I beg to move,
That this House believes that the Government’s negotiations to leave the EU have not progressed to the satisfaction of the people of the UK, with polls indicating that 69 per cent of the people now believe the exit process is going badly; calls on the Government to engage in cross-party discussions with a view to establishing a government of national unity; and further believes that the people of the UK should have the final say on the UK’s relationship with the EU through a people’s vote on the deal.
It is a pleasure to be able to introduce this Liberal Democrat debate on the Government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations, the pleasure being greater because the opportunity is rather infrequent. I am aware that the House has had a pretty unremitting diet of Brexit, Brexit and more Brexit, but we judge that another helping is necessary because of the events that have taken place over the past few days. Yesterday we had an opportunity to question the Prime Minister on the Chequers agreement, but this debate gives Members an opportunity to develop their arguments in rather greater detail.
Of course, all this is being discussed in a Westminster bubble, and we will frequently be reminded that there is such a thing as the popular will. However, the popular will, as manifested in surveys of public opinion, suggests that at present about 70% of the public judge that the Government are handling the Brexit negotiations badly, and that figure has been on an increasing trend for pretty much the past year.
A lot of that disillusionment has to do with the way in which members of the Government have been conducting themselves. Over the past few days, we have had a treasure trove of quotations from senior members of the Government about what they really think about the Government’s negotiating position.
It would be seriously disrespectful and utterly counter-productive to have another referendum. Talking about quotations, does the right hon. Gentleman agree with himself?
I am perfectly happy to respect the referendum that we have had, but it is utterly respectful, and quite common practice in many countries, to have a confirmatory referendum when a Government have produced a deal. That is good constitutional practice and good politics, and Liberal Democrat Members argue for it strongly.
My right hon. Friend will of course remember that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) proposed exactly the same course of action whereby one could have an initial referendum and another that confirmed it later on. Does he agree with the right hon. Gentleman?
Yes. I think that most members of the Government, at various points, have subscribed to that perfectly correct constitutional position.
How does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the announcement that there was to be a second referendum would influence the negotiating position of our counter-parties? Would it incline them to be more forthcoming with the negotiations?
Since we are being pedantic about numbers, we are actually talking about the third referendum on this subject. The impact on the European negotiators would, I am sure, be absolutely negligible. They are fully aware of the chaotic and disorganised position of the Government and defining their negotiating position on that basis.
I turn to what senior members of the Government felt about the policy that is now being put forward. A couple of days ago, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), as I suppose we should now learn to call him, spoke to The Mail on Sunday, which I know from experience to be a very reliable newspaper, describing the Government’s policy as being like “polishing a turd”. He was also reported to have met the former Prime Minister—his fellow old Etonian—to discuss the problem a few days ago: the two gentlemen who have probably done more than anything else to precipitate the chaos we now have. Between them, they agreed that the Government had produced
“the worst of all worlds”.
In the slightly more dignified language of his resignation letter, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip described Brexit as “dying” and Britain being reduced to the status of a “colony”—less than an overwhelming vote of support for the Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) expressed his argument in somewhat more measured terms, saying that we have reached a point where we will be exiting the European Union in name only. If that is indeed what is happening, why on earth is Brexit proceeding, and can we not find a way out of it?
The striking thing about the comments that resigning members of the Government have made is the way in which they are managing to poison their own well. It is extraordinary the extent to which the word, “betrayal”, is entering the narrative. We risk getting to a point in a few months’ time—if Brexit happens; I think it is an if rather than a when—where the many people who regard Brexit as a disastrous error will be pointing out the many problems that arise from it, while those who have devoted their lives to fighting for Brexit will be arguing that it is a disaster because it is a betrayal. If Brexit day ever happens, it will be a day of mourning, and it is very difficult to see where the positive story is going to come from to help the country to turn over a new leaf.
Talking of betrayal, the previous Member for Sheffield, Hallam campaigned for a “real referendum on Europe” before the 2010 general election. A 2008 leaflet stated:
“It’s been over thirty years since the British people last had a vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union…Whether you agree with Europe or not, it is vital that you and the British people have your say in a real EU referendum.”
We have had that referendum. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the people have had their say and we have to abide by it.
My party has never had any problem with the idea of having referendums on the European question. We have always argued that on questions of major constitutional change—for example, entry into the monetary union or signing the Lisbon treaty, which has already happened—it is appropriate to have a referendum. It is common practice in many EU countries to proceed in that way, and we have no objection to it. We argue that there must be a proper process, which involves consulting the public on the general principle—that has happened, and there was a narrow majority one way—and then having a confirmatory referendum at the end to decide whether it is a satisfactory way to proceed.
I understand that the reason many people voted leave in the referendum was that they were fed up with the establishment telling them all the time that it knew better and that their voice and opinion did not matter. Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that by making this proposition, the Liberal Democrats are just confirming to those people that they were absolutely right—the Lib Dems think they know better than the people—and that the people’s voice no longer matters to them?
If people do in fact feel that way, they will presumably vote the same way again. We take the risk that we lose. That is the democratic spirit.
Why did the right hon. Gentleman not take the opportunity to vote for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty?
We did press for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, as it happens. That was not the view of a majority in the House at the time, but we had no problem with the concept.
Let me try to be a bit more positive about what the Government are trying to do. The first remark I want to make is about the conduct of the Prime Minister. I was going around the radio and television studios yesterday following Conservative MPs and commentators, none of whom had a good word to say about her. It is important to put on the record that she has pursued her course of action, however misjudged it may be, with a grim determination that is rather heroic. I have some admiration for the way in which she is going about her job. She may be wrong, but she is pursuing it in a rather steadfast way.
The second point I will make is about the content of the Government’s announcement. It is clearly an advance on where they were before. There is a recognition now that the Irish border question has to be addressed and that there has to be frictionless trade for industrial and agricultural products. That is now understood. The Government appear to have heard the message from the Jaguar Land Rovers of this world, which have complex supply chains, that it is not possible to stay in the UK if there is interruption of trade, so industrial and agricultural products will have to flow freely.
There is also an implicit acknowledgment that the default position of crashing out of the European Union is less and less plausible, and the reason for that is the changing international environment created by our visitor on Friday. The idea that the UK can fall back on World Trade Organisation rules in the default position is made increasingly untenable by the fact that the WTO has progressively less authority. The United States is not willing to abide by its rulings or to staff its judicial panels. As an organisation, it is completely hollow. Were we to fall back on WTO rules, we would effectively be falling back on anarchy. There is at least some recognition in Government of the dangers of that approach.
Those are the positive things. There is one other positive achievement by default, which is that the Government have effectively scuppered any prospect of reaching a bilateral trade agreement with the United States.
Well, there are Members of the House—I am one, and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) is another—who have experience of dealing with the United States through negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Several things were very clear. First, although the United States is important, it is considerably less important than the European Union in terms of our trade—it is about 18% versus 43% of our exports. There are undoubtedly some benefits to be obtained through a completely free trading arrangement with the United States; for example, there are few high-tariff points. However, by far the largest obstacle is public procurement, which is decided in the United States at state level, not federal level. The potential benefits of opening the US market are actually very limited.
The key point is that the United States made it very clear then and is now making it even clearer that it is only interested in entering into a bilateral trade agreement if it opens the market to American agriculture. That is not compatible with the Government’s commitment to maintain the regulatory rulebook on food safety and agricultural products. It is to the Government’s credit that they have agreed to do that, but it almost certainly makes it impossible to reach a trade agreement. Indeed, Wilbur Ross, the Trump Administration appointee, has made it clear that the United States will not enter into serious negotiations if freer agriculture for foodstuffs through regulation is not permitted.
On that basis, is not one of the challenges that the severe Brexiteers never mention the fact that the Americans use a great deal of chlorine in the preservation of food, and unless we have a proper regulatory framework, as we do currently, there is a real danger that those kinds of foodstuffs will come into the United Kingdom?
Yes. There is a whole series of well-known instances relating to beef hormones, genetically modified foods and chlorinated chickens. I do not know how well based the arguments are scientifically, but clearly that will demand a repudiation of those European standards. The Government’s stance—again, this is a positive—makes it clear that concessions cannot now be given on those items and that it will be impossible to reach a trade agreement with the Trump Administration in practice, if not in theory.
The negatives are even clearer than the positives. One of them is the sheer workability of the arrangements. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden has said quite categorically that the arrangements he has been involved in designing for months are simply unworkable, and it is very clear why that is the case. If we have a differential tariff system, it is very cumbersome to enforce. There is an obvious temptation to smuggle. A company producing within the European Union but not in the UK will import through the UK at a lower tariff, and it would be necessary to have a sophisticated tracking system to identify where the product has gone. In complex supply chains with hundreds of widgets flying backwards and forwards, it is impossible to see how that could be done in practice. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden was well aware of that, and the European Commission is well aware of it, which is why it almost certainly will not pass to the next stage.
I sit on the Public Accounts Committee, and last February we went to Washington, where we had private briefings with State Department representatives about the trade deal. They were very clear that we must be absolutely clear about, for example, country of origin rules and that they do not want a part of a small trade deal—they will not “do skinny”, in their words. If that was their case last February, what does my right hon. Friend think they are making of the chaos of this Government now?
The European Union over many years has developed a sophisticated rules of origin system in order to develop an answer to precisely the problems presented by the complex nature of modern trade. They are quite right to say that in an environment of uncertainty, there is very little merit in pursuing an agreement.
The other major disadvantage of what the Government are proposing is, as several Members pointed out yesterday, the complete neglect of the services sector. It is not just 80% of the British economy, but includes extremely important industries—notably financial services, but also creative industries, the digital sector and entertainment, and of course much manufacturing happens through services exports. Rolls-Royce earns as much from its maintenance contracts as it does from selling its engines. When we send cars to the European Union, we sell them with a package attached to financial services. It is not at all clear how the Government propose to unscramble those very complicated relationships.
Does my right hon. Friend remember that when I was junior Minister to him as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, we spent a long time arguing for more liberalisation of services, because it was in the UK’s interest to widen and deepen the services market in the EU? Is it not therefore ironic that a Conservative Government want to turn their back on service liberalisation and put up barriers? We could not get a more anti-business approach from the Conservative party.
It is a lot more than ironic, because this goes back a long way. There has been consensus among successive Governments, starting with Mrs Thatcher and Lord Cockburn through the Blair Government and the coalition Government, on accepting that services exports to the European Union were a major objective of British Government policy. I recall being sent to Berlin and elsewhere to denounce the Germans for their failure to open up their market for services trade and the mutual recognition of qualifications. For example, European countries currently decline to accept British ski instructors, as they do not have mutual recognition of qualifications. A great deal has, however, been achieved, and the Government are now inclined to turn their back on it.
The reasons the Prime Minister advanced for doing so yesterday are partly simply foolish and partly bogus. The folly lies in saying that any services transaction that involves people crossing the border, however valuable, is adding to our net immigration target and is therefore unacceptable, regardless of the economic merit. The bogus argument is to say that this is a problem within the European Union, but it is not going to be a problem if we have trade deals with other countries, because we will be able to proceed with services agreements with them.
However, we already know from the two failed attempts so far to negotiate an outline agreement with India that services trade wherever it is—within the European Union or outside it—involves the free movement of people, and the Indians are insisting that if we are to have a bilateral trade agreement with them, part of the package will be importing Indian services in the form of IT consultants and much else. If we look around the other big emerging markets—Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria—we can see that what they have to export is people. This is going to be an enormous obstacle to the Government reaching any kind of agreement with any country outside the European Union.
My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way yet again. Does he remember that when he and I served on a Cabinet Committee looking at trade, we pushed just the arguments that he is now making, and the one person getting in the way of those arguments was the then Home Secretary—now the Prime Minister—who stopped a major trade deal that would be in this country’s interests?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We could of course have had a trade deal with India already under the auspices of the European Union, as we do with South Korea, Canada and various other countries. The country that blocked the deal was the UK, because increased services trade would involve increasing numbers of people crossing over to the UK.
I was struck by the comment by one of the more strongly pro-Brexit Conservative MPs—the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)—when he was being critical of the Government yesterday. If I am correct, he said that he had no objection to cherry-picking, but that the Government are picking “the wrong cherry”. Actually, services are fundamental to our trade, and the Government have put us in a very difficult position.
The question now is: what should be done? The first step is for those on both sides of the House who believe that we should maximise the closeness of the economic relationship through the customs union and the single market—there are people of a similar persuasion in all parties—to try to achieve that. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden says we have a customs union already, which is exaggerating, but we can certainly converge to having a common approach. Of course, the nearer we get, the more the question arises of why on earth Brexit is happening at all. That leads us back to the question we started with about the need for the public to have a say on the final deal.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a compelling case. I imagine that, like me, he gets a steady trickle of emails from Brexit supporters, all of whom say that the 17.4 million people who voted leave in June 2016 knew exactly what they were voting for, because the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) had spelled it out for them. Yet the former Foreign Secretary now only uses four-letter words to describe the proposed deal with the EU, and is so appalled by it that he has resigned from high office to spend more time with his photographer. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that no one knows how many of the 17.4 million now support the Prime Minister’s approach, and the only way to find out is precisely to have a people’s vote?
That is exactly right, and the current numbers suggest that a substantial majority believe that there should be a vote on the final deal.
