Last week was a good week for pro-European Tories. We attended the launch on Sunday afternoon of the People’s Vote campaign at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. The Conservative spokesperson was Anna Soubry MP, who made a great pitch, explaining why we now needed an opportunity for the people to decide whether the Government’s deal with the EU was better than staying in. To be part of that audience of 1200 people was uplifting and inspiring. We came away full of enthusiasm for the campaign that lies ahead.
On Tuesday, eight more Conservative MPs added their names to the amendment to the government’s Trade Bill tabled by Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry which requires ministers to bring forward proposals for a UK-EU customs union. Without a customs union, goods will be delayed at our borders with the EU, tariffs will have to be paid, businesses will have to go to conform to the bureaucratic rules concerning the origin of products and, in Northern Ireland, the hard won peace we have now could be in danger.
All those concerns were central to the debate in the House of Lords the following day when peers considered an amendment calling for a report by Ministers on a customs union tabled by Chris Patten, John Kerr and others. In a powerful speech, Chris Patten told the chamber that if we leave the EU the priority was to secure the 70 per cent of our trade with them and the countries with which the EU already has trade agreements or is negotiating them. The UK, he pointed out, exports five times as much to the EU as it does to the Commonwealth. The House of Lords passed the amendment by 348 votes to 225, with a substantial number of Conservative peers either voting for it or abstaining.
The week closed with a debate about whether the UK should be in a customs union with the EU getting hotter and hotter. That’s no bad thing – we need a debate about what kind of Brexit the government’s EU deal would bring. When we have had that, maybe Conservative MPs will realise the best thing they can do to avoid the damage that the poor deal we are going to get will do to our economy, our society, and our Union is to abandon Brexit.