My speech during the debate on Covid-19, 12 January 2021

We have done many more tests than many other countries, and I pay tribute to Ministers and the NHS for all the hard work that has gone into achieving that. We are now vaccinating many more people than in other countries. We have got ahead, and that is very good news. As the Government see the main way out for us to relax the controls as being the vaccination of many more people, we wish everyone every speed and success in rolling out those vaccines.

I also think congratulations are in order for finding two more treatments that can make a difference to the death rate and reduce the length of time people suffer with a severe form of the disease, but what about ivermectin, which some doctors in other countries say can also achieve good results and reduce the death rate? It would be useful to know what progress is being made with the UK tests and whether that might ever be a recommended treatment, because the more treatments we can have to cut the death rate the better.

I would also be interested to know what our experts think about why there have been such differential case rates and death rates around the world. Unfortunately, the UK has now joined the group of countries where the death rate is over 0.1% of the total population, which means quite a lot of deaths, as we know to our sorrow and cost.

We have joined many other countries in that grouping, but why is it that countries like Sweden and Brazil have not yet got to 0.1% when some have been very critical of the way they have handled the virus, and why do many Asian countries seem to have got through with much less damage? What does the international research tell us about the reasons? Why is it, too, that a country such as Belgium has been blighted by such a high death rate and a pretty high case rate? Of course, testing more means that we identify more cases, but our case rate is still not one of the worst in the world, so clearly some of the actions taken are having a beneficial impact.

I also urge the Government to do rather more for the self-employed and small businesses. They are bearing the brunt of the economic damage of the policies being pursued, and more could be done, particularly for those small businesses and the self-employed who have not received any help at all.

Many of them are in business areas in which there have been closures for the best part of a year now, and in which social contact is very important for the business model, meaning their revenues are well down. We are going to need them, and we need a recovery fairly soon.

So I wish every success to those doing the vaccinations, and I hope we can then lift some of the restrictions, because we want to have a vibrant small business and small enterprise sector available to power the recovery we so desperately need.

My speech during the debate on Public Health, 7 January 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham (Con): I am very worried about the loss of liberty. I am very worried about the economic damage. I am very concerned about all those small businesses that have been shut down, and their livelihoods undermined. I want the Government to introduce a more urgent, convincing exit strategy from these measures, and I think that we are owed more debates and more votes long before the end of March. We need to keep this under constant review, and keep up the pressure to take away those measures that are not strictly necessary or which can be superseded by something better.

I hope that the roll-out of the vaccine will go well and will be speeded up. I would like more information from the Government about why they are not currently using pharmacies, why it has taken so long to welcome back to the health service recently retired people who would like to help out, and whether there is going to be a plan to train suitable volunteers so that we can greatly extend the numbers of people administering the vaccine. It would also be helpful to know more about supplies.

We need to get smarter at dealing with the virus because, unfortunately, we will have to live with it for some months to come, however successful vaccination is. Will Ministers provide more information on medical progress with treatments? We had a great breakthrough in Britain with a steroid helping to reduce the death rate. There are many more things in trial—can we know more about that? Are there supplements that people can take to buttress their immune system and make it less likely that they get the virus, or is that a fiction?

Can we get better at isolating patients and protecting staff in isolation units or hospitals? Why do we not use the Nightingales as covid-19 secure specialist units to take away some of the cross-infection dangers from district general hospitals, and so they do not have the intensity of covid-19 treatment? Can we know more about the capacity of the health service, because there are differing views on how many beds could be made available should the covid-19 wave continue to deteriorate? Can we hear more on improving infection control?

What use are we making of intensive UV under suitably controlled conditions? What have we done to try to improve the cleaning of air recycling or air extraction promptly so that we reduce exposure of people in hospitals and other locations that we might wish to use to dirty air that could spread the disease? Above all, we need much more knowledge and information about the energy that is undoubtedly going into alternative treatments and better infection control. I would like to thank all those in Wokingham and the area who have done so much to help us during this difficult period.

