This page contains the following:

  1. Sir Oliver Letwin’s comment
  2. Helen’s voting record on Brexit
  3. Helen and Ken Clarke’s Customs Union amendment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill
  4. Helen’s speech on the Custom Union in November 2016
  5. Helen’s article in The Times co-authored with Ken Clarke
  6. Helen article in the Teesdale Mercury co-authored with Tory MP George Freeman

Sir Oliver Letwin’s comment:

“I will personally be voting Conservative in this election. But it would be wrong to deny that there have been some Labour MP’s – Helen Goodman is an outstanding example – who have bust a gut to find a sensible way of implementing Brexit”

Helen’s Voting Record on Brexit:

Helen's Voting Record on Brexit

Helen and Ken Clarke’s Customs Union amendment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill:

Helen's Custom Union Amendment

Helen’s speech on the Custom Union in November 2016 (Link to Hansard here)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to have a short debate on the UK’s membership of the customs union.

My constituents voted to leave the European Union, largely because of what they see as uncontrolled immigration, but also because of the slightly bossy tendency of some of the EU institutions, which I think can be taken as a rejection of the European Court of Justice. However, they did not foresee all the consequences of the vote, partly because a number of false promises were made—most notably that there would be £350 million extra every week for the NHS, and also that no jobs would be at risk.

In the circumstances, it is reasonable of the Prime Minister to work on the assumption that part of her mandate is to end the free movement of citizens from the EU to the UK. That, in itself, does not amount to a negotiating strategy. The problem is that we are hearing wildly different things from different members of the Government. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has just reassured Nissan and it is going ahead with significant inward investment. I welcome that. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary still seems to believe that it will be easy and straightforward to do free trade deals “very rapidly indeed”.

The Government continue to say that they will not provide a running commentary on the negotiations. I know they claim that that is because they want to maintain confidentiality, but it appears from the outside as if it is because they are finding it difficult to agree among themselves on what should be done.

What I find alarming is the Government’s refusal to answer parliamentary questions. I asked the Minister a written parliamentary question about the Government’s policy on the customs union. He gave a rather opaque answer. I can live with that, but I have also put down a large number of written questions that ask factual things, such as how much we export, what the value of it is and what would be covered by the rules of origin were we to leave the customs union. On those questions, I also received the answer, “We will not give a running commentary.” That is why I felt it necessary to have a debate and explore these issues in more detail. I am alarmed by this situation, because the risk is that decisions will be taken on the basis of rhetoric not facts and on the basis of ideology not analysis.

An intelligent negotiating strategy needs to meet the public’s expectations, to be based on a hard-headed assessment of the national interest and to be deliverable. With that in mind, the Treasury Committee visited Berlin and Rome in September to find out what some of our counterparts might think. I am sorry to say that Brexit is not at the top of the in-tray for the other EU member states. They all see it in the context of their domestic political worries. Angela Merkel is looking over her shoulder at Alternative für Deutschland; Hollande is worried about Le Pen; Matteo Renzi is worried about Movimento 5 Stelle. Probably only the Irish take Brexit as seriously as we do. Over and over ​again we heard the same word: precedent. There should be no reward for exiting the EU, and no precedents must be set.

I conclude from that that if controlling immigration is going to be part of the British position and we are to move to a more skills-based approach for managing migration, our EU partners are going to say that we cannot remain members of the single market. However, there has not been so much attention paid to our membership of the customs union, which I am beginning to think may be more important, especially if we want manufacturing industry to thrive in this country.

It is worth recalling the history. The customs unions was established in 1968. It is what we joined in 1973, and what the public affirmed with the referendum in 1975. It is what most people call the Common Market. Unlike high levels of immigration or the ECJ, it is rather popular with the British public.

The shadow Chancellor has rather pejoratively described the Government’s approach as a “bankers’ Brexit”. I know why he has done that. We must base what we are doing on some facts. I remind the House that we export more goods—some £285 billion-worth—than we do services, the figure for which is £226 billion. That is a ratio of 56:44. This is important. At the moment, we have a common external tariff, goods move freely within the EU and the Commission has competence for external trade negotiations. The customs union is not the same thing as the single market. Norway is in the single market but outside the customs union, whereas Turkey is in the customs union and outside the single market.

It is also worth recalling that the export of goods into the European Union comprises 48% of our exports. The EU is our biggest partner. Exports to Europe bring 3.3 million jobs. The next most significant partner is America, with 17% of our exports, and way down the numbers is China, our third biggest trading partner, with just 4%, or one 10th of the significance of our European exports. So what would happen if we were to leave the customs union?

