Before I invite the Prime Minister to move the Second Reading, I must announce my decision on certification for the purposes of Standing Order No. 83J (Certification of bills etc. as relating exclusively to England or England and Wales and being within devolved legislative competence), with which I feel sure colleagues will be closely familiar. On the basis of material put before me, I certify that in my opinion the Bill does not meet the criteria required for certification under that Standing Order.
I will make a public service announcement now. Under the terms of the business of the House motion, as amended, which the House has just passed, amendments for the Committee stage of the Bill may now be accepted by the Clerks at the Table only. Members may continue to table amendments up until the start of proceedings in the Committee of the whole House. For the benefit of everyone, however, I would encourage Members to table their amendments as soon as possible. The Chairman of Ways and Means will take a provisional decision on selection and grouping on the basis of amendments tabled a quarter of an hour after the beginning of the Second Reading debate. That provisional selection list will be made available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website before the start of proceedings in Committee. If necessary, an updated amendment paper will be made available as soon as possible during proceedings in Committee. The Clerk at the Table is happy, and therefore we can all be happy.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is now a week since Parliament voted to delay Brexit yet again. It is a week since this Parliament voted yet again to force Brussels to keep this country in the European Union for at least another three months, at a cost of £1 billion a month. In the days since then, the Government have tried to be reasonable and to ascribe the best possible motives to our friends and colleagues around the House. [Interruption.] I have twice offered more time for debate. I offered more time last week and I made the same offer last night. I said that we were prepared to debate this Bill—[Interruption.] I said we were prepared to debate the withdrawal Bill around the clock to allow Parliament time to scrutinise it, to the point of intellectual exhaustion. We must bear in mind that not only has this House been considering this issue for three and a half years, but last week when this Bill was being debated there was not a single new idea and not a single new suggestion. All they wanted was more time, more weeks, more months, when they could not even provide the speakers to fill the time allotted.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving eventually giving way. [Interruption.] We can all go, “Ooh”, like children but we are actually trying to get something through. Let me go back to the comments he made when he opened his speech. Either this House voted for the Second Reading or it delayed it—he cannot have it both ways, which is what he seems to want. Would the Prime Minister like to go back over his first comments and address whether he thinks they were entirely correct, because almost everything he said seemed to me as though he might be misleading the House and the country?
I am astonished to hear that the hon. Lady thinks that she voted for the programme motion last week—that is the logic of what she said. As far as I understand it, she voted for delay. She voted to delay Brexit indefinitely. Let us be absolutely clear: the whole country can see what is really going on. Does she want to deliver Brexit? No, she doesn’t. She does not want to deliver Brexit. People can see that Opposition Members do not want to deliver Brexit. All they want to do is procrastinate. They do not want to deliver Brexit on 31 October, 31 November or even on 31 January.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that the only indicative vote that passed through this Parliament was to find alternative arrangements to the backstop and that he removed the backstop from the deal, but this remain Parliament will still not vote for it? Therefore, his call for an election is the right thing to do—let the public decide.
My hon. Friend is entirely right and he speaks for his constituency; they want to deliver Brexit, he wants to deliver Brexit, but Opposition Members just want to spin it out forever, until the 12th of never. When the 12th of never eventually comes around, they will devise one of their complicated parliamentary procedures and move a motion for a further delay and a further extension. I have to say that this delay is becoming seriously damaging to the national interest, because families cannot plan and businesses cannot plan. Not only is the climate of uncertainty corroding trust in politics, but it is beginning to hold everybody back from making vital everyday decisions that are important for the health of our economy—decisions on buying new homes, hiring new staff and making new investments. The performance of the UK economy is, frankly, miraculous, given the stasis here in Parliament.
My right hon. Friend was one of those who delayed Brexit in March by voting against departure then on the deal that had then been negotiated. He did get a majority of 30 for his deal in principle last week, and if the subsequent time of this House had been devoted to the Committee and Report stage of the House, following the ordinary principles of government, we would be well on our way to leaving in the middle of November. I respectfully say to my right hon. Friend: can he find a slightly better basis for fighting this election when we get to the campaign in due course?
Will the Prime Minister look at the amendment tabled in my name, which suggests that if we work seven days a week—like many of my constituents do—we could get the Brexit Bill through and meet his deadline? Is not a Brexit in the hand better than two Brexits in the bush?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who I know wants to deliver Brexit. I am afraid that the idea he puts forward is one that we have tried twice. We tried it last week and we tried it last night. It would have been a good offer for the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) to take up. He refused to take it up, and we are left with no choice but to go to the country to break free from this impasse, and to allow us all to submit, as we must in all humility, to the judgment of the electorate—to allow us to make our case and, above all, to allow a new and revitalised Parliament, with a new mandate to deliver on the will of the people and get Brexit done.
That new Parliament, in just a few weeks’ time, will have before it a great new deal with the EU—a great new deal, which brings together Members from across the House, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) mentioned earlier. It will be the job of that new Parliament, in just a few weeks’ time, to ratify the withdrawal deal and put an end to this long period of parliamentary dither and delay.
I am glad to say that since I first put forward the idea of a general election as a way out of this impasse, the ice floes have begun to crack. The Lib Dems are now in favour, and the Scots Nats—the Scottish National party—is now in favour of it. There is only one blockage still standing in the way of democracy. There is only one party that refuses to trust the judgment of the people. There is only one party that is still running scared of an election and that is the main party of opposition, which is failing in its defining function—[Interruption.] Well, we have not heard anything to the contrary. Dogs bark, cows moo and Oppositions are meant to campaign for elections—except for this one.
I have no way of knowing what the right hon. Member for Islington North is going to say. He has called for an election 35 times in the last year alone. I have no idea why he has been so opposed to an election. Maybe it is because he has been following the precepts of his intellectual mentor, Fidel Castro, whose adoring crowds used to serenade him with the cry, “Revoluciones sí, elecciones no!” Maybe he is congenitally opposed. Maybe he has been listening to the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), or the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), who I gather have been arguing against an election. He should beware of their motives in counselling him against a general election. It is not so much that they fear a general election, though they probably do; it is just that they do not want a general election with him as their leader.
I do not know what has been holding the right hon. Gentleman back from this obvious democratic exercise, but whatever it is, I hope that he will now stand up and say that he has mastered his doubts and that he is finally willing to submit to the electorate. He has mentioned that he is a great eater of porridge. All I can say is that when it comes to the offer of elections, he reminds me of Goldilocks in his fastidiousness—one offer is too hot and one is too cold. I hope he will be able to stand up this afternoon and say, “This time, this offer of an election is just right.”
If he does, and I hope he does, we will then be able to put that choice to the people of this country. We can go his way, which is for an economic recipe that would mean the destruction of the UK’s wealth-creating system and over-taxation of a kind that is derived from revolutionary Venezuela, combined with the political nightmare agenda of not one, but two, referendums—one on the EU and one in Scotland—with all their potential for further rancour and recrimination. As I understand it, that is his policy. Or we can go forward with this Government—a Government that have secured a great deal that allows us to leave the EU as one whole United Kingdom—as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—able together to do free trade deals around the world, able to set our own path, to make our own laws, to take back control of our borders, our money and our regulations, able to deliver all the benefits and all the freedoms of Brexit, from new free ports to more humane treatment of animals, which the right hon. Gentleman would block, from tax breaks for new technology to cutting VAT on sanitary products.
It is a deal that they said was impossible three months ago. They said we could not change the withdrawal agreement. They said that we would never get rid of the backstop, and we did. The deal is there. It is ready to be approved by a new Parliament, with a Government yearning with every fibre of their being to be able to get on and deliver our one-nation Conservative agenda, with a vision for uniting this country and levelling up with record investments in health, like nothing else in a generation, with 20,000 more police officers and more funding for every primary and secondary school in the country—levelling up across this whole United Kingdom. It will be a Government able to commit to fantastic public services and infrastructure, precisely because we believe in free markets and enterprise. We believe in free markets and enterprise and the wealth-creating sector of the economy in a way that causes a shadow of Transylvanian horror to pass over the semi-communist faces of the Opposition Front Bench.
That is the argument I want to have with the Leader of the Opposition. That is the biggest and most important difference between us—between us one-nation Conservatives and the socialists on the Opposition Benches. There is only one way now to move this country forward and to have that debate, and that is to get Brexit done. There is only one way to get Brexit done, in the face of this unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism—this endless, wilful, fingers crossed, “Not me, guv!” refusal to deliver on the mandate of the people—and that is to refresh this Parliament and to give the people a choice.