My speech during the debate on the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill, 15 December 2020

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I have declared my business interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I rise to support what may be an amendment that we are going to vote on or may be a probing amendment from my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), because I think there has been a deliberate misunderstanding by the EU and its friends over what Brexit is about and what we need to do in order to achieve a proper Brexit. A proper Brexit is taking back control; it is recreating the sovereignty of the people of the United Kingdom through their Parliament.

My hon. Friend has a distinguished career in this place trying to rebuild that sovereignty and watching, year after year, more and more of our powers taken away by successive treaties, by successive directives and regulations, many of them automatic ones over which the UK had little or no influence, and by court judgments which, again, we had precious little ability to shape. He is right that, as we come to legislate for our new arrangements as a sovereign country from 1 January next year, we need to make quite sure that we have back under the control of people and Parliament all those powers that we need to regulate, to govern and to take wise decisions on behalf of the United Kingdom.

I am very worried about some elements of the withdrawal agreement. I was told, as we were all told, that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed, and that that meant the future relationship as well as the withdrawal agreement. The EU decided for its own convenience to sequence things and say, “You have to sign the withdrawal agreement first and then the future relationship agreement will follow.” A bit of flesh was put on the bones of the future relationship in the so-called political declaration, which one would have thought there was a lot of moral pressure to go along with even if it was not as strictly legally binding as they hoped the withdrawal agreement would be.

I now think there has been a lot of bad faith, because, according to both sides, the central feature of the future relationship was always going to be a free trade agreement, and where is the free trade agreement? We now discover that the EU wishes to take all sorts of other powers away from us as the price for the free trade agreement, which we have already overpaid for in the withdrawal agreement and which one would have thought, in good faith, the EU would now grant. It is very much in its interests—even more than it is in our interests—given the huge imbalance in trade, and above all in the trade that would attract tariffs if we had no free trade agreement: the trade in food.

That is really what we are talking about: are there going to be tariffs on food or not? We, the United Kingdom, run a colossal £20 billion trade deficit with the EU on food. We have to impose pretty high tariffs on food from the rest of the world—that makes absolutely no sense where we could not grow any of it ourselves; it may have some benefit for some of our farmers some of the time—but we are not allowed to put any similar tariffs on EU-sourced produce where we could produce it ourselves.

The EU system is to try to use tariffs to buttress domestic production, but it has not worked for the United Kingdom; it has worked the other way. The tariffs have been taken off in order to benefit the Dutch, Spanish, French or Irish suppliers of our market with food at zero tariffs. The EU already has rather more interest in tariff withdrawal than we do, because we could have a range of tariffs that would probably achieve the aims both of cutting food prices by having a lower average tariff and of having a bit more protection on the things that we really could make and grow for ourselves here, which we are not allowed to protect against continental products at the moment.

I therefore think that the Bill could be improved by reminding the EU that we will not be pushed around and we will not suffer too much bad faith from those original negotiations or from the withdrawal agreement itself. I think it was a very imperfect agreement. It is pretty ambiguous in places; it is imprecise in places. I have never felt that anything the Government have done, or thought of doing, was in any way illegal. Lawyers could make a perfectly good case under the withdrawal agreement treaty terms themselves, and anyway, we have the protection of my hon. Friend’s section 38, which made it very clear that this Parliament’s acceptance of the withdrawal agreement was conditional. Why else would anyone have put section 38 in the withdrawal agreement Act unless they were making a point?

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that it was the Prime Minister who, after an eight-hour meeting I had in No. 10 that day—17 October 2019—insisted that section 38 was necessary and appropriate?

If we go back to the previous Administration, just imagine where we would be when we consider the Chequers arrangements, and then imagine what it would have been like if we had not decided to vote against that dreadful withdrawal agreement in its original shape. There were provisions that needed to be rectified, and section 38 provides the mechanism that enables us to do that.