If the Government were totally rational, they would see the arguments for doing so from their own point of view. The Prime Minister could say, “I’ve done the best I can to achieve a deal. It’s obviously difficult with the Conservative party in disarray, but I’ve done the best I can. I have negotiated hard with the European Union”—we would all believe that, because she is obviously conscientious—“and this is what I’ve got. Do you, the public, who voted for this originally, want to accept it, or would you rather stay where are and be in the European economic union?” That would be a perfectly honourable and sensible way for her to proceed politically, and it is constitutionally sensible. It reflects the fact that conditions have changed enormously since the original vote. I strongly recommend that approach to the House, and I look forward to hearing contributions from Members on both sides of the House in this debate on the Chequers statement.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The way in which we exit the EU has already been subject to a great deal of debate in this place and of course outside it, but the Government’s resolve is absolutely clear. We are respecting the result of the referendum, and we are delivering Brexit. There will be no second referendum. As the Prime Minister said yesterday:
“This House and this Parliament gave the British people the vote. The British people made their choice and they want their Government to deliver on that choice.”—[Official Report, 9 July 2018; Vol. 644, c. 721.]
I fear that today’s motion reflects an ongoing pattern of trying to talk down the achievements that have been made, despite evidence to the contrary. We were told that we would not reach a deal on sufficient progress last December—we did. We were told that we would not reach a deal on an implementation period in March—we did. I remind the House that the negotiations so far have settled virtually all of the withdrawal agreement, and the implementation period we have agreed will provide businesses and citizens with time to prepare for our future relationship with the EU.
The Government promised the fishermen in my constituency that we would be out of the common fisheries policy completely at the end of next March. As a consequence of changing their mind on that, there will be a period of 21 months during which we will be subject to the common fisheries policy without having anyone at the table. Is that one of the achievements of which the Minister is so inordinately proud?
I respect the right hon. Gentleman enormously and to some extent I regard him as a friend, but I also recall that from time to time he indulges in pantomime in his constituency, and that may be the case today if he is arguing that we ought to be out of a policy that he in fact believes we should be in. I do not think that his is the consistent position.
Domestically, we have passed legislation preparing us for Brexit, such as the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 and, most recently, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill has also completed its passage through Parliament.
I am sure we will hear speeches claiming that a second referendum is the democratic thing to do, but that is not the case. The issue has been thoroughly democratically tested. Let me run through the ways. In the run-up to the 2015 general election, the Conservative party’s manifesto stated:
“We will...give you a say over whether we should stay in or leave the EU, with an in-out referendum”.
It quite clearly did not say there would be one referendum at the start of negotiations and another at the end. That manifesto commitment was given statutory footing through the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which specified there would be one referendum, not two. To recap so far, there was an election-winning manifesto and an Act was passed through this House, but perhaps that is not democratic enough for the Lib Dems.
As this House well knows, the referendum held on 23 June 2016 saw a majority of people voting to leave the EU. That was the biggest single democratic act in British history. Following that, the House of Commons voted, with a clear majority, to authorise the Prime Minister to trigger article 50, by passing the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. As hon. Members know very well, amendments were tabled requesting a referendum to ratify the deal negotiated with the EU. One such amendment, in the name of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), was defeated by a margin in excess of 10:1. That was democracy in action once again.
There is more in the democratic treasure trove. In last year’s general election, more than 80% of voters supported the Conservative and Labour parties. Both parties’ manifestos committed to respecting the result of the referendum. Let us not forget how many voters supported the position of the Liberal Democrats, whose manifesto called for that second referendum: 7.4% of them.
Most recently, of course, there has been the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, where amendments attempting to secure a second referendum surfaced once again. One, in the name of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), was defeated by a margin in excess of 13:1, yet he still has an appetite for this old democracy idea.
What the Minister does not appear to appreciate is that the referendum was a vote about departure, not destination—it could not be about destination because the leaders of the Brexit campaign never set out what the destination would look like. It is as if people who had been offered a wonderful mansion had ended up with a hovel with faulty wiring and a leaking roof. Does she not agree that they have the right to another say—the first say, in fact, on the actual detail? There has been no detail in anything that the Government have put forward so far.
I will tell you what I think the British people have the right to, Mr Deputy Speaker: trust in their politicians. As the Prime Minister said herself, this is about more than the decision to leave the EU; it is about whether the public can trust their politicians to put in place the decision that they took.
The Minister mentioned trust, and that is very important. The simple fact is that all we have heard from the Liberal Democrats and the Green in the Chamber today is that they do not trust the people. Regardless of what they say, if we had a second referendum and they got the wrong result again, they would want a third, fourth or a fifth referendum—they would keep going until they got the result they wanted because they do not believe in democracy.
I respect my hon. Friend’s intervention. I fear that such an approach would not be one of principle, and he is right to highlight it. Rather than undermine the British people’s democratic decision to leave the EU, let us get on and make a success of it.
On this point at least, the Minister is making a great deal of sense. Does she agree that the Lib Dems are more interested in being good supporters of the EU than in being democrats? They are following the long tradition of the European Union, exemplified by referendums in Ireland. When the Irish people vote against various constitutional amendments, they keep having to vote until they get the right answer—the one that the EU wants. That is the policy that the Lib Dems are supporting now—“Keep voting until you agree with us.”
I agree. Such an approach would be deeply unprincipled. What Government Members and all those who believe in the referendum decision want is the right deal for Britain. That is what we seek to achieve and what the Prime Minister set out yesterday.
I want to understand something. The Minister says that the Government are going to deliver the will of the people on Brexit, yet the two leading proponents of Brexit have walked from the Cabinet because they do not support the Government’s position. How can the Minister argue that the Government are delivering what the people voted for in the referendum?
The Government is comprised of people in the Cabinet, and the Cabinet is delivering what the Prime Minister set out yesterday.
Not only did we have a referendum, but we had a general election in which more than 85% of the public voted for Brexit-supporting parties. Around 5% voted for the Liberal Democrats. What right do they have to tell us what the people are thinking? The people are certainly not agreeing with the Lib Dems.
What we should do is trust the people themselves. Is that not the fundamental point? Their decision in 2016 was not made quickly after just a few weeks; it was made in the context of years of debate on the subject. The idea that they were able to take that decision was what governed the ability to have a referendum. To suggest that some people were wrong or misinformed, or made a choice that has to be reversed, does people down, does trust in politics down, does our country down and does our democracy down terribly.
The referendum question was agreed by Parliament and presented to the people with no conditions or caveats, but with a promise from the Government that we would implement what they chose. We should be coming together and getting on with it.
I am grateful to the Minister for being generous in giving way. What is her estimate of when the Brexit deal will be done? What will be the date?
In case anybody in this place is still somehow, miraculously, unclear on the matter, we will be leave thing European Union in March 2019—and so will the Liberal Democrats, whether they like it or not.
I turn to a few more points about Parliament. To try to undermine the result of the referendum by saying that it was somehow wrong does down Parliament, because it was Parliament that gave the decision to the people. We have always been committed to keeping Parliament fully involved in the process of leaving the EU and in determining the shape of the future relationship that we want to achieve. We have said consistently, and demonstrated through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which has just gained Royal Assent, that Parliament will have a vote on the final deal reached with the EU before it is concluded. That is now legally established. Members will have the choice to accept or reject the final agreement. That, and not a second referendum, should be the decisive vote. Let us give Parliament its rightful role.
I turn to the motion, which deserves a little attention. As the Liberal Democrat leader noted in his opening remarks, Liberal Democrat motions do not come along too often, although they are always a pleasure when they do. I am a little perplexed about why the motion calls for a second referendum in light of the record of the Liberal Democrats. We have probably all seen the classic Liberal Democrat leaflets that say one thing to one street and something else to another, but people cannot do that in Parliament. All seven of the Lib Dem MPs then in the House of Commons voted to give the European Union Referendum Bill, which specified one referendum, not two, its Second Reading. The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, was among their number. Why does he think today that he should change position and say something else in this motion? Maybe that is explained by the behaviour of the Liberal Democrats when article 50 was triggered; let us follow slightly more recent history. I seem to recall that, at the time of that vote, the Liberal Democrats were, frankly, all over the shop—there is no other way to put it.
Let me in passing, however, pay tribute to the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who has just left his place. His constituency is near mine and he is a good man. He was the one Liberal Democrat Member who recognised publicly that his party’s position on Brexit was toxic. He feared that the party was not listening to people and was treating them with disdain. I pay tribute to him for his insight and courage in saying so.
Does the Minister share my view that we should not talk only about Liberal Democrat Members of this House? Liberal Democrat councillors, particularly in places that voted heavily for leave, such as Cornwall, are distancing themselves from their party leadership’s position on a second referendum because they believe that it is so toxic.
My hon. Friend speaks with experience from Cornwall, in the west country, for which I am delighted to say there is now Conservative representation in Parliament. I hope that he and his colleagues will continue to serve the people of that part of our beautiful country for many years to come.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but it does stink a bit of pot and kettle for her to claim that every party but hers is all over the place on this issue. If we are honest, there are divisions in all parties, just as there are in the country. Frankly, I do not agree with her argument that democracy is static. It is a dynamic thing, and there is no reason why people should not change their views as facts change.
May I ask the Minister about one particular fact? I am surprised that no one has taken her up on it. Can she please tell us what the resolution is to the Irish border issue? She wrongly stated that it had been resolved at the December Council. It was not. What is the solution to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland? The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who is sitting next to her, shakes his head. Maybe he can get up and tell us what the resolution is to this issue.
My hon. Friend and I were shaking our heads because I did not say what the hon. Gentleman says I did. The Prime Minister’s statement yesterday made it very clear that the deal she proposes to put forward to the EU does address the Irish border question. That is where he will find the answer to his question. Today’s debate, however, is about having a second referendum, and that is what I am responding to.
Will the Minister give way?
Will the Minister give way?
Before I give way to anyone else, I just want to take the opportunity, given that it has been rather handed to me on a plate, to remind the House that it is the Labour party that is all over the shop on the result of the EU referendum. Labour party politicians and supporters have suggested more than 60 times, I think, that the party is going to support a divisive second referendum. Whether that is or is not its party policy at this precise moment in time is anybody’s guess.
Let me move on to the final point I wanted to make about the Liberal Democrats before drawing my remarks to a close. I want to reflect on what I think is the right thing to say at this moment. It is this:
“The public have voted and I do think it’s seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive to say ‘Sorry guys, you’ve got it wrong, we’re going to try again’.”
I entirely agree with that, and I wonder if the hon. Lady might do too, because we all know who said it: the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable). It is a great shame that he cannot stick to those words. Could the hon. Lady explain why?
Sorry, explain why—
Why her leader has flip-flopped.
Order. I just remind Members that we cannot have both people standing at the same time. Please give way to each other. Minister, are you giving way to Christine Jardine again?
I wonder whether the hon. Lady can explain to me why, if it is so important to stick to one’s principles, the Scottish Conservatives, all of whom represent constituencies that voted remain, have now flipped and are voting for Brexit and paying no attention whatever to what the people of Scotland are asking for.
It would be preferable if those of us who are Unionists, and who feel very strongly that our United Kingdom has made a decision together and should be able to look forward to a good result of that decision together, could unite around that argument. It is really important that we secure a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom. I am very pleased that the motion refers to the “people of the UK”. The hon. Lady and her colleagues are right to put that phrase in the motion, because we are committed to securing a deal that works for the people of the UK.
On the subject of the deal, one thing that confused us in the Prime Minister’s comments on the Chequers statement was this: if the EU puts forward a new rule and Parliament gets a chance to vote on it—the Prime Minister is very proud of that—what happens if this House votes against it? That has not been made clear. Will the Minister make that clear now?
The Prime Minister took two hours of questions on the detail yesterday, and I really think there is very little I can add to the understanding of that. I am deeply sorry if the right hon. Gentleman does not yet understand the position, but the Prime Minister did go through it in detail.
If I interpret correctly what the Minister has just said, I rather fancy that she is making a false correlation between those of us who are perceived as Unionists and support for Brexit. I very luckily won my seat just over a year ago as a self-proclaimed remainer—there was a swing to the Liberal Democrats. I suggest to the Minister, with all due respect, that that was more about a repudiation of any notion of a second independence referendum in Scotland and perhaps a comment on the Scottish Government.
I am very happy to hear that argument from the hon. Gentleman. He is correct. I was making a parallel point rather than a correlative point about the need to seek a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom. What I would say is that those who respect the result of one referendum also need to respect the result of another. If the hon. Gentleman thinks highly of the independence referendum result, he might think again about the EU referendum result. If we respect one, it is important to respect the other for the same basic reason, which is that we are all democrats.
I do not know if other Members feel like this, but I feel like we have disappeared down the rabbit hole in “Alice in Wonderland” with the Liberal Democrats’ motion. They are calling for a second referendum, but the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) described those who voted leave in the first referendum as old people driven by nostalgia for a world of white faces. If he has so little regard for the majority of people who voted in referendum one, why on earth would we listen to him about having a second?
Those words were hugely to be regretted. They were a great shame. Perhaps we will be able to draw that point out a little more from Liberal Democrat Members in today’s debate.
Returning to the motion, it is a shame that its language is overblown to say the least. Apparently what we need at the moment is a Government of national unity. The last time we had one of those, if my memory serves me rightly, we were at war. We are, instead, in a constructive negotiation with the European Union. We are not at war with it, nor should we try to be.