I say to the whole House and to all those who may still be hesitating about whether to vote for the Bill that there is only one way to restore the esteem in which our democracy is held and to recover the respect in which Parliament should be held by the people of this country, and that is, finally, to offer ourselves to the judgment of the people of this country. I commend the Bill to the House.
Labour backs a general election because we want this country to be rid of this reckless and destructive Conservative Government. They are a Government that have caused more of our children to live in poverty, more pensioners to be in poverty and more people to be in work and in poverty, more families to be without a home and more people to sleep rough on our streets. They are a Government that have cut and sold off so much of our important public services.
No, I will not. They are a Government that created the vicious hostile environment that saw our own citizens deported. It is time for real change.
I have said consistently, when no deal is off the table we will back an election. Today, after much denial and bluster by the Prime Minister, no deal is officially off the table, so this country can vote for the Government that it deserves.
I shall be voting against an early election today and encourage as many of my colleagues as possible to defy the threats and blandishments, and to do so as well. The uncertainty about the outcome of a general election means that, in reality, no deal has certainly not been taken off the table.
I hope my friend will join in the campaign to defeat this Government and to bring in a Government that will end injustice, poverty and inequality in this country. That is why I joined the Labour party all those years ago, and I will be very proud to take that as our message to the people of this country. I want to give our public services the funding they need and to end the threat of privatisation that hangs over so many public service workers; to stop the grotesque poverty and inequality in our country; to rebuild the economy in every region and every nation of this country; to tackle the climate emergency with a green new deal, a green industrial revolution that will bring good quality jobs to many areas of the country that have been denied them by this Government and their Liberal Democrat accomplices during the coalition years; and, after three years of Conservative failure, to get Brexit sorted—the only party that is doing so—by giving people the final say on what happens over Brexit.
We will launch the most ambitious radical campaign for real change in this country, and I look forward to campaigning in a general election all over the country, including in Uxbridge if the Prime Minister is still the Conservative candidate there at that time.
I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for giving way. May I say to him that, in the upcoming election, the right of the Scottish people to choose their own future will be at the front and centre? If the Scottish National party wins a majority of seats in Scotland, will he respect that result?
I am looking forward to campaigning all over Scotland to support Labour candidates to be elected in Scotland. Indeed, I was there last weekend, and the enthusiasm of Scottish Labour to get out there and campaign was palpable everywhere. I am delighted to support Scottish Labour in its campaign to bring £70 billion of public investment to Scotland under a Labour Government, which is something that the SNP cannot offer.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I look forward to campaigning with him in Scotland in the upcoming election, but, as he will know, one crucial thing in this election will be the turnout and ensuring that we get as many people out and using their votes as possible. In Scotland especially, it is very dark and very cold. Does he support the idea of having polling day as a public holiday to ensure maximum turnout?
I thank my friend for that intervention and compliment her on her work. I agree that a public holiday on election day would be a very good idea, because it does mean that everyone could then get along to vote without the problems of being at work at that time. It is something that has been discussed before. I do not know all the amendments that are coming up later on this afternoon, Mr Speaker, but if that one were included that would be very welcome indeed.
My right hon. Friend will know—and I raised this yesterday—that I have tabled a cross-party amendment, which is supported by many Labour colleagues, for votes at 16. The Prime Minister talks a lot about the United Kingdom. In Wales and in Scotland, 16-year-olds now have the right to vote in elections and in referendums. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should be afforded to all 16-year-olds in the United Kingdom.
I thank my friend for that intervention. I am coming on to that in a moment, but I absolutely do agree that all 16-year-olds should have the right to vote, because it seems fundamental to our democracy. After all, it is young people’s future that we will be debating in this election. I thank him for his intervention, and the work that he has done on bringing about parliamentary scrutiny to this whole process.
The House has amended the programme motion and it has done so in a very helpful way that empowers this Chamber, the House of Commons, to amend this legislation. I think we should just reflect for a moment that the Prime Minister was actually trying to stifle parliamentary democracy with an almost unprecedented edict that only the Government could amend their own legislation, which presumably they wrote last night. This idea of their amending today what they wrote last night suggests they have a problem, perhaps, with memory loss—I do not know what it is. I am pleased that those amendments will be debated today.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not give way.
What this legislation does is sum up in a couple of words the undemocratic and authoritarian instincts of this Government and this Prime Minister in relation to Parliament. I want to put on record my thanks to my friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) for her persistence in tabling that amendment last night, which means that the House will have an opportunity to debate a number of very serious amendments today. We will be seeking to expand the franchise in the December election, which means supporting votes at 16, as is the case now for Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections. It also means that we support the rights of EU citizens with settled status to vote in elections in this country. After all, we do recognise their contribution to our society. We do give them votes in local elections, so it seems to me only logical that, since they have made their future in this country in our society, they should have a right to vote on their future as well, and I look forward to supporting those amendments later on today.
I look forward to getting out on the campaign trail and smashing the Conservatives at the ballot box and returning more Labour colleagues here. I am particularly pleased by what he has just said around EU settled status here. We already allow our Commonwealth citizens to vote in our elections, so can we try to ensure that all EU citizens who are settled here get to vote as well?
My friend is right. Commonwealth citizens have permanently had the right to vote in British elections, and that is absolutely right, and, as far as I know, most Commonwealth countries reciprocate. Our relationship with Ireland means that all Irish nationals have an automatic right to vote in UK elections and vice versa.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. He has been in the House since 2001 so he is familiar with parliamentary etiquette, which stipulates quite clearly that when somebody who has the Floor is not giving way, he should accept the verdict. He does not have a right to intervene and he should have learned that by now.
I have already said that I will not give way, so I say it again for the fourth time—no!
In that election, everyone should have the right to participate. It is their future and this country’s future that is at stake.
The Prime Minister has failed in his promise to be out of the European Union, do or die, on 31 October, but it may be the date that Parliament dissolves, thereby marking the end of his tenure in office. Whatever date the House decides for the election, I am ready for it, we are ready for it. We want to be able to say to the people of this country that there is an alternative to austerity, there is an alternative to inequality, there is an alternative to sweetheart trade deals with Donald Trump, and there is an alternative of a Government who invest in all parts of the country, a Government who are determined to end injustice in our society, and a Government who are determined to give our young people a sense of hope in their society, rather than the prospects of indebtedness and insecure employment in the future, which, sadly, is all a Conservative Government and their coalition with the Lib Dems have ever brought them. I am very ready to go out there and give that message in any election whenever it comes.
I very much applaud the Prime Minister for the stand that he has taken continuously over the past months. He is doing the right thing for the right reason. Furthermore, I have listened to the Leader of the Opposition talking about autocratic, undemocratic decision making. Time and again, we have witnessed undemocratic decisions—on the Benn Act and a series of other enactments and motions—continuously over the same period of months.
The Opposition are a disgrace. They have completely undermined the democracy in this House, and have undermined the referendum—or are trying to do so. At last, they have been dragged kicking and screaming to the Dispatch Box, and it sounds as if today they are effectively going to agree that we will have a general election in December. I therefore have absolutely no compunction whatever in condemning them for their shameless behaviour and for voting against motions for an early general election over the last few months.
I am glad to say that I voted against the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill back in 2010 and 2011 during its passage through the House, and I did so for precisely the reasons that we are now having to overcome. I said at the time—on Second Reading and while discussing various amendments—that the provisions of that Bill, which the Bill we are discussing today is at last putting straight, were
“in defiance of the democratic mandate. This is about Whips and patronage; it has nothing to do with the people outside.”
I said that damage was being done to the people of this country and that there was no mandate
“of any kind for any party, in any manifesto, in any part of the political system.”
I also said that
“a motion can be passed by a simple majority of one, as has been the case from time immemorial—from the very inception of our parliamentary process in what is sometimes described as the ‘mother of Parliaments’. That is now being changed in a manner that will seriously alter the method whereby a Government may fall.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 309-312.]
Furthermore, I added that what mattered was the constitutional principle that underpins the basis of having a simple majority in this House; this two-thirds majority has always been wrong.
