[Relevant document: First Report from the Committee on Exiting the European Union, The process for exiting the European Union and the Government’s negotiating objectives, HC 815.]
Debate resumed (Order, 31 January).
Question proposed (31 January), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Amendment proposed (31 January): to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add
“this House declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill as the Government has set out no provision for effective consultation with the devolved administrations on implementing Article 50, has yet to publish a White Paper detailing the Government's policy proposals, has refused to give a guarantee on the position of EU nationals in the UK, has left unanswered a range of detailed questions covering many policy areas about the full implications of withdrawal from the single market and has provided no assurance that a future parliamentary vote will be anything other than irrelevant, as withdrawal from the European Union follows two years after the invoking of Article 50 if agreement is not reached in the forthcoming negotiations, unless they are prolonged by unanimity.”—(Stephen Gethins.)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
I want to say at the outset that this is clearly a fateful moment in this country’s history, and the excellent speeches on day one of the debate reflected the gravity of the moment. We should all respect the way in which colleagues on both sides of the House are wrestling with their consciences as they decide how to vote on the Bill. No one should pretend that this is easy. For me, the actions I will take tonight were determined by the result on 23 June.
In case the House needs reminding, I did not want the referendum. I made a strong case to my colleagues before deciding that my party would not support David Cameron’s decision in the last Parliament. I believed that, with the many other problems the country faced, the referendum would become as much about the state of the country as about Britain’s place in Europe. Indeed, I believe that that is, in part, what happened. However, that is water under the bridge. I took part in the referendum campaign and I said that I would accept the result, which I do. That is why I will be voting for the Bill’s Second Reading tonight, not least because I feel that the referendum stemmed in part from the sense of disaffection and deep frustration about politics that exists in the country. A heightened reason for saying that the process must begin is that we do not want to give the people who voted for Brexit a sense that they are being ignored once again.
Like my right hon. Friend, I accept the result in the country and in my constituency. Does he agree, however, that no one, whether they voted to remain or to leave, voted to become poorer, and that the test for the Government now is to produce a prosperous, post-Brexit Britain and a deal that is in the country’s best interests?
My hon. Friend makes his point very well, and I shall come on to that in a moment.
Our responsibilities do not end here tonight or with the passing of this Bill. It is deeply problematic that the Government are embarking upon this process without any objective economic analysis of its implications, without clarity on key issues such as the customs union and without any sense of what transitional arrangements might look like, on the basis of what I believe is the fanciful proposition that all the future arrangements can be tied up within 18 months.
On day one of the debate, a number of speakers powerfully made the point that, given the paucity of information we have been given before article 50 is to be triggered, it is even more important that there should be proper parliamentary scrutiny, including a meaningful vote in this House, before the end of the process. The Prime Minister’s apparent wish that our choice will be to accept her deal or face a hard Brexit on World Trade Organisation terms is quite wrong. Such a take-it-or-leave-it option would fly in the face of the central proposition that won the referendum—namely, that we want to take back control and restore parliamentary sovereignty. So I hope that Members—particularly Conservative Members—however they voted in the referendum, will support the amendments that seek to ensure proper parliamentary sovereignty throughout the process. I believe that parliamentary scrutiny will help the Government. It will improve any deal, it will strengthen their hand with the European Union and it will make it more likely that the Prime Minister will end up with a deal that has the support it needs in the country.
My hon. Friend puts it very well. This is deeply uncertain, and the truth is that the Government have not really levelled with the country about the trade-offs. At the moment, they are saying that they can have everything, and I fear that pretty soon in the negotiations we will discover that that is not the case.
I want to focus not on the economic questions, which were well worn yesterday, but on an equally important issue that has received less attention in this debate but is absolutely crucial: our place in the world and our foreign policy relationships after Brexit. The foundation of our foreign policy for a generation has rested on the combination of a special relationship with the United States and, crucially, our relationship with the European Union.
Enlargement of the EU following the fall of the Berlin wall—as a nation, we advocated for that enlargement; leadership on climate change under the last Government and, I freely say, under this Government; a commitment to the rule of law and human rights; a belief in the importance of multilateral institutions—all of these have been bound up in our relationship with the European Union, and we should not be under any illusion about the real risk that, following our departure, our influence in the world will be weaker, not stronger.
I negotiated on climate change for the last Labour Government, and our strength, our power, our standing on that issue came from our membership of the European Union because we accounted for 10% of global emissions, not just 1%. The House should therefore recognise that the question of what strategic relationships come after Brexit is fundamental to the issue of real sovereignty and our ability to have an effect on the big issues that will affect us.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the important issue of the future not only of ourselves but of the European Union. Is he not concerned that the European External Action Service now has 139 overseas posts and is increasingly asserting the authority of the European Union over the member states? That process will continue and we will not be part of it. We will be reasserting the sovereignty of these islands.
I will not get extra time, so I am not going to indulge in that argument because we are leaving the European Union—the hon. Gentleman and I agree on that. The question is: what comes next? We all need to address ourselves to that question.
Of course the terrible irony is that, with the election of President Trump, our European co-operation is so clearly needed more than ever. I believe in the special relationship with the United States, but it must be based on values. The Foreign Secretary said after President Trump’s election, and I slightly scratched my head at this, that
“he is a guy who believes firmly in values that I believe in too—freedom and democracy.”
I do not agree and I hope that on reflection, after a few days of the Trump presidency, the Foreign Secretary does not agree, either.
My central point is this: I can go along with the Prime Minister that Brexit means Brexit, but I cannot go along with the idea that Brexit means Trump. I do not believe that that is inevitable, nor do l believe that it is what the British people want. The danger is that the Prime Minister feels it is an inevitable consequence of the decision to leave the EU that we are driven into the arms of President Trump.
So what should be done? This is the fundamental point. The Lancaster House speech was no doubt an improvement in tone on what had gone before, but not one of the Prime Minister’s 12 principles concerned foreign policy, defence or climate co-operation. To put that right in the course of the negotiations I sincerely hope that the Government come up with an architecture for foreign and strategic policy co-operation with the European Union, not just ad hoc arrangements. I want to be clear—this relates to the question asked by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth)—that that co-operation would be intergovernmental, but there are many issues, from Russia to refugees, climate and defence, where we will be stronger, not weaker, if we have institutions that continue to mean co-operation between ourselves and the European Union.
We not only need the right institutions, but institutions founded on a strategic orientation that continues to value our role in Europe. We must be willing, even as we leave the EU, to join our European allies, whose values we share, in speaking up for the rule of law and human rights. I ask this of all European countries: where has been the co-ordinated response to the Trump Muslim ban? Why have the Government not been pushing for that response?
I will not give way because I want to get to the end.
As I understand it, the dual citizenship exemption won by the UK will be extended only to New Zealand, Canada and Australia. Of course it is good that we have that exemption, but we should be standing in solidarity with our European allies in calling for the ban to end.
There are other questions for the Government, too. In the wake of President Trump’s election, Foreign Ministers sought to agree a joint statement on the continuing need for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian people, but they were blocked by a few countries, including—shamefully—the United Kingdom. It is no wonder that Europe fears that we are throwing in our lot with President Trump and turning our back on it. No good will come of that. These are the tests of who we are as a nation, of our values and of how we intend to apply them in the years ahead. It matters to whether our world is governed by the rules of international order—rules that we helped to design and promote—or, alternatively, by something far, far worse.
Incidentally, surely there must be no more talk, particularly in the current context when human rights seem so at risk, of our leaving the European convention on human rights. I truly hope that the Government will be prompted by President Trump’s first few days in office to think again about their approach.
I end on this point. History will judge us not just on the decisions we make on this Bill tonight, but on the decisions beyond. The Government have a heavy responsibility, and we expect them to exercise it on behalf of the whole nation, not just the 52%. For that we will hold them to account in the months and years ahead.
The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) speaks, as he always does, with passion for an international Britain and for European solutions to the many problems we face.
Democracy is easy to defend when we agree with the majority. In many other political systems, such as dictatorships, people can get their way, but democracy has the added advantage of legitimacy and popular consent. Democracy is much more difficult when we disagree with the majority. As people know, I argued passionately in the referendum that leaving the European Union would weaken Britain’s trade and commercial links, would diminish Britain on the world stage, would make international approaches to things such as climate change and atomic research more difficult and would weaken a multilateral institution—the European Union—that has been vital to our collective security for many decades.
I made those arguments, and it saddens me that Britain and Brexit are bracketed in the same group as other isolationist and nativist movements across the world. We should strive to be, as the Prime Minister says, a more global Britain. But I lost the case. I made it with passion, and I sacrificed my position in government for it.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will make some progress before taking interventions.
We have to accept that, in a democracy, the majority has spoken. Although I am a passionate believer in an open, internationalist, free-trading Britain, I am also a passionate believer in Britain as a democracy. It is unfashionable in schools these days to teach what I believe to be a true tale of our nation’s history, which stretches from Magna Carta to the Glorious Revolution, the founding fathers of the American constitution, the Great Reform Act, female emancipation and the like, but we have given the modern world a version of democracy that has spread far beyond our shores.
Therefore, to vote against the majority verdict of the largest democratic exercise in British history would risk putting Parliament against people, provoking a deep constitutional crisis in our country and alienating people who already feel alienated. I am not prepared to do that, so I will be voting for the Bill tonight.
I wish to make some progress, and I want others to have a chance to speak, so I will not take interventions.
There is a mandate to leave the European Union, but that was the only question asked of the British people in the referendum. We cannot assume that the British public gave a set of answers to the questions we now face as a Parliament. Indeed, those questions are now entrusted to us as we approach the negotiations.
I call them negotiations but I do not think they are going to resemble the negotiations that we currently read about in the media. The truth is that although Britain is seeking the maximum possible access to the single market for goods and for services, and we hope that the fact we have a trade deficit and a very important financial centre will count in our favour, the Government have chosen—and I respect this decision—not to make the economy the priority in this negotiation. They have prioritised immigration control, which was a clear message from the referendum campaign, and removing European Court of Justice jurisdiction from the UK and, in that sense, asserting parliamentary sovereignty, although I would point out that Parliament can choose to leave the EU, as indeed we are choosing to do in the coming days.
So we are not prioritising the economy, although we hope for the best possible arrangement, and the European Union is not prioritising it either in these negotiations. Having spent the past couple of weeks in Berlin and in Paris talking to some French and German political leaders, it is clear to me that although they understand that Britain is a very important market for their businesses, their priority is to maintain the integrity of the remaining 27 members of the European Union; they are not interested in a long and complex hybrid agreement with the UK. Therefore, both sides are heading for a clean break from the EU for the UK.
The only thing I think the negotiation will come down to in the end is how that break is achieved. The Prime Minister, in her speech of a couple of weeks ago, made it clear that Britain is seeking a transition agreement, and that is obvious because it is simply not possible for this Parliament to introduce all the domestic legislation that is going to be required to replicate the arrangements we currently have with the EU, even with the great repeal Act. We will also need to have some kind of bridge to the free trade agreement that we seek with the EU. At the same time, the EU needs from us financial commitments that it believes we entered into to pay for European projects that were undertaken while we were a member. In practice, that means the negotiation will be a trade-off, as all divorces are, between access and money. We will try to scale down our payments to the EU, while scaling down our commitment to EU rules and access, until we reach that free trade agreement which we hope to negotiate.
I will just finish my speech and then others can speak.
That is what the negotiation is going to be like. I suspect it will be rather bitter. I spent four years negotiating with Michel Barnier, and I advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to be well briefed, as he always is, and to pack a packet of Pro Plus, because there will be many long nights ahead.
It is very important that in the bitterness of that discussion we do not forget that there are some fundamental reasons why Britain wanted to be part of a European Common Market in the first place; nor should we allow the Europeans to forget that there was a fundamental reason why they created a European Community, which was to bring the nations of Europe together. We must try to keep those thoughts and hopes alive as we exit the EU.
The final thing I want to say is this: we have made a decision to leave the EU and, as the successful leave campaign put it, to take back control, but that means a series of issues are going to come to this Parliament that completely divide Brexiteers from each other, remainers from each other, Conservatives from each other and members of other parties from each other. We are going to have very lively debates about free trade, as we are beginning to see at Prime Minister’s questions; these are debates about what kind of agricultural produce we want to allow into this country or the kind of public procurement contracts we want. We are going to have a very lively debate about immigration, how many people we want to let into this country, how we welcome skilled people into this country, and how we support our universities and scientific research institutions. We are going to have an argument about agricultural subsidies and whether we are happy for the poorest people in this country to pay taxes to support subsidies to some of the richest. We are also going to have an argument about state aid and whether we should be able to bail out failing commercial enterprises. I will be in those fights in the couple of years ahead.
May I start by congratulating the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), on his speech, which was a good deal shorter and a great deal less lucrative than the ones he is used to giving these days? [Interruption.] As is being pointed out to Tory Members, he is anything but cheap these days. He may have argued the case with passion during the campaign, but his tendency to take perfectly reasonable Treasury forecasts on the long-term damage that would be done to the GDP and wealth of this country as a result of withdrawal from the single market and turn them into apocalyptic, emergency Budget, day of judgment scaremongering was one reason why the remain side lost the campaign. Campaigns have to be built on more than fear.
I want to talk about the politics, the economics and the procedure, and about Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) asked me yesterday whether I could remember, in the last 30 years in this place, a time when the House was gripped by collective madness. Obviously, that time was Iraq, when this House was mesmerised by a strong Prime Minister into the blood and disaster of the Iraqi war, but it is certainly not mesmerising rhetoric that is responsible for mad MP disease in this case. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) yesterday made a comparison with “Alice in Wonderland”, but Alice only took herself into the hole; this Prime Minister is taking virtually all the Tory party, half the Labour party and the entire country into the hole. What is being done is politically crazy.
In 1962, Dean Acheson said:
“Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.”
After listening to the speeches of some Tory Back Benchers yesterday, I am not so sure that they are reconciled to the empire bit. Successive Governments and Prime Ministers found a solution by pursuing a role as a leading country in Europe, and balancing that with a special relationship with the United States of America. A German Chancellor once said that the relationship was special because only one side knew about it, and that is certainly true, but none the less, it was a rational policy. Some Prime Ministers took that far too far, into the desert of Iraq, but none the less it was a rational, logical policy.
We cannot, having pursued that policy of having influence in Europe and the good things that come from it, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) reminded us, cut that off and then pursue the special relationship with the USA. That leaves us caught in the headlights, as the Prime Minister was earlier this week. When asked to condemn the obvious thing that any human being would have condemned, she refused to do so three times, in case she offended her new bestie in the White House—and incidentally, if she had said it, she would have offended her new best friend in the White House. So she goes headlong into the arms of a United States President who is, at best, unpredictable. This is going to get worse and more embarrassing because of the imbalance in the relationship.
Then we must consider the economic damage—
Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) mentioned climate change and the American President, who said he will tear up the agreements on that subject. Where will Britain stand then? What support will it get?
That is an excellent example of the embarrassments to come. As for the economic damage, there was nothing wrong with the Treasury medium-term forecasts on coming out of the single marketplace; even if there is a bespoke deal, it will result in a 6% loss in GDP.
The Tory 2015 manifesto is not my bedtime reading, but as I recall, page 72 said:
“We say: yes to the Single Market”.
The Tories were right to say yes. It was funny that yesterday all the Conservative speakers remembered the commitment to a referendum, but not one of them remembered their commitment to the single marketplace. Of course it was not the case that a withdrawal from the European Community meant a withdrawal from the single marketplace. During the campaign, I had the pleasure of debating with Daniel Hannan MEP, who said:
“Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market”.
Of course it is possible to honour the result of the referendum and stay in the single marketplace, and even if people think there will be an exit from the single marketplace, it is madness, in diplomatic negotiating terms, to abandon that position now. The UK should keep its place in the single marketplace and allow the other European countries to negotiate it out of it, not give it away before the first word is spoken in the negotiations.
I come next to the procedures of this House. I have here the list of amendments tabled to the Bill, stretching to 103 pages; we are told that they are to be debated in three days. Eighteen months ago, the Scotland Bill, which was not the greatest constitutional change in history, got six days of debate. I say to Labour Members such as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North, who listed all the things wrong with the Government’s approach, that if they believe that now, they should vote against the Government; if they cannot do that, they should at least vote against a programme motion that will make it impossible to debate the sensible changes that the right hon. Gentleman outlined.
As was well pointed out yesterday, the process is procedurally deficient, not only in terms of the time given, but in terms of the question that will eventually be put to the House. The final vote will be on the deal that comes back from a Prime Minister who said that
“no deal…is better than a bad deal”,
so the choice the House will likely get is a bad deal or no deal. It is therefore crucial that when the House debates it and comes to a decision, there is a meaningful vote—a vote that can make a difference—as opposed to Hobson’s choice, made with a metaphorical gun to the House’s head.
If we end up in a situation in which the only deal on the table is a bad deal, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the responsibility for that will lie with the Prime Minister? It is not as if she can deny responsibility for that being a problem.
Yes, I would agree, but of course if we are all in the soup, finding out that it was the Prime Minister’s responsibility will avail this country very little. It is far better to try to ensure by our votes that we get a realistic choice that can actually make a difference.
Finally, I come to the situation in Scotland. Scotland has a 1,000-year history as a European nation. There is a plaque to Sir William Wallace in great Westminster Hall, the site of his unjust trial—for which, presumably, he will get a pardon at some point soon. After his greatest victory in the battle of Stirling bridge, which was akin to Leicester City winning the premier league last season, in terms of upset and surprise, his first act was not to hold a cèilidh, but to write to the Hanseatic League in Lübeck and elsewhere to secure Scotland’s trading concessions throughout Europe. The importance of Scotland’s European connections stretches back a millennium, and we are not going to allow this non-vision—this act of madness from this House—to take Scotland out of those connections.
The Scottish Government have put forward the proposition, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which offers the Prime Minister a way for Scotland to stay in the single marketplace, regardless of what she wants to do to this country. She said today that a frictionless border in Ireland was quite possible under the circumstances, without realising that if it is possible in Ireland, it is of course possible in Scotland. I see the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) nodding; in the early hours of this morning, I think I saw him, or perhaps it was one of his hon. Friends, say much the same thing on the BBC’s “HARDtalk”—a sad case, watching “HARDtalk” at 1 o’clock in the morning—and it was an important admission. Actually, it was the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). It is important to understand that there are examples in Europe at present.
The Prime Minister has it within her power and capacity to accept the Scottish Government’s compromise proposals and allow Scotland as a nation to retain its trading place in the European context. If that is not to happen; if the House says, “We will go ahead with a hard, Tory Brexit,” or a full English Brexit, as we are now calling it in Scotland, and says, “We’re going to sweep aside concerns from across the House about the economic and political damage, and we will not accept the proposals from Scotland to follow the votes of the people in the nation of Scotland and retain their European connection. We are not interested in preserving Scottish jobs and investment”; if those are the criteria and that is the attitude of the Government; if that is what the Prime Minister wants to do with Scotland, and she is determined to throw down that gauntlet, she can be absolutely sure that Nicola Sturgeon, as First Minister, will pick it up.
Sleaford and North Hykeham is not only the constituency that I am proud to represent; it is my home, and I feel a personal responsibility to nurture it. It is a thriving, predominantly agricultural area, with pockets of industry and a strong military tradition.
The town of North Hykeham is built directly on top of the old Roman road, the Fosse Way. To the south is Sleaford, where one is welcomed by the Handley monument, a large, ornate stone structure, within which is a statue of Henry Handley, who was the MP for South Lincolnshire from 1832 to 1841. He was such a popular MP that the townspeople created the memorial in his honour. It is not clear now whether he was so popular for his innovative ideas regarding science, technology and farming, or because of his strong opposition to the taxation of malt. Nevertheless, it is clear that I have a lot to live up to.
My predecessor was Stephen Phillips, who, like his predecessor, Douglas Hogg, is a silk. They brought great intellect and legal acumen to the House, and Stephen is particularly to be commended for his work on the Public Accounts Committee. Probably his greatest virtue, though, is his sense of timing: he resigned at exactly the right time for me to be able to stand for the seat. I thank Stephen for the personal encouragement he has given to me in this endeavour. I also thank the many Members of this House who have given me wonderful support, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick), for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), and for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), to whom I am very grateful. In these challenging times, Mr Speaker, I promise to uphold the fine traditions of the House and serve my constituents to the best of my ability, ensuring that their voices are heard.
As a new MP, it is right for me to explain briefly who I am. I am a mother of three, a farmer’s wife and the product of a loving family. I am a consultant paediatrician and therefore have particular interests in the health, education and general wellbeing of children. I am a committed Brexiteer, and I am also interested in farming, infrastructure and defence. I am not a silk, or even a lawyer, but I have firm principles based on what I believe to be morally right, and on the ideal of democracy under the rule of law.
I have spent all my working life as a doctor in the NHS, and care passionately about it. The NHS is not perfect; in fact, I doubt any organisation as large and so dependent on human judgment ever could be. However, although there are areas that could be improved, I feel many are too quick to decry the faults in the NHS without adequately recognising the brilliant work done, day in and day out, in helping more people than ever before. I look forward to contributing my knowledge and experience to help to ensure that the NHS goes from strength to strength.
Improving the wellbeing of children remains a topic close to my heart, and I am delighted with the Government’s commitment to young people’s mental health. We must ensure that young people with mental health issues have access to the right treatment; however, as with physical health, we must also focus on prevention. That should include improvements in children’s social care and helping to foster resilience. Resilience is very important. I feel we let down children with the “all must have prizes” culture. Young people should understand their strengths and weaknesses by being allowed to compete and take controlled risks; to win, but also to lose; and to learn from that experience, which better prepares them for the challenges they face in life ahead.
