[Relevant document: The First Report from the Committee on Exiting the European Union, The process for exiting the European Union and the Government’s negotiating objectives, HC 815.]
I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of Mr Angus Robertson.
No fewer than 99 Back Benchers are seeking to catch my eye today, without regard to how many might seek to contribute tomorrow. There will have to be a tough time limit on Back Benchers, the severity of which will depend on the level of consideration shown by Front Benchers, so there is of course no pressure.
I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time.
Given your admonishment, Mr Speaker, and indeed the state of my voice, I give the House warning that I will not take very many interventions. I will take some, but not my normal two dozen.
The Bill responds directly to the Supreme Court judgment of 24 January, and seeks to honour the commitment the Government gave to respect the outcome of the referendum held on 23 June 2016. It is not a Bill about whether the UK should leave the European Union or, indeed, about how it should do so; it is simply about Parliament empowering the Government to implement a decision already made—a point of no return already passed. We asked the people of the UK whether they wanted to leave the European Union, and they decided they did. At the core of this Bill lies a very simple question: do we trust the people or not? The democratic mandate is clear: the electorate voted for a Government to give them a referendum. Parliament voted to hold the referendum, the people voted in that referendum, and we are now honouring the result of that referendum, as we said we would.
Not at the moment.
This is the most straightforward possible Bill necessary to enact that referendum result and respect the Supreme Court’s judgment. Indeed, the House of Commons has already overwhelmingly passed a motion to support the triggering of article 50 by 31 March. We will respect the will of the people and implement their decision by 31 March.
Clause 1(1) simply confers on the Prime Minister the power to notify, under article 50 of the treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union. Clause 1(2) is included to make it clear that the power to trigger article 50 may be conferred on the Prime Minister regardless of any restrictions in other legislation, including the European Communities Act 1972. Together, these clear and succinct powers will allow the Prime Minister to begin the process of withdrawal from the European Union, respecting the decision of the Supreme Court. This is just the beginning—the beginning of a process to ensure that the decision made by the people last June is honoured.
Given that triggering article 50 is an inevitable consequence of the result of the referendum, does the Secretary of State agree that although it may be honourable for MPs who voted against having a referendum in the first place to vote against triggering article 50—that would be entirely consistent—it would be entirely unacceptable for those who voted to put this matter to a referendum to try to renege on the result of that referendum?
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to make a little bit of progress, and I will then give way to him.
I draw hon. Members’ attention to the explanatory notes to the Bill, which set out the application of the Bill to Euratom. The Bill also gives the Prime Minister the power to start the process to leave Euratom. The Bill makes it clear that in invoking article 50, we will be leaving Euratom, the agency established by treaty to ensure co-operation on nuclear matters, as well as leaving the European Union. This is because, although Euratom was established in a treaty separate from the EU agreements and treaties, it uses the same institutions as the European Union, including the European Court of Justice. The European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 makes it clear that in UK law membership of the European Union includes Euratom. That is why article 50 applies to both the European Union and to Euratom.
I received an email yesterday from Professor John Wheater, the head of physics at Oxford University, who had the very dubious pleasure of being my tutor for four years in the mid-1990s. He is concerned about the implications for his fusion research programme of our leaving Euratom. Is there any way in which we could postpone leaving Euratom by a year or two, and if that is not possible, what assurance will the Secretary of State give Professor Wheater and his colleagues?
The first thing I would say to my hon. Friend is that there is a two-year timetable, so we are still two years out from this. The Prime Minister has also said very clearly in her industrial strategy and in her speech on Brexit that we intend to support the scientific community and to build as much support for it as we can. When we engage in negotiations after March, we will negotiate with the European Union with the aim of creating a mechanism that will allow the research to go on.
Order. I do not want to have to keep saying this, because I know it is very tedious. I know that the Secretary of State is a most attentive Minister, but may I appeal to him not to keep turning around and looking at people behind him? It is incredibly frustrating for the House. I know that is the natural temptation. [Interruption.] I am sure that he has made a very valid point, but it suffered from the disadvantage that I could not hear it.
The question from the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) is an illustration of the fact that the consequences of the Bill go much further than the Secretary of State is telling us. Is not the reason why the Government find themselves in a position of such abasement to President Trump that they have decided to abandon the high ground of the single marketplace, without so much as a negotiating word being spoken? That is why they are desperate to do a deal with anybody on any terms at any time. Why did the Secretary of State lead this country into a position of such weakness?
That is almost exactly the opposite of the case. Since the right hon. Gentleman picks up on Euratom, let me make the point in rather more elaborate detail. Euratom passes to its constituent countries the regulations, rules and supervision that it inherits, as it were, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, of which we are still a member. When we come to negotiate with the European Union on this matter, if it is not possible to come to a conclusion involving some sort of relationship with Euratom, we will no doubt be able to reach one with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is possibly the most respectable international body in the world. I am afraid he is wrong on that.
Brexit affords huge opportunities for international trade for global Britain, and part of that global trade is with the single European market. Although there may be access to the full market—hybrid access—will the Secretary of State confirm that anything that introduces new taxes, tariffs or duties on British goods is not in our national economic interests?
May I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to keep an open mind on Euratom? There is a danger that years of uncertainty will put at risk the 21,000 new jobs slated to come in as part of the Moorside development, as well as many others across the UK?
The hon. Gentleman made his point very well, and I take it absolutely. He is right that a lot of jobs are involved, as are our standing in the scientific community and our international reputation, as well as individual projects, such as the Joint European Torus project and ITER—the international thermonuclear experimental reactor—all of which we will seek to preserve. We will have the most open mind possible. The difficulty we face is of course that decisions are made by unanimity under the Euratom treaty, so we essentially have to win over the entire group. We will set out to do that, and we will do it with the same aims that he has described. Absolutely, yes: I give him my word on that matter.
No, not for the moment.
The Prime Minister set out a bold and ambitious vision for the UK, outlining our key negotiating objectives as we move to establish a comprehensive new partnership with the European Union. This will be a partnership in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, and we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations to make sure that the voices of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland continue to be heard throughout the negotiation process. I will come back to this point in more detail, so, if I may, I will take interventions on it a little later.
I made a statement to this House on 17 January about the negotiations ahead of us and I do not propose to repeat it, save to say that our aim is to take this opportunity for the United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before. I also set out our 12 objectives for those negotiations. They are: to deliver certainty and clarity where we can; to take control of our own laws; to protect and strengthen the Union; to maintain the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland; to control immigration; to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the European Union; to protect workers’ rights; to allow free trade with European markets; to forge new trade deals with other countries; to boost science and innovation; to protect and enhance co-operation over crime, terrorism and security; and to make our exit smooth and orderly. In due course, the Government will publish our plan for exit in a White Paper in this House and in the other place. [Interruption.] I hear the normal, noisy shouts from the shadow Foreign Secretary asking when. I will say to her exactly what I said to her in my statement last week: as soon as is reasonably possible. It is very hard to do it any faster than that.
On 17 January, the Prime Minister also made it clear that this House and the other place will have a vote on the deal the Government negotiate with the EU before it comes into force. Ahead of that, Parliament will have a key role in scrutinising and shaping the decisions made through debate in both Houses, and the work of Select Committees, including the Exiting the European Union Committee, whose Chair, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), is in his place.
Ministers will continue to provide regular updates to Parliament. Further, since our proposal is to shift the entire acquis communautaire—the body of EU law—into UK law at the point this country leaves the EU, it will be for Parliament to determine any changes to our domestic legislation in the national interest. But as the Prime Minister said, to disclose all the details as we negotiate is not in the best interests of this country. Indeed, I have said all along that we will lay out as much detail of our strategy as possible, subject to the caveat that it does not damage our negotiating position. This approach has been endorsed by the House a number of times.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the people need to be better informed about the impact of Brexit? At what point are the Government going to publish their analysis of the impact on jobs of our leaving the single market?
The assertions that people like the right hon. Gentleman made in the run-up to the referendum have turned out to be universally untrue so far, so I do not think he is in a position to lecture us on this matter.
I turn now to the reasoned amendment tabled by the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). As I have already said, the Bill simply seeks to deliver the outcome of the referendum, a decision the people of the UK have already made. They will view dimly any attempt to halt its progress. The Supreme Court’s judgment last week made it clear that foreign affairs are reserved to the UK Government. The devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. However, that does not mean we have not paid a great deal of attention to them. We have consistently engaged with the devolved Administrations through the Joint Ministerial Committee on European Negotiations and the Joint Ministerial Committee plenary. The latter met yesterday in Cardiff, and the meeting was attended by the First Ministers of all the devolved Administrations. In addition, and independent of those meetings, I have had bilateral meetings with the devolved Administrations, and there have been 79 official-level meetings to discuss the interests of each of the devolved Administrations.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Does he not accept that the people of Scotland voted to remain within the European Union, and that respect has to be shown to the Scottish people, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, which empowers the Government to act in our interests? Why will he not negotiate to allow Scotland to remain with access to the single market as we demand?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that there was another referendum a little while ago, which was about the people of Scotland deciding to stay within the United Kingdom. That is what they are doing and that is what we expect them to continue to do.
The Prime Minister has committed to bring forward a White Paper setting out the Government’s plan and I confirm that it will be published in the near future. Guaranteeing UK citizens’ rights in the EU, and EU citizens’ rights in the UK, is one of the objectives set out by the Prime Minister. We have been, and remain, ready to reach such a deal now—now—if other countries agree.
Finally, there has been continual parliamentary scrutiny of the Government on this process: I have made five oral statements in the House of Commons; there have been more than 10 debates, including four in Government time; and over 30 Select Committee inquiries. We will of course continue to support Parliament in its scrutiny role as we reach the negotiating stage.
Does the Secretary of State accept that Northern Ireland voted to stay in the European Union? In fact, my constituency voted 70%, on a 70% turnout, to remain. Does he accept that we do not have a devolved Administration at the moment? Does he have any plans to recognise the situation in Northern Ireland and the damage that has already been done to the Northern Ireland economy, in particular our agricultural economy?
The position of Northern Ireland, the peace process and all related issues were obviously at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind when she went there as one of her first visits as Prime Minister. It will be at the forefront of my mind, which is why we have, without any qualification whatever, guaranteed the retention of the common travel area. On continuing representation, although there is no Executive individual Ministers stay in place, as is the norm with Governments during election times. I wrote to the Executive a week or so ago asking them to send a representative to each of the Joint Ministerial Committee meetings. They have done so, and they have made a serious and significant contribution to the meetings. We are taking very seriously the analysis they have provided of industries in Northern Ireland, including special issues such as the single Irish energy market. They are the sorts of issues that we have put front and centre in the list of negotiating points to deal with. The hon. Gentleman may absolutely take it as read that we take protecting Northern Ireland very seriously.
We have been clear that there must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to re-join it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do just that.
Finally, we remain committed to the timetable set out by the Prime Minister to trigger article 50 no later than 31 March. We will provide plenty of time for debate and scrutiny of the Bill, but it is equally vital that right hon. and hon. Members move swiftly to adopt this proposed legislation, in keeping with the Prime Minister’s timetable for triggering article 50 by the end of March. The House voted in favour of that timetable in December, and it is providing certainty both at home and in the Europe Union.
I conclude by saying this: the eyes of the nation are on this Chamber as we consider the Bill. For many years, there has been a creeping sense in the country—and not just in this country—that politicians say one thing and then do another. We voted to give the people the chance to determine our future in a referendum. Now we must honour our side of the agreement: to vote to deliver on the result. So, we are considering that very simple question: do we trust the people or not? For generations, my party has done so. Now that question is before every Member of this House. The Bill provides the power for the Prime Minister to begin that process and honour the decision made by the people of the United Kingdom on 23 June last year. I commend it to the House. Trust the people.
We have before us a short and relatively simple Bill, but, for the Labour party, this is a very difficult Bill. [Laughter.] I ask that hon. Members be courteous as I try to set out the position of the Labour party in what are very difficult circumstances. I will try to set that out clearly, and I expect people to be courteous.
We are a fiercely internationalist party. We are a pro-European party. We believe that through our alliances we achieve more together than we do alone. We believe in international co-operation and collaboration. We believe in the international rule of law. These beliefs will never change. That is why we campaigned to stay in the EU. We recognise that the EU is our major trading partner and that the single market and customs union have benefited UK businesses and our economy for many years. We recognise more widely the benefits of collaborative working across the EU in fields of research, medicine, technology, education, arts and farming. We also recognise the role that the EU plays in tackling common threats, such as climate change and serious organised crime. We share values and identity with the EU.
But we failed to persuade. We lost the referendum. Yes, the result was close. Yes, there were lies and half-truths—none worse than the false promise of an extra £350 million a week for the NHS. Yes, technically the referendum is not legally binding. But the result was not technical; it was deeply political, and politically the notion that the referendum was merely a consultation exercise to inform Parliament holds no water. When I was imploring people up and down the country to vote in the referendum and to vote to remain, I told them that their vote really mattered and that a decision was going to be made. I was not inviting them to express a view.
Although we are fiercely internationalist and fiercely pro-European, we in the Labour party are, above all, democrats. Had the outcome been to remain, we would have expected the result to be honoured, and that cuts both ways. A decision was made on 23 June last year to leave the EU. Two thirds of Labour MPs represent constituencies that voted to leave; one third represent constituencies that voted to remain. This is obviously a difficult decision. I wish the result had gone the other way—I campaigned passionately for that—but as democrats we in the Labour party have to accept the result. It follows that the Prime Minister should not be blocked from starting the article 50 negotiations.