He has. [Interruption.] There is a rather unseemly atmosphere in here. Mr Linden, you are a very over-excitable fellow today; calm yourself. Mr Newlands next to you is clearly moderately embarrassed. He is going to try to encourage you to tread a path of virtue, and we should say three cheers to that. Meanwhile you can smile, Mr Linden, because I am about to call your leader—Mr Ian Blackford.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I have to say that I think he has just written the SNP’s leaflets for our election campaign. He says that we have tried to obstruct Brexit. Well, I would say to the House: guilty as charged. Let me explain exactly why we have done so.
We are used to referendums in Scotland. We have had two: one in 2014 and another in 2016. Crucially, we were told in 2014 that, if Scotland stayed in the United Kingdom, we would be staying in Europe. But more than that—we were told that this was going to be a Union of equals and that Scotland was going to be respected. And what has happened? In the European referendum, Scotland voted to remain in Europe by 62%, and our Parliament and Government have sought to give voice to that. We have published document after document under the title “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, in which we have sought to compromise with the United Kingdom Government, but at every step of the way—whether it was the previous Prime Minister or this one— we have been ignored.
I have repeatedly made the point—I make no apology for making it again today—that SNP Members are simply not prepared to sit back and allow Scotland to be taken out of the European Union against its will. On that basis, I welcome the opportunity of an election. Make no mistake, the coming election will be for the right of Scotland to determine its own future. We will reflect on everything that has happened since 2017, when 13 Scottish Conservatives were temporarily elected to this House. I say “temporarily” because they have voted against Scotland’s interests every step of the way, and have given no consideration to the fact that every single local authority area in Scotland voted to remain.
Just think about what Brexit would do to Scotland. Just think about the challenge we face in growing our population—a challenge that we have had for decades, but one that we have risen to on the basis of the free movement of people. Our economy is growing and European citizens have made a contribution to that economy. We have collectively benefited from the right to live, work and travel in 28 EU member states. We voted to retain those rights, yet the Conservatives want to take us out, so I really look forward to the election, when we can reinforce the mandate that we already have from the Scottish election in 2016, when the people of Scotland yet again voted the SNP into power. We have a mandate for an independence referendum, and it ill behoves this House to frustrate the legitimate demands of our Parliament and our Government. If the people of Scotland back the SNP again in the coming election, it has to be the case that we have the right to determine our future.
I am grateful that the European Union has granted us an extension to the end of January, and we must use the time wisely. But I say to our friends in Europe: please remember to stand by Scotland in our hour of need; and, as our dear friend Alyn Smith said in the European Parliament, keep a light on for Scotland because we are coming back. And that is because we are ambitious for our country. We want to grow our economy, to continue to benefit from the single market and the customs union, to make Scotland a destination in Europe, and to complete the journey that Scotland embarked on with devolution 20 years ago. We have a Parliament that has delivered for the people of Scotland and that is pushing on with addressing the challenge of climate change. We have a Parliament that is doing its job and has delivered education free at the point of need, not based on people’s ability to pay. I could go on about the differences between the way in which the Scottish Government and the UK Government have delivered for our people, and about the growing self-confidence that we see in Scotland.
As my right hon. Friend spells out, it is going to be quite straightforward for the SNP to write its manifesto for the upcoming election. The Prime Minister has failed in his promise of “do or die”, and the Scottish Conservatives have been acting against the interests of the people of Scotland and the against the wishes in their referendum in 2016, so I wonder how easy it will be for them to be trusted in this election. Is it not true that in that election we cannot give the Scottish Conservatives or this Prime Minister any chance at all?
Absolutely, and that allows me to ask the question: where is the Prime Minister? He seems to have beetled and scuttled out of the Chamber. One wonders if he is away to dig a ditch.
One of the things I can be proud of is that we gave 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the 2014 referendum in Scotland. Why? Because it was about their future; it was a principled decision that those who follow us, who are going to be living and working in our country, have the right to a say in its future. The SNP calls on Members to reduce the voting age to 16 for all elections, and to extend the franchise to citizens of the European Union. As we have heard in this debate, citizens from the Commonwealth are given the right to vote in our election. Why is it the case that European nationals, who are our friends—who work with us and are part of our community, and whose rights are affected by what the Conservatives want to do—do not have the right to vote in our elections? It is an absolute disgrace. Those who pay taxes in our country should have rights of representation.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether any other European countries offer European citizens not from their country the right to vote in their national elections?
If the hon. Lady had been listening, I just explained that we do that in Scotland. The problem for the Tories is that they can never make a judgment on what is the right thing to do. We are talking about EU citizens who are losing their rights.
Let me remind the House of what the Prime Minister said way back in July in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) when he asked about EU nationals having the right to vote:
“Those guarantees, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we are giving unilaterally, in a supererogatory way.”—[Official Report, 25 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 1498.]
Well, there we are—the words of the Prime Minister, doing exactly what we are calling for, yet we find that the Conservatives are blind to these calls. I therefore expect the Government today to look positively on any amendments that come forward for EU nationals. The Government have nothing to fear from extending the franchise—and of course one very important and salient point is that EU nationals are already on the voters register because they are allowed to vote in local elections. There is no moral reason for the Government not to allow this.
This is about choosing our future: our future in Europe. It is about choosing freedom from austerity. It is about opportunity. We cannot be held back any more by Westminster. The SNP will take that message to the public. Many decades ago it was said in a letter by Steinbeck to Mrs Kennedy that Scotland is not a lost cause—Scotland is a cause unwon. We will win that battle. Scotland will become an independent country and the general election will be an important step on the way to completing that journey.
When I first arrived in this House as a new MP nearly two and a half years ago, I knew that delivering Brexit would be a complex problem. I knew that achieving a negotiation between our country and our 27 nearest neighbours was going to be a huge challenge and cover many areas. I also knew that leaving the EU with a deal was in the best interests of so many of our constituents, especially those who have shared families with other residents from other EU countries, those who have jobs in companies that trade with Europe, those who are involved in our security services and want to share data with our closest allies, and those in our scientific community who often work on collaborative projects that make a difference to our world’s future and want to continue to work with those in our neighbouring countries easily.
The deal that the previous Prime Minister delivered was challenging. Some people thought that the backstop might last forever. I always saw it as a temporary issue, but I saw it as a way to deliver Brexit and move on. I voted for it three times. Our current Prime Minister has done what nobody thought he would achieve. He has reopened the negotiations and found a different way to resolve the incredibly complex situation in Northern Ireland; it is a solution that keeps open the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I voted for that deal too, and many colleagues from the Opposition Benches were brave enough to come through the Lobby with us to support it. I would have liked to see the programme motion carried. I believe that our constituents expect us to roll up our sleeves and work day and night to get that deal over the line. I would have liked to see a second programme motion, but I genuinely do not believe that the Opposition would have supported it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way in which our governing party can face the electorate is to say clearly to them that the best way of delivering Brexit is with the deal that the Prime Minister has agreed with the EU?
I absolutely agree, because the deal is in the interests of our country and has been negotiated with 27 other countries.
Continuing this uncertainty does not solve anything. A second referendum will not solve the uncertainty. The Labour policy to try to renegotiate and then have another referendum and then another one does not solve the problem.
The hon. Lady makes the case that a second referendum will not solve the Brexit impasse. I would like her to elaborate on that. On the question of the Bill which the Prime Minister proposed unamended and has now pulled, so this House cannot take it forward, surely a referendum on whether or not that proceeds would give a definitive outcome. Perhaps if the House had allowed the British public a vote on the previous Prime Minister’s deal, we could have had a definitive outcome many, many months ago.
The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal was pulled the moment the programme motion was rejected—sadly. If I believed that the Opposition truly wanted to have a couple of extra days to scrutinise it, I would give them another chance, but they proved otherwise again and again when they failed to turn up to scrutiny Committees and debates in this House.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that for the majority of Members here who are concerned that we are leaving the EU, the main issue was not the backstop—it was a lack of clarity about the future relationship with our European neighbours and trading partners, and this second deal does not change that one iota?
The EU has made it clear since day one that we cannot discuss the detail on the future partnership until we have agreed the terms of withdrawal. That is in article 50—read it. It is only the tiniest paragraph, but it makes that clear.