It is truly a privilege to give my maiden speech today in this historic debate. As someone new to the world of Westminster, the greatest surprise to me was that so many seemed surprised by the result of the EU referendum. I was brought up to believe that a good democracy is ruled by the majority, with protection for minorities. As I talk to my constituents, however, I increasingly understand that they perceive that we have rule by a vocal minority elite who are disregarding the views of the majority, and they are angry. Why is that important? Well, because so many people seem to have been surprised by the Brexit vote, having failed to understand the genuine concerns of the majority. This disconnect with the electorate has been seen not just here, but in the results of the US presidential election, and in the rise of far-right parties throughout Europe. There can be no democracy without an understanding of the views of the majority, and those views must be respected, heard and responded to by Members of this House.
There has been much debate recently over whether the referendum was mandatory or advisory, and over the relative authorities of the Government, the legislature and the judiciary. As I said earlier, I am not a lawyer, but I fail to understand how one can ask the electorate a question and then even consider disregarding the result. The referendum is not advice, but an instruction to us. We asked the people, and the people said “Out”, so out we must go.
Order. More than 80 right hon. and hon. Members still wish to contribute to the debate over the ensuing five hours, in consequence of which it is necessary, with immediate effect, to impose a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of four minutes. I am trying to ensure that everybody has a chance, on top of those who have already had their opportunity. It would be helpful if those who have already spoken were to refrain from intervening, because such self-restraint might increase opportunities for others. I am sure that all colleagues are concerned about others. I call Yvette Cooper.
May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) on an excellent maiden speech? She will do her constituents proud if her speech is anything to go by.
We have now a challenge for this whole House—what we do over the next two years and whether what we do strengthens or weakens our democracy. Over the past 40 years, Britain has worked with the EU to achieve some amazing things, but we have done so by sharing sovereignty. We were able to do so, because, when we went into the Common Market in the 1970s, we had popular consent expressed through a referendum. Last summer, we lost that consent, which should be a lesson to all of us who wanted to keep it. Surprisingly, I agreed with some of the things that the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) said, but disagreed with him over whether we should have done more. We could not make the referendum simply about the economy, and we took for granted too many of the things that we needed to argue, particularly about the necessity for politics to come together.
My hon. Friend is right. I, too, will vote for article 50, although I argued against leaving the EU last year. I am worried about the backdrop to all of this, because, across western democracies, democratic values are being undermined. We have seen: attacks on judges as the “enemies of the people”, even though they should be defending the rule of law; attacks on the Human Rights Act and on the protection for minorities against the tyranny of the majority; the steady undermining of democratically elected representatives; the assault on the free press; and the attack on truth itself. The challenge that we face over the next few years in many European countries is how we defend those democratic values. It will be much harder for me to defend that faith in democracy in my constituency if we ignore the results of the ballot box last summer.
Pontefract is the home of the very first secret ballot. We still have the first ballot box, and we see it as a symbol of peaceful democracy—of asking people to be part of that democratic process. That democratic process does not end with the article 50 vote, and that is my concern with the Government’s approach. They are trying to concentrate power in the hands of the Executive, when, in fact, they should be involving all of Parliament and the public in the debate about what kind of country we want to be and about where our future lies. There will be issues on which we will disagree. For example, I feel strongly that we should stay inside the customs union, because that will help our manufacturing in the future. On the rights of EU citizens who already live here, I feel that we should not be leaving them in the lurch while we start the negotiations when we could put them on a sure-footing straight away.
There will be issues about how we balance so many different things, such as how we get our security right, and we will need to debate them here in this House. At the moment, the process that the Government have set out does not give us the secure opportunity to have votes and proper debates and to be sure that we will not be left at the end of this process with what the Prime Minister has described as her way to change the British economic model if we do not get what we like. To the Opposition, that sounds far more like a tax-haven Britain that would undermine people’s rights and the kind of British values that we want to stand up for.
I urge Members from all parts of the House not just to look at the array of amendments and not just to decide how we respect the referendum result last summer and the different and strongly held views of our constituents, but to look at how all of us, from all parts of the House, vote for the kinds of amendments that will ensure that parliamentary sovereignty is strengthened and that Parliament has a say. I urge Government Members to vote for some of those amendments to ensure that we have a real vote on the final outcome and that we can make real choices.
So much of this has been about how we defend democracy by voting for article 50. It should not be about that; it should be about how we strengthen democracy over the next two years. If this was about parliamentary sovereignty for all of us, let us have the strength and the confidence to use it.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). I did not agree with everything that she said, but the one thing with which I most certainly did agree was her congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) who made an excellent first speech in this House. It is probably the case that she will never speak in a more important debate in this House no matter that she has, I am sure, a long career ahead of her here.
My first political act was to take part in the referendum campaign in 1975. I put leaflets through doors calling on people to vote yes in that referendum. I did so because I believed in free trade, and because I believed the assurances that were written on those leaflets that the decision taken would not affect the sovereignty of the UK Parliament.
I was working for Margaret Thatcher when she first delivered the Bruges speech, which highlighted the fact that that assurance was being steadily eroded and that the European Community was heading in the wrong direction. As a result, when I entered this House I opposed the Maastricht treaty, the Amsterdam treaty, the Nice treaty and indeed the Lisbon treaty as it was becoming steadily clearer that, although there may or may not have been economic benefits from our membership, this was a political project that was heading in the one direction of ever closer union.
It was a project on which the British people had not been consulted and which they did not support. I had hoped that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, would negotiate an arrangement that allowed us to opt out from the elements that we did not want. He tried valiantly, but what he came back with was insufficient, which left us with no alternative but to leave and then to seek new arrangements allowing us to co-operate in those areas where there was a benefit. The result of the referendum was clear. In my constituency, it was nearly two to one, and people did understand what they were voting for. It does not matter that a majority of younger people may have voted to remain, that a majority of those with degrees may have voted to remain, or even that some parts of the UK may have voted to remain. This was a nationwide referendum of the British people, and the British people spoke. I agree with the Prime Minister that we have no alternative but to leave the single market, as it is essential that we have control over our borders once more and that we are no longer subject to European Union law.
I really am sorry, but I do not have time.
We have to leave the customs union if the condition of remaining in it is that we are unable to negotiate our own trade agreements. There are precedents, although I would not necessarily want to follow them completely. The new arrangements, for instance, between the European Union and Canada, and between the European Union and Ukraine, offer no application of European law in those countries and no free movement, but do give them access to the internal market and allow them to negotiate their own trade agreements. Ultimately, the European Union is flexible and an arrangement is perfectly possible.
The negotiations will be complicated. I am concerned, for instance, that we must have recognition of the adequacy of our data protection, so that data can continue to flow across borders. I would like us still to be recognised under the country of origin principle. However, it is vital for European businesses still to have access to our markets, so they will be putting pressure on their Governments to reach a sensible deal. The one thing I have found most astonishing is that when Britain voted to leave the European Union, the reaction of other member states has been more to seek to punish Britain than to ask the question why. The European Union is a flawed—
I will be brief and to the point, as many other hon. Members want to take part in the debate. We have heard some remarkable contributions, and I will mention two that were made yesterday. The former Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who has just left the Chamber so will not hear my remarks, challenged everyone who will be voting in favour of this Bill tonight, as I will be, to examine our consciences. They particularly challenged those of us—I strongly count myself among this number—who voted, argued and campaigned for a remain vote. I believe that, as we lost the vote, we have to face the consequences, although the former Deputy Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe feel that we should not.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) also said that this is an issue of conscience. I regret to some extent that we will be voting on a three-line Whip, as it is a deeply moral, conscious decision that we all have to take. However, I would have much more difficultly justifying and coming to terms with my conscience if I were to vote against the Bill and, effectively, in favour of delaying and frustrating the beginning of the negotiations and, therefore, the whole process of leaving the European Union. We have only to re-read the referendum question. It was so simple, asking:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
There were no ifs or buts. It was a simple question understood by everybody who took part in the referendum. It is no good now to say that the referendum was really only advisory and that we should have a second referendum or a confirmatory vote.
I campaigned widely in the west midlands, strongly on the remain ticket. I went out of my way to warn my constituents about the economic consequences, although warnings, particularly from the then Chancellor, may have been overdone throughout the whole campaign, which did not particularly help us. I warned people that the referendum was a one-off, that it was a yes or no question and that there would be no second referendum or further bite at the cherry if we did not like the outcome. Members who are telling us that tonight’s vote is a matter of conscience for those who were on the remain side and who felt strongly about remaining, as I did, believe that we should vote against the Bill. On the contrary, there is not a conceivable material argument for doing so. Indeed, to do so would be to betray the very basis on which we conducted the referendum; that is certainly what I spoke to, and I believe that it is what all Members who actively took part in the referendum spoke to.
We come to the question of how this House can be involved in and influence the negotiations. My experience of negotiations—business and others—tells me that we have to get real about this. The issues and choices will become clearer once we are in negotiations. I agree with the former Chancellor, who brings us great advice from Davos and other centres of learning, that perhaps economics will not be the big issue of the negotiations. However, the outcome on the economic and trading front is the essence of what this is really about for working people. My advice is simply this: soft Brexit and a transition period. Anything else would predict a harsh and uncomfortable future for the working people of this country.
As I said yesterday and perhaps I can be forgiven for repeating today, it would be hugely appreciated if colleagues did not keep coming up to the Chair either asking explicitly when they will be called, or doing so implicitly by inquiring whether it is alright if they go for lunch, repair to the loo, consume a cup of tea or eat a biscuit. It is not necessary. All I would say is, please be patient. I want to accommodate everybody—I am on your side—but it does not help if people keep coming up to the Chair all the time. It is incredibly tedious, especially when one is trying to listen to what colleagues actually have to say.
Having originally been elected on a slender majority of 582, I certainly understand that we have to accept the outcome of democratic elections, however narrow the margin, but I must admit that I was surprised by the leave result in the west midlands, given that the region is in substantial trade surplus with the EU. Of course, I am delighted that the automotive industry has achieved so much success that it exports 82% of all its cars, mostly to the other 27 countries of the EU.
The subject of immigration dominated the conversations I had on the matter, even when standing outside the gates of the car factory. No distinction was made between EU and non-EU migration, which each account for 50% of migrants. I worry that our electors expect that taking back control will mean that very few migrants will arrive here. However, our history as an empire means that there are family obligations to non-EU migrants and an absolute obligation, through the Geneva and The Hague conventions, to provide safe haven for the most vulnerable people, many from countries for which we drew the lines on a map.
I heard mixed motives for voting leave. Some second-generation migrants told me they did not want any more coming in. Article 50 will be triggered and we will be in uncharted waters, trying to negotiate the things that are vital for our success. Access to our principal market is key. The car industry is desperately short of engineers, and its success will be choked if it cannot get the skilled labour it needs. If we are honest, migrants are more willing to do some jobs, such as picking fruit and vegetables. A spring onion producer told me he cannot rely on local labour to get the harvest in. We must ensure that horticulture is not destroyed by taking back control without being able to meet the demand for labour. These are not easy things to say in public, but we are about to make a momentous decision, and, as the Prime Minister says, we have to make a success of it. That will only be achieved if we are honest about some of the problems we face.
I am no starry-eyed Europhile. The political leadership in Europe failed to inspire its citizens about the benefits of working together. Other countries are seeing the rise of extreme right parties that promise to solve their problems. This goes beyond Europe. The leadership of the rich nations around the world are struggling to find answers to the impact of globalisation for the low waged. In America, Obama tried to extend healthcare to the poorest, and here we have the introduction of the living wage, but maybe we need to look to places such as Scandinavia for better models of wage equality and fairness in society. Those are the big questions left when we exit the European Union and we will need to answer them in our own way.
I expect that the EU will change after we have left, because it must collectively try to find answers to the big questions of globalisation, mass migration and robotics. By contrast with the US, we have decided to turn outward, not inward, partly because we have to and because our heritage is one of trade and exploration. I hope the electorate will be patient, but they will judge our efforts on their experience, not on our rhetoric. I hope that all that is great about Britain is not sacrificed in pursuit of an unrealistic ambition to go back to some mythical time when we were in control of all we surveyed.
She is not in her place now, but I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) for her excellent maiden speech.
Liberal Democrats have always been proud internationalists. It was the Liberals who backed Winston Churchill’s European vision in the 1950s, even when his own party did not do so. Since our foundation, we have been champions of Britain’s role in the European Union and fought for co-operation and openness with our neighbours and with our allies. We have always believed that the challenges that Britain faces in the 21st century—climate change, terrorism and economic instability—are best tackled working together as a member of the European Union.
Being proud Europeans is part of our identity as a party, and it is part of my personal identity too. Personally, I was utterly gutted by the result. Some on the centre left are squeamish about patriotism; I am not. I am very proud of my identity as a northerner, as an Englishman, as a Brit, and as a European—all those things are consistent. My identity did not change on 24 June, and neither did my values, my beliefs, or what I believe is right for this country and for future generations. I respect the outcome of the referendum. The vote was clear—close, but clear—and I accept it.
But voting for departure is not the same as voting for a destination. Yes, a narrow majority voted to leave the EU, but the leave campaign had no plans, no instructions, no prospectus and no vision. No one in this Government, no one in this House and no one in this country has any idea of what the deal the Prime Minister will negotiate with Europe will be—it is completely unknown. How, then, can anyone pretend that this undiscussed, unwritten, un-negotiated deal in any way has the backing of the British people? The deal must be put to the British people for them to have their say. That is the only way to hold the Government to account for the monumental decisions they will have to take over the next two years.
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that his party is partly responsible for the outcome of the referendum, because immigration became a proxy for issues like the pressure on the NHS and the inability to see a doctor, and the inability to get the right class sizes, owing to policies that his party supported which squeezed public services and meant that people looked for someone else to blame?
I am staggered by the hon. Gentleman speaking the language of Nigel Farage—what a terrible disgrace.
The deal must be put to the British people for them to have their say. That is the only way to hold the Government to account for the monumental decision they will have to take over the next two years to ensure that the course they choose serves the interests of all the people, however they voted.
I will not take any more interventions because other people need to get in.
Here is the likelihood: 48% of the people will not like the outcome of the deal, and half of the 52% will feel that they were betrayed by the outcome of the deal. The only way to achieve democracy and closure is for there to be a vote at the end.
The fact is that the Prime Minister is the one making the strongest case for giving people a vote on the deal. She had the choice to pursue a form of Brexit that united our country, reflected the closeness of the vote, and sought to heal the divisions between leave and remain. Instead she chose to pursue the hardest, most divisive form of Brexit, which tears us out of the single market and leaves us isolated against the might of world superpowers. Never mind that six months ago she herself argued the case for remaining in the EU. Never mind that numerous leave campaigners championed the Norway and Swiss models and spent the referendum campaign assuring voters that we would not leave the single market. Never mind that 48% of people—16 million British people—wanted to stay in the EU. Never mind that Britain’s young people, who have more of a stake in our country than most of us here, voted three to one to remain.
The Prime Minister has made her choice—fine; she has chosen hard Brexit—but if she is so confident that what she is planning is what people voted for, she must give them a vote on the final deal. What started with democracy must not end with a Government stitch-up. When all is said and done, the decision on whether the deal the Prime Minister negotiates is good enough will be decided by someone; someone will make that decision. Should it be the Prime Minister, should it be those privileged to be here, or should it be the British people who have to live with that decision? I say that it should be put to the people in a referendum. That is why the Liberal Democrats are fighting for the British people to have the final vote on the deal that this Government negotiates. Democracy means accepting the will of the people, at the beginning of the process and the end of the process. Democracy means respecting the majority, and democracy means not giving up your beliefs when the going gets tough.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), who always speaks with passion. However, let me put it squarely on the table that I will never vote for another referendum while I am in this House, given what we experienced last year.
I agree with those who have said that this is a conscience vote; forget the three-line Whips. We asked the people, “What do you want to do?”, they said, “Leave,” and as far as I am concerned that settled the matter. I will of course be voting for the Bill this evening.
I want to make three very quick points. First, I believe that the Prime Minister deserves personal credit for her leadership on Brexit since she emerged last July. Casting our minds back to the extraordinary events of last summer, we were shell-shocked, not knowing where the public vote would take us. “Brexit means Brexit”, she said,
“and we’re going to make a success of it.”
That phrase, much mocked in some quarters, gave a sufficient sense of direction to steady the ship. It became apparent by January that we then needed a more detailed plan, and at just the right time, the Prime Minister gave her Lancaster House speech, which set out a clear, coherent and credible plan for the way forward. It was one of the most significant speeches I have heard in my 25 years in this House, and it was a game changer for me and for many people.
The plan is ambitious and not without risk. In particular, we will be leaving the single market and turning our backs on free movement, but seeking to negotiate a free trade agreement. That is a high-risk strategy, but I recognise that to remain in the single market would not properly reflect the desire of the majority who voted leave to control immigration. It is, however, vital that putting in place a bespoke free trade agreement is successfully completed as part of the overall deal. The one fear that companies in my constituency have is not so much tariffs, bad though they might be, but non-tariff barriers, which can play havoc with sensible trading arrangements and must be avoided if possible.
One part of the Lancaster House speech has received insufficient attention—the reference to transitional arrangements. I know that there are some, and some in this Chamber think that all this can be done in the blink of an eye, but it cannot. It is complex, it will take years, and we have to exercise patience. Once we start detailed negotiations—once we start to consider which parts of the acquis we want to ditch and which to keep—we are probably looking at a 10-year project. We might well leave the EU in 2019, but we should prepare ourselves for substantial transitional arrangements, and thereafter, I hope, a positive working relationship.
Secondly, we must now be brutally honest with the British people about the likely short-term impact of Brexit, not in an alarmist way, but simply making the point that because of uncertainty—because we have now made it clear that we will not be in the single market—there is likely to be an impact on Government spending for the next few years. We know that tax receipts have fallen against forecast since June, and that trend may well continue. There may well be long-term gains from Brexit—I certainly hope so, and we must strive for that end—but there will most likely be short-term pain, especially now that the phoney war is drawing to an end. International companies will weigh the certain knowledge that we will be leaving the single market against the hope of an equivalent free trade agreement, and some of them who crunch that calculation will decide to invest or expand elsewhere. Some financial institutions are already getting itchy feet, so there might not be as much money available for the NHS and social care and schools as we would like over the next two to five years, and we should prepare the British people for that fact.
Finally, living in these very turbulent times when all kinds of things are going on in our world, I encourage those on the Front Bench—those who are negotiating—thus: we have a clear plan, but let us not be slavish about it; let us be flexible and wise.
It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak in this debate on this historic day for Parliament and for this country. None of us who believed in withdrawal from the European Union believed that we would ever see an Order Paper displaying the words, “European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill: Second Reading”. It is a very historic, landmark occasion.
The Bill implements a decision that this Parliament decided to hand to the people. It would be utterly wrong, therefore, to reject what the people of the United Kingdom decided in a national vote. I utterly respect those who have spoken who campaigned hard, enthusiastically and vigorously to remain but are saying that, as Parliament handed the decision to the people, we must respect the will of the people. I have little time for those who argue that we should now engage in procedural games to thwart the will of the people. That is dishonest and undemocratic. I agree with the Liberal Democrats about believing in democracy and listening to the will of the people, so let us get on and implement what the people have said, not engage in efforts to thwart it. This was a national vote across the United Kingdom and everybody’s vote was equal.
I want to address the issues that affect Northern Ireland in particular. It has been said that, because Northern Ireland voted to remain by 56% to 44%, it should not be part of the withdrawal or it should be given a special status. I can think of nothing that would be more calculated to undermine the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom than for Northern Ireland to be able to thwart the will of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. That would be a deeply anti-Unionist position to take.
It is right and proper that we respect the special needs of Northern Ireland, and we are arguing them vigorously with the Government. We are engaged with this House and with Ministers back home, and that is why I deplore the fact that at this crucial juncture our locally devolved Assembly and Executive have been brought down needlessly. The people who brought it down are the very people who are now making speeches saying, “Brexit undermines the Good Friday agreement.” Thankfully, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has completely demolished that argument and made it clear that nothing in the Good Friday, St Andrews or any other agreement is in any way impaired or imperilled by the decision to leave the European Union. Those who are now complaining the hardest about Northern Ireland have denied themselves a voice by not taking their seats and arguing their case in this House or engaging with Ministers. They have now brought down the elected Government in Northern Ireland, so they do not have any input there, either.
The reality is that of course this presents challenges for Northern Ireland. However, when we kept sterling and the Irish Republic joined the euro along with other European partner nations and states, we were told that it was a massively detrimental act and that it would cause all sorts of major problems on the island of Ireland and lead to all sorts of disruption, both economic and political. None of that happened—people adapted. They were told that we would have to change our currency at the border. Northern Ireland has a different currency from that of the Irish Republic, but trade continues—it is flourishing—and the economy has done extremely well. None of the dire predictions of terrible consequences came to pass.
I am confident that we will see a better future for the United Kingdom and for Northern Ireland. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to maintaining the common travel area. I reject the idea of a special status for Northern Ireland, and I am glad that the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic rejects it too, because it is code for separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom and undermining our—
This is indeed an historic moment in our nation’s history. This is the moment that we begin to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money. Once again we become a sovereign nation state in command of our own destiny, and I am absolutely delighted about that.
I was brought up in post-war Germany. I campaigned to leave in the 1975 referendum and, along with 43 others, I voted against the Single European Act in 1986, so I have form. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and I are the last remaining members of that band. Although Margaret Thatcher pushed for that Act, I have no doubt that, if she were with us today, her response to this Bill would be, “Rejoice!”
I pay tribute to all those, on both sides of the House, who have campaigned over the years for this outcome. I also salute David Cameron for honouring his commitment to give the British people a referendum on membership of the EU. Many said that he would renege on that, but he kept his word.
The referendum was not advisory. It was an instruction to withdraw from the European Union. The Bill simply authorises the giving of notice to leave, without which negotiations cannot begin. It is touching to hear the new-found respect for parliamentary democracy from the Bill’s opponents—the same people who for four decades have been complicit in the relentless campaign to transfer power from this Parliament to Brussels.
Absolutely, and I think that the overwhelming view, not only in this House but across the country, is in favour of that proposition.