That does not mean, however, that the Prime Minister can do as she likes without restraint from the House—quite the opposite: she is accountable to the House, and that accountability will be vital on the uncertain journey that lies ahead. She fought to prevent the House from having a vote on the Bill until she was forced to do so by the Supreme Court last week. She resisted Labour’s calls for a plan and then a wider White Paper until it became clear that she would lose any battle to force her to do so. Just before Christmas, she was resisting giving the House a vote on the final deal—a position that she has had to adjust.
That is why the amendments tabled by the Labour party are so important. They are intended to establish a number of key principles that the Government must seek to negotiate during the process, including securing full tariff and impediment-free access to the single market. They are intended to ensure that there is robust and regular parliamentary scrutiny by requiring the Secretary of State to report to the House at least every two months on progress being made in the negotiations and to provide documents that are being given to the European Parliament. The amendments would also require the Government to consult regularly the Governments of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland throughout the Brexit negotiations. I have recognised on numerous occasions the specific issues and concerns of those living in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and I support the proposition that they should absolutely be consulted throughout the process and that their interests should be borne in mind.
I will give way in a minute, but I want to make some progress, if I may.
We also support amendments in relation to workplace rights and environmental rights, and we will be making the case that the legal status of EU nationals should be resolved before negotiations take place. I recognise the Government’s position on EU nationals and the work done to try to ensure that there is a reciprocal arrangement, but that has not worked, and now the Prime Minister should act unilaterally to give assurance to EU nationals living in this country. I am sure that all hon. Members will have had, in their surgeries, EU nationals in tears over the uncertainty of their situation. I have seen it at every public meeting I have attended on the topic and at every surgery. I understand the constraints, but we must now act unilaterally to secure their position.
Taken together, the amendments would put real grip and accountability into the process, and the Government should welcome them, not reject them out of hand.
I will make some progress and then give way. I am mindful of the fact that 99 Back Benchers want to speak, and it is important, on such an issue, that I set out our position.
It is important to remember what the Bill does and does not do. It empowers the Prime Minister to trigger article 50—no more, no less. It is the start of the negotiating process, not the end. It does not give the Prime Minister a blank cheque—and here I want to make a wider point that has not been made clearly enough so far in any of our debates: no Prime Minister, under article 50 or any other provision, can change domestic law through international negotiations. That can only be done in this Parliament. If she seeks to change our immigration laws, she will have to do so in this Parliament in primary legislation. If she seeks to change our tax laws, she will have to do so in this Parliament in primary legislation. If she seeks to change our employment laws, our consumer protection laws or our environmental laws, she will have to do so in this Parliament in primary legislation. If she seeks to change our current arrangements in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, she will have to do so in Parliament in primary legislation.
When the Secretary of State last week said there would be many votes on many pieces of legislation in the next few years, he was not wrong. In each of those votes, at every twist and turn, Labour will argue that jobs, the economy and living standards must come first. We will argue that all the workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections derived from EU law should be fully protected—no qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses.
My hon. and learned Friend rightly points to the very necessary consultation that must take place with the devolved Administrations, but on 17 January I asked the Secretary of State what discussions he had had with the north-east about the impact of leaving the single market, given that 58% of our exports go to the EU. Does my hon. and learned Friend share my concern that we still do not have an answer to that question—whether the Secretary of State has even had those discussions—as well as many other questions?
In that spirit, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is astonishing that the Government have not told us when they will publish the White Paper? Does he agree that it should be published ahead of the Bill’s Committee stage, which is scheduled for next week?
I am going to make some progress, given the number of hon. Members who want to come in on this debate.
More broadly, Labour will be arguing for a strong, collaborative future relationship with the EU. In her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister said that she does not
“seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave”.
That is short-sighted, as we are now finding in relation to Euratom. Why would we want to be outside the European Aviation Safety Agency, which certifies aircraft before they are allowed to fly? Why would we want to be outside the European Medicines Agency, which ensures that all medicines in the EU market are safe and effective? Why would we want to be outside Europol and Eurojust, which, as the Prime Minister and I know, are agencies that work closely together in the prevention and detection of serious crime and terrorism? The same goes for the European Environment Agency and Euratom. We challenge the Prime Minister on these fronts and ask that consideration be given to finding ways to ensure that where we can we stay within those agencies, for the obvious benefits that they bring, and we will absolutely challenge any suggestion that the Prime Minister has any authority whatsoever to rip up our economic and social model and turn the UK into a tax-haven economy.
I come back to the vote on this Bill. It is a limited vote: a vote to allow the Prime Minister to start the article 50 process. It is not a vote on the outcome, nor is it a vote on wider issues, which will fall to be voted on separately, but it is a vote to start the process. I know that there are some colleagues on the Benches behind me who do not feel able to support the Bill. I respect their views, just as I respect the views of constituents who feel the same way. I also understand and recognise the anxiety of so many in the 48% who voted to remain about their future, their values and their identity. They did not vote themselves out of their own future, and their views matter as much now as they did on 23 June last year.
I hope that the respectful approach that I have tried to adopt to colleagues and to the anxiety among the 48% is reflected across the House and that we will see a good deal less of the gloating from those who campaigned to leave than we have seen in the past. It is our duty to accept and respect the outcome of the referendum, but we remain a European country, with a shared history and shared values. It is also our duty to fight for a new relationship with our EU partners that reflects our values, our commitment to internationalism and our commitment to an open and tolerant society. Above all, it is our duty to ensure an outcome that is not just for the 52% or for the 48%, but for the 100%. That we will do.
Mr Speaker, you will not be surprised to hear that it is my intention to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, if a vote is called, and to support the reasoned amendment, which I think will be moved very shortly by the Scottish nationalists.
Because of the rather measured position that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) had to present on behalf of the official Labour party, it falls to me to be the first Member of this House to set out the case for why I believe—I hope that I will not be the last such speaker—that it is in the national interest for the United Kingdom to be a member of the European Union, why I believe that we have benefited from that position for the past 45 years and, most importantly, why I believe that future generations will benefit if we succeed in remaining a member of the European Union. It is a case that hardly received any national publicity during the extraordinary referendum campaign, but it goes to the heart of the historic decision that the House is being asked to make now.
It so happens that my political career entirely coincides with British involvement with the European Union. I started over 50 years ago, supporting Harold Macmillan’s application to join. I helped to get the majority cross-party vote for the European Communities Act 1972, before we joined in 1973, and it looks like my last Parliament is going to be the Parliament in which we leave, but I do not look back with any regret. We made very wise decisions. I believe that membership of the European Union was the way in which we got out of the appalling state we were in when we discovered after Suez that we had no role in the world that we were clear about once we had lost our empire, and that our economy was becoming a laughing stock because we were falling behind the countries on the continent that had been devastated in the war but appeared to have a better way of proceeding than we did.
I believe that our membership of the European Union restored to us our national self-confidence and gave us a political role in the world, as a leading member of the Union, which made us more valuable to our allies such as the United States, and made our rivals, such as the Russians, take us more seriously because of our leadership role in the European Union. It helped to reinforce our own values as well. Our economy benefited enormously and continued to benefit even more, as the market developed, from our close and successful involvement in developing trading relationships with the inhabitants of the continent.
I am very fortunate to be called this early. I apologise to my right hon. Friend—my old friend—but 93 other Members are still waiting to be called, so if he will forgive me, I will not give way.
The Conservative Governments in which I served made very positive contributions to the development of the European Union. There were two areas in which we were the leading contender and made a big difference. The first was when the Thatcher Government led the way in the creation of the single market. The customs union—the so-called common market—had served its purpose, but regulatory barriers matter more than tariffs in the modern world. But for the Thatcher Government, the others would not have been induced to remove those barriers, and I think that the British benefited more from the single market than any other member state. It has contributed to our comparative economic success today.
We were always the leading Government after the fall of the Soviet Union in the process of enlargement to eastern Europe, taking in the former Soviet states. That was an extremely important political contribution. After the surprising collapse of the Soviet Union, eastern and central Europe could have collapsed into its traditional anarchy, nationalist rivalry and military regimes that preceded the second world war. We pressed the urgency of bringing in these new independent nations, giving them the goal of the European Union, which meant liberal democracy, free market trade and so forth. We made Europe a much more stable place.
That has been our role in the European Union, and I believe that it is a very bad move, particularly for our children and grandchildren, that we are all sitting here now saying that we are embarking on a new unknown future. I shall touch on that in a moment, because I think the position is simply baffling to every friend of the British and of the United Kingdom throughout the world. That is why I shall vote against the Bill.
Let me deal with the arguments that I should not vote in that way, that I am being undemocratic, that I am quite wrong, and that, as an elected Member of Parliament, I am under a duty to vote contrary to the views I have just given. I am told that this is because we held a referendum. First, I am in the happy situation that my opposition to referendums as an instrument of government is quite well known and has been frequently repeated throughout my political career. I have made no commitment to accept a referendum, and particularly this referendum, when such an enormous question, with hundreds of complex issues wrapped up within it, was to be decided by a simple yes/no answer on one day. That was particularly unsuitable for a plebiscite of that kind, and that point was reinforced by the nature of the debate.
Constitutionally, when the Government tried to stop the House having a vote, they did not go to the Supreme Court arguing that a referendum bound the House and that that was why we should not have a vote. The referendum had always been described as advisory in everything that the Government put out. There is no constitutional standing for referendums in this country. No sensible country has referendums—the United States and Germany do not have them in their political systems. The Government went to the Supreme Court arguing for the archaic constitutional principle of the royal prerogative—that the Executive somehow had absolute power when it came to dealing with treaties. Not surprisingly, they lost.
What about the position of Members of Parliament? There is no doubt that by an adequate but narrow majority, leave won the referendum campaign. I will not comment on the nature of the campaign. Those arguments that got publicity in the national media on both sides were, on the whole, fairly pathetic. I have agreed in conversation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that he and I can both tell ourselves that neither of us used the dafter arguments that were put forward by the people we were allied with. It was not a very serious debate on the subject. I do not recall the view that £350 million a week would be available for the health service coming from the Brexit Secretary, and I did not say that we going to have a Budget to put up income tax and all that kind of thing. It was all quite pathetic.
Let me provide an analogy—a loose one but, I think, not totally loose—explaining the position of Members of Parliament after this referendum. I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years, and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public, in their wisdom, have occasionally failed to take my advice and have by a majority voted Labour. I have thus found myself here facing a Labour Government, but I do not recall an occasion when I was told that it was my democratic duty to support Labour policies and the Labour Government on the other side of the House. That proposition, if put to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) in opposition or myself, would have been treated with ridicule and scorn. Apparently, I am now being told that despite voting as I did in the referendum, I am somehow an enemy of the people for ignoring my instructions and for sticking to the opinions that I expressed rather strongly, at least in my meetings, when I urged people to vote the other way.
I have no intention of changing my opinion on the ground. Indeed, I am personally convinced that the hard-core Eurosceptics in my party, with whom I have enjoyed debating this issue for decades, would not have felt bound in the slightest by the outcome of the referendum to abandon their arguments—[Interruption.] I do not say that as criticism; I am actually on good terms with the hard-line Eurosceptics because I respect their sincerity and the passionate nature of their beliefs. If I ever live to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) turn up here and vote in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union, I will retract what I say, but hot tongs would not make him vote for membership of the EU.
I must move on, but I am told that I should vote for my party as we are on a three-line Whip. I am a Conservative; I have been a decently loyal Conservative over the years. The last time I kicked over the traces was on the Lisbon treaty, when for some peculiar reason my party got itself on the wrong side of the argument, but we will pass over that. I would point out to those who say that I am somehow being disloyal to my party by not voting in favour of this Bill that I am merely propounding the official policy of the Conservative party for 50 years until 23 June 2016. I admire my colleagues who can suddenly become enthusiastic Brexiteers, having seen a light on the road to Damascus on the day that the vote was cast, but I am afraid that that light has been denied me.
I feel the spirit of my former colleague, Enoch Powell—I rather respected him, aside from one or two of his extreme views—who was probably the best speaker for the Eurosceptic cause I ever heard in this House of Commons. If he were here, he would probably find it amazing that his party had become Eurosceptic and rather mildly anti-immigrant, in a very strange way, in 2016. Well, I am afraid that, on that issue, I have not followed it, and I do not intend to do so.
There are very serious issues that were not addressed in the referendum: the single market and the customs union. They must be properly debated. It is absurd to say that every elector knew the difference between the customs union and the single market, and that they took a careful and studied view of the basis for our future trading relations with Europe.
The fact is that I admire the Prime Minister and her colleagues for their constant propounding of the principles of free trade. My party has not changed on that. We are believers in free trade and see it as a win-win situation. We were the leading advocate of liberal economic policies among the European powers for many years, so we are free traders. It seems to me unarguable that if we put between us and the biggest free market in the world new tariffs, new regulatory barriers, new customs procedures, certificates of origin and so on, we are bound to be weakening the economic position from what it would otherwise have been, other things being equal, in future. That is why it is important that this issue is addressed in particular.
I am told that that view is pessimistic, and that we are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with a great new globalised future that offers tremendous opportunities for us. Apparently, when we follow the rabbit down the hole, we will emerge in a wonderland where, suddenly, countries throughout the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that we were never able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. Let me not be too cynical; I hope that that is right. I do want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt somewhere a hatter is holding a tea party with a dormouse in the teapot.
We need success in these trade negotiations to recoup at least some of the losses that we will incur as a result of leaving the single market. If all is lost on the main principle, that is the big principle that the House must get control of and address seriously, in proper debates and votes, from now on.