John Redwood: Indeed. I think my hon. Friend has confirmed that under the previous Prime Minister, when those of us who could not vote for her agreement said that we needed a sovereignty escape clause, we were told that that would not be permissible because it would not be effective implementation of the agreement; which was then reassuring to us, not liking the withdrawal agreement very much and realising that it was a provisional agreement and would be completed only were there to be a satisfactory outcome to the total range of talks. It was a totally artificial constraint that the EU invented that it had to be sequenced, when up until that point everybody had always rightly said that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed.

I would like to hear from the Minister a little more explanation on the detail of the Bill. As I understand it, the Northern Ireland protocol would apply only to goods that are passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and then on to the Republic of Ireland, or the reverse—goods coming from the Republic to Northern Ireland and then passing on to Great Britain. Am I right in thinking that that is a very small proportion of the total trade? In what ways will the Government ensure that it is properly defined, so that we do not catch up most goods in those more elaborate procedures? 

The bulk of the trade will be GB to Northern Ireland and back, or Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland and back, and it should not in any way be caught up in any of these proposals. I am not sure that we do have a de minimis way of dealing with the so-called things at risk.

It is not clear how the system will work for items at risk where we agree that they are at risk—and I hope it is a UK decision about what is a risk, not some other kind of decision with EU inspectors. It would be helpful to me and the wider community interested in this debate to know how a business would proceed if it had such a good at risk, to whom it would answer, and what decisions would be made about such a good in Excise, because it sounds a rather complicated and difficult arrangement, both for the business concerned and for those who are trying to enforce.

I am trying to tease out from the Minister, in pursuit of the interests of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone and myself on sovereignty, whether we are really in control if the trade has started off from GB and is going to Northern Ireland. What kind of external intervention can the EU or the Republic of Ireland engineer—how is that fair, and how will it be determined? I think that is what we are most worried about in this piece of legislation, and we would be more reassured if there were the override that my hon. Friend proposes. I should be grateful for some explanation.

My speech during the debate on the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill, 10 December 2020

The origins of this legislation lie in the negotiations under the previous Prime Minister that introduced the whole idea of a Northern Ireland protocol. I regretted those negotiations very much. I opposed them at the time and did not vote for the deals that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs Theresa May) came forward with, because I thought they were designed by the EU as a lever to try to delay, dilute or damage Brexit.

When the current Government asked me to support their version of the withdrawal agreement, I still had considerable reservations about the Northern Ireland protocol. I put those to Ministers, who reassured me and said, “This is only an outline operation in the withdrawal agreement as currently drafted. None of the detail has been done. We will negotiate very strongly. We will get rid of the offensive features that you don’t like.” They said that they shared some of my concerns and that they would come back with something much better. I am always trusting of colleagues, so I said that that was very good to know but that I did not have the same confidence in the EU.

I thought it was unlikely that the EU would want to facilitate that in the way that I and the Government would like. so with some friends, I backed my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) in saying that the way through this was to put clause 38 into the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. Under that clause, were the EU to act in bad faith and not come up with a workable solution for Northern Ireland and the other problems, we would have asserted UK sovereignty in our version of the treaty, and so in good law we could use clause 38 to legislate in Britain for what we intend to do, overriding the agreement.

It was quite clear from the drafting of that Bill that we wanted that override, and I would not have dreamt of voting for the thing without the override. The Government were saying that they did not think we would need to use it, but we could use if we had to, which is why I was pleased to support them earlier this week in a very modest override. It is entirely legal; it is the assertion of British sovereignty. We need to keep that in reserve, because without seeing all the detail from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I am not satisfied yet that we have a working operation for the Northern Ireland border and the matters that we are discussing today—more precisely, who controls the taxation.

What I do not like about these proposals is that it is extremely difficult for individuals and businesses to have to respond to two legal jurisdictions on tax in the same place, yet we seem to have both an EU VAT system and a UK VAT system. I hope that the UK VAT system will deviate rather more from the EU one and be friendlier, lower and apply to different things, but the more that that happens, the more difficult it will be if we are trying to enforce two different VAT systems in one part of the United Kingdom.

I am also concerned about the enforcement mechanisms. We are led to believe that it will be handled by HMRC, but we are also told that the ultimate authority on the EU part of VAT and excise will be the European Court, and therefore there are likely to be inspectors and invigilators—electronic or in person—interfering in the process within what should be sovereign United Kingdom territory. I hope the Government will think again and push back again.