As someone who commanded a checkpoint on the Northern Ireland border for two years during the hard border times, I point out that it is perfectly easy to have a border that does not require checkpoints. The Swiss border operates using pre-registration and technology, when one goes into Germany or France. Having done it, I can tell the House that that is perfectly possible using today’s technology and pre-registration. It can work.
I thank my hon. Friend for speaking from his experience. I will draw my remarks to a close, because many other Members wish to contribute to the debate—at least nine Liberal Democrats and perhaps one or two others.
The Government’s position is clear: we are determined to deliver on the decision of the British people. We are making progress on doing so, and there will not be a second referendum. Surely our focus should all be on making a success of Brexit and getting the best deal possible. It is the Government’s duty to do that. It is the Government’s duty to deliver the will of the people, as asked for in the referendum, and find the right deal for Britain.
Even by recent standards, this is a moment of extraordinary political chaos. Within the last 36 hours, the Prime Minister has lost her Brexit Secretary, her Foreign Secretary—although she probably welcomed that as much as the rest of the country did—and she has lost the support of her party. The Chequers proposals are clearly dead in the water, even before the White Paper is published and the EU has had a chance to respond. However, amid the turmoil and turbulence, it is comforting to see that there are still some certainties in politics.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Give me a minute—let me at least get started, and then I promise I will give way. Today, before the House we have a Lib Dem motion calling for a coalition with a discredited Tory Government and a referendum on the EU. This is from a party that propped up the Cameron Government for five years.
Will the shadow Minister remind the House how many shadow Front Benchers the Leader of the Opposition has lost since he has been in post?
We have had our moments, I do not deny it, but we sit here as a shadow Brexit team that is still entirely intact from the date of formation. I look over to the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who now casts a lonely figure on the Government Front Bench, as the sole survivor on his own team.
The Lib Dems have been calling for a referendum on membership of the EU since 2009—I could find it as far back as that, but it may well go further back than that. The Lib Dems, with their usual political foresight, argued back then that only a real referendum could settle the question of our relationship with the EU once and for all. A decade later, they still think that another referendum is the answer. I am certain that, in 2028, Lib Dem MPs will still be debating whether they should call for another referendum. This motion is a kind of greatest hits of Lib Dem policies over the last decade. I can only assume that an earlier draft had a promise not to raise tuition fees, but that must have been ruled out of scope.
There is no parliamentary majority for the Prime Minister’s cumbersome and costly facilitated custom arrangement and it would be a nightmare for business. It would mean the UK acting as the EU’s customs official and it relies on technology that does not currently exist to make it work. For perhaps the first time in history, I agreed with the now former Foreign Secretary when he described it in his resignation letter as an
“impractical and undeliverable customs arrangement unlike any other in existence”,
and these are the lengths that the Government have gone to in order to reject a comprehensive customs union.
First, on the subject of foresight, I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that the Liberal Democrats had the foresight to oppose the Iraq war unanimously. As for propping up Governments, I think she needs to look carefully at what her Front Benchers are doing in relation to Brexit. Many people around the country think that she and her colleagues are propping up the Government. On the question of a national Government—a Government of unity—what we are calling for is the parties that want an exit from Brexit and a final say on the deal to get together and deliver it.
Our Front Benchers’ position is clear: we do not want an exit from Brexit. We respect the outcome of the referendum. I know that the Liberal Democrats do not approve of that position, but that is what it is.
My hon. Friend and her whole team have done a sterling job for the Labour Front Bench. While she is clarifying Labour party policy, could she also clarify from the Dispatch Box that it is not Labour policy to support a second referendum?
I will go on to that later in my speech.
But before she does—
I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Lady spoke of the enormous technical difficulties and the absurdity of us operating as the European Union’s customs official. That is what we do at the moment. We charge tariffs on goods coming from the rest of the world and not from the EU. What is the difference in principle or in technology?
There is a very great difference between what is proposed in the Chequers deal and a comprehensive customs union. We will probably be debating this at great length when the White Paper comes out. I am interested to note the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the Chequers deal—let us see how long that lasts.
The problems with the Chequers proposals go a bit deeper. There are huge holes in wider parts of the proposals, particularly on services, where there is an extraordinary lack of detail, even though services account for 80% of our economy. It is also difficult to see how the proposals would prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland. As we have said time and again, the best way to do that is through a comprehensive customs union and shared institutions and regulations, but the Chequers plan is well short of that. There is also nothing in the proposals to prevent workplace rights, consumer rights and environmental protections lagging behind EU standards over time. Of course, the White Paper—if it gets published—may include more detail, but this is clearly not the credible plan that we need to protect jobs, the economy and rights.
This matters, because we all want a Brexit deal that works for Britain and ends the uncertainty that we have seen for two years. Businesses in the north-east and across the country are crying out for that. Whether people voted leave or remain, they are being let down by the chaotic way in which the Government are handling this process, but the two proposals in the motion to address this are not ones that we can support.
The first proposal is for
“cross-party discussions with a view to establishing a government of national unity”.
Of course, the Labour party is always open to working across the House to find consensus and to shape the Brexit process to protect jobs and the economy. That is precisely how we approached the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the many amendments that we worked so hard on in both Houses. It is also how we are approaching the key votes on the customs and trade Bills next week.
Again, we have reached out to find common ground, particularly on the case for a new customs union and to keep us close to the single market. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) set out in The Guardian today, this is:
“an impasse that cannot be resolved by further internal negotiation in the Conservative party…It is now time for the majority in parliament to be heard.”
We believe that this majority would support a close economic relationship with the EU, including a new customs union and the kind of strong single market deal that Labour is putting forward. We will put that to the House in amendments next week and as the process continues, but this motion calls instead for a “government of national unity”—in other words, a coalition. I know that that is the Lib Dems’ answer to any moment of political crisis, but we do not agree.
The proposal in the motion poses more questions than it answers. What would the negotiating mandate of that Government of national unity be? I assume that the Lib Dems would expect to serve in it and would reluctantly take up a ministerial salary and car, but on what basis would that Government operate, and with what mandate? What would the wider policies of that Government be to address the huge challenges that we have in our schools, our NHS and our communities?
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No. Or would this just be a Brexit Government? Brexit is the most pressing issue facing this country, but it is not the only one, and the public would not thank us for ignoring the many wider issues we need to urgently tackle. I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he would still like to intervene.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I wish that she were able to adjust her speech as she was going along, because in an earlier intervention on her, I made it very clear what the purpose of that national unity Government would be. It would be very limited: simply to provide an exit from Brexit and a final say on the deal. That would be its remit—end of story.
I think “end of story” pretty much sums it up actually.
Instead of another Lib Dem coalition, the Prime Minister should first allow votes in this House on her customs proposals, and ours, to see which one has the support of the House. Similarly, she should put her White Paper to a vote and see whether there is a majority for that, and if not, she must accept that her approach has failed. She needs to change the red lines, particularly on a customs union and a close single market deal, or better still, make way for a Government who can deliver the Brexit deal that we need. The sooner she does that and ends the chaos of the last day and a half, the better.
The second proposal in the motion concerns “a people’s vote” on the withdrawal deal. To be absolutely clear and to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), the Labour party is not calling for a second referendum, and we never have. Our manifesto was perfectly clear on this:
“Labour accepts the referendum result…We will prioritise jobs and living standards, build a close new relationship with the EU, protect workers’ rights and environmental standards, provide certainty to EU nationals and give a meaningful role to Parliament throughout negotiations.”
We have also said that, should the Prime Minister fail to get a withdrawal agreement through the Commons, or fail to get a deal at all, it would be a moment of real crisis. At that stage, all options should remain on the table, and Parliament should be able to say what happens next. That could take many courses, but it should be Parliament that decides.
The hon. Lady says that the Labour party will support a Brexit that delivers jobs, and all those positive things, but she knows as well as we do that every single economic analysis demonstrates that we are going to be massively worse off as a country if we are not part of the single market and the customs union. Does she not think that those people—for the many, not the few—would actually do an awful lot better if Labour got off the fence and, at the very least, supported a less damaging Brexit than the one it is supporting right now?
The hon. Lady does not respect the outcome of the referendum. I understand that. There is an honesty and a consistency to her approach, but that approach does not happen to be shared by the Labour party. We do accept the outcome of the referendum. Over the last year we have consistently fought to ensure that Parliament has a proper role in the process. Of course, we would have liked the outcome on that in the withdrawal Bill to have been different. But by focusing on that and working with Members on all sides of this House and in the other place, we made real progress toward a meaningful vote, and we will look to return to it in other legislation.
We are not supporting calls for a second referendum or a people’s vote. Why is that? I know that some people are frustrated by our approach, but the reason for it is that we respect the outcome of the referendum. We have been entirely consistent about that. When we asked people to vote in the 2016 referendum, we said that their vote counted, and we meant it. The impact of now telling voters that we did not mean it, or that we did not like the answer that they gave, would be profound. Members do not need to take my word for it; they can take the words of the leader of the Lib Dems, who—freed from the trappings of coalition—said in 2016:
“The public have voted and I do think it’s seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive to say ‘sorry guys, you’ve got it wrong, we’re going to try again’.”
Spot on. It is a shame that that kind of insight does not survive becoming a Lib Dem MP.
There is no such thing as a jobs-first Brexit. If the hon. Lady has seen any economic analysis that tells her otherwise, will she let us know about it?
There are parties in this House—we are hearing a lot from them this afternoon—that do not accept the outcome of the referendum. The Labour party is not one of them. We accept the outcome of the referendum and all the challenges that it poses.
Does the hon. Lady not accept that there is a difference between accepting the referendum when it happened, and looking at the circumstances now, two years on, when the situation is utterly changed—not least because of the revelations, which were not available at the time, about large-scale cheating and criminal activity?
If I believed for one minute that another referendum would be a well-informed discussion among the people of this country about customs, trade, tariffs and the economy, I might take a different view. Unfortunately, that is not what I expect to happen. Labour is not calling for a second referendum because we believe that doing so at this stage would make it harder to get the right deal for Brexit.
The hon. Lady is being generous with her time. Much as I am loth to take the focus away from the Liberal Democrats, there is still some confusion about the Labour position. Only five days ago, the shadow Brexit Secretary said:
“We’re not calling for it. We respect the result of the first referendum. But we’re not ruling out a second referendum.”
I said that, too. I do not know the hon. Gentleman well, but I take him to be a man of high intellect and cleverness. I do not think it is too difficult a concept to grasp that we are not calling for something, but we do not feel that we can, from a position of opposition, rule things out and impose red lines in the way the Government have done. This whole process has been bedevilled by unnecessary red lines, which have later had to be rubbed out and faded to pale pink. We are not calling for a second referendum; I really cannot be any clearer about it.
Another reason for that is that we want to focus on the terms of the Brexit deal. Labour has engaged fully with the negotiations and the Brexit process. We have set out what a post-Brexit approach could be, and we have sought to shape it. Calling for a second referendum would make that much more difficult, and it would mean we had nothing to say about the negotiations or what our future outside the EU should look like. Again, who was it who warned in 2016 that backing a second referendum risked marginalising the UK in negotiations? None other than Vince from Twickenham, who said that he thought the Lib Dems should show
“more emphasis on what it is we want from these negotiations rather than arguing about the tactics”.
Again—spot on. There are also practical problems with how a second referendum would work. When would it be held, what would the question be and what would happen if there were another narrow result in either direction?
Finally, we also need to consider the impact a second referendum would have on an already divided country. The first referendum was incredibly divisive. It pitted family against family, and community against community. I know that many of my colleagues and many people in my constituency have no desire to repeat that. They fear that doing so would further inflame and divide our communities. That is not a trivial concern, and I urge Members to reflect carefully on it. For all those reasons, we will not be supporting the motion today.
Can I suggest that we do up to 10 minutes, to try to give everybody equal time?
Like each and every one of the Liberal Democrats, I did not get the referendum result that I wanted in 2016. I campaigned and voted for the United Kingdom to remain part of the European Union. In the early hours of 24 June, I looked on in a state of disbelief as the results came in, and it took weeks, if not months, for the implications of the vote properly to sink in. In Scotland, the uncertainty and disbelief were compounded by the new calls from the SNP and the nationalists for a second referendum to break up the United Kingdom.
Neither my personal view ahead of the referendum nor my personal reaction to the vote really matters. What matters is that the voters made their decision, and our job as parliamentarians is to ensure that we respect that decision and implement it in the best way possible. I find it impossible to ignore the blatant hypocrisy and incoherence of the Liberal Democrats’ position on this matter—hypocrisy, because they want to re-run a once-in-a-generation vote across the United Kingdom, but claim to oppose a rerun of another once-in-a-generation vote north of the border in Scotland. Their party leader, Willie Rennie MSP, says,
“With the Scottish economy teetering on the edge of a recession…the last thing our country needs is another divisive and distracting independence debate.”
I agree with Willie Rennie.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how the first referendum held after all the facts have been presented to us would count as a rerun, given that there would be new facts? In my constituency, for example, BMW has now come out and said that businesses would be harmed, and that would mean that my constituents would lose their jobs. Why should they not have the right to change their minds?