I hope that I have adequately explained that my views on this issue have not been shaken very much over the decades—they have actually strengthened somewhat. Most Members, I trust, are familiar with Burke’s address to the electors of Bristol. I have always firmly believed that every MP should vote on an issue of this importance according to their view of the best national interest. I never quote Burke, but I shall paraphrase him. He said to his constituents, “If I no longer give you the benefit of my judgment and simply follow your orders, I am not serving you; I am betraying you.” I personally shall be voting with my conscience content, and when we see what unfolds hereafter as we leave the European Union, I hope that the consciences of other Members of Parliament will remain equally content.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
this House declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill as the Government has set out no provision for effective consultation with the devolved administrations on implementing Article 50, has yet to publish a White Paper detailing the Government's policy proposals, has refused to give a guarantee on the position of EU nationals in the UK, has left unanswered a range of detailed questions covering many policy areas about the full implications of withdrawal from the single market and has provided no assurance that a future parliamentary vote will be anything other than irrelevant, as withdrawal from the European Union follows two years after the invoking of Article 50 if agreement is not reached in the forthcoming negotiations, unless they are prolonged by unanimity.
The amendment stands in my name and, indeed, that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), as well as those of other colleagues, including representatives of the various constituent parts of the United Kingdom. I thank Members in all parts of the House for backing it today.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who spoke a huge amount of sense—a great deal more sense than we have heard in recent times. He made some exceptional points, for which I thank him. It is also a privilege for us that he will be voting with us tomorrow evening. In particular, he made some good points about the benefits of the European Union, and it is important for us to reflect, even briefly, on those.
The European Union has had an impact on all of us, from the progress that we have made as member states in protecting workers’ and parents’ rights and the environment to our progress in helping to bring about peace, security and prosperity over the past 70 years—something that was never guaranteed. There are endless reasons for voting for our amendment, and I know that a number of my colleagues will touch on them today and tomorrow. One of the main reasons, however, must be connected with scrutiny. What is the purpose of having a Parliament—what is the purpose of us all being here—if it is not to scrutinise the work of the Government? Their unwillingness to subject this decision to any proper scrutiny reflects a lack of confidence in their own position and in the process that will follow once this has been done.
It is good that, despite the Government’s best efforts, we are to have a say on the triggering of article 50, but we did have to drag them here kicking and screaming, and at great expense. I also think it imperative for all Members to reflect on the debt of gratitude that we owe to Gina Miller, who made today’s debate possible. Today, however, I want to reflect on our amendment.
Primarily, what we want is scrutiny. It is interesting that the Government have not published a White Paper in time for the debate, and that they want to publish it after the Bill has been passed. That must surely be unprecedented. Secondly, there is a lack of respect for the devolution settlement. Thirdly, there are the consequences of leaving the EU without certainty, and fourthly, there is the vision of the United Kingdom that is being created.
One enormous step that the Government could have taken—this was touched on by both the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe and the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)—was to deal with the position of the EU nationals who contribute so much to our country. Given that the Government are surely in need of friends with influence, they should give those people the certainty that they and we need.
Let us reflect for a moment on why there is so much uncertainty. The leave supporters campaigned on a blank piece of paper, an act of gross irresponsibility and negligence which has been perpetuated by the Government over the past nine months and which lies at the heart of why we need a White Paper. I must add, as the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union returns to the Chamber, that Ministers, both present and previous, who supported the leave campaign bear a particular culpability when it comes to the uncertainty in which we now find ourselves.
Will we have the White Paper before the Bill’s Committee stage? Will we go through the normal process, whereby we see a White Paper before a Bill is passed? That has certainly been the practice in the past when the House has been given a say. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe reflected on European debates gone by. I remind Members that John Major published a White Paper before entering the negotiations on the Amsterdam treaty in 1996. The Foreign Secretary is no longer in the Chamber, but I also remind Members that Gordon Brown, who was Prime Minister at the time, published a White Paper on the Lisbon treaty.
What are the Government afraid of? My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who is present, has some experience of referendums and of scrutiny. I have here a copy of the Scottish White Paper. This is what a proper White Paper looks like.
This White Paper contains 670 pages of details of what the country looked like, and it was published a year before the Scottish referendum. There was no scrabbling around for the odd detail nearly a year after a referendum. It is a disgrace, and the Government should be ashamed.
The Scottish people had an opportunity to discuss and debate it. It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman does not trust the people enough to give them some details, and campaigned on a blank page.
Let me gently remind the House that this is a big deal. We are not just divvying up the Nana Mouskouri records or the “Borgen” box sets. This will have an impact on each and every one of us. We published the details, and we can reflect on that. You do not have the courage of your convictions.
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is in a state of great animation and excitement, and I do not want to spoil that for him, but I have always had the courage of my convictions, and, therefore, his breach of parliamentary protocol is, in this case, mildly offensive. May I just remind him that debate here takes place through the Chair? The word “you” is not only not required, but should be deleted from any part of his text.
I apologise, Mr Speaker. You, of course, have the courage of your convictions every time, although those on the Government Benches may be a different matter altogether—but that is well said, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, I am sure you will also agree with me that scrutiny is a good thing; it strengthens governance and has a major role to play.
Let me talk about the devolution settlement and what has been happening. The Secretary of State talked earlier about listening. He says a great deal about listening, but I have not seen anything that has changed so far from all this listening that has been going on; I have not been seeing any changes. They were listening in Cardiff all day yesterday, and we have seen nothing. The Court ruling made the point that this is a political decision; the decision to involve the devolved Administrations should be a political one.
The Secretary of State for Scotland has also said that the Bill will put the Sewel convention on to “a statutory footing.” If that was the case and he was true to his word, we would not be in the situation we are in just now.
Only two plans have come forward. One was from the Scottish Government about Scotland’s place in Europe, and I also pay credit to Plaid Cymru and to Labour colleagues who managed to pull together a plan from the Welsh Government as well. Fair play to them for putting aside their political differences and producing more detail.
The Scottish Government plans have won praise from stakeholders and European partners across the spectrum. They would maintain our place in the single market, give new powers to the Scottish Parliament—as suggested by the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove)—and ensure that EU nationals can continue to stay.
On that point I will give way to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray).
The hon. Lady says she is confused. I will make this point: if the Government come forward with a White Paper that is not quite 670 pages, I think we will be okay with that on these Benches. Indeed, if the Secretary of State comes forward with a White Paper, it would be some progress. But the hon. Lady is a little confused: may I remind her and others on the Conservative Benches on a point of democracy that they got their worst general election result in Scotland since 1865, so they could do with a little bit of listening? They are being pulled by their nose by the UK Independence party who have never even saved their parliamentary deposit in Scotland. Let me say on democracy that the Conservatives govern on 15% of the votes, claim a victory on one in five voters, and want to bring powers back to this place and hand them to the House of Lords.
I will not give way any more.
The consequences of leaving the EU will be significant for universities, for the opportunities that I had and people should continue to have, and for our environment and low-carbon industries. Paragraph 22 of the “Explanatory Notes” says:
“This Bill is not expected to have any financial implications.”
That is courageous, indeed.
Finally, on vision—
Order. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) has made it clear that he is not giving way, and may I gently say that an enormous amount of heckling is taking place, sometimes from the hon. Gentleman’s own Benches? They are heckling more loudly than I shout when watching Britain in the Davis cup, and I do not do that while play is in progress.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Let me gently remind colleagues about this. As well as learning a lesson on democracy and on the Conservatives’ abject failure in terms of winning any kind of vote in Scotland, this House is at a crossroads today. Are we going to have a future of continuing progress and prosperity whereby we maintain a close relationship with our partners in Europe, as set out by the Scottish Government in our plans—which were a compromise, when we failed to see any kind of compromise from the other side?
Political opponents in Wales have been able to compromise. The Scottish Government, in spite of two thirds of people in Scotland voting to remain in the EU, have been able to set out a compromise. The alternative to that is a path of isolationism and exceptionalism that leaves us desperately scrabbling around for friends, and the Prime Minister, who has left the Chamber, will note the reaction to her visit to Washington on streets the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
Going back in history, Scotland has done well as an EU member state. I want to see us continue with research, trade and political alliances going back centuries, and where sharing sovereignty is a good thing. As another lesson to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, I say that that is sharing sovereignty, but what is not sharing sovereignty is being forced to have a Trident missile submarine that the Scottish people are against and 98.5% of Scottish MPs have moved against. What is not sovereign is being taken out of the EU against our will, and what is not sovereign is having a Tory Government that have one MP in charge of our affairs.
Europe is where our future lies. It is one where we tackle inequality and climate change and where refugees get help—areas that do not get much of a hearing in Whitehall these days. Pooling our sovereignty and working together is a good thing. If the House passes this Bill and turns its back on our amendment, it will be turning its back on the progress made and disrespecting the devolution settlement.
I urge Members to vote for our amendment; otherwise, this is a backward and damaging step, and an act of constitutional and economic sabotage.
This has been for me, and for many of us, a very long journey. It is 30 years since I tabled an amendment to the Single European Act to retain the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. I have to say, Mr Speaker, that it was denied me; the amendment was not selected. However, I looked with interest at clause 1 of this Bill, which says:
“This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.”
I believe that that satisfies the requirements of sovereignty in respect of this Bill.
I want to pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I respect him and the way in which we have battled over these matters over all these years. We have done so over a similar period of time—he from a little earlier than me, I must admit—but we have been on different roads, and now we have arrived at different destinations.
For me, the referendum was a massive peaceful revolution by consent, of historic proportions. This Bill at last endorses that revolution. From the 17th century right the way through our history—through the corn laws, the parliamentary reform Act that gave the vote to the working class, the suffragettes who got the vote in 1928, and then again in the period of appeasement—there have been great benchmarks of British history and they have all ultimately been determined by the decisions taken in this House, and, if I may be permitted to say so, by Back Benchers. That is where the decisions have so often been taken. The fact is that the fundamental question on which we have fought not only this referendum but all the battles back to the 1980s has been that of who governs this country. This Bill answers that question.
With respect to the Bill itself, I simply say—I do not want to spend time on this, but just to make the point; and the shadow Minister for Brexit, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), made the same point—that if one looks at the Supreme Court decision, it is clear from the manner in which its ruling was given that this is not about timing, method, our relationship with the European Union or the terms of withdrawal. That is all set out in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the judgment itself. It goes on to say at paragraph 1.22 that the freedom to make these decisions lies exclusively with Parliament, and that is where we are now embarking on yet another journey.
With respect to the referendum, I came to the conclusion back in 1990, looking at the Labour and Conservative Front Benches in the House of Commons, that nothing was going to break the collusion between those two Front Benches on the European issue or on the question of sovereignty. A strategic decision had to be taken, so I set up the Maastricht referendum campaign. After many, many years, we have reached this point, largely on account of the efforts made by all my hon. Friends on this side of the House and by those I will describe as my hon. Friends on the other side. They have all fought the same battle in the same way. They include Peter Shore, Tony Benn, my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins)—
Yes, Bob Cryer, and others. This has been a huge battle, and I do not disrespect the Governments of either party for the decisions that they have taken during this period, because they have been forming judgments, although they fell short of what we needed in this country. In this democratic cockpit, we had to fight our battles and to stand up for our own constituents. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said, we had to stand up for what we believed in. Conscience, principles and convictions must drive our decision making. Remoaners who wish to vote against the Bill simply do not get the scale of what this revolution involves. They say that they respect and accept it, but they do not.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although there has been a vote to leave the EU, there has not been a vote on the terms of our withdrawal from it? Does he also accept that as soon as article 50 is triggered, those terms will be decided by the EU 27 and not by anyone here? What sort of democracy is that?
From the beginning, my main objection has been that decisions are often taken in that way. The hon. Gentleman sits on the European Scrutiny Committee, which I chair, and he knows perfectly well that I have complained vigorously, for ever, about the fact that decisions are taken behind closed doors within the EU. It was not about our sovereignty; it was about theirs. Their sovereignty has been imposed on us. That is why I objected to it, and that is why we are standing here today.
I am very touched by my good friend’s comment.
We fought for a referendum on Maastricht and afterwards. We fought to unshackle the United Kingdom from increasingly undemocratic European government. Those who vote against the Bill will be voting against the outcome of the referendum. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), is absolutely right to say that we must trust the people. Those Members will be voting against the people and against their vote, as expressed in the referendum. If the House of Lords were to attempt to stand in the way of the vote by the British people, it would be committing political suicide. This Westminster Parliament is now the focus, where the instructions of the British people have to be carried out, and that is what we will do. I shall repeat the words of William Pitt in the Guildhall speech of 1805:
“England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe”—
and the United Kingdom—
by her example.”
Order. Just before I call the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I must appeal to Members not to keep coming up to the Chair and asking where they are on the list, either explicitly or by the back door by asking, “Is it all right if I go to the loo?”, “May I have a cup of tea?” or “Am I permitted to eat a biscuit?” I shall do my best to accommodate everyone in the substantial amount of time available, but I appeal to colleagues to show a little patience and some regard for the Chair needing to concentrate on the debate. I will get you in if I possibly can, and so will all other occupants of the Chair.
Our relationship with Europe has run like a contentious thread through our politics for more than 60 years, and the referendum revealed a nation that remains divided. Though it pains me to say it, for the reasons so ably set out by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)—the Foreign Secretary, who is no longer in his place, was shaking his head throughout that speech, probably because he did not wish to be reminded of the arguments he had included in that other article, which he chose not to publish back in June—we are leaving the European Union, and our task now is to try to bring people together. This means that, whether we voted leave or remain, we have a responsibility to hold in our minds the views, concerns and hopes of everyone in our country, whether they voted leave or remain.