We need more of the detail that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has so far withheld from the House. It may be that he does not yet know it all or that his agreement is high level, in principle, but there are details that we need to know—indeed, details that it would be better to know before we legislate today. For example, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster says that delay periods for adjustment will be necessary for supermarkets and some meat products and so forth. Does that not require some kind of recognition in this legislation? Does it not mean that these jurisdictions do not kick in during the period of grace that we are told will be available?

We need to have more detail from the Government on what exactly happens at the border. I have always explained to the House and others who are not very interested that VAT and excise take place electronically across the borders at the moment, so we are talking largely about an electronic border. We need to know how this electronic border will be programmed to deal with the competing jurisdictions and competing incidences of taxation, and how the product codes and shipment codes will correctly identify the products by category that will be suborned by the EU jurisdiction as well as, properly, by the UK jurisdiction, which ideally would be handling the whole thing.

We do not have nearly enough time to discuss the fundamentally big issues of principle that the Bill brings before us and we have had precious little time to go into the detail. It is all very sad that this rush job is being done like this, but I hope before the Government finish the debate today they will have done a better job of explaining to someone like me why we need to have this dual jurisdiction; how the EU control is going to be limited; how it is going to operate; how, in the early days, the “transitional arrangements”, which we are told about, are going to apply; and why they are not reflected in the current text of this rather unfortunate piece of legislation.

My contribution to the debate on Public Health, 1 December 2020

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Many of my constituents are very angry that west Berkshire and Wokingham have been placed in tier 2 when we were in tier 1 before the national lockdown and we still have very low figures. On all the evidence that the Government say they look at—case numbers, trends in cases and available hospital capacity—there seems a very clear case that we should not be worse off as we come out of national lockdown than we were when we went in, and my constituents will expect me to reflect their anger in the way that I vote tonight.

I would far rather work with the Government, and I think that on the whole they are doing a very good job in a very difficult circumstance, but they could make life easier for themselves if they identified more policies that both bear down on the virus problem and allow the much-needed economic recovery so that we rescue and encourage more livelihoods.

The first policy is this: why can we not have expanded isolation capacity in the NHS to deal with covid-19, with volunteers properly backed up with all the equipment and safety protocols they need so that we free up many more of the district generals to do the general work that they need to do and free up their staff from the possibility of cross-infection and cross-contamination? One of the problems in the NHS at the moment is that there are too many staff who have had to self-isolate. Can we not do better on infection control, isolation, and specialisation? Money is no longer a problem, I am pleased to see. I am very happy for more money to go into the health service, but it must buy the staff and make sure that the staff are properly looked after, so that we have that extra capacity.

The second issue is the capacity of our hospitality industry. I encouraged the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department of Health and Social Care to do work some time ago on safer methods of extracting air quickly from hospitality venues, so that more people can use a hospitality venue safely. I believe that some of that work has shown some fruit, and that experts agree that we can create much safer environments if we reverse overflows and extract air quickly. We are now told by the experts that the main transmission threat is aerial transmission by being in an enclosed space with people with the disease. Can we not have more public prominence for that work? Perhaps we could have some grant systems for small businesses and proper technical assistance from the Government and from those the Government retain so that more venues can trade sensibly and profitably without being threatening in any way.

Can we please also have a proper package for all the self-employed and the small business people? Why do some groups of the self-employed get omitted from the packages every time? These are the people who go the extra distance, provide the flexible service, work all the hours God made, and do not often get much reward for it. These are also the people who have suffered the most from these compulsory closures. If a person works for a large company, they are, in many cases, paid their salary, even if that company cannot operate properly, but if they work for their own business, there is no income coming in. They cannot put food on the table unless they get public support or can trade profitably. I urge the Government to look again at their totally inadequate packages for the self-employed and small businesses and understand just how much we are going to need them when we get into recovery mode proper.