Helen’s article in The Times co-authored with Ken Clarke on how Parliament could vote for different Brexit options:

How a knockout contest for Brexit options can break this shameful deadlock

The Speaker caused surprise when he invoked a rule from 1604 to stop the prime minister putting her deal to parliament repeatedly. But the practice of taking decisions by dividing the House – the ayes to the right and noes to the left — is even older, going back to Thomas Cromwell’s desire to isolate and intimidate Henry VIII’s enemies during the break with Rome.

It’s been evident since Christmas that we need a new way. In a situation like Brexit with multiple options, a binary yes/no choice cannot capture the complexity. As the prime minister has found — it’s just too easy for people to build a coalition against every proposal and much harder to build a consensus for moving forward.

This is exactly what happened with House of Lords reform: in 2003, no option passed despite the general desire for change and in 2007 several options passed giving no clear steer. Unlike the prime minister though, when parliament moves to take control of the process it needs to show a fresh approach.

This is why, last month, we put forward a system for voting on options using a single transferable vote. Under our approach the five or six main options would be put on a paper ballot and MPs would set out their preferences which would be published in full.

We are not offering a hiding place for MPs from their constituents or a way to evade the whips. The losing option would be eliminated and their preferences redistributed till one option reached 50 per cent. This would provide the government with a steer for the way forward — either a new negotiating mandate in Brussels or a public vote.

The benefits of this would be clarity over where the consensus lay. It is obvious that not everyone is going to get their first choice out of Brexit — but we do need a way to distinguish those options people can compromise on and those, like no-deal, which really are no-go areas for the majority of MPs. This process would institutionalise that.

It is now obvious that the process of building consensus may be painful, involving as it inevitably does, compromise, but it is essential on a national project like Brexit. That is better than the rising tone of anger. In the end we need a calmer approach to reconcile the public as well as parliament to heal the divide.

Secondly, we need a system which revolves matters speedily. The EU Council has given us an April 11 deadline. If, as everyone expects, the prime minister’s meaningful vote 3 goes down, then we need a straightforward method to chart a way ahead. Of course, all this would have been far better, less damaging and chaotic, particularly for businesses, had she secured agreement to her negotiating mandate in parliament at the outset. This after all is what Angela Merkel does before every European Council and it strengthens her hand.

Thirdly, this would stop the gamesmanship. The PM has been running down the clock with her delays but she’s not the only one. There’s been a strong desire among the alternative contenders to be the last man standing in the vain hope that a grateful nation will finally turn to them to be rescued from the apparently endless purgatory of the Brexit process.

But this takes no account of the desperate and urgent need businesses large and small have for certainty — not in every detail but at least in the direction we’re heading.

To be three weeks out and still to have no-deal, a soft Brexit or a public vote to Remain on the table is shameful. Our international reputation has taken the worst hammering in living memory.

The CBI says it’s lost confidence in the political process; the TUC has asked us to find a new parliamentary mechanism; MPs are always telling others to change and adapt. Now it’s time to take some of our own medicine.

Confidence in our parliamentary process will only be restored when MPs show they can act constructively and creatively to tackle the challenge which Brexit has brought.

Helen article in the Teesdale Mercury co-authored with Tory MP George Freeman:

No deal can’t happen on our watch

Residents in County Durham voted overwhelmingly in support of the Brexit Party in the European elections. But with the Tories in disarray and looking for a new leader, how and when Brexit will be delivered – especially for farmers – remains uncertain. Here, Labour’s Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman and the Conservative’s George Freeman, a former policy advisor to the NFU, argue against a no deal Brexit and back a cross-party “Common Market 2.0” solution.

“A no deal Brexit would be absolutely savage for us. I cannot imagine how bad it will look.”

Guess who said that? One of the usual Remaniac politicians, surely?

Wrong. That sentence was uttered a few weeks ago by the president of the National Farmers’ Union, Minette Batters.

She is absolutely right. Reverting to WTO rules would be catastrophic for farming and the countryside. We are both MPs representing rural areas: one Labour and one Conservative. We may disagree on many things. But we agree most profoundly on this. No responsible member of parliament with a farming constituency can let a no deal happen on their watch.

The pleas from the National Farmers’ Unions of England, Scotland, Wales and N Ireland could not be clearer. With no deal, we face a possible trade embargo on the export of UK animal-based products such as meat, eggs and dairy to the EU, and under WTO a flood of cheap food produced at hugely lower cost and welfare standards, that would hammer UK growers.

The UK sheep sector would be especially seriously hit.

In 2017, we exported 31 per cent of domestic sheep meat production – the equivalent of 4.5 million sheep, of which 94 per cent goes to the EU. No wonder Defra is keeping the much-rumoured plan to slaughter ten million lambs under lock and key.