The document on the future relationship covers a wide range of different issues. I have been impressed by how much the EU27 have been prepared to put into that document, including areas such as co-operation on science and security, access to trade and the deepest free trade agreement. It details important issues such as how financial services can work together in our regulatory environment, and why sharing data is so important. That is all in the future framework, but we cannot discuss the detail of it until we have agreed the terms of exit. Every time the Opposition parties say otherwise, they are being disingenuous with the British people.
Saying that we will go back and try to have another referendum in a constituency such as mine, which voted 51:49, will not heal the divisions. It just leads to a lack of decisions. In my constituency, people want to get on and focus on other things: the more police that they are now seeing on the streets, the improvements that we are seeing in our nearby hospital, the money that is coming into our NHS, the money that our schools have been asking for and is now being delivered, the infrastructure improvements that have just given my constituency the largest housing infrastructure grant in the country and unlocked a railway station that has been blocked for 20 years, and the work that we are doing on the environment—incidentally, the Lib Dems could not be bothered to turn up to the debate on the Environment Bill last night. My constituents want us to be working on those issues that affect them and their future, and not going round and round in circles on how we resolve Brexit.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listened closely to the comments made by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). She alluded to the Lib Dems not being present last night. That is not the case. Our spokesperson for the environment—my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Jane Dodds)—was here for the entirety of the debate, as I understand it from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), so I would like that to be amended in the record.
The hon. Lady has amended the record. [Interruption.] No, no, no—I do not require any help from the hon. Member for Chelmsford. I am perfectly capable of adjudicating upon these matters on the strength of 10 and a quarter years in the Chair without her sedentary chuntering. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) has corrected the record as she sees it, and the hon. Member for Chelmsford appears to accept the veracity of what she said. I was not here for that debate, but I know that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion orated in the debate, because I saw it on the annunciator. She could not have done so if she was not here. She did, so she was here.
I am perfectly well aware of that. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree has corrected the record as far as her party is concerned. She referred to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, who was here and did speak. With the greatest of respect, there is nothing to add. A lot of other colleagues wish to speak in the debate, from whom we can now hear and in whose contributions I am sure everybody is interested.
The question that we are grappling with in this House and, indeed, in the wider country is not just a narrow matter of our relationship with the European Union, although this debate on Brexit has exposed significant differences in how people feel about that. People’s identities of remain or leave run deep, because this is not only about whether we remain in the EU or leave; it is about who we are as a country. It is about our values. It is about whether we are open, inclusive and internationalist in our outlook, facing the future, or whether we are closed and insular, wanting to pull up the drawbridge and look to the past. That is the key question that we, as a country, need to resolve.
The Prime Minister talked about “one whole United Kingdom”. I thought he had a cheek, because he has not been acting in a way that protects our whole United Kingdom. He has sold out the people of Northern Ireland with the deal he has done with the EU. This is a man who said that no Conservative Prime Minister should ever accept a border in the Irish Sea, yet that is exactly what he has done. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I think that our United Kingdom is something precious that is worth protecting, and that Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are stronger together.
If there was a vote across the whole country—one person, one vote—on the Prime Minister’s deal, my view is that the majority of people would vote remain. Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a great fear that, with a minority of votes, the Tories could get a majority of seats if the remain side splits, and we will end up with Brexit, thanks to her provocation?
The hon. Gentleman and I have both been campaigning for a people’s vote. I believe that the ideal way to resolve this issue is to put this specific Brexit deal to the public. He is right; I think that the public would be likely to reject this bad Brexit deal, because it is a bad deal. If we look at the polls, we have to go back some way to find the leave vote being ahead of remain, and that has been an increasingly consistent pattern in the last couple of years.
People who support Brexit struggle to agree among themselves what Brexit should look like—we see it day in, day out in this Chamber. To some people, the Prime Minister’s deal is not Brexity enough, and other people want to see a softer Brexit. The suggestion that there is a majority in the country for this specific Brexit path is wrong, which is why this needs to be put to the people for a final say. But I have campaigned for that. I have marched for that. We have argued for that. We have tabled amendments for that. We have not been able to secure it, and my fear is that we will not in this Parliament. We do not have the luxury of time, because the EU has given us an extension to 31 January. We need to resolve how we will use that time, because further extensions should not be guaranteed.
The hon. Lady and I agree on much. I do want 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to be able to vote. The time for that change is coming, and I will always vote to support 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds having the right to vote. I have debated this issue over many years with many MPs, and Members who are sceptical should look at the success of votes at 16 in Scotland. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon on polling day, we see young people from fifth year and sixth year leaving school, walking down the road and going en masse to the polling station. It is a sight to behold, and it is a positive step. Many Members—particularly Conservative Members— in Scotland who were sceptical have come round to the idea after seeing that it is a successful change. Of course I will support that.
Has the hon. Lady considered the Liberal Democrats’ contribution to the present predicament? Their cannibalisation by the Conservatives in 2015—helped by their record in coalition, particularly on tuition fees—gave David Cameron the majority to get the referendum legislation through. Why on earth is she now making it worse by pushing for this early date? The uncertainty of the outcome of a general election certainly does not take no deal off the table.
While the Liberal Democrats were in coalition, there was not a referendum on our membership of the European Union. In fact, we passed a law to say that that should only happen when there was a significant treaty change. The loss of Liberal Democrats from the Government allowed that to be pushed through the House of Commons.
The hon. Lady says that there was not a referendum under the coalition as a result of the Liberal Democrats. I was here in 2008, and she said in this Chamber, “We are being gagged. Only the Liberal Democrats will offer an in/out referendum.” The Liberal Democrats were actively campaigning for that. They were saying that the Conservatives were only offering a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, while they would give the public a say. Whatever happened in coalition, she has long been a campaigner for an in/out referendum.
We then voted to pass an Act of Parliament to say that that should happen at the point of significant treaty change, which we have not seen. I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She has a beautiful constituency, which I am already very familiar with, and I expect to be there more in the coming weeks.
As I was saying, the Prime Minister has not supported the United Kingdom. He has agreed to a border down the Irish sea, bluntly, because he does not care sufficiently enough. This is all about him; it is not even about what he thinks is right for the country. There are different views on the European Union across this House. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who was in his place earlier, has had a very consistent view on membership of the European Union. I have taken a different view, but most people in this House know where they stand on our membership of the EU. They do not have to write two different newspaper articles to decide which way to come down on that matter, and they would not make such a decision on the basis of what is more likely to get them elected as leader of their party.
The fact that the Prime Minister was prepared to make that call in his own interest, rather than in the national interest, proves he is not fit to be Prime Minister. This is a man who has been prepared to say anything and sell out anyone to become Prime Minister. No wonder people do not trust him. He said that he would get a great deal. What has he brought forward? It is an atrocious deal. It is bad for our NHS. We have already lost 5,000 nurses from the European Union 27 countries. It is a bad deal for our security. It is a bad deal for our economy—so bad that the Government have not even published an economic impact assessment. So much for a party that liked to say it was one of economic competence. Now it has even given up doing the analysis because it knows the results would be so bad. It is a bad deal for workers’ rights and environmental protections, which have been removed from the treaty and put into a declaration that is not worth the paper it is written on.
The Prime Minister also said that we would leave on 31 October, which is Thursday—Halloween—and we are not leaving on 31 October. I for one will be celebrating the fact that we are still a member of the EU, as will the 3 million citizens in a country from other EU countries and so millions and millions more. It shows that the Prime Minister says one thing and is not bothered about whether he delivers it.
On the question of trust, has not the hon. Lady said that her party’s policy is to have a second referendum, but if the referendum comes up with the wrong result, she will ignore it, while if that does not happen and her party gets into a majority Government, she will just dispense with article 50 and ignore 17.4 million people? Why should anybody trust what she says, and why should anybody believe that she has any truck in being called a Liberal Democrat any more?
I really have to scotch this suggestion. I am not going to change my basic belief, and, to be honest, I do not think there are many in this House who would do so. Had we voted to remain in 2016, I would not have expected the hon. Member for Stone suddenly to think that being a member of the European Union was a good idea. Of course, I will always think it a good idea to be a member of the European Union, but what would be the case—
I have not finished answering the hon. Gentleman’s colleague.