A number of speeches during this debate, principally yesterday, have sought to rerun the referendum arguments, but it is no good complaining that the people did not know what they were voting for. The Government spent £9 million of our money on a brochure riddled with inaccuracies, and they mounted an extraordinary and utterly counterproductive “Project Fear” campaign warning of dire consequences if we voted to leave, none of which have come to pass. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), the former Chancellor, who is sitting in front of me, predicted an
“immediate and profound economic shock across the country”
and a DIY recession, but none of that happened. Instead, the economy grew by 0.6% in the third quarter of 2016, compared with 0.3% in the first quarter, before the referendum. Major companies such as SoftBank, Google, Novo Nordisk and Nissan have announced significant investment in the United Kingdom.
Some have argued that the public were not told that a leave vote would require us to leave the single market, but recovering control of our borders and restoring to this Parliament responsibility for the laws of these islands—in other words, a return of sovereignty—was at the heart of the debate. Membership of the single market is completely incompatible with those objectives. As my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) said yesterday, the people knew what they were voting for and it is patronising to suggest otherwise.
Some suggest that the validity of a referendum in which more than 33 million voted is in doubt, yet no such question troubled them in 1997 when Tony Blair secured a majority of 179 with just 13.5 million votes. By contrast, 17.4 million voted to leave the European Union. We are leaving and there will be no second referendum. We undoubtedly face challenges ahead, but let us not kid ourselves: there would have been major challenges if the United Kingdom had voted to remain.
There are 70 billion reasons why our EU partners will want to reach a mutually beneficial trade deal with us, because they have a £70 billion trade surplus with us. I hope that those countries that in large part owe their liberation from the Soviet yoke to the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher will respect our decision and help us forge a new, constructive relationship. I hope that the same will apply to those countries that we helped rebuild after the second world war.
Free from the EU customs union, we will be able to embrace the world and negotiate trade deals with our Commonwealth friends, encouraging fair trade deals, and the tiger economies of the world. However, it will be hard graft; the US may be our closest ally, but commercially they will be no pushover.
I have another note of caution: the EU’s determination to create an EU defence identity shows no sign of relenting. Such a policy presents a direct threat to the ultimate guarantor of European security, NATO, and risks alienating its principal paymaster, the United States of America. I shall support this Bill tonight.
I have been a Member of this House for almost seven years and rarely have I spoken on a Bill of such great importance, not just to the country and to Scotland but to my own constituents. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). Although we fundamentally disagree about the European Union, it is right that we are able to express our views in this House on behalf of our constituents and the country.
If that is what taking back control is about, let us talk about that democratic process. We have been able to debate this Bill yesterday and today only because the public took the Government to court to express the view that they were railroading through a decision without due process or the taking back of control that they had promised this Parliament. We should pay tribute to those people for making it possible for us to make these arguments on behalf of our constituents.
Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I campaigned vigorously for a remain vote. One of my party members, Gordon Dalyell, the son of Tam Dalyell, campaigned alongside me night after night. I pay tribute to Tam. Our thoughts are with Gordon, Pam, Matthew and the rest of the Dalyell family.
I campaigned vociferously for the UK to remain a member of the European Union because it was in our national interest. When I was tramping around the streets of my constituency in 2010 and 2015, I was not knocking on doors promising my constituents that if I was elected to this House I would do everything I possibly could to make their lives poorer. Indeed, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer has said quite clearly on the record that nobody votes to make themselves poorer. It is incumbent on everyone in this House, throughout the process, not simply to railroad the Bill through as though it did not matter, but to fight for every single amendment so that the House sends a strong message—both to the Government and to our European partners—that we will make sure that the country gets the best deal for our constituents.
I will not give way, if my hon. Friend does not mind, because of the timescale and the fact that other people wish to speak.
At the end of the EU referendum campaign, 78% of my constituents voted to remain. Many Members from across the Chamber in the last day or so have talked about not respecting the democratic will of the people, but, as far as I am concerned and according to “Erskine May”, we are representatives of our constituents. None of these decisions in the House is taken easily; in fact, it is with a heavy heart that I will vote against triggering article 50 this evening, but I will do so in the knowledge that I will be able to walk down the streets of Edinburgh South, look my constituents in the eye and say to them that I have done everything I possibly can to protect their jobs, their livelihoods and the future of their families.
When the Bill goes through Third Reading and the Lords, as we know it will, I will work enthusiastically to get amendments to it and hold the Government to account. Brexit might mean Brexit, but to my constituents and to many people across the country Brexit does not mean Tory Brexit. The rhetoric we have been hearing from the Government is wrong. I do not know why they are fighting the people to stop Parliament having a say, and I do not know why they are not reaching out across the Chamber to try to get a common sound and a common voice, to make sure that Britain can get the best possible deal from our European partners. I will vote no this evening, against triggering article 50, but rest assured that I will spend the rest of the time in this Chamber fighting for my constituents’ lives.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in a debate that I never wanted to happen, ahead of a vote that I never wanted to cast. This summer, I will have been an MP for 30 years, in which I have supported the pro-European cause with a passion. I do not think I need to elaborate.
I believed that the referendum that forms the basis of the Bill had become an inevitability, and I supported David Cameron’s call. I may have been wrong, and I envy the steadfastness of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), and his consequent vote on the Bill. I am in a different place; I voted for the referendum Bill believing that the result of the referendum would count. On the public platforms on which I argued to remain, I made the bargain with the good people of North East Bedfordshire that we would honour the result of the referendum; if we voted to remain, that would be that, and if we voted to leave, I would support the decision if I was required as an MP to vote on the matter. We have, and I will.
I am not giving up fighting. I want the very best for my constituents out of the new arrangements. That is why I stood to be a member of the Exiting the European Union Committee, and it is why I will work with others in Parliament and beyond to assist the Government who have been landed with this in making the best of it. The Bill does not provide much opportunity for the addition of detail governing future negotiation. The Government need a pretty open hand, although one or two amendments might help them to retain parliamentary support.
I will fight for a negotiated settlement, watching carefully for any sign that “no deal” is moving up the agenda. I want the Government to be as open as possible to as many options as possible. The degree of detail to be covered is staggering, both for us and for our partners, and new consequences are being uncovered every day. This is way more complicated than some of our colleagues ever wanted to believe, and not all the consequences will be beneficial.
There is one fight that I want to see an end of, and on which I am calling time. I do not believe there is any realistic prospect of the UK remaining in or rejoining the EU, certainly not in my lifetime in the House. I think it is time for me to place my support for the EU and Europe on a different footing—one that recognises the reality of what we have done. I will work for the future prosperity of the EU, for our partnership relationship with it and for all the things we must continue to do together from that new position. I will defend the EU against those who still wish it further harm—from those misguided enough to believe that the further disintegration of the EU is of some benefit—whether that is those in some quarters in the UK with a viewpoint of malevolence, those with a viewpoint of ignorance in the United States.
I have decided that I will not, at present, fight for the UK somehow to find a quick way back to the EU. Let me be clear: I believe sincerely that the decision of those who voted out was wrong, as was the view of those who led them. I am reconciled to Brexit, but I am not yet persuaded of the wisdom of the decision. However, spending the next few years trying to reverse 48:52 and make it 52:48 does not seem to me to be in the UK’s interest. I do not want an already divided country to become more so. Honest patriotism has merged seamlessly into jingoistic nationalism, and the national debate has become sad and dispiriting. As a confirmed remainer and supporter of the EU, I do not want the next generation of Conservative MPs to have the blight of this argument dogging them, their associations, their members and their voters in the way it has dogged us. It has soured friendships, deepened bitterness and damaged relationships—I swore at a mate in the Tea Room, and I am sorry.
Instead, I want to work towards a new partnership with the EU that will start to command ever-increasing support. We should aim higher than a minimum of support and look towards the vast majority of those in the UK supporting such a partnership. It is possible to be pro-European and not define oneself solely in terms of membership of the EU. It is time to be proud to be British without hating the EU. I hope it will help if some of us who lost take the opportunity to create something better out of what has happened. Although I will vote for the Bill with a heavy heart, that is the relationship I am looking for.
I have listened to yesterday’s and today’s debate, a lot of which has focused on process and procedure. I want to focus on people. I made a very simple promise to the people of Bermondsey and Old Southwark in May 2015 that I would never support anything that would damage them, their lives or their children’s lives. I made that promise precisely because my predecessor was a Liberal Democrat who backed Tory measures—the bedroom tax, cuts to legal aid and tripling tuition fees—that damaged my community. I made that promise, and I stand by it.
I hear from people, day in, day out, about the damage that has been done since the referendum. The universities in my constituency—the London School of Economics, King’s College London, South Bank University and the University of the Arts London—are worried about research funding from the European Union, the Erasmus programme and a drop in international student numbers, which could mean higher fees for British students. That was not in the referendum last year.
I hear from medical professionals who are worried about recruitment. The NHS is not getting £350 million extra a week, and it is struggling, even with 54,000 staff who are non-UK EU nationals. I hear from the financial sector—my constituency has the third-highest level of financial sector employment in the country—that 7,000 jobs have already gone. Nobody voted to lose their job. I hear from food importers, such as Brindisa today and Mamuska! last week, that have seen costs rise since the referendum by 15%. Those costs are being passed on to consumers and customers. People did not vote to pay more for a dinner out.
I hear from hotels. Although tourism has gone up since the referendum, there are many non-UK EU nationals working in our hotels, and there are simply not enough unemployed, unskilled Londoners to fill those jobs if we leave. I also hear from exporters in my constituency, who worry about future tariffs and the cost of things such as having to print a different label for beer bottles that will go into the EU market. I hear from people who are very worried about their economic prospects—young professionals who supported the Conservative party at the last election, but who are now politically homeless.
The former Prime Minister John Major referred to the likes of the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), as “bastards”. The former Prime Minister could not have known that his party would become a whole Government full of bastards, who are absolutely causing economic damage to my constituents and the whole country. At the risk of offending my own Front Benchers as well as Government Front Benchers, I say that my members campaigned vigorously to remain in the European Union, and they deserve a Front-Bench position that is not us signing up to the Government’s position, the Government’s timetable and the Government’s curtailing of debate. It is a disgrace.
Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but there is no need for a point of order. I say to the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) that he should not have used the word he used. He tried to wrap it up in a quote, but it was very unseemly, rather undignified and quite unnecessary. He should not have done it, and he should apologise.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this historic debate. Although he is not in his place on the Government Benches, I want to pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), my constituency neighbour, for his wonderful speech. Boy, does he show us how it is all done.
This is a short Bill with huge ramifications for all of us for years to come. Like other Conservative Members, I campaigned for remain, but I accept the democratic vote, and I think we should allow the article 50 notice to be triggered. I agree with those who have said that if we do not do so, the crisis in our democracy that this Bill’s defeat would lead to will help no one.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said that the outcome he wanted was a country that was
“stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking”.—[Official Report, 31 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 821.]
I agree with him, and the Government’s negotiations must lead to that outcome. As colleagues have said, Parliament must be involved, not just at the start of this process, but throughout and particularly at the end. The manner of the vote at the end of the process is important. Ministers will have noted the amendments that have been tabled about that parliamentary vote, and I hope that they will add to the Prime Minister’s words about that, either in the closing speech tonight or in Committee next week.
I welcome the fact that a White Paper is to be published, and particularly the Prime Minister’s announcement that it will be published tomorrow, but I have been clear that the Bill and the White Paper, which will set out the Prime Minister’s 12 pillars, are separate and should be considered as such.
For me, the tests leading us to a successful new relationship with the European Union are threefold. First, leaving must not undermine our economy. It must not unduly affect the jobs, household finances and financial security of our constituents. I hope we will get a chance to debate that as part of the discussions on the White Paper. Secondly, leaving must not undermine our constitution. That was tested in the courts, and I welcome the decision of the High Court, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Finally, leaving must not undermine our values as a country. I thought that the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) spoke very powerfully about values, as have other Members on both sides of the House, yesterday and today. Upholding values is up to us as Members of Parliament, the Government and Ministers.
I have to be honest: never in my adult life have I felt so concerned about the stability and state of the world in which we live. With the Brexit vote, we have added an extra layer of uncertainty to our world. However, I want to take the Secretary of State at his word when he said yesterday:
“This is just the beginning”.—[Official Report, 31 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 819.]
To paraphrase a great former Prime Minister who believed in a united Europe, the Bill is not the beginning of the end, but may be the end of the beginning, of the Brexit process.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) for trailing my speech in his remarks.
I did not intend to speak yesterday or today, but as I listened to the speeches yesterday, it occurred to me that the House of Commons has quite clearly taken leave of its senses. That happens at times, but the difficulty and danger is that the public trust the House of Commons at moments such as this. They trusted the House of Commons on Iraq, when it had taken leave of its senses, and on the poll tax, when it had taken leave of its senses. On the poll tax, that was quickly corrected, but Iraq still lies in ruins. It is at times when the Opposition unite with the Government that the House particularly takes leave of its senses. If ever there was a time to beware, it is now.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), who is not in his place. He gambled with his scare stories on the EU and on Scotland. On Scotland, he won; on the EU, he lost. This time, are we feeling lucky? A deal is in the gift not of the UK Government alone, but of 38 assemblies and regional parliaments across Europe, 27 sovereign nation Parliaments and one EU Parliament. We are but one in 67 voices, and we have to get that into our heads.
The Prime Minister has said that no deal is better than a bad deal, but no deal would mean for farmers that meat had 22% tariffs, dairy had 36% tariffs and fish—this particularly affects my constituency—had 12% tariffs. People assume that the House of Commons knows what it is doing, but it does not. It is crossing its fingers and hoping for the best.
We are told time after time in the Chamber that people know what they voted for. Perhaps they knew what they were voting for—to leave the EU—but they certainly did not know the destination, and neither does this House. The International Trade Committee, of which I am Chair, does not know the destination, nor does the Department for International Trade. The Prime Minister does not know the destination. The pretence that because the people voted to leave the EU, they knew the destination is beyond facile. People who have appeared before my Committee from BASF, Manchester Airports Group, the CBI, the National Farmers Union, Dairy UK, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Tech City UK and the Law Society do not know the destination for the UK. The UK is on a precipice.
The right hon. Gentleman makes precisely my point, and I am grateful to him for doing so. He may be able to tell me how many member states of the United Nations are not in a regional trade agreement. Anybody? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) knows: he was at my Committee session today. There are only six member states of the United Nations that are not in a regional trade agreement.
I will. They are Mauritania, Palau, São Tomé and Principe, Somalia, South Sudan and East Timor, and soon to join this illustrious group is the United Kingdom. This is playing fast and loose; it is “Cross your fingers and hope it works out for the best.” The UK will find itself, for the first time since 1960, not in a free trade agreement. It joined the European Free Trade Association, the original free trade agreement, in 1960, and that is how it has been since then. I have been told by the Library that every member of the OECD is in a regional trade agreement, and even North Korea signed up to one in 1988. The UK is boldly going where even North Korea fails to go.
If that does not give Members pause for thought, what will? As they head over the edge of the cliff, they will take their constituents and the poorest people of society with them. Let us remember who paid for the bankers: the poorest in society. Who will pay for this fashion of Brexit? The poorest in society will be paying for it. We are feeling our way and crossing our fingers. It is not the best deal for the UK.
Let us remember that the best deal that the UK will now have with Europe will be after we have smashed up the Rolls-Royce. We will head down to the second-hand car dealer and ask him for the best motor he has got, because we have smashed up our Rolls-Royce and thrown it to one side. Having refused to travel in the best possible transport, we are now going for the best after we have smashed up the Rolls-Royce.
This House has to come to its senses, as it did on Iraq, the poll tax, the bedroom tax and numerous other matters. Unfortunately, the people who will pay for this are not here. Members are hellbent on going to any destination so long as it involves leaving the EU. That is gross irresponsibility. There is only thing—I repeat, one thing—that can save Scotland, and that is independence, and independence very soon.
I am very much looking forward to voting tonight and to the debates on universities, education, immigration and the economy that will take place in the Chamber during the next two years. I truly feel that, as a result of this referendum, we as MPs and Parliament as an entity are closer to the people now than we have ever been. I believe that they will watch those debates and follow what we are talking about. We will be responding to a mandate that has been given to us by the people. I, for one, am looking forward to the vote tonight.
I cannot speak in this debate without responding to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), because he called for a second referendum. Does anybody remember the hon. Gentleman calling for a referendum in 2010? His party leaflets and posters said:
“It’s time for a real referendum”.
They also called for a referendum on the alternative vote in 2011. They lost that referendum, and they lost the most recent referendum. They had the best of three, and it is time for them to stop calling for referendums.
The hon. Gentleman spoke with passion, in the same way that he spoke with passion about tuition fees. I must just say that, as we are speaking in the Chamber, the news is breaking that some Liberal Democrat Members are going to abstain, some are going to vote for and some are going to vote against. He has divided his party of only nine MPs in a far more efficient manner than the Labour party. Well done—what an achievement with nine MPs.
That brings me to the Labour party. I have a better example than the one used by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). In 2005, 9.5 million people voted for Mr Blair to lead a Labour Government, but 17.2 million voted against. More people voted for Brexit than voted for the Labour party to be in government in 2005. The point is this: some Opposition Members who served as Ministers in that Government and voted for the referendum are going to vote against the result and the mandate given to them by the people. That is slightly rich coming from Members who served as Ministers in a Government that achieved only 9 million votes. Did anybody call for a second referendum then? No. Did anybody refer to the rule of law then? No, of course not, because the people of this country respect a democratic vote.
I apologise for my tone, Mr Speaker, but it was with some dismay that I woke this morning to the news that a former Prime Minister had tried to skew and influence the outcome of the referendum by attempting to have the editor of the Daily Mail removed from his post. I say this with a degree of shame: a leader of my party allegedly attempted to manipulate and distort the freedom of the press—not the editor of The Guardian, the editor of the Daily Mirror or a paper that subscribed to his world view, but the editor of the Daily Mail. I find that so distressing, because it brings into relief the way that those who could did wield their power to try to achieve the result they wanted: from The Guardian’s and the IMF’s fantasy doom-and-gloom projections, to Mr Carney’s inaccurate forecasts and Obama’s back-of-the-queue threat.
I caution those thinking of voting against the Bill tonight to be careful what they wish for and to be careful of wishing for second referendums. I think the people—advocates of free speech, a free press and a powerful democracy—would view their wishes dimly.
George Orwell said:
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
I would like to try to tell some truths in the brief time I have.
Every Prime Minister in my political lifetime has fostered the elitism that bit back in the referendum. Those leaders held that the European project was far too precious to share with our people. They failed to build a British vision for a reformed EU, and they failed to build a credible immigration policy with the public. They fed the beast that roared last June and we all bear some responsibility for that.
Fear of the hard right in the Conservative party has led two Prime Ministers to gamble recklessly with the future of our country. One called a referendum he never thought he would lose; the other has been pushed into triggering exit before even thinking through how it will actually happen. Weakness and incompetence then, weakness and incompetence now. One lesson we should all learn is that never again should a complex economic and international issue be reduced to an “X Factor”-style plebiscite.
Last week, embarrassingly, the British Government were caught acting unconstitutionally by the Supreme Court, when trying to use a Trumpian style Executive order to bypass Parliament on exit. The Government’s fear of Parliament, even one whose agenda it controls, led to wasted months fighting a legal action when every MP could have been put to work helping to craft the best exit deal for the UK; time the Prime Minister could have used to tour the capitals of Europe to work out a position and build the goodwill we will need to get us a good deal. The Government are doing the bare minimum they think they can get away with, without being in contempt of court. They do this by bringing this derisory and undernourished Bill before Parliament. No apology. No White Paper. No plan for leaving the EU. Today, we are meant to meekly aid and abet this incompetence, and buckle to the dog whistle threat that if MPs dare to do their job and believe in parliamentary sovereignty the wrath of the social media mob and the Conservative press will be unleashed against us. I ask my colleagues to show some strength today. This day will not be repeated. This is the moment that, in 10 years’ time, they will think about what they chose to do.
We are not voting on in or out. That is history. That has been decided. We are voting on whether we believe that the Government are ready to trigger article 50, when clearly they are not. The emperor has no White Paper. Let us take heart from the judges who stood firm in doing their duty despite the “enemies of the people” media headlines. Let us take heart from Gina Miller and individual citizens who have held the Government to account, acting where this supine Parliament feared to even seek legal clarification of its own rights before the courts.
Yes, we should vote for a Bill authorising exit from the European Union, but we should do that when we have done our duty on due diligence: when we and our constituents know what the Government have planned, which of the thousands of exit permutations they are going for, and how they want to meaningfully involve Parliament. The Bill is not about ignoring the referendum result, it is about realising it and ensuring that our whole democracy works to secure the best deal possible: unifying our nation, not glorying in its division into winners and losers.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When my hon. Friend spoke about a White Paper and a date of publication, the Minister said, from a sedentary position on the Government Front Bench, that the White Paper would be published tomorrow. Is that news for the House?
Parliament, since its beginning, has been the place where elected Britons debate and make the decisions that affect our country’s future, so it is only right that tonight this House will vote to trigger article 50. I was one of the 544 who voted for the referendum to give our people a choice on our future, so it would be entirely inconsistent to reject the verdict of that referendum, even if it is at odds with my own view. I voted and campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, and I was disappointed by the result. Some 71% of my constituents voted to remain. In the past week, I have received literally hundreds of letters telling me that I should represent them tonight and vote against the Government. As much as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), I too am a defender of democracy. I voted knowing full well that if leave won the debate then that is what would happen. Tonight, therefore, I will be in the Lobby voting to trigger article 50.
Since September, the Exiting the European Union Committee has been established, there have been 26 debates and seven statements relating to the EU and our exit from it. Does my hon. Friend agree that those statistics highlight the many hours of debate available to all Members, contrary to what some might suggest, and that it is time we respect the majority of the public and support the British people tonight?
