratom. I agree very strongly with the concerns expressed by Mr Vaizey. He also talked about the implications of the decision to leave the European Union for British citizens overseas. I declare an interest as the honorary president of Labour International, which represents the interests of Labour party members who live in other countries, many of whom were able to vote in the referendum. However, those living in the EU for longer than 15 years did not have a vote in the referendum, even though many still have very close connections to this country.

Ben Bradshaw (Labour, Exeter): Disgraceful.

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): It was a disgrace. We are not dealing with that issue in this debate, but I wish to place on the record the messages of concern I have been sent by people living in other EU countries. They remain very worried about their access to healthcare, education services and support in the communities they live in, whether they are in Spain, France, Bulgaria, Greece or one of many other countries. This issue should have been resolved already, but the Government have chosen to use these people as a bargaining chip, to use the Government’s own words. Frankly, that is unacceptable.

John Baron (Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): Yes, I am happy to give way to my colleague on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

John Baron (Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee): I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have raised the issue of the importance of guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living here, perhaps unilaterally, and I have received assurances from the Prime Minister that this will be top of her list in the negotiations. Also, does the hon. Gentleman not accept in good faith that the issue could be resolved very easily if the EU reciprocated our intention of guaranteeing those rights? The issue could be put aside very quickly if the EU guaranteed the rights of British citizens living in the EU.

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): The hon. Gentleman has been around long enough to know that the negotiation will start after article 50 has been triggered. The reality is that the British Government could have provided reassurance to families in this country—perhaps families with one British and one French parent, whose children are born in this country—who are uncertain about their long-term future if a family member has retained citizenship of another EU country. Frankly, in the interests of those families in this country, the issue should be resolved today, not delayed until the negotiation. That is in our own interests as a country of values, high morals, justice and fairness.

Several hon. Members:

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): I need to make progress. [Interruption.]

George Howarth (Labour, Knowsley): Order. The hon. Gentleman is indicating that he does not intend to give way—certainly not at this stage. I do not think it is conducive to the good order of the business of the Committee if people keep pressing. I am sure that he will signal if, at some point, he wants to give way.

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): Thank you, Mr Howarth. I referred to my nine amendments, two of which are minor and drafting amendments. Amendment 23 states that we should, “by 31 March 2017”, notify the country’s intention to leave the EU. I was surprised at the lack of a date in the Bill, given the Prime Minister’s commitment to triggering article 50 by 31 March. I would have thought all Government Members would be prepared to support the amendment, given that it is entirely in line with what the Prime Minister said. For some reason, however, it does not seem to be acceptable to them; I do not know why. Perhaps a Minister could explain that later.

I mentioned amendment 31, on Euratom. Amendment 30 refers to the European Defence Agency. Defence co-operation within the European Union is vital. There is a large number of major defence projects with a components arrangement, whereby parts from one country are assembled in another. For many years, there have been such collaborative arrangements. Frankly, the British defence industry is unable to compete without international involvement. Some companies have moved offshore, in the sense that they have moved across the Atlantic, while others in this country are joint collaborative arrangements. Thales, originally a French company, is now very much a British defence manufacturer. For many reasons, if our defence industry is to be competitive and provide jobs for tens of thousands of highly skilled people in this country, we have to keep that defence industrial base, but that will be possible only through joint collaboration; otherwise, European manufacturers will be swept aside by the United States or other parts of the world. We have seen that already in the way that industries have shifted to Asia.

Anybody who wants to see the whole manufacturing process of a motor vehicle has to go to South Korea, where they press the steel, have the paint shops and engine plants, and fit out the vehicles. When I was a young man in the 1960s, I went on a school visit to Ford Dagenham. I was struck by the noise and the smell of paint. I was 17 years old. I had never been in a place like it. At that point, I realised that making cars was a massive, complex process. The only time I have seen a place like it subsequently was when I went to the Hyundai motors in Korea, where I saw the sheets of steel to be pressed. When I more recently visited the Ford Dagenham plant, which is not far from my constituency, all I saw was men in white coats walking around, adjusting things in a complex process, with lots of robots and diesel engines. That is the contrast. We need to think about this. When we leave the EU, we have to make sure that our manufacturing industry, and within that, the defence sector, is maintained and strengthened.