If we had a people’s vote on the deal and there was a vote in favour, I would at least have confidence that there was a majority view in the country in favour of leaving under those specific circumstances. Right now, I have no confidence about that whatsoever. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) mentioned that it is the policy of the Liberal Democrats to go into a general election and say to people, “We are a party of remain. We believe that our best future is in the European Union. If you vote Liberal Democrat, we will do everything we can to stop Brexit. If you elect a majority Liberal Democrat Government, we will revoke article 50. If we are in that situation, as Prime Minister, I will revoke article 50 on day one.” That is setting out what we plan to do and, if we are elected and win the election, then doing it, which is exactly the essence of democracy.
I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am going to make some progress and let other people contribute to this debate.
We as a country face huge challenges. We have a mental health crisis, particularly among young people, that needs to be tackled. We have schools that urgently need investment to make them world-class centres of learning. We need to take bold action to tackle the climate emergency, because the scientists tell us that time is running out. However, we have huge opportunities and huge reasons be hopeful. We have people with huge innovation and ingenuity in our universities and our businesses, and there is a spirit of entrepreneurialism in our country. We are in the middle of a technological revolution that can help provide answers to the climate emergency, to the shared problems that we face and to improve our health and wellbeing for the future. When I speak to young people—whether they are in schools in my constituency, the climate strikers or the people on the marches about remaining in the EU—I hear their energy and enthusiasm, which should be an inspiration to us all.
As members of the European Union, working with our closest neighbours as a United Kingdom family of nations—strong together, working within the EU—we can reshape our economy, harness the technological revolution and build a brighter future. That is the message the Liberal Democrats will be taking to the country in this general election.
I think we have had a filibustering of democracy for much of the last year. We have had endless games and arcane procedures to prevent Brexit, and we are seeing the same games today to prevent a general election. I think this Parliament is really reaching new levels of absurdity. In the Leader of the Opposition, we have—perhaps for the first time in history—a man who can neither lead nor oppose. I still do not quite understand whether he is supporting an election today. We need an election or we need Brexit. The Labour party voted against the Brexit timetable motion, which means that we cannot proceed. Therefore, we have to go for plan B, which is an election.
May I say to the hon. Gentleman that he is just wrong? On the morning of the vote on the first programme motion, the Labour side of the usual channels asked for a meeting, but it was refused by the Government. It is now up to the Government to lay down a new programme motion, but they have refused to do that. It is still within the powers of the Government to do it.
No, it is worse than that. In the morning, the Labour Chief Whip asked through the usual channels whether he would be able to sit down to talk about a programme motion. It was the Government who refused to do that, and it is the Government who are refusing to bring back a programme motion. The idea that somehow this House is stopping debate on the withdrawal Bill is absolutely not true.
We opposed the programme motion because a major constitutional Act would have been put in place that was going to be discussed within 48 hours? The Wild Animals in Circuses Bill got more than that on the Floor of the House. The Government could have come back and said, “Right, we’ll negotiate on a programme motion”. The usual channels on the Labour side were offering that, but it is up to the Government to do it. We have always said—this has been said by the Leader of the Opposition—that we would sit down to talk about a programme motion. It is the Government who have refused to do it, not the Opposition.
I would like to just answer and then move on, if I may.
Every time we bring something to this House, the House tries to turn it into the political equivalent of a pushmi-pullyu. We tried to put a timetable motion through, and Labour Members voted against it, but now they want a timetable motion. You were offered three times—
I am not giving way because I want to answer the point made by the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). It is really important, and I would like to continue to make my point. Three times we had a withdrawal agreement this summer, and three times it was voted against, but now we are told you want that withdrawal agreement again. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman votes against, a week later they say, “Oh, why didn’t we get that back again?”
I ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question. If the Government are so proud of the withdrawal agreement they have drawn up, why do they refuse to let the House discuss it? The House proposed a programme motion that could actually move it on today. If anyone is stopping Brexit, it is the Government.
I do not want an extended debate on this, but there is another good reason why the hon. Gentleman, despite his certainty, is absolutely wrong. The Government have no control of the timetable because they have lost their majority by expelling Conservative Members with long and proud service, losing people to defections and losing the support of the Democratic Unionist party. The reason is, therefore, that the Government have been badly and recklessly led.
I want to give my hon. Friend a bit of a breather. I understand his frustration. Until the last incarnation of the withdrawal agreement, the Labour party—Her Majesty’s official Opposition—had set their face against a withdrawal Bill. Only five Members of Parliament—
No. I am making an intervention on my hon. Friend. Eventually there was a consensus on the withdrawal agreement, so the next point of attack became how long we could discuss it. It is obvious to the country that there is a process that is coming to a conclusion. The conclusion should be that the withdrawal agreement is passed to give business and people certainty. Arguing about it will not get us anywhere.
My hon. Friend is spot on. To answer the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), I think that the Prime Minister is acting in good faith. I personally have found him entirely reasonable in my dealings with him in the past couple of years. He was very supportive of a project that I helped to write earlier this year—he did not have to be.
The Prime Minister is trying to keep a promise that was made to the British people. In the Labour party manifesto, which Labour Members stood on, there was a promise to respect the referendum.
No, please let me continue. I have not yet learned to say no—I need to do so. Nyet!
In the Labour party manifesto—I think on page 24 —Labour Members collectively promised to respect the referendum result. That was patently in bad faith because they have not yet done so. The Prime Minister, believe it or not, is trying to respect the referendum result that was given to him in the mandate of 2016. I am afraid to say that the Labour party is trying to do everything it can to avoid respecting the manifesto commitment in 2017. That is why my first sentence referred to filibustering democracy.
I have respect for the hon. Gentleman. However, the Labour party did not stand on a manifesto to sell the British public down the river. Does he accept that perhaps our reason for not voting for the withdrawal agreement three times is that it was an utter load of rubbish?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. The question was not framed in pejorative terms: are you voting for Britain to be greater, Britain to be smaller, Britain to be richer, Britain to be poorer? The question was a simple one: do you want Britain to leave the European Union?
Order. I have great regard for the hon. Gentleman’s perspicacity, but not for his failure to adhere to parliamentary rules. The word “you” should not as a foreign body invade his speeches. “You” refers to the Chair. I have taken no stance on these matters.
Roughly, yes. About 10 minutes ago, I was making the point that we needed a new Parliament, before I faced a host of helpful interventions from Labour Members. We need a new Parliament because we spend so much time talking about the same old thing; talking about Brexit endlessly, when there is so much else out there.
Please let me make some progress. I will let the right hon. Gentleman intervene a little later.
We need a new Parliament because there are so many other things that we need to debate. I am interested in debating the rise of autocracies in the world. We have significant issues regarding Huawei.
My hon. Friend has just said that we need a new Parliament as if somehow a totally different electorate will be voting for people to represent them. Does he think that the people of our country made a mistake in 2017 with the Parliament they elected?
No. My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I do not think the people made a mistake and one has to respect what they did. They read the Conservative and Labour manifestos and 80% of Members were elected on a pledge to respect the wishes of the people in the 2016 referendum.
But my hon. Friend will also know that at the bottom of page 36 of the Conservative manifesto it was clear that the party’s intention was to leave the European Union with both a withdrawal agreement and a future partnership agreed by the end of the article 50 period. Surely he accepts that that is now not what is being proposed, so the current proposal does not deliver what the Conservative party manifesto set out at the last election.
Again, my right hon. Friend makes a perceptive point. It is not from lack of trying. We have had two withdrawal Bills. We have almost got to the point of a “take your pick” withdrawal Bill. We had one this summer, which Labour Members relentlessly voted against. Now many of them wish that they had not done so, because, funnily enough, they like the new withdrawal Bill even less.
The Conservative party is, of course, the Conservative and Unionist party and I believe in equality across the Union. Many young people in my constituency might like the idea of votes at 16. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be unfair if 16-year-olds had them in Scotland and in Wales, but not in England, and that instead of raising such topics at the last minute time should be given to consider whether they are deliverable?
I am sorry, but I do not buy the claim that we do not have time to deal with 16 and 17-year-olds voting. We have tabled amendments and spoken about the matter at every opportunity we have had in the House since 2015. On every occasion the Conservative Government have said that it is not the right time to do it. Why not just do it now?
Is it not the case that the Labour party voted for Brexit—the one that was in our manifesto, rather than the Government’s version of Brexit? Labour has called for a customs union, but the Government have not offered that. Why should we support the Government’s deal, when it is not the promise we made to our own electorate?