I do not know if my hon. Friend heard me, but I said that I would certainly be respecting the result of the referendum. We have had those debates in Parliament, but what is crucial is where we go from here. What the people did not say to us in the referendum was how, or on what terms, we would leave. I believe that the best way to decide those issues, and to mitigate the impact of uncertainty, is for the Government to keep Parliament updated as much as possible throughout the negotiations and allow this House to have a meaningful input on those negotiations. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), I absolutely welcome the publication of the White Paper tomorrow. I hope the Bill will build on the Prime Minister’s speech and create some certainty.
I believe it is also in the Government’s best interests to have the fullest possible involvement of Parliament. I believe that that will help our negotiating position. Our negotiations will carry much greater weight with the EU 27 if it is clear that our negotiating stance has the backing of this House. Among all the talk of sovereignty and the hope of trade deals, we must not forget the effect of this process on individuals—our constituents. Many of the people who live in Wimbledon are EU citizens. I hope that the Government will find a very early resolution to guarantee the rights of those people who may not be British citizens. Many of them are my constituents.
I have said several times, in the debates to which the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) referred, that uncertainty is a key concern for industry and financial services. The financial services sector is vital for London’s success. It employs 2 million people and is our biggest tax generating sector—I do not need to go on. We should therefore strive for a deal that has financial services at its heart, including equivalence and mutual recognition. Equally, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) said, the negotiations will be complex, so we need to guarantee certainty through a proper transitional process where everybody can adjust to the new rules without sudden shock. That can be achieved, and I hope the Front-Bench team will clarify that it is at the heart of their ambitions.
The Bill gives the UK the ability to trigger article 50, and almost everybody in the Chamber will vote for it tonight. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has promised Parliament a vote on the final deal, but it needs to be clarified at what stage in the process that will take place and that all information will be given to Parliament. It also needs to be clear that Parliament will be able to vote if the Government seek to withdraw from the EU without a deal. I hope that the Secretary of State will commit, if the Government believe that no deal is achievable, to coming back to Parliament with all the options placed before us. If the vote is after the agreement of the treaty but prior to ratification, as is the current legal position, it will probably be too late and therefore meaningless.
In my view, therefore, the vote must occur before the Government conclude the agreement. If anyone has read article 50, they will know that that is what will happen in the European Parliament. Are we suggesting that the European Parliament should be more sovereign than this Parliament? I think not. If the deal needs the consent of the European Parliament, it should need the consent of this Parliament as well. As Churchill said of the Battle of Britain, the Bill is the end of the beginning, but it also gives the House the chance to show our constituents that we can come together, heal divisions and find the best deal for this country.
As Members, we make difficult decisions every day. Some of them are of local significance and others take on national significance. The only reason we have the ability to make these decisions in the House is that our local constituents gave us their consent and voted for us at the general election. The point has been made to me that we are not delegates, but when all my neighbours, local business people, local pharmacists, local health professionals and local political allies and, indeed, opponents are telling me to take a stand, I cannot help but feel that this is the right course of action. I did not want to resign from my Front-Bench role. I know it was not a great office of state, but it was an important role that allowed me to hold the Government to account over their aspirations for social mobility.
Today, we are debating whether to trigger article 50 and give the Prime Minister permission to exit the EU. I feel that I would be abandoning my duty to my constituents, who have overwhelmingly and unwaveringly made the point that they do not want to leave the EU—75% voted to remain—if I voted for the Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) made the point powerfully from the Dispatch Box yesterday that this decision has not been easy. It has been in a haze of conflicting emotions that the Labour party has sought to decide what to do, but for me there are two main reasons for voting against the Bill.
The first concerns the future of the 17,000 EU nationals living in my constituency. Some people have accused me of taking this stand only to ensure my re-election at the next election, but those EU nationals cannot vote for me anyway. I am taking this stand because in Hampstead and Kilburn we do not wince when we hear people speaking a different language on public transport; we do not scapegoat others for the pressures on our health system, criminal justice system and housing just because they do not look like us or sound like us; and we do not indulge in baseless theories that our country is at breaking point. Rather, we celebrate these EU nationals—they are as much a part of our fabric as anyone else and have as much right to be here as the generations before them. If I vote for the Bill, I will be abandoning my responsibility to these EU nationals.
The second reason I will be voting against the Bill concerns the lack of access to the single market, which will affect three main groups in my constituency. The first are the self-employed, who have argued that they need tariff-free trade with the EU. The second are those in the scientific and technical industries. In the last 10 years, the scientific funding from EU sources has increased by 73%, and at this point their projects are in jeopardy. The final group are those in the financial services and insurance sectors, who have no clarity over the future of their passporting rights.
These are the reasons why in good conscience I cannot vote for the Bill. To quote my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), this is not how we do things in the House. We need clarity. We need to see the economic impact of this decision. In good conscience and for the sake of my constituents, whether they can vote for me or not, I will not be voting for the Bill today.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), who expressed herself with clarity and passion, and though I will not be in the Lobby with her this evening, I very much share many of the sentiments she has expressed.
In 1519, Hernán Cortés arrived in the new world, and the first thing he did was to burn the ships that had brought him there. Pointing up the beach, he told his astonished crew that since retreat to Europe was no longer an option, the only way forward was up the beach, to the opportunities he saw in the new world. Britain now stands on the brink of its Cortés moment. When article 50 is triggered, there will be no way back. Brexit Britain must of course broker the best possible deal it can with the EU, but our future long term will depend just as much on our ability to operate freely and globally.
Meanwhile in Europe, Mr Tusk this week told us that “assertive and spectacular steps” were needed to
“revive the aspiration to raise European integration to the next level”.
Whose aspirations? They are plainly not those of the British public. Mr Tusk, however, has done moderates like me—people who admit the risks as well as the benefits from Brexit—a real service. His remarkable candour and his false prescription have explained more eloquently than I ever could why it was that the British public voted to leave on 23 June.
We have had some truly excellent contributions today and yesterday, and I pay tribute to hon. Members who have expressed their positions forthrightly, even if I disagree with them. This is the House at its very best. This is the House listening to the public we serve.
Last week, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, in an interview for the engagingly titled Civil Service Weekly, said that the EU was “operationally irrelevant” to defence and security. He was wrong. The EU is relevant to our defence and security. I am fully supportive of the Petersberg tasks—the use of assets for humanitarian and peacekeeping operations—under the EU’s common security and defence policy. I admire Operation Atalanta, which is run from our own fleet headquarters at Northwood, and I accept that the European Defence Agency, a body whose budget I tried to contain as a Minister, runs a number of projects from which Britain benefits. My point is that we must seek to engage with Europe post-Brexit wherever it is expedient to do so. I urge Ministers, representing as they do Europe’s principal military and naval power, to continue engaging, in particular, on the CSDP whenever that is to our mutual benefit.
Yesterday, TheCityUK reversed its previously held Euroscepticism and announced that in its view the EU was a “straitjacket” and that Brexit presented “an unprecedented opportunity”. I agree absolutely. It spoke of achieving a global Brexit. That reminds us that in all those years, the only trade deals concluded by the EU were with South Korea, Mexico and South Africa. Britain pooled its ability to do deals with the EU in the mistaken belief that Brussels would undertake the task on its behalf. Clearly, it was asleep on watch. Now is the time for Britain to rediscover its historical engagement with global markets, and I hope that in the years ahead Ministers will do just that. We have seen the bizarre spectacle of Germany making more money from exporting coffee than the developing countries that grow coffee—
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the shadow Brexit Secretary, said at the beginning of the debate, this is very difficult for many of us on the Opposition side of the Chamber. I strongly supported remain in the referendum campaign, and I did so because I believed it was in the interests of the country and the constituency I represent. I thought that the economic arguments advanced by the remain campaign would, in the end, succeed, but that was not the case. In the end, I did not ask the people for their views in order not to listen to what they said.
I accept that a vote for this Bill only opens the exit door, but ultimately it is likely to mean that, as a result, we leave the EU. In the end, I will listen to my constituents and their views, because my constituency voted overwhelmingly to leave. The reason my constituents gave me on the doorstep was that many of them felt left behind by economic progress over a number of decades; they felt they were not in control of their lives; they felt that we, the political class as their representatives, were not listening to them. One of the fundamental issues of concern related to unrestricted immigration from the EU. That is the honest information that they gave to me, which I am relaying to the House.
People who are not racists still have genuine concerns about the impact on their public services and their jobs, pay and conditions from that unrestricted immigration. Those concerns were expressed to me by people from different ethnic backgrounds—people from the Pakistani, Kashmiri, Bangladeshi and Somali communities, as well white British residents. I feel that if we now fail to listen to those genuinely held concerns, the disillusionment with politicians and politics will simply grow, and we risk driving those people into the arms of the racists, who actually do want to put forward a completely different agenda.
At the same time I recognise that although I will vote for the Bill, it is still important for Sheffield’s industry to have free access to EU markets. My constituents do not want to pay tariffs on imports from the EU; they want assurances that the food they eat in the future will be safe, as it is now; they want to see co-operation on environmental matters, on defence, on security and on science and research; and they want to keep the same employment rights and protections as they now enjoy. They do not want to see a race to the bottom to reduce taxation on corporate matters so that we can compete with offshore tax havens elsewhere.
In the end, if we are to keep those issues on the agenda, it is important that Parliament is regularly updated on progress on the discussions, and this Parliament must have a vote on the final outcome, just as the European Parliament will. I still have concerns about voting for the Bill—concerns that I felt when I argued strongly for remain in the referendum. In the end, though, I am more concerned about the damage to democracy if I do not vote for the Bill.
I am not one to brag, but I humbly suggest that I know something about how to negotiate in Europe. My personal best was what the civil service calls “a three-shirter”—three days and two nights of continuous negotiation. I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends well as they enter this process, and I ask them to ignore all those who suggest that they might like to share with us and the world every single red line and every single negotiating nuance, because nothing would be likely to secure a worse deal for this House and this country.
I have to break it gently to some Members and some of the people deluging our in-boxes that most people out there are not absolutely fascinated by the politics of Brexit, but are rooted in the realities of it. This is about the small family farming business in the Berkshire downs concerned about what Brexit means for them; the life sciences company in Newbury that wants to sell its world-beating products to health services in Europe; and companies that will be part of consortia or supply chains, some of which will be in, some of which will be outside, the European Union, and how it will work for them. It is about people who want to study abroad and people who are concerned about the future of our environment.
The experience of the referendum campaign was, for me, a miserable one. It was a new low in the political discourse of the nation, and I put the blame for that on both sides. As the dust settles, I, like many in the House, have a choice—whether to play the role of some sort of parliamentary insurgent, finding devious mechanisms with which to do down the view taken by the public in an open and fair referendum; or whether to represent the views of our constituents, the vast majority of them, who want us to act in their best interests and who understand that the Government face a heavy burden as they seek to achieve an orderly exit.
One notable voice is absent from our debates in these historic proceedings—that of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). He wrote an article, difficult though it must have been for him in the middle of his treatment for cancer, that was full of intelligence and common sense. It had an understanding of what it is to be a liberal Conservative at a time like this. He reminded us that we need to look forward to a world in which we can have a decent, open and generous relationship with our European partners. That is what we believe, not just because it is in our nature, but because free trade and a belief in markets are important to us. The article is also a reminder of why we want our hon. Friend back here in good health in the near future. He reminded us that we need to co-operate on issues such as climate change, science, countering terrorism and all the other things that matter to us; and that we should show generosity and decency to our partners and reject the kind of insular, backward-looking and small Britain that has infected this debate for too long.
I, as a remainer who thinks that the country has taken a wrong turn, will passionately support this Bill tonight. I give those on the Treasury Bench full notice that I shall at every available opportunity hold them to account to ensure that we reach the best deal for our constituents and all the people of our country—and do that in a constructive way.
I shall be as brief as I can. It is slightly depressing when, because of collusion between the Front Benchers, the result is, as everybody knows, a foregone conclusion. Eric Forth, whom many of us will remember, always used to say that when the Front Benchers agree with each other, it is time for the House to be at its most active in examining precisely what that alliance means.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) mentioned the fact that yesterday my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) said this is a very difficult issue for the Labour party—and indeed it is. I think it is a very difficult issue for every Member, presenting us with a paradox in knowing what is the right thing to do. Some say the result of the referendum means that supporting the Bill is the right thing to do, while others disagree, saying that their duty to their constituents transcends even party loyalties.
Let me make my position perfectly clear. I am in a very fortunate position. As I told the Prime Minister during her statement on the Monday after the referendum, on 27 June, my constituents voted by about 2:1 to remain in the European Union. As I said then, I always regard my prime responsibility to be towards my constituents.
My constituents have written to me in unprecedented numbers—I am sure that most Members will have had more contact with, and information from, constituents over this issue than just about any other; it certainly applies to me in my 25 years in this place—urging me to support the constituency’s vote. I will support their objection to leaving the European Union, and I will vote against Second Reading tonight. I will vote for the SNP amendment and against the programme motion—and I will continue to do so. I say to my Front-Bench team that I will be active next week, when the Bill is in Committee. I will seek to amend it, but I will vote against Third Reading as well. I will not be complicit in something that I know and feel to be wrong, and to be against the best interests not just of my constituents or this city, of which my constituency is a small part, but of the whole country and all its people. Anything else—whatever negotiations take place, whatever agreements are made—will be sub-optimal. Reform of the European Union, staying in the European Union and leading the campaign of reform was in the best interests of the British people, and I will do nothing now to undermine their position.
People have mentioned the status of European Union citizens in this country. I am sure that the Prime Minister is in earnest, and is being genuine, when she says that she wants to secure early agreement on reciprocal arrangements in Europe for British nationals living in EU countries. I say, as do others, that the answer is in her own hands. She can reassure EU nationals living in this country now by saying that their future, and that of their families, is secure. She can then go, quite rightly, to the chambers and the councils of Europe, and say, “We demand the same from you.” [Hon. Members: “What if they say no?”] There is only one reason why I would ever turn my back on the European Union and agree that we should leave. I would only do that if members of the EU denied British citizens the right that we can give to EU nationals.
That is indeed precisely the point. We can do that, and we can do it now.
The reason UKIP has so little traction in London, for example, is that most Londoners, within a generation or two, are immigrants themselves—not necessarily from overseas, but from other parts of the United Kingdom: from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the north or the south-west. The idea of “the other” is nothing new to Londoners. I agree with what Members have said about the pace of social change. People need to feel that they are in control of it, that there is a role for them, and that they understand the nature of the change that is being effected.
I will vote as I have indicated because I believe it to be right. That might, in the fullness of time, prove to be a mistake on my part, but I nevertheless believe it to be right. What worries and depresses me about today’s proceedings is that I fear that many Members will vote tonight for something that they know is not right, because it is expedient for them to do so. I shall not join those ranks. I shall do whatever I can to ensure that the deal that will inevitably follow is the best it can possibly be, but I will not be complicit in undermining the position of the British people.
For centuries Dover has had an important role as the gateway and guardian of the kingdom. During the referendum campaign, I was concerned about the potential impact on border security and cross-border co-operation and the potential impact on trade, because Dover is, in a very real sense, on the front line. I set out those concerns to.my constituents, as well as my concerns about the medium-term risks to the economy that the former Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), alluded to earlier.
The referendum followed a long and thorough debate. Whatever Members may think of its quality, there was a proper debate. People knew what they were voting for, and they made a clear decision. I, for one, will vote to respect the result.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats seems to think that it is all like “Hotel California”: you can check out, but you can never leave. I do not think that that is the right approach. Members of the Scottish National party think that there should be multiple referendums until one of them possibly produces the right result, but given their track record—losing the referendum on the alternative vote, losing the independence referendum and losing the European Union referendum—they are not doing too well. They might start to think that perhaps they ought to accept and respect a referendum result. I shall respect this result.
We need to be very clear about the red lines that we were given by the British people. My constituents have made very clear that, No. 1, there must be an end to unchecked EU migration, and, No. 2, there must be no more billions for bloated Brussels bureaucrats. That plainly indicates that we must leave the single market, and that if we want to do unfettered trade deals with the rest of the world, we must leave the customs union.
I make no bones about the fact that there will be a real impact on Dover, which is why I am working hard to make this a success. I have put together proposals on how we can restore border controls at Dover effectively, and I have convened a group to discuss how we can manage customs duties if we leave the European Union in two years, and how we can be ready on day one.
It is the job of the House, and the job of each and every one of its Members, not just to respect the result but to make it work for the good of the British people. We cannot be here hoping for doom, hoping for things to go wrong. We need to recognise that if things do go wrong, that will have an impact on the people whom we serve and represent. They will lose their jobs; they will lose their homes; they will be less well off. That is why I am making every effort to make this work, and why I implore everyone in the House to make it work and make a success of it. We must recognise that we shall have to leave the single market, recognise that we shall have to leave the customs union, and recognise that we shall have to be ready on day one.
We also need to recognise that there may not be a deal. We should work tirelessly, in good faith, for a deal, but it may be that no deal is immediately forthcoming—again, for the reason set out by my right hon. Friend for Tatton: that the mindset of our European colleagues is not currently conducive to a deal. That is why we must be ready on day one, and we must be ready for the fact that the EU may not wish to do a deal at that time. We should also bear it in mind that, as any deal-maker or negotiator will tell you, the best way to land a deal is to be prepared for no deal to take place. That is why we need to be ready for border controls, ready for customs duties, and ready for trade with the whole wide world, as well as being ready to do a positive deal and have positive engagement with the European Union in the years to come.
I implore the House to think and act constructively, to respect the result, and to look to the future of this nation believing that the best days are yet to come.
I arrived in the House with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) 25 years ago. I am delighted to be sitting on the Bench with him today, and I am delighted to say that I agree with every word he said— which gives me four minutes in which to talk about other things.
President Donald made a very important statement yesterday—President Donald Tusk, that is. Donald Tusk pointed to the threats that face Europe: the threats from Russia, the threats posed by climate change, and the threats from across the Atlantic, from the other Donald. I suspect that if this situation had arisen before the referendum, we might have seen a different result. More and more people in this country are realising that we need our European partnership, and that this is not the time to be leaving the co-operation of European foreign and security policy, not the time to be leaving the European Defence Agency, and not the time to be leaving that co-operation with our European partners.
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he is arguing with passion, but neither is it the time to replay the arguments of the referendum. The British public have spoken, and now it is down to us to act on their views and vote with the Government this evening.
I am not replaying the arguments. I am dealing with realities. It is interesting to note that, at the last general election in 2015, the hon. Gentleman may have stood on a manifesto in which his party said yes to the single market. It also said that it would hold a referendum: it had a mandate to do that. But as the former Europe Minister, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), said in June 2015:
“The referendum is advisory, as was the case for both the 1975 referendum on Europe and the Scottish independence vote last year.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 231.]
This Parliament must decide how, when and if the referendum should be implemented. The problem with the position that is being taken by both Front Benches is that triggering article 50 early will place us on an escalator travelling in one direction, with no ability to get off. A legal process is taking place in the Irish courts at this moment about whether—about the possibilities, the implications—article 50 is reversible. We do not know the judgment yet. Why on earth are we triggering before we know the legal position on article 50? Why have our Government decided to go for the hardest possible leaving of the EU—no customs union, no Euratom, problems for Gibraltar, and problems for the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday agreement? All those things have been done before we know whether we could decide in a year’s time, or perhaps in two years’ time, before this process is complete.
We need not be on this escalator. We need a means to stop this process, and that is why we need clarity before we start triggering it. We did not need to trigger it in March this year; we could have waited. This did not need to be done before the French election and the German election.
The reality is that the ratification process requires decisions in 27 national Parliaments, in the regional Parliaments of Wallonia and elsewhere in Belgium, and in the European Parliament. If we have that process, we will have a narrow window of opportunity—perhaps just about a year from the autumn of this year to the autumn of 2018—and then there will have to be a ratification process. We will not get a good agreement. We could be in the disastrous position of going off the cliff with no agreement at all—with the terrible economic consequences of World Trade Organisation terms only. That would be an unmitigated disaster for my constituents and for the country.
I am doing what the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) talked about yesterday: I am voting as Members of Parliament should—I am following my own judgment and I am listening to my constituents and to the country.
I cast my personal vote for remain in the referendum. I had, and have, concerns about the security implications of leaving the EU. I have always been opposed to an EU army, and I wonder whether one may come about without us there to veto it. Many of the concerns I had about security issues across Europe have still not even been addressed or answered. I also had concerns about the inflationary effects of leaving, and some of those are kicking in, but I note that inflation has not reached the 2% level that the Bank of England aims for.
I surprised many of my colleagues, and especially those I sat with on the European Scrutiny Committee, by voting to remain, because they recognised that I never had any truck with the federalisation of Europe—the political side of Europe. I felt that that was wrong and that it impinged too far on the work of this Parliament. Indeed, many people in my constituency said to me, “We joined a common market. We didn’t join an EU.”
Even though my personal vote was for remain, there was one thing I always passionately felt and fully supported. I do not class myself particularly as one of the hard right wingers of the Conservative party—one of those whom Opposition Members and those who are against this policy have painted as the only reason why the former Prime Minister was forced into a referendum. I passionately believed that there had to be a referendum, because people were never given their say on the European Union. They were given their say on the common market, and they said they wanted to be in it, but they were never given their say on the European Union.
What has been clear since the result of the referendum is that the EU has not taken seriously any of the lessons, in terms of why people in this country moved against it. I have to say that I would tomorrow vote to leave. We had an opportunity to negotiate with the European Union and work on some of the issues that were a problem for people in this country, but the European Union ignored our former Prime Minister, David Cameron; it did not think our country would vote to leave. I see the same issues now in the comments of the Maltese Prime Minister and of Donald Tusk, and there are real warnings on the horizon for such people in some of the elections taking place across Europe. This is an organisation that needs to reform; if it does not, I fear for where it will go.