The voters made their decision for a variety of reasons, as voters always do in every election. The fact that some people do not like the conclusion that they reached does not mean that we can simply reject that decision and say that we need to rerun the vote. My experience in my own constituency is that people who voted to leave in 2016 are just as committed to voting to leave again if the question were put again. Indeed, many voters in Scotland, such is their fear of a second referendum to break up the United Kingdom and their feeling that their remain vote has been used by the nationalists as a mandate for a second referendum on independence, may well vote to leave the European Union to try to shut down Nicola Sturgeon and those nationalist pursuits.
Referendums are divisive and distracting, and a rerun of the vote would simply pile on the economic uncertainty. Businesses in Scotland, already faced with the possibility of another vote to drag Scotland out of our biggest market, that of the United Kingdom, would then also be unsure about whether we would actually be leaving the European Union.
Why is the threat to Scottish business of a second independence referendum so great? Growth in Scotland is not expected to rise by more than 1% before 2023. In 2017, Scotland’s GDP grew at half the rate of GDP in the United Kingdom. Why is that? Why is Scotland lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom? Brexit creates uncertainty, but another independence referendum would simply add to that. If the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party get their way, Scottish business will see untold levels of uncertainty: uncertainty about another referendum on whether we remain part of the European Union, and uncertainty about another referendum on whether Scotland remains a key part of the United Kingdom. Why can the Scottish Liberal Democrats—led by Willie Rennie MSP—see how damaging and divisive a rerun of a referendum is, while their colleagues in this place cannot?
At the time of the independence referendum, the Scottish National party produced a full White Paper which laid out in great detail what the final deal would be. There was some debate about whether, if it had not done that, there might have had to be a second referendum in the event of a yes vote in Scotland. There is no inconsistency. The Scottish National party put forward a final deal, which was rejected. The Conservatives have yet to discover what the final deal might be, and agree among themselves. The people have no idea what it is they are facing.
I have greater faith in the people of this country to make an informed decision—and, as I said earlier, they are entitled to vote in any way and for whatever reason they choose. Our job as parliamentarians is to accept their ultimate decision.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I want to make just a little bit more progress.
I think that trying to unpick the result and the decision-making process of our electorate is a very dangerous thing to do.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, whether we are talking about the European Union referendum or the independence referendum, we are not in the business of playing “best of three”?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Best of three, best of five, best of seven—how often do we need to keep rerunning votes until Opposition Members get the result that they want, and are happy to accept the democratic wishes of the people of this great country?
The Liberal Democrats’ position is also hypocritical, because they claim to be democrats and claim to be standing up for a people’s choice in one breath, and in the next breath they want to ignore the people’s vote the first time around. The reality is that the electorate made their choice knowing there would be no second referendum. The Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, repeatedly made that clear. Every voter received a leaflet from the Government stating that the vote was
“a once in a generation decision”,
and told voters that the UK Government
“will implement what you decide.”
The Liberal Democrats’ position is also incoherent, because they think that the electorate made the wrong decision the first time around, but believe that a second referendum would produce a different result. What would a second Liberal Democrat referendum actually achieve? A greater leave vote and the possibility of a harder Brexit; a remain vote followed by justified calls from Brexiteers for another referendum to decide the matter once and for all; or roughly the same result, and an even more frustrated electorate.
May I return the hon. Gentleman briefly to the issue of business uncertainty, about which he is concerned and which he says that a second referendum, or a final say on the deal, would cause? Does he not accept that one thing that is certain from a business perspective is that, according to the Government’s own impact assessments, whichever model we end up with when we leave the European Union, all the businesses about which he professes to worry will be worse off?
I accept that any change will create uncertainty, but I see the positive future beyond that initial period of uncertainty, and I see the opportunities that our country will face once we leave the European Union. When Opposition Members try to add to that uncertainty by proposing yet another referendum, another campaign, another period of not knowing what the outcome will be, that does nothing to help business and our economic prosperity.
Is my hon. Friend not amazed that the stock market is doing so well, and that we have the lowest unemployment we have had for many years? Is that not a reflection of how well the economy is doing—costing in the fact that we are leaving the EU?
That is a good point. One of the great strengths of our businesses is their ability to adapt and respond to challenges. During our recent half-term break, I spent a week visiting businesses in my constituency. When I asked them what was the biggest challenge they faced—whether they were small businesses employing a handful of people, or big businesses employing 800 or so—not one of them said “Brexit”. I asked them, “Why on earth did you not say ‘Brexit’, given that all we read in the press is about Brexit and the difficulties you will face?” They said, “We are resilient. We adapt to whatever the challenge may be. The reason for our present strength and success is our ability to adapt to those challenges.”
I want to make a bit more progress, if I may. I will take more interventions later.
One thing is certain: another referendum—a Liberal Democrat referendum—on our membership of the EU would simply play into the hands of Nicola Sturgeon and the separatists who wish to destroy the United Kingdom by ripping Scotland out of the heart of it. I am no fan of referendums, and neither are many of the voters whom I speak to. Referendums cause huge uncertainty, put off businesses, and divide nations. Now that we have a sensible, pragmatic approach to Brexit agreed by the Government and a parliamentary vote, there is little to gain from another referendum and much to lose.
The motion refers to the lack of progress on Brexit. I want to say a little about one issue on which the UK Government have made significant progress, both in terms of their thinking and in terms of their negotiation with Brussels: the issue of fishing. I must admit that when the Government announced that we would remain part of the common fisheries policy during the transition period—a policy hated by fishermen and fishing communities throughout Scotland—I was disappointed, to say the least. But, since then, and since the publication of the fisheries White Paper last week, we have seen concrete action that will work for Scottish fishermen. Despite the delay, we will be leaving the CFP in December 2020, which means that by 1 January 2021, British waters will once again be just that: British. It will be up to us to decide who has access to them and we will be presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way in which we operate in them. We will be able to ensure that stocks are fished sustainably, we will be able to negotiate with other countries, and we will have full control over our natural resources.
I was delighted that the White Paper also made it clear that the issue of access to British waters for European boats would not be conflated with access to European markets for British fish. That is crucial, and as the Government continue their negotiations with the EU, they must ensure that they do not allow Brussels to abuse the right of access to British waters.
A constituent of mine, Mr William Calder, has a fish processing business in Scrabster. If what happens in the future leads to the addition of half a day to his two-day delivery journey to France, he will be in serious trouble. We need to avoid anything like that happening at a border, whether it is at Dover or Calais.
I agree that we need to ensure that our fishermen have the best possible deal, but what our fishermen want is to be out of the common fisheries policy and to have control of our waters. What the Liberal Democrats are proposing is to go back into the CFP, which is absolutely not what the Scottish fishermen want.
I am conscious of time so I am going to conclude. The most obvious reason why the Liberal Democrats call for a second EU referendum should be rejected is that the voters simply do not want it. Only one of the last 10 opinion polls on this has shown public support for a second referendum. The Liberal Democrat Members need to be asking themselves why, if a second EU referendum was so popular, only 12 of them are sitting on the Opposition Benches. When the Liberal Democrats stood on a manifesto promising another vote only a dozen Lib Dem MPs were returned. In my constituency, which had been represented by Liberal Democrats including David Steel, Archy Kirkwood and Michael Moore for over 50 years, the party came fourth in last year’s general election and lost its deposit.
Liberal Democrats would do well to stop patronising voters. They should abandon their insistence that the electorate, just because they disagree with Lib Dem party policy, cannot possibly be right, and drop their call for a second referendum.
I thank the Liberal Democrats for introducing this debate, which is exceptionally timeous, not least because the wheels have well and truly come off the Brexit bus. We have a Government who have fallen apart, the clock is ticking, and it is clear that, having triggered article 50 without having any clear plan, they have absolutely no idea what comes next. That should trouble us all.
Whether we like it or not—and some of us might not like it very much—this Government are responsible for the most complex, far-reaching and important negotiations since the war, and their decisions, or lack of decisions and lack of coherence, will have an impact on every one of us: on jobs, on the economy, on opportunities for young people in the future. I may not like that, but it is a fact that each and every one of us needs to consider.
We saw yesterday two resignations in 24 hours. I disagreed with Mr Davis, who is not in his place, wholeheartedly, but he always treated me and colleagues with courtesy and I wish him the very best for the future. And as the Prime Minister said yesterday of Mr Johnson, of course we respect his passion.
Order. We are not meant to use names.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Brexiteers have had their whole careers to prepare, and then the former Ministers whom I have just mentioned had two years in the highest offices of state, with every resource of the UK Government at their disposal, to build on their years and years of so-called preparation, yet we are left in this complete mess. I do not blame the Minister present entirely for it, and indeed I do not blame the Prime Minister entirely, but those Brexiteers who got us into this mess and have done absolutely nothing to get us out of it again have shown gross irresponsibility and negligence. They bear huge responsibility for the situation in which we have been left. This is serious stuff.
I was very disappointed by the contribution of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), whom I respect enormously. There is no such thing as a “jobs-first Brexit.” Every single scenario that has been set out shows jobs being lost. Even the compromise we have put forward of staying in the single market and customs union is the least worst—not the best—option. I am sorry to say that if only the Labour party would step up to the mark, we would not be in the mess we are in today. Therefore, I say with great respect to Labour Members that Labour needs to step up to the plate a little more, because the UK as a whole finds itself in the most extraordinarily difficult situation. [Interruption.] I will happily give way to the shadow Minister if she has a point to make about a jobs-first Brexit. [Interruption.] No, I did not think so.
To throw some light on this matter, Rabobank has said that this situation could cost the UK economy £400 billion. The Fraser of Allander Institute says it could cost 80,000 jobs in Scotland alone and cost Scotland’s economy £12.7 billion, and the head of that respected economic think-tank said that it had only done the work for Scotland but, looking elsewhere, it would be even worse for other parts of the UK. It is startling that the Scottish Government did economic analysis and published it and those of us who have seen it know that although the Scottish and UK Governments might not agree on much in this process, their economic analysis agrees entirely on the devastation that will be wrought by this Government if they see through their plans. This must be one of the first times in history when a Government are actively, and proactively, pursuing a policy that they know will cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of jobs.
My hon. Friend will recall that the UK Government’s modelling showed a hit to GDP in the long term of minus 1.6% if we stayed in the European economic area. Does he agree that under the Chequers agreement, which takes services out of the mix, that hit will be considerably greater, particularly in terms of the jobs Labour is promising us from Brexit?
My hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point, and she is well aware from the work she has done representing financial services in her constituency of the difficulties and job losses from the Government’s plans.
I find it extraordinary that we have a Government who are proactively pursuing a policy that they know will cost jobs, and they know will hit our GDP and our public services, because if GDP is hit there will not be the tax-take to provide the support for public services in the future. That will be devastating. I know that the Minister tries his best and is a very honourable man, but it must be extremely hard for Ministers to be pursuing this policy, and I urge them to think again about the damage they are doing to the economy and elsewhere.
We have a need for EU nationals. They should have been given a huge amount of certainty. EU nationals contribute so much to our public services and our companies, and contribute to this place and beyond—
I am glad that the Minister is nodding. To charge EU nationals £65 a pop just to remain at home is outrageous and shameful, and it should shame the rest of us.
We should also think about the fact that our universities rely on initiatives such as Horizon 2020 and that our farmers rely on seasonal workers. I benefited from the Erasmus programme, but young people might not do so in future. Winnie Ewing, a former SNP MEP, was key to the success of bringing in Erasmus, working with members of other parties, including in other parts of Europe. I wanted to mention that so I can wish Winnie Ewing a happy 89th birthday—she was also a Member of this place.
One of the saddest things is that those of us who are in this place now will leave fewer opportunities for young people than we enjoyed. They will have fewer opportunities than we had when we started off in politics. We should all have at least an aspiration to leave more, but that is not the state that we are in at the moment. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is not in her place at the moment, talked about trust in the Westminster Government. The recent social attitudes survey showed that, in Scotland, levels of trust in the Westminster Government are down at 20%. That means that only 20% of people in Scotland think that Westminster is working in their best interests, and is it any wonder that that trust is at such a low ebb? The figure for Holyrood sits at 61%, which is much higher than the figure for this Government.
For the future, there is a need to reach out to other parties and to the devolved Administrations. The Scottish Government set out a plan just after the referendum in a way that the UK Government have yet to do—we have been waiting years for any plans from the UK Government—to stay in the customs union and the single market. I pay tribute to the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green party for joining us in that aspiration and that work. In fairness, some Labour Back Benchers have also had the aspiration to work towards that goal.
The UK is hopelessly divided at the moment. Scotland did not vote to leave the European Union. The Scottish Parliament has acknowledged, and this place acknowledged only last week, that according to the claim of right, Scotland should remain sovereign and make its own decisions in the future. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that claim of right when he winds up the debate. We are in this mess because of a Conservative civil war, but bringing an end to it cannot be done merely by seeking solutions within the Conservative party. It can be done only by reaching out before it is too late.
“I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken. Whether it is a majority of 1% or 20%, when the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you do not.”
Those are not my words but the words of the noble Lord Ashdown on the evening of the referendum. This motion calls for a second referendum, but I believe that a second referendum would be seriously disrespectful. It would be utterly counter-productive, and I will not be voting for it this evening.
We are having a slight let-off from the hot weather, but it strikes me that we have become a bit of a cliché with our similarities to a Mediterranean country over the past few weeks. We have had incredible weather, we are good at football and we have chaotic politics. In the chaos of the past 48 hours, many things have been revealed, not least the fact that the now former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union spent a grand total of four hours this year negotiating the deal with Michel Barnier. I can inform the House that I have spent more time filling in my World Cup chart than the former Secretary of State spent doing his job.
