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UK Exit from the European Union: Terms of Negotiations

Volume 615: debated on Monday 10 October 2016

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

I seek leave to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should receive urgent consideration, namely the terms upon which the Government are proposing to conduct negotiations with the European Commission for the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Let me be crystal clear what the proposed debate is not about. It is not about reversing the referendum result. It is not about subverting the will of the majority who voted, as I did, to leave the European Union. It is not about trying to secure a second referendum. We had a vote, the country voted as it did and that result must be respected.

Personally, I had nothing whatever to do with the leave campaign, which was, in my view, conducted in what I regarded as a disgraceful sea of falsehood, spin and propaganda. Like many, however, given that fundamental reform of the EU appeared impossible I exercised my own vote on the sure and simple basis that the people of this country should be able to throw out of office those who make the rules that govern their lives—in other words, I voted on the basis of sovereignty.

The Government have a mandate as a result of the referendum to take the UK out of the European Union, but they do not have a mandate as to the terms on which that should be done. Nearly half of those who voted wanted no substantive change at all in the relationship between this country and the European Union. Their voices, which did not chime with my own, appear entirely to have been forgotten in the rhetoric of hard Brexit that has somehow become received wisdom on the part of the Government. The Government have no mandate for that. We cannot extrapolate from the result of the referendum the specific terms upon which the majority of those in this country wish their relations with the European Union now to be governed. That can only be done by seeking a mandate from this House, to which the citizens of this country return right hon. and hon. Members to express their views.

The suggestion that the Government will not consult this House and listen to the voices of those who represent the voters of this country is fundamentally undemocratic, is inimical to the traditions that underpin our constitution, and in my view is wrong. It also runs contrary to the reasons for which I and others voted as we did. I did not vote leave to see one tyranny that failed to consult this House, in the form of the European Commission, replaced by another in the form of a Government who fail to listen to what this House thinks about their negotiating position.

Fundamentally, this House should—in my judgment, must—be consulted by the Government through debate, and the views of Members heard, before a decision is made as to the broad negotiating position that should be adopted in negotiations with the European Union. For that reason this debate is both important and urgent. I am thus grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for having permitted this application to be made, and hope that both you and the whole House are left in no doubt at all that this matter should be considered by right hon. and hon. Members at the earliest possible opportunity.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the terms upon which the Government are proposing to conduct negotiations with the European Commission for the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

I have listened carefully to the application. I am not persuaded that this matter is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. In determining whether a matter is urgent, I am directed by Standing Order No. 24(5) to

“have regard to the probability of the matter being brought before the House in time by other means.”

As of now, I have reason to expect—I believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman himself might well now be aware also—that there is a strong prospect of a debate on this matter as early as this Wednesday. Needless to say, I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman and for the benefit of the House that there will doubtless be many other opportunities to debate these matters through various vehicles in the House. It is perfectly right and proper that those various vehicles should be used as is appropriate. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and hope that that is clear to the House.