A no deal Brexit on WTO rules is likely to trigger export tariffs imposed on the food, feed and drink that go to the EU. That means export tariffs of 27 per cent on chicken, 46 per cent on lamb, 65 per cent on beef, and range from €172 to €1,494 per tonne in pork. This isn’t a marginal change. This would render many UK farming and food businesses totally unviable.

That’s not all. Whilst the mutual interests of JLR, BMW and other automotive giants will probably mitigate the short term impact on the automotive sector, the risk of internal domestic political pressure in France and Germany and the Benelux countries of a trade war in food and agricultural products is very high, with trade barriers going up between the UK and EU, exports of organic products to the EU being severely curtailed, and sudden labour shortages and/or cost increases resulting from the end of our free movement rules without an alternative arrangement.

Who would suffer the most? Not the big landowners who receive the EU payments and have the value of their land to fall back on. Or the supermarkets with pan European businesses.

No. It’ll be the small UK farms and small businesses: the tenant farmers, contract farmers and small family farms who will be clobbered, in both upland and lowland areas. And the commercial food and farming businesses running on tiny margins supplying ultra competitive supermarkets.

Farming is one of the jewels in the crown of the UK economy. A major industry which also maintains a beautiful countryside. Sixty per cent of all food eaten here is grown on British farms. It boosts the UK economy by about £108 billion and provides more than 3.7 million jobs: from the upland hill farms which keep our National Parks the world class attractions they are, to the world class agricultural innovation and competitiveness of our arable, pork, poultry, beef and horticultural sectors.

And farming is uniquely vulnerable for a very simple reason – most farms are based on planting crops or husbanding livestock on an annual cycle in which farmers invest all their costs up front, reliant on future earnings downstream.

Crops are in the ground and animals in the fields now on the basis of market assumptions and conditions which are likely to be thrown up in the air with a no deal Brexit.

In the uplands, farming matters to us all. Not just to farmers. In Teesdale, where there are 400 sheep farmers, we also have 17 sites of special scientific interest. It is home to a huge carbon sink, fabulous hay meadows and many birds, including curlews, lapwings, snipe, black grouse, oyster catchers and partridge.

Large areas of the Pennines are common land and they’ve been farmed in a similar way for 500 years. Farming on the commons has produced an excellent balance between man and nature.

But the environment is fragile. In farming terms, the land is also marginal. Farm incomes average £14,000 a year. Any abrupt and adverse damages would put all this at risk.

In terms of subsidy arrangements and regulations, many hill farmers are open to a switch in the basis on which subsidy is paid from the CAP to payments for public goods.

Indeed, the RPA and the inspection regime are inefficient and much resented, while the quality of the biodiversity means they are well placed to be rewarded for public goods.

However, the low incomes and ageing profile mean the payments certainly can’t be lower. For these communities to thrive, incomes need to rise and recognition given to essential, traditional skills like stonewalling.

Equally, scope for cutting regulation is limited as long as farmers want – and need – to sell into the EU market. Standards, particularly traceability from the market, need to be maintained.

Lowland farming faces terrible consequences too. Wheat, barley, poultry and pork will all be hit hard by a no deal Brexit, not to mention the impact on leading agri-science research.

In Mid Norfolk, for instance, the main employers are Banham Poultry (1,000 jobs) and Cranswick Country Foods (another 1,000 jobs).

Indeed, Norfolk leads the country in poultry and is in the top three areas for pigs.

It is also a hub of new UK agri-tech research and innovation.

East Anglia more generally has a huge malting barley and milling wheat sector which would be devastated by a no deal Brexit leaving many growers and food producers who rely on exporting to the EU facing very serious short term consequences.

So where does that leave us? As MPs for lowland and upland areas we have put aside our party differences and come together because we believe we must find a solution that does justice to the referendum result while also enduring that our vital agricultural sector is able to thrive.

We need a Withdrawal Deal. EFTA (European Free Trade Agreement) – known as Common Market 2.0 – provides a lot of what we need:

l Out of the political union so many of our constituents voted against, but still inside the single market.
l Maintaining free movement for workers, yes, but not citizens.

l EFTA would also return control of fishing and farming, ending CAP and CFP inconsistencies and prohibitive fishing quotas.
It would mean we can target our spending to provide more incentives for the sectors in innovative ways.

We could subsidise non-viable upland farmers to protect National Parks and support small farms as they diversify into tourism, leisure and independent family businesses.

The most ardent no deal enthusiasts boast about the possibilities of cheap food. But there’s not much advantage in eating cheap food if you’ve lost your livelihood through farm closures, or your job in the pork or poultry factory, wheat mill or barley maltings.

Our farmers, and our workers, deserve better than that. Our country does, too.

EFTA is the only option that can find cross-parliamentary support.

The two of us have put aside our political differences to work together in the national interest.

The only way out of this crisis is for others to do likewise. We must act before it’s too late.

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