I want to focus on our countryside and on the production of food. Cumbria and the Lake District won their own world title a year ago this week when the area became a world heritage site. We are very proud of that, and it was clear in the document that the world heritage site status that we were afforded by UNESCO was just as much down to the work of the farmers who maintain the landscape as it was down to the physical nature and the geology itself. It is massively important to recognise that it is not just the landscape that makes our countryside so beautiful, not only in the Lake District but in the dales and all the other beautiful parts of the United Kingdom; it is largely down to the work of our farmers.
The production of food is also of massive significance. I am sure all Members will share my concern that we have seen a massive rise in the amount of food that we import over the past 20 years. In 1990, we imported about 35% of the food that we consume. The figure is now about 45%. As the process of leaving the European Union trundles on, one thing that will undoubtedly have an impact on this country’s ability to feed itself will be the agriculture Bill that we are expecting to see, perhaps before the summer or perhaps shortly after.
It will also massively depend on what kind of deal we get. What situation will we face when it comes to tariffs or no tariffs on our imports and exports? That is why it is right, and respectful of the British people, to decide to engage fully in what kind of deal we get and to object if the Government present us with a shabby deal or if others in the Government wish to have a deal that is even shabbier than the one that the Government are presenting.
I am one of the 6% of Members of Parliament who bothered to go and look at the Brexit impact assessment documents in Whitehall when they were sort of semi-released earlier this year. Obviously I would not leak a single word of what I read—oh go on, since you’ve twisted my arm. One of the things that most struck me was the war-gaming that the Government had done for some rather terrifying prospects. For example, it is worth bearing in mind that, whether we like it or not, membership of the European Union has removed from this place and this country the imperative to debate whether it was right to subsidise food over the past 40 years, but by golly we have, and we will notice if we stop subsidising food.
Over the past 40 years, the average spend of a lower-middle-income household on food has gone down from 20% of the weekly wage packet to 10%. At the same time, housing costs have doubled. If we remove direct payments for farmers and/or if there are tariffs on imports into this country, the reality is that we will see a significant rise in the price of food on the shelves. The wealthiest people in this country spend 10% of their income on food, but the poorest spend 25%. I do not care how anyone voted two years ago or what they think about the Chequers deal, because they should care about impending food poverty on every street in this country. That is likely to be the most worrying aspect of what we get if we have a bad deal.
The Government are mindful of the problem, which is why they war-gamed what it would look like if the EU charged tariffs on UK exports into the single market, but the Government chose not to retaliate with import tariffs on EU goods. I can understand that the Government would do that to protect the interests of the poorest consumers in this country, but UK farming would be thrown under a bus. It would be decimated within a decade. That is why such issues matter. That is why the content of the deal matters. It is not anti-patriotic, anti-democratic or anything of the sort to question the nature of the deal, not based on esoterica about sovereignty or anything else, but based on the hard, visceral reality of whether people in this country can afford to feed their children.
The hon. Gentleman is correct about food poverty, but it is wrong to suggest that it is a construct of Brexit. Will he tell us what he did in government for five years to deal with food poverty? People in my constituency have been hungry for a long time, and that is not due to Brexit.
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what we did. Among other things, we forced the Tories to implement benefit rises of 5%, and we ensured that we raised the income tax threshold to lift more than a million people out of poverty. It is much easier to be on the Opposition Benches than the Government Benches, but I am rightly proud of the five years that the Liberal Democrats spent in government, preventing the Tories from doing their worst and ensuring that we did the best for our country. We know that the Government have war-gamed throwing farming under a bus, but they are also preparing to levy shocking increases in food prices on both the poorest and middle-income families.
The Chequers deal is interesting. It is worth saying that I think the Prime Minister is a decent person. We go back quite a long way, and I take her to be a decent person who is seeking a consensus where perhaps none is to be found, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt. Of course, the reality is that the Chequers deal is unimplementable, undeliverable and unacceptable to the European Union. It would mean effectively being in a single market for goods while not being in the single market, effectively being a member of the customs union while not being in the customs union, and effectively having freedom of movement while not having freedom of movement, and the European Union will say no to that.
My assumption over the weekend was that the most hard-line separatists within the Conservative party were accepting the Chequers deal, no matter how soft it looked, because they knew that the Prime Minister would present it to Brussels, Brussels would say, “Get knotted,” and it would then be Brussels’ fault that we did not get a decent deal.
The motion calls for a Government of national unity. How many Cabinet jobs will the Liberal Democrats look for in this new coalition? This time round, how many red lines will they agree with the Tory Government?
If the hon. Gentleman is going to read out questions from the Whips Office, he should at least read them out properly. We will come to what it might look like in a moment or two, but there are bigger things on the plate.
I am quite sure the Government’s assumption is that Friday’s Chequers deal will be unacceptable to Brussels, and they therefore proposed it because it makes it look like they have been listening to businesses, farmers and people of moderate intent—compromisers from both sides of the divide. The Government presented it, and the most hard-line separatists went along with it, because they thought, “Well, it’ll never be accepted. It will then be Brussels’ fault and not ours.” That seems a dishonourable approach, but it could be argued that it is a politically savvy one.
It was all going very well until vanity struck. In the early hours of Monday morning, or late on Sunday night, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) had an attack of vanity and, as we found out in the hours that followed, vanity is contagious. That is the problem we have.
The motion seriously offers the idea of having a Government of national unity because the Prime Minister is beholden to people who are not putting the country first. They are not even putting their party first; they are completely and utterly obsessed with their own career and their own vanity. There is nothing honourable about that situation. Whether or not people like the idea of our leaving the European Union, and whatever variety of leaving the European Union they favour, it is not right that this country should be beholden to such pressure in this marginal situation.
Last night, because there was no World cup on the television, I decided to seek entertainment by heading over to the 1922 committee. I hung around outside with some friends from the press and, at that historic moment, it was interesting to hear the comments made by the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), the Conservative party chairman, who said, “Chequers stays. Chequers is the right path. We’re going to stick to it.” On the other hand, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) came out and said, “Chequers is effectively a betrayal and we cannot vote for it.”
The problem our country has is that, with no parliamentary majority, the Prime Minister has to balance those two extremes. All of us in this House, no matter which party we support and no matter our record on the referendum vote two years ago, should care about the future of our country. Is it right that our children’s future and their children’s future—the next half century and the next century—should be dictated by a Prime Minister who is having to balance the interests of the venal and the vain? That is why we should work together to make sure we deliver a deal that works for everybody and that allows the people to have the final say.
I have the great honour of representing St Austell and Newquay in Cornwall, which was a new constituency in 2010. My home is in St Austell, so I previously lived in the Truro and St Austell constituency. I am the first Conservative Member of Parliament for that part of the country for 41 years. In fact, I was seven years old the last time we had a Conservative Member of Parliament. It was the constituency of the late, great David Penhaligon, and others since who may not have been quite so great.
I know what it is like to live under the representation of the Liberal Democrats, and one thing that has always puzzled me is why people in Cornwall, which has always been an incredibly Eurosceptic area, kept voting for the Liberal Democrats for all those years. One reason is that in Cornwall the Liberal Democrats were very shy about their European enthusiasm. They did not tend to talk about it very much, and they tried to shy away from it.
When I started to speak to people on the doorsteps, it came as a surprise to them when I advised that if they wanted to get out of Europe, the last thing they should do is vote for the Liberal Democrats. That is why I have respect for the Liberal Democrats’ position now, because from my point of view in Cornwall, at least they are at last being honest about it. They are being honest in saying they want to exit from Brexit and deny the result that the British people reached in the referendum. They think the British people got it wrong, having been ill-informed, having misunderstood or having been too thick to understand what it meant, so we should try to overturn the decision and try again.
I have a degree of respect for the Liberal Democrats’ honesty at the moment, but I have to say that the message I get from people time and time again is that the British people simply want us to get on with this. I speak to Conservative party members, as well as members of other parties, and I hear that the British people are tired of the debate on the process. They are tired of the Westminster bubble, where we endlessly debate and try to rerun the arguments from 2016. They simply think, “The British people made a decision. Let’s get on and deliver it. Let’s leave the EU and let’s deliver Brexit the best we possibly can.” I believe that is the attitude and view of the vast majority of the British people.
I met people in my constituency during the 2017 election who had that view—people who had voted to remain but said that now we should get on with it. However, I had local elections in my constituency in May, so I was knocking on a lot of doors, and I detect that opinion is shifting on the ground and in the polls. People are seeing the disarray of this botched Brexit, which is why they are changing their mind. May I ask the hon. Gentleman: has he ever changed his mind?
I have changed my mind, but I suspect that now is not the time to go into that. I have changed my mind on a number of things over the years, but I do not detect what the right hon. Gentleman says he is finding. I do not find it in my constituency from the people I speak to on the doorstep and meet around the place, or from the people who come to my surgeries. The clear message I get is, “We made a decision. Let’s get on with it.” A lot of people just cannot understand why we have not left already. They are frustrated because—[Interruption.] I would say it is because of Members on both sides of the House who have sought to delay the process—perhaps we will come on to discuss that.
I will not support the motion, and I wish to set out three reasons why it is a bad idea. First, I believe it would be bad for our democracy. We gave the decision to the British people. We are absolutely clear in the lead-up to the referendum two years ago that this decision was in the hands of the British people and that they would be making the decision. If we tried to rerun the referendum, in whatever form we want to put it, be it a second referendum or a referendum on the final deal, I do not think the British people would buy it. They would just see it as trying to change the decision. It would simply be saying to them, “Your view and your vote did not count.” As I said when I intervened earlier, I believe that one reason why many people voted leave was to give a clear message to the establishment saying, “We are fed up of being ignored. We want our voice heard. We want our opinion to count.”
It is a miracle that people voted leave, because the overwhelming movement of the establishment—of the Government, big business and so much of our society—was telling them “This is the wrong decision. This is a stupid decision to make. This is a detrimental decision to make.” The majority of people chose to ignore that and vote leave, and we should respect that.
This is a debate about democracy. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am confident that people make good decisions in the end. The decision made in June 2016 was a single decision that warranted another decision. He has just accepted that the people make interesting decisions, so why will he not allow them to make another decision on this issue, which is far more far-reaching now that we are going to face a deal on the decision?
The answer is simple: if that decision goes the other way, do we have a third and a fourth? Do we just keep going until we get the decision that some of us want? No. We made it clear to the British people. As has already been said, the former Prime Minister said that it was a once-in-a-lifetime decision and that there would be no opportunity for people to change their mind and go back. That was it, and we need to respect that.
The hon. Gentleman talked about people turning out to vote leave. Did he experience in his constituency what happened in my constituency, where not only did people turn out to vote leave, but the highest number of people in any election in the past 20 years turned out to vote? We simply cannot scoff at that.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the turnout was very high. I observed that the more “Project Fear” turned up the heat and told people that they were wrong to think of voting to leave, the more people were driven to vote leave. It was very much a reaction against being told by the establishment, “We know best. You should do what we tell you.”
My second point is that to have a second referendum now would undermine our negotiating position. The point has been made many times, but it needs to be made again: if the EU knows that whatever deal is agreed will be put to a vote of the British people, it will make sure that it is the worst possible deal that it can provide, in the hope that we will reject it, reverse the decision to leave and remain in the EU. For that reason, we cannot allow a second referendum to take place.
My third point is that any second referendum would cause further delay and uncertainty. People want us to get on with it. Business wants certainty: it wants to know what the end state is going to be. Any second referendum would delay that and create even more uncertainty, because even when we had agreed a deal with the EU, we would not know whether the British people were going to support it. British business would not know whether it was going to be the final outcome. If it was rejected, that would create further delay and uncertainty. Right now, more than anything, business wants to know what the state of play is going to be when we leave. Business wants certainty and to know what the circumstances are going to be. Any second referendum would cause further delay and create even more uncertainty.
I am going to wind up now.
In the best interests of our country, we simply need to get on with it and deliver the best Brexit that we possibly can. We need to deliver what the British people gave us the instruction to do. They gave us that instruction and we need to respect it and deliver on it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) because, despite being on opposite sides of politics, we share some commonality in respect of this issue, which is that we are both democrats, but thankfully not Liberal Democrats. We both understand that our constituencies voted leave for a number of reasons, none of which were necessarily those categorised by the overtures of the right-wing press, who make it out to be all about immigration and rather nasty things. People were shouting out against the establishment for considering them not worthy of having their say.
The huge turnout in Stoke-on-Trent Central—before I was its Member of Parliament, I hasten to add—demonstrated an engagement in a political process that has not been replicated since. There have been two opportunities to vote in an election in Stoke-on-Trent Central since the referendum: a by-election, in which I was elected to this place, and a subsequent general election. Fewer people voted in those subsequent elections than voted in the referendum, which shows that the issues on which they voted were diverse and complicated.
Let me pick up on the motion. The Liberal Democrats have, as always, quite adeptly tried to position themselves as one thing—in this case, the moral conscience of the remain-voting populace of this country—but at the same time tabled a motion that does not really address the issues. As the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay said, the motion is on a process issue; it is not on a policy issue or a substantive issue. It is about a unity Government.