The Supreme Court decided, rightly in my view, that a decision of this magnitude should be made by Parliament and not by the Executive, but with that power comes a responsibility to respect the outcome of the referendum, however much some of us might disagree with it. This is about democracy. This is about faith in our politics, not just in the United Kingdom but across the western world, where—if we are honest—it is not in very good shape. If this Parliament were to say to the people, “You did not know what you were doing, only 37% voted leave, the referendum was only advisory and there were lots of lies”—whether or not we agree with some of those assertions—we really would have a crisis of confidence in our politics, for the reasons so eloquently set out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). That is why the democratic thing to do is to vote for this Bill, and I shall do so tomorrow.
But the referendum decided only one thing: the fact that we are leaving the institutions of the European Union. It did not determine the terms on which we leave or our new relationship with the other 27 member states. That is why we have, as a nation, to get our objectives and the process right as we start this great negotiation. The Government’s handling of this matter so far has not shown sufficient respect for Parliament—notwithstanding the number of times the Secretary of State has come to the Dispatch Box. For several months, Ministers appeared to believe that saying that there would be “no running commentary” and telling those asking for greater clarity that they were not, in the words of the No. 10 spokesperson, “backing the UK team” was the right approach. It was not. Commitments have eventually been made to set out objectives, to seek transitional arrangements, to publish a White Paper and to confirm that Parliament will have a vote—all things that the Exiting the European Union Committee, which I have the honour to chair, called for—but at every stage, far from being freely made, they were reluctantly conceded, usually a day or two after the Secretary of State had resisted them from the Dispatch Box.
My right hon. Friend refers to the fact that the Government now say that there will be a vote on the eventual deal. I presume that what they mean is that, under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, there will be a single vote on an unamendable motion in relation to a treaty. I do not think that that is good enough. If the European Parliament—and, for that matter, the Irish Dáil and the French Assemblée Nationale—will have the right to consider such a treaty line by line, this House should have that right as well.
I agree with my hon. Friend, but the House must have a proper plan and, in the words of my Front-Bench colleague, a “meaningful” opportunity to scrutinise the agreement in draft, rather than being presented with a fait accompli at the end of the process. This is one example of how the Government have had to be pushed, cajoled and prodded at every stage into giving Parliament its proper role.
I say to the Secretary of State—this may not be his fault—that it is extraordinary that we meet here today, and are being asked to vote on this Bill tomorrow, when not a single Government document setting out the consequences has been published. Seven months after the British people reached their decision, there has been no economic assessment, no analysis of the options, and no White Paper. That is not the way to do things and that attitude must change. The Government need to recognise that Parliament should be not a bystander but a participant in what is probably the most complex and significant negotiation that this country has ever faced. We have to unwind and recast 43 years of relationships with our neighbours. It affects every area of our national life, every part of the country, every person, community and business, and the jobs and incomes on which they depend. It is therefore essential that we have unity of purpose in trying to get the best deal for Britain, despite the inevitable uncertainty of the outcome.
We will come to the issues of substance in Committee and subsequently. What does special access to the single market mean now that the Prime Minister has decided that we are leaving it? How exactly will seeking to remain and leave the customs union at the same time work? If ensuring a continuation of tariff and barrier-free trade is a priority for Ministers, but Europe comes back and says, “You can’t have your cake and eat it. You have to choose,” I trust that the Government will choose to remain in the customs union. The world is more uncertain now than at any time over the past 60 years, so how will we continue to co-operate with our neighbours on foreign policy, defence, security and the fight against terrorism?
Finally, the referendum result revealed something else: two great political forces in the western world are now reflected in our politics. On the one hand, people desire greater devolution and control in a world in which many believe that we barely have any control at all owing to the pace of change in our lives. On the other hand, every single Member of the House, whether we voted leave or remain, understands that in the modern world we have to co-operate with our neighbours to deal with the great challenges that we will face in the years and centuries ahead. Leaving the European Union may change the balance between the two, but it will not change the necessity to embrace both as we look to the future.
I rise to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—not that I will agree with much of what he said, but I fully respect his ability and strength of purpose, in line with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said, to stand by his convictions. It is therefore a privilege to follow him.
It is also a privilege for me, as it is for many of my colleagues, to speak on this Bill. It is without doubt that I support the Government and therefore the passage of this Bill. I commend the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Opposition spokesman, who made a particularly measured speech on what the Bill is and is not about. He was clear in his words, for which I commend him because I actually agreed with them when he said that this is about giving the Government the right to invoke article 50, and nothing more. He said in his interesting speech that no place but here can have the right to change domestic laws, and I agree. That is why I and my hon. Friends have urged that we repeal the European Communities Act 1972 at the same time. Strictly speaking, that is not necessary under article 50, but it is the right thing to do domestically and provides an answer to those who say, “But what will we do about all these issues?” Every element of our membership of the European Union is within that Act, and I am certain that the House will debate that for many hours and reach a decision.
I have a huge amount of respect for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. We served together in the same Government and have debated this issue for a long time. There is nobody whom I respect more in this House than him. He is as constant as the compass. There is absolutely no way in which anyone could have any doubt about where he was going to be not only on this matter, but on many others. I look across the Chamber to my erstwhile right hon. Friend, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), who will agree that during the coalition Government we absolutely knew where my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe was going to be on many issues in Cabinet—invariably not where the Government were.
Not only is our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) to be respected for his views on Europe, about which he has been entirely consistent and courteous, but he was surely one of the most remarkable Chancellors of the Exchequer that our country has seen.
I do not doubt that at all. In fact, so successful was he that he managed to tie the following Government in all sorts of knots as they sought to pursue his policies without any of the same drive or intelligence in how they were going to do it.
My purpose today is simply to explain that I opposed the Maastricht treaty. In case anybody asks, I did not actually want to leave the European Union. I originally voted to join the European Union, or the Common Market as it was then, but when it came to Maastricht I decided that there was something fundamentally wrong with the direction of travel. I am going to raise the name of an individual whom not many people in this House ever raise in debate: Altiero Spinelli. He was essentially the architect of both the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty. His purpose was quite clear. He believed that the whole purpose of the European project was the eradication of the nature of the nation state. He said:
“If a post war order is established in which each State retains its complete national sovereignty, the basis for a Third World War would still exist”.
I do not agree with him, and I never did. The reason we fell into the terrible cataclysm of the second world war following the great depression was the absence of democracy and, most importantly, robust democratic institutions in many European states. War will never happen where we have democracy and strong democratic institutions with open trade. Such democracies simply will not do that. My sense was that the European Union’s direction of travel from Maastricht was bound on a course that was going to lead to the UK ultimately deciding that it can no longer stay within it.
I agree with much of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said. I have come to a different conclusion, but I fully respect anyone who decides to vote against the triggering of article 50. They were sent here to use their judgment. Yes, the British people have made a decision, but the job of an MP is to use judgment on such matters. If somebody chooses to oppose the Bill, I will respect that. I will disagree with them, but they deserve a hearing and we should in no way attempt to shout them down.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his thoughts on democracy. Does he accept that Members in this House have less information about this crucial decision than the average local ward councillor has about their annual budget?
I am grateful for that intervention, but I do not agree. Given the past 40 years, if anybody in this House does not have enough information to make a decision, I wonder where they have been for all those years—or the years that they have spent here. Of course we have enough information. The hon. Lady is referring to the publication of the White Paper, which the Government have said they will publish. I stand by that and think it is a good idea. I must say, however, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a pretty good of fist of it in her recent speech, in which she set out the 12 points that will guide her negotiation. I hope that the Government reprint them with a couple of diagrams, the odd explanation and a nice picture, which will make an excellent White Paper.
I absolutely do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe that my party is somehow anti-immigrant. When I was in government with him, both in coalition and subsequently, we did more than any other country to help those who were displaced as a result of the wars in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. As a Government and as a country, we should be proud of our support for immigration. Whatever other countries choose to do, we put ourselves on the side of those who flee terror.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for that clarification. We are not anti-immigrant, and I do not think that anyone who voted to leave the European Union is anti-immigrant. There is a difference between being anti-immigrant and being anti-uncontrolled immigration. It was the latter that the British public were against. They wanted control, and many people of different backgrounds voted to leave the European Union.
That is the point: they wanted to take back control. They are not anti-immigration but simply want to make sure that it is controlled migration at a level that the country can absorb without any difficulties. That is where we should be on this, that is where my party should be and that is where we stand. I intend to pursue that because I am pro-migration.
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman because I have literally a matter of seconds and he will have plenty of time to speak.
The only thing on which I disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe is that we are not the hatter’s tea party. The hatter’s tea party is sitting in opposition. I do not know who the dormouse is or who the hatter is, but I am sure they will tell us later.
Having listened throughout to all these debates, I will be voting tonight to trigger article 50. [Hon. Members: “Tomorrow.”] Tomorrow, I will be voting to trigger article 50 simply because of all the mistakes of the past. We were told that somehow we can place our trust in a larger body that will do a lot of our protections for us, but we cannot. As a nation state, we can be in Europe but not run by the European Union. That is why I am voting to trigger article 50 tomorrow.
As this is the formal beginning of a process that will most likely lead to the end of Britain’s leading role in the heart of Europe and the European Union—a cause I have espoused and defended all my political life both in opposition and in government—I have to confess that of course I feel sad that we have come to this point, much as I was surprised and saddened, as many people were, by the outcome of the referendum last summer.
That sadness is increasingly mixed with a growing sense of anger at what I consider to be the Government’s deliberate distortion of the mandate they received from the British people in a way that I think is divisive, damaging and self-serving.
Let us be clear: the British people gave the Government a mandate to pull the United Kingdom out of the European Union. The British people did not give this Government a mandate to threaten to turn our country into some tawdry, low-regulation, low-tax, cowboy economy. The British people did not vote to make themselves poorer by pulling out of the greatest free-trading single market the world has ever seen—incidentally, that is one of the many reasons why the Liberal Democrats believe that the British people should be given a say at the end of the process, much as they were given a say at the beginning. And the British people most certainly did not give a mandate to the Government to indulge in the ludicrous, sycophantic farce that we have seen in recent days in which this Government, having burned every bridge left with our friends in Europe, rushed across the Atlantic to sidle up to a US President without seeming to be aware that his nativism, isolationism and protectionism are diametrically opposed to the long-term strategic interests of the United Kingdom.
The insult was that the Brexit campaigners deliberately withheld from the British people what they meant by Brexit. It was a deliberate, effective but highly cynical tactic. We never received a manifesto with the views of Nigel Farage, the Foreign Secretary or the former Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), explaining what Brexit means. Therefore, when we finally know what Brexit really means in substance, rather than in utopian promise, of course the British people should have their say.
No, I wish to make some progress. That is why I believe that this House has not a choice but a duty to withhold from the Government the right to proceed with Brexit in the way they have planned. That would not stop Brexit but would simply urge the Government to go back to the drawing board and to come back to this House with a more sensible and moderate approach to Brexit.
I really wish to make some progress. I have only four minutes.
Some people say that there is no alternative, that we must leave the single market and that there is no remote chance that we could find an accommodation with our European partners. Nonsense. For instance, I confirm to the House that I have recently heard it on very good authority that senior German decision makers, shortly after the Prime Minister, no doubt to her surprise, found herself as Prime Minister without a shot—or indeed a vote—being fired, were keen to explore ways to deliver her an emergency brake. In return, they hoped for an undisruptive economic Brexit.
But what did this Government choose to do? They decided to spurn all friendship links with Europe. They decided to disregard the needs of Scotland, Northern Ireland and, indeed, our great capital London. They decided to placate parts of the Conservative party rather than serve the long-term strategic interests of this country. They decided to pander to the eye-popping vitriol and bile that we see every day from people like Mr Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, and other members of the moneyed elite who run the Brexit right-wing press in this country—and this Government have become too slavishly preoccupied with their opinions. But, above all, this Government have decided to disregard the hopes, the dreams and the aspirations of 16.1 million of our fellow citizens, which is more than have ever voted for a winning party in a general election— 242 Westminster constituencies voted to remain.
I have a very simple question to ask and the right hon. Gentleman will get the rest of his minute. Does he recall that, during the referendum campaign, the then Prime Minister and many others on the remain side said that if the British people voted to leave the European Union, it would absolutely mean that we leave the single market? Did he agree with that at the time?
It is a novel concept that the winning side in a competition invokes the arguments of the losing side to make a case that it did not make itself. That is ludicrous. The Brexit campaign deliberately did not spell out to the British people what Brexit means, which is why it is right that, when we finally do know what Brexit means, the British people have another say.
My final point is that the British Government have taken the mandate of 23 June 2016 and not only disregarded the 16.1 million people and the 242 constituencies that voted to remain but have very deliberately decided to ignore the pleas, the dreams, the aspirations and the plans of the people who should actually count most. It is our children and our grandchildren, the youth of Britain, who will have to live with the fateful consequences more than anybody in this House or anybody on the Government Front Bench, and—guess what?—conventional wisdom says that the youth of today are politically indifferent and do not participate but 64% of 18 to 24-year-old voters voted. They mobilised in huge, unprecedented numbers, and 73% of them voted for a different future.