Above all, the referendum was an exercise in democracy. It would be folly in the extreme for the other place, where politicians may be dominated by parties that have been diminished in the elected House, to try to go against the will of this House. It would be a suicide bid by the other place if it tried to amend or disrupt the will of this House. That is a warning that I give. I am on the record as wanting Lords reform. We cannot get Lords reform if the public are not behind us, but believe me, they will be right behind us if the Lords try to stop the will of this House over the next few weeks. I send that as a friendly warning that the Lords must take note of what this House says, because what this referendum has been about, above all else, is democracy: people saying they did not want to be controlled by unelected bodies in Europe.
People had their choice, and they expect us to action that choice. The result may not have been the one I voted for, but I am a democrat. Above all, I respect the ballot box and the outcome of the ballot box, and this House must respect the outcome of the ballot box, too.
We as a Parliament and a democracy have not done that well by the people who elected us. We took the country into a referendum that had nothing to do with the best interests of Britain and everything to do with attempting to heal deep divisions in the Conservative party.
Labour Members did not oppose the referendum, because we did not wish to appear not to trust the voters, and I have to admit that we had some divisions of our own. However, all of us failed to set the rules for the referendum. We did not impose a super-majority, and we did not have a requirement for a road map showing the implications of a leave or a remain vote and the cost implications of the two alternatives. Then came the shockingly irresponsible referendum campaign, which was full of lies, misinformation, dog-whistle politics, fear and xenophobia.
When the people of Bridgend voted by a majority to leave the EU, they did so for a variety of reasons. They wanted the money back that the battle bus told them was going to Europe while, apparently, nothing came back to the UK, and they wanted it spent on the NHS. They are not going to get it. They wanted control of immigration and spending. They wanted an end to austerity, and they wanted to wipe the smug look off the faces of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor—well, they achieved that one.
On the doorstep, people did not tell me they would be happy to lose their workers’ rights, to lose their jobs, to have lower standards of living or goods, or to have reduced opportunities for their children and grandchildren. Nor did they talk about wanting to leave the single market or the customs union, or to pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement. Somehow, we as politicians were to square the circle: stop immigration, get our money back, get control back and become more affluent. I cannot keep on voting for a process that gives the people of Bridgend no assurance of a secure future for them and their children. I will not be voting to trigger article 50.
I welcome that information, because my hon. Friend is someone whose integrity and contributions in debates I always take note of, and I am deeply pleased that he will be joining me in the Lobby.
We are voting today, with the White Paper promised for tomorrow; it was not in place before this debate. We have no risk assessment, no financial assessment and a total lack of clarity on the Government’s policy. We have nothing bar the thin promise of the sunlit uplands—this is not in the Prime Minister’s gift anyway—of a passporting and tariff-free agreement that means that costs will not rise for financial services, or for my Ford engines plant and for Tata Steel next door in Aberavon, both of which send over two thirds of their output into Europe.
I intend to keep voting no until I see a position that is the best we can obtain for this country. I am ashamed at the way we have abandoned EU citizens and their families, who give their lives, their love and their settled future to the UK. I have a wonderful German daughter-in-law and an extended German family. I have many friends who are MPs across Europe and members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and who are deeply saddened by the words and threats emanating from the UK Government.
I accept the outcome of the referendum. We are leaving the European Union, but that does not mean that I am willing to vote for the Conservative party to lead this country into a treacherous, uncertain future. There is a Gramsci quote that, depending on the translation, says that the old order is dying, the new one is struggling to be born, and in the interregnum monsters are abroad. They most certainly are. We are voting before we know the outcome of three European elections that will influence the deal we finally face. And then there is Trump’s America. Can we trust any part of our economic security to an America that has just had Trump’s inauguration speech: support for torture, a ban on Muslims entering the US, anti-climate-change rhetoric, the clear statement of “America first”, and the commitment to end trade agreements that are not in America’s best interests?
I am voting as I am particularly because I do not trust this Government taking me to the right place. I trust the British people; I do not trust this Government.
I am in an easy position: I have an easy decision to make—in fact I have no decision to make. I campaigned and voted for Brexit, as did my constituency and the United Kingdom, so I am not torn on what to do this evening. However I will not demand that hon. Members vote a certain way, or even suggest how they should vote, because each one of us has a unique combination of local constituency pressures, and I cannot look into the heart of other Members of this House to see where those pressures sit, so I will not call on anyone to vote one way or another. Instead, I will reflect on the implications of the Brexit vote for all of us, irrespective of our political position and how we choose to vote in the Divisions this evening and in Committee next week.
Brexit provides us with an opportunity, but it also exerts upon us an external discipline; discipline guides our actions and decisions, and also encourages us to do what is difficult but right. The discipline that Brexit imposes on us is to listen very carefully to people in Britain who clearly feel that they have not been listened to up until this point. It is very easy for us to project our own prejudices on to why people voted the way they did, and we all do it. We have seen those who voted for Brexit projecting base motivations on to those who will vote in alignment with their constituents, but we would be wrong to do that. However, we also have to understand why some communities in Britain are concerned about their standard of living, migration and globalisation, and we have to respond to those concerns. Also, we Government Members have to understand that at some point we will need to explain why we are, perhaps, prioritising certain markets and business sectors in our negotiations above others. We will need to explain the value that international migration brings to the British economy, and perhaps why immigration will not suddenly stop overnight, the day after we leave the EU.
It is incredibly important that the Government lay out a pathway for moving forwards that explains to many people in Britain how a global economy can work for not just the greater good, but their individual good.
Ultimately, when Members of this House state that the British people need to have a say, they are absolutely right, but they should remember that Brexit is the start of an ongoing existence, not a discrete process, and that the deal that the Prime Minister and Ministers negotiate will be the deal that is put to the British people at the 2020 general election. Members from other parties might feel that they have a better version of a relationship with Europe. They might prefer a version that prioritises market access over border control. That is not necessarily a position that I would agree with, but it is none the less a legitimate position. If they wish to prioritise membership of the customs union over our ability to strike independent free trade deals, that, again, would not be a position that I would agree with, but it is none the less a legitimate position.
Parliamentary sovereignty means that those alternative versions of Brexit—a Scottish National party Brexit, a Liberal Democrat Brexit or a Labour Brexit—can be put before the British people in the lead-up to the 2020 general election, and those hypotheses can be tested in the ultimate crucible of the British democratic system. If their versions of Brexit are seen to be more palatable than the Government’s version, we will know, because Members will be returned here in proportion to how palatable or otherwise those various versions of Brexit are. That is how British democracy should work, and how it has been prevented from working up until now, which is why I will not just vote to trigger article 50 this evening and in future Divisions, but will do so passionately and happily—because it means that for the first time in 40 years, the way British parliamentary democracy is meant to work will be the way it is able to work. But I will not ask or force others to vote with me.
My constituency voted to remain. My country voted to leave. My conscience continues to believe that the country’s interests are best served within the EU. I believe that my job is to act in accordance with my conscience, in the interests of my constituents, within the parliamentary democracy I am proud to uphold. I believe that my constituents’ trust and belief in parliamentary democracy is the greatest security our country has against the rise of fascistic leaders and the destruction of our national value system. So it would be wrong to reject the result of the referendum. Newcastle is part of a nation, and that which unites us is greater than that which divides us. For that reason, I will vote for the Second Reading of this Bill.
But there is a “but”, and there was always going to be. This Government are attempting a constitutional land grab. The referendum was about the will of the people, not the will of a Prime Minister who is not even elected. Some 52% voted to leave the European Union but they did not vote to leave the single market, and they did not vote to leave the customs union.
The north-east is the only region in the country to export more than it imports, and more than half of that goes to the European Union. It is estimated that 160,000 jobs are directly linked to our membership of the single market, while our great universities received £155 million in EU funds in the current funding cycle alone.
When I talk to businesses, they are incandescent that Tories are rejecting the greatest free trade alliance on the planet. I can also tell the House that, having negotiated joint ventures, regulatory undertakings and multi-million pound contracts across three continents, I have never come across a negotiating position as inept as the one being adopted by this Government: “Give us what we want or we’ll duff up your economy.” I have zero confidence in their negotiating trade deals, in which Parliament will have no say. They will sell our socioeconomic birthright for a mess of right-wing pottage. When the Chancellor talks of changing our economic model, he means turning the UK into a low-wage, low-skilled tax haven with little or no welfare support.
More than a third of children in Newcastle live in poverty, and one in five of my constituents claim benefits. North-east workers are, on average, almost £4,000 a year worse off than they were 10 years ago. Am I going to vote for a Trumpian, dystopian, “alt-right” free market future for them? Absolutely not. Already, constituents are asking me questions I never expected to hear. They are asking whether they could be deported to the European Union. They want to know just how racist an insult has to be before they should complain. And they are asking whether there will be a nuclear war, and which side we would be on. The Government need to accept amendments to the Bill that will ensure that our values, our socioeconomic model and our membership of the single market are safeguarded; otherwise, democracy for my constituents, and my conscience will—
It is a privilege to take part in the debate on this historic Bill, which is designed simply to start a process. A number of hon. and right hon. Members have signed amendments to the Bill, and I say to them that there will be plenty of time over the next two years to debate aspects of European Union legislation when we introduce the great repeal Bill. To those who feel that now is the time to begin discussing our terms of membership or to cling to certain aspects of the EU, I would simply say that they are too late. Since joining the EU in 1972, we have been subjected to mission creep and stealth integration with no votes and no say. The great British people were clear with their instruction on 23 June: they said, “Leave. We have had enough.”
I know that voting on this Bill will present a moral dilemma for many in this place, but for me, it is a relatively easy matter because the will of the people in North Cornwall is clear, with 60% in North Cornwall and 55% in Cornwall as a whole voting to leave the EU. They voted with their eyes open, clear in their belief that they wanted to leave. Some have suggested that the vote was advisory, but I am a democrat and I say to those Members across the Chamber that it was an instruction, and I will vote this evening to ensure that it is carried out. To those discussing the question of a hard or soft Brexit I would say that there is no such thing. There is leaving, and there are different levels of remaining in.
We have seen the effects of globalisation and EU integration in Cornwall over the past four decades, including coastal communities being left behind while cities increased in wealth and growth. There has been no trickle-down to our rural communities, and it is little wonder that they felt disconnected, under-represented and powerless as decisions taken inside the EU affected their day-to-day lives. Whether because of restrictive Brussels farming policy, foreign trawlers in our territorial waters or immigration levels, people in North Cornwall and the UK have said that they want to be in charge of their own destiny. The erosion of our sovereignty has stopped us dealing with those and other issues, but that will be no more. I know that people across this great nation voted on 23 June for many different reasons, but we in Cornwall have seen with our own eyes the destruction of the fishing industry by the common fisheries policy. Leaving the EU will be seen as a success in that area if the common fisheries policy and common agricultural policy are replaced by British versions that work much more effectively for the people involved.
The people of Britain have spoken, and the people of North Cornwall have spoken. I stood at the general election to oppose EU membership unless significant reforms were negotiated. That did not happen, and my constituency voted to leave the European Union. That is why I will walk through the Lobby this evening to vote in support of a Bill to trigger article 50, to ensure that the democratic process that started with the referendum is completed in full.
At the very first hustings I attended in 2001, at Treorchy comprehensive school, the first question I was asked was, “Will you always vote with your conscience?” I recently visited Ysgol Cymer, also in my constituency, and asked members of the school council how I should vote today, after setting out the problems involved. Every single one of them said, “With your conscience”, and that is what I intend to do. I am a democrat, and most of those in my constituency voted in a different way from me. I am a democrat, but I believe in a form of democracy that never silences minorities. The 48% in this country and, for that matter, the 46% or 45% in my constituency, or whatever the figure was, have a right to a voice, so today I am voting and speaking on behalf of a minority of my constituents.
All my life I have believed that the best form of patriotism is internationalism. My first political memories are of Franco’s guards in Spain. I was thrown out of Chile in 1986 for attending the funeral of a lad who had been set on fire by Pinochet’s police. I distrust politicians who spuriously use the national security argument to launch campaigns against migrants, refugees and ethnic minorities. I fear the turn this world is taking towards narrow nationalism, protectionism and demagoguery. Distrust of those who are different from us can all too often, although not always, turn to hatred of foreigners. That way lies the trail to war.
I know that is not the tradition of the Rhondda. We were built on migrants from England, Scotland, Ireland and Italy. This country was built on the sweat, the courage, the ingenuity and the get up and go of Huguenots, Normans, Protestants fleeing the inquisition, Irish Catholics fleeing famine, Jews escaping persecution, Polish airmen, Spanish nurses, Indian doctors and Afro-Caribbeans who wanted to help make this country great.
I have stood at every election on a platform and a party manifesto that said we would stay in the European Union. That was my solemn vow to the voters of the Rhondda. I admit that I lost the vote, including in my constituency, but I have not lost my faith. It remains my deep conviction that leaving the European Union, especially on the terms that the Government seem to expect, will do untold damage to my constituents, especially the poorest of them.
My hon. Friend is making a very brave and compelling case. I came into the Chamber today not having finally decided which way to vote. Does he agree that, if I believe the Government’s plan is not in the interests of my country and my constituents, I should join him in the Lobby and vote no to the Bill tonight?
I am going to vote for the reasoned amendment tonight because I believe it is in the interest of my constituents. I know that many of my constituents will disagree with me, and maybe they will take it out on me, just as it was taken out on Burke in Bristol. In the end, there is no point in any of us being a Member of this House if we do not have things that we believe in and that we are prepared to fight for and, if necessary, lay down our job for.
This moment is so dangerous because the Government have stated that it is irreversible. This is it, folks: now or never. In this most uncertain of times, we are being asked to vote for a completely unknown deal. Yes, I know we are going to leave the European Union and that the House will vote for it. My vote cannot change that, but I believe this Bill—this way of Brexiting—will leave us poorer, weaker and at far, far greater danger in Europe, in the west and in this country, so I say not in my name. Never, never, never.
It is a great honour to speak in this historic debate. On 23 June we saw 52% of the United Kingdom, and 57% of Derby, vote for the UK to leave the European Union. In Derby, voter turnout was 70%, almost double that for our local elections, with 18,000 more people voting to leave than to remain.
I deliberated for a long time over my decision, and I spent time listening to both sides of the argument. I could see strong reasons to leave and to remain. I started veering towards leave, but I finally decided that remain, in my opinion, would be best for the country. I campaigned hard for us to stay in the EU.
While I was out campaigning, people came to me with clear messages. They said that they wanted to clamp down on immigration and how this was an opportunity to stand on our own and make our own decisions. On the other side, there was uncertainty about the country’s future outside the EU and about the long-term implications and potential consequences. The decision will shape this country for generations, and it is one that we must respect. We must ensure that it becomes a reality, and we must look forward so that future generations benefit from this opportunity. It is now the time to look for the opportunities Brexit can bring to our country. Of course that will be challenging, but the Government are already working hard to create new avenues of trade and investment with new friends and partners, inside and outside Europe. Since the referendum, I have been talking to a wide range of people and businesses in my constituency, and they tell me they are now looking forward to the opportunity that Brexit brings. There is a feeling of optimism about ensuring that small, medium-sized and large businesses thrive after we leave, while of course there is an acknowledgement of the complexity of the negotiations.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) spoke about eyes being wide open and looking to the sunny uplands. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) agree with the many constituents who have written to me to say that they knew what they were doing, they saw both sides of the argument and we should now be looking forward, just as my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall said?
Absolutely. As my hon. Friend said, people did know what they were doing, and it is clear that in my constituency people are looking for opportunities and the way forward. I am excited by the prospect that lies before us, as I believe we have a genuine opportunity to forge new trade deals and new relationships, and make this great country even greater, taking us forward proudly and successfully. The great repeal Bill will be the starting point for us to look at legislation. I am confident that this Government will, as they must, safeguard and indeed enhance employee and human rights, holding dear the British values that we all share. We should of course be mindful that we are not leaving Europe; we are leaving the EU.
As I mentioned, 57% of those who voted in Derby voted to leave, and we now have a responsibility to negotiate the very best deal, not only for the people of Derby but for the people of this country as a whole. Democracy is about listening to the people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) said in her excellent maiden speech, this was not a request—it was an instruction. This should therefore be a time for us to come together and not be divided on this decision. Our duty is to the public we represent, which is why I shall be supporting the Bill.
I welcome this debate, which has in general been a good one, both today and yesterday, with people speaking from the heart and honestly giving the facts as they see them. This is a historic decision that we are taking in Parliament, but let us not forget that the decision has already been delivered by the people of the United Kingdom. We gave them the opportunity to have their say and they have had it; it was not, as was said earlier, an act of madness of this House. I deplore that suggestion, as this decision was delivered by the people and we must respect it, although people can have their views in here, and I respect those, too.
My constituency is right out in the west of the UK and is bordered by four counties in the Republic of Ireland. We therefore need to have flexibility, but let us move on and get that. Let us have that common travel area and an open border—one that is as open as possible—so that we can have good friendships with the EU when we leave it. We are not leaving Europe; we in Northern Ireland are just as good Europeans as anybody. Our ancestors went to fight for Europe, just as our colleagues from Scotland, England, Wales and many other Commonwealth countries did. We went to help those Europeans, and we still want that common relationship. The people have delivered a decision for us, and it is more important now that we look to how we make the best of that decision. We need to get the best for all of our constituents—for the people of the United Kingdom—and the only way to do that is by working in harmony, as far as is reasonably possible.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a key part of maintaining that harmony is by ensuring that we have unfettered access to travel across these islands, that a border between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland would be unacceptable, and that any border controls between Northern Ireland and the mainland UK would be unforgivable?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and we in Northern Ireland totally support that position. We want that for the whole United Kingdom, because there is great trade between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, and between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and we want to see that flourish.
We must move on, because it is the indecision that is putting our economy in a difficult position. It will progress into a more difficult position if we do not continue to take decisions. The best thing we can do is move on with this decision. Hopefully, we will have negotiators who will do their best for the United Kingdom. I have heard the arguments today: some people are saying that we do not know what the agreement is or what we are getting out of the deal. That is absolutely right, but it is what the people voted for. We need the best negotiators, and we need to have faith in them. It is up to Parliament to make sure that we keep up the pressure on those negotiators to get the best deal possible. We in the Ulster Unionist party will certainly be scrutinising all the amendments. Hopefully, there will be some that could make the Bill better that we will look at positively.
One of the benefits of making a later contribution to a debate is the opportunity to reflect on earlier speeches. The standout one for me came late yesterday evening, when my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), who supported remain in the referendum but represents a constituency that voted to leave, set out very clearly why it is important to recognise the referendum result and why we should vote to deliver the wishes of our constituents and the country as a whole. That is also my position.
Last week, I met some children in my constituency when I visited their school. I was asked some pretty serious questions. They asked me why I voted remain, and I explained why I felt that remaining would have been better for our businesses and given us a sense of certainty. They asked why so many people voted to leave, and I explained that I believe that people were attracted by the proposition of taking control, particularly of immigration. They then came up with the tough one: what happens next? This debate is all about that—the process of triggering article 50 and the negotiations that will take place over the next two years.
We have before us a clear, simple Bill that represents the result of the June referendum. I supported the Government’s decision to give the people a say. It was in the Conservative party manifesto, and in 2015 my constituents gave me a significantly larger majority and Parliament voted six to one in favour of it. It therefore follows that support for the referendum requires respect for its outcome. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) argued, I do not see how anyone can suggest otherwise. No decision had been made for more than 40 years and the body of which we were a member had changed, so it is entirely right that we voted for a referendum. As with the United States election, though, if we ask the public a question, we should not be too surprised if the electorate come back with an unexpected answer. It is now our job to implement their decision.
The decision to leave the EU presents us with opportunities, as was underlined to me in a discussion with a small business owner in my constituency. He was an ardent remainer who had joined me to hand out leaflets to commuters at the station. Nevertheless, he described the referendum as being like a business owner pitching to retain an account and the custom for his business. The decision had gone against his company—the customer decided not to renew and was not going to change his mind. A businessman in that position has to start to look for other deals elsewhere.
That is precisely the approach the Government are taking. They have formed the new Department for International Trade and are making deals with new partners and managing the process of the leaving. I have some misgivings about the route we are about to go down, but we must accept the wishes of the people and proceed with the Bill in support of what the people decided.
I campaigned for and voted to remain, but I will respect the result of the referendum and vote in favour of the Bill. However, like many of my colleagues, that does not mean that I am voting to give the Government a free ride to pursue a right-wing hard Brexit. It is our responsibility to show how divisions can be healed. We need to speak not only of process but about what sort of country we want the UK to be and how we can build new relationships with Europe and countries around the world. We must watch and scrutinise. It is not about whether the UK is leaving the EU, but how.
For so many people in my area, the referendum was an emphatic shout of “Enough!” from those who felt left behind by globalisation—people who have had enough of being economically, politically and socially excluded. They feel powerless and excluded, with nobody listening to them on issues such as immigration. The referendum was an opportunity for many of them to take decisive action in the hope of bringing about change. We must now listen to that demand for change and act. The change must begin by ending the characterisation of some leave voters as people who did not know what they were doing. That serves only to deepen the chasm running through the UK today. We need to take time to understand the pain and anger of those people.
What we also must do is hear the legitimate concerns of the 48% of people who voted remain. We should not just brush them off as remoaners who are attempting to frustrate the will of the people. Rhetoric is powerful and can be incredibly divisive. We are one country, and the stark divisions of the referendum must be allowed to heal. That should start with a common narrative from the Government that the Brexit negotiations will strive to get the best deal for everyone, not just for those who voted leave. That is why the amendment process is so crucial—the amendments set out a vision, which we, the Labour party, and many others want to see. The whole process is about looking to the future, not the past, which is why we now have to work to find a way through the process.