We can make jokes about the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) having a ministerial car he can be driven around in, but the motion is about the Liberal Democrats inveigling their way back into government so that they can influence something on which the electorate have consistently rejected them. If they are so confident that their position can command the support of the electorate, they can all trigger by-elections in each of their seats and run purely on having a second referendum. If their confidence is correct, they will all be returned to this place with increased majorities and it will all be fine and dandy. I suspect, though, that they do not have the courage of their convictions to do that, because they know that what they are actually doing is attempting to subvert democratic processes merely for electoral gain further on down the road. That is that they are doing with this motion, so I shall not support it.
The Liberal Democrats have also failed to address the following: what is the question they actually want to put to the public? I find it quite odd that, on the one side, we have the Liberal Democrats and, on the other, members of the European Reform Group, who are all waiting in the wings, rubbing their hands in absolute glee at a no-deal scenario, because actually that is what they want. The Liberal Democrats, along with members of the European Reform Group on the Conservative Benches, and, sadly, a number of my colleagues, who normally would be here in vocal force, but who have not found their tongues today, are all rubbing their hands in glee at a no-deal scenario because they see a no-deal scenario as a path to something else. They are very different, diverging paths, but the best thing that they can hope for to facilitate their own political interests is a no deal.
The Liberal Democrats and some of my colleagues believe that a no-deal scenario would instantly lead to our staying in the European Union forever and a day—job done, democracy thwarted, never mind what the people thought, that is what it is, big shrugs, move on. Members of the European Reform Group, who again would normally be here in the Chamber—I presume that they have something more important on today; some letters need signing, no doubt—would normally see a no deal and think, “Great, we have thrown off the shackles of an imperialist Europe that tried to thwart Britannia in all of her mighty ways.” I find it absolutely mind-boggling that, in the 21st century in this place, we have, on the one side, the Liberal Democrats and, on the other, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and his motley gang all campaigning essentially for the same thing and they will not be honest about why they want that.
That is why I do agree in part with what is in the motion regarding a unity Government, although not because I seek to be part of it or because I think that it will work. What the Prime Minister should have done, almost 18 months ago now, when she did not have the majority of her own party before the general election, and when she did not have a majority for her party after the election, is look across this Chamber and its 650 Members, minus the abstentionists, and say, “How can I bring together a majority in this House for a Brexit deal that works—a Brexit deal that means that I can come back from the European Union with a deal that I know will command parliamentary majority support and that delivers on the customs arrangements that we all pretty much agree we need?” Actually, what we are arguing over is what we call it, not what it does. She should have said, “How can I bring together a majority in this House for a Brexit deal that allows us to have access to the single market and determines how much we trade off paying for that access against how much freedom of movement we are willing to accept and also delivers on the protections for workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental rights?” We know those are important because we have all said that they are important but, again, we have not quite got there. Instead of doing that, the Prime Minister took a very narrow view and tried to satiate two warring parts of one political party, to the detriment of her negotiations.
I and a number of colleagues, along with, I suspect, many Labour Front-Bench Members—I cannot speak for them as I am a humble Back Bencher—would happily have a conversation about how we can make Brexit work. As the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay said, we have spent far too long talking about process, rather than talking about policy. We have spent too long talking about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s and not about the societal changes that we need that will help our country to come together and accept a Brexit deal that works.
This is where the second referendum, a people’s vote, or whatever you wish to call it and dress it up as, is a folly and a nonsense. Nothing has altered in my constituency in the past 18 months that would change the way my constituents would vote if they had the deal put to them for a vote. In their minds, they would simply see this as a re-run of the referendum—are we in, or are we out?
I recall vividly that, when we were debating the referendum in my constituency and looking at documents produced by the Government, it was made absolutely clear that, if we voted to leave the European Union, that implied explicitly that we would be out of the single market and the customs union. It was plainly put down.
I am sure that it was. Subsequent elections meant that there is no majority necessarily in the House for that matter. If we are democrats, we are also pragmatists. It is better that we have a pragmatic deal that commands the majority of this House and that is workable so that we can end the uncertainty that exists in communities and in business, rather than necessarily stick to one or two dogmatic points. I have known the hon. Gentleman for a year, and he is a wonderful speaker at a number of events that I attend, but where we are and where we have come from are very different. However, again, that does not mean that we should suddenly be having a second referendum as advocated by the Liberal Democrats. I say again: I do not know what has changed in my constituency that would make my constituents think that, somehow, a vote on the deal would not be an in or out matter.
I wonder whether one thing that has changed in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is that his electors, who thought that there was going to be an extra £350 million a week for the NHS, now realise that that is not going to be the case.
Perhaps if I were to ask the right hon. Gentleman for his diary, it would show a weekly trip to Stoke-on-Trent, so he could tell me what my electors are thinking—but I am guessing it does not. I need no lessons on what my electors think, because I speak to them week in, week out. Most of them simply want to get on with the process. My constituents voted 70:30 to leave, for a whole array of reasons. Some will have been driven by the issue of efficiencies in the NHS. I would point to the fact that the reason why the NHS is on its knees is that the Liberal Democrats enabled five years of the Conservative Government who put through the Health and Social Care Act 2012, not just chronic underfunding by the Conservative Government.
What my constituents do not say is, “Oh, actually, I’ve had a thought about it, and I no longer think leaving is a good idea.” In the entire time I have been Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central, I have had one email from one constituent telling me that they would vote differently—one. I do not see the great swathe of changing public opinion that has been referred to here; nor do I see any appetite for a second vote. All that would do is lead to greater division in this country; it would put off talking about the policy and the radical platform for change that we need to make communities better; it would allow the European Union to sit back and watch as we squabbled among ourselves, failing to get a deal that worked. If there is a Division on this motion this afternoon, I shall not be supporting it.
I find myself in an odd position. I was elected last year. I overcame a Tory majority of more than 9,500 votes, and yet in the debate since my election people seem to have completely forgotten that that election ever happened. We speak frequently about the will of the people in the referendum. That is true, but there was then a further asking of the people what they wanted. The Tory version of Brexit—the version that the Tories have been trying to deliver, badly, up until this last weekend, and look at how that has unravelled—was rejected.
Oxford West and Abingdon voted 62% to remain and, although 62% does not perhaps sound a lot, it is worth saying that the remainers in my constituency are so strongly remain that they put EU flags proudly on their doors, and the leavers are more, “Oh, on balance I want to leave”. As new facts have come to light, they are changing their minds in their swathes. There are plenty of emails in my inbox and, I am sure, in many inboxes.
Just this morning, I met a young activist who used to be a Tory party member and voted to leave in 2016. When he realised that he was not going to get the Norway/Switzerland-style Brexit that had been spoken about by many front-and-centre Brexiteers, he decided to leave the Tories and to join the Lib Dems. I did not know that, but he has done so because our position is absolutely clear.
In 2017, the electorate did make a choice. In the referendum, the will of the people was the will of the 52%—48% have been completely ignored, however. There was a whole other way this could have gone. Rather than the Prime Minister standing up and saying, “We are going to go for the hardest possible Brexit; we are going to leave the customs union; we are going to leave the single market; we are not going to involve Parliament; we are not going to release impact assessments”, there is another version of the past. Every step along the way, as a new Member of Parliament, I have felt that this Government do not really care about our opinions; all they want to do is to hold themselves together. The other version would have been for a Prime Minister to stand up, reach out across the House and say, “I am going to go the middle way and deliver that Norway/Switzerland soft Brexit.” That was the compromise position. That is not what has happened and that is why we are in the position we are in now.
I respectfully point out to the hon. Lady that the Conservatives got 43% of the vote at the last general election. That is a huge number—a very large percentage of the people, and larger than normal. The Conservative party got endorsement from the people beyond the referendum for its mandate to carry out Brexit.
It was 43% but it was not enough to deliver sufficient numbers of Members of Parliament. In my constituency, I was elected on an extremely clear mandate to stop a hard Brexit. The Green party stood down, and swathes of Labour voters came over to me. In fact, many remainer Conservatives—this is what my in-box is stuffed with—are saying that they will never vote Tory again because of what this Government are doing to all sorts of sectors, business being one of them.
I am listening to the hon. Lady with great interest. Is she aware that many findings after the last general election showed that for the majority of British people, Brexit was not a big issue that drove their vote? They were far more concerned about domestic policy issues. A lot of people thought that Brexit was done with in the last election, and there is clear evidence that actually it did not drive many people’s votes last year—they were far more concerned about other matters.
Indeed. That is why it is so striking that people do not now want to ask them what they think of this new settlement. The point of this debate is to ask the people and to trust the people. The people of Oxford West and Abingdon put me here to make the case on how Brexit is going to affect them and their families.
Real people’s voices have been missing from this debate, so I am going to introduce some after taking this intervention.
The hon. Lady says that she was sent here to stop a hard Brexit, but the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) said that he was here to get an exit from Brexit. Is she opposed to a hard Brexit and therefore wanting a softer form of Brexit, or is she opposed to Brexit in its entirety?
I personally feel that there is no deal better than the deal we already have. That is what we had in our manifesto and that is our clear mandate. As I said, I achieved an enormous swing, so I can only assume that my constituents understood that. The Conservatives were proposing a possible World Trade Organisation-style Brexit—much harder, I dare say, than what Labour is suggesting now. However, I would still categorise Labour’s position as also being for a hard Brexit, because at the time, soft Brexit was defined as staying in the single market and the customs union, and somehow the rhetoric has changed over time.
It would be interesting now to turn to Ross from Kidlington. I care about what people—my constituents—think rather than just what this House thinks. Ross said:
“We are beside ourselves with how this government is behaving: squabbling in its ranks, only interested in keeping their own nests feathered, telling outright lies to those who voted for Brexit…Why are MPs in the in the Labour party not following their own consciences and voting for what they really believe?”
I find fascinating the number of conversations we have outside this Chamber where MPs from across the House recognise how damaging Brexit is going to be. I do not understand how they can look their constituents in the eye knowing that their jobs may well go and knowing the effect on the economy. In Oxford West and Abingdon, we have one of the most buoyant economies in the country, but if we leave the single market, even we will face a medium-term depression. I cannot stand by and watch that happen.
I loved what Jonathan from Abingdon had to say:
“How, now two years post referendum, do the government have no plan to implement and it scares me more than anything else. Even though every expert opinion is that it will damage the country, including the governments own experts, they are still ploughing ahead with it seems the full support of the Labour party…Please continue to fight this crazy act of self-harm the government is proposing with everything you can.”
I intend to do that. These are my constituents and I am standing up for them today.
The point about a further referendum is that new facts have come to light. We are not just talking about the Northern Irish border, although that is one of the most alarming aspects.
Ryan, a Gibraltarian student at Keble College, said that Brexit
“poses an existential threat to my homeland…The fate of my country is out of the hands of Gibraltarians, and is being decided behind closed doors. I fear the Government may negotiate something of ours away without our consent.”
Then there are the universities—Oxford and Oxford Brookes—and Erasmus, Horizon 2020 and the science sectors. The first question I ever asked in this House was on Euratom. At the time, someone sidled up and said, “What’s that?” We did not entirely appreciate the full consequences of Brexit, and now we do. I am pleased to say that the House has taken that on very positively, but new facts have come to light, and business is what I am most concerned about.
It is not just about BMW, which is in Oxford. Fabulous Flowers wrote to me and said:
“We need to ensure a stable workforce with labour from other EU member states and all sectors of horticulture and flower growing, harvesting etc in the UK. We have to question the UK’s capability in terms of infrastructure and resources at points of entry to handle the level of import controls. A longer wait at the border could bring a disadvantage to flower imports in future as it could impact on quality or vase life. Flowers could end up more expensive.”
It is not just about big business; it is also about the little guys, and they matter too.
As a science teacher—that is what I did before I came to this place—I believe in evidence, and it is not just me. I know that because some of the kids I taught are now adults, and they believe in evidence too. It is only fair that if new evidence comes to light, people should be allowed to change their mind. If it is a deal that they did not vote for and is not what they expected, what could be any more democratic than going back to the people and making sure it was what they wanted in the first place?
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran).
I have listened with incredulity today to the claims from those on the Conservative Benches that they are delivering on Brexit. Every time I think this Brexit chaos cannot get any worse, I discover I am wrong—it can, and it does. The past few days have simply added chaos to uncertainty, built on complete mismanagement. Yesterday was perhaps the most unedifying spectacle yet. For me, it was a particularly surreal experience, and at the same time absolutely appropriate, because I was enjoying my daughter’s graduation ceremony at the University of Edinburgh when my phone buzzed with a message saying that the Foreign Secretary had resigned. That was followed by a flurry of other texts and newsflashes, which I mostly ignored.
While the Cabinet’s agreed stance on Brexit and the Cabinet itself were crumbling and what is left of our future relationship with Europe was being thrown under yet another Brexit bus, I was witnessing a particularly European experience. At the same time as I was getting all these texts, the founding father of the Erasmus scholarship programme stood up to accept his honorary doctorate and address the assembled graduates of Edinburgh University. He talked about the idea, inspiration and vision that has seen millions of EU students from this country and the others benefiting either directly or indirectly from meeting and sharing their experiences with Erasmus scholars from elsewhere. He also told us proudly about the 1 million Erasmus babies that there now are in Europe.