I know that the vote of a 19-year-old does not weigh any differently in the ballot box from the vote of a 90-year-old but, when we search our consciences, as we have just been asked to do, we should search our consciences most especially about what country we think we are handing on to the next generation. Call me old-fashioned, but when a country decides to go on a radical, uncompromising departure to a new and as yet entirely unpredictable future, and does so against the explicit, stated wishes of those who have to inhabit that future, it is a country embarking on a perilous path, and I hope that our consciences will not pay for it.
I have a great sense of foreboding. Notwithstanding my personal admiration for the Secretary of State for Brexit, who will try to conduct his negotiations in good humour, the negotiations are going to get nasty and acrimonious. Just think what will happen in the British tabloid press when the Government first start arguing about money in the next few months. The Government’s position is asking for the impossible and the undeliverable. Most especially, it is not possible to say that we will not abide by the rulings of a marketplace and then somehow claim that we will get unfettered access to that marketplace. That is not going to happen.
European leaders, many of whom I have spoken to, look at us with increasing dismay and disbelief at the incoherence and the confrontational manner in which this Government are proceeding with Brexit.
My final plea is that Members look to the long-term interests of our country and their constituents when voting, not to the short-term interests of this Government.
In following the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), I rise proudly on this side of the House, where, I remind him, we are standing by our mandate of “Brexit means Brexit.” I also remind him that once a politician stood on a mandate of “No tuition fees.”
This Bill may be simple, small and perfectly formed, but its significance is way above its size. This Bill is about delivering on democracy and on commitments made by politicians to the electorate. Last June, the country spoke decisively in a democratic vote, in a referendum that had been initiated by a very large majority—more than 10 to one MPs—in this House, and we should all remember that. More people voted to leave the EU than have ever voted for a single political party. That vote cannot be ignored, so I will therefore be voting for this Bill on Second Reading and then supporting the Government in their negotiations to ensure that a good deal is obtained, which works primarily in the interests of the UK, but without damaging the 27 other member states of the EU. We do expect a professional attitude towards those negotiations from the European Union, without the vindictiveness that has come through in some of the statements made by European politicians.
In my commercial life before entering the House, I worked in many countries in Europe. I am fortunate to have represented the UK in European institutions, and I also have strong personal ties with Europe, as many of my family live in Denmark and are Danish, so I am certainly not anti-European. When people say that we are anti-European, I tell them that we are not leaving Europe—we are leaving the European Union. Europe is a fantastic place to call home—it is diverse in culture and language, and its unique history enriches us all—but the EU’s goal of standardisation and a one-size-fits-all Europe has been a source of bewilderment to many of us.
While many countries, including our own, are devolving power away from central Government, the EU is moving in the opposite direction, centralising power in Brussels and imposing bureaucracy from above. The EU has constantly eroded national sovereignty and undermined the nation state. Its key decision makers in the European Commission are unelected and unaccountable, and nobody can say that the single currency has been a success for many of those countries facing such dire economic situations at the moment. It has been clear for some time that the EU needed fundamental reform, but it has become equally clear that it lacks the political will to do this.
So, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), I have been consistent in my views about Europe. When I was first elected to Parliament, the Maastricht treaty was going through this House. I was a member of the Fresh Start group, with many of my colleagues here today, and I have not changed my position in 25 years of serving this country and my constituents. I made no secret of the fact that I supported the campaign to leave the EU, but I knew it was up to individuals to make up their own minds. Now the country has made that choice clear, the Prime Minister has made her intentions clear and we need to get on with it. The choice that some seem to be offering between what they call “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit” is a false one. If soft Brexit means staying in the single market with no controls on our borders and, crucially, the UK being subject to the European Court of Justice, it is not really Brexit at all. Indeed, I believe I recall the remain campaigners arguing during the referendum campaign that sacrificing EU membership but staying in the single market was the “worst of both worlds”.
We are leaving the EU, and that means freeing ourselves of its institutions. But we remain a firm friend and ally of all the European countries with which we have been working over decades to try to maintain peace, prosperity and stability on European soil. Not only do we want to have and will seek an open trading relationship with those countries, but, no matter what the outcome, we will continue to work with them on tackling areas of common interest: terrorism, crime, climate change and environmental protection. This major change in our governance means that Britain can freely reach out to the rest of the world, forging new friendships, building new alliances and expanding into new markets. But, like the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I recognise the disappointment of people who were satisfied with our membership of the EU and wish we were in a different place. I think we have a bright future ahead of us. There is a whole world out there and I want to see a free, open, tolerant self-determining Britain thrive in it. Therefore, I will have no hesitation in going through the Lobby tomorrow in support of the Government and this Bill.
May I say at once that although I deeply regret the decision made by the British people, including in my constituency, to leave the EU, I do not seek to challenge it? I regret the opening remark made by the Secretary of State—I am sorry he is not here to hear me say this—that this debate is about whether or not we trust the British people. It is not about that; it is about whether we commence the process of implementing their decision, a process that will not be simple, easy or fast. It does no one any favours to pretend otherwise.
Although I accept that decision and I will vote for the Bill, I fear that its consequences, both for our economy and our society, are potentially catastrophic. I therefore hope that the practice of dismissing any calls, queries and concerns, however serious and well founded, as merely demonstrating opposition to the will of the British people will now cease, along with the notion that they would merely obstruct the process. Once we commence this process, there are serious and profound questions to address, and it helps nobody to cheapen it in that way.
A second practice I deplore is that of pretending that the question the public actually answered—whether to leave the European Union or to remain—is instead the question some leave campaigners would prefer them to have answered. I hear many claiming that the people voted to leave the single market—that they voted to leave the customs union. First, those were not the words on the ballot paper. Secondly, although we all have our own recollections of the debate, mine is that whenever we who campaigned to remain raised the concerns that if we were to leave the EU to end the free movement of people, we might, in consequence, find that we have to leave the single market, with massive implications for jobs and our economy, some leave campaigner would immediately pop up to assure the people that no such complications or problems were likely to arise and that we could have—
I am looking at one of them now. They would suggest that we could have our cake and eat it—that we could leave the EU not only without jeopardy to our economy, but even with advantage, because we could negotiate other trading relationships without any such uncomfortable ties.
Does the right hon. Lady not remember that the official leave campaign said that one of our main aims is to have many more free trade agreements with the rest of the world and that in order to do that of course we have to leave the single market customs union, because we are not allowed to undertake free trade?
No, honestly I do not particularly recall that. I recall those in the leave campaign saying that we could have trading arrangements with a whole lot of other countries, and I am going to turn to that now. India was cited as one example, but I have the distinct impression that when the Prime Minister discussed these issues with the President of India she may have been advised that far from closing the immigration door, he would like to see it opened wider. Nor do I think a trade deal with China will be without any quid pro quo.
Further to that, does my right hon. Friend recall the International Development Secretary making the case to my constituents of Indian descent, of Bangladeshi descent and of Pakistani descent that leaving the EU would not only lead to future trade deals, but would improve immigration to this country from the Commonwealth? Does my right hon. Friend expect that promise to be delivered?
I am extraordinarily grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because not only do I recall it, but I originally had it in my speech, only to take it out on the grounds of time.
As for the United States, I am sure that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who, like me has had a degree of experience in complex international negotiations, is as conscious as I am that one of the first prerequisites is to listen to the words. It was not the President of the United States who said that Britain would be at the front of the queue, it was British politicians. What the President said was, “You’re doing great.” I do not take much comfort from that, especially coming as it does from a President whose motto is “America first.” I wholly share the fears that have been expressed, and that probably will be again in this debate, about the possibility of America’s companies wishing to exploit the healthcare market here or weaken our regulations on, for example, food safety.
The negotiations we will trigger with this Bill will be extraordinarily difficult and very time-consuming. I do not think for a second that they can be concluded within two years, and I do not think anybody who has ever negotiated anything would. It will therefore be vital to make allowance and preparations for possible transitional arrangements.
I am conscious of the time, so I shall make my final point. It is not clear whether the Prime Minister frightened the European Commission with her threat to devastate our tax base and, in consequence, all our public services, but she successfully frightened me. I do not believe—not for one second—that that is what the British people thought they were voting for. When this process is concluded, the European Parliament will have the right to vote on the outcome. If taking back control means anything, it must mean that this House enjoys the same right.
It is with a heavy heart, and against my long-held belief that the interests of this country are better served by our being a member of the European Union, that I shall support the Bill. In 2015, I promised the good people of Broxtowe that, if I was elected to represent them for another term, and in accordance with my party’s manifesto, I would vote for an in/out referendum on our EU membership, agreeing, in the words of David Cameron, that the people would “settle the matter”. I promised to respect and honour the vote. On 9 June 2015, along with 544 Members of this place, I agreed to that referendum, and in so doing I agreed to be bound by the result.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) was not in favour of that referendum and did not vote for it, so he is, of course, free and able to vote against the Bill. I am sure it is no coincidence that he happens to enjoy a considerably large number of people in his constituency who voted remain, and that he has—quite wrongly, in my view—announced that he will not be standing again in 2020. I say to Opposition Members, though, that you cannot go back on your word because you do not agree with the result.
I believe that history will not be kind to this Parliament, nor, indeed, to the Government I was so proud to serve in. How on earth did we ever come to put to the people an alternative that we then said would make them worse off and less safe and would weaken our nation? I echo the wise words of some of the speech by my new friend, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), when I say that I greatly fear that generations that either did not vote or are yet to come will not thank us for our great folly. Neither will they forgive those who since 23 June have chosen not to be true to their long-held views—those who have remained mute as our country has turned its back on the benefits of the free movement of people, a single market and the customs union, without a debate, far less any vote in this place. Why is that? It needs to be said and recorded that our Government have decided that the so-called control of immigration, which actually means the reduction in immigration—that is what so many people in our constituencies believe—is worth more than the considerable benefits of the single market and the customs union.
What has been even more upsetting is the fact that Members on the Labour Front Bench have connived with the Government. The Government were never going to give us the opportunity to debate these important matters, for reasons that I genuinely understand and, indeed, respect, but for the Labour party to go against everything it has ever believed in is really quite shameful. It is a combination of incompetence on its Front Bench and a deep division among so many, with a few honourable exceptions—among whom I of course include the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). They have turned their backs on their long-standing belief in the free movement of people and failed to make the positive case for immigration.
The referendum vote exposed a deeply divided Britain, and that has been exposed in no place better than in the Labour party. Labour Members have been petrified—literally frozen to the spot—looking over one shoulder and seeing that their constituency Labour parties have been taken over by the extreme left, and beyond that, in many instances, that up to 70% of their own voters voted leave.
What has happened to our country? Businesses have fallen silent, scared to speak up and to speak out. I think they believe it is all going to be fine—that we are not really going to leave the EU, we will not really leave the single market and we will not really leave the customs union. They are going to get a sharp shock.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when she, I and other Members of this House voted, rightly, to give the British people the ultimate say in this matter, we did not vote to take away the rights of EU citizens like my parents who live in this country? It is disgraceful that, as it stands today, we are not honouring their rights.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, whom I include among those many brave souls on the Government Benches who, in the face of abuse and even death threats, have stood up and been true to what they believe in.
Why has there been this outbreak of silence? I quote the wise words of Edmund Burke:
“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.”
That is what has happened, but now it must stop. We must now make sure that everybody is free and able to stand up and say what they believe, and that people no longer cower in fear of four newspapers and this never-ending chorus, which I do not believe represents my constituents.
We are very grateful on the Labour Benches for all the advice the right hon. Lady is giving us. [Interruption.] I am sure her own Back Benchers are grateful as well, sometimes.
Was the right hon. Lady a member of the Government who tried to cut net migration to tens of thousands? Did she stand as a Conservative Member in the most recent general election and the one before on a manifesto that pledged to cut net migration to tens of thousands? I just ask.
I do not think anybody would say that I have not been forthright in putting forward my views about the positive benefits of immigration to our country. The best way that the Government can reduce those figures is, of course, to take out overseas students. If only they would do that; it would be the right thing to do.
Notwithstanding the considerable abilities and efforts of our Prime Minister and Government, as we embark on these negotiations I remain far from convinced that we will get any good deal. Like the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), I do not believe that in two years we will secure a good bespoke deal on trade, the customs union and our nation’s security. I hope very much to be proved wrong, and I will, of course, support the Prime Minister and our Government as they embark on the most important and difficult set of negotiations in decades, with consequences for generations to come.
What happens if no deal is secured? It is difficult to see how any Government could put to this place a deal that they believe to be inadequate in some way. I want, please, assurances from the Government that, in the event of no good deal being reached, all options will be placed before this House, and that we, on behalf of all our constituents and our businesses, will decide what happens next. We may need more time. We certainly do not want to jump off the cliff into World Trade Organisation tariffs when we are out of the single market and the customs union as that would be dangerous for our businesses in all sectors and of all sizes.
Let us now begin to heal the wounds and the divides, so that we can come together to get the best deal for our country as we leave the European Union.
I will, not surprisingly, be wholeheartedly voting to trigger article 50 tomorrow evening. I have also used my judgment. I accept that Lambeth voted overwhelmingly for remain but, as I have made very, very clear, this was a United Kingdom referendum, not a constituency or borough-based referendum. I welcome the many letters that I have received from my constituents—a lot were very pleasant—regretting that I will vote to trigger article 50. I have also had many nasty, venomous letters, not necessarily from my constituents, but from across the country. I resent and deplore the language that has been thrown around over the past few months. It comes not just from one side. There is a tendency to think that it is only the remainers who have had some pretty awful things said about them. Pretty dreadful things have been said by some who voted to remain against people such as me who stood out against our own party. None of it is acceptable. Members all need to do their bit to ensure that we seek to improve the level of political discourse, especially over the years when we are involved in our negotiations.