Kit Malthouse (Conservative, North West Hampshire) rose—

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): I will give way briefly. I will not take too many interventions, though, because I am conscious that other people wish to speak.

Kit Malthouse (Conservative, North West Hampshire): The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but will he accept that our membership of the EU has seen a transfer of industries and factories from the UK to eastern Europe and others parts of the EU? Not least of those is Cadbury, which transferred manufacturing to other parts of the EU.

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): The hon. Gentleman will find that globalisation and the expansion of the wealth of the world, led by regional trading blocs such as the EU, have led to a significant change in the types of industries located in particular countries. Hundreds of millions of people have been taken out of poverty because of industrialisation in China. The same thing is happening in Vietnam, the Philippines and India. Globalisation is affecting everyone. He refers to eastern Europe. Yes, the days when the polluting Trabi cars were being made in the German Democratic Republic, and when Škoda vehicles were regarded as a joke, have gone.

There is now high-quality manufacturing in many countries throughout Europe, but they often have integrated supply chains, which is why Ford Dagenham makes diesel engines for cars also manufactured in Belgium, Spain and other European countries. That is the nature of modern capitalism and the global world. The danger in our leaving the EU is that we could make those industries in this country less successful and put tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

John Baron (Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee): I have good news for the hon. Gentleman: courtesy of our leaving the EU, sterling has fallen and manufacturing in this country is having a field day, as he can see from the export orders and factory output orders. Does he agree that that has been a boon to the manufacturing industry, particularly in the north?

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): Sterling has indeed fallen. As a result, foreign holidays and Marmite are more expensive and chocolate bars are getting smaller. There are all kinds of consequences coming through.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): I want to make some progress. I referred to my nine amendments. Amendment 34 relates to the common foreign and security policy. The EU does not do enough on defence. It needs to do far more, particularly, as President Donald Tusk pointed out, given the dangers from outside the EU—from Daesh terrorism, Russia and its territorial grabs in eastern Europe, and the uncertainties surrounding the other Donald, President Donald Trump, and the future of NATO. We all need to recognise that Britain, with France, is the backbone of the European pillar of NATO. The co-operation on the common foreign, security and defence policy that we have established so far needs to be sustained, whether or not we are in the EU.

It would be very foolish if, on leaving the EU, we weaken defence co-operation arrangements that date back to the Saint-Malo agreement with France, or the co-operation with our EU partners, which is limited but nevertheless important, on common peacekeeping, security and policing missions; we make a big contribution there. Some people have said that that could be used as an asset in the bargaining process, but that is the wrong approach. Regardless of what happens to agriculture or on financial contributions, it is in our national defence and security interest to have excellent relations with our neighbours—our French, Dutch and German neighbours—on the defence and security of this country. If we do the opposite, we will cut off our nose to spite our face, and that is not very sensible.

Liam Byrne (Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that we should go further? Now that we are leaving the federal project, we have an opportunity to create a confederal project, in which we strengthen co-operation on defence, social rights, science, international development and climate change. The Prime Minister says that we might be leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. In that case, let us see the plan for strengthening our relationships across a host of areas of work across the continent.

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): My right hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I hope that he gets a chance to enlarge on it when he makes his contribution.

I wish to highlight two of my other amendments. Amendment 29, to which Joanna Cherry referred, and amendment 35 both relate to Gibraltar. Anybody who, like me, has seen the occasional attempts by the authorities in Madrid to cause trouble in Gibraltar will know that there might suddenly be hundreds of vehicles and dozens of people queueing at the border between Gibraltar and Spain, the special police sent down from Madrid at a moment’s notice having imposed a rigorous check on everyone going to Gibraltar. A few hours later, there will be no queue—and then it can come back again.

Between 10,000 and 14,000 people living in southern Spain, in Andalusia, travel across the border each day to work in Gibraltar. Gibraltar has a population of about 32,000 people, many of whom are children. There is an economic base there now that cannot be sustained simply by employing residents of Gibraltar. Also, there is not enough land to house the number of workers it needs, so it is dependent on 10,000 or more workers crossing daily to work in Gibraltar—about 40% of the total workforce in the Gibraltar economy.