For Edinburgh University, like many other universities up and down the country, that scheme has been crucial. Edinburgh attracts the biggest share of Erasmus students of any Scottish university. Erasmus has also encouraged talented young people from across Europe to come and live and work in the UK. Two constituents visited me last week who are Spanish and have been here for a number of years, paying income tax at 40% and national insurance. They are now being asked to pay the fee to stay here that the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) mentioned, but these are people who came here to contribute, encouraged by European co-operation.
When the founder of the Erasmus scholarship programme sat down, I looked around the hall and I saw in front of me a wonderfully diverse group of students from all ethnic and social backgrounds. I glanced at the list of those who were about to graduate, and it revealed names from across the continent. Here was Erasmus in operation and European co-operation in operation, and here was our future—the students’ and our country’s future. Meanwhile, the Government were indulging in self-inflicted chaos and mismanagement, and any semblance of a strategy for a future with Europe was crumbling.
Make no mistake: the students knew about this too, because their phones were buzzing with texts; I saw them glancing down at them every so often. The principal of the Edinburgh University then stood up and assured his students and the parents that the university would never turn its back on Europe, regardless of “the many obstacles that politicians might place in their way”. This is one politician who listened yesterday and who is determined to fight to remove such obstacles from the futures of those young people and other young people in this country who see their horizons narrowed and their opportunities limited by what is happening in this place on an almost daily basis. I heard what the students had to say and their positive reaction, because that statement by the principal of Edinburgh University received the loudest reaction of the day. I and my colleagues will not give up on defending that future.
In her speech about Erasmus, will the hon. Lady note that one of the people who helped to found it was Winnie Ewing, and today is her 89th birthday?
As the hon. Gentleman says—his colleague the hon. Member for North East Fife mentioned it earlier—today is indeed Winnie Ewing’s 89th birthday. I have met the hon. Lady on more than one occasion, and I think she would be extremely upset to see what is happening to the programme that has done so much for students in this country and elsewhere.
I am in the Chamber today to demand that we listen to those young people, their parents, the academics and others in this country. We should listen to their demand that the Government stop this narrow infighting and internal self-interest, and think about how to achieve some sort of national unity in the way ahead. People need to have faith that what is on the table will work for them, but what I hear daily—from those in business who say, “But what will happen after Brexit?”, and from constituents who say, “What will happen to me, because I am a European citizen from elsewhere in the EU?”—is that they want something different. What the Government are offering does not cut it for them, and those of them who can vote want the opportunity to say so in a decision on the final deal.
Sometimes in politics, parties and individual politicians must ensure that they are standing up for the right thing, given the evidence before them. One of the reasons why I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat is that we have done that on a number of issues of significant importance in the life of the country in recent years. Let me give House three examples.
The first example is the Iraq war. When the Labour party was pushing for the Iraq war, it had the support of the Conservative party, bar the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), and of the papers and the people, and it prosecuted that war. The Liberal Democrats were the sole voice, against public opinion, in warning that it courted disaster—for this country and for the middle east. We were right, and we were proven right.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) was warning against the financial crash—the banking crash—in 2007-08 three or four years before it happened. As a former very distinguished economist, he could see the signs, and as the Treasury spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, he warned that it was coming. People did not like his saying that—I remember Labour Treasury Ministers and Conservative spokespeople saying, “Oh, the voice of doom”—but my right hon. Friend was right. I wish more people had listened to him, as a lot of people’s lives and businesses would not have been wasted by an appalling economic recession.
So it is with Brexit. The evidence is clear that it is going to be a disaster for our country. Those of us who have the values of internationalists and believe that working with other countries is in our interests are not going to be silenced on this issue of huge importance. We are going to make the case. Just as on Iraq and the banking crisis, people’s views changed. I think that people’s views on Brexit and on a people’s vote are changing. I urge Members across the House to recognise that fact and get behind something that people will be joining.
In 2015, the right hon. Gentleman’s party manifesto said it wanted a referendum on whether we should stay in or get out of Europe. Was that a mistake or was it just that you were so out of touch with the people that you thought you would win that referendum? I can tell you that our party did not think that.
The hon. Gentleman, of course, is wrong. The manifesto was in 2005, when—[Interruption.]
I have the 2015 manifesto here!
Order. The hon. Gentleman really must not use the word “you”, and let us not carry on with this sort of exchange.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know what was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. In 2005, like all parties, we argued for a referendum on the European constitution. In 2015, we said that if there was a big change affecting sovereignty and powers, we would have a referendum. What happened afterwards was completely different, and the hon. Gentleman ought to know that.
I was saying that I detect that the demand for a people’s vote—a final say on the deal—is growing louder and louder. There are many reasons why I think that; it is not just evidence from the polls and from people talking to me around the country. I think it is a reaction to the chaos of this Conservative Government. If I were a Conservative MP, I would be embarrassed by the Government; I do not think we have been so badly governed since the second world war—probably before.
The Government simply cannot make up their mind about how to deal with the biggest issue of the day. They are totally split. The chaos of the past 48 hours beggars belief. It is pretty clear that the Chequers statement will not stand the test of time. The European Research Group, the hard-line Brexiteers, and some Tory remainers reject it and Brussels is saying that it is unacceptable. It is pretty clear that, after two years of effort, this chaotic Government cannot manage it. That is why we tabled this motion.
As one of my colleagues said earlier, people are sick and tired of Conservative Ministers, and indeed MPs, putting their personal or party interests above the nation’s. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) said, when we talk to some colleagues outside the Chamber, they admit that Brexit is a disaster.
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify a point I asked about in my speech? What question would the Liberal Democrats put on the ballot paper in a referendum? There are people who would not want to support a final deal but who would not countenance staying in the European Union.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question as it enables me to explain that in detail. We are arguing for a people’s vote. People should have the final say when the deal is done, not before, so that they have the details of the question. One of the problems with the 2016 referendum was that no one knew what Brexit meant; in fact, we still do not. When we do eventually know—when there is a deal for people to look at, touch and feel—we suggest that the people should have the final say about whether that is what they want or whether they would prefer to stay in the European Union.
We need to look at what the Government have achieved so far. The process has been far longer than people were told. People were told it would be easy and that it would be quick, but after two years we still do not have a policy or a White Paper. We were told that Brexit would be very good value for money. We were not told that it would be so costly. No one said that Brexit would cost £41 billion—and that divorce bill is going to go even higher. It is costing far more than people were told, but it is also far more complex than people were promised. People were sold simple truths: it would be easy to extricate ourselves from our friends and neighbours who we have worked with for so long for over four decades. It is clear that that is not the case. There still is no deal. Frankly, given the performance and shocking chaos of the past 48 hours, that deal looks a long way away.
I will give way. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell me when the deal will be done.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has just said that we do not know what Brexit is going to be. I agree: we do not know what the final agreement is going to be. We do not know the detail, so how is he so sure that it will be disaster?
As my hon. Friends have already said, we have the best deal now. It is pretty clear that we were prospering over 40 years. We have moved from being the sick man of Europe and the dirty man of Europe to one that was leading on the environment and leading on the economy. That happened during our time as a member of the European Union. The deal we have at the moment is the best possible deal. Anything different is going to be far worse.
I want to take on an argument put forward by those on the Conservative Benches that somehow having a people’s vote would undermine our negotiating position. Madam Deputy Speaker, does anyone in this House seriously believe that what we have seen from the Government is strengthening our negotiating position? What a disaster! I wonder whether Conservative Members ever talk to anyone from France, Germany, Italy or any of the other 27 member countries. They see us as a laughing stock. Our stock as a country has fallen. We used to be highly regarded for our diplomatic skills, for our leadership and for our stability. In a short time, this discredited Conservative Government have made us the laughing stock not just of Europe but of the developed world.
As a Minister in the coalition Government, I attended five European Councils, first as a junior Business Minister and then as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Over five years, I was involved in a whole set of negotiations in Europe: on the economy delivering a growth package, which was very much written here in London; and on an energy and climate change package, which was very much written here in London. My experience was that we could always win for Britain, completely contrary to the nonsense we hear from so many Brexiteers. Moreover, people listened to us. When we engaged in proper negotiations and proper politics, we could always win the day. I have been disappointed, angered and distressed by the appalling inability of the Government to negotiate—with themselves, frankly, let alone the European Union. Their attempt to try to build those relationships, which are critical in a successful negotiation, has failed lamentably.
I want to end with one problem that I have with the Chequers statement. The Minister was unable to answer it and the Prime Minister was unable to answer it during her statement on Monday. It is important in relation to the negotiations with Europe and to what this Parliament eventually decides. If there is a new rule produced by our EU colleagues relating to the single market for goods, this House will have the freedom to vote on it. That sounds very enticing to a Brexiteer: we will have the freedom to do that, we have taken back control and so on. What has not been spelled out is what happens if this House votes to reject such a new rule. It is absolutely clear that were the House to do that, the whole agreement that we negotiate with Brussels will collapse. This is going to be one of the key questions during the negotiations and during deliberations in this House. I think it is one of the questions on which the Chequers statement will fail.
This country and this House need better leadership. We have not got it and I fear we are not going to get it. That is the reason why this House needs to give the people the final say.
I would gladly take up the challenge to stand up for a people’s vote in my constituency. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), my postbag in Bath is full of letters from constituents who are worried sick about Brexit. We speak endlessly in Bath about the most important issue facing our nation, and I think that is a good thing. That is democracy and I trust people. That is why I think that the people should take back control, but if we are having a debate, I wish it was much more along the lines of why the European Union is the best place for us.
The European Union is the greatest peace project in the modern era, with 28 countries working together, resolving differences peacefully. It is too little understood that countries with competing interests work together through a rules-based system—the rule of law and common regulations. Each country within the European Union passes its own laws, but those laws must be applicable as fairly to its own citizens as to the citizens of the other 27 countries. That is called solidarity. It delivers justice and greater opportunity. We help other countries and other countries help us. We all benefit.
Looking back to June 2016 and the debate we had leading up to that referendum, where were these arguments? There were arguments about pennies: “What is in it for us?” and “£350 million a week for the NHS” on one side, and “Economic meltdown the day after the referendum” on the other side. Then there was the “taking back control” argument. Sixty million Turks would arrive at our borders, swamping the country. It was a Conservative-on-Conservative referendum, and two years on, why are the Conservatives making such a mess of it? Because for them, every argument is still framed within British-only interests. There is never anything about 28 countries working together. It is only ever about a narrow self-interest.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I really cannot because we have very little time left. The Conservative Brexit vision is for a Britain and a Europe from before the European Union was formed. Their vision is for a continent of competing nation states, but the profound vision of the EU—we see this most clearly in the island of Ireland—is that people can have multiple identities. We can be British and Irish, British and French, and British and Polish. To be British and Irish is to have no border in Ireland, but it also means staying in the single market and in the customs union. People are now beginning to realise that it is also about staying in the European Union.
Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?
Okay, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Many of my constituents would describe themselves as British-Pakistani. To suggest that somehow people can only retain that identity if we have some sort of open-border policy is somewhat ridiculous.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and absolutely—I passionately believe in multiple identities and I used to live in an area in the north of England where there were many people with Muslim and British identities. However, I think that, in this country, we simply fail to understand the idea of multiple identities, and in the Brexit debate, that is also a big failure.
Where do we go from here? In June 2016, the people voted narrowly to leave the European Union. Liberal Democrats believe that it was not a blank cheque to this Government, or indeed any Government, to do anything that they like. Democracy did not stop in June 2016, but it seems for this Government that it did. The will of the people on that date is their mandate for anything that they want to do now. The shocking thing is that the politicians who argue that they are enacting the will of the people are the same politicians who refuse to ask the people again now, after many things have changed—after we are not getting £350 million back for the NHS and after we know how complicated it is to extract ourselves from the customs union without creating a border in Northern Ireland.
Ask the people again. From Magna Carta onwards, democracy in this country had to be fought for. The people have woken up to this. This Government are acting in the name of the people without the people’s consent. Ask the people now. The people must finish what the people have started.
It is a pleasure to sum up at the end of this debate, to which there have been many contributions by Members from throughout the House. I will start with the comments of the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is no longer in her place. She gave defending the Government’s position on Brexit her best shot; as a remainer, she knows that it will do and is doing us great harm. I give her credit for at least trying to present the Government’s policies in the best possible light.
The hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), who speaks for the main Opposition, said that the Labour party did not want an exit from Brexit or a final say on the deal. That will come as a surprise to the majority of her party members, who support a final say on the deal and an exit from Brexit. She went on to say, following an intervention—I think this was meant to be a clarification—that the Labour party was not calling for a final say on the deal but was leaving open the option of one. We can read into that whatever we want. I read into it that the Labour party is preparing a position that it might move to at some point in the near future. We hope that that will happen at the Labour autumn conference, and we welcome the flexibility that the hon. Lady outlined.
The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) said, perhaps rather surprisingly, that his views did not matter. I suppose that depends on whether he thinks we are delegates or representatives in this place. I think that the views of Members of Parliament matter, and that we are not here simply to deliver something that has been voted for by a majority of our constituents, particularly if we know that it will do us a huge amount of harm. The hon. Gentleman and other Members have held out the idea that fisheries, for instance, will benefit heavily. As I understand it, however, even when we are out of the common fisheries policy, the UN law of the sea will still apply, so the idea that no other country will be able to access our waters does not bear scrutiny.
I was pleased that the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) spoke in support of the motion. He set out, in stark terms, the economic damage that the Government know Brexit will cause us, and in an intervention he rightly highlighted the fantasy jobs Brexit on offer from the Labour party. I am afraid that the Labour spokesperson could not provide any evidence at all to back up her suggestion that there was a jobs Brexit out there.