I suspect the answer to that is that I am sure the hon. Gentleman will enjoy telling his electorate why Brexit has not been passed. The hon. Gentleman believes that that is a competent answer. We look forward to seeing him back here. I clearly hope very much that I will be back here too, but I need to explain to my electorate why Opposition Members keep voting against Brexit and, thus far, keep voting against a general election.
The hon. Gentleman says that Labour Members are constantly voting against Brexit, but he should remember that for two years and eight months this House had no say on Brexit because it was an internal debate within the Conservative party. He says that the Labour party opposed the deals. If he reads the Labour party manifesto, he will see that I stood on a clear commitment to not support no deal, and that a customs union and close integration with our European allies was key. My colleagues and I have stuck to our manifesto, and the idea that we have spent three years discussing Brexit is just not true.
I would say that we have arguably spent 25 years debating it, certainly in some parts of Britain. We then spent months before an election campaign and a couple of years afterwards debating it. The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that those of us on the Government Benches are not perfect and that there was argument within the Conservative party. Arguably, we spent too long trying to work out the sort of Brexit that we wanted. I accept that point. It would be churlish of me to say that we are perfect and that the right hon. Gentleman’s side is not, but there is a basic principle here which I am very happy to explain to the good folks on the Isle of Wight. It is this: we have tried repeatedly to push through a realistic and sensible Brexit deal. We tried three times this summer. We tried again with the Prime Minister’s very good withdrawal deal. Granted, I did not like some elements relating to Northern Ireland, but we have to move on and try to make the best of what we can. We have not got that, because it has not been supported by this House. We then said that we need to go back to the people, but that has not been supported by this House. That is why I said a few minutes ago that the right hon. Gentleman’s leader is the first Leader of the Opposition in history who has not led and not opposed. I want him to do that because we need to have a general election.
The hon. Gentleman says he will vote for any Brexit that comes forward. It has been seven or eight days now and the withdrawal agreement Bill has not been brought forward. I do not know why—it is rumoured that the Government are on strike and will not bring it back. In the Bill is an amendment for a customs union. He says he will vote for any sensible option to get it through. Why does he not encourage the Prime Minister to bring the Bill back, vote for a customs union and get Brexit done?
For me, a customs union is not a realistic Brexit and it is not the kind of Brexit that was voted for. That is not the sort of Brexit that many Labour voters want to see either. The Labour party actually did quite well in my patch at the last election. It got 16,000 or 17,000 votes. Half of those votes were from people who wanted Brexit and I think they will be very disappointed by the behaviour of the hon. Gentleman’s leadership in not voting for Brexit. I do not think it is in the interests of his party either. We all want to move on, because there is so much else to do.
Does my hon. Friend not agree with me that this election provides a fantastic opportunity for each of the main parties to set out in principle what they want to see from Brexit, and to finally address the point that the public voted to leave the European Union but are leaving it to parliamentarians to decide the best way of delivering Brexit? It is therefore incumbent on both main parties to set out their Brexit proposals. We can at least unite in this fractious Chamber by agreeing that no deal is not an option and that those who voted to stop no deal are the real heroes of Parliament.
I have just been refuelled, Mr Speaker.
We were talking about the need for a new Parliament. There are many things that I would like a Parliament to spend much more time talking about instead of being so focused on Brexit. The rise of autocracies is a very serious issue. On Huawei, do we allow the use in this country of high tech from a communist party state, especially if its stated aim is to dominate global 5G in the years to come? I am wary of making the world safe for autocracies and one-party states. We need time to debate that.
Another issue is the ongoing disaster of Syria and the clear mistakes made by President Trump. There is also the need for integration of overseas foreign policy. We also have an exciting domestic agenda and I want us to talk more about that.
Finally, I want an Isle of Wight deal so that our public services are of the same standard as those on the mainland, or the north island, as we call it. Most parts of the United Kingdom that are isolated by water—in other words, islands—either have a fixed link, which we are never going to have because it would cost £3 billion, or more money through increased public expenditure, but the Island has neither, and that has been a structural flaw for many years.
The best way to deal with all of those problems is for us to agree to an election and to listen to our constituents, the folks in the places that we care for and love—
I begin with the revolutionary thought that if something was a bad idea yesterday, it might just be a bad idea today. I do not believe that the Prime Minister has been pushing for an election because it is impossible to get his deal through. After all, the proposal received its Second Reading last week. This is being done because the Prime Minister wants to avoid proper scrutiny of his proposals before he calls an election, and he has been desperate to run this election since the day he took office, no matter what he says about his reluctance.
There are two reasons that should give us pause for thought. First, depending on the outcome of an election, this does not take no deal off the table. The Prime Minister has made sure of that himself, through his own petulant decision to pull his withdrawal Bill before it could complete its parliamentary stages—before we could even begin the detailed scrutiny that a measure of this importance deserves. If no withdrawal Bill is being discussed before the poll takes place, no deal is still a possibility.
Moreover, we are only in the first phase of this negotiation. Not only is no deal a possibility in the first phase of withdrawal, but, as we know from the political declaration placed before us a week or so ago, it is also a distinct possibility in the second phase. In fact, it is more likely in the altered political declaration than it has been in the past. The possibility of a no-deal exit has not been removed. That is my first point.
Those are not the only ways. There are three ways to avoid no deal: we can revoke, as the hon. Lady says, but that is not something we should do without the people having a say; we can agree a deal; or we can go back to the people. There is more than one possibility.
I would like to proceed.
Secondly, what is the right way to reach a resolution on an issue that has been so difficult for us and for the country? Surely the right way to reach a resolution on Brexit, and on the proposals before us, is to properly and fully consider them—not to have the pre-cooked, pre-prepared tantrums of the Prime Minister. The withdrawal agreement Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation—perhaps the most important that this House has considered for many years—and it deserved proper scrutiny.
I do. There are many other points about this deal that we should properly explore, not least because for the first time, the proposal before us is to have two Brexits, not one—one Brexit for one part of the country and another Brexit for the rest of the United Kingdom.
There are those who will say, “You have been discussing all this for three years; you have had plenty of time,” but as others have said in this debate, much of that time was taken up by an internal negotiation within the Conservative party and the Cabinet, with multiple Cabinet resignations, and the specific proposals before us were published only a couple of weeks ago. They are different from the proposals in the past.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he could not vote for the agreement because it still allowed the possibility of no deal and because that possibility of no deal could happen after the agreement was passed, and following the subsequent negotiations about the nature of the deal. So on that basis, he could never vote for a deal. There is all this nonsense about how we need more time for scrutiny and how all these years were wasted, but he was never going to vote for a European withdrawal Bill. He pledged in his party’s manifesto to uphold Brexit, but he is not going to do that. The only way out of this, therefore, is to have this election, which is why he should vote for it.
Anyone on the Government Benches who voted against the withdrawal agreement proposed by the last Prime Minister cannot really complain if other people voted against different versions of Brexit, because they clearly subscribe to the principle that their interpretation of Brexit should guide their vote.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very wise point. When hon. Members such as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) say, “You have blocked everything”, it is worth remembering that the people who were most vociferously opposed to the deal of the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), were Members from her party, some of whom now occupy Cabinet positions. That is important in the argument to come.
The proposals before us were published only a couple of weeks ago and they depart from the previous proposals in several important ways. First, as I said, they propose two different Brexits for different parts of the UK—one for Northern Ireland and the other for the rest of the UK. Secondly, they chart a course for the future that is much more divergent on some of the rights that hon. Members have mentioned than was the case previously.
I am going to wind up soon. In my view, the right way to have dealt with this issue is not to do what the Prime Minister has wanted to do since day one—to go for an election before these proposals could properly and fully be scrutinised by this House and the public—but to have proper scrutiny and debates and consider the amendments that would have been put forward. If we want to consult the public again on Brexit—as the Prime Minister said he wants to do time after time—and let them decide, why not consult them on the specific Brexit proposals of which he is now the champion? For those reasons, I do not think this is the only way to go.
Since the day he took office, it has been part of the Prime Minister’s plan to run a people versus Parliament campaign, despite having opposed several Brexit deals himself, and to blame everyone except the champions of this project for its not proceeding—to blame the European Commission, Parliament and sometimes the civil services and judges. But while this may have been part of his plan since day one, not all of us are willing to fold into it this evening.