Angus MacNeil (Chair, International Trade Committee): The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point about Gibraltar, which I understand. I want to take him back to the words of Mr Vaizey, who spoke just before him and said that he was afraid that an amendment would mess up the Bill. I fail to see how the addition, at the end of clause 1, page 1, line 3, of the words

“after consultation with the Government of Gibraltar” could possibly mess up the Bill. Amendment 29 is a sensible amendment that the whole House should support, and that Gibraltar wants us to agree to.

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): The hon. Gentleman must be a mind reader, because I was just coming to that point. When the Government proposed the European Union Referendum Bill in 2015, after the general election, they did not initially include any wording relating to Gibraltar. That came in only because of the strenuous efforts of a number of Conservative Back Benchers, including my parliamentary neighbour Andrew Rosindell, who is very active on the British overseas territories all-party group, and of Labour and other MPs who were concerned to ensure that Gibraltar was referred to in the Bill, and that Gibraltar’s citizens, even though they are not part of the United Kingdom but are part of the European Union and can vote in elections to the European Parliament, had a vote in the referendum. It is therefore strange, is it not, that although the Bill to set up the referendum, which triggered this process of leaving the European Union, explicitly mentions Gibraltar and the right of Gibraltarians to vote, there is no reference to Gibraltar at all in the Bill to trigger article 50?

I understand that one day after the referendum on 24 June 2015, the then Foreign Minister of Spain, who is fortunately no longer that Minister, as a result of which I gather things are a little bit smoother, made very inflammatory remarks about how Spain would “have Gibraltar” because of the referendum result. As the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West said, when the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, spoke before the Brexit Committee, which looked into this issue on 25 January, he made it absolutely clear that Gibraltar had not just voted overwhelmingly to remain, but had voted by an even bigger margin—by 98%, as opposed to 93%—to be British.

The self-determination of Gibraltar is important. Culturally, the people of Gibraltar include people with Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, Genoese, British and many other roots. These people were British; they are British; they will remain British. That is not in question. As I said earlier, however, the day-to-day relationship between Gibraltar and Spain can, at the whim of some official or politician in Madrid, be made difficult. The people who suffer most from that are trade unionists, and workers in the Andalusia region who are working in Gibraltar. I have met them here in the House of Commons.

Interestingly, the socialist-led local authorities in the south of Spain want excellent relations between Andalusia and Gibraltar. While we are in the EU, our Government can ensure that there is no funny business and that no silly things emerge from some draft document produced somewhere about territorial waters, environmental issues, flights and trade matters. As soon as we leave the EU, however, we no longer have the ability to argue that case and block it if a particular Government in Madrid decide to up the ante to make life more difficult for Gibraltar.

Given the importance of this issue, it is surely necessary that the people of Gibraltar are, through their elected government in Gibraltar, made aware of these matters as we leave the EU. Surely, then, to be consistent with what the Bill said when we voted here to have a referendum, Gibraltar should also be mentioned in the current Bill. That is why I shall press my amendment 29 to the vote. I hope that Members of all parties, particularly those who have an interest in the British overseas territories and who believe strongly and firmly that Gibraltar should remain British, will consult their consciences and their own voting history and beliefs, and support this amendment.

Finally, I must say that it is unfortunate that so many Members wish to speak and that there is so little time for them. This whole process has been a disgrace; setting aside just three days for the Committee stage is an absolute disgrace. Clearly, we have seen complicity and collusion—

Ben Bradshaw (Labour, Exeter): A stitch-up.

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): A stitch-up, as my right hon. Friend says, which John Smith certainly did not agree to. When I first entered this House in 1992, I had many happy hours and late nights debating the Maastricht treaty. I can recall—some of the faces on the other side of the Chamber are still there—taking interventions from seven or eight Conservative Members late at night on that issue. For that Bill, we had five, six or seven—[Interruption.]—eight times as much time as we have today.

Ben Bradshaw (Labour, Exeter): Does that not make it even more important for the House of Lords to take its time to consider everything that we have not been able to discuss here, and indeed much of what we have?

Mike Gapes (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): I do not wish to give advice to the other place, because it is possible to get into trouble if we do that. I simply say that it is fortunate for democracy and accountability that there is an opportunity for the other place to give more consideration and time to these matters, without being subjected to programme motions in the same way as we are.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to these amendments. I shall support new clause 2 and a number of other amendments, but particularly my amendment 29.


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