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Marking Exit Day

Volume 669: debated on Thursday 9 January 2020

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend on his election to the seat of Warrington South. I look forward to his advocacy on issues relating to our exit from the European Union. We stand ready to work with businesses up and down the country as we mark an important moment in our national history: leaving the European Union on 31 January.

How will my right hon. Friend ensure that small businesses, which have been, and are, the engine of growth in my constituency, are able to share in the benefits of leaving the EU and in celebrating our departure on 31 January?

Before coming to the House, my hon. Friend was a champion of small businesses in Warrington, and I know he will continue to be so during his time in this place. The best way that we will support businesses in his constituency is by having control of our money, borders and laws. That is what our exit from the European Union does, and that is what he should rightly celebrate on 31 January.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to mark our leaving the European Union, our fantastic local breweries in Burton-on-Trent should brew a celebratory Brexit beer?

From the reaction of the House, it seems my hon. Friend has struck an extremely positive note in one of her first contributions. I again welcome her to the House. I know her constituency is famed for its beer, and I am sure that many Members would welcome those breweries celebrating this occasion in such a way, just as I would welcome the fantastic Elgood’s Brewery doing so, which sits in my constituency.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the idea, as a lot of my constituents have, of commemorating this day of real constitutional importance by having an anniversary on the date every year?

I very much welcome my hon. Friend to his place, not least as a fellow Lancastrian; I am sure Mr Speaker knows of our Lancastrian pride. He brings an important suggestion. Again, it is all part of marking this significant moment in our national history.

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that 31 January is a significant day not only for us here in the United Kingdom but for hundreds of millions of Eurosceptics across the continent of Europe who share concerns about the direction of travel of the European Union, including many citizens in my country of birth, Poland? Does he agree that it is important for us to celebrate this day very publicly, as a nation, to give a guiding principle to others in Europe that there is life outside the European Union?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that this is an important day not just for our own citizens but for many elsewhere who recognise the importance of this event in terms of democracy and respecting the democratic decisions that people take, rather than overturning them, as has sometimes been the intention in the past. He has always been a champion of close ties between the UK and Poland, and I think that whatever celebrations there are will continue in that vein.

Do the Government’s plans for the end of this month still include the abolition of the right hon. Gentleman’s Department? If so, which Department and which Minister will take responsibility for the very important negotiations that are about to begin?

I pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Gentleman during his tenure as Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee. He knows from his time in Government that machinery of government changes are announced in the usual way by the Prime Minister, and No. 10 has signalled that it intends to do so. He should also be aware, because we publicly stated it, that the Department will draw to a close to mark our exit. It is the Department for Exiting the European Union, and we will have exited and done the job of the Department when we leave on 31 January.

I welcome the Secretary of State back to this House. We have always got on very well, and he is much cleverer than me, but I do have a couple of degrees in economics. When the President of the European Commission comes here and says that in any deal, if we do not have free movement of labour we will not get free movement of goods and services, is that not something that we should all be very sad about as we leave the European Union?

I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for how he champions his constituents and raises thoughtful points. He is quite right to pick up on what I thought was a constructive speech from the European Commission President at the London School of Economics yesterday and to draw the House’s attention to it. What I took away from her speech was her language about wanting a very ambitious partnership—she referred to

“old friends and new beginnings”

and drew on her own time in London and how much she enjoyed it and valued the United Kingdom. She wanted to see a close partnership, whether on climate change, security or many other issues on which we have values in common with our neighbours.

Will the Government confirm whether they are going to request the chiming of Big Ben to mark 11 pm on 31 January? This is not going to be a moment of celebration for many people across the UK; it will be a moment of considerable concern, not least for my constituents who are European Union nationals. Perhaps we should be asking the Government: if they do want to hear the bell chime, for whom will the bell toll?

I welcome this late conversion on the part of the Scottish National party to celebrating our exit and having Big Ben chime. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a decision as to whether Big Ben should bong or not is one for the House authorities and I would not dare to step into such terrain. The wider point, as I think the mood of the House has demonstrated, is that this is an historic moment and many Members of the House wish to celebrate it.

I urge the Government to be careful about the tone that is adopted at the end of January. They will appreciate that there are many who do not see this as a moment for celebration. In particular, may I ask the Secretary of State what measures are being put in place for the large numbers of non-UK EU nationals, of whom there are many in Cambridgeshire, who will feel particularly vulnerable at that point?

The hon. Member is absolutely right, and I hope that colleagues across the House will see that I always try to take a tone that reflects that. I have often talked about the fact that in my own family, notwithstanding my personal role, my eldest brother is an official working for a European institution. I know that many families were split on this issue.

To answer the hon. Member’s question directly, one thing that we have done is establish a £9 million fund to support outreach groups and charities. We have worked with embassies in particular. Within that £9 million, £1 million is specifically for the settlement scheme, as I am sure the Minister for Security detailed in Committee on Tuesday, and there have been 2.6 million or 2.8 million or so applications, so the scheme is working very effectively free of charge. But the hon. Member is right that some people will have concerns, and one thing that the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill does is guarantee the rights of citizens and address many of the concerns that some of his constituents have shared.

In celebration of this important occasion in our nation’s history, will the Secretary of State arrange for Union flags to be flown from all public buildings across our kingdom? That would be a fitting tribute to the decision the British people made to leave the European Union. We will remain unafraid of our patriotism, unabashed about our departure and unwavering in our determination to make our future even greater.

I know that, like me, my parliamentary neighbour always takes pride in seeing our Union Jack flown, and any opportunity to do so is one that he and I would always celebrate. Given my right hon. Friend’s penchant for poetry, I cannot be alone in thinking that such an occasion might inspire him in due course to write something fitting.

Even the most ardent supporter of Brexit will, I am sure, share a concern that the UK’s departure from the European Union might be depicted as representing insularity and nationalism. It is therefore important that we dispel that sense, and one way in which we could do so is to sign up long term to the vulnerable refugees resettlement scheme and, indeed, to accept in full the Dubs amendment and do our best by the most vulnerable people on this planet, child refugees.

I absolutely agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. A big part of why I and many colleagues supported Brexit is that we want to be more outward-looking, global and international; we want to go after trade deals around the world and have autonomy.

On unaccompanied children and the Dubs amendment, we should not talk down the United Kingdom, which is currently in the top three EU countries in terms of the number of unaccompanied children it takes. It takes 15% of the entire total of unaccompanied children. We have a proud record, we have made commitments, and the Home Secretary wrote to the Commission in October on this issue. It is not necessary for it to be in the withdrawal agreement Bill itself. We have a proud record, and we should not talk it down.