After we have left the EU, globalisation will not cease to exist, nor will the refugee crisis, the problems with immigration, the threat of terrorism, the lack of funding for the health service and education, and the pervasive inequality that exists in the UK. Brexit must seek to address those issues in a liberal, open and inclusive way—a way that insists on a plan that supports jobs and the economy, tackles inequality and is based on building a new consensus here in Britain on immigration. It must include the protection of workers’ rights and guarantee legal rights for EU nationals living in Britain. That plan must be progressive and united by our common principles of respect, tolerance and open-mindedness. In that way, hope can overcome despair, and a brighter, fairer future for all will seem possible, even if we are no longer part of the EU.
I have listened to this debate for the past couple of days, and I can quite understand why constituents feel that we are voting on coming out of the European Union tonight. We are not. The Bill is a simple and straightforward matter that simply puts us back to what we believe the situation was before the Supreme Court judgment. That is all the Bill does.
I disagree with those who tell me that the referendum was only advisory. In our manifesto, we said explicitly that we would accept the result of the referendum whatever it was. The referendum effectively ceased to be advisory at that point. No one has ever said how voting against giving the Prime Minister permission to start article 50 negotiations complies with that, or indeed how we could ever be trusted again to take democratic decisions in the interests of the people.
Those like me who voted to remain need to accept that we lost the argument and the vote—but I am not throwing in the towel. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), I am doing all that I can to work on the aspects that are needed to take us forward. That includes, for example, this morning’s meeting of the Justice Committee in which we had yet another session with leading lawyers about what we need to carry forward in the justice system.
Both Houses of Parliament have already spent 60 hours discussing the EU and our leaving of it. That is 60 hours of debate to which the Front-Bench team has listened.
Let me quickly comment on two things. The first is the term “hard Brexit”. It is one of the laziest forms of journalism I have ever heard. It is a great shame that it has been used in this House. How maintaining the common travel area with Ireland and the rights of EU nationals in Britain, and protecting workers’ rights and the best places for science and innovation can possibly be called a hard Brexit, I do not know.
I would like Ministers to give us some confidence on the issue of Euratom. The Joint European Torus project is located at Culham in my constituency. I heard what the Secretary of State said yesterday, but I would like some reassurance, because it was negotiating in good faith and then this suddenly occurred.
There has been a lot of Sturm und Drang around this debate over the past couple of days. I will try to reflect how I feel about it. I have a sense of disbelief and despair at the decision that is about to be made, and significant doubt in the abilities of those who seek to give voice to my constituents in going any way towards meeting their needs. Let us be clear: 71% of my constituents in Edinburgh West voted to remain.
The Scottish National party’s reasoned amendment is backed by many of my constituents, the vast majority of whom voted against independence in our independence referendum and many of whom are not SNP supporters. To a man and to a woman, they are writing to me, saying, “If this goes ahead, I am firmly in favour of taking the next steps to protect my business, my child who wants to go through Erasmus, and my ability to travel, work and live freely within Europe.” How strongly we feel about the matter in Scotland—for those in and without the SNP—is fundamental.
This is not just about economics, although stepping away from that matter is, incidentally, a vast collective madness. The philosophy of Europe as a unifier to protect against the sort of madness and rhetoric we hear from Trump—racist, misogynistic and protectionist—is a fundamental for me. So, yes, I feel disbelief. With every breath in my body, I am going to ensure that Scotland can continue to access the single market.
I congratulate my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), although she is not currently in her place, on a fantastic maiden speech that bodes well for the future of Lincolnshire. My contribution will be short and to the point.
In the 2015 general election, my Conservative colleagues and I stood on a manifesto pledge that we would let the British people decide whether to stay in or leave the European Union, and that we would honour the referendum result, whatever the outcome. We won the general election and kept our promise on holding the referendum. We must, therefore, keep our promise on honouring the result. It is on that basis that I will vote with the Government tonight to trigger article 50.
I am fortunate; my personal long and strongly held views align with those of the three quarters of my constituents who voted to remain. I will therefore be voting against triggering of article 50, by whatever route someone is empowered to do it—royal prerogative, referendum result, prime ministerial diktat or whatever. I am against it and my constituents are against it, and I will not be moved from that.
Let me explain why I feel so strongly. I ask your forgiveness, Mr Speaker, if my contribution is a touch personal. Both sides of my family suffered from the wars of the last century. It was my grandfather on my mother’s side who formed my early views. Joe Mead, an agriculture worker from Shepreth, a village outside Cambridge, was a keen and competitive race-walker. I grew up surrounded by his trophies. When he moved to Chingford in north London, he used to walk home at weekends—50 miles each way—but that was before the first world war. Like many other brave young men, he stood knee deep in water in the trenches for months at Passchendaele. He at least came home, but the gangrene meant that he lost one leg—a race-walker no more.
A few decades later, there was another war. My father, who was born in Austria, was forced to flee Vienna when the Nazis marched in because, as I have recently learned, of his family’s left-wing views. He came to Britain and was made welcome, for which he and our family are eternally grateful.
I recount the story because the reason I am passionate about the European Union and the part it has played in keeping a fractious continent from falling out. Some people say that it was not the EU but NATO, but the EU was born out of a desire to stop war in Europe, and there is no doubt in my mind that having a political framework to resolve conflicts and differences, to negotiate and to compromise, has made a huge contribution to keeping the peace. My generation is a privileged one—we have not, most of us, had to go to war.
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s personal circumstances and his passion, but does he not agree that the European currency—the euro—has done more to divide Europe by impoverishing Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, and that so long as that continues there is likely to be further division in Europe?
No, I do not agree. I think our continent is much more united than when it was at war.
How quickly we have forgotten just how this was achieved. At this of all times, when the world is such an uncertain place, this is not the moment to turn away from our European home, and to take a huge gamble on getting a deal with the most reckless and unreliable American President any of us have known.
There is much more that I would like to say about Cambridge and the threat to our universities and to our research institutes. I associate myself with many of the comments that have been made by my hon. Friends. I am particularly concerned about the 9,000 non-UK EU nationals in and around Cambridge whose future is so uncertain and whose future could have been assured if the Government had moved more swiftly, and the damage that it will do to our country if those people start to leave. The effect that that will have on our university and research sector troubles me a lot.
Last week, out of the blue, as we have heard, the Government announced that they want to pull out of the European nuclear agency, Euratom. This appeared to happen without discussion or consultation with the industry, and without thought to the wider consequences.
There are so many other things to say about the threats to our environmental protections, to our rights at work, to our data and privacy rights, and to our world-leading life sciences sector—but I return to my starting point. Three quarters of people in Cambridge voted to remain. I came into Parliament to represent their views. They put their trust in me, and I will not betray that trust. There is a real risk that the Government will lead a retreat to turn Britain into an isolated island. The United States is building a wall. At such a time, we must be brave and go on making the case that retreat, isolation and walls do not a modern world make. The European Union is far from perfect, but we should be working to make it better, not weakening it at a dangerous time.
This is a long Second Reading debate, and yet the Bill is very succinct, and rightly so. I therefore think it is incumbent on me to be concise in my remarks.
In the lead-up to the referendum on our membership of the European Union last June, the Government published—at the cost of a little over £9 million, from memory—a booklet that went to virtually every household in the UK explaining why they believed it was best for us to remain members of the EU. The booklet also said, however, “Whatever decision the British people make, we will implement.” It is therefore, I believe, our duty to ensure that we pass this Bill tonight, without delay or amendments designed to wreck it, so that the Prime Minister has the authority to start the official formal withdrawal process, and so that this Parliament can once again exercise its sovereignty in rightly holding the Government to account to ensure that we get the best possible deal as we leave the European Union and once again broaden our horizons as a global Britain.
I rise to speak in this debate as a European. I was born a European. Those who supported the Brexit cause told us that if we left the European Union we would be no less European. I say this to them: I will hold them to their word.
I do not believe that the referendum was our finest democratic moment. I disagree with the Brexiteers about that. Many of my constituents have raised serious concerns about the referendum, but that is not what the debate is about any more; it is about the beginning of the most important question that our country has faced for a generation.
We must rapidly move on from the process and on to substance. To those who proudly say that immigration is not a problem in our country’s metropolitan areas and who disparage those areas that feel strongly about it, I say that they are not taking the right approach. We need to understand that all parts of our country have benefited from immigration and that all British people are tolerant and respectful of others. Those are the best of British values, and the Prime Minister is wrong to design an economic policy entirely based on shutting down immigration.
Economic division in our country was the cause and will be the consequence of Brexit. Our economy is designed for London to charge ahead like Singapore, while the northern regions of England are held back like eastern Europe, and that is why people feel left out. The reason for that economic division is that power is hoarded here in this city. People in the north feel that for too long they have not had enough of a say, and they voted to leave as a result. The answer must be to address that power imbalance, never again to hoard power here and to have a truly federal Britain.
In my maiden speech, I said that Wirral was an internationally minded and cultured place. It was then and it is now. To those in our country who have been shocked, horrified, embarrassed and ashamed by the disgraceful racism and xenophobia that we have seen, I say that those are not our values and that is not my country, and we move on from this point with our values at our heart.
The manifesto on which I stood in 2015 not only promised an in/out referendum on Europe, but stated:
“We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.”
During the referendum campaign, I committed to respecting the result, even if it was decided by just one vote. In the end, the difference was more than 1 million votes. That 72% of the population turned out showed just how seriously the British public took the task of deciding their future. In my constituency, the turnout was more than 80%. By contrast, 58% turned out for the recent US presidential election. That was an election with huge consequences, not only for the USA but for the world, yet nearly 100 million Americans could not be bothered to turn out and vote.
As others have said, the referendum was not a consultation but an instruction. Today, I will do my duty and vote to trigger article 50. Then the work really begins. To use the analogy of a flight, we have boarded the plane and we are leaving Europe. Although we know the general direction, we do not yet know the destination. Some passengers believe that we are heading for some kind of tropical paradise, others an icy wasteland. Luckily we have a pilot who has a clear flight path, and I suspect that after flying around for a while, we will land not on an icy wasteland or in a tropical paradise, but somewhere quite familiar and similar to where we originally began.
I do not wish to belittle the great challenge ahead of us, but the fact is that the British economy is strong, resilient and dynamic. I never for one moment believed that the sky would fall in if we left the EU, but different segments of our economy will inevitably be impacted in different ways by Brexit. Some will obviously benefit and some will obviously struggle, and all are impacted to some degree by uncertainty. We must work hard and quickly to reduce that uncertainty, and we must provide every support and comfort to those sectors of the economy that we know are at most risk from Brexit.
We must listen to people with deep knowledge and expertise in sectors that are perhaps not well represented in this place, yet face particularly complex challenges due to Brexit, including the aviation industry, digital and creative industries, and those sectors for which there is no clear World Trade Organisation alternative. I encourage the Government to continue to engage with industry and with experts, and I look forward to playing my part by providing constructive input and holding the Government to account to ensure that they deliver a successful deal that helps Britain and secures my children’s future.
I intend to vote in favour of activating article 50 tonight out of respect for the result of the referendum, despite its flaws and despite the deceit of the leave campaign, but I will write no blank cheques to anyone, least of all this simultaneously incompetent and ideological Government. I reject the assertion that the result of the referendum is the will of the people. It is not; it is the will of a slim majority. The use of that sinister phrase “the will of the people” to airbrush out of existence the 48% who voted remain is deeply troubling.
All Labour Members recognise the growing individual and geographical inequality in our country, the growing pressure on public services, the growing competition for low-paid jobs and the fear of cultural change from rapid social and economic transformation, but I certainly do not understand how a hard Brexit and the Government’s vision of a low-tax, low-regulation Singapore Britain is the answer to any of those legitimate concerns. That will destroy jobs, employers and our public finances, and make it more difficult to address the social and economic challenges that we now recognise.
We need a vision of a Britain that is closely integrated with our European partners and the European market, to which we are most close. Our manufacturers, our service sectors, our creative industries and our universities are hugely dependent on those markets and on European skills. If we walk away from Europe out of petty malice, we will cut off our nose to spite our face, and we will destroy livelihoods, opportunities and hopes throughout the land.
That vision is the antithesis of what those who are driving forward the Government’s agenda want. They threaten to create a low-tax, low-public-service haven on the coast of Europe if we do not get a trade deal with the EU, but that is precisely the kind of UK that they want, free from what they see as the constraints of employment rights and environmental protection. They want a UK with low corporation tax, low income tax for the rich, no protection for people at work and minimal public services. The Government have taken the understandable concern about immigration and the justifiable anger about bad employers using cheap imported labour to drive down nationally agreed pay rates, and have used those concerns to drive through their own vision, which, ironically and tragically, would end up hurting most the people who are most concerned about the current arrangements.
The Government are so desperate for a trade deal with the United States that we go cap in hand to the racist President Trump, because we need his good favour to get such a deal. At the same time, we are alienating all the other countries with which, until recently, we shared the values of decency, tolerance and respect.
Tonight I will respect the result of the referendum, but after that, all bets are off. I will not allow good people who voted to leave for understandable reasons to be hoodwinked by the hard right of the Conservative party, and I will not allow our wonderful, beautiful, decent and tolerant country to be abandoned to a vision of ultra-hard Brexit, shorn of the standards we have all come to enjoy and, perhaps, take for granted.
Like my Conservative colleagues, I stood in the general election on a manifesto that promised an in/out referendum and promised to respect the result. I campaigned hard before the referendum for this country to stay in the European Union. It pains me that my side lost, but honour and decency bind me to the pledge I made before the referendum, and I will vote to support the Government tonight.
That said, it is also my duty to my constituents and to the country, as it is for all of us, to make sure that we get the best possible outcome thereafter. To my mind, that means the following. First, in my constituency, some 35% of people work in the financial and professional services sector. That is one of the highest percentages anywhere in the country. It is critical that that key economic interest of the United Kingdom be central to our negotiating objectives. In my judgment, it should not be regarded as secondary to anything. If we have to, we should be prepared to make pragmatic compromises to secure the welfare of that key economic sector.
Secondly, we should not forget the interests of our territory of Gibraltar. It does not have anyone to speak for it here, but I shall take the liberty of doing so. Its economy must be protected and its border flows must be uninterrupted and free. Thirdly, we must make sure that our parliamentary sovereignty is real. We are acting in accordance with the process set down by our highest courts, where the judges acted in accordance with their judicial oaths and constitutional duty. That should be accepted, and they should be commended for having done so. That means that Parliament must now be prepared to have proper control of the process.
I welcome the commitment to publishing the White Paper, and I accept the words and good faith of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, but there are two other things we must do. First, it is very important as we go forward that Parliament has the maximum information available to it. In particular, it would be quite wrong if Parliament at any stage had less information than our European counterparts. Secondly, the pledge of a vote in both Houses on the final deal must be a meaningful one. That means it must be a vote before the deal is put to our European counterparts for ratification, otherwise it will be a Hobson’s choice of little value. I hope that Ministers will reflect very carefully on those key points as the Bill makes progress through the House.
Despite my constituency producing two enormous Brexiteers—one Sir Teddy Taylor, who went on to represent Southend, and Tom Harris, who led the Brexit campaign in Scotland—I have the Glasgow constituency with the highest remain vote; it was over 70%. I get why lots of people did not feel that they had a connection with the European Union. It felt as though the EU did not have a relationship with their daily lives, and as though it was something done to them, rather than something inclusive. Sadly, however, this Brexit deal is going in exactly the same direction. The Prime Minister did everything she could to try to prevent this House from having a say or a vote on it. In fact, we are only in the Chamber for this debate today because the Government were taken to court—and the case had to go to appeal at the Supreme Court. The Prime Minister has done everything she can to freeze out Parliament, the public and the devolved Administrations, and that is highly regrettable. This Brexit process has all the hallmarks of a hostile takeover. The vote on 23 June 2016 is being used; all sorts of other issues—the single market, the customs union—are being couped in alongside it, which is just not good enough.
The hon. Gentleman has expressed concern—indeed, confusion—about the Brexiteers’ position. Will he help to alleviate my confusion about the Scottish position that SNP Members seem to be putting forward, which is that they want a free, independent Scotland, but it has to be ruled from Brussels? Will he explain that conundrum?
I will not explain it. The hon. Gentleman makes such a lazy argument that he must have heard all the points before. I will use my extra minute to make the arguments that I wish to make. The Prime Minister has no consensus on proceeding—[Interruption.] I suggest that the Deputy Leader of the House takes that back.
No. The Prime Minister has no consensus on proceeding as she is doing. The failure to get consensus is hers and hers alone. She talks about
“a country that works for everyone”,
but the Brexit negotiation and the article 50 process have been incubated and kept in Downing Street. That will do nothing for our attempts to fight against the poison of political cynicism that is eating away at liberal democracies around the world, including the liberal democracy that we serve here. Our party’s position is well known. The Britannic isolation that this Government are seeking is something that I cannot and will not back, and I will vote against the Government tonight.
I voted remain in the referendum, not for any nostalgic or ideological love of Europe, but more in the pragmatic belief that it was not the right time for us to leave. However, the point that has sometimes been overlooked in the debate in this Chamber is that this vote on article 50 is different for one reason: it is not our decision. We have a duty as democrats, and a fundamental duty as Members of Parliament, to enact the result of the referendum.
I have not changed my mind, but it is important to remember that the Conservative manifesto—the one on which we Conservative Members were elected—pledged to hold the referendum. I was proud to vote in Parliament to hold the referendum, and I promised my voters that I would honour the result. It was made abundantly clear during the referendum campaign that it would be final, no ifs and buts, and when I make a promise to my voters, I intend to keep it—no ifs, no buts.
To me, this debate is less about triggering article 50, and more about democracy. The mere suggestion that we could consider riding roughshod over democracy, destroying what is left of the British public’s faith in politicians is, quite frankly, absurd. Yes, we can all think of loopholes and justifications to rationalise voting against the referendum result, but we are surely in a sad state if it comes to that. And is it not patronising to claim that people did not really understand what they were voting for?
It is important that we do not distort the meaning of this debate. The vote should not be turned into a pro-immigration or anti-immigration vote. It is simply recognition of how the public voted, in part through a desire to take back control. There has been a lot of talk in this debate about immigration and the end of free movement. Members have spoken about the cultural and economic benefits of immigration, and I echo that message wholeheartedly. However, I seriously question whether that can only be achieved by European immigration. It disadvantages those from the Commonwealth and the wider world, who should have exactly the same rights and opportunities as those living in Europe. Europe has bound our hands and given us no chance to link our immigration to skills. It deeply saddens me that some Members have distorted this debate.
Let us be clear and not misguide the public today. This vote is about starting the process. Yes, we could spend several weeks speculating about what we might be able to negotiate, and what we can and cannot change, but we have a duty today. Our economy and businesses need certainty. The last thing they need is another referendum, or more speculation. Now is the time to get on with the job, be positive, work together and get the best deal for Britain. We have a duty to honour the result and a promise to keep. We need to show the British public that we can listen, can be in touch, and are the Parliament for the people, not a Parliament superior to the people.
May I say first that I respect the views of any Member who acts according to their conscience, and that I have nothing but contempt for any Member who acts purely out of self-interest or self-preservation?
The Government can claim a mandate to take the United Kingdom—or what is left of it—out of the European Union, but nobody can claim a mandate to take anyone out of the single market. That, essentially, is a major part of the reasoned amendment tabled by the Scottish National party. We are being asked to hand complete control of the process to a Prime Minister and a Foreign Secretary who between them cannot even handle a dinner invitation without creating an major international, political and diplomatic stooshie.
The Government, if anything, have a mandate to keep us in the single market. That is what was in the 2015 Conservative election manifesto. I know that Conservative Members do not like to be reminded about it now, but that is the mandate they were given by the people. As recently as 24 October 2016, the Prime Minister told the House:
“I want to get the best possible deal with the maximum possible opportunities for British businesses…to operate within the single market and to trade with it in both goods and services.”—[Official Report, 24 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 36.]
The fact that as recently as October the Prime Minister wanted to stay in at the very least should tell us that membership or non-membership of the single market is far too important to be dealt with without a single debate or vote in this House.
Some MPs have been subject to unfair pressure to vote in a particular way. Nobody here has the right to tell anybody that they are being dishonest or anti-democratic by exercising their vote. I have had that as well. I received an email darkly hinting that there are a number of people in my constituency who want to leave and threatening me with deselection if I dare to vote against the Government tonight. Given that the email came from Labour Leave, I have no intention—[Laughter.] It did cross my mind that, pension-wise, I could get a much better deal by losing rather than retiring. Maybe when I decide that the time has come to leave, I will stand as a Labour candidate to guarantee my “loser’s pension”. [Laughter.]
The Secretary of State concluded his speech yesterday by asking us to trust the people. What we have heard from the Tory Benches is actually much more than that: what we are hearing from the Tories today and yesterday is the abolition of the sovereignty of Parliament. They have finally accept that the people are sovereign. I welcome that. It is 700 years after some of us accepted it, but they are welcome.
There are four different sovereignties represented here. The sovereignty of my people tells me that 62% want to stay in. We put forward a compromise that respects the wishes of those who want to leave, respects the wishes of those in Scotland who want to remain, and respects the issues of the 55% in 2014. If we are forced to choose between the 55% and the 62% who want to remain in the European Union, I think the Conservative party might get a very nasty surprise indeed.
I campaigned and voted to leave the EU, in line with the boroughs I represent, Bolton and Wigan, which voted overwhelmingly to leave. It was an incredibly important referendum, and I am a little disappointed sometimes to get the impression that people think we should never have had it. It was vital that we did. When there is a transfer of power, it is for the people to approve, even if retrospectively. It was for the people to approve the vast transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels. Otherwise, it would have been like the SNP taking Scotland out of the UK without a referendum, or the Liberal Democrats changing our voting system without the approval of the people. We had to have the referendum to approve the transfer of powers to the EU.
Dissatisfaction with the EU seemed to grow in proportion to the powers handed to it. Whether we wanted to remain or leave, we could all see that the referendum was vital. David Cameron, in his Bloomberg speech, set out a fantastic vision of EU reform, but every visit to Brussels or a European capital whittled away that vision until there was almost nothing left—and that was the proposal put to the British people: either we leave or we have this almost non-existent programme of reform. It now seems that there is a campaign to resurrect the Bloomberg vision through the soft Brexit that people keep talking about, but that was the vision already rejected by the EU.