Like the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), I remember the Maastricht treaty debate, when I was a relatively new Member of Parliament. Time after time, the Labour party made us come along to vote against all the amendments but then, when it came to the final vote, we were ordered to abstain.
I welcome the speech made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). I welcome his tone, the graveness of the way in which he put his argument, and his honesty about the difficulty that Labour faces on this issue. I am very pleased that my party has decided not to block the referendum decision; it would be a travesty if we did.
I wish to raise a couple of annoying things that people keep saying. One is that people did not know what they were voting for. It is said that those who voted to leave did not understand what that meant. That really is patronising, and it shows part of the reason why so many people voted to leave—they were fed up being treated as if they knew nothing and as if those in power knew more than them.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, which means that I have secured her a bit more time. Does she recall that during the course of the referendum—this was certainly my experience, and I hope that it was hers—there was much more engagement, much more questioning, much more interest and a bigger turnout than at any general election in which I have ever been involved? People were really trying to find out what this was all about.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. At the many meetings I spoke at all over the country, there was a fervent interest in the issue. People wanted to know more. I remember hearing the former Prime Minister and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer very clearly warning—not just warning, but threatening—people that if they dared to vote to leave, the consequences would be our leaving the single market. Let us not call it the single market; it is an internal market. If we are leaving the EU, of course we have to leave the internal market. I am sure that, like any other country outside the EU, we will be able to get a deal that allows us to have access to that market.
Mr Speaker, my maths are not as good as yours.
The other matter I want to raise is this idea that if someone voted to leave, they are, if not an outright racist, an indirect racist. It is ridiculous and appalling that the 17 million people who voted to leave are being treated in that way. We know that those people were against not immigrants, but the idea that people from 27 other countries—26 excluding the Republic of Ireland —could come into our country for no other reason than that they could do so. That did not apply to people outside the European Union. We betrayed the people from the Commonwealth so badly back in 1973, yet they had no right to come here. It is all about getting back control. I know that that sounds like a cliché, but it is what we are doing—taking back control of our own country.
Once we have left the European Union, we will probably have sharp disagreements in the House and not so many cross-party views on a lot of the issues. We want to build—I certainly want to build—a post-Brexit UK that looks at spending priorities that might be very different from those proposed by Members on the other side of the House. I want to look at how we can use new freedoms on state aid in our country, and in order to do that, we must trigger article 50 and get into the negotiations. Our businesses and the country generally want us to get on with it. We have left ourselves in a situation in which we are spending two days of debate on a very simple Bill. The amendments will be considered next week, one or two of which I hope the Government will accept, but the reality is that this is a process that needs to be triggered. We need to do it soon, and the public expect us to do that. I have hope that we can look forward to negotiations that will take this country not to the forbidding place that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) mentioned—I have no foreboding about our future outside the European Union—but to a bright future. That will happen tomorrow night when we vote to trigger article 50.
People in the UK voted to take back control. They voted to take back control of their laws, their borders and their money. They showed great bravery, a huge passion for democracy and enormous engagement with the many complex issues that were put before them by the two campaigns. They voted by a majority to leave, despite being told that that course would be fraught with danger. They were told that the EU would bully us on the way out, and their answer was, “We will stand up to the bullies.” They were told that the economy would immediately be badly damaged and plunged into a recession this winter; they said that they did not believe the experts. Fortunately, they were right and the experts were wrong.
Now is the time for all of us here to do the difficult task of speaking up for those many constituents who did agree with us and those many constituents who did not. Both sides come together around two central propositions. The first is that we are all democrats. Everyone who is fair-minded knows, in the words of the Government leaflet that was sent to every household, that the people made the decision. That was our offer. That was what our Parliament voted to provide, and that is what the people expect. They also expect us to be greatly respectful of each other’s views. In a democracy, people do not automatically change their view when they have lost the argument and the vote. It is incumbent on those of us on the majority side to listen carefully and to do all that we can to ensure that the genuine worries as well as the inaccurate worries of the remain side can be handled. We all want economic success. Many of us believe that we can deliver that economic success by leaving. Many remain voters will be relieved and will come our way if we can show, in a good spirit, that that is exactly what we will do.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our interlocutors on the other side are listening to and watching this debate very carefully and that sending mixed messages would be against the national interest of this country if we want to get a good deal for both the 52% and the 48%?
Indeed. I believe in free speech, but it is in the national interest that we share our worst doubts privately and make a strong presentation to our former partners in the European Union. I believe that business now wants us to do that. The message from business now is, “Get on with it!” It accepts the verdict.
A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that all the fears expressed about the impact of the decision have proved to be ill founded. He must have seen the analogy that has been floating around: we are in the position of somebody who has just thrown themselves off a 100-storey building. What storey does he think we are at now?
That is not a sensible analogy. We know that the main claims were wrong because we were told that there would be a recession this winter—that the economy would plunge immediately off a cliff. Instead, we were the fastest-growing economy in the G7 throughout last year, and stronger at the end than we had been in the middle.
This is the once and future sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom. The thing that most motivated all those voters for leave was that they wanted the sovereignty of this Parliament to be restored. That is what the Bill allows us to do by our exiting the European Union, and then making our own decisions about our laws, our money and our borders. As one who has had to live for many years with an answer from the British people on the European Union that I did not like, I was increasingly faced with an invidious choice. Did I support the position of Government and Opposition Front Benches, which agreed that every European law and decision had to go through because it was our duty to put them through? Alternatively, should I be a serial rebel, complaining about the EU weather which we had no power to change?
I had reached the point where if the country had voted remain, I would have respected that judgment and not sought re-election at the next general election. I would have seen no point in this puppet Parliament—this Parliament that is full of views, airs and graces, but cannot change laws or taxes, or spend money in the way the British people want. That is the liberty that we regained. This Parliament is going to be made great by the people. It is going to be made great despite itself.
The day we leave the European Union will be a great day because everything will change and nothing will change. Everything will change through our power to make our own choices; nothing will change because we will guarantee continuity and allow people the benefits of the laws that we have already inherited. What is it about freedom that some Members do not like? What is it about having power back in our Parliament that they cannot stand? Vote to make the once and future sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom sovereign again. That is what the people challenge you to do!
I am rather nervous about following that extraordinary double-act.
The debate has shown once again how important it is for Parliament to scrutinise properly the Government’s approach and actions in respect of leaving the European Union. It has made the Government’s attempts to thwart that scrutiny through the Supreme Court look even more ludicrous.
I want to make four points. First, I shall support the Bill. I did not want us to leave the European Union, but the majority of those who voted in the referendum thought differently, including nearly 70% of people in Doncaster Central. It is important that we respect that decision, as was stated so eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and the shadow Secretary of State.
Secondly, we must do all that we can to get the best deal for Britain from the negotiations. That deal must benefit all parts of the UK. The Government have focused on strategies for Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland, but we need to make sure that all our regions have input and a proper analysis of the effects of leaving the European Union.
People in Yorkshire and Humber want to know what the effect will be on our businesses—small and large—universities, science and technology sectors, local authorities, trade unions, representatives of the third sector and others in our region. During proceedings on a recent statement, the Secretary of State said that the other nations would of course be involved in those discussions, adding that he would also be inviting representatives from the regions to a meeting in York. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us more detail about exactly how that will work. Who will represent the Yorkshire region? Will any analysis be done of the effect of Brexit on Yorkshire, what we will need to see from any deal, and how an ongoing dialogue will be maintained? Each nation and region will have an interest not only in trade deals, but in the Government’s so-called great repeal Bill.
My third point is about employees’ rights and conditions. The Government have said that they will guarantee that current employment rights will be incorporated into UK law once we have left the EU, but they need to go further by strengthening UK employment law if they are to deal with the issues of undercutting and exploitation. British manufacturing, the agricultural industry and our public services, especially the NHS, will need workers—skilled and unskilled—from European Union countries.
Concern about immigration was a key factor in many people’s minds during the referendum. A lot of that concern revolved around a feeling that workers’ wages and conditions were being undercut by migrants, especially those from eastern Europe. I know from my constituency that many of those workers are on zero-hours contracts, often being offered only about 10 hours’ work a week even though they want to work for longer, and at the minimum wage—sometimes even below it. The employers are not just about breaking even; they are big companies that often use agencies to supply their workers and effectively use the state—through housing benefit, for example—to subsidise cheap labour while seeing big profit margins.
Some call some of that a form of modern slavery. We need to use the opportunity before us to look again at how the labour market operates. If the Government are to address the concerns that I have set out, they will have to improve the whole way in which our labour market works. I believe that countries across Europe have concerns about this issue and we will be discussing it at the Labour party conference on Brexit in a few weeks’ time. It would help if we could talk to our European neighbours about the issue in respect of gaining as much access as we can to the single market.
My final point is that, as we saw yesterday, huge concern has been expressed in this country and throughout the world about the actions of President Trump. That has shown how essential it is that the UK does not withdraw from the world stage because of Brexit. I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Last week, I saw at the Assembly how valuable it was to show that the UK has not withdrawn into itself, and that we understand the importance of working with our European neighbours and advancing our common cause on human rights. I know that Government Members feel strongly about that issue as well.
I hope that the Minister will reassure the House, once and for all, that the Government will not be withdrawing from the European convention on human rights and the Council of Europe. We need to lead the debate on how we leave the European Union, and the Bill should be an opportunity to do that.
The speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) was one of the best speeches I have ever heard from the Labour Front Bench in its tone, its honest acceptance of the difficult choices being made by all of us in this House and its fundamental acceptance that we, by a majority of six to one, passed a decision to the people that we have to respect. This debate is simply about facilitating that, which is why so many of us will ensure that there is a large majority tomorrow evening to vote in favour of triggering the process for which our people asked.
I will also follow—some may think, rather counterintuitively—the other remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman who led for the Labour party. I sincerely believe that this process is not a triumph of nationalism, or of us being apart from them. It is quite the opposite: part of a new internationalism and recognition of our common citizenship of the whole world. We stand ready to break free of the protectionist barriers erected by the EU that have so damaged much of the third world, and rejoin the world at large. As a former Prime Minister of Australia said, “Britain is back.”
Of course, we crave the familiar—self, family, friends, village, county, country or even continent—but we know that the human race is one and that human dignity is indivisible. That dignity has not been respected in our continent in the past. By the spring of 1945, Europe had descended into such a spiral of hate, war and destruction that people understandably despaired. Noble spirits such as Schuman, Adenauer and De Gasperi understood that the familiar divisions of home, tribe and nation were so dangerous when exaggerated that they needed to be not abolished, but overcome, in a process that became the European Union. No longer would one nation be able to use iron and steel for its own chauvinistic, fratricidal and destructive ends. Then came the freedoms of travel and work. That is why they set the project in motion.
My hon. Friend and I are executive officers of the all-party parliamentary group for Italy, and we both went to Rome but a few months ago. Does he agree that, although we will respect the will of the British people, that does not include changing the rights of Italians and other EU nationals who have been lawfully resident in the United Kingdom for years? Will he confirm that that is his view?
Of course I will confirm that that is my view. It is also the view of everyone to whom we spoke in the Italian Parliament and in the British Parliament. Our Government have made that absolutely clear.
The point that I am trying to make is that, at the time I was describing, the British Parliament, under the leadership of Attlee and Churchill, understood that this was a supranational movement, which is why they did not join. All the discussions in the late 1940s and early 1950s, which we can read about, talked about an ever-closer union. It was not the Council of Europe, in which the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton) serves and in which I had the privilege of serving. The EU is not a body of sovereign nations. It is bound by a single court of justice. That is why our predecessors took the decision not to join in 1957, and they were right to do so.
Our predecessors were desperate to try to conclude a free trade agreement with our European friends and if they had been offered that free trade agreement in Messina, they would have signed up to it. That is precisely what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to be internationalist and to further free trade. This country is not, and never must be, protectionist or small-minded. Indeed, de Gaulle had an understanding of our point of view, when he talked about a “Europe of nations”. He asked how Great Britain, a maritime power with large and prosperous daughters all over the world, could fit into the Europe that was being created. An amusing cartoon from 1962 by the Dutch cartoonist Opland shows European Economic Community leaders faced with the prospective arrival of big mother Britannia with her diverse progeny of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The caption reads, “If I join, can my offspring too?” Of course, the answer was no. We were already part of a worldwide community of nations, which we called, and still call, the Commonwealth.
What we are now trying to achieve is similar but even more ambitious. We want to lead this worldwide drive towards free trade. In 200 years’ time, people will view Brexit not as the last gasp of an outdated nationalism, but as the advent of a new internationalism. We understand the sincerity with which our remain friends put their arguments, but we are disappointed that they do not seem to want to grasp the immense globalism of Brexit—of escaping the EU barriers and looking beyond the ocean to take the mantle of solidarity with the rest of the world. Yes, we want our European friends to succeed. We are definitely not engaged in 19th-century rivalries and scrambles, nor board games of Risk and Diplomacy. In all sincerity and with sympathy for their views, we believe that this is an opportunity for us and them.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I accept that there will be trials along the way, but what is the harm in trying to lead by example? What is the harm of believing in true internationalism and international free trade, and leading the world in it? That is all we are asking.
A free trade deal can be concluded so quickly. We have harmonised our laws for 40 years. It is only politics that prevents our European friends from concluding a free trade deal with us. I say to the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central, in all sincerity, that we do not want to create a bargain basement economy in which we lessen workers’ rights. On the contrary, such is the strength of our economy, innovation and industries that surely we can enshrine a gold standard protecting our workers as well as our fields, forest, rivers and seas. There is nothing, apart from politics, to stop our European friends rapidly sorting out a free trade deal in goods and services. There has never been so easy a free trade deal.