The only thing I will say for the speech of the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) is that it was very short. However short it was, it was long enough for me to note that I disagreed with every single word in it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) rightly concentrated on food poverty, and he gave a concrete example of some of the potential consequences of Brexit. Thanks to an intervention, which I do not think was supposed to be helpful, he was able to list all the things we managed to do while we were in government, such as taking millions of people off tax, creating millions of extra jobs and introducing the pensions triple lock and the pupil premium. Those things were all achieved in a five-year period of strong and stable government, on which I am sure everyone in this country looks back nostalgically as they watch the Tory party tearing itself apart and shedding Ministers on a daily basis.
The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) said that business wanted certainty. As I said in an intervention on one of his colleagues, the only thing that is certain is that any model of Brexit that the Government adopt will damage business. If he wants certainty, that is the certainty that business can rely on.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), who is clearly not a Liberal Democrat supporter, said that it was not clear what the Liberal Democrats wanted. I think it is quite clear: we want an exit from Brexit, and we would achieve that through a final say on the deal. We accept that the only way we could legitimately secure an exit from Brexit would be through a final say on the deal that everyone in the country could take part in.
I will not give way now, but I may do so in a moment if I have a bit of time.
The hon. Gentleman also said that a policy debate was absent. Let me point out to him that we will not be having a policy debate in this place for the next four or five years, because this Government and any successor Government will have to focus on delivering Brexit. That will take three, four or five years, so the hon. Gentleman can put any policy debate that he wants on hold. We will also be financially worse off. I am sure that the Government will not want to challenge the Office for Budget Responsibility, which says that Brexit will cost £15 billion a year. We are calling for a Brexit dividend, which would mean abandoning Brexit and grabbing that £15 billion a year. No doubt the UK Statistics Authority would be happy to support that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) was right to point out that throughout the Brexit debate the Government have ignored the 48%. I have intervened on the Prime Minister and given her an opportunity to stand up for the 48%, but she has not done so; she has stood up for the 52% instead. I commend my hon. Friend for adopting the Leader of the Opposition’s tactic of bringing individuals into these issues, because we do need to hear from real people—real people with real issues to address, whether they are fishermen, residents of Northern Ireland or, indeed, business owners. It is better to hear from them than it is to hear from some of the ideologues on the Government Benches—and, indeed, a few on the Opposition Benches—whose ideology drives them to abandon their common sense so that they cannot see the consequences of what they are advocating.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) rightly focused on the contribution of EU citizens and European schemes such as Erasmus, and also on one of the things that makes me most angry—the obstacles that the Government are putting in the way of young people’s rights to live, work and study abroad.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) was asked, in another helpful intervention, what question we would ask in a referendum. His simple answer was, “Do people want to vote for the Government deal, or do they want to stay in the European Union?”
My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) rightly said that if we become involved in a campaign for a final say on the deal, we must sell the positives of the European Union, which was not done during the referendum a couple of years ago. There is public support for a final say on the deal, and, indeed, there is public support from members of Unite. As I am sure the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central will be pleased to hear, a net plus-23% of them support a vote on the final deal. So union members are calling for it, and I welcome that, but there is political support for it as well.
It is with great pleasure that I quote what the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said:
“If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.”
The right hon. Gentleman has, of course, been replaced as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab). What did the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have to say on the matter a couple of years ago? He said:
“Tory MPs may push for second referendum after 2020 if Remain win”.
I am happy to pray in aid the support of both the outgoing Brexit Secretary of State and the incoming one for a final say on the deal and a chance for people to have an exit from Brexit.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier in the debate, I asked the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) why, if he was so keen on referendums, the Liberal Democrats—and he in particular—had not voted for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty in 2008. He said that they had.
Since then I have had the opportunity to check the Official Report, and I can tell the House that on 5 March 2008—this is in column 1868—a small number of Liberal Democrats did vote for a referendum, but the right hon. Member for Twickenham did not. Nor did the then leader of the Liberal Democrats or the vast majority of the Liberal Democrats, because it was against their official policy. I should like your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, on the fact that the right hon. Gentleman misled the House of Commons.
That is not a point of order, it is a matter of debate. The House has heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say, and perhaps there will be opportunities for Liberal Democrats to intervene on the Minister, but I do want to move on to the Minister’s summing up.
The British public had to wait 41 years from 1975 for another referendum on EU membership, and while we have heard today that some may hope another one comes along very shortly, they do not represent a majority either in this House or in the country.
We have heard some excellent speeches in this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) pointed out the ludicrous position whereby Lib Dems in Scotland are so clearly opposing a second indyref while arguing that a second referendum on EU exit is vital. He also spoke very well about the sea of opportunity for Scottish fishermen as we leave the commons fisheries policy.
We heard a brilliant, short and direct speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), and I agreed with every word that he said. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) clearly set out why, by ignoring the views of the electorate, the Lib Dems lost the support of people in Cornwall, and how his constituents, like mine, want to see the Government getting on with the job. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) for a strong and typically humorous speech from the Opposition Front Bench, and to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), who spoke against the motion.
The referendum question agreed by this Parliament and presented to the people was simply whether we should leave the EU or remain in it; it was as simple as that. Parliament attached no conditions or caveats to that vote. The people voted to leave, and that is what the Government are delivering. I would be the first to accept that we must do so in a way that brings people together whether they voted leave or remain and that secures the best interests of our economy, and that is exactly what this Conservative Government are seeking to do. We have heard a great deal of nostalgia from Lib Dem MPs for their time in government, but we do not need job applications from former Lib Dem Ministers in search of a ministerial car to enable us to deliver for the economy.
I will give way in a moment.
Some Members have suggested today that the Government have not made progress in negotiations with the EU, but I would contest that. The vast majority of the withdrawal agreement is now agreed and we remain on track to finalise its terms, alongside agreeing the framework for our future relationship, by October. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) for their work on that process. I noted the kind comments of the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) about the courtesy with which he was always treated by my right hon. Friend, and I will give way to the hon. Gentleman now.
The Minister talks about reaching out. Can he tell the House one area this Government have changed because of an intervention from the Opposition Benches or from a devolved Administration that the Conservatives would not have taken on board otherwise?
We have listened very carefully to views across the whole House. I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends speaking about Erasmus. As the Prime Minister set out in her Mansion House speech, we are seeking cultural and educational co-operation with the EU. That is an issue on which Members across the House can agree and, of course, there have been many other issues where we have listened. During the passage of the EU withdrawal Act, we listened to views across the House and engaged on those. I personally was very pleased that we were able to engage with the cross-party amendment in the Lords on the Good Friday agreement—the one supported by Labour’s Lord Murphy and my noble Friend Lord Patten.
In March we reached a significant milestone, reaching agreement on wide areas of the withdrawal agreement, locking down the full chapters on citizens’ rights and the financial settlement, and providing certainty to businesses and individuals, with both sides committing in principle to a time-limited implementation period. Last month, building on the progress made in March, the UK and EU negotiating teams made further significant progress towards finalising the withdrawal agreement, with the majority of text on other separation issues now agreed. These cover a range of areas, including arrangements for goods on the market, Euratom-related issues, and co-operation in civil and commercial matters. We have had constructive discussions with the EU on the few remaining issues in the text, including data, police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, and governance arrangements for the agreement, and we look forward to finalising all these areas soon.
Under the terms of article 50, we are also in the process of negotiating the framework for our future relationship with the EU. Last weekend at Chequers, the Cabinet agreed the collective position on the UK’s proposals for that future relationship. This will create a free trade area between the UK and the EU which establishes a common rulebook for industrial goods. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) spoke about the importance of that to food and agriculture. High standards will be maintained, but we will also ensure that no new changes take place without the approval of our Parliament. We will have a new business-friendly customs model, with freedom to strike new trade deals around the world. These proposals avoid frictions in trade, protect jobs and livelihoods and, crucially, meet the commitments made by both sides to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. Even the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), in opening the debate, recognised that as an advance, but it represents the consistent position of this Government.
The Minister is painting a glowing picture of the deal that the Government are putting together. He might not have been on Twitter this afternoon, but I understand that two Tory vice-chairs have just resigned. How come they do not see this in quite the same terms as he does?
I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that individuals’ decisions are up to those individuals.
We are clear that we are presenting a constructive approach to these negotiations to secure the right deal between the UK and the European Union. On Thursday, we will publish a White Paper that will set out in more detail how we will be taking back control of our money, our laws and our borders. It will also set out the nature of the deep and special relationship that the UK seeks with the EU after Brexit. It will be one that includes some of the issues that Liberal Democrat Members have talked about as though they might disappear, such as Erasmus and Horizon 2020, where we are seeking a constructive approach to being able to work together in the future.
It would be extremely nice to have a constructive approach to the negotiations from the European Union. We keep talking about the deal that we are trying to put together, but I would really like to hear what the European Union’s suggestions are, because I have heard nothing on that.
My hon. Friend makes his point powerfully, but we need to ensure that we allow ourselves to take the right approach and the constructive approach to the negotiations. Many Members on both sides of the House have identified the damage that would be done to the negotiating process by signalling to the European Union that, if it were to take a tough stance and allow the talks to break down, the British people would simply decide to pay in and still send vast sums of money. The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) confirmed that it was the position of the Liberal Democrats to ask the question at the end of the process: “Do you like the deal that is on offer, or do you simply want to stay in the European Union?” If we set out that question right now to ask at the end of the process, there would be no incentive for the European Union to engage constructively with the negotiations over the coming months. It is naive in the extreme to think that the EU would continue to negotiate in good faith on that basis.
Will the Minister answer a question that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), failed to answer? In the Chequers statement, the Prime Minister stated that a new rule for the EU rulebook would be considered by this House and that we would have a chance to vote on it. Will he explain what would happen if the House were to reject a proposed new rule to add to the EU rulebook?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we want to bring to the House an agreement between the UK and the EU that the whole House will want to support. There will be more detail on the precise measures in the White Paper that we are bringing forward at the end of this week—
So you’re not going to answer the question.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman, and to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), who spoke about the results of the 2017 election in her own constituency, that they should pay attention to the fact that more than 80% of the people who voted in that general election voted for parties that had made it clear that they would respect the result of the referendum. The 8% who voted for the Liberal Democrat party do not represent a majority in the country or a significant shift of opinion on this issue. We are at a critical point in our negotiations, and we simply could not afford the distraction of this debate about a second referendum. What we need to do now is to progress our negotiations with the European Union in order to achieve the right outcome. The approach agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers is a constructive way forward. We are seeking to get the best deal for the UK as a whole, and we intend to negotiate under the best possible conditions. To do otherwise would be irresponsible in the extreme.
Does the Minister share my assessment that by pushing for a second referendum the Liberal Democrat no-deal fanatics are actually making no deal more likely, because they are making getting a good deal more difficult?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I did not agree with some of his speech, but he just made a strong point. We must ensure that both sides understand the need to engage constructively in the negotiations over the months ahead to seek a new relationship between the UK and the EU.
I have great respect for the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), who made a passionate speech singing the praises of the EU and its model of bringing countries together. I understand the case that she makes, but it was also made during the EU referendum, when the British people decided not to consent to continued participation in that political project. We must respect that crucial decision. The Government have been clear in all such debates that our position respecting the referendum has remained the same. We said ahead of and at the time of the 2016 referendum that we would respect the result, and that remains the case. It is interesting that those on the Opposition Benches who support the idea of a second referendum only discovered their desire after being on the losing side.
On the night of the referendum, as we have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, Lord Ashdown, perhaps in anticipation of a different outcome, said:
“I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken. Whether it is a majority of 1% or 20%, when the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you do not.”
What does it say about the faith in the judgment of the British people of those who support such sentiments if they simply wish to ask the same question again in the hope of getting a different answer? As the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said, “Keep voting until you agree with us.”
The British people voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of this Government and this Parliament to deliver on their instruction. We have done so by voting overwhelmingly to trigger article 50 and by passing essential legislation, such as the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Petitions brought to this House for debate have repeatedly failed to garner the support of the House. Our position on this issue is therefore clear, and we have repeatedly said that there will be no second referendum or, as the right hon. Member for Twickenham suggested earlier, a third one.
Does the Minister agree that opinion polls show that there is no support for a second referendum? The Liberal Democrats claim that there is support for a final say, but people push back strongly when they are told that that will involve a referendum.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. From meetings with businesses in Scotland, I know the deep concern among the business community at the prospect, as held up by the SNP, of a second independence referendum. From speaking to my constituents, whether they voted leave or remain, the main sentiment that I pick up is the same as what I have picked up from many Government Members, which is that they want us to get on with the process.
We are determined to make a success of Brexit and we are working hard and at pace to get the best deal possible: an agreement that is in the mutual interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that delivers on the British people’s decision on Brexit in a pragmatic way without re-running and re-fighting the referendum. Whether in Scotland, England or Northern Ireland, our constituents want us to get on with the process and get on with it we will. However, some things are worth re-running, including the wise words of the right hon. Member for Twickenham, who is no longer in his place—[Interruption.] My apologies; he has moved. He said that the
“public have voted, and I do think it’s seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive to say, ‘Sorry guys, you got it wrong, try again’.”
I therefore urge the House to reject this motion.
10 July 2018
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details