It is important that we have a general election. When the question about Brexit was asked in 2016, it was a matter of which side of the argument people supported. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who looks as if she is about to leave her seat, says she looks forward to being in my constituency more often. I say to her: thank you—we have had the magazine with your name all over it. The hon. Lady, who is now leaving the debate, is promoting herself in my constituency as the next Prime Minister, so it is important that we look at what is being heralded by parties such as the Liberal Democrats in the next election.
When we had that 2016 question, it was not a tribal question; the question for us on the doorstep was not: “Is yours a party of remain or leave?” We were empowered to campaign for whichever side of the argument suited us best, and we all pledged to respect the result, whether we knocked on the door and said “I’d prefer to leave” or “I’d prefer to remain”. I stood in the marketplace in St Albans behind a market stall manned by Conservatives, some supporting remain and some supporting leave, showing that our party respected the right of people to determine that question, not along party lines but having lived the European project for 40-odd years. Some, including me, had never had the opportunity to vote on the matter; others were being asked a second time.
As I said in an intervention on the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who has now gone, along with all her colleagues—[Interruption.] Oh, sorry. I did not recognise the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) back there. He is a worthy stalwart, staying for the debate, which is not something the Liberal Democrats do very often. I am pleased he is here for my remarks.
As I said, the parties were free to campaign, and as I said to the hon. Lady, in 2008, for purposes of electoral expediency, seeing that David Cameron and the Conservatives—I was serving here at the time—were uncertain whether to offer a debate on the Lisbon treaty, which was being passed by the then Labour Government, the Liberal Democrats campaigned with a great big photograph of Nick Clegg all over a leaflet saying: “We are the party to offer a referendum.”
My hon. Friend articulately expresses how the EU referendum result was not based on what parties campaigned for. Does she agree that it was not a country-by-country or constituency-by-constituency vote, but that it came down to every individual vote by every citizen across the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that we go back and look at how we got to where we are in order to understand where we are going next. I am sorry about the history lesson, but it was in 2008 that the campaign started gathering momentum, simply because the Liberal Democrats were saying, “Only we will give you the choice.” I do not remember then or any time in between, until now, when it seems politically expedient, that any party campaigned to revoke. All of us, on whichever side of the in/out binary argument we stood, were free to campaign, hence the divide and the fact that there are Members with firmly held views, either for remain or leave, on each side of the House. Now the House and the political groupings have turned it into a party political campaign, and that is the problem.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady’s attack on the Liberal Democrats. I did not vote for the referendum legislation, and I did not vote to trigger article 50, so I am certainly not going to vote for an early general election, which is opportunism from the Prime Minister and opportunism from the Liberal Democrats. However, the hon. Lady has a chance today to agree with the Liberal Democrats, because an amendment, if selected, could change the date to 9 December. If the Conservatives want an election as soon as possible, given the chronology—the 9th comes before the 12th—why are you sticking to the 12th?
I assume that the word “you” was directed not at you, Mr Speaker, but at me, so I do not expect you to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question and tell us why you are not changing the date to the 9th, but I will answer it and say that I do not think the public will care one way or another. We have a tradition in this country of holding elections on Thursdays, but as for the guff and nonsense that we have heard in this place about people going to Christmas parties and school plays and all the rest of it, the public will think that that is a pretty trivial argument. I do not think it amounts to a hill of beans now: I think that the public are absolutely fed up.
My right hon. Friend tempts me, and since there are no time limits, I may well wax lyrical on that point. However, it is important for us to get to the nub of the matter, which is that we have moved this away from being a choice for the people. I knocked on doors, and people said, “I am for leave” or “I am for remain”—
May I finish this point first? Otherwise I could be speaking for hours, and I am sure the House would rather I did not detain it for that long.
People came up to that market stall and said that they were for leave or for remain. I did not ask them, “Do you vote Liberal Democrat, do you vote Green, do you vote Labour?” Indeed, members of the Labour party have suggested that they agree with my views, while members of the Conservative party, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), probably disagreed with my views at the time. All of us, at the time—well, I believe that the Liberal Democrats said that they would respect the vote—gave the impression that it was a once-in-a-lifetime choice, and a once-in-a-lifetime decision on which we would not renege and which we would not revoke: it would be delivered. It then came to a Parliament whose members were subsequently elected on the basis of their own political tribes.
Perhaps the arithmetic in the hon. Gentleman’s particular tribe is not as good as it might be. The Conservatives have not had a working majority for three years; there have been difficulties. However, the hon. Gentleman has fallen into the trap of seeing Brexit as a “political tribe” decision.
Just about everyone in the Chamber said that they respected the result of the 2016 referendum and stood on manifestos in 2017 saying that they would honour that result. Why does my hon. Friend think they have backtracked and are retreating into their political tribes in respect of this very important issue?
I can only hazard a guess that certain parties saw it as politically expedient to suggest or imply, in 2008 in the case of the Liberal Democrats or in 2017 in the case of the Conservatives and the Labour party, that they would indeed offer, or respect, a referendum. Now too many of the parties are finding it politically difficult.
This is not about us. It is not about individual parts of the United Kingdom and individual constituencies. That is not how the referendum campaign went. Nobody came and asked us questions on a constituency-by-constituency, country-by-country or region-by-region basis. We are in this mess now because we have turned the issue into a political football.
On the subject of football, if the hon. Lady would like to buy my new book on football, she is very welcome—and I thank her for allowing me to plug it.
The hon. Lady talks about manifestos; I stood on that manifesto in 2017 and was the director of Scottish Labour for the single market and the customs union, which would have taken us out of the European Union, but, given that the Conservative party decided not to try to seek a consensus and instead turned to its own tribes with the Prime Minister pandering to the extreme right, that was no longer on the table and therefore I moved to a position that if it is not on the table the best deal is to put it back to the people and let them decide.
On a scintilla of that argument I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, I am going to go back to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) about referendums, and the result the hon. Gentleman said he was not happy with is what he would now like to see not delivered in that particular way. His Front Bench, unfortunately, wishes to have the perverse situation of going back to the European Union, shredding the deal that has been agreed by 27 countries and that seems perfectly fit for purpose, if not perfect, and coming back with a better deal—because they are bound to offer the hon. Gentleman’s Front Bench a better deal!—in the full knowledge that the deal that would be better will then be campaigned against. It is a nonsense. To back—
I will give way in a moment; I am in great demand. First, however, I will respond to my right hon. Friend’s intervention on referendums. It is important that we recognise that people voted in that referendum who had never voted before. I spoke to people in St Albans—and I am sure that this experience was replicated across the House—and they had a fixed view; it was not a political view, but it was a fixed view on whether they wanted in or out. Some people wanted help in making their minds up, and some changed their mind, but they had a fixed view, and I had numerous people say to me, “Politicians are all the same,” but on this matter all the political parties came together to ask the same question.
My area, Newcastle-under-Lyme, voted 60% to 40%, some say 62% to 38%, to leave. During the last election I was re-elected—some thought it was a surprise. When I was asked about Brexit on the doorstep, I said that, first, it was for this House to determine how, but I was quite honest with the constituents that I thought our future would be better if we remained, and that was my straight answer. In St Albans, where 62% of people voted to remain, what is the hon. Lady’s answer to her constituents?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman asked me that because my answer to my constituents then, now and in the future is that I completely respect democracy, and whatever democratic outcome was delivered I would respect. I am not here to argue against it or for it; I am here to argue to deliver it. And I hope, since the political make-up of the hon. Gentleman’s seat is very like mine—I do not dispute that in any way whatsoever—that he will be arguing, as I do, that the British public, as we need to heal—
No; I said no, and I say no twice. Mr Speaker made a ruling on this earlier on, so the answer is no.
What I will be arguing, as indeed we are arguing, is that we gave the in/out choice, regardless of political parties, and the in/out choice was delivered. Some people did not like it, and some constituencies did not match up with what their MP wanted, but that is not what it is about; what it is about—
I thank my hon. Friend very much for allowing me to intervene on her fantastic speech. She is making a number of points that I agree with extremely strongly. I voted remain in the original referendum, but my very strong feeling the day after the referendum, when we saw that overwhelming desire to leave the European Union, was that I should passionately support democracy in this country. Ever since that day I have supported that vote, even though I am a remainer, because I think we have one thing to do in this House, which is keep our promises to the electorate. Does my hon. Friend agree with that, and does she find that people who voted remain in her constituency share this desire to honour democracy above all else?