My final point in the brief time allotted is that we desperately need to give people hope about livelihoods and economic growth again. We desperately need to have a full recovery programme sector by sector, including for small businesses and the self-employed, and understand that some people will need to retrain and some will need to go from the employment they have lost into self-employment. Can we not hear a lot more about this and be positive? We need to cheer up the country up as well as control the virus.

My speech during the debate on the National Security and Investment Bill, 17 November 2020

I support the idea of Ministers having powers to prevent foreign acquisitions where security matters are of concern. I trust that Ministers will want to ensure that all the other transactions that do not pose those security issues will go through smoothly, easily and quickly for obvious economic reasons.

There is a wider concern. As Ministers have rightly said, this is not the debate to deal with all the other worries we might have about unsuitable foreign investors, but there is concern out there in the public that we do not want asset-strippers, we do not want large companies that come here in order to gradually close down the UK capacity to take out a competitor, and we do not want them to come in under cover of sustaining jobs in Britain only to take away the intellectual property and then later to discover that they are not so keen on the British business after all.

We do need those protections, but where Ministers are checking their defences on competition grounds as well as on security grounds, they need to ask themselves this fundamental question: why are so many of our assets sold to foreigners? There is, of course, one very simple reason: throughout this century, under all three types of Government we have had so far, we have run a massive balance of trade deficit with the EU on trade account, so we need to raise the foreign currency to pay the bills so we can afford to buy the tomatoes, the vegetables and the German cars and all the other things that we have been importing, not matched by an equal volume of exports to pay those foreign currency bills.

We see that it is having a bigger impact now on our long-term balance of payments situation. Before we ran this long series of huge deficits, we had net assets abroad, which meant that there was a big positive line in our balance of payments, which said that as a country we earned a lot more in interest and dividends from our investments overseas than foreigners earned on the investments they had in the UK. That has now been reversed, and every year now we have a very big deficit on the interest and dividends, because there are so many more foreign claims on us than we have claims on foreign assets.

This is a matter of concern. Ministers need to work on a series of economic revival policies that put much more emphasis on British people investing in Britain, so that we recreate more of that wealth in our own national hands and do not have the vulnerability, that need for foreign currency, which has been brought about by the current twin deficits—the trade deficit and now the deficit on investment income account.

I was very pleased to hear Ministers saying, rightly, that there are many great investment opportunities in the United Kingdom, so we need to deal with this paradox: why is it that foreigners can see them and are piling in with all their money to buy our best ideas, our best companies and our best properties, and why are more British people and British companies not able to do just that? The Government need to work with the British investors, British companies and British entrepreneurs to make it an even better climate for them to do the investing, as well as taking advantage of the foreign investors coming in and giving employment opportunities.

We need that entrepreneurial Britain, which grasps this opportunity and understands that we have a huge opportunity here to take out imports—to grow more of our own food, and to produce more of our own cars and more of our own products generally—so that we chip away at the very big balance of trade deficit, and in turn then generate cash that can be reinvested in the United Kingdom.

This Second Reading debate presents an opportunity to make the wider plea to Ministers that, as we recover from covid and the damage, we remember that ÂŁ100 billion deficit that we were running in 2019 before covid-19 disrupted world trade and say that that is unacceptable: that means too big an increase in claims by foreigners on our country year after year. That is why we need policies to get the investment in, chipping away at the ÂŁ20 billion deficit in food with the EU and at the fishing deficit and the car deficit, so that we are generating those jobs on British capital, and starting to reverse that net liability position that now disfigures our accounts.

My speech during the debate on Remembrance, UK Armed Forces and Society, 11 November 2020

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Today, we remember all those who died in war.  As we peer into the gaslit world of the great war or seek to look behind the blackout curtains of 1940s Britain, we realise that we follow two generations of giants.

Many families have fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, grandfathers and great grandfathers who died in battle that we might live in peace. They died in great fear of tyranny and their immediate circumstances that we might be free. They died for our country, so we can be proud of what they did. Some may seek to use powerful new search- lights of history to change the picture they want to see ​or to play this down, but nothing can change who they were, what they did, nor the principles they carried to victory.