I appeal to my French cousins—not figurative ones, but literal ones—living in Provence and Paris. We want to strengthen our links, not dissolve them, in an amity of nations. On the way, we have to ensure that we enshrine security, control of borders and all those things but, for the positive and international reasons I have given, many Members of Parliament will be proud to vote for this tomorrow evening.
Tomorrow evening, my colleagues and I will vote to ensure that the process of leaving the European Union is commenced by the triggering of article 50. I have always believed that we were much better off in an arrangement where the people of the United Kingdom elected representatives to express their views and make decisions about them exclusively in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
In the history of our involvement in the EU, time and again detrimental laws were passed by people who were not part of our country and were not elected in our country. In my role as a councillor and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, we were told, time and again, “These measures might not be suitable for Northern Ireland and may have consequences that were perhaps not even intended by the people who wrote them. Nevertheless, you don’t even have a say in whether these laws should be taken into consideration. You simply have to sign them off.”
I campaigned in the referendum to leave the EU, and I am pleased that my constituents, by 55% to 45%, took my advice—that is more than vote for me in a general election, so I even persuaded some of my detractors that it was the correct thing to do.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene when he was about to get into full flow. He and his colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party know perfectly well that a clear majority of the Northern Ireland electorate voted for the UK to remain within the EU. A majority of my constituents in North Down voted to remain. How do he and his party colleagues propose to respect that fact in their voting tomorrow evening, and indeed in their negotiations with the Brexit Secretary?
The hon. Lady leads me neatly on to my next point.
When I campaigned in the referendum, I campaigned as a Member of the UK Parliament, which passed a law for a referendum that had national implications and would be judged on a national basis, not on a narrow regional basis of Northern Ireland having a different say from the rest of the people of the United Kingdom. I would have thought that as a Unionist the hon. Lady would respect the fact that this was a UK referendum and therefore the outcome had to be judged on a UK basis. It would be detrimental to the Union if Northern Ireland—or Scotland or Wales—had the right to say to the people of the whole of the United Kingdom, “We don’t care how you voted. The 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland have a right to veto how the rest of the people in the United Kingdom expressed their view.” I therefore would not accept that that could be the case.
We are not seeking to impose a veto on the people of the United Kingdom. The people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave, and we respect that. We have asked that Westminster respect our situation of having voted to remain, as one of the family of nations. Why will the UK Government not support our right to remain within the single market?
Of course, it depends on how you dress up that request.
The Government have made it clear that they want to hear about the concerns and issues that affect not just Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but other regions of England, and particular industries as well. Indeed, they have set up mechanisms to do so. There are numerous conversations and discussions between officials within Departments. There is the Joint Ministerial Committee where politicians from the different countries that make up the United Kingdom can express their views. There are ministerial meetings. Not only that, but in the case of Northern Ireland the Government have made a commitment—
No, I will not give way again.
The Government have had very good contacts with the Irish Republic because there are issues between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
For those reasons, we will be voting in support of the outcome of the referendum. I accept that some people in this House probably do have the right to be exempt from looking at what the people of the United Kingdom said and voting against it, because they were opposed to a referendum. However, many in this House who will be voting against the Bill tomorrow evening will be saying, “We voted for a referendum that gave people in the United Kingdom a right to express a view that will be binding, and now we simply disregard that.” They do not have a right to do that. That is where the line should be drawn.
The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), said that people did not know what they were voting for. Well, there is no excuse for people in this House not knowing what they are voting for now, because the Prime Minister has made that very clear in 6,000 words. During the referendum campaign, the people of the United Kingdom knew what they were voting for. Those who were voting to remain tried to scare the devil out of them. They told them that all kinds of horrors were going to beset them—that within a couple of days they would be eating dry bread and having to drink water, and losing their jobs—and still they voted to leave. Voting to leave meant that if we were going to have the freedom to make our own laws, we could not be part of the single market, because being part of the single market meant that somebody else made the laws. When people voted to leave, they knew they were voting to leave the customs union, because our future rests with those parts of the globe where there are expanding economies, not the part where, because of restrictive policies, the economy is contracting. People knew what they were voting for.
It has been argued that we should be thinking of the future of young people. I think that many young people listening to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam would not believe what he was saying. This is a man who promised, “You will have fee-free education”, and then imposed fees on them. This is a man who voted, and whose party voted, for greater Government debt that will be paid for by young people out of their taxes in future. We would have found that had we remained in the EU as well.
Would the hon. Gentleman accept my word, and no doubt that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), that when we stood in Loughborough market on the day of the referendum, almost overwhelmingly everybody said to us that they were voting leave to get the immigrants out? That is the reality of the leave campaign.
I can tell the right hon. Lady what my constituents voted for. They voted to make sure that the EU’s interference in our affairs was ended and that we made a decision about immigration policy, we made a decision about economic policy, we made a decision about environmental policy—
As Attorney General, I had plenty of opportunities to witness some of the problems attendant on EU membership, including the difficulties of achieving harmony when there are 28 member states, of the ways in which rules could be applied, and, at times, of the irksome sclerosis that pervaded it as an organisation. I have to say, however, that at no time did I have any doubt that being a member of the European Union was in our national interest. In the months that have elapsed since the referendum, I have never taken the view that my opinion has any reason to change on this matter whatsoever. On the contrary, it seems to me that as the months go by it becomes clearer that the challenges we face in leaving the European Union are going to be very considerable.
We reassure ourselves that we wish to globalise and to look outwards. I never thought there was any problem in looking outwards from within the European Union in the first place. But as we go and spend time trying to get trade deals with third countries outside the European Union, it becomes manifestly obvious that each one of those will carry its own cost, and that that cost will often go beyond just economic issues and into values as well. That is what has always worried me most of all about the decision to leave. Although we are insistent, and rightly so, that we wish to continue close co-operation with our European partners, the reality is that we are embarking on producing a series of obstacles to understanding, and that means that we will be perceived as turning our back on countries who are not only our closest neighbours but in reality, as becomes manifestly more obvious with every passing year, share our values in a very developed fashion. That is not to say that that is exceptional—there are other countries that do so outside the EU—but these are key relationships for the wellbeing of our citizens and our national security. The only thing that has given me comfort during this period is that the speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a week or so ago seemed to me to set out very clearly an understanding of the challenges that we face and an intention to pursue a policy that, if it can be carried out—I have to say that I think it is going to be of considerable difficulty—would place the United Kingdom at the least disadvantage from its decision to leave.
So far as triggering article 50 is concerned, I take the view that I will support the Government in doing so, despite my deep concerns. That comes from two things. One, as has already been cited by others, is that I supported the referendum and, by implication, indicated that I would honour the decision that the electorate made. Even if I had not, one of the reasons why we are sent to this place is to pursue the national interest by looking at the widest considerations. I cannot see, at present, how continuing with political uncertainty would be in the national interest, if we tried to obstruct the decision that the electorate so clearly made.
That brings me to what we should try to do in this Bill. Many amendments have been tabled, many of which seem to me to involve micromanagement of the negotiating process, which is something that this Parliament cannot readily do. But I do worry about process. It may sound legalistic, but process, in my experience, matters enormously because it enables one to focus in a sensible way on the issues that arise. It worried me deeply that the Government—leave aside the legalities of the matter and the Supreme Court decision—seemed at the start of the process to want to deprive the House of a say in triggering article 50. In the same way, I worry very much that we should have a proper process to help to engage the House and the country in what we are going to do. We still do not have a White Paper, and I say to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that that White Paper has got to be there before we come to the Committee stage. Without it, we cannot have the informed debate that we will need to have at that stage.
Looking forward much further, there will come a time when the Government return to the House and ask for its approval of what they have succeeded in negotiating. Of course, they do not have to do so, because of the way in which conventions operate in foreign affairs. But I have to say to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that that has to happen before the matter goes to the European Parliament for ratification, if that is the deal that has been agreed. Those seem to me to be the two benchmarks that we will need if we are to maintain the support that the House needs to give to the Government if the negotiations are to lead to a satisfactory outcome.
I started my political career by campaigning for the “Keep Britain in Europe” campaign in 1974, so I cannot say that I am unemotional about this issue. I think we have made a grave error, and I think it is one that will become more and more apparent with the passage of time. In the meantime, the national interest is that we should all try to work together to achieve the best possible outcome for our country.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who, as ever, made some cogent points about the importance of process. I completely agree with him that the Government must lay out a process by which this House can begin to have a say in the proceedings and on the final deal.
I stand up today to talk with passion about the biggest constitutional change to this country in my lifetime and in several generations. I regret that I do not believe that we will reverse this decision, but I will not be supporting it. That is not because I do not recognise the result of the referendum. I cannot walk blindly through a Lobby to trigger a process without a shred of detail from the Government. There has been much talk of the Prime Minister’s speech—made not in this House, but elsewhere—but no White Paper and no detail. After seven months, it is really shocking that the Government can come to the House today and say so little.
There is still no real guarantee of parliamentary oversight. Although there was a vote to leave, there is a lot more detail below that decision that the House has a constitutional role to play in delivering. There is no certainty for business, as we stand here, and businesses in my constituency are very concerned about their future. There has been not a word of succour for EU citizens resident in the UK, an issue I have raised with the Prime Minister. There has been no answer about how the many regulations that will need to be transposed into our law will be dealt with. I suspect that we will see an explosion, at speed, of quangos. This is the same Government who wanted a bonfire of the quangos.
In the short time that I have, I want to focus my comments on EU citizens resident in the UK. At the last census in 2011, around 10% of my constituents were born in other EU countries. That was the case for about 27,000 residents across the Borough of Hackney, and the percentage is similar across London as a whole, where 841,000 people were born in other EU countries. If we look at student numbers, we see that 31,000 students from the EU were accepted in 2016, up 22% from 2010. That is a significant bunch of people who are contributing to our economy.
We cannot get figures for everywhere in our public services, but 5% of NHS staff UK-wide are from other EU countries. In 2015-16, nearly 11% of staff who joined the NHS were from European Union member states other than the UK. That has gone up from nearly 7% in 2012-13. That demonstrates that there is a big gap between our skills in this country and the skills and talents that we need to fill those jobs.
Let us look at the tech sector. I am proud to represent Old Street and Shoreditch, which is home to a burgeoning tech sector. Approximately 184,200 EU nationals work in tech. There are already issues with visas in this sector, because it is such a modern and emerging global industry. Often, jobs do not have titles—they do not exactly exist, in official terms—and there are real issues about where we get that talent from. Cutting off overnight the stream of EU citizens, who may be asked to leave this country, is a real issue.
Overall, 3 million EU citizens live and work in the UK. Those people pay more in tax than they withdraw in benefits, and they contribute at least £2 billion annually to our economy. A recent poll by BMG showed that a majority of UK residents believed that EU citizens’ rights should be guaranteed, with 58% agreeing with that position, 28% disagreeing and 14% saying “don’t know”. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) talked about the human misery that this is causing. I have had people ringing my office in tears because they are worried about their future. When I am on doorsteps talking to constituents, they cannot hold back their emotions, because they are fearful about what it will mean. What about the woman who wrote to me recently—a Dutch woman with a British partner and British children, who has spent 20 years in this country but does not know her future? What about another woman who is worried that, because she is a freelancer, she will not be able to stay in the UK?
Changing this issue would not require an amendment to the Bill; the Government could agree to it straight away. We should be very wary of turning on foreigners in our midst at this time. Instead, we should give them succour. The Government should do so in the next few days, allowing such citizens to stay and continue to contribute to our country and setting in train the process by which they have to do it. If we do not do so, we should look very closely at our tolerances in this country.
The hon. Lady is making a very powerful point. I actually think it is tantamount to torture not to tell people from the EU living and working in this country that they can stay, as it is for British people living and working in the European Union. Does she not believe that both sides ought to get together as quickly as possible and put people out of their misery by telling them that they are allowed to stay, to live and to work in the countries where they currently are?
I agree with that position, but I believe the Government could go further and make a unilateral declaration. These people live in our midst, they are our friends and our neighbours, they work in our public services, they are contributing to our economy, and I believe that people who are exercising their treaty rights today should be allowed to stay. They have made their lives in this country with every expectation that that would be the permanent position, and I think it would be magnanimous of the Government to give way now.
Tempting as that invitation is, I will not take it up.
This is an historic debate. It is immensely historic not because of what we as Members of Parliament will do, but because of what the people did on 23 June 2016. They have now given us the task of implementing that decision—to avoid any arguments about the figures, let us just say that the Bill is less than 150 words long—and we are now charged to do so because the people told us to leave.
When the people told us to leave, there were some broad principles behind what they said. The first principle is that parliamentary sovereignty does not mean being sovereign over the people. It is about the relationship between the sovereign and Parliament. We are representatives in a parliamentary democracy, but when we decide to have a direct mandate, it is our duty to implement that direct mandate. I would not for one moment pretend that it is easy to adapt the structures, but that is our challenge.
The second principle relates to the fact that there was a 72.2% turnout. It is absolutely true that just over 16 million people voted to remain, but more people voted to leave. It is now our duty to do two things: to implement the decision of the majority; and immediately afterwards, to focus on representing the people as a whole.