I absolutely accept my hon. Friend’s point. I accept that there are people in my constituency, as there will be in others, who fervently wish to overturn the result and to back remain. However, most people I speak to, when asked, feel that revoking would be a step too far. Most of them say, “I just want it over and done with. I want a deal.” I believe that this Government have tried to deliver exactly that. The last Prime Minister tried to deliver exactly that. She, like my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), made it clear that she was a remainer, but like me she vowed to respect democracy. The fact that I am mismatched with my seat might be something that political opponents wish to capitalise on, but the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves is whether we value political self-interest more than the trust, the pledge and the contract that we all made when that referendum was called.
Honouring contracts: an excellent input. I should like to draw the hon. Lady slightly back towards the Bill that is before us today, which she no doubt fully supports—quite rightly, in her own mind. Does she agree that the accompanying notes to the Bill confirm that it deals with the franchise for the election and the date of the election, as discussed? The notes state:
“The Parliament of the United Kingdom and parliamentary elections, including the franchise and disqualifications for membership of that Parliament, are an excepted matter under paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”
I ask this specifically with regard to the importance of the Bill, which is addressing a general election.
Yes, we are discussing a Bill about having a general election. My point is that we need a general election because we have moved so far away from the original concept of the referendum, which was a choice between in and out, not a party political choice. Now, we are in a sclerotic position. We cannot move forward in here, and the only obvious answer is to ask the public to decide.
Can I just answer the previous intervention before I take any more?
If it is somehow politically expedient for some people to vote tonight for an election, I would say that they are putting their own considerations before those of the country. This should not be about us. This should not be about us looking at poll ratings and saying, “Does it suit me and my campaign to go to the country now?” This should be about us remembering what we said in 2016 or—as I said in my intervention on the Liberal Democrats—remembering what we tempted the public with in 2008. I will stand corrected if I am wrong, but I do not believe that any party ever said, “We will offer you a referendum, but if we don’t like the result we will frustrate it and campaign against it to try to get a different one”, or worse, “We will ignore the result.”
I am waiting for the “Ooh!” and the jumping up and down from the Scot Nats when I say this, but I believe that they are hoping against hope that they can have a referendum and—hopefully, according to their agenda—deliver an independent Scotland. I hope that before this House grants any such independence referendum, they will have a full deal to put on the table, very much like they are saying we should do on the European Union. I hope that they would first have an answer on the fisheries policy, the euro, the border and all the other hard concerns they have about the Northern Ireland question. The reality is that a referendum is never formed in those terms. The previous one was not, and a future one would not be. The reality is that we asked the question: in or out? [Interruption.]
I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend’s articulate flow once again. I could not help but hear the chuntering from a sedentary position on the SNP Benches. I believe that there were 617 pages in the White Paper on Scotland’s future that was published in advance of the 2014 independence referendum. On page 217 of that document, it clearly told the people of Scotland—[Interruption.] Page 217—do Members know where I am going with this? It told the people of Scotland that if they voted against independence, there was a risk of Scotland remaining in the UK and the UK then holding a referendum on EU membership, as that referendum had been announced by that time. Despite that warning, Scotland still voted to remain in the UK.
On the sclerotic nature of this Parliament and whether a general election will somehow change that, will it ever? Brexit has been a virus in a vial in a nightstand by the Tory party bed for 40 years. Occasionally, it would break and infect the Conservative party, which would catch a cold, and maybe the Labour party would win an election. You unleashed a referendum and broke the vial across the whole country, and we have all caught the cold. Churchill said that fanatics were people who will not change their mind and could not change the subject. Brexit will not be solved by a general election.
I do not blame you at all for unleashing a vial across anybody, Mr Speaker. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the point is that the people were asked. We cannot now say we should not have asked the question. Plenty of colleagues went around the country framing the arguments—plenty of colleagues framed the arguments for, and plenty of colleagues framed the argument against.
I come back to the point that the only reason we need a general election now is that the public have seen how we have behaved in here. The public have seen which party is the most likely to honour its pledges made to the British people in 2017, which party came out with a deal that this House found favour with, and which party remembers that we are only here to carry out the referendum, not to ignore it or to change it.
I agree, but we also need to get on and discuss all the other issues. For example—this is not the most important thing for me, but it is important— St Albans has what claims to be the oldest public school in the world. It is right slap bang next to the cathedral. It is iconic. I have been in contact with parents—I am meeting another group on Friday—who are extremely concerned that the Labour party will remove the school’s charitable status if it is elected. They are extremely concerned that the Lib Dems will charge the school VAT. Businesses are extremely concerned that they do not have certainty about what to do next. People are pleased to hear about the £400 million investment in hospitals in St Albans and Hertfordshire, and they are extremely pleased that St Albans schools have received above-average cash injections. They want to hear about all these other topics. My hon. Friend is right that Brexit is drowning out the scrutiny of all these other things.
I want to remind the people in St Albans that the Labour Government left a little note when they left office saying that there was no money left. I want to remind St Albans that we now have the lowest number of unemployed young people since records began. I want to remind people in St Albans that there have been 500,000 new apprenticeships. I want to remind people in St Albans that we have lifted loads of people and families out of paying income tax at all, and that came from a Conservative Government. I want to be discussing those topics. The interminable vial of Brexit to which the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) referred is being kept active in here.
It is dangerous to continue this “people versus Parliament” narrative, saying that Parliament is somehow frustrating the process. The reason we have not been able to coalesce around a deal is that the two deals that have been on the table have been terrible for this country. Diligence and integrity are required to ensure that we make the right decision. Has the hon. Lady read the impact assessment? If so, what does she make of the value of the trade deal to Northern Ireland? What does she make of the impact of this deal?
I have, and the worst impact is the absolute uncertainty surrounding investment in our jobs and businesses. People do not know whether they can trade, whether they have to stockpile goods or what the arrangements will be because the dates keep moving. That is the worst thing.
All this flummery about Brexit is hiding the fact that we are not getting the business of this House done. Almost no one was here to talk about the Environment Bill, yet people are marching against plastic.
To return to the Second Reading of this Bill, my hon. Friend faces a challenge from the Liberal Democrats in St Albans. Does she agree that, during the referendum, every household in the country received a letter saying
“The Government will implement what you decide”?
Does she remember the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats saying that, even if it were by one vote, the result should still stand? And did she hear the other day—
Order. I say very gently to the hon. Gentleman that there is a difference between a brief intervention and what one might call leisurely musing. I fear that what should be a brief intervention has elided, surely inadvertently, into leisurely musing and therefore his triple-hatted inquiry is, I feel sure, reaching its zenith.
You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker. My inquiry was reaching its climax. I finish by asking my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) whether she also recalls the current leader of the Liberal Democrats saying that, if there were to be a people’s vote and the result were to go, in her view, the wrong way—in other words, if the people were to vote again to leave the European Union—she would not recognise it as valid. Is that not a most extraordinary position for any party of democrats to take?
It is always a pleasure to oblige the hon. Gentleman because his naughtiness is mitigated by his charm, but the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) should not be diverted from the path of virtuous debate by his intervention, no matter how sedulously he propagates his case.
I take your instruction, Mr Speaker, and I will not be diverted.
A general election allows us to ask which party is prepared to honour democracy, and I will be asking that question every day in St Albans. A general election also reminds people that a strong Government is needed, and I mean a strong Government with a majority.
The current situation is the worst of all governance. It is governance by horse-trading. The Conservative party did not quite have the majority it needed at the 2010 election, so the Liberal Democrats came into power with us. [Interruption.] It worked so well, as someone says from a sedentary position. The horse-trading began straightaway. Horse-trading is exactly what happens in weak Governments. The lack of numbers means people suddenly start putting forward different agendas.
In St Albans, many students and young people were seduced by the thought of free tuition fees. I heard that being promised time and again across the land, and young people, potentially facing large debts being wiped away, suddenly found they might want to nail their colours to tuition fees at a general election. Tuition fees were an issue that attracted many young people for obvious reasons, and young people nailed their colours to that mast in largish numbers.
However, when we got into government with the Liberal Democrats, tuition fees were the first thing to be horse-traded. Tuition fees were horse-traded for a vote on the alternative vote system. The Liberal Democrats felt that changing the voting system was more important than tuition fees. As a result, hundreds of thousands of young people found themselves being duped and the horse-trading continued.