Today is a day for patriotism: that quiet, confident patriotism that characterises our country at its best; the patriotism that comes from being at peace with what those generations did and with the causes they fought. Our country does not go in for brash, aggressive nationalism, asserting ourselves by doing down others.

The unknown soldier was rightly honoured by king and country all those years ago in recognition that the world war was an immense strain on all, at home or at the front.

It required the most enormous super-human efforts of everyone. The whole country was at war, not just the armed forces and the politicians. The best way we can be true to their memory is to enjoy the freedoms they left us. We can best pursue the path of peace with vivid memories of how, after war ends, the talking begins to reconcile the differences. We must learn from the failure of the great war to end the European conflict. We can best uphold the sacred candle of free speech, turning conflicts into exchanges of passionate words, not bombs and bullets. We can best uphold the right of everyone to a vote and a voice in a democratic society and uphold the right of small as well as large states to self-determination.

So let us vow today that, in this precious debating Chamber we enjoy, we will work to ensure that we will seek to talk and vote our way through our differences. Let us pray our country is not called again to perform the heroic and brave tasks we remember today. Now that states have so much greater power to kill and harm people than they did even a century ago, let us trust in democracy and freedom.

We have had to fight far too many wars. Today, we need a strong defence to keep us safe and to increase the chances of peace. The great war did not turn out to be the war to end all wars, though that was the promise. That was the hope of many in our nation, so let us today vow to find a way to bring us nearer to that most crucial of ambitions.

My Question during the Urgent Question on Lockdown: Economic Support, 3 November 2020

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I am glad that the Government agree that where, by law, they stop people working and earning a living, they should compensate them.

Will the Government look again at the terms of the scheme for the self-employed—there are restrictions on several categories of self-employed who have no other means of earning their living and no large company support—and be more generous?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need all those self-employed people to be ready to return to work to get some kind of recovery going soon, because the economy is in deep trouble?

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Steve Barclay): I agree with my right hon. Friend that we need to ensure that the economy is able to bounce back quickly. That is why we have provided over £13 billion of support to the self-employed, which by international comparisons—I know my right hon. Friend looks at international comparisons—he will see is extremely generous.

I have set out previously in the House part of the operational difficulties, for example with owner-directors in terms of what is dividend income and what is not.

The point is that we have set out a generous self-employment income support scheme, but we need to deliver that operationally in a way that meets the tests set by, for example, the Public Accounts Committee, which has asked whether we have the right level of controls in place, given the speed at which these schemes were deployed.

My intervention during the debate on the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, 19 October 2020

Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Does the Minister accept that paying people from the local labour force better, and paying for their training, is a much cheaper solution than building lots of houses to invite migrants in, and a much more popular one?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr Kevin Foster): My right hon. Friend points out that in a time when we have large numbers of people affected by the current economic situation, we need to focus on our own UK-based workforce when it comes to filling needs.

My question during the Statement on EU Exit: Negotiations and the Joint Committee, 19 October 2020

Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend seen how much popular and excellent quality fresh food there is in our supermarkets with the Union flag on the packaging? Will he confirm that if the EU insists on high tariffs on food trade, where it sells us massively more than we sell it, that would be a huge opportunity for our farmers to grow and rear more for the domestic market and get back the huge amounts of market share stolen from them under the common agricultural policy?

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr Michael Gove): My right hon. Friend makes three very important points. The first thing is that UK producers are doing a fantastic job in increasing production in a sustainable way. Championing the quality of UK produce is something that we should all do and recognise, whether it is Orkney cheddar or Welsh lamb, that the UK flag is a symbol that connects quality not just to our consumers but worldwide.

The second point that he makes, which is absolutely right, is that the common agricultural policy has been harmful, and our escape from it will ensure both that our farmers can prosper and that our environment can improve. His third point is that we should be confident not just that we can sell more excellent produce here in the UK but that, as we emerge into the world as a global free-trading nation, new opportunities to sell our excellent produce are available to our farmers, and he is absolutely right to be optimistic.