I chaired the official leave campaign. The leave campaign was clear that it was about taking back control of our borders. That meant we wanted an immigration policy based not on geography, but on skills and economic need. We wanted to take back control of our laws and of our trade negotiations. I also happen to think that the Government should actually honour the election pledge that was made that at least £100 million a week—money saved from not making direct contributions to the EU—should go to the NHS, which is short of money.
That brings me to the nature of article 50, which is where history is important. I was the draftsman—or draftswoman—of the original provision that led to article 50. It was actually an expulsion clause in the draft European constitution, which said that any country that did not ratify the European constitution would be asked to leave within two years. It is in the nature of the European Union that anything on the drawing board is never allowed to go away, and it became a leaving clause—hence the period of two years—but nobody seriously thought through how it should be implemented. The challenge for us is therefore to do what has not as yet been imagined. All the current structures are designed for countries to move increasingly closer, not to leave the European Union, but we are leaving.
Numerous speakers have referred to nationalism, but one of the reasons why the United Kingdom is in a unique position is that, under George I, the British Isles developed a concept of supranationalism. That is why someone like me—I was born in Munich—can say with great comfort that I am British, although I will never be English. The British people have therefore never felt the need to overcome the darker side of nationalism with supranationalism. At the same time, there is one thing, which we have not mentioned, that makes the whole European Union debate different. Various people have relived their youth, but when the euro was introduced, the whole dynamics of the European Union and its relationship to countries that said they would not join the single currency changed. I regard the outcome of the referendum as a logical conclusion of Maastricht. We said that we would not join the single currency and the Schengen common travel area. In the negotiations, we could not come to a deal to accommodate that.
I chair Change Britain, which we set up after the referendum. It is important, irrespective of how we voted, to bring people together. We have been working on a number of principles, including—I welcome what was said from the Government Front Bench—enshrining workers’ rights. It is equally important to enshrine environmental rights and ensure our communities are protected. It is extremely important for us on the Labour side to realise that we now have to fight for the Labour heartlands that never recovered from the 1980s.
It is also extremely important to protect the rights of EU citizens. Let us remember that, of the 2.8 million EU citizens living here, approximately 1.8 million have already established their right to be here. It is those who have been here for less than five years whom we really need to protect.
I might support unilateralism, but does the right hon. Lady concede, given the Government’s policy, that the only obstacle to guaranteeing reciprocal rights is that our European partners have dogmatically insisted on no negotiating before notification?
There is a rational case for what the hon. Gentleman says, but as we enter negotiations that is the one area where a unilateral decision on our part would set a tone for those negotiations that would serve EU citizens and UK citizens living in the EU.
I want to finish with one basic observation. I take a different view. I do not think it is economic success and peace that deliver us liberal democracies. I will not trade liberal democratic structures for anything else. I believe that it is liberal democratic structures that deliver economic success and peace. Therefore, a new modern 21st-century economic liberal democratic structure would give us that democracy and that peace. That is why I hope everyone in this House will vote to trigger article 50.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). As a founding MP of the Vote Leave campaign, she played a splendid role—as did the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—in winning the referendum. It was a brave thing to do. I would also like to pay tribute to my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who for decades has been traduced, reviled and mocked for his views. Notwithstanding, he has kept his ducks in a row and today must be a very proud day for him.
I remind those who intend to vote against the motion tomorrow that this has been the result of a very clearly marked out process. David Cameron made a clear commitment in his Bloomberg speech to have a referendum if the Conservatives won the election. It was a manifesto commitment. We did win the election. The House then passed the Referendum Bill, 544 votes to 53, with a massive majority of 491. Then we had the referendum.
There have been some unwise comments. I have the hugest admiration for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), but I think he is unwise to have said that the referendum was just an opinion poll. The famous document that cost taxpayers £9 million very clearly stated:
“This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
If that was not clear, the then Prime Minister David Cameron said on many occasions, including on the “Andrew Marr Show” one Sunday in early June:
“What the British public will be voting for is to leave the EU and leave the single market.”
That was helpfully endorsed by a predecessor of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), the noble Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, who said:
“I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it is spoken, whether it is a majority of 1% or 20%.”
Well, it was a big vote: 17,410,742 people voted to leave—the most votes for any issue or party in our history, and the highest percentage turnout since the 1992 general election. I thought, therefore, that the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) were wise and thoughtful. He recognised that the establishment faced a conundrum. We have had referendums—in 1975, in Wales, in Scotland, in Northern Ireland, on the alternative vote—but every time the popular vote delivered what the establishment wanted. This is a unique moment in our history. We have had this massive vote, and the establishment does not want it.
I ask those who are going to vote against the Bill tomorrow night to think of the shattering, catastrophic damage to the integrity of the political establishment, the media establishment and, following the judgment last week, the judicial establishment, if this is not delivered. I am quite clear on this point, having travelled all over the country during the referendum campaign and having campaigned for withdrawal since my earliest days in Parliament. Incidentally, my European credentials are good: I was in business for 20 years, I have visited virtually every European country, I rose to become president of a European trade association. One does not need to stand and sing “Ode to Joy”—
I chaired the meetings in French, and we translated for the Germans when they could not keep up.
I saw at the time the extraordinary growth of young economies elsewhere in the world, and I saw that we were being held back. It is tragic now to see how Europe is falling behind. Everyone bangs on about our sales to Europe and the single market. Our sales were 61% of our trade in 1999, they have now fallen to 43% and they will fall to 35%.
There are wonderful opportunities out there in the three main areas for which I have had ministerial responsibility. First, on Northern Ireland, I bitterly resent the comments about this damaging the peace process. We have, and will continue to have, the very best relations with the Republic of Ireland, and we will respect the common travel area and all that is good, but we need to revive the economy of Northern Ireland.
Secondly, it is hard to think of two areas of government activity more damaged by European government than the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. We will now return responsibility for those areas to a person at that Dispatch Box whom we can hold responsible. As Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I would come here and lamely say, “I’m a democratically elected Minister, but I cannot change this because we were outvoted.” For now on, responsibility will lie with elected persons accountable to this Parliament.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She invited me to Cornwall last summer. In a hotly fought contest, the CFP is the most dreadful, the most shatteringly bad act of misgovernment. It is a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster, and it cannot be reformed. Once we get power back to a Minister at that Dispatch Box, we can start holding them to account, and we can learn the lessons of the CFP, as I did in an Opposition green paper in 2005, after having travelled across the north Atlantic, to Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and Newfoundland, and then down to the Falklands. We can bring in modern technology and get away from the disgusting relic that is the quota system, which ensures that a quarter of fish are thrown back dead—no one really knows, but it can be 1 million tonnes and worth £1.6 billion annually.
Finally, there are also advantages for the environment. We are proud signatories to the Bern convention and the Ramsar convention, but those should be interpreted not at a European level, but specifically for our own environment. So we will gain in agriculture, in fisheries and on the environment, and I will be voting tomorrow for the Bill.
It took the Supreme Court to remind us that we live in a parliamentary democracy. It is true that Parliament decided that we should have a referendum, and I find it difficult not to respect the outcome of the vote, but Parliament did not cut itself out of the issue altogether. It did not divest itself of involvement in determining what should happen when the UK withdraws from the EU, which is what the Bill enables. We are discussing the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, not the Maastricht treaty—which, by the way, had 23 days of debate in Committee—or the Lisbon treaty, the Amsterdam treaty or the Single European Act. This Bill is more important than all those Bills wrapped together and multiplied by a large factor.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
That is why we should look carefully at what this Bill says. This Bill says, grudgingly, that Ministers will come and get permission from Parliament for the notification, but then they try to yank it right back to the Prime Minister, so that it is entirely, 100% back in the hands of Ministers alone to determine our fate outside the European Union. That is why I just cannot bring myself to vote in favour of this Bill: there are so many issues, so many ramifications and so many questions surrounding our withdrawal from the European Union that it is our duty—it is what the Supreme Court insisted we should do—to ensure due diligence and look at all the issues surrounding this question.
That is why I have decided to table a few, very judicious amendments to the Bill, to try to cover off a few corners of the questions that I think it needs to address. What will happen, for example, in our relationship with the single market? What are we doing for potentially tariff-free access or frictionless trade across the rest of Europe? Will we be able to have such advantages again? These are the questions that were not on the ballot paper, which simply asked whether we should remain in or leave the European Union. The ballot paper did not go into all those details, which are for Parliament to determine. It is for us as Members of Parliament to do our duty by performing scrutiny and ensuring that we give a steer to Ministers—that we give them their instructions on how we should be negotiating our withdrawal from the European Union.
I personally do not have faith in the Prime Minister’s vision for a hard Brexit—because it is a hard Brexit. We may currently be falling very gently through the air, like the skydiver who has jumped out of the aeroplane—“What seems to be the problem? We’re floating around”—but I worry about the impact. I worry about hitting the ground and the effect not just on our democracy, but on our constituents and their jobs and on the growth that we ought to be enjoying in the economy to keep pace with our competitors worldwide.
Absolutely, and it beggars belief that we will not even be given the opportunity to debate that in this legislative process—a process, by the way, that the Government are so afraid to go into that they have given it a measly three days in Committee, an eighth of the time given to scrutinise the provisions of the Maastricht treaty. If they were not so frightened of debate, they would allow the House to go through all these questions. What happens to EU nationals? Will they have rights to stay? It should be for Parliament to determine these things. Are we going to have a transitional arrangement, so that we do not fall off that cliff edge when we get to 1 April 2019? What about visa-free travel? What happens to the financial services trade? It may not face tariffs; it may face a ban on trading altogether in various different areas.
For the Prime Minister to have already accepted the red lines of the other European Union 27 countries—for her to have thrown in the towel on single market membership without even trying to adapt free movement and find a consensus, which I think would be available—is a failure of her approach at the outset. For her to accept the red line that we are not allowed to have parallel discussions and negotiations—that we can only do the divorce proceedings in these two years and then maybe talk about the new relationship—is a failure of the negotiations.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the Prime Minister showed great reality in her speech a few weeks ago when she made it clear that if we do not accept free movement—as indeed she has made clear—then we cannot be a member of the single market? That is just the reality.
I very much respect the right hon. Lady’s contribution—she is an independent thinker on these issues—but I would not give up on the single market that easily. I think we should have at least asked and tried; that is what a negotiation is. We should not just accept the red lines set down by those on the other side of the table. We should go in and try to adapt it. No one should try to convince me that Germany, Italy and Greece, for example, are not facing issues that might lead them to want a more managed migration system. I think it could have been possible, if only we had had a little bit more ambition.
I believe that we should have had a bit more fight in this particular process in an attempt to salvage some of the advantages we need for future generations, let alone for today’s economy. I would like to see more fight from all Members of Parliament, and I would like to see more fight from our own leadership in the Labour party on this question. This is one of the most important pieces of legislation for a generation, and our children and future generations will look back on this moment and say, “What did you do to try to nudge the Prime Minister off her hard Brexit course; what did you do to try to steer the course of the Government negotiations away from the rocks and stop them falling over the cliff edge?”
I cannot bring myself to back this Bill, but I will not be dissuaded from doing my duty of trying to amend the Bill and to improve the process so that we get the right deal for Britain. That is our duty, and I urge all parliamentarians to use the Bill wisely in that respect. It might look like an innocuous sentence and a simple clause, but it has phenomenal ramifications, and if we do not try our best to come together across the parties to save some elements of the single market and salvage some of the benefits of tariff-free trade for all our businesses and our constituents, we will have failed massively in our duty as parliamentarians.
After more than three hours of debate, a great deal of what needed to be said on either side has been said, and I do not intend to bore the House by repeating it. Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), I voted to remain; unlike him, I voted to promote the referendum and indeed played some part in bringing the Conservative party to the point of committing to a referendum. I shall therefore obviously vote tonight in favour of triggering article 50 in line with the outcome of that referendum. I shall also vote in the succeeding week against each and every attempt through amendments of whatever kind to bind the Government in any way—administratively or legally—because the Government must have the ability to negotiate flexibly and in the national interest.
In the brief minutes allowed, I would like to add one point that I do not think has so far come out of the debate: what we are doing if, as I suspect, we vote tomorrow night to trigger article 50. There has been some suggestion in some speeches that, somehow or other, this vote is not irrevocable or final, and that there will come a time when Parliament can decide whether it likes the deal that the Government have negotiated or whether it prefers instead to go back to the position of remaining in the EU. That is clearly contrary to what the Prime Minister set out in her speech, when she made it perfectly clear that, in her view, what Parliament will then be deciding is whether to accept the deal or not to accept it, in which case we will have to fall back on the WTO and other such arrangements because we will in any case leave.
I want to make it clear why I think the Prime Minister was right about that from three points of view. The first is the question of legal fact. None of us in this House is qualified to make a judgment about the law in that respect, but we have a piece of luck, which is that the Supreme Court has made a judgment on that. In the judgment of the High Court—a rather unusual High Court as it was composed—it was not totally clear, but in the Supreme Court judgment it was totally clear that the presumption of the minority as well as the majority was that this was an irrevocable act. The whole foundation of the legal case was that.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but it seems to me that the difference between the two judgments is that the Supreme Court made it clear that in an irrevocable act, what was happening in its view was a fundamental change in our constitution, which is a different character of argument from what was made in the High Court judgment—and it seems to me conclusive. It means that the Supreme Court has ruled that, in its view, this is an irrevocable act.
In a sense, that is irrelevant to us, because we are a Parliament and not a group of lawyers. So we come next to the question of the democratic mandate. Is there a democratic mandate requiring that, when article 50 is triggered, the result—whatever it may be; an acceptable deal or a non-acceptable deal—should be that this country leaves?