During the campaign, there were problems and misleading information on both sides, but that £350 million figure for the NHS is overstated. In a general election, we look at the policies and the ideas developed over months and years. We look at the performance of the Government and we listen to the arguments of the Opposition. We have years to make up our minds at the general election, and the British people had 40 years to make up their minds about the EU. It was not about the last few weeks of the referendum campaign; it was about the lived experience in the EU. That is why the people rejected it. It was not because of a few debateable arguments on one side or another. I look forward this evening to voting for the Bill and supporting our leaving the EU.
Since the vote nearly seven months ago, a shadow has been cast across this country. The decision to leave the EU has weighed heavy on us all. It has divided communities, workplaces, families and political parties. The campaigns were not our finest hour. I campaigned to remain in the EU not because I thought the EU was perfect but because I did not want the UK to close its doors and shut itself off from the rest of the world. I want us to work with our European neighbours to find common solutions to the multitude of problems every developed country faces, from a rapidly aging population and its impact on our healthcare and pensions system to the co-ordinated action necessary to tackle climate change and terrorism.
My constituents voted 66% in favour of leaving the EU, and I respect that decision. Some voted to leave because of concerns over immigration and fears that this was negatively impacting on the availability of jobs and local services; some voted out because they thought it would mean more money for the NHS; and for some, the referendum was an opportunity to register their discontent not just with the EU but with the direction the country was travelling in as a whole. While globalisation has brought wealth and economic growth, it has also left many people behind. In Burnley, people have seen manufacturing jobs decline and wages stagnate while bankers pay themselves million-pound bonuses and the rich increasingly find ways to dodge paying tax. They have been told consistently by the Government that the UK is the fastest-growing economy in the G7, and yet they have not seen that growth. They do not see more job opportunities or wage increases; all they find is that things are getting harder.
Because I respect my constituents and the democratic process, I will vote to trigger article 50, but I will not vote blindly for a Brexit deal that leaves my constituents poorer or worse off. First, the deal must protect jobs, which means access to the single market. Some 5,000 people in Burnley work in manufacturing and many of our biggest employers are European. It is vital that these jobs be protected. Secondly, workers’ rights must be protected. I am proud that past Labour Governments have championed workers’ rights. Thirdly, Burnley receives £5 million a year from EU funding. This money is vital, and has helped us to expand. The Government must commit, beyond 2020, to replacing that investment.
These circumstances were not of my making, but I believe that we must now seize the moment and all work together to do our very best to achieve a deal that will serve the interests of all our people and, in so doing, begin to heal the divisions in our country.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper). Her words about healing division and working for the will of the people—a phrase we are not allowed to use any more—very much chime with me.
This is clearly an historic moment—the result of decades of campaigning in this House and outside it, and of course the result of a decision by the people of the UK. It is perfectly reasonable and perfectly rational for people to hold the view that we should not go ahead and free ourselves from Brussels, but to try to frustrate the decision by trying to show that the referendum result was in some way illegitimate or incomplete so that others can impose their view of what they think ought to have happened, is really not quite the ticket.
I reckon that no one voted thinking, “I’ll vote leave, because I’m pretty sure that we’ll still remain a member of the single market, so it will all be okay”. No one said, “I’ll vote leave because I’m pretty sure Parliament won’t vote to trigger article 50”. No one said, “I’ll vote leave, because I’m pretty sure that when the final deal is put to Parliament, they will reject it and we will go back”. People voted to leave because they wanted to leave.
The two district councils that make up most of my constituency voted to leave by 13,000 votes, and they voted to leave because they wanted to leave. That means triggering article 50. In its judgment on 24 January, the Supreme Court, in common with the divisional High Court, made it clear that once given, article 50 notice cannot be withdrawn. When this House makes the decision on that final deal and the choice is put, it is only to approve the deal. Our choices thereafter will be to approve the deal, seek a renegotiation or exit the EU with no deal. There will be no option of remaining in the EU. This is a simple choice, and we have a very short Bill before us, although we have an awful lot of long amendments. The Supreme Court agreed in its judgment that Parliament can perfectly well content itself with very brief legislation. As many Members know, length need not equate to quality.
The Prime Minister’s speech at Lancaster House was the exception that proves the rule, splendidly setting out the 12 areas of work that the Government will now seek to address. The next two years, I must say, impose an obligation on every Member not only to heal the divisions, as we heard from the hon. Member for Burnley, but to help shape the negotiations and ensure that our future relationship with the EU emerges in a way that reflects an open, tolerant spirit of exchange and accord—without political control. We should believe in the future, just as the country did on 23 June last year.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union finished his speech yesterday by saying:
“For many years, there has been a creeping sense in the country…that politicians say one thing and then do another.”—[Official Report, 31 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 823-4.]
I am not sure which country he was talking about, because the UK is, of course, a Union of more than one country. What I can tell him, however, is that, for the country of Scotland, the sense that politicians sometimes say one thing and do another is more than a creeping sense, it is a well-founded and widespread concern, and it relates in particular to the Conservative party, its Prime Minister and its leader in Scotland.
Tonight we shall vote on an SNP amendment, and I welcome the support from other Members for that amendment. The amendment is, in part, designed to ensure that the Conservative party delivers on promises made by politicians to the people of Scotland during the 2014 independence referendum—promises made by Ruth Davidson, such as the idea that voting to remain in the United Kingdom was a guarantee of our EU citizenship; and promises made that Scotland is an equal partner in the Union.
Listening to yesterday’s debate, one could be forgiven for thinking that Scotland is seen as an unwelcome distraction from the main event. The message seems to be, “Get back in your box, and know your place”. Gone are the lovebombs, which have been replaced with instructions to “Sit down, shut up and put up with it”.
The EU referendum did not take place in a void in Scotland, separated from what has gone before. In 2014, the question of Scotland’s future membership of the European Union was central to the independence referendum. The SNP, and the wider “yes” campaign, warned that a “no” vote would be a threat to Scotland’s ancient trade links, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) spoke so eloquently earlier. We said that voting to remain in the United Kingdom was a threat to our membership of Europe because of Tory Euroscepticism.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that there has been much misreporting of the recent Supreme Court decision? While it established that Scotland need not be consulted legally, there was no requirement that it should not be consulted constitutionally.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Paragraph 151 states:
“The Sewel Convention has an important role in facilitating harmonious relationships between the UK parliament and the devolved legislatures. But the policing of its scope and the manner of its operation does not lie within the constitutional remit of the judiciary”.
So, basically, it is up to the politicians.
When we in the SNP warned that staying in the UK was a threat to our EU membership, the “no” campaign said that we were scaremongering. Ruth Davidson said.
“No means we stay in”,
that is, stay in the EU. The Liberal Democrats and Labour Members who were in the Better Together campaign told us that voting to remain part of the UK guaranteed our EU membership. The question for the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats now is this: what are they going to do to deliver on the promises that they made at the time of the independence referendum? What are they going to do to protect and guarantee that EU citizenship that they told us was guaranteed by our voting to remain in the UK?
The Scottish Government, unlike others, have produced a document—“Scotland’s Place in Europe”—which sets out a detailed plan. It is a plan which, as we heard from the Prime Minister’s own lips today, is possible, because it is possible to have a soft and open border between a country that is in the single market and a country that is not. The question for all Members in the House—Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory—is this: “What are you going to do to deliver on the promises that you made to the people of Scotland? Or are you just going to sit there and admit that those promises were lies?”
This is an historic debate. I was in the Chamber during the Maastricht debates 25 years ago: it has been a long time. The British people voted by a margin of 1.35 million to leave the European Union, and two thirds of the constituencies in the country voted to leave. I respect all my constituents who voted to remain—and The Cotswolds voted very narrowly to remain: it was 51% to 49%—and I totally reject the Liberal Democrats’ assertion that I cannot represent those constituents.
The British people, through this referendum, have regained the sovereignty of this Parliament. We will no longer be subject to the directives and regulations laid down by Brussels. We will regain control of our borders, and, above all, we will be able to reassure the Europeans who are living in this country that they are welcome here, provided that our European partners give reciprocal rights to us. Shorn of the EU competence for trade, we will be able to regain our old entrepreneurial spirit and go round the world, trading openly with all its nations. Some people assert that the peace in Europe has been maintained by the European Union. I say that the peace in Europe has been maintained by NATO—and it is absolutely right for our Prime Minister to ensure that all NATO members abide by their obligation to spend 2% of their GDP on defence.
As many speakers have said during this debate, we shall not be leaving Europe. We shall be leaving the European Union, but the Europeans will still be neighbours and friends. I think that, pragmatically, we will do a deal for this country that will be in the interests of all its people. It is a byzantinely complex negotiation on which our colleagues on the Front Bench are about to embark. I say to them that we have an absolute duty to get the best deal that we possibly can for this country. However, I am confident that when our partners look at what we have to offer them and what they have to offer us, it will, pragmatically, be in their interests to make sure we do a deal that suits both of us.
We will reset our relationship with Europe: it will be an easier relationship; it will be a relationship that all parts of this kingdom can relate to—whether that is England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. I simply say to our Scottish nationalist friends, echoing the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: beware of referendums—you cannot be certain what the result will be.
Periodically, a nation has to stand tall and say what ideas it is driven by, and what values lead its sense of direction and its destiny. I am proud of all we have achieved as members of the European Union in terms of not only our economy and our security, but the peace between our nations, which, twice in the last century, were at war.
I campaigned hard for remain, but I accept the result. I will not vote against Second Reading, but I will not criticise others for making a different choice. I am sad that tonight this House will take the first step in what I believe is the wrong direction for this country—a country in which I was proud to be born, which has shaped me through its openness and generosity of spirit, and which has shaped my very firm sense of partnership with other nations and of the need for an internationalist politics. The Government’s responsibility has never been greater.
This must not be, or feel like, the end of the debate. It is right that tomorrow the Government will be publishing a White Paper; it is wrong that we did not have it before. It is right that we have a vote; it is wrong that it took the Supreme Court to make it happen. A vote for article 50 today is not a blank cheque. It must be for this House to be consulted and to meaningfully vote on the final deal. This Bill has been tightly written to limit the ability of MPs to amend it, but it is clear that the views of Members of this House will not be silenced.
I want to make three broad points in my contribution to this debate. First, we should not rule out membership of the single market, but instead make the case for EU-wide reforms of the freedom of movement that can give member states greater control if they wish it.
Secondly, we must engage the public. That is why the Prime Minister should bring forward a national convention that includes MEPs, elected Mayors, nations, devolved Administrations, local government, universities and higher education, civil society, business and others. The public were asked their view about our membership of the European Union, and they should also be properly involved in the debate about our future.
Thirdly, there are the needs of our young people. They are our future, and we have a stake in their success, too. The way we conduct this debate and make decisions, the language we use and the way we design in relationship-building between young people across borders will be a gift we give to the next generation. That is why I am tabling amendments that call on the Government to set priorities for young people in their negotiations, retaining the rights and opportunities for young people to work, study and travel visa-free if they are under 25, so that they do not become worse off than their European counterparts.
The referendum was not a proud moment in our nation’s history, but there is more than one way to Brexit. There are risks, and we must be open about that, but we must also have an evidence-based debate: our prosperity, our security, and our respect and our place in the world depend on it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). Like her, I campaigned for remain, and I did it passionately. I argued that if we left, we would miss the opportunity to be the largest country in the EU that was not in the euro. That is an amazing position, but it is gone, and I accept that. Like the hon. Lady, I will support the Bill. I would, in the most extraordinary way, be reneging on my vote for the European Union Referendum Act 2015—one of the first pieces of legislation I voted for as a new MP—if I now turned against it just because I campaigned for the remain side.
However, that does not mean that I do not have concerns, and there are two primary areas where I am worried about the future. The first is trade. At all costs, we must avoid a game of protectionist chicken with the EU. That could happen, particularly given what is going on in Washington, where we have an openly protectionist President. This is not “Project Fear”, but hon. Members should be under no illusion: if protectionism breaks out on both sides of the Atlantic, we could have a severe economic crisis, and we know where that finishes.
The other point is on immigration. It is absolutely right that we cannot control immigration from the EU unless we leave, but we cannot reduce the numbers, which is what the country actually wants, unless we have a native British workforce who are willing and able, and available in sufficient numbers, to step into the breach if the immigration shutters come down. I recently joined the Work and Pensions Committee. We have held evidence sessions on this and heard from employers who are completely dependent on migrant labour and struggle to recruit locally, including in the care sector and construction, which are vital parts of our economy. We should not pretend to the British people that immigration will be slashed if we leave.
It is particularly important that we discuss one part of this topic, and I might not agree with all my colleagues on it. At the moment, it is not true that there are no restrictions on EU migration. At the moment, legally, people cannot come to this country as an unskilled migrant—which, by the way, includes many skilled people; that is just an immigration term—if they are from outside the EU. They can only legally come in from within the EU, and I think that we should be very cautious about changing that, because the British people might like the idea of going global, but I do not think they would support globalising unskilled migration to this country, which is by far the largest part of it. We need to debate that and be open about it.
Having said all that, I voted for the referendum Act and we must implement the will of the people. As many of my colleagues have said, we are democrats, and we should do this in a way that is open and united, because if the national interest at this moment is best served by maximum unity, a show of strength by Parliament—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and son-in-law for giving way, because I want to endorse what he has just said. We have shown that it is possible on this very divisive and complex issue for members of not only the same party but the same family to hold different views, and yet now to look forward to going ahead united to secure the best possible deal for our country.
The local paper did speculate on this matter, and when asked about my wife’s views, I said, “Well, she is my father-in-law’s daughter”—[Interruption.] Not just in biology and spirit, obviously. On the morning after the referendum, I purchased her a bottle of champagne and congratulated her as she was on the winning side.
Yes, we do have to unite, and we have to show a positive and open spirit in our negotiations with Europe. We have to have a deal that is in its interests too, and that is why this is about openness, free trade and a positive Brexit. We can and should all get behind that, and we do that by voting for this Bill tonight.
When I campaigned as one of a fairly beleaguered minority in the Labour party in the 1970s to join the EU, little did I think that many years hence I would be standing up today to vote in favour of triggering the negotiations for our exit, but I am. It is against all my historical instincts and my preference for an international way of delivering our business, and it is also against the economic logic that says that a large and uniformly regulated home market is a prerequisite for a fast-growing economy and the benefits that accrue from it.
I am going to vote this way for three reasons. The first is the democratic argument that has been articulated by many. There is a lack of faith in Parliament and our democratic institutions, and for Parliament and politicians to win an election on a promise of a referendum, to hold that referendum, and then to not implement the result of that referendum would have profound implications in terms of faith in our democratic system.
I also believe that, given the complexities and difficulties of the negotiations we are going to be confronted with, the public will expect this Parliament to do its very best to implement the will that they have expressed. I do not want conspiracists to be able to blame the very real problems that will arise from the negotiations on the reluctance of Parliament, rather than the difficult issues that will be confronting us.
I will also vote this way because it is in the interests of business. A decision has been made, and my discussions with businesses run along the lines of, “We’d prefer to remain in, but we recognise we are coming out, and what we want is certainty about our future trading relationships.” That will depend on investment decisions and recruitment decisions, and until we start to negotiate and try to shape the future that our business is going to be confronted with, that uncertainty will continue, and it will severely affect our economy.
I want to make it clear that in voting to trigger article 50, I am not committing myself to accepting the final outcome. I will work with others to ensure that we shape the negotiations in a way that will be beneficial, and I reserve the right to vote against the subsequent outcome if I do not feel that that has been achieved.
My constituents have a great deal of common sense. They are intelligent and thoughtful, and they go about their lives with incredible diligence. When people wrote to me to say that they did not understand what they were voting for, I did not believe it, because I know my constituents and I trust in them. We trust in our constituents enough to put them on juries, and I trust in mine enough to make a decision when they are exercising their vote.
I, too, argued for remain. I believed the Prime Minister when he said he would go to Europe and seek to negotiate a better deal for Britain. He went out there in good faith and he played those negotiations with a straight bat. Unfortunately—to paraphrase another speaker—he found out when he came back here to stand at the crease that his bat had been broken, his shoes had been nicked and his stumps had been hidden. He was hampered by Europe’s failure to recognise that it needed reform and that it needed to deal with the crucial issue of free movement. That failure to recognise the concerns that he was raising on behalf of Britain bears a great deal of responsibility for the outcome of the vote. I was deeply concerned when I heard the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) say yesterday that he had it on great authority that the Germans had offered a deal involving an emergency brake after the referendum. If that was indeed on the table and people were willing to sign up to it, it would have been far too late to do it afterwards without it having drastic consequences for this country.
I very much welcome the approach being taken by the Prime Minister. I welcome the fact that she wants to reach out globally, and that we will still be members of Europe even if we are no longer members of the European Union institutions. It is vital that we build on those links and continue to look outwards. We must work on co-operation in crime, terrorism and national security, and we must negotiate the best possible deal for our economy. My constituents knew that there was a risk to the economy. That was explained to them very seriously. The point was made yesterday that the risks were understood and accepted by the British electorate when they voted to leave, and I think we have to respect that decision. I will work hard to deliver the best outcome for my constituents.
Benjamin Franklin famously said that if we fail to plan, we plan to fail. That is exactly what this Tory Government have done over Brexit, leaving this supposedly equal family of nations with a very stark choice. If you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, I want to pay tribute to Irvine Welsh, Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor, because I saw “T2 Trainspotting” recently and it inspired me. Choose Brexit. Choose making up numbers from thin air about the NHS and plastering them on the side of buses. Choose racist and xenophobic sentiments seeping out from some corners of the leave campaign. Choose hate crime rising by more than 40% and LGBT hate crime rising by more than 150% in England and Wales following the Brexit vote. Choose taking the people of our nations to the polls on one of the most important issues in a generation with nothing written down and no plan. Choose ignoring the interests of the people of Scotland and my constituents in Livingston, despite the fact that they voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Choose leaving the single market, risking 80,000 Scottish jobs within a decade and costing the people of Scotland an average of £2,000 a year in wages. Choose lowering Scotland’s GDP by more than £10 billion and Scotland’s exports by more than £5 billion. Choose vital EU worker status being under threat, with widespread uncertainty to families, businesses and the economy. Choose risking our international standing in the academic, research and innovation communities as we lose access to funding, expertise and people from the EU. Choose walking away from the European Medicines Agency and Euratom without any detail or thought of the impact. Choose the great Brexit power grab, taking back control of straight bananas. Choose returning to the Thatcher era of poverty and austerity. Choose the UK turning its back on Europe.
Those are not the choices that the Scottish people made. Scotland chose differently. Scotland chose to look outward, to face the world and to embrace the EU and all the protections and advantages it brings. Scotland chose life in the European Union, not a hard Tory Brexit. This Tory Government must respect that.
Conservative Members quoted Churchill, saying that this could well be the end of the beginning of the Brexit process. If they do not respect the democratic will of the Scottish people to remain in the EU, it will be the beginning of the end of this disunited kingdom.
This evening I will vote to begin the formal process of leaving the European Union because, though I voted remain, the referendum result was clear. In my constituency, and in the country as a whole, the majority voted to leave. Had the result gone the other way, all of us who voted remain would have expected that result to be honoured. Whether voting to remain or voting to leave, British people voted last year in the expectation that the Government would enact the result, so we must see it through.
The referendum has shone a light on the divisions in British society. There is a divide between those for whom life is working out and full of opportunity and those for whom life seems to be going nowhere. If we think that people are angry and divided now, just think what anger there would be if MPs rejected the referendum result, effectively telling so many voters that they got it wrong. The Government’s job now is to make a success of Brexit and, in so doing, truly tackle the problems that the referendum laid bare.
As a first step, we must give the Prime Minister the scope to negotiate the best possible Brexit deal. To those who ask for more and more detail at this time, I say—drawing on my experience of negotiating business deals, albeit at a much smaller scale—that giving away more detail does not generally enable people to secure a better deal. We need to be clear, as the Prime Minister has been, that we will walk away if we do not get a good deal.
To those who want a second referendum to choose between a final deal and staying in, I ask: could there be any stronger incentive for the European Union to offer us unattractive exit terms? Proposing a second referendum may be in their political interest, but it is clearly not in the UK’s interest.
Now we must get on with it and use this time of change as an opportunity to frame the sort of country that we want to emerge—an open Britain, engaged with Europe and the world, that offers opportunities to all with the confidence and identity that enables people to be tolerant and welcoming. That is the task ahead when we have honoured the referendum result and enacted the Bill.
Like many others, I hoped that this debate would never take place. I campaigned to remain in the firm belief that it is the best way to protect jobs and stability for my constituents. However, my constituency voted by a clear margin to leave. I respect the democratic process, and I respect the views of all my colleagues and my constituents.
I will vote for the Bill tonight but, now that we are having this debate, it is my duty to speak up and fight for the people I was elected to serve. For decades the benefits of the EU were not sold to people. The European Parliament was shrouded in mystery, leaving a vacuum for UKIP to sell an alternative narrative of what the EU did and does for us. At times during the referendum campaign it felt like I was trying to share with people in a few months things that we should all have been sharing with them for years.
I campaigned in the referendum against the backdrop of an increasingly dark and globalised world in which things are constantly shifting at an alarming and dramatic pace and in which intolerable cruelty is inflicted on people simply because of their race or religion. People are being displaced and humanitarian crises are happening right across the globe. Disasters, poverty and disadvantage are becoming the norm for so many, and the old answers to our country’s and the world’s problems are just not coming from our politicians any more. The vacuum left in British politics as MPs and parties struggle with how to respond to this pace and veracity of change has been filled with racist, misogynistic and divisive rhetoric, which is creating an inward, nationalist, isolationist environment.
When experiences like those of my dad are thrown into the mix, we see that it was no surprise that people voted out. My dad, Davey Lewell, is a retired welder. He is a kind, considerate, hard-working man. He used to work in the shipyards with economic migrants from Europe, who came to work alongside him. He hated seeing them being exploited. He wanted them to have rights, and the same terms, conditions and pay that he had, but instead they continued to be exploited, to such a degree that the yard owners could pay them so little that it was no longer a good business model to have people like my Dad employed there. In short, he lost his job. When people see Governments not fighting for them and allowing people to be exploited, they lose faith and they become angry. No Government should ever underestimate what unemployment can do to an individual, to their family and to their community, because these scars last. This referendum was a chance for people like my Dad to vent his hurt. In areas like mine this referendum was lost a very long time ago.
For me, this Bill is about just one thing—process. Like many other hon. Members, I began on a Brexit “road to Damascus” by advocating that Britain remain in the EU. That is not because I am a die-hard Europhile; it is because I am a pragmatist. I believe that, on balance, retaining EU membership was the safer option for Britain, both economically and socially. However, the collective majority of the British people, including the overwhelming majority of my constituents, disagreed with that view, and I accept that we now must leave.
The debate on the nuts and bolts of our exit deal are for another day, because this Bill is not about the substance. It is not about which laws to keep or abolish, or about our future trading relationships. It is not about how we share our security interests. Today, we are dealing with the mechanism that will enable us to begin having those discussions and debates, not only among ourselves here in this House, but, more importantly, with the other 27 member states. It comes down to the core question that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union posed yesterday in his opening speech:
“do we trust the people or not?”—[Official Report, 31 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 824.]
Although I have been quick to learn that we are often required to take some difficult and unpopular decisions as Members of Parliament, which can be contrary to the views expressed by some constituents, on this issue I choose to trust the people and so will vote accordingly this evening.
Let us make no mistake: we are leaving the EU. The referendum seven months ago settled that issue. Today’s vote is not about whether Members have a leave or remain constituency. This Bill is about green-lighting the Prime Minister in her approach to Brexit and to parliamentary scrutiny: a fast-tracked process devoid of any detail for triggering article 50 in March when key European allies will have elections distracting them; and the grudging promise of a White Paper tomorrow for a vote today to replace the blank paper we currently have. Those of us who campaigned for remain know that Brexit is to happen, but how we green-light it is a different matter. All of us have to ask ourselves whether we are confident that, as things stand, this Government are going to get the best deal, or even a good deal, for our country. I cannot answer yes to that question. This Bill is our only opportunity to send the Prime Minister back to the drawing board, both on the process and on the purpose of her negotiation.
In the short time available to me, I wish to deal with three points that Walthamstow residents whom I met on Sunday, both leave and remain voters, wanted to make clear. They understand that there are many different ways in which Brexit could happen, but they get the importance of the single market being part of the negotiations. They understand that when 50% of goods cross borders at least twice before they hit the shop floor, we are now talking about more red tape for British businesses. They understand that a Government who abandon the customs union and the common commercial policy for a form of associate membership that does not even exist put thousands of jobs at risk from the beginning. The Secretary of State himself said that businesses would ensure that trade with Britain continues uninterrupted and under similar circumstances. That is clearly not the case, and the British public deserve better.
Walthamstow wants rights for EU citizens to be confirmed, not to be used as bargaining chips or to upset the new company that we keep, in the shape of President Trump. Finally, Walthamstow wants employment rights to be protected. I just attended a statutory instrument Committee in which the Government were already talking about extending the erosion of employment rights, so it is clear that it is not a done deal.
Yesterday, my constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who sadly is not present, said that he would vote to trigger article 50 simply because of all the mistakes of the past. Well, I cannot green-light article 50 tonight because of all the opportunities for the future that it puts at stake. I am a proud patriot: I am proud of my country and I want the best for my country. We can and should be doing better. We cannot trigger this process now. We must rethink and go back to the drawing board, for the sake of everybody we represent, whether they were for leave or remain.
It is clear that tonight’s vote is an historic event. I consider it an incredible honour to be in this Parliament at this time, and to be able to cast my vote for the Bill.
People often ask me how long I have been a Eurosceptic, and I often reply, “For as long as I knew what one was.” Growing up in Cornwall, I witnessed the impact of EU bureaucracy and regulation on our communities. I saw how it strangled our fishing communities, and overburdened our agricultural sector with red tape and bureaucracy that meant that businesses could not operate as they felt was best.
I waited for the outcome of the former Prime Minister’s negotiation before I decided how to cast my vote in the referendum. It became clear to me that, despite all the rhetoric, the EU was not willing or prepared to change, and was set on continuing on the course it had been on for some time. That was the final straw that made me decide that casting my vote for leave was the right thing to do. It was a great relief to me when the constituency I represent, St Austell and Newquay, agreed with me, with 62% voting to leave. I am in an easy position: it is not only my personal view but that of the vast majority of my constituents that we should leave the European Union. Since the referendum result, I am even more convinced that it was the right decision and the right thing to do.
I have detected a new confidence in our country: a new, positive, outward-looking approach. Despite all the predicted doom and gloom, business people I have spoken to have said that they are positive about the future. They want the Government to take a clear lead and to set a clear direction, so I welcome the Prime Minister’s approach to doing that, and her setting out where we are taking our country as we negotiate to leave. Clearly, all the “Project Fear” predictions of what would happen if we decided to leave have been proven completely unfounded, but when companies invest in the UK, the media say that they are doing so despite Brexit. Maybe, just maybe, they are investing here because of Brexit, and because they are confident about the future of our country.
Tonight’s historic vote gives us the opportunity to start writing a new chapter for our country, which has a long and great history of standing up positively, and looking at and engaging with the world. I view tonight’s vote as the next step in writing a new chapter for our great nation.
The European Union is a bureaucratic, cumbersome and imperfect system, but it is also the longest and most successful peace process the world has ever seen, transforming historical enemies into trading partners, allies and friends. It gave hope to those labouring under the yoke of communism, and it has protected the UK’s workers, consumers and environment, supported the Northern Ireland peace process, and driven Britain’s economy, innovation and prosperity.
I did not vote to hold the referendum, and I campaigned to remain, but people in Wakefield voted to leave. The Labour Whip says that we should trigger, but my Labour values—solidarity, internationalism, social justice—say something else. The Prime Minister talks about free trade, yet she is walking out on the largest free trade area in the world to chase an imaginary trade deal with Donald Trump. A trade deal with the USA is a distraction. The most important trade deal is the one that we negotiate with the European Union. That deal determines whether Brotherton Esseco in Wakefield faces tariffs on the sulphites it exports to wine-makers across the EU, and whether Wakefield farmers face tariffs on the lamb that they export to Belgium.
The Prime Minister has a weak negotiating hand, but she has thrown her cards on the table before the other players have even sat down, rejecting staying in the single market, in which 44% of the UK’s exports are tariff-free. This hard Brexit was not what leave campaigners promised people in the referendum. The UK’s access to the largest free trade area in the world will be worse after 2019, and that puts thousands of British jobs at risk.
An open society without discrimination is the founding pillar of our British and European identity. Since the referendum, hate crime and far-right activity in Yorkshire is up. My father, Tom, died in October. The last vote he cast was to remain in the EU. He came to Britain from Ireland in 1962 to earn his living, met his wife, got his degree, raised his family, and worked and paid his taxes here. After Brexit, someone like him without a degree from, say, eastern Europe will face barriers in coming here. I hope that we are better than that.
To the people of Wakefield I say that I have always sought to act in their best interests. My duty is to use my judgment to make their lives better. They did not elect me to make them poorer, destroy their jobs, and weaken their public services. As someone who has lived in Belgium and Italy, who has worked with entrepreneurs for seven years, and who has been an elected Labour public servant for the past 19 years, I judge that this vote will make people in Wakefield poorer, destroy jobs and businesses, remove social, consumer and environmental rights and reduce the tax base that funds our NHS, schools and services. History has its eyes on us today, so here is my answer: I can no more vote for this Bill than I can vote against my conscience. I cannot vote for it because it is against my values, and I can no more vote for it than I can vote against my own DNA.
My constituency voted to remain by a large margin, and I voted to remain, so coming to the conclusion that I should support this Bill this evening has been very difficult. In 2015, I stood for election on a manifesto that promised a referendum. Soon after, I voted in favour of a Bill to put that referendum before the British people. In December, I voted for a motion calling on the Government to invoke article 50 by the end of March. I did so because the democratic process had been undertaken, and it would be wrong of me to ignore the result.
I was disappointed by the result of the referendum, but this indecision and uncertainty cannot continue indefinitely. Voting against triggering article 50 would prolong the uncertainty. We will leave the European Union; that much is sure. Delaying that process, which is, in effect, all that the vote will achieve, can only have negative implications for our economy. Any attempt to overturn the decision made would damage this country’s reputation for democracy, which all of us in this place prize so highly. It is time for this House and the nation to come together, not only to mitigate the risks of Brexit, but to exploit the opportunities. The best interests of our constituents must be promoted and protected, whether through trade or an industrial strategy.
Warwick and Leamington is home to a thriving local economy, a superb education system and constituents with an outward-looking and inclusive approach. That will not change as a result of our impending exit from the EU. Now is the time to set out a positive vision for the UK and to turn that vision into reality.
It is an honour to speak in such a historic debate. As a passionate pro-European, a proud Londoner and the MP for a constituency where almost 70% of the electorate voted to remain, and given my background—Britain was a welcoming home to me and my family—it goes without saying that I wish I did not have to vote on this Bill. The decision to trigger article 50 and leave the European Union cannot be stopped once it begins. There is no turning back.
I do not agree with the Prime Minister’s plan to take us out of the single market and the customs union, because the effects will be dangerous and devastating to our economy. That is well understood and well documented where it concerns the City of London and Canary Wharf, which my constituency borders. Some 70,000 to 100,000 jobs—not just financiers at the top end of the institutions, but receptionists, caterers and all the people who serve the City and Canary Wharf—are at risk. The sector contributes more than 2 million jobs to the country and some 12% of taxation revenue for public expenditure, so it is really important that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater, to which the plan to leave the single market will effectively lead.
Our hard-won rights for workers and women, and our protections for human rights, are seen and admired all over the world. We are putting those things and investment in our public services at risk. The decision will cost dearly, and will be deeply problematic and damaging to our economy. Some 44% of our exports are to the EU. The head of the World Trade Organisation even indicated that if we leave and end up on WTO terms, UK consumers will lose some £9 billion.
It is because of the damage that this change and the move away from the single market will do to my constituents, to our country’s economy and to our rights that I cannot support triggering article 50. It is not in our interest as a country that is supposed to be outward-looking and internationalist, nor in the interest of future generations.
About 20 years ago, my political career was launched on the back of a failed referendum campaign, when I and many others failed to prevent the Welsh Assembly from being set up. I am reminded very much of those days at the moment because the campaign in Wales was also very divisive. All sorts of promises were made that have never actually been kept. It was a huge constitutional change for us. There were divisions, threats and altercations in Wales. When John Prescott, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, went to Newport town centre, one of his spin doctors ordered a young campaigner off the streets, saying, “I have the Deputy Prime Minister’s authority for doing this.” The resulting fracas made the third bong on “News at 10”. I will not reveal the identity of the person involved—[Interruption.] Yes, alright then, it was me.
As we looked upon the wreckage of that campaign, a great discussion took place in Cardiff. We said, “Only one in four people have voted for this Welsh Assembly”—it went through on a much narrower margin than the referendum that we have just had. We asked, “What are we going to do?” Some of us—I was probably one of the diehards—said, “Let’s carry on fighting it in Parliament, get back out there in the media and redo the whole campaign.” I did not think about the courts at the time but, then, we did not have any hedge funders behind us, otherwise I probably would have done.
There were wiser voices, such as those of: Lord Bourne, now the Communities and Local Government Minister; the Brexit Minister himself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), who sits on the Front Bench and does such a good job for us; and the Secretary of State for Wales. They have all done very well. Those wiser people said, “We have to accept it. We don’t have to admit that we were wrong, but we have to admit that, on this occasion, the people have said one thing and we have to go along with it.” They were so right. I was wrong to say that we should have carried on fighting it because, as a result, we got involved with the national assembly advisory group, drew up the Standing Orders and put up candidates. We are now the second party in Wales, and we are close to becoming the first party there as a result of what took place. Look how well the Ministers I mentioned have done as a result. Who knows what might happen one day?
That is the reality of what we have before us now. People are talking about divisions. There were divisions all right during the referendum campaign. Those divisions need to end—we all agree on that. However, they will not end when so many people—they were in a minority—although acting for the best reasons and feeling they are doing the right thing continue to try to fight this campaign. They should stop fighting and become part of what is going to take place now, because the people of this country have spoken.
The hon. Lady is a peacemaker, I am sure. She has given me a few tellings-off in her time. I think that if tried to do anything like that, she would have a quiet, or even a not so quiet, word with me and put me in my place. We would have had to accept what the people of this country said, and that is what I am saying now—let us end the division.
I say this to Labour Members: look at what has happened in my political party. We were all over the place a few months ago—some fighting for remain, some wanting leave, some wanting this and that—and we have all got behind our Cabinet members and our leader. That is a lesson for this country. We have a first-rate Prime Minister, and tonight our Prime Minister is going to reflect the will of the British people. Yes, this is about bringing power back from Brussels to the people of this country, but it is also about going through the Lobby and recognising that that is what the people of this country want. I say to anyone who is thinking of not coming through the Lobby with us tonight: think about the will of the British people and be part of what is going to take place—this exciting new chapter in the history of this great country. Come with us tonight—come with the British people.
I will start by putting my cards on the table. I loathe and detest this Tory Brexit. I despair of what this Tory Brexit would do to my beautiful country.
This is, as we know, to be the hardest of hard Brexits, with cuts yet unimaginable and consequences yet unconceived—and for what? If we were doing this for some lofty ideal or grand purpose, like maybe addressing global poverty or some of the huge issues of injustice around the world, that might make it just about palatable, but no—we are doing it because the UK does not like immigration. That is the cold, beating heart of this bad British Brexit, and it underpins absolutely everything concerning our departure from the EU. It takes precedence over everything else, and all other considerations are merely consequential. The fact is that we live in an interconnected, globalised world where the movements of people have never been so profound, sometimes fleeing from persecution, or perhaps exchanging skills and ideas. Yet we are asked to believe the myth that a Brexitised UK will beat back this historic tide like some sort of Farageous Canute. I actually laughed out loud when I heard all the guff about a global UK. A global UK is the last thing the Tories want to create—they are trying to create a drawbridge UK.
Look at the response from the rest of the world: when they are not laughing at us, they are simply taking pity on us. As the Foreign Secretary goes out of his way to insult the very people we have to negotiate with, they are thinking of nothing other than the hardest of conditions to deter anybody else from considering leaving. The negotiating position seems to be to threaten our EU partners by saying that we will indulge in even further economic self-harm if they dare look after their own interests. Apparently we are even considering turning the UK into some sort of offshore deregulated tax haven if the EU actually thinks about looking its own interests. That’ll show them, won’t it?
It is not just the fact of leaving the EU that concerns me, ghastly enough though that is: it is the new ideology—the new world view—that has hastily been designed to accommodate this new splendid isolation. I see a Brexitised Britain as a world of weird, ’50s nostalgia and antipathy to foreigners—a reality that will feel very much like the pages of a Daily Mail editorial. People of Britain: work as if you live in the early days of a UKIP UK, because that is what is coming.
Scotland, of course, did not want any part of this, yet we have to be driven off the cliff edge with the rest of the United Kingdom. What we have now, though, is options. We have presented a plan to stop Scotland indulging in the worst of this madness. If that is not listened to, we have every right to reconsider our membership of this United Kingdom.
When the results came through on 24 June, I must admit that my emotion was one of great sadness, and it continued for some time. I was sad not just, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) has said, because of the economic consequences, potential or not—I believe that in the medium to long term, this country has a stable and prosperous economic future—but because of the divisions created between us and our European partners and allies, as well as the divisions in our own country. It is absolutely vital that we come together and rebuild the social capital that was lost.
We have to do that by building on the decision we will take tonight. Whether we know that a decision is right or wrong, we can ensure that the next decisions we take are the best possible decisions for our country and people. That demands that we involve all the peoples of the United Kingdom, whether they are from Northern Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales. It also demands that we immediately reassure European Union citizens in this country of their rights here, just as we would expect other EU countries to reassure our own citizens. That is a matter of moral decency.
It is important that we fight very hard to retain those institutions that are not, in effect, part of the European Union, which we are leaving, but that are vital, technically and in so many other ways, for our general wellbeing and the health of our economy. I am referring to institutions such as Euratom and the European Medicines Agency.
It is vital that we all work incredibly hard. We—certainly in my party—have put the country in this position; it is our duty to get out there and ensure that we have the best possible arrangements. That does not mean writing newspaper columns saying how wonderful it is; it means getting out there and doing the hard work, treating people with respect and building up those relationships that have been perhaps more than a little bruised over the past few months.
It is also vital that this place—not the Government or the European Parliament alone—have the sovereignty to make a decision about our future relationship with Europe. Finally, I hope that we will conduct the debates with honesty and clarity, not with bombast.
It is an honour to speak in this debate. Last Friday, celebrating my first 100 days as an MP, I spoke to a room of 50 dedicated activists and members at my constituency Labour party meeting. I am proud that we were able to talk frankly and honestly about this vote. Many had spent months knocking on doors and delivering leaflets alongside my predecessor, Jo Cox, advocating that people should vote remain, while others in the room had voted another way.
Absolutely. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s comments.
I voted to remain. As I spoke and listened to my friends and colleagues, it was difficult and occasionally emotional as I explained that I felt that it was my duty to respect democracy and vote in favour of triggering article 50. Batley and Spen voted 63% to leave. The people have spoken and I must listen. However painful this is now, we are leaving the European Union. It is my duty to listen to everyone, to move on from the labelling of people as leavers and remainers, and to get the best deal for everyone.
Batley and Spen was once a powerhouse of manufacturing. Men and women left school and went to work in the mills, but things move on and now we are celebrated for beds and biscuits. The mills are now shopping centres, offices and flats; in some cases, they have fallen into disrepair. Jobs for life have been replaced by the gig economy, and far too many of my constituents are on low pay and in insecure work. People have not seen a significant improvement in their standard of living for decades. The have been left behind by globalisation, and I have no doubt that financial insecurity and a sense of abandonment contributed to the leave vote. That said, my constituents did not vote to give this Government a blank cheque. They did not vote to lose jobs, to have their rights at work watered down or to lose maternity and paternity pay, human rights or LGBT rights.
There are lessons to be learned from the creative industries, in which I formerly worked, and their voice must be heard in the upcoming negotiations. In evidence given to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in October 2016, Directors UK told us that the UK is the third largest supplier of films and the second largest producer of television in the world. In the fast-paced area of video games, we are constantly at the cutting edge. The creative economy accounts for one in every 11 jobs. However, it is fair to say that a vote for exiting the EU was not what the industry at large wished for. A survey conducted by the Creative Industries Federation ahead of the referendum found that 96%—
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. It is absolutely true that the creative industries are among our biggest expanding industries locally, and we must support them at every opportunity. If we lose free movement of labour, we could easily lose a pipeline of highly skilled creatives. If that happens, we must develop a domestic training and education system that fills the skills gap in the creative industries.
Of course, the time to debate such details will come later. First we must vote to move the process on, not with angry denial or blind optimism but on a mission to be vigilant about the rights of those who have the least and those who support people in the greatest need.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin). On this Bill, we have both come to a similar decision. In the run-up to the referendum, I believed that the considerable short-term risks of leaving the European Union outweighed the unquantifiable future benefits, but I underestimated the deep mistrust of the European Union. The people have decided to leave. I must respect that decision, and I will support this Bill.
The hard work now begins. For example, how do we access the benefits of free trade and the inspection-free transfer of goods from outside EU structures such as the single market and the customs union? Some believe that nothing is possible, and that the alternative to working for success is to hope that things go badly—even to will it—to be ceaselessly critical and, ultimately, to achieve only an echo of Private Frazer’s lament, “We’re all doomed.” Although none of us has perfect foresight, I am absolutely confident that we will have much greater success in lining up future free trade agreements than some Members have suggested.
The negotiations will begin soon. In my view, we need an agreement in which we are generous to Europeans living here, enthusiastic in our continuation of academic and research co-operation, and resolute in our solidarity with Europe on defence and security. In that agreement, we must be practical about ways of controlling immigration but welcoming to skills, tourists and entrepreneurs; we must be free of the European Court of Justice, but never compromise on standards or the rule of law; and we must be adventurous in pursuing our own trade deals, but never underestimate the importance of free trade and easy customs clearance in all that we do with Europe. That is what I hope the Government’s White Paper will lay out. I hope that it will bring our one nation of diverse parts together. Whatever our concerns about the journey, we should start positively, not cynically.
I start by paying tribute to Gina Miller, a courageous woman who fought for our constitution, our laws and our values. She found herself and her family subject to a hideous campaign from the media and the public, for the crime of simply being a democrat. She prevented an ill-equipped Government from over-reaching themselves and forcing through their own vision of Brexit without the views of parliamentarians being heard. She has acted fearlessly and without reward, and parliamentarians and democrats across the country all owe her a huge
Hon. Members will know that I introduced a Bill to safeguard in primary legislation all the workers’ rights derived from European Union legislation after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. Unfortunately, it was blocked, and we had over four hours of discussion about favourite radio programmes in relation to a handout Bill, so I hope that the Government tune in this time.
I realise that days next week have been allocated to discuss amendments in groups, but as I understand it, there is no guarantee that mine will be discussed. I therefore want to highlight them now to demonstrate their importance during the negotiations. People in this country deserve to know that their rights at work will not be thrown away.
Does not my hon. Friend’s point show, as does the fact that hon. Members are now restricted to just three minutes per speech, how outrageous it is that the Government are allocating just three days for detailed scrutiny of the most important Bill this country has faced in our lifetimes?